Don’t you think it’s high time to bring back TV trays?

I bet these take you back if you are of a certain age. Remember when every household had a set of TV trays? These, for sale here at Etsy, are remarkably like a set I fondly remember being ensconced at the home of my maternal grandparents, the Keays.

I bet these take you back if you are of a certain age. Remember when every household had a set of TV trays? These, for sale here at Etsy, are remarkably like a set I fondly remember being always on the scene at the home of my maternal grandparents, the Keays.

It is a very windy and cold and snowy and icy night out tonight. Which means it is an excellent night to stay home and have a nice dinner and watch some TV. (The PVR is busily recording the finale of 30 Rock as I write this.) And what do you need for dinner in front of the TV, people? Come on, think… And think mid-century.

Aha! You’ve got it. TV trays!

Unfortunately Raymond and I do not – yet – have a set of TV trays, either in Montreal or at the Manse in Queensborough. But I think we will have to acquire one.

When they weren't in use, TV trays could be neatly stacked together and stashed in a corner – where they sat, looking decorative.

When they weren’t in use, TV trays could be neatly stacked together and stashed in a corner – where they sat, looking decorative.

This won’t mean much to anyone under the age of 40, but once upon a time every household in North America had a set of TV trays, as far as I can recall. They always came four to a set, and when you weren’t using them they folded and stacked up together in a corner of the living room or dining room.

Now, when I was growing up at the Manse we never ever ate in front of the TV. Our family always had meals together around the dinner table in the kitchen, two rooms away from the TV. (Which, come to think of it, was very civilized; aren’t we always hearing these days about how families need to get back to having meals together around the table? And it makes me feel rather guilty that now I eat a late dinner in front of the TV all the time.) But anyway, the long and short of it is that we never used our TV trays for what they were intended for.

Come to think of it, what did we use them for?

That’s a good question. But we must have used them for something, because I remember stacking and unstacking them many a time.

TV trays are of the same era as hassocks, which I wrote about not so long ago. It seems like all kinds of semi-forgotten furnishings and accessories were created in the 1950s and ’60s to accommodate families spending time around that new invention, the TV. (As I noted in that post, the hassock was generally where the youngest kid in the family sat when everybody was gathered around to watch a program and all the other chairs and sofa [or “chesterfield,” as we called it at the Manse] space was taken.)

Thinking of those long-ago things that used to be everywhere and now are almost nowhere reminds me of something.

I’ve mentioned many times that Raymond and I love to frequent antiques-and-collectibles warehouses. At one a few years ago I spotted the same awesome hassock that I remembered from a time when my family was invited to dinner at the home of a family in the congregation of the church my dad served in the village of Eldorado. That hassock was probably the coolest piece of home decor that 8-year-old me had ever seen: clear plastic filled with air, and inside, an artificial (doubtless plastic) red rose bush. I never forgot it. And one day I spotted one just like it – or maybe it was the same one! – in an antiques barn. But it was faded and quite pitiful to look at, which is why I didn’t buy it.

Another time, in another antique barn, I found the same set of TV trays that my maternal grandparents, my Buh and Didi (Stewart and Reta Keay) used to have at their gracious home in Leaside, and then in Peterborough when they moved there after my grandfather’s retirement. Many an evening snack of soft drinks and chips (and maybe Christmas cookies, if it was the season) was served to us kids on those TV tables.

And again, I didn’t buy them.

And I have regretted both decisions – and have been vainly looking for that same hassock and those same TV trays – ever since.

So I guess the lesson I want to share from this post, which started out as a reminiscence about, and paean to, the almost-forgotten TV-tray phenomenon, is this:

When you see something you like, buy it, before someone else does. And when you see something that brings you fond memories of your mid-century childhood? Run, don’t walk, to the checkout counter.

Trust me: you’ll be glad you did.

Will this be the year that the renovation gets started?

Is that not a handsome Manse? The house looking its best, May 2012.

Is that not a handsome Manse? The house looking its best, May 2012.

Welcome to Meanwhile, at the Manse’s first anniversary!

Growing up at the Manse: Dad (Wendell), Mum (Lorna) and left to right me, Melanie, John and Ken.

Growing up at the Manse: Dad (Wendell), Mum (Lorna) and, from left, me, Melanie, John and Ken, circa 1967.

I began this blog a year ago today, the day that my husband, Raymond, and I became the owners of the former United Church manse in tiny Queensborough, Ont., north of Highway 7 and on the edge of the Canadian Shield. It is the house in which I spent what I consider the formative years of my life – from age 4 to age 15 – because my father, The Rev. Wendell Sedgwick, was the minister of the United Church of Canada‘s Queensborough Pastoral Charge and the job came with, well, a manse to live and raise your young family in. You can read my very first post, explaining the whole thing, here.

And if you read the “About” post at the top of this page, you’ll see that Raymond and I had great visions of getting the interior renovation/restoration that the Manse needs under way. One year later, what have we accomplished? Not so much.

Will this be the year?

Raymond with our new clothesline, put in by our friend and neighbour Ed.

Raymond with our new clothesline, put in by our friend and neighbour Ed Couperus.

Mind you, it’s not like we haven’t done any property improvements since January 2012. We have done something that we are very proud of, planted two trees – an elm and a maple. (And in the process removed the huge sad stump that was all that remained of the great big maple that shaded our front yard when I was a kid at the Manse.) We have had the rotted old clothesline post replaced and now have a brand new clothesline.

Newly painted red oil tank and new (to us) red truck.

Newly painted red oil tank (in the background) and matching new (to us) red truck.

We have done a lot of grounds cleanup, with help from our friend and neighbour John Barry. We’ve had the eavestroughs repaired, and installed ice guards on the roof. We have done a little bit of gardening. We have cleaned out the garage. We have pulled up old (dating from my childhood) carpeting. We have painted the oil tank bright red. And we have done battle with the ladybugs (indoors) and the wasps (outdoors and, sometimes, indoors – and Raymond is very allergic).

But we’ve also done a lot of just enjoying our quiet place in Queensborough, sitting out on the front porch in the nice weather and taking in the view and the birdsong. We’ve identified birds. We’ve cooked meals, both for ourselves and for a few visitors. We’ve taken lots of drives along the quiet country roads throughout the area, exploring places both familiar (to me, at least) and new. We’ve met lots of great people, and learned a lot about the history of – and current events in – our little neck of the woods.

We’ve been soaking it all in.

The other day Raymond and I were discussing what might be at the root of our not having got started on the renovation. (Aside, that is, from not having a spare couple of hundred thousand dollars.) The thing seems to be that everything is connected to everything else. For instance: the house needs electrical work: outlets are few, three-prong outlets even fewer, and there are some wonky switches. But it doesn’t make any sense to have an electrician go into the walls until we’ve made a decision on the insulation and the plaster. The insulation is: sawdust. Vintage (very), and funky, and environmentally friendly, and not inefficient. But is it really sufficient? It will have settled since it was installed when the house was built in 1888. Do we top it up with something? Do we remove and replace it? And if we remove and replace it, can we do that without trashing the original plaster walls, which I do not want to do? But are the original plaster walls in good enough shape to keep? Some are; some (now covered with wallpaper or panelling) may not be. But even if they’re not in good shape, should we replaster them or replace them with drywall? And – what was that about the electrical work again?

You see what I mean? It feels like it has to be a whole-house project, one thing at a time, and – very importantly – everything done in the right order. You can’t be going back and replacing insulation after you’ve got final interior wall finishes in place. Or, well, you can, but it’s stupid and it’s costly.

You know what it is? Intimidating.

It’s so much easier to just sit in the sunshine on the front porch watching Queensborough go by…

A year’s worth of adventures in Queensborough, at the Manse

Raymond and me at the January 2012 community skating party at the millpond in Queensborough in January 2012, a few days before we became the official owners of the Manse. A lot has happened since then!(Photo by Elaine Kapusta)

Raymond and me at the community skating party at the millpond in Queensborough in January 2012, a few days before we became the official owners of the Manse. A lot has happened since then! (Photo by Elaine Kapusta)

This is the last day of the year. Not the calendar year, obviously, but the year that has gone by since Raymond and I bought the Manse – the house I grew up in – in Queensborough, Ont. Tonight’s post will be No. 314 – one for every day of the past year (minus Sundays, my day of rest; but including Feb. 29, since 2012 was a leap year). That’s a lot of writing! Though since it’s about a subject very close to my heart, it hasn’t seemed like work. As I often tell people, this blog practically writes itself.

Anyway, year-end being often a time for reflection and looking back, I thought I’d take a trip back through the past 12 months and a few of the adventures Raymond and I have had as we’ve adjusted to the idea that we own this historic house – that needs a lot of work – in tiny, pretty Queensborough.

(We are, by the way, still adjusting.)

Okay, here we go, month by month:

January 2012

January 2012: We visited our new acquisition on a cold, grey winter day. We took measurements of rooms, and wondered: what on earth have we got ourselves into?

February 2012

February 2012: Thanks to some demolition work by my brother John, the turquoise colour on the kitchen’s original plaster walls – the colour that I remember from my childhood – is revealed, for the first time in about 40 years.

March 2012

March 2012: As the weather turned nicer, Raymond and I started taking drives along  the rural roads in the area. And soaking up the fact that old, evocative things like split-rail fences were still to be found as part of the landscape of central Hastings County.

April 2012

April 2012: On a gorgeous spring day, we finished raking all the leaves and debris from the Manse’s expansive lawn. And it looked beautiful in the afternoon spring sunshine. And we were very proud of ourselves.

May 2012

May 2012: Raymond buys his long-dreamed-of red pickup truck, especially for service at the Manse. Now all he needs is a beagle named Kip to ride shotgun.

June 2012

June 2012: We attended our first Hastings County auction, near Stoco, featuring the amazing and popular local auctioneer Boyd Sullivan (here holding up – well, a china chicken). We took in several more auctions as the year went on, and can’t wait until auction season starts again in spring 2013.

July 2012

July 2012: A zen moment at the Manse on a hot summer day, looking out from the shade of the side lawn to the intersection of two of Queensborough’s busiest streets – “busy” by Queensborough standards, of course.

August 2012

August 2012: The annual summer service at beautiful and historic Hazzard’s Corners Church, where my father, The Rev. Wendell Sedgwick, was once the minister. We were all joining in as the featured performers sang “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” Perfect.

September 2012

September 2012: On Labour Day Monday, the last day of summer before the school year began – and a scorcher as the great drought of 2012 continued – Raymond and I paid a visit to my beloved Madoc Township Public School, where I attended Grades 1 through 6 from 1966 to 1971. The bell rang for recess just as we were leaving.

October 2012

October 2012: A new painting on the walls of the Manse – a landscape showing the Hazzard’s Corners area by Vera Burnside, a wonderful teacher, Sunday School teacher, artist and friend whom I remember so fondly. I bought the painting at – of course – a local auction.

November 2012

November 2012: The last of the late-fall sunshine shining (after a storm) on the trees and the Black River at the heart of Queensborough.

December 2012

December 2012: Raymond’s Christmas tree made of books in the Manse study.

January 2013: One of the most fun of the many links and interesting tidbits that readers have sent over the year: a song celebrating (sort of) Highway 7, the Trans Canada Highway, as it runs through the little villages in Queensborough’s neck of the woods – like Actinolite, which is only 10 minutes away. You readers find, and know, and send, the most amazing things.

And I hope you will continue to, as Meanwhile, at the Manse heads into Year 2. Tell Raymond and me more about renovating a Victorian brick house; tell us more about historic linoleum and plaster; tell us definitively how to get all those layers of wallpaper off the walls; tell us how to grow a garden. Tell us your Queensborough stories, your Hastings County stories, your North of Seven stories.

It’s really all about telling stories, isn’t it?

A McDonald’s in Madoc, on the “bypass”: good or bad thing?

McDonald's is open for business in Madoc, and it was big news in the local newspapers. This photo is from the Belleville Intelligencer, and you can read reporter Mark Hoult's report on the new business here.

McDonald’s is open for business in Madoc, and it was big news in the local newspapers. This photo is from the Belleville Intelligencer, and you can read reporter Mark Hoult’s report on the new business (still, as of the time the photo was taken, minus the giant Golden Arches) here.

It was a big deal for the small village of Madoc when it was announced several months ago that a McDonald’s franchise would be built just outside town – on what we used to call, back in the day, “the bypass.” Those days of the 1960s and early 1970s were when terrible things happened to towns large and small thanks to the “modern” idea of “the bypass.” They were the days when good highways were new, gas was cheap, and speed was what one wanted in travel. Ergo, bypassing towns in which you had to reduce your speed to 30 miles an hour (this was before metric, people) via a highway just outside of the town limits was considered a highly desirable thing. And the result was that an incredible number of villages and towns were “bypassed” – by the traffic, and thus by economic opportunity. And ruined, or very nearly. It was basically the worst civic-planning decision of all time. All in the name of progress.

But anyway, the bypass of downtown Madoc exists in the form of “Number Seven Highway,” as people of a certain vintage charmingly call it. No. 7 is the Trans-Canada, and zips straight through from Ottawa to Peterborough and thence carries on along the northern edge of Toronto, though many westbound travellers head south at Peterborough, via Highways 35/115, to the 401 and on to Toronto.

At the point on “the bypass” where it intersects with another highway, #62 running straight north from Belleville through Madoc and on to Bancroft and beyond, a bit of a commercial centre is springing up. There is a Tim Horton’s and an Ultramar – and, as of these past recent weeks, a McDonald’s. You can’t blame these operations for choosing location, location, location; it’s a busy crossroads, not only for cars but also for transport trucks and, in their various seasons, ATVs and snowmobiles. The parking lot at the new, open-24-hours McDonald’s is set up for all those vehicles and buses too.

I’ve heard a lot of local people express dismay at the coming of the Golden Arches. They worry – justifiably – about travellers, and locals too, stopping there for breakfast or lunch or supper rather than patronizing the restaurants in town, off the bypass. They see it as an unwelcome intrusion by Corporate America into a pretty, unique and off-the-beaten-track little village. I totally get that.

There’s another side to the coin, though. For one thing, my understanding is that the McDonald’s has agreed to have a sizeable display of brochures and other local tourist information. If travellers who would ordinarily whiz by will now stop at the Madoc McDonald’s – “McMadoc,” as the ads in the local papers call it, which I find rather cute – for a bathroom break at minimum, and maybe a meal, and into the bargain are able to find out what lies in the area beyond the bypass – well, they might just possibly venture a bit south into the village itself. And they will discover treasures like the Hidden Goldmine Bakery and the Country Treasures gift, antiques and collectibles store, not to mention coffeehouse Amazing Coffee, Johnston’s venerable gift shop and pharmacy, the fantastic One Stop Butcher Shop, the Barley restaurant and pub, a couple of good pizza places, and quite a lot more. Or they might decide to turn north and discover the O’Hara Mill living-history site and conservation area, or try some Eldorado Cheese Factory cheese, or go as far north as Bancroft, “The Mineral Capital of Canada” – or even, if we Queensborough folks have our planned walking-tour brochures on display, come and see beautiful and historic little Queensborough.

And aside from all that, McDonald’s is very good about having wi-fi available, helpful in an area where internet connections can still be a tad dicey. And it will be handy too for those who might want a late-night nosh in a place where most restaurants are closed pretty early in the evening. Or to any of us on the occasion once or twice a year when we really crave a Sausage McMuffin With Cheese.

And it brings jobs, which is not a small consideration.

So I am going to vote, for now, on the positive side of the new McDonald’s, the McMadoc. And hope it doesn’t turns out to have been a terrible move.

Like the bypass.

Closet space? Not so much.

The closed door that you see here leads to the "Harry Potter closet" underneath the front stairway. It is the only downstairs closet.

The closed door that you see here leads to the “Harry Potter closet” underneath the front stairway. It is the only closet on the ground floor of the Manse. When I was growing up in the house, there was a rack on which coats were hung along the wall beside the stairs, the one at right angles to the back wall where you can see the door. That’s long gone, but may have to be reinstated.

I haven’t written for a while about our renovation plans for the Manse, so perhaps it’s time to get back to that topic. One thing that we will have to think about and deal with is the decided lack of closet space in the house. It seems funny that in a house of that size there is so little space to put the clothes of the people who live there – let alone the coats of visitors who might stop by – but as our friend Elaine Kapusta says, at the time houses like that were built (1888), people didn’t have anything like the amount of clothes that we take for granted these days.

The interior of the Harry Potter closet (before we stuffed it full of stuff). Not overly spacious, as you can see.

Harry Potter closet, interior.

Unless one or more of the originals has been lost in a renovation (which I doubt; not a lot of major renovating got done at the Manse over the years), the house was built with three closets, none of them very big. On the ground floor there is one, which we call the Harry Potter closet because it, like the bedroom Harry was parked in when we first met him at the home of his nasty aunt and uncle Dursley, is under the stairs. It’s not very big, as you can see from this shot of the interior. Now that we’ve stored our cleaning supplies and paper towels and whatnot in there, it’s pretty much full already.

Both the master bedroom and the one we call the girls’ room – because it was where my sister, Melanie, and I slept when we were kids – have closets, and if you were feeling generous you might even call them walk-in closets. But once the rack in each is filled with clothes, there won’t exactly be a lot of space for walking around. And they are minus luxuries like a light or a mirror – or a door.

And those are the sum total of the Manse’s original closets.

In the 1970s when “wood” panelling – the latest and greatest thing at the time, more’s the pity – was installed on the walls of the Manse’s kitchen, the bedroom where my brothers, John and Ken, slept also got the panelling treatment. I think this may have been so that a closet could be constructed out of panelling in one corner of the room. And there it is to this day, in all its “wood”-panelled loveliness. Not exactly something we are dying to keep. But hey, it’s a closet!

Meanwhile, in Montreal Raymond and I have considerably more closet space – and our closets are stuffed. This bodes ill for the storage situation at the Manse.

Not long ago I heard or read something to the effect of: In the first half of your life, you accumulate things; the second half is for getting rid of them. That kind of stuck with me. In recent weeks I’ve been trying to get rid of some things, and the efforts will continue. There is absolutely no need for stuffed closets. I know that if I venture too far into them I will find things that I haven’t worn in decades, and it’s time for that stuff to go.

But even with a big cleanup and cleanout, I know we are going to need more and better closet space at the Manse. To the drawing board!

The Tweed News, and the joys of an old-fashioned stationery store

The offices of the Tweed News on the main street of Tweed, Ont. The building serves not only as the newspaper offices but as a first-rate stationery store – the equivalent for me of a candy store.

The offices of the Tweed News on the main street of Tweed, Ont. The building serves not only as the newspaper offices but as a stationery store – the equivalent for me of a candy store.

Yesterday I wrote about how much I enjoy catching up on all the local news from Hastings and eastern Northumberland counties via the local weekly newspapers that we get in Queensborough. In a comment in response, our almost-neighbour Pauline made the very good point that one of those papers, the Tweed News, is one of a great (and, sadly, disappearing) breed: an independent newspaper. While the free weeklies are owned by big corporations – the Community Press is part of the Québecor empire and the EMC is a Torstar production via its Metroland division (as another reader, Gordon, pointed out in his own comment) – the Tweed News continues, as it has for a very long time, as a local family-run operation. You don’t find many of those any more, and when you do it is something to celebrate.

I suspect that one key reason why the Tweed News – which, unlike the EMC and the Community Press, is a newspaper you have to pay for – is able to keep going is that, in addition to the newspaper business, it’s also in the stationery business. Its office on the main street of Tweed has the newspaper’s tiny newsroom in the back, but in the front is a retail area, with shelves of books and cards and pens and file folders and coin rollers and pencils and pencil sharpeners and notepads and… perhaps from this you can tell that I adore stationery stores. They’re like candy stores to me. I always end up buying stationery supplies that I will never need, like pads for waitresses to write down restaurant orders, and receipt books and whatnot. So this stationery operation is yet another reason for me to love the Tweed News.

Well, that and the fact that when you go to pay for your big pile of stationery products, more than half of which (if you’re me) you don’t actually need, the person who greets you and gives you your change is none other than Rodger Hanna, publisher and editor of the Tweed News. It’s a real thrill!

In honour of my dad: a fresh package of carbon paper, on his old desk in the study of the Manse. Purchased at the Tweed News.

In honour of my dad: a fresh package of carbon paper, on his old (and well-worn) desk in the study of the Manse. Purchased at the Tweed News.

One wonderful thing I found in the store on a recent visit was a package of carbon paper. Carbon paper! Good lord – I couldn’t believe it still existed in this age of photocopiers and home printers. But exist it does, and so of course I bought it. And brought it back to the Manse to the old desk at which my dad used to work. Dad always used carbon paper to make copies of the letters he would type, and maybe his sermons and orders of service too. Sometimes he would make multiple copies with multiple sheets of carbon paper. Very cutting-edge technology at the time.

All of a sudden I’m hearing a silent thought from all readers below the age of 50: What the deuce is carbon paper?

Ask your parents. Or, if you’re younger than 30, maybe your grandparents.

Postscript: My thanks to my friend Lindi Piece (who does two splendid blogs, Ancestral Roofs and In Search of Al Purdy), who reminded me that there was an excellent article about the Tweed News in a recent issue of the very fine Hastings County magazine Country Roads. You can read the article here. (And while you’re on the Country Roads site, check out the beautiful cover photo on the most recent issue by our friend Len Holmes, of the Hazzard’s Corners area – scroll down to the bottom of the screen here to see it.) Also, I should have mentioned that the Tweed News was co-winner (with the Old Hastings Mercantile, a store and gallery in Ormsby that I am extremely eager to visit) of the 2012 Tourism Business of the Year Award at the Hastings County/Comfort Country tourism awards ceremony last fall. Congratulations to publisher and editor in chief Rodger Hanna and company!

A journey through the past (and present), thanks to the local newspapers

My pile of reading last weekend. It doesn't get much better than that.

My pile of reading last weekend. It doesn’t get much better than that.

I love local newspapers. For as long as I have been old enough to travel, I have made a point of buying the local newspaper wherever I may be; you learn so much about a place that way. I have pored over local newspapers in big cities like Paris and London and San Francisco and Edmonton and Vancouver and New Orleans and Boston; but far, far more interesting are the local newspapers in much smaller places, like Gallup, New Mexico, or Deer Isle or Kingfield or Kennebunk, Maine, or Stratford or Kitchener-Waterloo or Haliburton, Ont., or Sherbrooke or Quebec City or Stanstead, Que., or Burlington, Vermont, or Hudson, New Hampshire, or Galveston, Texas, or Nantes, France. When you read about the town-council meetings and the latest efforts to attract tourists and how the high-school basketball team is doing and what the big social events were in the past few days, you really get a sense of a place and its people and how things work there.

So you can imagine how much I love the local newspapers that get delivered to the Manse. There are two weeklies, both free (though I’d pay good money for them): the EMC and the Community Press. The former is independently owned, as far as I can make out (though I stand to be corrected on that), and the latter is part of the Quebecor empire. And I must also mention the Tweed News, which is a weekly that one has to pay for, but that is well worth it and that Raymond and I seek out every time we visit.

I’ve written before about how much I love arriving at the Manse and scooping up the papers from the mailbox and catching up on all the local news. But last weekend when Raymond and I were there for the first time in almost a month, it was a particularly rich haul. And here’s the thing when it comes to local news in Queensborough and environs: it’s not just an insight into the local area, but, for me, a journey though the past. (Phrase courtesy of a great Neil Young song.)

It’s because those little regional community papers cover the whole geographical span of a very large chunk of my life: central-south Hastings County (where I lived from age 4 to almost 15, at the Manse in Queensborough); eastern Northumberland County (where I lived from age 15 to when it was time to leave home for university and career, in Campbellford – they call it Trent Hills these days, but don’t let that fool you); and even western Northumberland County (where I lived, off and on, from age 21 to age 37, in Port Hope). You can just imagine how many names I recognize when I read those papers! People who were my teachers, my classmates, parishioners of my father’s churches, friends, colleagues… I am constantly reading sections out loud when people I know or remember are mentioned, and Raymond (who couldn’t possibly know or remember any of them, having met me after I’d left Ontario) is very patient at listening to my recollections of what this now-middle-aged person did when we were both in Grade 4, or what I thought about that highly successful small-town businessperson when we were both just gawky teenagers in high school.

The haul of news from last weekend’s visit was particularly rich. I learned about how the Municipality of Tweed is talking about bringing in clear garbage bags (so people can no longer hide the stuff that should be in the recycling) and how some people have “privacy concerns” about it (get over it, people); about how not everyone thinks the change in title of the head of the Tweed municipal council from the time-honoured “reeve” to the rather presumptuous (for a small municipality) “mayor” is a good idea (I am with you); about a thrilling Silver Stick Tournament victory by the Centre Hastings McConnell Funeral Home Peewee Grizzlies, after having had to win four games in overtime; about the death of one of the many kids in a big Irish-Catholic family whose various siblings attended school with my siblings and me, and also that of a stalwart and much-loved member of one of the congregations my dad once served; of plans to restore and turn to exciting new arts-oriented uses the historic Town Hall in Campbellford; of concerns by all the communities along the Trent-Severn Waterway about the federal government’s plan to increase the fees boaters must pay to use it, all the while cutting waterway staff; and on and on and on and on.

And of course I learned about the monthly crokinole parties for the Eldorado community, which I wrote about here.

It can be kind of overwhelming, all this “news from home,” so to speak. Especially when you see photos of people you remember as young and thin and beautiful 16-year-olds and they are (like yourself) middle-aged and pudgy and – well, changed. Older.

But speaking of old, and to end this on a happy note, I absolutely must share the very best thing that was in all the local newspapers I read last weekend. It was the story of the 99th-birthday celebration of twin brothers, the Hardys, in lovely little Warkworth. And the brothers’ names are: Ewart and Stewart. Really: how great is that? Happy birthday, Ewart and Stewart!

When the ladies brought the lunch

I found this photo of an old-style euchre party in the Wellington (Ont.) Advertiser, and it's kind of the classic euchre-party photo, really. (I like that it's in early-'60s black and white too, even though it was taken last October.) These people haven't made it to the lunch part yet, but given that it's being held in rural Ontario, there is no doubt that they will.

I found this photo of an old-style euchre party in the Wellington (Ont.) Advertiser, and it’s kind of the classic euchre-party photo, really. (I like that it’s in early-’60s black and white too, even though it was taken only last October.) These people haven’t made it to the lunch part yet, but given that the euchre party is being held in rural Ontario, there is no doubt that they will.

In yesterday’s post about a crokinole party in Eldorado (a tiny village not far from Queensborough) I quoted the notice of the event that had appeared in a local weekly newspaper. As I retyped the words one phrase made me smile and brought back a wave of nostalgia.

The words are innocuous enough: “Please bring lunch.”

Why would that invoke nostalgia? Because of the word that’s not there, but always, always, always used to be back in the 1960s and ’70s when I was growing up at the Manse. That word is “ladies.” Notices of crokinole parties, and euchre parties, and any other such community events in those days always ended with the same phrase:

“Ladies please bring lunch.”

The former one-room schoolhouse in Queensborough, now the Queensborough Community Centre. Over the years probably thousands of euchre parties and other such community events have been held here. In the old days the ladies were asked to bring the lunch; now it's everybody's job!

The former one-room schoolhouse in Queensborough, now the Queensborough Community Centre. Over the years probably thousands of euchre parties and other such community events have been held here. In the old days the ladies were asked to bring the lunch; now it’s everybody’s job!

And doubtless the ladies did: each bringing a Tupperware container of two (with her name written on a piece of tape stuck to the bottom, so she could retrieve the containers at the end of the evening) containing, I expect, those yummy church-basement (as I call them) crustless sandwiches cut into triangular shapes and filled with tuna salad and egg salad and ham salad; and maybe the pinwheel ones where alternate slices of white and brown bread with something along the lines of pimiento-flavoured cream cheese between them were rolled up and cut into thin circles. There would have been homemade bread-and-butter pickles and – in the Queensborough area, anyway – most definitely slices of locally made cheddar cheese – orange, white and marbled – sharp enough to make your cheeks pucker. (I’ve written here about how no event in the area, in those days or these, is complete without a platter of cheese. I imagine it’s because of the longstanding – though now, sadly, almost gone – dairying tradition and cheese factories run by local co-operatives.)

And there would have been squares for dessert: date squares and brownies and lemon squares and squares and squares and more squares. Rural Ontario was very big on squares. And there is nothing wrong with that. I love squares.

And I imagine it all would have been washed down with cups of that extra-strong Orange Pekoe tea that just suits church-basement sandwiches and date squares so well. I am sure no one went home from the euchre party hungry.

And now? Well, I’d be willing to bet there are still triangular sandwiches and squares and strong tea, though perhaps some new-fangled items like “wraps” have made it into the mix. And perhaps some people even bring store-bought things. But I’m sure everyone still goes home well-fed.

But just not by “the ladies” anymore. Or at least, not just the ladies.

“What’s crokinole?”

Lee Valley makes a very traditional crokinole board.

Lee Valley sells a very traditional, classic crokinole board. To see some beautiful handmade ones, look here. (Photo from

Last weekend when we were at the Manse in Queensborough, I was reading the upcoming-community-events listings in one of the local weekly newspapers and this caught my eye (because it was in Eldorado, the village where one of the churches in my dad‘s old pastoral charge was located):

“ELDORADO CROKINOLE Party Friday, January 18, 8 p.m., Madoc Township Recreation Centre, Hwy #62 at Eldorado. Everyone is welcome. Please bring lunch.”

Which I proceeded to read aloud to Raymond, because it sounded like such a lovely, homey, old-fashioned event. And we’d missed it by only a few hours. (It was late Friday night.)

To which he responded: “What’s crokinole?”

Ah, these poor benighted born-in-the-U.S.A. folks. They just don’t know anything about our rural Ontario traditions.

So I explained about the big round (or octagonal) board, and how you’d flick the little wooden disks toward the hole in the centre, meanwhile trying to knock your opponents’ wooden disks out of the running (kind of like shuffleboard, or curling, or bocce, I explained). And also the all-important part about how if one of the wooden disks you flicked pinged against one of the metal stick thingies close to the centre of the board, it would hurt your finger. Why on earth it would hurt your finger after you’d already flicked it is beyond my comprehension, but there you go. It’s part of the game. (As our friend Jim Withers said in a crokinole-themed comment he made on an earlier post that mentioned vintage board games, “it’s one of the great mysteries.”)

Anyway, Raymond kind of looked on blankly as I told him about all this. But I think if I got him into a rousing game of crokinole the natural competitor in him would emerge, and he’d have a whale of a time.

So the question is: When is the next Eldorado Crokinole Party?

A beautiful vintage crokinole board, purchased from Eaton's in 1920. Now I have crokinole-board envy! (Photo courtesy of Scott Anderson)

A beautiful vintage crokinole board, purchased from Eaton’s in 1920. (Photo courtesy of Scott Anderson)

Postscript: Thanks to readers who sent in stories of their own fondness for crokinole, and their happy memories of playing it; you have inspired Raymond and me to try to find a board – preferably a vintage one – for the Manse.

Scott Anderson (a Hastings County native, from the village of Blessington, down in the southeast corner of the county) sent the photo at right of a board that has been in his family since before he was born, and that holds pride of place in his family cottage.

It was purchased from Eaton’s in 1920 and he still has the handwritten receipt for $5 – how cool is that?

I now have crokinole-board envy.

A snowblower in the country: essential, useful, or just fun?

Raymond shovelling the Manse driveway this past weekend. Somehow I think he would find it more entertaining to clear snow if a snowblower were in the mix.

Raymond shovelling the Manse driveway this past weekend. Somehow I think he would find it more entertaining to clear snow if a snowblower were in the mix.

A snowblower in every garage is a fairly recent concept, in my worldview. I wrote here about the long-ago days (the 1960s) when I was a kid at the Manse, and how exciting it was when our friend and neighbour Bill Holgate would come along with his exotic tractor-pulled snowblower and clear the big driveway at the Manse. Now it seems like almost every household in the country, and even in many urban (especially suburban) areas has a snowblower, and unless I am misinformed, retired chaps have more fun than anything hauling them out and clearing the snow, even when the snowfall is, shall we say, light.

I have to admit that I mocked the whole idea for a long time. But now that we are the happy owners of the Manse, I kind of see the point of snowblowers. We are very fortunate in that our friend and neighbour Ed Couperus has been shovelling the driveway for us, and it’s fantastic when we arrive there late at night after a long drive from Montreal to have the driveway cleared and be able to pull in easily. Ed is the best. But when we’re actually around we can’t expect Ed to do the work; it’s our job!

And while we all know that shovelling snow is good exercise… well, life is short. Snowfalls (especially recently, here in Montreal at least) can be huge. And snowblowing is – kind of fun.

What do you think, readers? Especially rural residents. How important is a snowblower to quality of life? Better to burn the calories shovelling the snow, or do it quickly with a snowblower and have more time for other pursuits?

Your input is very much appreciated. Because, you know, there is snow in our future.