“We live in a Christmas card!”

Kincaid House, Dec. 24, 2017

The historic Kincaid House beside the Manse on Bosley Road, decorated for Christmas and wearing a pretty coat of white.

“We live in a Christmas card!” I exclaimed to Raymond one recent sparkling day as we drove along Queensborough Road, admiring the beauty of the pristine snow that covered the fields and the branches of the evergreens.

Raymond agreed.

Actually where we live is not really the inside of a Christmas card, but the front cover. You know those pretty scenes you see on so many of them, images of a small snow-covered village with church windows aglow, perhaps a skating rink with some children on it, and a cluster of cozy homes lit up for the season? Well, that’s Queensborough at this time of year.

Which is something I’ve said before, but that I think bears repeating, Especially on Christmas Day, when I want to wish you wonderful readers of Meanwhile, at the Manse all the very best of the holidays, and much happiness in the coming year.

And to put you in the mood for that happiness, let me take you on a little Christmas-card tour of Queensborough and area: scenes of Christmas 2017 in our lovely little corner of the world.

First, historic Hazzard’s Corners Church, where a beautiful candlelight service of lessons and carols drew the usual packed house two evenings ago:

Hazzard's Corners Church, Christmas 2017

Hazzard’s Corners Church, looking its best under a dazzling sun and bright-blue sky a few days before Christmas 2017.

And now on to another church – or more precisely, a former church – looking very pretty in the snow:

St. Henry's, Queensborough, Dec. 24, 2017

The former St. Henry’s Roman Catholic Church in Queensborough, now a private home.

A scene along the road to Queensborough:

Queensborough Road, Dec. 24, 2017

Coming into Queensborough from the east.

One of the sights Queensborough is most  known for:

Mill and Thompson House, Dec. 24, 2017

The landmark Thompson house and mill at the heart of Queensborough on the Black River.

A piece of the past, happily preserved:

Queensborough and Bosley Roads, Dec. 24, 2017

The former blacksmith’s shop at Queensborough and Bosley roads, Queensborough; street-sign Christmas decorations by the Queensborough Beautification Committee.

The scene from our back yard:

Kincaid House from the back yard, Christmas 2017

Outhouse and barn at the Kincaid House from the back yard of the Manse.

Hey, welcome to Queensborough!

Welcome to Queensborough, Dec. 24, 2017

Welcome to Queensborough!

And welcome to the Christmas Manse!

Welcome Santa, Dec. 24, 2017

Santa bids you welcome at the Manse.

Vintage Santa greets you:

Santa and bird feeder, Dec. 24, 2017

Santa and one of the bird feeders to which chickadees, blue jays, juncos and sparrows flock, much to our delight.

Here’s the Manse (looking its seasonal best, I think) on the day of Christmas Eve 2017:

Manse Dec. 24, 2017

The Manse, Dec. 24, 2017.

And here’s a closeup of one of our Christmas wreaths:

Front-door wreath, Dec. 24, 2017

The wreath on the front door.

And finally, here’s a special Christmas look inside the Manse:

Roscoe under the tree, Christmas 2017

It’s Roscoe the kitten, a little worn out from all the Christmas excitement,  snoozing among the gifts under the Christmas tree!

You’ll note that in this final photo is a DVD of the classic movie version of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, starring the incomparable Alistair Sim as Scrooge. It’s one of our traditions here at the Manse to watch it every Christmas, and we did that again last night. As I bid a very happy Christmas to you all, I’ll close this post with the immortal words of Tiny Tim:

“God bless us, every one!”

Have we found a clue to the barn mystery?

Diamond cross on Vermilyea Road barn

Look up and left: an example – from Vermilyea Road, just north of Belleville, Ont., where I work – of the mysterious diamond crosses carved into some barns in our area. Why, people, why?

You know, I love solving mysteries, or at least seeing mysteries solved. As a rule the most mysterious mysteries in my day-to-day life are where I might have left my reading glasses, or my phone, or my keys – not super-exciting stuff, but one does get a nice surge of satisfaction when the mystery is solved and the missing object located. (My reading glasses, by the way, are quite frequently discovered perched atop my head.)

The most recent mystery I shared here at Meanwhile, at the Manse was one brought to my attention by reader Greg Polan. As you may recall, the mystery in question – which you can read all about here – is the phenomenon of diamond-cross cutouts on the upper levels of quite a few barns in Hastings County and some other parts of Ontario (as well as some places in the United States). As Greg put it, these barn crosses are “enigmatic in terms of original purpose and meaning.” People, enigma = mystery!

As was explained (more or less) in that earlier post, cutouts on barn walls are not uncommon, and probably have something to do with a combination of letting birds (owls, swallows) in or out of the barn, and providing ventilation and light inside the barn. But the diamond crosses that Greg drew to my attention are unusual, in that the pattern is a complex one to make, and has no apparent practical advantage over a plain old four-sided square or diamond. Whoever built the barns that have these unusual features went to a lot of trouble over them. Why?

Well, that’s the mystery.

I was pleased that when I uploaded that post and then shared it on Facebook, several readers indicated that they are now intrigued by the mystery too, and have already started looking closer at barns they pass in their travels to see if they bear the mysterious diamond crosses. Personally, I always look for them now, having been alerted to their existence by Greg, and I’ve spotted several.

The comments that came in (some from people having consulted their parents or other elders) also contained some suggestions about the purpose of the diamond-cross cutouts: ventilation, again (though why so decorative?); a tradition carried over from early Dutch builders in the U.S.; a symbol of Freemasonry or other such organizations; a church symbol of some sort; a Celtic cross; a Mennonite connection; a symbol to ward off witches – or the taxman! All god suggestions, in my view.

But something that two different readers dug up really intrigued me, and I think it might hold a clue to the mystery. Because many readers don’t see all the comments on my posts (whether here or on Facebook – the link showed up in both places), I thought I would share it here. It’s definitely food for thought.

The clue comes in an article published online in 2013 and (according to the online posting), written in 2008 as part of college project on research writing. The author is M. Custer, and I’m afraid I don’t know any more about M. Custer (including his or her first name, or geographical location) than that.

The full article is here, and I encourage anyone interested in this topic to read the whole thing; it’s fascinating! (Though the type is awfully small. Where are my reading glasses?)

But here’s the main gist of M. Custer’s piece: it’s possible that the crosses are a symbol intended to invoke protection against fire, whether caused by lightning strike or something else. The writer cites a couple of saints who are supposed to be able to intervene against the threat of fire, and who also happen to have interesting-looking crosses connected with them.

One of these is St. Florian, whose cross resembles a Maltese cross and is used as a symbol by fire departments pretty much everywhere; it looks like this:

Saint-Florian-Cross

And here’s what it looks like when worked into a fire-department logo:

St. Florian cross fire department

The other saint that M. Custer dug up is St. Brigid of Kildare, one of Ireland’s patron saints, who is sometimes thought to protect against fire. Her cross is quite an unusual one and, with a bit of imagination, one might be able to see it as a model for our Ontario barn crosses. Here are a couple of variations:

St. Brigid's cross

St. Brigid's cross 2

But after all this business about saints who are supposed to offer protection from fire, Custer also sensibly notes that Lutherans (associated with these barn cutouts in the U.S.) and many other Protestants do not adhere to a belief in protection by saints – so maybe this theory too flies out the window.

However: to quote M. Custer once again (and as someone who grew up in a rural area, I absolutely know this to be true): “Barns were the largest building and investment on a farmstead. It was considered normal and sensible to pay more for the barn than the farmhouse since a barn protected a farm family’s grain, tools, livestock, machinery, food and means for survival through winter.”

Back when these old barns were built, and in fact still today, a barn fire can be, and often is, a disaster, the destruction taking a farm family’s livestock and machinery and thus posing a very serious and immediate threat to the family’s livelihood.

Custer goes on: “Because barns represented success and survival, a cross-shaped [cutout] may have been a traditional symbol of protection and good luck.” And, I might add, if this diamond cross was seen as a good-luck symbol to ward off fires, I suspect the owners of the barn, Lutheran or whatever form of Protestant though they might have been, wouldn’t have cared a whit that the symbol had its origins in traditions surrounding Roman Catholic saints. Hey, if it protects your barn and thus your family from a disastrous fire – or even if it might protect them – who’s to question it? Whatever it takes…

ermilyea Road barn with diamond cross

Can you imagine a barn-builder carving that diamond cross as superstitious protection against fire? I believe I can.

Anyway, I think it’s an intriguing, and credible, theory, and I thank M. Custer for the research and for sharing the article, and my readers for finding it.

And now I shall sit back and await more clues and theories. Please feel free to share them, and let’s try to solve this mystery!

Partridge nostalgia: Where did all the happy people go?

Partridges on the bus

“So I’m on the ro-woah-oh-oh-oad, travellin’ free and easy… ” Admit it, people: that psychedelically painted school bus and the family inside it bring back some happy TV memories.

Hello, dear readers, from the far side of a worst-case head and chest cold that rendered me unfit for most human activity, including even sitting down to share Manse stories with you, for the better part of two weeks. Happily, the wheezles and sneezles (to quote A.A. Milne, from his sweet poem about wee Christopher Robin coming down with a cold) are finally fading. And as I sit in my comfortable rocking chair here at the Manse, awaiting tonight’s showing on CBS Television of a 50th-anniversary tribute to one of the great TV shows of my childhood in this very house, The Carol Burnett Show, I feel compelled – particularly given a recent sad event – to pay tribute in this post to another of those memorable TV shows from my 1970s youth.

That would, of course, be The Partridge Family; and the abovementioned sad event is, of course, the death a couple of weeks ago of its co-star, onetime teen idol David Cassidy.

I must tell you that I was never one of the hundreds of thousands of teenage girls rendered hysterical by the mere sight of David Cassidy. I thought he was cute enough, what with that great 1970s shag haircut and so on, but all in all he wasn’t my type. But I did love the TV sitcom featuring the Partridges and their adventures, musical and otherwise. Didn’t everybody?

Partridge Family performing

The Partridge Family in action (well, if you can call a lot of lip-synching and fake-instrument-playing “action”) , fronted by then-heartthrob David Cassidy.

(Okay, those of you who thought it was a dumb show with a bunch of lip-synching kids pretending to be musicians – just pipe down.)

Last weekend, seizing upon the fact that a) being sick is the classic excuse to bundle up in a blanket and watch favourite old movies and TV shows; and b) Raymond was away visiting family in New England for U.S. Thanksgiving, and thus wasn’t around to mock my selection from the dusty DVD shelf, I decided to honour that youthful love of The Partridge Family, and pay my own quiet tribute to David Cassidy (and his hair), by rewatching some episodes. While I do in fact own the entire Partridge canon on DVD, and while I got through probably close to 20 episodes, I’m afraid I didn’t make much of a dent. It’s amazing how many episodes per year were produced in those old sitcom days! But I saw most of the first season, which was probably the best; certainly it was the one that made so many of us fall in love with the Partridges and stay loyal through the four seasons (1970 to 1974) that it aired on ABC.

While I’m afraid my Partridge marathon didn’t kindle any long-forgotten romantic feelings for big-brother Keith (David Cassidy), it did a bang-up job of being comfort TV: the kind of shows that, though they may be goofy and corny and old, just make you feel better (especially if you’re sick) because they remind you of happy long-ago days. I was struck by several things as I went through episode after episode:

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  • Shirley’s jaunty early-1970s above-the-knee flippy-skirted dresses. For a mother of five kids, she showed a lot of leg – and more power to her. It’s a great midcentury look! It’s really hard to find an image online to show what I’m talking about, but here’s one that might give you an idea:
Shirley and family

Shirley in one of her many well-above-the-knee outfits. Love it!

  • For some odd reason (surely not budget-scrimping?), the shots featuring the audience bobbing their heads and applauding the Partridges’ performances, ostensibly in many different places across the U.S., is the very same one in almost every episode! Also, it’s the most middle-aged audience you’re ever likely to find for a supposed “rock” band. Here, take a look:
Partridge audience

Call me crazy, but I do not think this looks like your typical audience for a “rock” show. Also: the same audience shows up in many, many episodes!

There they sit along long tables bearing red tablecloths (in a room that looks suspiciously like a dingy hockey arena repurposed to try to resemble a fourth-rate Las Vegas nightclub), sipping highballs, smoking ciggies, and nodding and smiling as the red-velvet-and ruffle-costumed gang onstage bops out I Woke Up in Love This Morning.

  • The amazing shag haircuts: Shirley’s is almost as funky as Keith’s:David Cassidy and Shirley JonesAnd speaking of haircuts: the toupée (it has to be a toupée – no real hair moves like that) worn by Reuben Kincaid (Dave Madden) should have been given co-star billing:
    Dave Madden as Reuben Kincaid

    Dave Madden’s hair was oddly … mobile.

prtdg

Somehow it doesn’t ever seem to faze anyone in the six-member Partridge brood that dad has just recently kicked the bucket.

  • Dad? What dad? In the intro to the pilot episode, Shirley’s voiceover explains that she had been suddenly widowed six months previously, and thus was forced to work in a bank to support her five kids. (Which is what prompts the five kids to decide that forming a band is a better way to support the family.) That is the first, last and only time that Mr. Partridge is ever mentioned. These kids never utter a peep about missing dear departed dad. Reuben the manager, in fact, harried and neurotic though he is, seems to fill the dad role enough to keep the kids happy. Apparently it made sense to us at the time; in retrospect, almost 50 years later? Not so much.
  • A lot of future stars showed up, some of them probably for the first time on network TV, on The Partridge Family. In a couple of nights of viewing I spotted Farrah Fawcett, Harry Morgan, Jaclyn Smith (bit of a Charlie’s Angels theme here), Pat Harrington and Richard Pryor – and there were probably others whom I missed. There were a lot of “Hey, isn’t that … ?” moments. Here, for instance, is a very young Farrah Fawcett being talked into helping out with yet another of Danny Partridge’s hare-brained schemes:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RNbtVZ_V-_Y

  • Easily the best part of the show is the relationship between Reuben Kincaid, the always-harried manager, and pint-sized Danny (Danny Bonaduce, and if you think for one second that as a kid growing up in Queensborough, Ont., I had any idea how to pronounce “Bonaduce,” you’ve got another think coming). Danny, smarter than his years and a master of comic timing, is brilliant at pushing Reuben’s buttons, and the repartee and chemistry between the two is hilarious:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=06xtl8hSXq8

But you know the main impression I came away with after all that Partridgeness? That this was a happy show about a happy family.

The so-called “situations” that they got themselves into, and that were the plot point for each episode, were so minor in the overall scheme of human existence: Laurie has to wear braces. The family dog chases a skunk into the bus, with predictable results. Danny makes a disastrous decision that he should add a comedy routine to the act. Keith has girl trouble. (Again, and again, and again.) Shirley’s dad has a mid-life crisis and tries to join the act. Every single time, the issues are easily worked out, generally thanks to Shirley’s kind, loving, common-sense mom-ness. Watching the show again after more than half a lifetime was a throwback to the days when we thought our own homes and families resembled those happy sitcom families on TV, right down to the gold-coloured shag carpet on the stairs and the avocado-green dishware and appliances in the kitchen. And you know what? Maybe, if we were lucky, they did.

And that nostalgic and slightly melancholy thought leads me to a Partridge Family song! Which in turn will allow me to introduce the highlight of this blog post: Katherine’s favourite Partridge Family hits!

The song in question – which, as it happens, has made it to my Top 13 Partridge Favourites – is called Only a Moment Ago. Like most of the early Partridge songs (not so much in the later seasons), it’s written by crack songwriters (in this case, Terry Cashman and Tommy West, but the stable also included names like Tony Romeo, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, Wes Farrell, Mike Appel, Carole Bayer Sager and Neil Sedaka). I kind of think its lyrics sum up how watching those ancient episodes from a happier time made me feel, in light of the death of the lead singer who had (as fellow performer Jackie Ward says in this fantastic video about the people who really sang the Partridges’ songs) a “great twinkle in his voice”: “Why has the music stopped? Where did all the happy people go? I know they were there … only a moment ago.” Let’s have a listen, shall we?

Okay, melancholic moment over. Now I’m going to take you on a tour of some great upbeat hits from the Partridge Family. But first, I want to steer you to this excellent post on a blog called Comfort TV (great name!) that I found while doing my Partridge research. It’s another writer (David Hofstede) listing his favourite Partridge Family songs, with a helpful intro to each. Hofstede’s list doesn’t match mine, but it gave me lots of inspiration and is full of useful and cheery information. Please check it out!

Okay – are you ready? On to some of the best high-end bubblegum pop music you will ever hear: Katherine’s favourite Partridge Family songs. Enjoy! (And stay tuned for the David Cassidy bonus at the end):

Okay, so remember how I promised you a bonus? Just look at what I dug up by sheer accident: David Cassidy and Glen Campbell (and don’t even get me started on how great Glen Campbell was, though I touched on it here) duetting on a medley of Everly Brothers songs, presumably on Campbell’s terrific 1969-to-1972 TV variety show, The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour. People: why has the music stopped? And where did all those happy TV people go?