When I was a little kid growing up at the Manse, I wanted to have long hair so desperately. Princesses and hippies and Laurie Partridge and Joan Baez all had long hair; why couldn’t I? Even Nancy Drew and her friends (save for “tomboy” George, who I believe wore it in a short bob) had hair of a certain length. Titian hair, in Nancy’s case. Whatever that is. (As my own cousin Nancy recently noted.)
Anyway, it was decided early on that my sister, Melanie, and I would have short hair, doubtless because it’s much more practical. And when we were little it was my grandmother, my Didi, who cut it. While I’ve called them bowl haircuts, they really weren’t. But they also weren’t the most flattering cuts a fashion-savvy Queensborough girl could have.
As with any old photo taken at the Manse, I scoured the one at the top of this post for telltale vestiges of what once was. There’s the turquoise-and-white linoleum flooring in the kitchen, and the rather fancier pattern of the linoleum in the adjoining dining room that you can just barely make out.
There’s our old arborite kitchen table with the grey top (you know the kind I mean); ever since my childhood at the Manse I have harboured a love for those tables. The matching grey plastic-covered chairs that came with that one clearly had, by the time the photo was taken, bitten the dust; they were cheap and very unresilient faced with a bunch of little kids who could do all sorts of ripping-type damage. But I’d forgotten all about the wooden chairs that we used in their stead. I wonder where those chairs are now.
You can also see the late lamented white wainscotting along the kitchen wall, covered over six or seven years after this photo was taken with then-trendy wood panelling, but not before the chair rail had been ripped off and tossed out. (It pains me to recount this, as you can imagine.)
And finally you can just get a glimpse through the doorway into the dining room of the edge of a piece of furniture that came with the Manse and that we called the buffet – a dark and (as I recall) ugly old thing in which the good china was stored. But just seeing that little corner of it brings back to mind the not-unpleasant old woody smell that would emanate from it when you opened one of its doors to bring out the good china when company was coming for dinner. (Company – in the form of parishioners from my dad’s churches – came for dinner pretty much every Sunday at the Manse.) Also, our used-every-year advent calendar sat perched atop the “buffet” every December, and every year we had the same fun opening the little windows and seeing what was behind them. No candies, you understand: just pictures related to the Christian Christmas story, which we kids found delightful. I have still not got over the befuddlement I experienced the first time I heard that some advent calendars have candies or chocolates in them. That is over the top, if you ask me.
Anyway: you can see a lot in an old photo taken at the Manse! If you’re me and grew up there, that is.
As a very small child I gave my grandmother the name Didi, probably my attempt to pronounce her given name, Reta. My grandfather J.A.S. Keay was known as Buh, I expect the best I could do when it came to Grandpa. Buh and Didi – who lived in Leaside, the very pleasant Toronto suburb where my mother, Lorna, grew up – visited us a lot when we lived at the Manse; Buh took lots of photos, and it is thanks to him that I have all these great old images of my childhood and the house I grew up in. Didi was an eminently capable woman in very many ways: cooking, sewing (she made most of the clothes that my sister, Melanie, and I wore in those days), knitting and, apparently, haircutting. What I realize now but probably couldn’t have known at the time was that she did this to help out financially, since a minister’s salary was then – as it is now – pitiful.
Anyway, we loved to see Buh and Didi; they were kind and good people, and we four kids – their only grandchildren; my mother was their only child – were very special to them. They were awfully good to us.
Although truth be told I could have done without the hair-cutting.