One of my very earliest memories of life at the Manse takes place in high sunny summer. I am maybe five years old and I am with some neighbourhood kids who are showing me how to pick and enjoy blackberries from the bushes that grew wild against the back exterior wall of the Manse’s back porch. As I’ve noted before, the kids in Queensborough were expert foragers of good things to eat – rhubarb, berries, apples – that might be growing in yards and along the local byways. We picked a whole bunch of the big fat berries and then ran into the kitchen to ask my mum for some bowls and cream and sugar. I can almost taste the sweet-sour deliciousness, lo these many decades later. And I was reminded of that day when I saw boxes of big fat blackberries for sale at Patten’s Berry Farm in Kennebunkport a week or so ago.
The blackberry bush didn’t last through our years at the Manse, though. While the house had an oil-burning furnace, it also had a wood stove complete with a stovepipes-throughout-the-house setup, and my father preferred that method of heating. (I do not know whether it was him or the pastoral charge who had to pay the oil bills; if it was him, that could have been an added inducement to go the wood-stove route. But I know he would have done so regardless; that was just the way Dad was. If he could acquire heating fuel, i.e. wood, through the sweat of his brow – chainsawing down trees, cutting them up, piling the wood – he would consider it having come at zero cost; and having grown up on a farm in the Depression, that was what he was comfortable with. I don’t think Dad ever studied economics, and he certainly had no sense of his time and labour actually being worth money. But I digress.) For wood-stove heating there had to be wood, and lots of it, and our woodpiles grew through the years. So through most of my childhood at the Manse the wall that you see above was fronted by a very high stack of wood.
To me it is odd, even now after all these years, to be in the back yard of the Manse and see it so green and tidy. Thanks to my father’s woodlot interests – which included making maple syrup on the premises – the back yard in our day was a place of wood and sawdust and equipment – a tractor, a front-end loader, a trailer or two, a truck… I’m sure many parishioners thought it looked thoroughly disreputable, but to us it was entirely normal. Dad was a minister, but he was also a working man. We kids woke up to the sound of his chainsaw more mornings than not, as I recall.
Last spring as I was raking the entire large yard of the Manse, I noticed that in the back yard the rake was pulling up pieces of sawdust.
I knew where they came from.