On the eve of Dominion Day, fireworks – and fireflies

Domion Day EveAs you’ll see from this picture of the flag flying from the front porch of the Manse tonight, Raymond and I are anticipating tomorrow, July 1 – Dominion Day, as I like to call it. Evidently some of our neighbours here in Queensborough are too, because they put on a nice little fireworks display just a few minutes ago. When I went out to take a picture of our flag, that nostalgic scent of post-fireworks smoke was in the air.

I love fireworks!

But there’s another thing that lights up a summer night that I love even more, and that is fireflies. I remember how magical it seemed to me as a kid, seeing them on a summer evening here at the Manse or up at the family farm in Haliburton County, where we always spent July in those days. I think the reason they seem so magical is because they are so ephemeral: now you see them, now you don’t. Or at least, you don’t see them in the place where you saw them just a second before; you may instead see them a few inches or feet away. It is delightful to watch.

I’d been thinking about fireflies in the past few days, after coming across a random reference to them in a book. What I was thinking was how many years it had been since I’d seen one, doubtless due to my urban-living habits over the past few decades. I’d been wishing I might see some fireflies one of these evenings in quiet, dark little Queensborough.

And tonight I did! On a brief walk through the village, I saw a mysterious, brief bright light, and wondered for a half-second what it might have been. And then there was another, and another. They didn’t last long, but they were most definitely there.

And so my wish was fulfilled. Something else to celebrate on Dominion Day!

A celebratory Queensborough sound from long ago

Just MarriedSo there I was, late this sunny summer Saturday afternoon in Queensborough, unloading some things from the car. Suddenly an utterly mundane sound resonated around the corner, and it instantly took me back many, many years, to something I hadn’t though of in just as long. It was a car horn that did the old beep-beep-beep-beep-beep/BEEP-BEEP thing (if you’re of a certain age, you’ll know it as “Shave and a haircut – two bits”) as the car drove down the main street of Queensborough.

Back in my childhood in this house, it was very common, on summer Saturday afternoons, to hear the sound of car horns honking. It wouldn’t be just one car; it’d be a whole parade of them driving around the block that makes up central Queensborough (actually, truth be told, most of Queensborough) with a few runs up and down the nearby back roads for good measure. They would of course be celebrating a wedding that had just taken place up the hill from the Manse, at St. Andrew’s United Church. Generally my father, The Rev. Wendell Sedgwick, would have presided over the wedding; and now and then my mum, Lorna Sedgwick, played the piano for the ceremony.

St. Andrew's United Church, interior

I took this picture of the interior of St. Andrew’s United Church, Queensborough, just today, as I was delivering bulletins for tomorrow’s special annniversary service. This (with the addition of a churchful of people) would have been the view of a couple newly married by my father as they walked down the aisle – and out into the sunshine of a summer Saturday afternoon, where a tour around Queensborough with car horns honking full-bore awaited them.

People would pile out of the church afterward, and some photos would of course be taken; but it was pretty much required that the bride and groom then get in their – or rather, the groom’s – car, which would have been decorated for the occasion with streamers and pom-poms, and generally some tin cans tied onto the back for good measure. Often the best man and maid of honour would be in the front seat and the newlyweds in the rear, but sometimes the happy couple would do the driving themselves. And this done-up car would lead the parade of guests and well-wishers in the requisite drive around (and around, and around) Queensborough, horns honking in celebration the entire time.

John and Ken

Note family car parked in Manse driveway… Those are my brothers John and Ken, long, long ago. You can see the church up the hill.

What a happy sound! Very often upon hearing it, one or more of my siblings and I would dash out to the family car parked in the Manse driveway and honk its horn for all we were worth. It was our way of joining in the celebration – and, perhaps more importantly to kids, the noisemaking.

How delightful it was to be whooshed back to those happy long-ago summer Saturday afternoons by something as simple as a few toots of a car horn. Well, if that’s all it takes, so much the better.

You gotta stop and look at the wildflowers along the way

WIldflowers, Queensborough Road

My picture doesn’t really do them justice, but the wildflowers along Queensborough Road (this was taken between the McKinnon and the Harris farms) are absolutely beautiful.

One wildflower, Queensborough Road

Here’s one of the purple wildflowers that first caught my eye. I’ve no idea of its name, but it sure is pretty.

It’s so easy to take for granted the beautiful things in the world around us. The past few days, as I’ve been making my usual drive to and from work, I’ve suddenly taken notice of the beauty of the wildflowers growing so abundantly by the side of Queensborough Road. It was the purple-mauve ones that first caught my eye; but when I slowed down to get a better look at them, I realized that there were also yellow flowers and white flowers, and all of them together in the long roadside grass were just so, so lovely. And they’d doubtless been lovely for days and weeks as the spring had advanced and turned into summer; but only just now had I taken notice of them.

Really, Katherine, like the old Mac Davis song says, you have to get into the habit of stopping and smelling the roses along the way a little bit more often.

But hey, speaking of songs, and wildflowers – and because it’s Friday night, when a little bit of music is called for – here are two very pretty songs, and both of them are titled Wildflowers.

The first is by Dolly Parton, and the only thing I’ll warn you about this video is to persevere past the first 45 seconds or so of the goofy intro (featuring Rich Little – remember him?). Once Dolly gets singing, it’s gorgeous:

And here’s a rough-around-the-edges (because it’s shot by someone in the audience) of Tom Petty performing his very pretty song called Wildflowers. (You can hear the recorded version here, but I kind of like the live take):

And I just think that these two delightful songs should remind us all to look around us at, as the old hymn says, “the beauties of the earth.” Even, and perhaps especially, something as simple as the wildflowers.

I may have more copies of this book than anyone alive.

Donna Parker in HollywoodDo you still have the books you loved in your childhood? I think the world is probably divided into two kinds of people: those whose response to that question is “Of course I do! I’ll always keep them!” and those who’d say “Why on earth would I?”

Given my many reports (like here and here and here, for instance) on the size of the book collection that Raymond and I have amassed between us, you can probably guess what my answer is. My childhood books are among my dearest treasures.

One book in that childhood collection is a bit of a ’60s oddity. It is Donna Parker in Hollywood, the book you see in the photo at the top of this post. (Although, as I’ll explain, the Donna Parker in Hollywood in that photo is not the Donna Parker in Hollywood that has been with me since my childhood days.) It was one in a relatively short series of books about Donna Parker, a perky American teenage girl who had adventures. (In this she was entirely like all the other perky American teenage girls and young women in the many literary series that were so popular back in the 1950s and ’60s – heroines like Nancy Drew and Cherry Ames and Vicki Barr. You won’t be surprised to know that I loved all those books too.)

I acquired Donna Parker in Hollywood when I was maybe eight or nine years old, growing up in the Manse where I now live once again. And I am almost certain that it was a purchase I made from the fairly limited book selection at McMurray’s General Store in Queensborough. I expect what attracted me to it was the pink cover and the image of that perky American teenager apparently doing something exotic: you know, tropical flower in hair, swimming pool in the background, tropical fruit in the foreground and – most exotic of all – she is eating with chopsticks! (People, that is not something one did in Queensborough, Ont., when I was growing up there.) Truth be told, I still find that cover pretty appealing, although now it’s for the sheer retro-ness of it.

I forgot the plot of Donna Parker in Hollywood many decades ago, except for the general drift that Donna was lucky enough to be able to travel from her home (wherever that was; the Midwest maybe?) to exotic and exciting Hollywood. Where she of course had adventures. But though the details are long gone from my memory, the book itself remains firmly in my possession – and it is all the more precious because it came from long-closed McMurray’s General Store in Queensborough.

The first time I saw another copy of it for sale, at one of the antiques warehouses that Raymond and I love to visit, I was awfully tempted to buy it. Of course I told myself that was dumb, since I already had a copy. But something in the back of my mind kept whispering, “Backup copy!” So: did I resist the temptation?

Of course not. And besides, it was only five bucks or so.

I think my third copy came about because, at the time I found it in an antiques barn, I couldn’t quite remember whether I’d purchased the first backup copy or not. And since this latest one was only about three bucks, I figured what the heck. But I felt kind of sheepish when I got home and realized that I now had three copies in total.

And then a couple of weeks ago, at an auction, I failed to resist the temptation to buy several boxes of books (because that was how they were being sold – a whole box of 20 or so books at a time) for just a few bucks per box. And what did I discover at the bottom of one of those boxes when I’d brought them all home?

You guessed it. Donna Parker in Hollywood. Copy #4. That’s the one you see in the photo.

Hey: is Donna following me around?

What do a historic church and a yodelling cowboy have in common?

St. Andrew's United Church by Dave deLang

Pretty and historic St. Andrew’s United Churchmy church, both in my childhood and, now, again – celebrates its 124th anniversary this coming Sunday. And there is a Queensborough-themed musical treat in store at the service, to which you are invited! (Photo by Dave deLang)

I know I use this space to tell you about a lot of special events in the Queensborough area, but people, I have to say: this one is special.

Why? Because it is a very important event in the long life of St. Andrew’s United Church – and St. Andrew’s is in turn a very important part of the history and ongoing life of the Queensborough community.

(St. Andrew’s also holds a special attachment for me personally because it is the church I grew up in, and because it was the first church that my father, The Rev. Wendell Sedgwick, served after he was ordained a minister, way back in 1964. That would be 50 years ago this year, but who’s counting? Oh. Well, actually, I guess I am.)

Anyway, this Sunday (June 29), at 11 a.m., we mark the 124th anniversary of St. Andrew’s – and you, people, are invited! Those of you who live in the Queensborough/Cooper/Hazzard’s/Eldorado/Actinolite/Madoc/Tweed/etc. areas: we’d love you to join us for the special anniversary service. And those of you who are farther afield, whether you have a connection with St. Andrew’s or not, are equally welcome!

But speaking of connections with St. Andrew’s, let me ask you: Did you perchance grow up in that church? Were you baptized or married there, or were your parents? Did you go to Sunday School at St. Andrew’s (maybe coming from Cooper on the school bus that Marg Chapman used to drive back in the ‘60s and ‘70s)? Was your mother maybe a member of the United Church Women? Did you sing in the choir? Or have you attended one (or dozens) of the Ham or Turkey Suppers there? Then you have a connection! And we’d love to see you again.

And if you’ve never been to St. Andrew’s, well, this is the perfect occasion for you to do so – and I’ll tell you why. It’s not just because it will be a nice service and a joyous occasion; and it’s not just because our minister, The Rev. Caroline Giesbrecht, delivers marvellous, thought-provoking sermons; and it’s not just because there will be special music from the women’s double trio called Praise Friends.

And it’s not even because lunch will be served after the service, though you can be sure the lunch will be excellent (because at St. Andrew’s it always is); or because it will be a chance to see old friends and to make new ones.

Those are all very compelling reasons for you to join us on Sunday. But here’s something extra special, something with a surprising and quirky link to Queensborough’s history. It’s all about a piece of music written long ago by Queensborough’s own Goldie Holmes.

Goldie Holmes

Goldie Holmes: quilter, poet, songwriter, overall renaissance woman, and Queensborough resident. (She and her husband, Art, lived kitty-corner from the Manse.) This photo is from when Goldie appeared on a 1980 episode of the CBC-TV series Heartland, interviewed in her home by the singer Sylvia Tyson. (Photo from cbc.ca)

Goldie was widely known as “the Quilt Lady” because of the quilts she made, the most famous of which – and she became quite famous indeed, as I’ve written in an extended post (complete with a link to footage from a CBC-TV interview with her) here – featured the historic homes and buildings of Queensborough. (More on those particular quilts here.)

But Goldie was not just a quilter, or just a folk artist. She was a bit of a renaissance woman, actually, and among her talents was writing poetry – and, occasionally, song lyrics.

And one of her songs, entitled Let’s Fill Our Hearts With Love, was recorded by an artist who, back in the early-middle part of the 20th century, was actually a bit of a star. (His name was Alberta Slim, and a little more about him shortly.) Not only was the song recorded, it was published and distributed as sheet music, as songs tended to be in those days. So Goldie was famous across the country for her music too!

Right, Alberta Slim – or “RCA Victor Recording Artist Alberta Slim,” as he’s announced on the cover of the sheet music for the song:

Alberta Slim

Alberta Slim, “Canada’s Yodelling Cowboy” – and the man who recorded Goldie Holmes’s song.

According to Canadian Cowboy Country Magazine, Alberta Slim (“born Eric Edwards in 1910 near Wiltshire, England) was known as “Canada’s Yodelling Cowboy” and was a legend and a pioneer of early Canadian country music. He got his start when he performed (for no money, but the promise of a piece of pie) on a Regina radio show in 1937, and really he never looked back after that. He had a bunch of hits – as far as I can see, the most famous of which was When It’s Apple Blossom Time in Annapolis Valley – and he sang with stars like Wilf Carter; he travelled the country and wrote songs about those travels (kind of like an earlier Stompin’ Tom Connors); and he became known for his “echo yodelling.” (You can read lots more about his very colourful life in the full article here. And here and here are a couple more interesting writeups about the yodelling cowboy. I mean really: who knew?)

Amazingly, Alberta Slim only died in 2005. He had a bit of a career revival in 1999, when he was 89, as folk festivals across the country started welcoming the living legend (okay, maybe “minor living legend,” but still) to their stages. He released his last CD at the age of 93.

Okay, enough about Alberta Slim, and back to Queensborough.

You can probably guess the rest, actually: the song written long ago by our own Goldie Holmes, and recorded long ago by “RCA Victor Recording Artist Alberta Slim” is going to be heard once again, this very Sunday, as part of the anniversary service at St. Andrew’s United Church. It will be performed by the talented Katherine Fleming, a member of Praise Friends – and an old friend of St. Andrew’s. Katherine was, in fact, the leader of the St. Andrew’s choir years ago, when I was a member of it. It was during those years that we choir members first learned of Goldie’s long-ago (even then) music triumph via Alberta Slim, and one Sunday back in those days (probably 1974 or 1975) we performed the song at St. Andrew’s as a tribute to Goldie, a faithful member of the church who doubtless was on hand for the occasion.

Sadly, Goldie – who lived to a very advanced age – is no longer with us and won’t be on hand to hear Let’s Fill Our Hearts With Love sung once more at the church she loved.

But you can be!

What’s the story on the flag? Well, I’m glad you asked.

Fleurdelisé at the Manse

Did you notice the blue-and-white flag at the Manse today (and today only)? Can you guess why it was there? No, it’s not because we’ve changed our minds about where we want to live…

So, Queensborough people, were you by any chance wondering what the deuce was up today with the new flag at the Manse? (Come on, I know you must have noticed.) The Ontario flag that Raymond and I normally fly over the front porch was, today, replaced with the Quebec flag, le fleurdelisé. Do you know why?

No, it’s not because we’ve suddenly got horribly homesick for the province that we called home for many years (in Raymond’s case, many, many years). We like Quebec very much, but we are extremely happy to be here in Ontario. No, it was because today, June 24, is Quebec’s Fête Nationale, its provincewide holiday, St. Jean Baptiste Day. It’s a day when everything comes to a halt in Quebec (i.e. almost all stores and businesses are closed, save for dépanneurs, convenience stores). It’s a nice time in Quebec, because exactly a week after la Saint-Jean comes July 1, another holiday (one that I, being an old fogey, prefer to call Dominion Day rather than the hard-to-say Canada Day) – and let me tell you, a lot of people take the time between the two holidays off. Not a lot gets done in Quebec between June 24 and July 1, and it’s a nice easy start to the summer. Mind you, what they don’t have in Quebec is a holiday weekend at the start of August – our Civic Holiday here in Ontario (which I have just learned, to my utter astonishment, is technically called Simcoe Day, though I have never once in my life heard anyone call it that) – and it’s kind of a drag not having a long weekend all the way from July 1 to Labour Day. But, you know, it’s a tradeoff. On the whole I prefer the Ontario setup.

Anyway. When Raymond and I discovered that there was a bracket for a flag on the Manse’s front porch – something that was not there in my childhood days in this house, long ago – we thought maybe we’d have some fun with flags. The usual drapeau is the Ontario one – because, as I said, we’re happy to be where we are:

The perfect Manse photo

In my new favourite photo of the Manse (note laundry on the clothesline on the left) you can see our usual flag, which is the Ontario one.

But we also have a supply of special-days-in-other-places flags. Today it was the fleurdelisé; on Dominion Day it will of course be the red Maple Leaf; and come the Fourth of July, well, you can expect, for one day only, the Stars and Stripes!

We also have a Scottish flag for St. Andrew’s Day, and I hope will have a French tricolore in time for Bastille Day, July 14 (which also happens to be the first birthday of Raymond’s grandson, Henry, so an extra cause for celebration). Still to come: the Union Jack for St. George’s Day, perhaps the Irish tricolour for St. Patrick’s Day, a Welsh flag for St. David’s Day – and so on and so on. I kind of like the idea of an element of surprise when people drive or walk by.

As in: “What the heck special day are those kooky Manse people marking now?”

A changing of the guard in the Madoc retail scene

Wilson's of Madoc

“Retirement sale,” proclaim the signs in the windows of Wilson’s of Madoc. And while I am sad to see the shop closing, I can report that there are good deals to be had until the end of July, when Ellen Wilson closes the doors for good.

Raymond and I had a busy Saturday this past weekend, spending most of it doing pretty much everything there was to do in the village of Madoc. (Don’t laugh! There’s lots to do in Madoc. Sometimes you just have to look a little bit.)

We started with an extremely interesting morning at the Madoc Public Library, at an event (which I wrote about here) focusing on the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War. It was fascinating to look at the WWI artifacts that local residents had brought in, and to hear the stories about them.

But then it was on to something I’d been wanting to do for a few weeks, ever since I heard that the proprietor of the venerable shop Wilson’s of Madoc was going to start a well-earned retirement: we stopped in and had a chat with her.

Her name (as everyone in the Madoc area knows) is Ellen Wilson, and she is the daughter of the founders of the store, Robert and Hilda Wilson. I have happy memories from the time of my childhood at the Manse of visiting their shop – which sold gifts and also paint and wallpaper – and admiring all the pretty and useful things in it. In fact, a decorative teapot that I bought for my mother at Wilson’s once upon a time was still being used  by my parents until not all that many years ago, when it must finally have broken after about four decades of daily service.

It was delightful reminiscing with Ellen about the shop’s history. She told us about how, when she and her sister were in high school, they would get to go to Toronto when her parents travelled there to buy stock for the store. They would get dropped off by their parents downtown, told to be at such-and-such an entrance of the Simpson’s store – do you remember Simpson’s in downtown Toronto? Now that was a wonderful department store – at 4:30 p.m. to be picked up, and would proceed to have a day on their own in the big city. What a rare treat for teenagers from tiny Madoc back in the 1960s!

Ellen was able to quickly clear up one puzzlement I’d been having about the shop, which was how much bigger it seems today than the one I remember her parents being the proprietors of. (Quite the opposite of the usual situation, when you revisit things from your youth and they seem so much smaller than you remember.) The reason is that the shop was smaller in those days; it was located next door to the present one, in the considerably narrower space that is now the pretty shop Kelly’s Flowers and Gifts.

She also had interesting things to say about how the retail business has changed over the years – and about being one of the veterans of the Madoc retail scene.

As it happens, another of those veterans is also retiring. That would be Gord Johnston, the proprietor for ever so long of his family’s business, Johnston’s Drugstore across the street from Wilson’s. (You can read an article about the changes at Johnston’s here.)  I remember Gord being behind the pharmacy counter way back when I was a teenager buying nail polish and Mother’s Day gifts at his shop (and eyeing the fabulous Valentine’s Day displays of heart-shaped boxes of chocolates).

With so many other friendly, locally owned shops that I remember from those days now long gone – Stickwood’s Dry Goods, Ross’s Ladies’ Wear, Kincaid Bros. IGA and so many more – it was nice, when I came back to the area, to see that Wilson’s and Johnston’s were still going. And Johnston’s will continue, under new ownership. Ellen Wilson, however, is closing her shop (and having a very appealing sale to clear out stock), so Wilson’s of Madoc will be no more.

What part of Meow

A little something (which all cat people will understand) that we bought at Wilson’s on Saturday. It now hangs over the food bowl of Sieste the cat.

The storefront will not be empty; the Madoc thrift shop where I have found so many treasures these last couple of years will be moving into the space. But I will be sad that there will be no more Wilson’s. And I know I am very, very far from being alone in that feeling.

But I know I’m also not alone in wishing Ellen Wilson and Gord Johnston a wonderful, healthy, well-deserved retirement – and in feeling grateful to them for all the years that they and their families have provided good shopping, and excellent service, to the people of Madoc and area.