Easter at the Manse

This is me (at left) and my younger siblings John and Melanie at the Manse in 1966 – the era when we were at the prime age for enjoying an early-Easter-morning Easter-egg hunt. My youngest sibling, Ken, wasn't yet born; when he came along, he just added to the Easter-morning ruckus. (Photo by my grandfather, J.A.S. Keay)

This is me (at left) and my younger siblings John and Melanie at the Manse in 1966 – the era when we were at the prime age for enjoying an early-Easter-morning Easter-egg hunt. My youngest sibling, Ken, wasn’t yet born; when he came along, he just added to the Easter-morning ruckus. (Photo by my grandfather, J.A.S. Keay)

It has been a happy but very busy Easter Sunday here in Montreal for Raymond and me, which means I am sending out Easter wishes to readers very late in the day indeed. But better late than never, I think: happy Easter to all of you, wherever you may be! And if you are not of the Christian persuasion, then this: happy spring! (Because I think it really is here, despite the snow flurries that are showing up in this week’s weather forecast, for our part of the world at least.)

Because it was a busy day here in Montreal, I didn’t have a lot of time to reflect on Easter Sundays at the Manse back when I was growing up there. But there is one thing I do remember well, and I’m quoting the Grinch here: “The noise, noise, noise, noise!”

The fact that there were – and are – two staircases at  the Manse (as you can see in this photo: in the foreground is the rougher "back" staircase that leads down to the kitchen, and beside it, with only a plaster wall separating them, is the more formal "front" staircase) made our childhood Easter-egg hunts all the more rambunctious.

The fact that there were – and are – two staircases at the Manse (as you can see in this photo: in the foreground is the rougher “back” staircase that leads down to the kitchen, and beside it, with only a plaster wall separating them, is the more formal “front” staircase) made our childhood Easter-egg hunts all the more rambunctious.

That would be the noise of four little kids, early on Easter Sunday morning, charging up and down and all around the house looking for hidden chocolate Easter eggs. The Easter Bunny (in the form of my mum, I believe) had a system at the Manse whereby the egg hunt began with a little piece of paper on which was written a clue to one child – and I think it started with me, as the eldest, but I could be wrong about that – about where the first one was. So all four of us would go charging to that general area, and when the egg was found, with it would be another piece of paper with a clue for the next child (that would be my sister, Melanie), so we would then go roaring after that, and then there’d be a clue for my brother John, and then one for the youngest, Ken, and then it started all over again with me. And if I’m not mistaken, the Easter Bunny arranged it so that one find would be downstairs and the next would be upstairs, and that pattern would continue throughout the hunt. So there was much crashing up and down the stairs; and wasn’t it happy for all concerned that in that house there were, and are, two sets of stairs? All the better to crash up and down on!

Those are happy memories, as you can imagine. In my mind’s eye, the sun always shone on Easter Sunday morning. And then after the big chocolate-egg hunt, it was off to Sunday School and church at St. Andrew’s United as usual. With the great Easter hymns and a wonderful feeling of celebration at church, and the sanctuary packed full.

A joyous day, always. As today has been. I hope it has been for all of you too.

The neighbourly wave

Still a little stiff in the execution, but Raymond's initiation into the rural wave is coming along. (Note reminder of his favourite team having from the rear-view mirror.)

Still a little stiff in the execution, but Raymond’s initiation into the rural wave is coming along. (Note the reminder of his favourite team hanging from the rear-view mirror.)

One thing I’ve had to get Raymond trained up on, vis-à-vis having a home in Queensborough, is the habit of acknowledging drivers you meet when you’re out on the road. It’s a time-honoured rural tradition, as those of you who are familiar with rural ways will know. As our friend Lindi Pierce put it in a recent Queensborough-themed post on her excellent blog  about architectural heritage, Ancestral Roofs (ancestralroofs.blogspot.ca): “In the country one does not pass another human, known or unknown, without acknowledging her presence; how rude would that be?”

It’s a nice friendly thing, the driver-to-driver wave. I’m used to it thanks to having grown up in Queensborough, but because I was not old enough to drive when I lived there – we moved away around the time of my 15th birthday – it was not something I had occasion to practise myself. My mum or dad were the ones behind the wheel and thus the ones who waved to the drivers of cars we met. And then I spent many years living in larger places, and in larger places the rural wave is unknown.

When Raymond and I bought the Manse and started spending time there, the habit of waving came back naturally to me. But for Raymond it was a new thing, and I always had to remind him to wave when we met another car. Occasionally I still do. And it’s interesting (and sometimes kind of amusing) to observe him getting used to it. You see, there’s a certain technique in the wave, and he’s still learning it.

For one thing, it’s not an actual wave; it’s more a casual brief lifting of your left hand from the steering wheel, uncurling your fingers and raising them up perpendicularly from the wheel. (Sometimes men with big hands – I have often seen my father do this – just raise a finger or two.)

Spotted in the Madoc Foodland parking lot. Do you think this driver knows about the rural wave? (Photo by Raymond Brassard)

Spotted in the Madoc Foodland parking lot: do you think this driver knows about the rural wave? (Photo by Raymond Brassard)

The other element of the art of the rural wave is timing. Raymond sometimes waves a little too early and a little too quickly, so that it’s over and done by the time we meet the other car and the other driver won’t have seen it. Your waving motion has to be a little slow and lazy – laconic, let’s say; and you have to wait to do it until just a half a second or so before your two vehicles meet.

But we’re practising, and he’s learning. He’ll get there! Meanwhile, I have a question for you: do you think this driver knows about the rural wave?

“Just adding to the story…”

A snapshot my brother John took of a great photograph that he is lucky enough to own, a picture by well-known Canadian photographer Simeon Posen of: the Manse!

A snapshot my brother John took of a great photograph that he is lucky enough to own, a picture by well-known Canadian photographer Simeon Posen of: the Manse!

I received a nice Easter gift today from my brother John. It was a snapshot he had taken of a photograph, an artwork that he has owned for several years and that features none other than: the Manse! The photograph is by well-regarded Canadian landscape and architectural photographer Simeon Posen, whose biography and gorgeous portfolio you can see here.

John acquired the picture more than a decade ago, when it was in a show at Toronto’s very famous Jane Corkin Gallery (now called the Corkin Gallery), a pre-eminent place in the photography world. I don’t know if the photograph had or has a name, but John wouldn’t have needed a name to recognize what the picture was the instant he first saw it at the gallery; it is, after all, the house he grew up in. (How Simeon Posen happened to find little Queensborough and the Manse is anybody’s guess.) And now John owns it. And I knew that, and have admired – and yes, I’ll admit it, coveted – the photograph every time I have seen it at John’s house.

(One thing that makes me love the photo is the evidence it gives – thanks to the large shadow in the foreground – of the huge and beautiful maple tree that adorned the front yard in our childhood days but decayed and died and was cut down several years ago. You can read here about how Raymond and I got rid of the carcass, and here about the new maple tree we planted in its place.)

Anyway, yes, technically I knew that this very interesting and close-to-home piece of art existed, but in the general hustle-verging-on-frenzy of this past Manse-owning year had quite forgotten about it.

So what a pleasant surprise as I was waiting for the 80 bus home from work here in Montreal this evening to get a text from John with his picture of the picture, and a brief message saying “Just adding to the story.”

It is such a good story, is it not?

Here’s what you need to get ready for Easter at the Manse

Remember these? This is a modern-day version (from a few years back, when I found it in an American supermarket) of the PAAS egg-decorating kits that I think every household had back when I was young.

Remember these? This is a modern-day version (from a few years back, when I found it in an American supermarket) of the PAAS egg-colouring kits that I think every household had back when I was a little kid. (There were no Big Bird-type images then, though; it was in the long-ago days before Sesame Street.)

This is more like what PAAS kits looked like when my siblings and I were actually dyeing eggs with them, way back when.

This is more like what PAAS kits looked like when my siblings and I were dyeing eggs with them, long ago.

I was in a supermarket somewhere in New England a few years ago and I came upon something that I hadn’t seen in a long, long time – and it reminded me of my childhood at the Manse. It was a display of PAAS Easter-egg-colouring kits, and as you can imagine, I had to buy one. And I still have it, because a) I didn’t have any interest in actually hard-boiling a bunch of eggs and colouring them; and b) I didn’t know when I’d find another such thing (I haven’t seen them in Montreal, that’s for sure) so thought I’d better hold onto it for the right moment. Which happens to be now, when I needed a photo of it to illustrate Easter-preparation time at the United Church Manse in Queensborough, Ont., c. 1966.

I haven’t opened my 21st-century PAAS kit, but I can more or less remember what comes in it: some tablets of dye that you dissolve in vinegar (and water?), and a rather delicate metal thingamabob that you use to hold the egg when you dip it in the dyed vinegar/water. And some decorative stickers to dress up the finished pink and yellow and red and purple and blue eggs.

The thing that comes to mind first when I think about dyeing those eggs is the smell of vinegar. Which may be what everyone thinks of first, and is possibly why Heinz now seems to be some sort of partner in the PAAS operation; there’s a big pitch for Heinz vinegar on the back of the kit, telling you that your egg colours will be “ultra-vibrant” if you use it.

Now that's the typeface I remember for PAAS on the kits we had back in the day. And at 10¢, the price is right too!

Now that’s the typeface I remember for the PAAS logo on the kits we had back in the day. No Big Birds here. And at 10¢, the price is right!

Anyway, it’s fun to remember the simple pleasures of getting ready for Easter back when you were a little kid and it was very exciting to see a white hard-boiled egg turn purple before your eyes. (Quite possibly thanks to toxic dye; those were the days before we all started to worry about Red Dye No. 2. Remember the big Red Dye No. 2 scare of the mid-1970s, people? No, well, if you’re younger than 50, of course you don’t. Here’s an interesting tidbit: Time Magazine has included it in a tongue-in-cheek list of the “Top 10 Panics!” that we all somehow managed to survive.)

This evening I found some pictures of vintage PAAS kits online, and I have to say they look a lot more like the ones we used to have at the Manse than the one I have in my kitchen now. Very sweet.

But the final word on PAAS-coloured Easter eggs is this: they were fun to do, but who’s really going to get excited about a hard-boiled egg on Easter morning, no matter how colourful it is? Egg-wise, what mattered at Easter then is what matters at Easter now. And that is (as Raymond’s daughter Dominique reminded us last night): chocolate!

Our area needs a hospital – and I know just the spot

A prime piece of property, right on Highway 7, beside the new McDonald's: I know just what to do with it.

Prime property, right on Highway 7, beside the new McDonald’s: I know just what to do with it.

It is a burr under my saddle, a bee in my bonnet, that the Madoc/Tweed/Marmora/Queensborough area is so far from a hospital. It worries me. I would have no concern making the 50-minute trip to Belleville General Hospital in Belleville for non-urgent things like, I don’t know, a broken arm; but 50 minutes is a long time if you’ve had a heart attack or have been in a serious accident. And a recent report in the local press about average ambulance-response times in central Hastings County – more than eight minutes in some cases, which is an eternity if you’ve had a heart attack – doesn’t make me feel any better.

So yeah, if you live in central Hastings the nearest hospitals – or more to the point, emergency rooms – are in Belleville, Bancroft (an hour away) and Campbellford (also an hour). And yes, I know we live in a rural area and you can’t have everything. But hear me out.

The combined population of the greater Madoc, Tweed and Marmora areas – through which, I want to stress, runs heavily travelled Highway 7, the Trans-Canada Highway, where accidents happen regularly – is just under 17,000. If you add in the nearby areas that would doubtless also make use of a regional ER (Havelock in Peterborough County to the west, Stirling-Rawdon in Hastings to the south, and Addington Highlands in Lennox and Addington County to the east), the population total rises to almost 30,000.

Meanwhile, the Campbellford area’s population is about 12,000 (though the hospital’s catchment area would go into Stirling and also the Havelock area, so okay, maybe 25,000 total). Bancroft’s population is less than 4,000. Picton, in Prince Edward County south of us, has a hospital, and its population is less than 5,000. Lindsay, in nearby Victoria County (or, as it’s officially and boringly known because of a boneheaded decision of a few years back, Kawartha Lakes), has a hospital, with a population of about 20,000. And little Minden, Ont. (where I was born), in Haliburton County, local population less than 6,000? Yes, you guessed it: it has a small hospital, complete with ER.

I think you can see where I’m going with this.

We don’t need a full-service hospital. We don’t need long-term or rehabilitative care; that can be done in Belleville (or in non-hospital facilties), for sure. But I think we need a small but well-equipped ER where emergency and trauma cases can be efficiently dealt with, with a helipad so patients can be transferred quickly to a larger centre if need be. It doesn’t have to be a big sprawling building, so it doesn’t need a big property. Parking can be underground and the helipad can be on the roof (as opposed to on an adjacent piece of land).

It should be very close to Highway 7. It should be centrally located. I know just the spot.

It’s the lot beside the brand-new McDonald’s in Madoc, a vacant space that currently has a big sign on it inviting development. It’s not a huge piece of land, but I think it’s big enough. The location is perfect, right at the intersection of Highway 7 and Highway 62, and not a long drive from either Tweed or Marmora.

Now, I know it’s a big deal even in the best of economic times to get a new hospital built. It requires great drive from the broad community, and it needs tough and determined people to lead the charge and raise money. But it can be done. And it should be done.

It would make our area much more attractive to companies that could provide jobs, and to new residents who would add to the tax base. And I bet it would save a lot of lives.

Shall I make it my mission? Anybody else in?

In the country, you have to test the water. Oops!

waterDuring a pleasant Saturday-morning chat with fellow part-time Queensborough residents Jo-Ann and Steve this past weekend, we got a bit of a wake-up call about one of those things you have to do when you have a house in the country. It was: get the water tested.

There is no municipal water supply in Queensborough; every house has a well. As I’ve reported before, when I was growing up at the Manse the house’s shallow dug well was contaminated, and the water was not safe to drink. As a result, through all the 11 years my family lived there, we had to carry our drinking water in buckets from a village pump that was outside the old schoolhouse (now the Queensborough Community Centre; the pump is no longer there).

The Sedgwicks moved away from Queensborough in 1975. The records that Raymond and I were given when we bought the Manse in January 2012 show that a much deeper well was drilled, on a different part of the property, in 1983. (Why couldn’t they have decided to do it a few years earlier?) And the water from that well is, according to tests done not long before our purchase closed, perfectly free of contamination and thus safe to drink.

A good piece of paper to have: the results of a December 2011 test of the well water at the Manse showing it's free of contamination. Unfortunately, we have just found out we should have tested the water at least three times since that test was done!

A good piece of paper to have: the results of a December 2011 test of the well water at the Manse showing it’s free of contamination. Unfortunately, we have just found out we should have tested the water at least three times since then!

I have a vague recollection of having been told when we bought the place that we’d have to get the water tested again from time to time, but, assuming that meant something like “every five years or so,” hadn’t thought about it again in the whole year and a bit that we’ve been the owners. Bad move, apparently! Steve and Jo-Ann told us that one is supposed to have well water tested three times a year, and they were absolutely right: that’s what the Ontario Ministry of the Environment says: “The quality of your well water can change, and changes often aren’t apparent in the taste, smell, or look of your water.”

So! I guess we’d better get our act together. The testing is free; all you have to do is pick up a testing container at the office of the local health unit, fill it up and bring it back. (The health-unit office‘s hours are not remotely convenient for weekend people like us – 8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays – but we’ll figure something out.) Apparently results come back quickly.

You’d think that as someone who grew up in rural areas I might have known better about the subject of getting well water tested. Have I become as citified as all that? (Then again, I suspect that in the environmentally cavalier 1960s, the rules on things like water testing were a whole lot looser than they are now.) But anyway, clearly we need to start thinking like rural residents. At least part of the time.

A walk featuring cats. And dogs.

A pretty and friendly blue-eyed cat that was nestled (along with two other more skittish ones, who scampered off) near the old Methodist Church steps.

A pretty and friendly blue-eyed cat that was nestled (along with two other more skittish ones, who scampered off) near the old Methodist Church steps.

The pretty church-steps cat was quite happy to get up close and personal.

The church-steps cat was quite happy to get up close and personal. It was hard to leave it behind and carry on with our walk!

There seem to be a lot of cats in Queensborough. Since I love cats, this is all to the good. It’s rare to go out for a walk in the village without coming across at least one or two cats. This may not be surprising; I know of a few households in the general area that – well, let’s just say they have multiple cats. And you can’t leave all those cats indoors all day long. Not when there’s a quiet little village full of things for a cat to explore! And nearby wooded and wetland areas containing things that cats like to hunt.

Anyway, the walk that Raymond and I took yesterday was a bonanza for cat-spotting. First there were the three we came across lounging in the leaves and underbrush in an area where Queensborough’s Methodist Church once stood. Two of them were startled by us and dashed off, but the third one, a sweet thing with beautiful blue eyes, was very pleased to be picked up and rubbed. So that was an excellent start to the walk.

We spotted another cat watching the world go by at one end of town. But the absolute best was when we jumped in the car for a quick drive along Hunt Club Road. I asked Raymond to stop so I could take a photo of a vintage sign on a barn building, one naming the late Allan Sager, long ago the Sunday School superintendent at St. Andrew’s United Church, a great guy, and one of the subjects of posts here and here. While I was doing that, a regular parade of barn cats came out to say hello! And except for the scarred old tomcat who was feeling protective of his brood, the cats were so friendly and lovely. They swirled around and around my ankles as I tried to pet them and take their picture at the same time. I miss my Montreal cats madly whenever I visit the Manse, so this was sweet indeed.

Super-friendly barn cats, more than happy to soak up some attention.

Super-friendly barn cats, more than happy to soak up some attention.

But this being the countryside, there are also lots of dogs. I quite like dogs, as long as they belong to other people and I don’t have to take them for a walk in foul weather at the crack of dawn. And dogs tend to like me. Dogs like Raymond too, but the feeling isn’t quite as mutual. So when we’re out walking and go past a house that has multiple dogs that start barking, he gets uncomfortable. The dogs we saw and heard on our walk were all well-tied-up, so there were no worries on that front; but for my husband a bunch of dogs in full-throated bark is not a happy sound.

I think a beagle is what Raymond needs at the Manse.

I think a beagle is what Raymond needs at the Manse. For his red truck.

But it’s the country and people do have dogs – for hunting maybe, and for all I know there’s even dogsledding. (Lord knows there has to be something to explain all those dogs.) You have to go with the flow. And I think I know a way to get Raymond to come around and get a little more comfortable with the idea of dogs. It will come in the form of a beagle to be named Kip. And Kip will ride shotgun in Raymond’s red truck!

Raymond will love the idea. And he will love Kip. He just doesn’t know it yet.