Every nook and cranny of this house tells a story.

Manse front staircase, upstairs banister

The banister in between whose posts my little brother John once got his head stuck, creating a kerfuffle once upon a time at the Manse.

Every now and again when I am rattling around in the Manse, I am caught up short (and sharply) at how absolutely full of memory every square inch of that place is for me. I mean, yes, it stands to reason; it is the house I grew up in, and that I have now come back to after an interval of almost four decades. So of course it’s filled with memories, and most times I just bumble along with that notion just buzzing around in the background. And the fact that Raymond and I are creating a new (though very part-time) life at the Manse means that often the older stuff really is shoved into the far background, and I’m focused more on new things that are happening that will make newer memories.

This is a cute (I think) photo of my brother John in the Manse kitchen when he was maybe a bit younger than at the time of The Banister Incident. (Photo by my grandfather, J.A.S. Keay)

This is a cute (I think) photo of my brother John in the Manse kitchen when he was maybe a bit younger than at the time of The Banister Incident. (Photo by my grandfather, J.A.S. Keay)

But the other evening as I was climbing the front staircase (not to be confused with the back staircase), I caught myself absent-mindedly thinking, “Yeah, that’s the place where John got his head stuck between the banister posts.” And of course it was: when he was very little, my little brother John one day got adventurous (or something) and managed to get his head in between two of those posts. After which (you can see where this is going) he couldn’t get it back out again. Much wailing and worry ensued on the part of little John; much hilarity on the part of his mean older sisters, Melanie and me. I imagine it was Dad (who was the United Church minister, which was the reason we lived in the Manse) who came along and calmed everybody down and got John’s head back where it belonged (which was not in between the banister posts). In the years since then – this was probably 1968 or so, when John was 4, and that was not exactly yesterday – Melanie and I have every now and then hauled out the old story for a bit of a giggle at John’s expense.

But what hit me so much the other evening wasn’t so much being reminded of that long-ago comical (especially in retrospect) situation; it was the fact that I can look anywhere, anywhere, in that house, and come up with memories. Probably dozens of memories per square foot. Stories that would be too boring to the average outsider (you, good reader) to bother relating, but that mean something to my family and me.

What a gift it is to be in that place full of memory.

12 thoughts on “Every nook and cranny of this house tells a story.

  1. A lovely story, Katherine. Fortunately, my brother took over our family farm, so each summer I return to Saskatchewan and sleep in my old bedroom in the old house (my brother’s family lives in the “new” house, built in the same farmyard, and the old house is empty except for summer visitors) and wake to the same wallpaper with a pattern of yellow roses that I chose from Sears catalogue when I was twelve years old. The house is filled with the childhood ghosts of days gone by, so I understand your nostalgic memories perfectly. And I continue to read and love your blog, thank you so much.

    • Hey, Elinor, thank you for this lovely comment! I can just picture you waking in your childhood bedroom, to the wallpaper that you chose long ago – and boy, can I relate! I did a wallpaper-themed post a while back that featured a photo of the groovy flower-power wallpaper that my sister and I picked out for our bedroom at the Manse, probably at just about the same time as you were choosing your yellow-rose wallpaper for the farmhouse in Saskatchewan. I think it’s so cool that your choice is still there to be enjoyed! Ours is too, but under a subsequent layer; of course, being the proud owner of the Manse now (and thus able to do anything I damn well want), I’ve peeled off a section or two of the “new” (probably only three decades old) stuff to reveal our early-1970s choice.

    • Indeed – as a wonderful author (Reta Woods Pitts) reminds us in her autobiography of the same (Roses in December) name! That book – and thanks, Gayle and Grant, for bringing it to our attention – is a veritable treasure trove of great history and stories of the Madoc area, and of Gayle’s family. Absolutely engrossing, and very well-written!

  2. If those walls could talk. Reading your blog, Katherine, I can’t help wondering what it would be like to do what you’ve done and buy the old family home, with all its memories. We didn’t have a Banister Incident in the house where I grew up, but we did have The Car Rolled Over on the Lawn Incident, and The Soup on the Head Incident. It’s all part of family lore. I hated to see my 88-year-old mother sell the house a few years ago, especially when her farmer/carpenter father had built it, but I couldn’t imagine buying it. (I was glad, though, that a nice young family that resembled ours, circa 1959 – a boy and two girls – had moved in.) My appreciation for where I came from has only grown over time, but I think I am living proof that you can not only take the boy from the country, but the country from the boy. You, on the other hand, give lie to Thomas Wolfe’s contention that you can’t go home again.

      • Katherine, I thought you’d never ask. … The first probably occurred when I was away at university, but I’ve heard it recounted so many times I feel like I was there. Early one morning in the late 1960s a car speeding down the hill that leads to the hamlet where I grew up failed to negotiate a bend in the road and rolled over on our front lawn, causing a tremedous crash – and a commotion in the Withers household. My father and youngest sister, Elaine, sprang into action by fumbling around with the phone book in a frantic effort to call the OPP. To most people, my father was a kind, calm, easygoing guy. And he was – most of the time, except when he was in full-panic mode. (Think of when Homer Simpson called the operator and shouted, “Quick, give me the number for 9-1-1!”) Actually, this happened before our rural area had 9-1-1, so you were supposed to call the police number whenever there was an emergency. It shouldn’t have been so hard to find, but on this day apparently it was. While this was going on, my mother was outside, calmly putting blankets over the injured occupants of the car, two Asian gentlemen, who were now lying on the grass. My cool-as-a-cucumber mother was offering them reassuring words while daubing their foreheads with a damp cloth. The live fish the men had caught in Georgian Bay and were hoping to transport back to Toronto were now flopping around all over our lawn. Quite a tableau, n’est-ce pas? … My mother did lose her usual sang-froid, however, in the other incident I mentioned. It occurred in the mid-1950s, when Mom ran a restaurant/snack bar, which was attached to the house. She was transferring a bowl or pot of steaming hot soup from the stove and tripped over my oldest sister, who might have been only four or five years old at the time, and who’d decided, unbeknownst to my mother, to colour in her colouring book on the floor right behind where Mom was standing. It appeared to happen in slow motion. I can still see the hot soup landing on my sister’s head, and I can still hear her screams. Mom was horrified, guilt-stricken and fearful that Liz would be scarred for life. Dad dropped what he was working on in the adjacent service station and rushed Liz the six kilometres to Midland to be treated by our family doctor, one Churchill Swan. (I know I’m being a shameless name-dropper, but Dr. Swan was the father of CanLit author Susan Swan.) … The Chinese gentlemen turned out to be not seriously hurt, and my sister wasn’t scarred, but it is memories of incidents like these that make a house, or manse, a home.

      • What amazing recollections! The tapestry of our lives, eh? Thanks for sharing.

      • Great, great stories, Jim! I have to tell you I felt thoroughly – though vicariously – traumatized on behalf of your mother (let alone your sister) with The Soup on the Head Incident. So frightfully easy to see how that could have happened, and I’m sure it was terrifying for all concerned. Thank goodness all turned out all right in the end! As for The Car Rolled Over on the Lawn Incident – wow! You totally brought back the recollection of having to dial the full phone number of the police, in the days before 911. I had utterly forgotten that. But now that you mention it, yes, it was considered wise to keep the number of the local OPP detachment handy to the phone, for emergencies just such as a rolled-over car on the lawn. But did any of us ever do it? Not so much.

  3. Sitting here in Metis I’m surrounded by five generations of Savages (NB capital S) with a sixth arriving Friday and a host of memories _ some of which are recorded in my collection. (I think I gave you a copy ?) I hope you’re writing down yours.

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