Last day of a memorable year

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I suppose we all look back on the year that has been as the final hours of that year wind down. You won’t be surprised that when I look back on 2012, the Manse looms very, very large. It was in late January that Raymond and I became the owners, and since then we have spent a lot of time there, and even more time thinking about and planning our renovation project. All of which has been fun, though not without its setbacks and challenges. But what sticks with me more about this past year is how much pleasure we have had getting to know central Hastings County and the people who live and do interesting things there. It is a quiet and beautiful part of the world.

These past few days in Montreal and area have been grey and cold and very, very snowy. (Why is it always grey and gloomy at New Year’s, anyway?) But it cheered me up immensely when, flipping back through my photos of the year, I found this pretty shot of Queensborough, summer 2012.

A good – and happy – image with which to close a very memorable year.

Christmas Sunday Dec. 23, 2012, Hazzard’s Church

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Funny, once Christmas is over, things that happened before Christmas seem a long time ago, don’t they?

The annual Christmas service at the historic Methodist, later United, church at Hazzard’s Corners, halfway between Queensborough and Madoc, Ont., took place exactly a week ago tonight, yet it feels so long ago.

It was a lovely service. The church was lit by candles and kerosene lamps. The music was wonderful. And the place was packed, with chairs up the aisles to accommodate an overflow crowd. It was a true community event, and hats off to the dedicated group of Hazzard’s volunteers who make it happen.

It made me think about how “community” doesn’t happen by accident: you have to work at it. And if you do work at it, and build community, the rewards are splendid. Hazzard’s Church on Christmas Sunday was a wonderful example of the little rural places that are still there and still going, hidden away in an ever-more-urbanized world.

I suspect that on Christmas Sunday 2012, when all the great cathedrals in all the urban centres of the world were celebrating, little Hazzard’s Corners, and all of us gathered there, may have been closer to the true Christmas story than were all of those grand places. Bethlehem wasn’t very big, after all. And on that first Christmas, the lights would have been candles and oil lamps, just as we had.

I think we are on to something.

A brief word about Christmas

Christmas morning at the Manse, looking out from the front porch: the snow was sparkling white in the brief bit of glorious sunshine that broke up an otherwise cloudy few days.

Christmas morning at the Manse, looking out from the front porch: the snow was sparkling white in the brief bit of glorious sunshine that broke up an otherwise cloudy few days.

My brother John (left), my brother Ken (centre) and my brother-in-law Greg strategizing over a rousing game of Ker-Plunk (I am not making this up) in the Manse living room prior to Christmas dinner.

My brother John (left), my brother Ken (centre) and my brother-in-law Greg strategizing over a rousing game of Ker-Plunk (I am not making this up) in the Manse living room prior to Christmas dinner.

I feel like a churl having said next to nothing about how Christmas at the Manse went, especially after so many of you sent kind wishes that it be a happy day for my family as they gathered there for the first Christmas in more than 30 years. And now it feels a little late in the game to be writing about it, Christmas being well over and all. (And don’t you find, by the way, that by the time Christmas is over you’re rather glad of the fact? What with all the advance work, it does seem to drag on…)

But anyway, the real reason for my tardiness in writing about Christmas is that, as I hinted in yesterday’s post, Raymond and I really were quite sick with cold and flu at Christmas – sicker than we let ourselves believe, sicker than we let on to others, and sicker than we even realized till now, a few days later, when we’re finally starting to feel better.

Under the tree, Christmas gifts – in turquoise!

Under the tree, Christmas gifts – in turquoise!

Nevertheless we hosted the clan, and the clan came (one of them, one of my sister Melanie’s boys, also down with the flu), and a nice time was had by all. The Manse was as spiffed-up as a house very much in need of a reno can be, the tree looked beautiful, there was a modest supply of gifts under it, and there was a turkey dinner cooked largely by Raymond within the constrictions of the Manse’s tiny pantry. And a flaming Christmas pudding and a buche de Noël for dessert. No one went away hungry.

Melanie put it nicely in a thank-you note she sent me the other day when she was herself starting to come down with the same bug that had struck Raymond and me: “Next time … which will be soon, I hope. Many more parties at the manse in the days ahead!”

Now that’s the spirit!

Amid the winter’s snow

My mother, Lorna, in front of a snowbank that as I recall was in front of the Manse, in February 1971. Back when winter meant serious amounts of snow.

My mother, Lorna (who is 5’1″), in front of a snowbank somewhere in the vicinity of the Manse, in February 1971. Back when winter could be counted on to bring serious amounts of snow. (Photo probably by my grandfather, J.A.S. Keay)

Hello from the far side of Christmas! I feel very badly about not having posted these past few days – recounting how Christmas at the Manse unspooled, among other things – but I’ve been sick with the flu since before the big day and have not until now found the energy to fire up the Mac and try to think of something half-intelligent to say. I expect that many readers may have gone through a similar low-energy situation this Christmas; flu and colds seem to have been everywhere. Before long I will recount Christmas, but I await photo contributions from Raymond (I was feeling too crappy to take more than a handful of photos). In the meantime, let’s talk about something even more topical, especially if you happen to be in Montreal this Friday night: snow.

Our street, last night: believe it or not, there is a car under all that snow. Aren't you glad you aren't the person who has to dig it out?

Our street, last night: believe it or not, there is a car under all that snow. Aren’t you glad you aren’t the person who has to dig it out?

Raymond and I drove home from Queensborough yesterday through the blizzard you’ve probably all heard about, a scary (and long) drive featuring a steady steam of cars and tractor-trailers – and one bus, one ambulance, and even one snowplow – off the road and stuck in the ditch. Was it a relief to get to Montreal? Well, yes – except the city had been blanketed by a record snowfall, approaching 50 centimetres, the streets were a disaster, the sidewalks worse, and finding a place to park impossible. Just what you want when you’ve got a car full of Christmas to unload and only street parking at the best of times.

Anyway, we managed. One always does. And the huge snowfall brought back a couple of good growing-up-at-the-Manse memories.

One is of how our Queensborough-area neighbour Bill Holgate would every now and then, after a big snowfall, come unannounced and blow the snow out of the driveway. Normally it was all about shovelling for us, and we four kids had to do our share to keep the walkway, driveway and mailbox cleared out. But it was a big long driveway, and after a really heavy snowfall it was a huge job. So what a delight when out of the blue on an evening like that (it’s always evening for the snowblowing events in my memory) Bill would show up with his big tractor-driven snowblower and clear it all away. And the best part (for us kids) was not even the fact that we wouldn’t have to shovel; it was cavorting under the blowing snow as Bill did the work. Snowblowers were not that common then – certainly nobody had the kind that you operated just by walking behind it – and the whole operation was just so big and noisy and exciting! And it was so kind of Bill to come and clear out the snow at the minister’s house. Of course he never charged my parents any money for it.

And the other memory, quite possibly coloured by the fact that I was little then and no longer am, is just of how much more snow there was in those days – see the photo at the top of this post. But then again, doesn’t every old fogey say that there used to be more snow back in his or her day? And doesn’t what Raymond and I came home to yesterday kind of undermine that things-aren’t-what-they-used-to-be argument?

And more to the point, am I turning into an old fogey?

Merry Christmas from the Manse

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And so this is Christmas! as John Lennon had it. Or Christmas Eve, actually, which is really the best part, in many ways. Though Raymond and I are really looking forward to tomorrow, when my mum and the other Sedgwicks who grew up in this old Manse of ours, along with some of their own children, will join us to keep Christmas. Doubtless it will be a day that includes much reminiscing about our Queensborough years (Round 1, that is. Round 2 has only begun!).

As Raymond and I were driving here through a snowstorm last Friday night, I turned to him and said, “So many people are rooting for us to have a good Christmas!” And it’s true: so many people, readers of this blog and not, old friends and new friends and people we’ve not even met, have, recognizing that this is a very special Christmas for us and for my family, expressed wishes clearly heartfelt that it be a special and memorable and happy time. I don’t think I can even say how much your kind thoughts have meant to us – thank you! I feel sure it will indeed be a happy Christmas here at the Manse.

Raymond and I send you all our warmest wishes for a peaceful, joyous and meaningful Christmas, wherever you may be.

God bless us, every one!

What is your favorite Christmas record?

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That was a question that Raymond, unbeknownst to me (because I am not a Facebook person) asked on Facebook (as he told me later) not too long ago. It is a fun question. We all grew up listening to our parents’ Christmas records; does one of those count as your favourite, or have you discovered something since childhood that you like better?

The one I grew up with was Joan Baez’s record called simply Noel, released in 1966. My dad was a big fan of Joan Baez, for her anti-war and human-rights stands. Noel is very different from most Christmas records. The musical arrangements, by Peter Schickele, of P.D.Q. Bach fame, are haunting: he writes in the liner notes of a later-reissue CD that the “idea was that, instead of the saccharine and/or pseudo-symphonic treatment usually applied to carols on albums featuring singing stars, the sound on Joan’s album would be reminiscent of the musical periods in which the various carols were written.”

The result is a record with a haunting and very old-sounding sound, like something out of 17th-century England (or France) – the sense you get is that the birth of this child is truly strange, mysterious, and beautiful.

So I bought the CD reissue, and played it for the first time this evening here at the Manse. To hear the first plainsong strains – and Joan’s pure, clear voice – on the opening song, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, after all those years, here at the Manse again – well, it gave me goosebumps.

I daresay that album hadn’t been heard at the Manse since Christmas 1974, the last Christmas my family lived here. As I listened to those beautiful, haunting songs I wondered: do they awake a memory in this old house that has seen, and heard, so much?

Christmas at a historic country church

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Unfortunately this photo doesn’t show the blanket of wintry white that has descended on the Queensborough area on this first day of winter (and shortest day of the year). But you can be sure that Hazzard’s Church at nearby Hazzard’s Corners looks lovely in the snow. And a lot of people – including Raymond and me – will see it this Sunday evening, Dec. 23, when the annual Christmas service for the community is held in its historic surroundings. It is incredible how many people have mentioned this service to us as a must-attend. There will be lessons and carols and I imagine candlelight, and I am sure it will take me back to my childhood when my father was the minister at Hazzard’s and evening services were often held there. I know it will be a lovely service. Here’s a word to the wise, also passed on to us by many people: the service starts at 7 p.m., but it’s a small church, so get there early!