Death, beauty, nature, gardening: a Queensborough miscellany

tomato plants

I am just delighted about the heirloom tomato plants that Raymond and I put into our garden early this evening. Don’t they look nice beside the soon-to-blossom peonies (a gift from our Montreal friends Johannah and Tracy) and our bright-red oil tank?

It has been another in a string of sunny, hot days here in Queensborough, though today the heat was moderated by a lovely soft wind that had the added bonus of steering the bugs away. As I drove home from work along Queensborough Road late in the afternoon, I was luxuriating in the beauty of the rural countryside.

And then I saw the turtle.

Regular readers will know that Raymond and I are among the many local residents who do everything they can to make sure the various species of turtles that inhabit our region get safely to the other side of the roads that they are bound and determined to cross during the warm months. I’ve told you before (like here and here) about how Raymond in particular has taken on as a mission the business of helping out the turtles. But we both travel with shovels and gloves in our vehicles – the gloves for picking up the smaller turtles, the shovels for moving the big snappers – and I’ve done my share of this turtle crossing-guard work too.

So when I saw a smallish turtle-shaped object at a big curve on Queensborough Road, I of course slowed down – only to realize with horror that the turtle was on its back and probably dead. I pulled over, hoping that the poor thing only needed to be righted after a glancing blow from a vehicle, and that it would be okay. But it was not to be; there was the pool of blood trickling away from the body of that innocent little painted turtle with the gorgeous markings that you can see here:

Dead turtle, Queensborough Road

A sight you don’t want to see: a beautiful painted turtle, killed on the road.

Poor, poor turtle. I only hope that the driver who struck it did so accidentally and without deliberate intent to harm; I am told (though I hate to think it’s true) that some cruel people actually try to hit the turtles when they see them. I personally hope that those people burn in hell, though I suppose that’s not a very Christian thing to say.

I decided that one thing I could do for the little turtle was to get its body to the side of the road so it wouldn’t be struck again and again, and crushed and mangled. What I saw when I turned it over with my shovel wasn’t very pretty, but I gently carried it to the tall marshy grass where it had probably been hoping to lay its eggs, and bid it farewell. And carried on with the rest of my drive back to the Manse, feeling deeply sad.

But you know, there are things to make a person feel better. Like seeing the flower baskets that our friends at the Queensborough Beautification Committee have once again hung all over the village, and that look absolutely splendid:

Queensborough hanging baskets 2016

This past weekend, the volunteers with the Queensborough Beautification Committee once again installed hanging flower baskets on the made-in-Queensborough street signs. They are beautiful!

And then there were the irises that have bloomed in the Manse’s front garden:

Manse irises

And also, the 2016 crop of geraniums in hanging baskets that Raymond had bought this afternoon from our reliable supplier, the garden centre at Madoc Home Hardware, and put up on the front porch:

flower baskets 2016

Two of this year’s geranium baskets (along with a wasp trap to protect Raymond) on the Manse’s front porch.

And the satisfaction of planting (with Raymond’s help) the two heirloom tomato plants – Brandywine and Black Vernissage – and that we’d bought at the Whole Darn Town of Madoc Yard Sale a couple of weekends ago. You can see the results of our planting session in the photo at the top of this post.

Also, there was the interesting surprise, as we prepared the ground for those plantings, of a pair of recently shed snake skins!

snakeskins

Perhaps Mr. and Mrs. Garter Snake whose acquaintance I made a few years ago have not disappeared after all.

And finally, as Raymond and I sat on the front porch post-planting session, admiring our garden and our flowers and pretty little Queensborough generally, came the crowning touch: the first appearance of the year of a hummingbird at our feeder. These tiny things are so lovely, and they seem so friendly. I wish I had a picture of Mr. Hummingbird to show you, but you all know how fast and flitty hummingbirds are.

None of these good and happy and pretty things made me forget the sad end of the turtle; but they all – perhaps especially the snake skins, left behind as the snakes enter a new phase of life – reminded me of the wonder of the cycle of the seasons and of the natural world. Death is just a part of that cycle, isn’t it? But so is renewal, and new growth. And the return of the hummingbirds. Life is good.

But people, please please please be careful about the turtles when you drive!

“Pack up all your dishes; make note of all good wishes”

Red truck, Kincaid House and mock orange

A happy photo taken this morning, showing Raymond’s bright-red truck, the historic Kincaid House next to the Manse that Raymond and I are now the proud owners of, and the mock-orange shrub that is sprouting its way to a return from what we thought last year was dead – all under brilliant sunshine and a beautiful blue Queensborough sky – pretty much epitomizes the happiness I feel about being home for good.

Two things happened in this past week that were a big deal for Raymond and me here at the Manse. And as it happens, they kind of connected with each other. In chronological order, they were:

One: Guy Clark, a matchless American/Americana songwriter and performer, died, and you can read a well-done obituary and appreciation here. The year 2016 has been one of tough losses in the music world, what with David Bowie and Glenn Frey and Prince all moving on from this particular plane; and though Guy had been in poor health for some time and his death was not unexpected, his departure leaves yet another big gap.

Two: We said a final goodbye to our life in Outremont, Montreal, Quebec. This past Friday we packed up the very last of the stuff that was kicking around the condo we had owned there for the past 11 years, signed the papers that will turn ownership of it over to another family as of Tuesday, May 24 (when you’re probably reading this), and – with both red Ford Ranger truck and grey Toyota Corolla loaded to the gills – headed west on Highways 401 and then 7 one last time, to permanent full-time residence at the Manse in Queensborough. I have irrevocably returned to the house and community I grew up in. My dear Raymond has, uncomplainingly and endlessly supportively, come along for the ride.

Bill and Raymond packing up the red truck

Our dear friend and upstairs neighbour Bill (left) helping Raymond pack the red truck with the last of our Montreal belongings.

As we packed the red truck in Montreal under a hot sun on Friday morning, with the help of our upstairs neighbours and dear friends (and fantastic musicians) Bill and Sue, I couldn’t help thinking of one of Guy Clark’s best-known songs, the first track on his first album (Old No. 1) released way back in 1975. (The very year, as it happens, that my family moved away from Queensborough after my happy childhood there.) It’s called L.A. Freeway, and it’s about moving from huge Los Angeles to a very much smaller and more rural place.

“Pack up all your dishes,” Guy counsels his beautiful artist/songwriter wife Susanna at the start of the song. “Make note of all good wishes … Throw out them LA papers, and that mouldy box of vanilla wafers.
Adios to all this concrete.
Gonna get me some dirt road back street – ”

And then he goes into the well-known chorus, which also resonated with me, given that Montreal, for all its wonderful attributes, has (as I learned on the very first day I drove in to live there, way back in summer 1997), horribly designed and downright terrifying highways. I couldn’t get the words out of my head as I drove the packed-up, non-air-conditioned red truck west out of the city one last time:

If I can just get off of this L.A. [Montreal] freeway without getting killed or caught
I’ll be down the road in a cloud of smoke to some land that I ain’t bought…

Well, Raymond and I in 2016 weren’t quite like Guy and Susanna in 1975; we had bought land, or at least a house – our Manse – on “some dirt road back street,” and we had already built a life there, and we were on that day bringing the last remnants of our old city life to it. And here are the kinds of things we saw and appreciated once we were home on this gorgeous holiday weekend:

Phlox, spring 2016

The phlox that I planted very successfully are returning for another year.

Day lilies soon, spring 2016

The day lilies that will soon be a sea of orange loveliness behind the Manse’s old garage.

Wildflowers and dandelions on the lawn, spring 2016

Purple wildflowers (who knows what they are?) and bright-yellow happy dandelions on Victoria Day 2016 at the Manse.

Laundry on the clothesline, 2016

Laundry on the clothesline on a great drying day!

The maple tree and the Tree of Life, Spring 2016

The maple tree that we planted a few years ago, doing very well; and the Tree of Life in the background.

The Manse's elm tree, spring 2016

Our happy little elm tree, getting a whole lot bigger.

As you can probably guess, I am happy to be in Queensborough.

But let’s close off by listening to Guy Clark’s gorgeous song about leaving the city behind for a better, simpler life. This video shows the cover of that great first album, Old No. 1, and the painting on it of Guy’s denim shirt by Susanna. Those two were a wondrous creative pair. Guy’s words to her in the song ring so true: “Oh Susanna, don’t you cry, babe; love’s a gift that’s surely handmade. We’ve got something to believe in. Don’t you think it’s time we’re leaving…” Adiós, Guy, and thanks for everything – including the inspiration.

A brief glimpse of a sign from times past

Pigden Motor Sales sign at Bush Furniture

What a thrill it was to see the old Pigden Motor Sales sign revealed once again, thanks to renovations of the exterior of the Bush Furniture store in Madoc!

I shouldn’t wait too much longer to file a report on something interesting and cool that happened in the nearby village of Madoc (which is “town” for us Queensborough people, at least on the days when Tweed doesn’t fit that bill) not very long ago. File this one under “fun blasts from Madoc’s commercial past.”

Northstar fridge red

The retro-style red fridge that I will buy from Bush Furniture one of these days. (Photo from Elmira Stove Works)

Here’s the story: There is an excellent local furniture and appliance store called Bush Furniture, with outlets in both Madoc and Tweed. At the Tweed store I found the refrigerator of my dreams, the retro-style red one that I will have someday, and you can read about that here; meanwhile, Raymond and I have purchased both a more mundane white fridge and a much-needed chest freezer from Bush’s in Madoc, and in both cases we have been thoroughly pleased with the quality of the merchandise, the friendly service, and the efficient delivery of the product. For all those of you in central Hastings County thinking of buying furniture and appliances from the big-box stores in some regional city: I heartily suggest you think again, and go local with the Bush folks. You won’t regret it.)

But anyway. Both Bush Furniture outlets have undergone renovations recently, and the work on the exterior of the Madoc store uncovered a real treasure – if only briefly.

You see, Bush’s in Madoc is located in the building that once housed Pigden Motors, a Dodge/Chrysler dealership back when I was kid growing up here in the Manse in Queensborough. Its location on Russell Street (or is that Russel Street?) was the car-dealership strip in those days; Derry’s Garage, Madoc’s Pontiac-Buick-Chev-GMC dealer, was right across the street. I’m sure there are many stories of the two businesses’ friendly rivalry.

(Meanwhile, I expect there was also a Ford dealership in town back then. Was it Armstrong’s Garage on St. Lawrence Street East? Or Brett’s Garage on Durham Street South? I am hoping a reader can enlighten me. And also, I should send out a shoutout to Madoc’s current car dealership, the bustling operation that is Doug Hunter Ford, carrying on the tradition out there on car-dealership row on Russell Street just south of Highway 7.)

Oh – have I digressed again? Oops. Well, this blog is nothing if not full of digressions.

What I want to say is that the renovations to the exterior of Bush Furniture – still a work in progress as of this date, I believe, which is why I’m not including an “after” photo – briefly revealed the old sign for Pigden Motor Sales. My eyes practically popped out of my head when I saw it, and of course I had to bring my car to a screeching stop and get some photos.

For one thing, I am a sucker for all old painted commercial signs. They are so beautiful, especially when faded and reminding us of businesses that once were so proud to proclaim their existence. But mainly, I was delighted to see that visual reminder of a prosperous and well-respected Madoc business from back in the days when all of us were so much younger.

The painted Pigden Motor Sales signs is covered up again now, and the front of Bush Furniture looks very nice as the renovations continue. But I’m glad to know that the old sign is still under there. And even gladder that I got a chance, even if a very brief one, to see it once again, and to share it with all of you.

Musical memories from Saturday mornings long past

So there I was the other day, driving home from work and minding my own business, when my current favourite local deejay (not that there are very many local deejays to choose from, but still) played a piece of vintage music that took me back to the very earliest days of my childhood. The deejay is, of course, Freddy Vette of good old CJBQ 800 AM out of Belleville, whose weekday-afternoon show of songs from the ’50s and ’60s is hugely popular. Freddy was doing one of his frequent audience-interaction things, inviting listeners to come up with the next few words when he lifted the needle – what? you mean deejays don’t actually spin vinyl records any more? Well, you know what I mean – on the recording of the theme song from none other than the Saturday-morning cartoon show Tales of the Wizard of Oz. (Which, thanks to the wonders of YouTube, you can watch and listen to at the top of today’s post.)

Now, I have to tell you that until that little radio interlude the other day, I had probably not thought of The Wizard of Oz Saturday-morning cartoon show for – well, let’s just say it was several decades.

vintage TV set

Yes, I know I’m dating myself, but it can’t be helped. This looks a lot like the TV in my grandparents’ living room on which, as a tiny child, I used to watch The Wizard of Oz and Hercules cartoons.

The Wizard of Oz may very well be the first TV show I ever watched, back in the days even before my family moved to the Manse in 1964. While my father completed his divinity studies at Emmanuel College at the University of Toronto, we lived with my maternal grandparents in the leafy Toronto suburb of Leaside. And it was there, on the big old black-and-white TV that stood in a corner of my grandparents’ living room, that a very tiny me sometimes watched The Wizard of Oz – about which I can today recall absolutely nothing except its theme song. Let’s just say that if I hadn’t been driving, I could have called up Freddy with the correct response when he stopped the record halfway through: “Oh the world of Oz is a funny, funny place where everyone wears a funny, funny face; the streets are paved with gold – ”

“And no one ever grows old!” I enthusiastically told the radio. (The radio did not, by the way, respond.)

That entertaining exercise got me thinking about other ancient Saturday-morning musical memories – not so much the cartoons themselves, but the theme songs from them. And I thought that you readers – especially the ones old enough to remember and hum along with me – might get a smile if I were to bring a few of those melodies together in this instalment of Meanwhile, at the Manse. So come along for the musical ride.

We’ll start with another cartoon that is, in my memory at least, of the same very-early-’60s vintage as The Wizard of Oz. I think this because I remember watching it, too, from the comfort of the yellow upholstered armchair in my grandparents’ living room. How thrilling the theme song for The Mighty Hercules was!

Next I’m going to show you one that’s a bit of a mystery to me. I have always had the dimmest of memories of there being a Saturday morning cartoon show featuring The Beatles, but for all my adult life I thought I must be confused about that because I never found any reference to such a show. That is, until just a few weeks ago when someone posted this on one of those Facebook pages dedicated to funky stuff from back in the day:

ABC cartoons

You’ll notice that the ad’s listing of the cartoon shows does not include mention of The Beatles, but the images of the four chaps front and centre are so distinctive as to leave no doubt. So I realized that my dim memory was right! And then I proceeded to search out the opening theme for the show. I suppose I must have watched it back when I was a kid at the Manse (the glory days of television, as I have argued before), but I confess it brought back no memories whatsoever. Does it for you?

Gotta love And Your Bird Can Sing, though.

Then there was The Jetsons, which has a theme song that’s not terribly catchy but, in my opinion, possibly the best cartoon opening sequence of all time. So mod! So futuristic! Orbit High School! The flying car that folds up to become George’s briefcase! A guy who starts his workday with his feet up on his desk! Man, those were the days – or should I say, those will be the days…

And now, because I was really more a child of the ’70s than the ’60s, I’d like to move forward a few years to when the cartoons featured shaggy-haired kids wearing bell-bottoms, playing in fake bands, and constantly solving mysteries. Here’s one that you kind of had to love:

And speaking of Scooby, let me show you an utterly useless thing that I scored in a fundraising yard sale a couple of years ago at the wonderful Tweed and Area Heritage Centre. Stupidest thing ever, but it makes me smile every time I see it. Note the “SD” on Scooby’s collar – as if everyone wouldn’t instantly know who he is!

Scooby

Okay, back to theme songs. This show may have been more of an acquired taste. Early girl power, though:

And finally, because I want you to leave this blog post with an irresistible pop song in your heart, a classic that was not a theme song, but – well, swing it, Betty and Veronica!