Simple pleasures: an old-fashioned Halloween party

Halloween conga at QCC

An old-fashioned conga line was the final dance at the community Halloween party at the Queensborough Community Centre Saturday night. Historic surroundings (it’s the village’s well-preserved former one-room schoolhouse), lots of treats, families in costume, music: it was a recipe for a great time.

Boo! And happy Halloween to you all. May your plastic pumpkin be filled with oodles of treats, and the inside of your plastic mask not get too slippery and uncomfortable as it fills up with condensation from your excited breathing as you race door to door.

Oh, wait: I’m channelling some long-ago Halloween memories from my Queensborough childhood – the days when kids wore plastic masks that were doubtless highly flammable, when our identity had to be guessed by each householder before treats could be doled out to our plastic pumpkins, and when those treats were, as often as not, homemade maple and chocolate fudge and sticky-sweet popcorn balls. Those were the days!

But speaking of old-fashioned Halloweens, I thought I’d tell you about an event we had in our little village this past Saturday night that really reminded me of them. It was a community Halloween party/dance organized by the Queensborough Community Centre committee, and yours truly was there to take it all in, help out, and get some photos.

Welcome to the QCC Halloween party

Thanks to Halloween aficonado Tom Sims of Queensborough, we had a huge and spooky welcomer to all who came to the party.

This was the first Halloween event the QCC folks had organized in many years, and no one knew how many people were likely to show up. In the end the turnout was pretty decent, though we had room for more. But really, I thought to myself as I watched the kids dancing and racing around on the dance floor, taking part in the games (more on that in a sec) and generally having a rip-roaring good time, what do numbers matter? Those of us who were there – especially those under the age of 15 or so – had a ball, and that’s all that matters. And if word gets around about what a good Halloween party Queensborough throws, who knows? We may have lots more participants next year.

At any rate, it was a delightful old-fashioned event.

The community centre (Queensborough’s historic former one-room school) was decorated to the hilt:

Mummy in the window

How much is that mummy in the window?

Ghost in the doorway

I believe this is the ghost of Miss Havisham in the doorway!

There was, as is Queensborough tradition, tons of food – evilly delicious snack foods, but also treats like homemade cookies and brownies. And all of it was placed around an ominous-looking table centrepiece wearing Professor Trelawney spectacles:

Treats on the table

There were games and contests, like the one where you had to guess the number of seeds that had come out of the pumpkin:

Pumpkin prize

And there was bobbing for apples! That’s a game I’ve heard about all my life, but had never actually seen in action before. Here’s what it looked like:

Bobbing for apples

A superhero keeps a watchful eye on two urchins bobbing for apples.

A bobbing for apples win

We have a winner!

And there was musical chairs, one of the simplest games of all time, which proved to be wildly popular with the kids:

Musical chairs

Racing for a seat when the music stopped. What a kerfuffle!

There were treat bags for everyone, and costume prizes…

Treat bags and costume prizes

And of course there were judges to award the prizes! Here’s one of them (note the alleged visual impairment of the judge), complete with pet skunk on his shoulder:

Judge Ed with his pet skunk

And here are both of our suitably dark-robed judges doing – of course – the Monster Mash:

And speaking of dancing, there was lots of that. The Macarena was a particularly big hit. How do they remember all the moves?

And how often do a wee kitty-cat and a wee Supergirl get to do the Macarena with Catwoman?

I’m going to close with one last video, showing pretty much everybody – Captain America, Wonder Woman, the Scarecrow, the Incredible Hulk, a beautiful angel and many more whooping it up on the dance floor. It was a happy evening, reminiscent of simpler times.

The world needs more of this.

Share if you remember! (Or don’t. Your call.)

Madge

How can anyone of a certain age forget Madge the Manicurist, who stealthily soaked her clients’ hands in dishwashing detergent? Ah, those were some fun TV commercials.

I expect most of you people spend at least a bit of time each week, or even each day, on Facebook. Hipster types may mock Facebook and claim to spend their social-media time on cooler Twitter instead, but as a journalism professor who pays a lot of attention to these things, I can say with some assurance that way more people spend way more time on Facebook. It’s a bit of an oversimplification to say that Twitter is mainly a place for journalists to talk to other journalists – but not much of one. Facebook is where everybody is. It’s where many people get their news of the world, along with updates on their second cousin’s aunt’s elbow operation. Not to mention those recipe videos that move at such high speed that they make a person dizzy. (How can you get interested in food when you’re nauseous from dizziness?) And of course there are the cat videos! (My personal favourite.)

At any rate, if you’ve spent any time on Facebook, and if you’re at all interested in nostalgia, you’ve probably seen posts that blare at you, “Share if you remember this!” Or “Share if you did this when you were a kid!” The posts, and the pages they come from, are generally about simpler days when kids played outdoors rather than on their phones. And I never share them, because enough with the sharing already. But when the posts are about things I remember from my childhood and early-teen years here at the Manse in Queensborough, I do enjoy them.

And sometimes I save those photos, with the thought that my Meanwhile, at the Manse readers might enjoy them too. If you’re one of those nostalgic types, today is your lucky day! Herewith, an utterly random sample that should bring back a memory or two – both good (the Easy-Bake Oven!) and bad (cigarette vending machines – yikes!):

tupperware-party

Because apparently in the ’60s and ’70s women had afternoons or evenings free to gather and discuss plastic food-storage containers.

tea-figurines

Did you collect these from the boxes of teabags?

bubble-gum-cigars

I don’t know about you, but I loved bubble-gum cigars as a kid.

eight-track-club

By the early 1970s, vinyl records had to move over for the new technology in town: eight-track tapes. And so, naturally, where once there had been record clubs offering 10 albums for a dollar, suddenly there were eight-track clubs. I expect it was still a scam, no matter what format the music came in.

walking-wheel-toy

I would never have thought about this long-ago toy again, had this photo not appeared in my Facebook feed.

cigarette-machine

It’s hard to believe these once existed, but yes, they were inside the front door of pretty much every restaurant and bar. And, you know, “Winston tastes good, like a cigarette should.”

lawn-chairs

Lawn chairs before they got all fancy and “outdoor living room“-y. Durability was not their strong point, as I recall.

nestles-quik

Oh yeah. Nestlé’s Quik in the cardboard containers with the tin tops. Best treat ever.

easy-bake-oven

The toy I always wanted but never had. I wrote about my longings here; and here is a wonderful look at the reasons for the enduring popularity of the Easy-Bake Oven.

hunts-manwich-sandwich

I can still hear the TV ad jingle for Hunt’s Manwich Sandwich. Because, you know, a man needs a special sandwich. Not to mention a woman to open the can and whip it up for him.

bank-book

Bank books! Wow! And this one isn’t even that old – it’s got the updates printed with a good old dot-matrix printer. I can remember when the entries were hand-written by the friendly tellers at the Toronto-Dominion Bank in Madoc.

musical-chime

That was a lovely toy, though I imagine its endless musical tinkle caused by active kids drove more than a few parents crazy.

swag-lamps

Swag lamps! An object of design desire once upon a time. My family never got one at the Manse in Queensborough, though to her delight my mum did get a swag lamp at the next manse we lived in. It was perfect for bumping your head on!

Okay, that’s enough of a ramble down memory lane for one day. Given my propensity for saving these bits of virtual memorabilia from my childhood, I can, and probably will, do this again. Thanks for the memories, Facebook!

The mighty moose, felled

moose

“Where still the mighty moose wanders at will” went the words of a song many of us learned in school. This photo is how I like to think of moose – not what they look like when they have been hunted down and killed. (Photo from the website of the Canadian Wildlife Federation)

So there I was, standing at the ATM in the front lobby of the Toronto-Dominion Bank in Madoc, beside a window that looks out onto the village’s main intersection. Vehicles coming from all directions meet, stop, and give each other priority at this busy four corners. Cars pausing at the four-way stop while travelling north may bear people heading home from jobs in Belleville. Vehicles travelling east and west may be taking people to and from those edges of town, or further afield to Tweed (to the east) or Marmora (to the west). Or they may be bound all the way to Ottawa or Toronto or beyond.

As for those coming through from the north, down Highway 62 from Bancroft or places much more northerly than that: often they are huge trucks carrying logs cut from the woodlands up there, travelling to the mills in the south where they will be turned into lumber and/or paper products. Those trucks always remind me that not very far away from us here in the Queensborough area are vast swathes of Canada’s natural resources. In the summertime, meanwhile, you see cars and trucks pulling boat trailers, or with kayaks or bikes on the roof racks – cottagers and adventurers returning to the city from vacations on the lakes and rivers of the near north.

At this time of year, though, you see something else. You see the hunters returning with their trophies.

That is what caught my eye when I glanced out the window for a split-second while waiting for the ATM transaction to finish. There was a big pickup truck pulling a big trailer – nothing unusual so far. Then I saw something huge, pointy and broad. It registered: antlers, probably more than a yard across. And what was that massive rounded mound sticking so far above the side of the trailer? It was the size of my entire upper body. It was, of course, the muzzle of a moose. A gigantic moose. As the truck turned the corner to carry on southward, I could see the moose’s long legs tied together, also sticking up into the air.

My first reaction was shock at the sheer size of the beast. I’ve had few experiences with moose; there was a smallish one crossing the highway once in front of a car I was in (mercifully not travelling very fast); and after that, maybe a couple of stuffed ones in natural-history museums. But even that limited experience told me that the dead one I’d just seen was not your average moose. This was truly the “mighty moose” of that old Canadian folk song we learned in school. In the song, of course, the mighty moose, used as a symbol of the essence of Canada’s wildlands, “wanders at will.” Not this moose. Not any more. Never again.

My sadness about that is the more lasting reaction I’m having to the surprise sighting of the moose though the bank window. The sadness is sticking to me, so much so that I find myself writing about it quite a few days after the fact of spotting the moose’s carcass.

Hunting ad in the local paper

Ads like this in the local paper used to catch me by surprise. Not any more.

We live in an area where hunting season is huge. I have been away from the city long enough now that I am no longer surprised, or even taken aback, when our weekly newspapers have full-front-page ads for guns and other hunting gear come October and November. Or when the parking lots of local restaurants are a sea of trucks and trailers hauling rugged ATVs – groups of hunters stopping for a meal before heading into the bush. I have finally learned not to expect men to be available for social events or anything else in the weeks when deer hunting is open. I understand, and have written about, the camaraderie of the hunting camp. I totally get that hunting is extremely important for this area’s economy. I get it that it takes skill, endurance and hard work to be a good hunter, and that many, probably most, hunters have a deep respect for the animals that are their quarry. I know that they love the woodlands and the wilds that are so important to Canada, and that a lot of them work to protect those wild places.

All those things I know in my head.

But in my heart is this: a sadness that will not go away over the sight of that moose, that magnificent beast, killed and trussed up and being hauled south. And for what? Food? Maybe; maybe. A set of antlers on a wall? Probably. Is that really worth the death of such a magnificent – yes, mighty – creature, a symbol of our country?

Like I said, I get the hunting thing, that there are reasons for hunting to be allowed, that it’s important to many people (many of whom are my friends), for many reasons. All of that.

But I have a very hard time believing that anyone or anything in this world is better off because of the killing of that mighty moose. I mourn for him. And I think I always will.

In which we are awed by, and thankful for, autumn’s colours

Hunt Club Road, Fall 2016

Hunt Club Road west of Queensborough, Oct. 10, 2016. As I wrote when I posted this photo on Instagram today: Sometimes I feel like I live in a storybook.

Happy Thanksgiving, Canadian readers! I hope you have much to be thankful for this holiday weekend – and that you have taken the time over these past few days to reflect on those blessings.

I think I’m safe in saying that here in our part of the world – that would be central/eastern Ontario – one thing that people are thankful for this year is a display of fall foliage that is better than anyone can remember. The beauty that one sees on a walk or drive or bike ride in the countryside is absolutely stunning, and has been for the past week or so. It won’t last too much longer; many of those rich red, gold and yellow leaves have already fallen. But while it does last, you owe it to yourself to get out and see it, if you can.

I haven’t yet come across a good scientific explanation for why the fall colours are so unprecedentedly vibrant this year. You have to think it’s the upside of the other environmental phenomenon we’ve experienced in recent months: a drought that’s the worst that anyone save a nonagenarian farmer from Cooper can remember. But when I went looking online just now for a possible connection between the drought and the amazing foliage, all I found were news stories from this past summer predicting a particularly drab foliage season because of all the dryness. Oops! The weather guy gets it wrong again. (I’ll spare the culprits further embarrassment by not linking to the stories containing those totally inaccurate predictions.)

Anyway, enough with the words. Raymond and I took a roundabout drive to town this morning for some dinner ingredients, and stopped many, many times to take photos. I make zero claim to be a good photographer, but I think even my poor efforts will give you a sense of how beautiful it is in and around Queensborough right now. I hope you enjoy the tour!

Black River, Queensborough, Fall 2016

The Black River in “downtown” Queensborough.

Fall colours in downtown Queensborough, 2016

The main street in “downtown” Queensborough.

Bosley Road, Fall 2016

Pasture on Bosley Road.

The old bridge over the Black River, fall 2016

Bridge over the Black River, Bosley Road.

Tree at the Mandzys', fall 2016

A flaming red tree on Bosley Road.

Ramsay Road, Fall 2016

Ramsay Road.

Laneway, fall 2016

Country laneway southwest of Queensborough.

Hunt Club Road 4, Fall 2016

Hunt Club Road, southwest of Queensborough.

Queensborough Road, Fall 2016

Queensborough Road just west of Queensborough.

And last but bot least, here’s my photograph of my favourite photographer (Raymond) taking a photograph of the gorgeous scenery that is just down the road from us:

Photographing the photographer, Hunt Club Road

Life is good, people. Very, very good.

In what is news to precisely no one: women’s work is never done

Peeling potatoes for the Turkey Supper

Me in the midst of peeling 20 pounds of potatoes late at night, after a long day’s work, in the cramped Manse kitchen. (Photo by Raymond Brassard)

More than once here at Meanwhile, at the Manse I’ve paid tribute to my mum, Lorna Sedgwick, for somehow surviving the Manse years of my childhood. Now that I am living through the Manse years of my adulthood (having moved back to this great old house in Queensborough a while back), I think I have a much better appreciation of what was involved in raising four small children, working full-time as a high-school teacher, keeping a big old house in reasonable order, preparing three meals a day for an ungrateful lot (and this when she hated cooking), and last but certainly not least, fulfilling all the demands that were placed on a midcentury minister’s wife – including having company to dinner pretty much every single Sunday.

And all this without a dishwasher! Or many other of the conveniences we all take for granted today. (Mind you, Raymond and I still don’t have a dishwasher at the Manse.)

My mother told me not long ago that quite often on Friday afternoons, when she would arrive home at the Manse after a week of teaching, she would just sit in the car in the driveway for a while, too exhausted to immediately face the job of cooking supper for the family. Too exhausted to even face the family.

Now, my workload is not nearly as heavy as my mum’s was. For one thing, there are zero small children to raise, though there are three cats. For another, my husband does an immense amount of work around the house, including cooking meals more than half the time. That said, my paid job (co-ordinating and teaching in the journalism program at Loyalist College in Belleville) is probably more demanding and time-consuming than my mum’s job was. And I have a daily commute of almost an hour each way, whereas Mum only had the less-than-15-minute drive to Madoc and back, to teach at Centre Hastings Secondary School. And even though I don’t have minister’s wife duties, I do have quite a bit of work in my role as secretary at St. Andrew’s United Church. And then there is Meanwhile, at the Manse to produce!

Let’s just say that I sometimes feel, as I’m sure my mother felt a hundred thousand or so times back in those Manse days of my childhood, that I am really tired of being tired.

But who doesn’t feel that way these days? Every working person I know is putting in more hours than workers did even a generation ago. Nine to five? What the heck is that? And we’ve all got so much going on outside of work as well. The other day I was talking to a businesswoman in Madoc who works full time six, and often seven, days a week. How does she do it?

While I fully realize that many, many men (like my husband) work every bit as hard as their wives do, I’ve been thinking a lot about “women’s work” over the past two or three weeks. You won’t be surprised to know that these thoughts have been prompted by being at the Manse, and by thinking about my mum and the women of her generation, and the generations before that.

These reflections kind of got started on a recent Friday night, when, after a very long and trying week at work, I had to spend several hours in the Manse’s ridiculously small and poorly laid out kitchen/pantry doing prep work for a meal to be served to guests the next day. They are guests whom we always enjoy having over, and the meal was not at all a fancy one; but because Raymond and I had out-of-the-house stuff to do most of the following day, I had to get things ready Friday night – when, let me tell you, I was ready to drop from exhaustion. Here I am whipping the cream for the world’s greatest retro dessert at about 10 o’clock at night, feeling more than a little sorry for myself:

late-night-whipping-cream-in-the-manse-kitchen

As I whipped, I kept thinking about my mum, and all those long-ago evenings in that very same kitchen when she, as exhausted as I was, would be using the hand-held mixer to prepare some dessert or jellied salad or other so as to lighten the load of same-day preparations for company. “How did she do it?” I kept wondering.

(But you know, it paid off: the next day when dinner was a snap to get on the table because of all the advance work that I’d done, I felt pretty pleased with myself. That, however, was after a good night’s sleep.)

I got thinking along the same lines last week, on the night before the Turkey Supper at St. Andrew’s United Church that I told you all about in last week’s post. My assigned task, because I am utterly incapable of baking one of those homemade pies that St. Andrew’s and Queensborough are so famous for, was to peel and cut up (into small pieces, so they’d cook quickly) 20 pounds of potatoes. People, do you know how long it takes to peel and cut up 20 pounds of potatoes? I’ll tell you. It takes exactly an hour and a half – 45 minutes per 10-pound bag of potatoes. There was a time when leaning over the kitchen sink for an hour and a half would have caused my back no problems whatsoever. But as a woman of a certain age, I can definitively say: this is not that time. And this hour-and-a-half mission happened, of course, after another very long day at work and another long commute home. You can see me hard at work on the potato front in the photo at the top of this post, and here’s another view where my peeling hands are just a blur!

peeling-potatoes-2

But I hasten to add that I wasn’t really feeling sorry for myself on potato-peeling night. Instead I was thinking about all the other women of St. Andrew’s United Church and the wider Queensborough community who, that night and over the past several days, had worked way more than my measly hour and a half to prepare food and make everything ready for the Turkey Supper. And then there was the day to come, when many of the same women would be working all day long doing prep work and setup, then serving up the food at a furious pace during the 2½ hours of the supper, and then working late into the night to clean everything up. And people, I hope I’m not giving away any secrets if I say that most of those women are older than I am – some by quite a bit.

They are amazing. Absolutely amazing.

Every year I vow that I will take lots of photos of our Turkey Supper, and every year I fail to fulfill that mission. Why? Because I’m so busy running around helping out! There’s just no time to stop and take photos. And most especially not this year, when – thanks in part to you excellent people – we had what was probably the biggest crowd in the long, long history of St. Andrew’s Turkey Suppers.

Cars parked all through Queensborough for the Turkey Supper

“The cars were parked all over Queensborough!” one visitor to our Turkey Supper told me, completely accurately. I am pretty sure it was the biggest turnout in the history of the St. Andrew’s Turkey Supper.


Turkey Supper 2016

A view of the newly renovated hall at St. Andrew’s packed with people who were there for our famous Turkey Supper.


Turkey Supper 2016 2

Another shot of the Turkey Supper diners, featuring Raymond (in the checked shirt) who, with our minister, Norm Long, never stopped pouring coffee and tea.

I hope my photos give you some sense of how busy we were. Thanks to ticket sales and donations, our church has received a wonderful financial boost that will help its work a lot in the coming year. But oh, how I wish I had photos or video of Lorraine mashing the potatoes and keeping a steady stream of warm and delicious food coming out of the oven; of Ann Lee making sure all the trays on the buffet table were always filled; of Joan and Stephanie and Barb and Wanda and Lorna and Doris tirelessly washing and drying the plates, cutlery and glasses over and over and over as they kept being used over and over and over; of Netta and Debbie and Susanna racing to clear tables and install new place settings in time for the next round of diners! How I wish I could show you Eilene, making pot after pot of coffee and tea; of Joan, filling bowl after bowl of salads; of Lois, cutting and serving up dozens and dozens of pies; of Sandra, keeping track of when there were spaces at the table and summoning expectant diners to fill them; and especially of Betty, overseeing the whole shebang, as she has done for so many years, and doing a fantastic job. And how I wish I could show you the bustle – exhausted bustle, but bustle nonetheless – as everyone worked to clean everything up afterwards – on empty stomachs, because the crowds were so huge that there was no turkey dinner left to feed these hard-working volunteers!

Pictures failed me. And really, so do words.

Except this: thanks to the work of these women, of women like my mother, who have spent the majority of the days of their lives working until they were ready to drop – we have been fed, and cared for. The world is a much better place for “women’s work.”