Good neighbours

Ruth and Chuck on moving day

Ruth and Chuck on their final morning this past weekend at their lovely, historic home on King Street in Queensborough, across the way from the Manse.

This past weekend, Raymond and I said goodbye (for now) to Chuck and Ruth Steele, who have been our neighbours and friends since we bought the Manse five years ago. Chuck and Ruth have sold their home around the corner from us – it’s one of the prettiest and most historic houses in Queensborough – and are moving to not-too-far-away Belleville.

We’ll miss them. A lot.

In January 2012, when we were new to the Manse and I was back in Queensborough for the first time since my childhood here, I only knew a few people in the village and environs – people who’d been here when I was a kid and my dad was the minister back in the 1960s and ’70s. Among the very first of the “new” people Raymond and I met (though in reality we were the new people) were Chuck and Ruth, who introduced themselves, warmly welcomed us, and quickly became the best across-the-way neighbours anyone could hope for.

I have so many good memories of them over the past five years!

Jen and Dustin loading the truck

In typical Queensborough fashion, several neighbours showed up this past Saturday morning to help Chuck and Ruth with their move. Here, Dustin Whalen loads boxes into the truck while Jen Couperus stacks them at the rear.

We treasure all of our good neighbours in Queensborough, and I could tell you stories about the kind, funny and interesting things that pretty much every one of them has done since we’ve been at the Manse. But since Ruth and Chuck are the ones who have recently moved, today’s post is going to be about the kind, funny and interesting ways in which they have been our wonderful neighbours. But just before I get to that list, I want to emphasize that even though Chuck and Ruth have moved, they are not going to be strangers to Raymond and me. They’re now our friends, and a bit more distance between us doesn’t change that.

Okay, some stories to show you what good neighbours they have been. Let’s start with one that is highly embarrassing to me.

When the Hastings County Plowing Match was held at the Queensborough farm of Angus and Don McKinnon this past summer, and St. Andrew’s United Church of Queensborough (along with its two partner churches) had a food booth there, church members and friends were asked to make pies to sell. (Pie is a big deal in Queensborough, and people are good at making it, as you can see in this post.)

People, I do not make pie. It’s not because I don’t want to; it’s because I can’t. Every time in my life that I’ve tried to make pie crust – admittedly, you could count those tries on the finger of one hand and have several fingers left over – it’s been a disaster. But I tried. I tried a lemon meringue pie. I didn’t get fancy; I used the lemon-meringue-pie mix that comes in a box. There are instructions on that box. What could go wrong?

It was a disaster.

I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I sure as heck knew I wasn’t going to take that pie to the booth at the plowing match.

“Ask Ruth if she’ll make a pie!” cheerfully suggested Ed, another of our wonderful neighbours. Brilliant!

I was shy about doing it, but I was desperate. I went over to Ruth and humbly explained my predicament.

And she made two gorgeous lemon meringue pies. Look! Here’s the evidence – my sorry-looking excuse for a pie on the left, and Ruth’s miraculous creation on the right.

Ruth's pie vs. my pie

And speaking of lemon meringue pie – I have another little Chuck and Ruth story in which it plays a role.

“Queensborough: the place where you go out for a community meeting, come home and open the barbecue to make supper, and find two pieces of homemade lemon meringue pie there. To whomever we owe thanks for this wonderful surprise dessert: thank you!”

That was my post on Facebook one day last August. I was dead beat from a long day followed by that evening meeting. But to open the barbecue on the front porch and find two pieces of homemade lemon-meringue pie there – wow!

lemon-pie-in-the-barbecue

The surprise lemon-meringue pie in the barbecue.

Of course the pie had suffered a tiny bit from being there under the barbecue lid for perhaps a couple of hours. But man, was it delicious! Raymond and I gobbled it up after whatever it was that we barbecued that night. (I can’t remember the main course, but I sure remember that pie.) And of course you can guess to whom we owed the kind gesture of the surprise pie. Chuck had brought over two pieces of Ruth’s latest fabulous baking project, discovered we weren’t at home, and left it for us in a place he was pretty sure we’d find it.

There were so many other kind gestures over these past five years: Chuck bringing over his snowblower to clear out our socked-in driveway after a snowstorm; invitations for get-togethers at which there was so much of Ruth’s amazing cooking that we left barely able to move; Chuck bringing over his pickup one spring morning to boost the killed-by-winter battery of Raymond’s truck:

Chuck helping Raymond boost the truck

Chuck setting up the booster cables between his truck and Raymond’s to get the latter going again after a long, cold winter being parked in the Manse garage.

And:

  • The helpful advice from Chuck on things like weed-whackers and truck trailers and such.
  • The kind gestures to others in the community, like the homemade cookies Ruth always had on hand for neighbourhood kids.
  • Their contributions to the community, through their volunteer work with the Queensborough Beautification Committee and just making their own home and grounds look so nice that they were a model to others in the village:
Ruth's beautiful garden

Ruth’s beautiful garden, a pleasure for us to look at all summer long from the front of the Manse.

Avocado-green phone

I adore my avocado-green phone, which I have Chuck to thank for.

Also: Chuck spotting something for sale online that he knew I needed, and letting me know about it right away. It was, of course – of course! – an avocado-green dial phone; I mean, who doesn’t need an avocado-green dial phone to remind them of their midcentury youth? Thanks to Chuck, we are now the proud owners of that phone, which isn’t hooked up yet but I am thinking might make a fine addition to a retro-style avocado-green bathroom here at the Manse…

(Which reminds me of another way, this one kind of inadvertent, in which Chuck and Ruth were an inspiration: their Queensborough home still has its c.-1970 avocado-green bathroom! Sadly, I don’t have a photo of it.)

Then there was the time Raymond’s two-year-old grandson, Henry, and his parents visited us here in Queensborough and, just as they were leaving for the long drive back to Quebec’s Eastern Townships, Ruth appeared with a new toy truck to keep Henry occupied and amused on his ride home. He was delighted!

Henry, Justine and Pepere on the swings

Henry, his Pépère (grandfather) Raymond and mum Justine on the swings at the Queensborough Community Centre. Henry’s visit was capped by a gift from Ruth.

Maybe the best thing of all, though, was just knowing that Ruth and Chuck were there. They kept an eye on our place when we weren’t around, which was always a comfort. More importantly, their presence in their lovely home, the lights shining in their kitchen and in their spacious enclosed front porch in the evenings, gave us a feeling of – well, neighbourliness. Queensborough is a small place amid a lot of wide open lonely space where you can sometimes hear the wolves and coyotes howling on a cold and dark winter night. When you look out the window on one of those nights, you like to see the lights of your neighbours from within their snug homes. It makes you feel snug and safe too.

When we popped over to Ruth and Chuck’s for a quick night-before-the-move visit last Friday, Raymond and I were fortunate enough to meet the new owners of their home, Steve and Dana and their two little girls. We really look forward to having them as our new neighbours when they arrive in a very few days.

But since Saturday, Ruth and Chuck’s home (as I continue to think of it) has been dark at night, for the first time in our five years at the Manse. It is dark tonight. No Ruth puttering in the kitchen; no Chuck tinkering in the garage or sharing funny things on Facebook at his computer. It makes me sad and a little lonely when I look out the window of the Manse.

I have one last Ruth and Chuck story to tell you. A few months ago, Raymond and I left for a brief trip somewhere or other and, a couple of hours into it, realized that we weren’t sure if either of us had turned off the coffee pot before we left. What a couple of dopes! I called Ruth and, with more than a little embarrassment, asked if they would mind walking over and checking it for us. (We had given them a key to the Manse long before, just in case.) Of course they didn’t mind a bit, checked things out, and called to assure us that the coffee maker had been turned off and all was well.

Burned coffee pot

What happens when you lose your neighbours.

Okay, that’s Part 1 of the story.

Here’s Part 2: This past weekend, after saying goodbye to Ruth and Chuck, we had to be in Toronto overnight. They were finishing the loading of the moving truck when we left. When we came home the next day, they were gone. Our neighbours’ house was dark and silent.

And at the Manse? We’d left the coffee pot on.

I think it was a sign that we need our neighbours.

Chuck and Ruth, thank you for everything. I’ll leave you and the readers with one last photo of your Queensborough home while you were here, a summer day when a splendid rainbow shone over it and our village. May the rainbow always shine over you!

rainbow-over-chuck-and-ruths-house

12 thoughts on “Good neighbours

  1. We’ll miss them too, as Ruth was a frequent visitor to our store and the tea room in Ormsby. We remember the first time we wandered your beautiful Queensborough a few years back, and we first talked to them through the window of their front porch. They were so friendly as they answered our questions about this historic hamlet and invited us in for a visit. And the last time we saw them a few months ago, when we were hanging out near the Manse while waiting for supper at the United Church, and Chuck, always the good neighbour, wandered over to see who was checking out your home. Always a pleasure to talk to them both. A sad loss for you and Queensborough.

    • Gary, why am I not surprised that you and Lillian made Ruth and Chuck’s acquaintance via friendly words through the screen of their front porch? So many people have met them that way, and they were such good ambassadors for Queensborough from that cozy perch looking out on the passing scene. I loved your anecdote about Chuck checking up on our place the evening of the Turkey Supper – like I said in my post, they were such good neighbours. And you know what? I’d be really surprised if you didn’t see Ruth again before too long at the Old Hastings Mercantile and the Old Schoolhouse Tea Room; I know they’re among her favourite places to visit!

  2. Ruth and Chuck certainly were/ are great neighbours. Belleville is just minutes away, too far to justify borrowing a couple of eggs, but not too far for anything else! Hope you love your new place. You are missed. Anne & Johnny

  3. This type of neighborlyness is one of the things that makes small town living so enjoyable. Too bad it isn’t found in every community.

    • You are so right, Richard. Raymond and I were very fortunate to have had splendid neighbours in Montreal, but the way people keep an eye out for each other, and help each other out, here in little Queensborough takes it to a whole other level. Yet another testament to why rural life equals quality of life.

  4. Dearest Katherine & Raymond,
    You are just too, too kind. We are loving all the good replies and will miss you all. Loved the pictures specially the one with the rainbow.
    Thanks again to all our kind neighbours and the friends we made along the way. We will definitely go for tea in Ormsby and just recommended it to some other friends yesterday. 😃
    I’ve been speaking today to the new owners and they tell me some of the neighbours have already dropped in to welcome them and they are loving it.
    A huge thank-you to Katherine and Raymond for delivering our car to Newcastle on moving day. That helped make the move go so much smoother.
    When we get settled we’ll give a holler !☎️

    • Ruth, I’m sorry it took me so long to see and reply to your lovely comment; my blogging platform (WordPress) unaccountably put this comment and your next one in the wrong place, so that I didn’t see them until now. I know that Ernie, Gary and Lillian at the Old Ormsby Schoolhouse and Old Hastings Mercantile will be delighted to hear about your plans for a return visit to Ormsby, and will welcome you warmly. As for delivering your car on moving day – hey, it was fun for Raymond to drive a nice new Jeep again!

  5. You and Raymond are too, too kind. Thank-you for the beautiful words. Of course I expect to have lunch again in Ormsby. I highly recommend it to everyone both for the delicious food and the company of the amazing hosts. We appreciate Johnny and Anne Barry’s kind words but truth be known, we’d have been lost without them these last few months. They have rescued us when we couldn’t get home and driven us countless times for multiple appointments when Chuck couldn’t drive. That is a debt of gratitude one can only hope to repay. I must say that Mr. Curtis hit the nail on the head when he talked about the ‘neighbourlyness’ of this and other small rural communities. It is a great way of life. In speaking of good neighbours, we must thank many people for making our move go so smoothly. Ed & Jen Couperus, Pat, Sherry and Dustin Whalen, our son David and our grandson Derek Warne and to top it off Katherine and Raymond volunteered to deliver our car to Newcastle, so, Thank-you to everyone for being great neighbours. We truly appreciate having lived in this community.

    • Johnny and Anne have done so much for so many people in Queensborough, and I’m glad you gave them a shout-out, Ruth. I’m sure Johnny will miss his lawn-mowing partner/competitor Chuck! And yes, Ed and Jen, Pat and Sherry and Dustin, and your own family members – what a team on moving day! You and Richard Curtis are so right about good neighbours. It makes all the difference in the world. Big hugs to you and Chuck from the Manse – we miss you!

  6. Always great to hear things that go on in Queensborough. Seeing the pictures of the house makes me think of the people who lived there when I was around. for example, Carl and Lois Gordon and when I think way back it was Al and Grace Holmes. I always remember that Al was the first person I ever heard that had cancer and at that time people were afraid it was something contagious and Mother was the only one that would go into the home to help Grace look after him. Makes me realize I am getting old when I start reminiscing about things that happened that long ago.

    I am sure you and Raymond will miss them as it sounds like they were wonderful neighbours.. And yes rural life is so different from city life. We are fortunate to have had a family move in next door 2 years ago and have a 3 year old and 6 month old boys who we thoroughly enjoy, especially in the summer when they can come over and sit on the verandah and I still have toys so Oscar loves to play with them him comes over. Enough of my rambling , hope Raymond and you are both keeping well this winter.

    • Barbara, I too always think about Carl and Lois Gordon (and their children David, Bruce and Connie) when I look at that pretty house, but I have to say that Chuck and Ruth were wonderful “new” neighbours there, and we sure miss them a lot. I’m interested to hear your mention of Al and Grace Holmes – those are names not familiar to me, though of course Holmes is a great Queensborough name. Someday I would love to talk to you about your mother (Elsie) and the work she did with people who were ill back in the days before we had ready access to doctors and clinics. It was so brave of her to visit someone suffering from a poorly understood disease, and I would be willing to bet it wasn’t the first or the last time for her. Your memories of Queensborough life in your childhood and early-adult years are so valuable. How lovely that you and Don have some very young neighbours to enjoy hanging out with! Yes, Raymond and I are keeping well, though my gracious we are busy (as you might guess from how long it took me to reply to this comment). Hope the same (keeping well through the long winter) is true for you folks!

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