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!

A historic country church, and a commitment to the future

Roofing and painting at Hazzards Church

Hazzards Corners Church on a blazing-hot day this past week with the new shingles having been installed on the west side of its roof (and roofers working away at the east side, which you can’t see in my photo), and the louvers on the steeple being painted. How wonderful to see this major project being done, just in time for the annual summer service there!

Every year around this time I like to alert – and invite – you readers to a happy event that takes place just up the road from Queensborough: the annual summer service at historic Hazzards Corners Church. This year is no different – or … wait. Actually, it is different.

Because this post (unlike the ones I’ve done here and here and here, the last of which rather incidentally features a pretty great recording of the Carter Family singing Church in the Wildwood) is not just to inform you of the event this coming Sunday (Aug. 21, 2016). It’s more to pay tribute to a group of community volunteers who are doing an outstanding job of preserving that lovely little country church so that it may be enjoyed by you and me at events like the summer service.

Hazzards Church sign 2

Built as a Methodist church in the pioneer days of 1857, Hazzards has been a local landmark ever since. Its graceful architecture even earned it a place in a coffee-table book called Rural Ontario that was published in 1969 by the University of Toronto Press. In it, the authors (historian Verschoyle Benson Blake and photographer Ralph Greenhill) write: “The builder has managed with very simple means to produce a building of great charm, slightly suggesting the Gothic style, but with a doorway that is purely Neo-classic … The church tower proportions are, for some reason, particularly satisfying … The whole effect seems reminiscent of New England, though it is hard to say why this is so.”

Pretty much everything you would ever want to know about the history of Hazzards Church is contained in a book called Pilgrimage of Faith. It’s a history of all the churches in Madoc and Madoc Township (and a few adjacent areas, including Queensborough, which is in Elzevir Township) that was published in 1974. I treasure my own copy, inscribed by the authors – three amazing women, now all deceased, whom I remember with fondness and admiration:

Title page and dedication, Pilgrimage of Faith

Perhaps I should also note that in my father, The Rev. Wendell Sedgwick, was the minister at Hazzards Corners Church – which became part of the United Church of Canada when the national church was formed in 1925 – during my childhood here at the Manse. He wrote the introduction to Pilgrimage of Faith:

Introduction to Pilgrimage of Faith

The authors provide all kinds of interesting information about the founding of Hazzards Church, and stories about church life through the years. Re-reading it this evening, I was struck by how many of the names of the church founders way back in the 19th century are still very much associated with the local area today – names like Ketcheson, Harris, Burnside, Moorcroft, Broad, Blair, Love, Kincaid and McCoy.

Hazzards Church by Vera Burnside

A sketch of Hazzards Church by the late Vera Burnside (once my Sunday School teacher, and a truly great woman – and you’ll note her family name, which harks back to the church’s founders) showing the old drive shed for the horses and buggies that was still beside the church in my youth. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to buy note cards featuring this drawing at Sunday’s service.

And I loved some of the tidbits about the church building. Like: that the division down the middle of the long pews in the centre aisle was to separate the men and the women (the authors speculate that this may have been a Quaker influence carried over to the Methodists).

Hazzards Church interior

The interior of Hazzards Church, showing the old pews (not terribly comfortable, I can tell you from childhood experience) and many original finishes.

And that the original pews (which are still there) show “the mark of the adze used in smoothing the wood” when they were built.

And that “the pulpit, plain and unadorned, has had the lectern raised to accommodate taller ministers in more recent years” – my dad was quite tall, as was the minister who immediately preceded him, The Rev. George Ambury.

Hazzards Church facing rear

The clock on the back wall of the church, impossible for the minister in the pulpit not to see. Better not let those sermons run on too long…

And also that the clock on the back wall – facing the minister dead-on as he stood in the pulpit – was a gift from a female parishioner “wishing to be helpful to the minister, who possibly was allowing his sermon to be a bit over long.”

There is also a nicely written bit about the old windows. Until 1953, when most of them were replaced, we read, they were

“20-pane double-hung sashes (that is, forty small panes in each window, which were well blessed by the women each time cleaning day came!)”

Here is one of those old 40-pane windows still in place at the front of the church:

Window, Hazzards Church

The book’s section on the windows also points out that the glass was clear (rather than colourfully stained, as in most churches), and goes on to quote a poem that I did not know before tonight:

No stained-glass windows hide the world from view,
And it is well. The world is lovely there,
Beyond clear panes, where branch-scrolled skies look through,
And fields and hills, in morning hours of prayer.

Thanks to the internet I discovered that the lines are from a poem called A Country Church, and that the poet is Violet Alleyn Storey. Oddly, and sadly, I could discover little about Violet Alleyn Storey, save that she must once have been a poet of some renown because several of her pieces were published in Harper’s magazine in the 1920s. But leaving that aside, the words and images also delighted me because they reminded me of something my friend Doris – whose family roots in the Hazzards area run very, very deep, and whom I hope to see at this Sunday’s service – said in a recent comment here at Meanwhile, at the Manse. I did a post that mentioned the lovely springtime blossoms on the trees in the vicinity of the old church, and wondered what those trees were. As she shared the knowledge that they are Black Locusts, Doris said: “I remember looking at them through the window [of the church] when I should have been listening to the sermon.” Just like Violet Alleyn Storey said: “The world is lovely there/Beyond clear panes.”

Okay, so that’s a lot about the history (and the interior) of Hazzards Corners Church, and the only other thing I’ll say on that front is that copies of Pilgrimage of Faith will be on sale before and after the Aug. 21 service. Pick one up and you’ll not only get to enjoy this history for yourself, but you’ll be supporting the work of the people who keep Hazzards Corners Church maintained and preserved and ready to welcome people like you and me for special services a couple of times a year. (You can read a bit about the annual Christmas candlelight service, which always takes place the evening of Dec. 23, here.)

And that’s a good segue into what I want to tell you about.

Hazzards Corners Church was closed as a United Church of Canada place of worship in 1967. The decision was made by the central church, not locally; it came at a time when many small country churches were being closed and consolidated as the number of Canadians attending church regularly began to show a major decline. It was a very painful thing for people to see the church that they had attended all their lives, that their parents and grandparents had attended all their lives, shut down. Those were sad times in many country churches and pastoral charges.

Often when a church is closed, it is sold into private hands. Occasionally buyers turn the historic buildings into something attractive – a funky house or an interesting business operation. But you’ve all seen the sad sight of pretty old churches that have become run-down places – sometimes lived in, sometimes boarded up and empty – that are more an eyesore than anything else. I think of the former Eldorado United Church, where my dad was also the minister after Hazzards closed. It’s now in private hands and sits looking forlorn, weedy and semi-decrepit:

Former Eldorado United Church

And sometimes when churches are closed they are just torn down. Not very far from Hazzards Corners there was, until 1962, a  small church at the intersection of Hart’s and Tannery roads, Hart’s United Church. When you drive by there today, all you see is a plaque marking the spot (and thank goodness for the community supporters who had it erected):

Hart's United Church plaque

When you look at the site as a whole, however, it’s pretty hard to imagine a church there. Nature has taken it back, as nature always does:

Site of Hart's United Church

Here’s another place, right in the centre of Queensborough, where once a church stood, though you’d be hard-pressed to guess it now:

Stairs to former Queensborough Methodist Church

And here’s what that building, the Queensborough Methodist Church, looked like:

Queensborough Methodist Church, 1912

Are our communities better places for historic former churches being torn down, or neglected until they’re run down? I think not.

Hazzards Church is one fantastic exception to this too-frequent fate. Somehow or other, the Hazzards Corners community managed to get the central United Church to keep its hands off the property. Their church may have been closed, but by God those people weren’t going to see it disappear. And ever since, thanks to dedication and a lot of hard work, and financial support from the community at large at those twice-yearly services (and through other gifts, such as in-memoriam donations), Hazzards has kept on keeping on. One recent project was a new metal sign over the adjacent cemetery, made by Queensborough metalsmith (metal wizard is more like it) Jos Pronk of Pronk Canada Inc.:

Sign over Hazzards Cemetery

At last year’s summer service, Grant Ketcheson, whose family back in the day was among the founders of Hazzards Church and whose family today continues to work very hard to preserve it, told the gathering before the offering was taken up that the church was going to need some major work very soon.

Grant speaks to the bus tour

Grant Ketcheson, a tireless volunteer at Hazzards Corners Church, talks about the building’s history to an audience of people on a bus tour organized by the Hastings County Historical Society this past June.

Grant has a winning and humorous way with words, and in the nicest possible way he was telling us to dig deep into our pockets if we want to continue to enjoy events like the summer service and the Christmas service, and to see this landmark building maintained. And I’m sure many, probably most, of the people in those hand-hewn pews did dig deep.

But a new roof and exterior painting of an old building are expensive propositions. And so over the past year, the Hazzards Church volunteers did a thing that many community groups would like to do but that is hard to do well and successfully: they applied for a grant. And they got it! From the Belleville-based John M. and Bernice Parrott Foundation, a fund that has helped so many good causes in Hastings and Prince Edward counties (and probably beyond) over the years. “Our prayers have been answered!” the group reported on the Hazzard’s Church Facebook page back in April of this year.

And now the work is taking place. This past week, in heat and humidity that almost defied description – sweltering, to put it mildly – a crew was busy replacing the worn-out roof tiles with new ones that will last a very long time. When I stopped by to take some photos of the work a week ago, the louvers on the steeple were also being repainted; and I understand that the rest of the building is to be painted this coming week. Very exciting!

It is a wonderful thing to see this small group of committed people keeping alive the stories, the history, and of course the actual structure of Hazzards Corners Church for all of us, and for those who come after us, to appreciate and enjoy. And good for them for moving into the social-media era and keeping us informed of what’s going on (even including photos of the very cute fox who’s taken up residence under the church) via Facebook. Smart move.

Their dedication inspires others. A few years ago, the children of the late Everett and Pearl Moorcroft, Hazzards parishioners, contributed the money to build what is very probably the world’s cutest church outhouse:

Hazzards outhouse

As you can imagine, at Hazzards events there always are a lot of photo ops outside that outhouse!

At the risk of being a little over-churchy for non-churchy readers, I thought I’d start drawing this post to a close with the full text of Violet Alleyn Storey’s A Country Church. I think its words are rather perfect in the context of this particular country church at Hazzards Corners. Here it is, and if it’s too much for you, just skip on to the end.

A Country Church

I think God seeks this house, serenely white,
Upon this hushed, elm-bordered street, as one
With many mansions seeks, in calm delight,
A boyhood cottage intimate with sun.

I think God feels Himself the Owner here,
Not just rich Host to some self-seeking throng,
But Friend of village folk who want Him near
And offer Him simplicity and song.

No stained-glass windows hide the world from view,
And it is well. The world is lovely there,
Beyond clear panes, where branch-scrolled skies look through,
And fields and hills, in morning hours of prayer.

God spent His youth with field and hill and tree,
And Christ grew up in rural Galilee.

– Violet Alleyn Storey

For those who, like me, are moved by this evocation of God’s presence in a place of “simplicity and song”; and also for those who may rarely attend church but who appreciate historic buildings and maybe even belting out some old familiar hymns – the service this coming Sunday afternoon at Hazzards is for us all. Here are the details:

Hazzards Summer Service 2016 poster

At this past year’s Christmas service, Hazzards Church was packed. Every pew spot was filled, as was every chair that could be rounded up and placed in the aisles. A whole bunch of people stood against the back wall through the whole service, just to be part of that meaningful event in that lovely old place.

What does that tell you about this coming Sunday? This: come early if you want to get a seat! And hey – if Grant tells you to dig deep, please do. Let’s keep this good thing going.

Meet the new bike – same (almost) as the old bike

us six at the Manse

I’ve showed you this photo before; I love it because it’s the only picture I have of my whole family (my dad, The Rev. Wendell Sedgwick; my mum, Lorna; and, from left, me, Melanie, John and Ken) from the days when I was growing up at the Manse in Queensborough in the 1960s. However, I’m showing it to you today because it is ALSO the only known photo of my very first bike. It’s the sweet little blue CCM that you can see parked on the Manse’s front porch behind us. Dad always made me park it on the porch to keep it out of the sun that might fade its paint – and I haven’t forgotten the lesson. (Photo probably by my grandfather, J.A.S. Keay)

People, I have got myself a bike! It’s something I’ve been wanting pretty much since Raymond and I bought the Manse four years ago – a way to get around Queensborough (and a little beyond) when I want to go quicker than on foot but without burning fossil fuels.

My dream, much scoffed at by people who are more serious cyclists than I am (which is pretty much the entire world), was an old-fashioned bike with no gears to work, no cables running from handlebars to wheels, and brakes that you’d apply by cycling backwards. Also: a bike with a comfortable seat and that allowed you to sit up straight rather than hunkering down over the handlebars.

A bike, in short, very like my first one. Which was the best gift ever from my parents, The Rev. Wendell and Lorna Sedgwick, when I was perhaps eight years old and growing up right here at the Manse in Queensborough.

I remember that bike well. It was a little CCM, just the right size for a small girl of eight or so, and it was a lovely light blue, with a white seat and handlebars and fenders. I didn’t yet know how to ride a bike when I received it, but I remember my dad patiently holding me steady and upright as I wobbled a few times around the Manse’s front yard – and how then, suddenly, magically (as always happens when people figure out bike-riding), I got the hang of it and took off to ride on my own around the block that is “downtown” Queensborough. And from there, I could go anywhere on my bike! The best was riding up to the top of the hill at the western edge of our village, past the former one-room school and the former St. Henry’s Roman Catholic church, and just whizzing down it at what felt like the speed of sound, whistling down the wind. (When I came back to Queensborough many years later, I was startled at how un-steep that hill, so challenging and fun in my childhood, turned out to be; but I have decided that it must have been levelled down a bit in the interim. Either that or it’s yet one more case of things being so much larger and more impressive when seen through a kid’s eyes.)

Anyway: my dream of having a bike in my Manse adulthood that’s like the bike I had in my Manse childhood has come true! And here it is:

Me with my new bike

Same house, same porch, and a delightfully similar bike! Me smiling about my new wheels as Raymond and our friend Lauraine look on from the porch. (Photo by Paul Woods)

I gasped when I saw this bike in the bike section of the Target store in Biddeford, Maine, during the recent seacoast vacation that Raymond and I took. It was perfect! Retro styling, no gears, brake by pedalling backwards, a comfortable seat – and it was turquoise! (Which is a very resonant colour for me here at the Manse, as longtime readers will know from posts like this and this and this.)

It is a Schwinn Cruiser, and while it looks (in my opinion) like a million bucks, the price was stunningly low. People, this gorgeous bike cost only $139! Now, granted, that’s $139 U.S., which at the current horrible exchange rate is about $3,500 Canadian – no, no, I’m kidding. The exchange rate is horrible, but still, I got this great-looking bike for considerably less than $200 Cdn. You can’t beat that with a stick.

I had to laugh at myself as I wobbled around the Manse’s front yard a few times when I first got on it – just like the first time I got on that little CCM back in about 1968. (And don’t think I wasn’t missing my dad being there to keep me upright.) It had, I realized, been a long time since I’d been on a bike. But I got the hang of it once again, and have zipped around the block a few times since. I need to get a basket so that I can cart stuff – like a dozen farm-fresh eggs from Debbie the Queensborough egg lady, or bulletins to be delivered for the Sunday service at St. Andrew’s United Church – while I’m riding around on my retro turquoise two-wheeled wonder. But aside from that, I’m thrilled about my bike and the possibilities.

Now I just have to work up the nerve to climb up that hill on the western edge of the village – and whip down it once again, after all these years. I hope the wind still whistles.

I want to know: Will we ever see the rain?

Honey and Bunny and Sadie nodel our dried-up lawn

Sadie (left) and Honey Bunny – allowed outside only on condition that they be harnessed (because of traffic and other dangers) – model our dry-as-a-bone and crispy lawn.

Readers of my vintage will instantly recognize the musical reference in the title of this blog post. It is, of course, to a Creedence Clearwater Revival song from 1971, Have You Ever Seen the Rain? (Which you may listen to here, if you’d like to hear that classic all over again.) Now, I fully realize that in it John Fogerty is talking about something altogether different than drought – though having studied the lyrics a bit just now, I have to admit I’m not at all clear on what he is on about. Nevertheless, I have not been able to get my variant on the words of his chorus out of my head since about this time yesterday, when Raymond and I arrived back home at the Manse after a three-week vacation on the coast of Maine.

Summer 2016 had been hot and worrisomely dry well before we left on July 10; I first mentioned our area’s low-water worries in a post in late June. So every single day Raymond and I were away, I would check the weather forecast for Queensborough on my iPhone, desperately hoping to see some rain in it somewhere. Sadly, it always looked just like it does right now:

Queensborough weather forecast

You will of course note the discouraging lack of a symbol of a cloud with rain coming from it in this eight-day forecast. Yes, there is one image suggesting thunderstorms on Friday, and that brings some hope; such images showed up from time to time when I was checking the forecast from 600 miles away. But then the next time I would check, they had disappeared, to be replaced with full sun and a projected high temperature of 30 or 31 or 32 or even 33 degrees. And what the forecasts said turned out to be true, we found out upon our return yesterday. While areas around and not far from us – Belleville to the south, Haliburton County to the north, even nearby Madoc – have had at least a bit of rain, every dark cloud and every bit of moisture has skirted Queensborough. We seem to be our own little heat dome – well, make that drought dome.

We drove in yesterday to find our lawn not just shades of brown and yellow, but downright crispy to walk on. You’ve already seen the front yard in my photo at the top of this post; here’s a shot of the normally verdant back yard:

Parched back yard

And here’s just one example of how most of the perennials are looking:

Parched hosta

And here, to cheer things up a bit, is a closer look at two of our three cats, to show you just how cute they are.

Honey Bunny and Sadie up close

Everyone in the Queensborough area is worried about the drought. It’s terrible for the farmers; I hate to think what the prospects are for this year’s corn crop. It’s terrible for the groundwater situation, and thus for household wells. Everyone I’ve talked to since we got home says (with cautious relief) that their well is holding out so far, but everyone is also being very, very careful with water usage – and lamenting the fact that you really can’t tell what the level in your well is, which means you can’t know whether household disaster (the well running dry) is imminent, or whether you’re in relatively good shape.

How bad is it? A recent story in the Belleville Intelligencer – written, I am proud so say, by a brand-new graduate of the journalism program in which I teach at Loyalist College – says that the local conservation authority expects it will have to issue a Level 3 low-water warning for the first time in its history. (We are currently at an already-worrisome Level 2.)

Basically, nobody has ever seen anything like this before. Well, actually, not quite; yesterday I was chatting with a nonagenarian retired farmer from the nearby hamlet of Cooper. Had he ever seen anything like this before? Yes he had: the summer of ’49. (That’s 67 years ago, people! Not many of us can say we remember weather details from that far back.) There was no hay to harvest that year, and no hay to harvest means nothing to feed the cattle. He said the farmers got through the following winter by helping each other, handing over a couple of bales whenever they could spare them to someone even more in need than they were. “By the end of that winter, my cattle weren’t looking too good,” he concluded.

But let’s jump ahead 67 years and return to the drought of 2016. Raymond and I are coping like everyone else whose household is on a well – being very sparing with water use, planning to do laundry at the laundromat in town, and resigning ourselves to having a crispy brown lawn. And despite the drought, we found there were good things happening on the Manse’s modest acreage when we returned from our trip. For one, there are lots of little tomatoes on our heirloom tomato plants:

Tomatoes on the tomato plants

And my beloved phlox, which get a fair bid of shade, are looking not too bad:

Healthy-looking phlox

And wonder of wonders (and thanks to a little bit of watering help from our neighbour Ed), the new shade garden that I put so much sweat and even blood into creating is not only not dead, but looking kind of okay!

Shade garden, Aug. 1, 2016

And those are all good things. Plants can be hardy, through drought and other trials. And you know, so can people. Here is one more story out of my conversation yesterday with the farmer from Cooper that I think kind of says a lot. Believe it or not (given that we’re talking about heat and drought), it has to do with a hockey arena.

The Cooper arena has been closed for some time now and is used only for equipment storage. But when I was a kid growing up here at the Manse, it was a hot spot for local hockey games and skating parties all winter long. That is, if you can call a building that was the coldest place I have ever known – invariably colder inside it than it was outside, except for the dressing rooms where there were blazing wood-burning stoves – a “hot spot.” Here’s a picture of the old place that I took a while back:

Cooper Arena

The old Cooper arena. On the winter nights of my childhood, there was no colder spot to be found than the stands of that place.

I well remember being in that arena with lots of other local people, cheering on two teams – maybe from Cooper? Queensborough? Eldorado? Tweed? Madoc? There were lots of local hockey teams then – as they battled it out on the ice and we shivered in the stands. There were some great players in those days, and some great rivalries. If the walls of that old barn of a place could talk, I’m sure they could tell some great stories.

But the story my Cooper friend told was this: that it was because of the great drought of 1949 that the arena got built in the first place. The men of Cooper got together to put it up that summer because – well, because there was nothing else to do. No crops to harvest, that’s for sure.

What do we take away from this story? Well, not only is it a great tidbit of local history, but to my mind it is further proof, if any were needed, that people in rural communities will always make the best of a bad situation.

The rain will come, eventually. It will be glorious. “Shining down like water,” like John Fogerty wrote. It may not come in time to save the crops and lawns this year. But we will make do.

And in the meantime, maybe we should just get together and build something.

A stylish and elegant birthday gift, from down on the (local) farm

KS with Enright Cattle Company bag

Me with my beautiful new Enright Cattle Company leather bag. While I may look a little dusty and the worse for wear from a day spent weeding the garden under a hot sun, I think you’ll have to agree that the bag is gorgeous. (Photo by Raymond Brassard)

Happy birthday to me, people! Well, actually, it is not my birthday quite yet. But today, as we also mark Independence Day by flying the Stars and Stripes here at the Manse in honour of our neighbours south of the border…

Fourth of July 2016

… I received an absolutely wonderful early birthday gift from Raymond. And since Mondays are Meanwhile, at the Manse days, but more particularly because the gift is a gorgeous, high-quality product produced by a local operation that is not 15 miles from us here in Queensborough, I thought I would share it with you all. It’s a celebration both of a lovely gift and of a local business that is doing amazing things – and that I think you too might be interested in supporting.

But let’s start this tale with the birthday card. Raymond couldn’t have found a better one for a cat-lover like me. Singing cats, complete with bling!

Then came the gift. My eyes lit up as soon as I saw the attractive cotton bag it came in:

Enright Cattle Company bags for bags

Why did they light up? Because I knew what would be inside. And no, it wasn’t several packages of great steaks (though the Enright Cattle Company of Hunt Road, Tweed, produces those too). It was a product from the Enright folks’ newest venture: gorgeous handcrafted leather bags.

Raymond and I met Kara Enright not long after we bought the Manse in 2012. Early that fall I was seeking out a fresh local farm turkey for Thanksgiving, and tracked her down by phone from Montreal through the website of the excellent local organization Harvest Hastings. Kara told me she no longer raised turkeys, but put me on to her neighbours, Tim, Dorothy and Gary Hunt, from whom we got a first-rate one. Not long after, we visited the beef farm Kara runs with her husband, Darold (and young son Corben and baby daughter Evelyn), to pick up tickets for a special dinner featuring local farm products. (I wrote about that delicious repast here.) It was interesting to see their Simmental cattle, a breed I had not known about until then, and to listen to Kara talk about their operation. I came away totally impressed by her dedication and her enthusiasm for, as the Enright Cattle Company website puts it “the preservation of rural life and the improvement of agriculture.”

Since those first encounters, I’ve watched with interest as the reputation of the Enright Cattle Company has grown. Their beef products are being served in a wide array of top-flight restaurants in Eastern Ontario and beyond, generally with the source of the meat proudly listed on the menu. That is very cool.

But then a few months ago I learned that Kara had embarked on a new venture: fashion! Here is the video that I found thanks to my Queensborough friend Lisa sharing it on Facebook – a news report from the launch in Kingston, Ont., of the company’s line of handbags and other leather products.

“Part of our philosophy has always been to utilize as much of the carcass as possible,” Kara explains in the video. “We work with the finest tannery in Ontario to produce this really amazing, very soft leather from our hides, and then we have a really awesome leather maker. He hand crafts each bag – so it’s all done on a bench, hand cut and stitched. And he makes these amazing handbags that now are branded with our farm brand and made right from our own hides.”

Isn’t that something? Good chefs and butchers these days are doing their best to show respect to the animals that give their lives so that we can have meat, through what’s known as “nose to tail” cooking and eating. But what Kara and Darold are doing takes the process another step: using the hides of the animals they raise – with so much care for their well-being, and for the environment – to make of them one final product that will be loved and treasured.

So back to my birthday gift!

Here is the bag Raymond picked up from Kara at the farm this very morning:

Enright Cattle Company bag

And here is Part 2 of the gift! It’s designed to be a case for glasses (i.e. the reading glasses that I lose about 75 times a day), but Kara says (and I agree) that it could also be a great change purse:

Enright Cattle Company glasses pouch

And here is the whole shebang displayed on one of our Solair chairs on the Manse’s front porch – great Canadian design meets great Canadian design!

Birthday gift from Raymond

As you can tell, I am absolutely thrilled about my birthday gift. It is something beautiful, and something local. Thank you to Raymond, to Kara and Darold (and Corben and Evelyn), and to a Simmental cow who, I know, lived a good life on the Enrights’ farm (where maybe I saw her on our visit four years ago), and who is the creature ultimately responsible for this lovely bag.

Local gifts are the best!

Power, water: you don’t know what you’ve got till they’re gone

Power outage at the Manse

This was the scene in the Manse’s dining room a week ago this evening, when, by candelight and kerosene lamps, I was desperately trying to finish a presentation for the next morning on two computers that were quickly running out of battery power. The hydro outage lasted six hours.

Ah, country life. The silence of the mornings, save for gentle birdsong. The absence of traffic jams. The wide open spaces. Neighbours helping neighbours.

The power outages. The water shortages.

Of course I fully realize that power outages and water shortages can happen when you live in a town or city. But let’s just say that my recent experiences – or in the case of the water, close encounters – have reminded me that, as with so many other things, it’s different when you’re in the country. That said, the experiences have also been a healthy reminder of how fortunate we are to have ready access to those luxuries – electricity and water, I mean – almost all the time.

The power outage happened a week ago this evening, and is the reason why regular readers did not get their usual Monday instalment of Meanwhile, at the Manse last week. “Severe thunderstorms predicted for tonight,” said the text Raymond sent me while I was driving to work that morning. “Oh great,” I thought, knowing how I absolutely had to spend several hours on my laptop that evening finishing up a big presentation to be delivered at a municipal conference the following morning.

But then again: the weather forecasts are so often wrong. And we often get thunderstorms without there being a power loss. What were the chances it would happen this particular evening?

The chances were excellent.

When the power went out a little before 6:30 p.m., I still had a long way to go to finish getting the text of my talk into digital form and putting together the slideshow that must accompany a presentation if you want to keep the audience awake. (Plus a slideshow is always a great chance to show off how pretty Queensborough is, which was one of the themes of my talk.) Stupidly, I’d been working out on the Manse’s front porch until that point – that is, working on battery power rather than with my laptop plugged in. Which meant the battery was already low when the lights (and Raymond’s Red Sox game on TV) suddenly went out.

Raymond by candlelight

Raymond by candlelight on a power-free night at the Manse.

I can laugh about it now, but at the time it wasn’t very amusing: trying to get as much done as I could while battery power remained on my laptop and Raymond’s, awkwardly transferring files back and forth between them on a USB stick and knowing that even in a best-case scenario (like, say, the power coming back at a reasonable hour), it was going to be a late night and a stressful next day. (I had to be at the scene of the talk, a drive of almost an hour and a half, early in the morning.) We lit all the candles in the house and our two kerosene lamps, and it was all very quaint and cheerful-looking, as you can maybe tell from my photos. But looks can be deceiving. It was hot (and made hotter by all those flames); I was stressed; and we were hungry and tired.

Did I mention hungry? The last time the power went out at our former home in Montreal at dinnertime, we walked up the street to a very nice restaurant that was fully lit and operational, and used the outage as an excuse to treat ourselves to sushi. Obviously that wasn’t an option in Queensborough, so Raymond tried for the next best thing: pizza. But after several attempts at calling a place we like in Madoc (which is “town” for us, most of the time), we realized that it was without power too, along with everyone and everything else in Madoc. Ah, but there was the pizza place in Tweed! (Which is also “town.”) We called. It was a little before 8 p.m. They were closed.

Ah, life in the country.

Anyway, to end that story, the power did come on again, though not till 12:30 a.m. I’d given up trying to work and, after a cold supper of prosciutto and melon (we don’t live that badly), gone to bed and failed utterly to sleep in the all-pervasive heat. Got up at 5 a.m., did my best to whip the presentation into shape, and survived. With another tale to tell.

But the power outage leads me to something else: being without water. As most of you doubtless know, probably the single biggest inconvenience about power outages is that your water pump won’t run (unless it’s powered by something other than electricity). So: Taking a shower? Flushing the toilet? Forget it. And that’s no fun. Fortunately we have a rain barrel and were able to get toilet-flushing (and hand-washing) water from it. But let’s just say thank goodness the outage didn’t last any longer than it did.

But that’s not the only low-water story I’ve got. As everyone in my part of the world knows, we’re suffering through an extreme lack of rain, and water is becoming a big issue. Here – I’ll show you what I mean. This is how the Black River usually looks as it flows over the dam in the heart of “downtown” Queensborough:

Dam when there's water

And this is how it looked late this afternoon:

Dam without water

You will notice there is precisely zero water going over the dam, and the river is very, very low. Here are some photos that I took today of the millpond above the dam, normally a popular swimming spot:

Low water at the millpond No water going over the dam

It’s been a good many years since anyone in Queensborough has seen so much rock and dry land where normally there’s lots of water. Everyone is worried for the farmers; while most of the local ones have managed to get off their first cut of hay (thanks to the heat making the season early), unless we get some rain soon that hoped-for second cut may not materialize at all. As for those who grow vegetables – yikes! Our fingers are crossed for them.

To show you one small impact of the lack of rain, here are a couple of photos of the Manse’s dried-up brown lawn right now:

Dry lawn with Honey Bunny

Let’s call this one “Dry Lawn With Cat.” That’s Honey Bunny, the tortoiseshell cat who enjoys her outdoor sojourns (tethered for her own protection) on the Manse’s front lawn.

It's always greener over the spetic tank

And this one is called “The Grass is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank.” Hey – wasn’t that the name of a book by Erma Bombeck? But it’s totally true. And septic tanks (as opposed to a municipal sewer system) are yet another sometimes-challenging aspect of only-in-the-country life.

We had a period of summer drought here in Queensborough in 2012, the first year that Raymond and I owned the Manse; I wrote about it here, and here’s a photo from that July:

Drought of 2012

Our poor tortured plants during the drought of July 2012.

Mercifully, the rains did finally come that summer. But what I’m realizing this time around is that there’s a big difference between spending the odd weekend in a house in the country when the water levels are low (as Raymond and I were then, still living and working full-time as we were in Montreal), and having that water-challenged house in the country be your one and only full-time residence.

Suddenly you start thinking seriously about how often and how long your showers are, and whether you really have to flush the toilet, and whether you’re willing to risk combining whites and lights in the laundry to make a single load where normally there would be two. Because what you desperately want not to happen is your precious well running dry. I understand there is a remedy if it does – you pay for a big tanker truck to come and fill it up – but that brings with it expense and the hassle of priming the pump and so on.

The sand bar

Looking across from the millpond to the sand bar on the Black River where the water was shallower and where my sister and brothers and I swam when we were small children in Queensborough.

As a result of this arid state of affairs, I have started to better appreciate why we did some of the things we did when I was a kid growing up at this same Manse. Things like going swimming often in the river, and taking a bar of soap and shampoo with us, to avoid taxing the well with baths or showers. Or filling a cup with water for toothbrushing at the bathroom sink, rather than running water from the tap for a minute or two. Or washing your car at the river rather than with the garden hose. It all makes sense now.

Having plentiful water, and power that doesn’t go off for long periods – or, if it does, having ready access to places with heat and light – are things that urban folk take for granted. But as Joni Mitchell so wisely reminded us (speaking of paradise, as opposed to power and water – but really, when you think about it, they have a lot in common), you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.

But us rural folks know.

And I wouldn’t change it for the world.

A Hazzards Corners state of mind

Helping the Hazzards turtle

My new Queensborough friends Sherry (left) and Gail work together to get a big old snapping turtle safely across Queensborough Road at Hazzards Corners.

The tiny corner of the world known as Hazzards Corners – it’s so small you can’t even call it a hamlet – has loomed large in my Queensborough life these past few days. In a good way! I thought I’d tell you about that in this week’s instalment of Meanwhile, at the Manse. Nothing earth-shaking; just some delightful little local incidents that all took place there.

Okay, so: Hazzards Corners Event #1. This past Thursday morning, as I was driving to work, I spotted a turtle on the south side of Queensborough Road just before it intersects with Cooper Road – that would be “downtown” Hazzards Corners, right across the road from historic Hazzards Church and its cemetery. As regular readers know, Raymond and I (along with lots of other people) are doing our best to help the local turtles survive their annual spring/summer ritual of crossing the warmed-by-the-sun roads before and after laying their eggs. (My most recent post touching on that topic was last week’s, which is here.)

The turtle I saw Thursday was big snapper of a certain age. How do I know? The moss on her back! It takes time to grow moss on your back. Here she is, before she started across the road. What a beauty!

Hazzards turtle

And that was the thing: when I spotted her, she hadn’t started to cross the road, although she was clearly poised and ready, having just laid her eggs on the south side:

Where the turtle laid her eggs

The spot where Mrs. Mossy Turtle had just laid her eggs on the south side of Queensborough Road at Hazzards Corners.

I pulled over because I figured if she was about to make the crossing, she’d appreciate someone keeping traffic from interfering with her progress. Or, much worse, hitting her and injuring or killing her. And I waited for her to start.

I didn’t wait long. Two things happened: one, the turtle started to cross; and two, another car pulled over. And almost immediately, another. And there were Sherry and Gail, two women from Queensborough whom I’d never met before but who both were a) deeply caring about turtles’ well-being and b) experienced in helping them. As the turtle began to unhelpfully head down the centre of the road rather than across it, we three turtle-helpers quickly conferred and decided we could make good use of the shovel I always carry in the trunk of my car for exactly this purpose. So the shovel came out, and Sherry and Gail compared notes on their experiences with using one to get a big snapper across the road. Gail was inclined to try to get the turtle on the shovel and carry it, while Sherry advocated using the shovel to block Mrs. Turtle’s sideways vision to try to keep her eyes and motion aimed for the opposite site of the road. As Mrs. Mossy slowly – very slowly – made her progress, we tried both approaches, and what ended up working was a bit of a combination of gentle pushes with the shovel and using it as the aforementioned peripheral sightline block.

Directing traffic while helping the turtle

Gail directs traffic with one hand and wields my shovel in the other, while Sherry tries out a technique recommended by one of the drivers who stopped to offer advice: holding out a stick that Mrs. Turtle might bite and hold on to, so that we could carry her across the road that way. (The stick didn’t work all that well, but maybe we need more practice.) But we got her across!

I was delighted to make the acquaintance of Sherry and Gail and to hear their turtle-helping stories; and I was also delighted by all the drivers who stopped and offered help and advice, or just supportively watched what we three were trying to do. You wouldn’t – or at least I couldn’t – believe how many vehicles pass through the intersection of Queensborough and Cooper roads at Hazzards Corners at 9 a.m.ish on a weekday morning! They all slowed down or stopped, and really it was quite the community gathering – all in aid of Mrs. Mossyback Turtle and her survival.

We got her across the road, and we all went on our way. And if that isn’t a good start to a workday, I don’t know what is.

Hazzards Corners Event #2: Two mornings after Mrs. Mossy Turtle’s laborious road crossing, I was back at Hazzards Corners as one of the people on a big, fancy Franklin Coach Lines bus that was taking a tour group organized by the Hastings County Historical Society though the very part of the world that I live in and love: central Hastings County. The historical society, an excellent outfit that does all kinds of good and interesting things, organizes a bus tour of some interesting area or other each year, and this year chose our neck of the woods. There were stops at Chisholm’s Mills, Thomasburg, Actinolite, Queensborough, Hazzards Corners, Madoc, Eldorado, Malone and Deloro. How could I not take part? I even invited my mum to join me, and it was very interesting indeed. (Despite the tour guide being pretty fuzzy on Queensborough history; I resisted the urge to correct him on several occasions, in the interest of being polite.)

Hazzards Church signThe tour’s stop at historic Hazzards Church was definitely a highlight, and I know that anyone who was on the bus would agree with me. Grant Ketcheson, one of the hard-working volunteers who has helped preserve that beautiful old former Methodist (and then United) church, gave a splendid and entertaining talk on the building’s history, complete with the wonderful news about a recently announced $30,000 grant from the Belleville-based Parrott Foundation to be used for replacement of the roof. The visitors asked lots of questions and were clearly quite taken with this simple old country church and its stories. Here they are, listening intently as Grant answers a question:

Historical society visit to Hazzards Church

And then finally, Hazzards Corners Event #3: A sight this morning that, readers, I need your help with. Once again I was heading west on Queenborough Road to work, and just as I approached Hazzards Corners I noticed the abundance of white blossoms on the trees on either side of the road, looking particularly beautiful against a sky that featured darkish clouds with spots of bright sunlight:

Blossoming trees at Hazzards

As usual, my photo doesn’t do justice to the beauty of the scene – I am the first to say I am a pretty hopeless photographer – but I hope you can tell that it was a lovely sight.

Now here’s my question: what are those white-blossomed trees? Readers, please enlighten me. And hey: if you feel you need to make a field trip to Hazzards Corners to do some first-hand research in the interest of coming up with the correct answer, I heartily urge you to do so. Admire historic Hazzards Church while you’re there, and poke around its beautiful old well-kept cemetery.

And hey, if you happen to spot a turtle trying to cross the road – please stop and help her. I am absolutely sure you’ll soon have reinforcements, and will make new friends. All in an excellent cause!

“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.

The lucky penny from long ago

The lucky pennyThe Manse had some houseguests this past week, and that was a very nice thing. But this story is not about the houseguests, delightful as it was to spend some time again with Raymond’s sisters from the Boston area. This story is about what happened just before the guests got here.

I suspect I am not alone in having a tendency to leave serious housecleaning duties until I am forced into it by the imminent arrival of guests. (I should add that my husband, who leans toward the neat-freak category – though in the nicest possible way – does not have this failing.) So as usual in the day or two leading up to the visit, I transformed myself into a bit of a Bugs Bunny Tasmanian Devil, whipping around the house, upstairs and down, dusting, washing, Windexing and especially tidying (i.e. putting things where they should have been put when they first entered the Manse, as opposed to an in-between spot on one of the Manse’s two stairways as they awaited their final landing place). Raymond of course did his part (to put it mildly) with lots of cleaning and tidying and especially vacuuming, a task that I loathe.

Sieste the cat in my old bedroom

The view (featuring the late and much-loved Sieste the cat) of the childhood bedroom of my sister, Melanie, and me

Anyway. On the evening before the visit, I was up in one of the guest bedrooms, a spot particularly close to my heart because it was my bedroom (well, mine and my sister’s) through my childhood and early teens when I was growing up in this very house. I was in the process of putting nice crisp linens on the bed, which of course means doing a lot of back and forth, tucking in sheets and whatnot. And as I was doing this back and forth around the bed, something caught my eye.

Vintage linoleum mat 1

A detail from one of the Manse’s linoleum mats, this one in the master bedroom.

It was a small round raised spot in the vintage linoleum mat that covers much of the wooden floor of that bedroom, and in fact all the bedrooms in the Manse. Long ago – that post is here – I told you about how delighted I was when Raymond and I discovered these midcentury floor coverings not long after buying the Manse, as part of the necessary task of removing some 1970s carpeting that had seen better days many days before. At the time I wrote about somehow preserving some semblance of those linoleum “carpets” laid down on the original wooden floors; since then, we have grown extremely attached to them, and it is very likely they will remain just where they are even after the house is renovated. They are a lovely vernacular midcentury touch, and the colours are cool.

But back to that round raised spot. Here’s what it looked like (centre of the photo, tending toward the bottom – it’s hard to spot, and so you can probably understand why no one had seen it before this):

Penny-shaped outline in the vintage linoleum mat

“It looks like there might have been a coin stuck under there once,” I mused absent-mindedly to myself as I fluffed pillows and tucked in corners. And then I stopped and looked at it again, and said to myself, “Hey, self – maybe there is a coin stuck under there.” And reached under the linoleum mat. And pulled out – a penny from 1965.

Nineteen-sixty-five, people! Do you realize how long ago that is?

In 1965, Expo 67 was still in the planning stages. Nobody had heard of Pierre Trudeau. John Robarts was the premier of Ontario, and you couldn’t order a drink on a Sunday in his province. The Sound of Music was the movie of the year. The pop hits included a brand-new number from the Rolling Stones called Satisfaction …

… as well as Help!, Ticket to Ride and Eight Days a Week from the Beatles, What’s New, Pussycat? by Tom Jones, Unchained Melody from the Righteous Brothers, and one of my all-time favourites, Petula Clark’s Downtown. Oh, and Roger Miller’s classic King of the Road:

I was five years old.

My family had only moved into the Manse the year before as my father, The Rev. Wendell Sedgwick, took up duties as minister of the Queensborough Pastoral Charge of the United Church of Canada. I don’t think I’m giving away any secrets when I say that rural ministers in those days did not make princely salaries. Which means that no coins, even pennies – “coppers,” my dad used to call them, now that I think of it – went to waste at the Manse. Why, that penny could have bought my sister or me two blackballs or two wintergreens from the vast penny-candy selection at McMurray’s general store “down’t street” in Queensborough! We would never have let it go astray knowingly.

But go astray it somehow did – very possibly not right in 1965, when it was newly minted; but sometime before the linoleum mats were covered by that garish carpeting early in the 1970s. And there the penny lay from that day until this past Tuesday night, April 5, 2016. Forty-five years or so.

Call me sentimental, but as I examined the penny I’d just discovered, I couldn’t help but think about all the things that had happened in those 45 or so years – things that had happened in that very room; in this Manse; and in this big old world. As the penny lay hidden, I grew from a little kid into a teenager; my family moved away from this house, and a series of other ministers and their families came and went; prime ministers and presidents took the world stage and moved on; movie hits went from the sweetness of The Sound of Music to the grittiness of Midnight Cowboy and Chinatown, and then on to the megahits like Star Wars and all those comic-book-themed extravaganzas. Pop music went from the Beatles to the Eagles to Fleetwood Mac to the Sex Pistols to Nirvana to Kanye and Beyoncé. And still the penny lay hidden and unchanged, even as every single thing in the world around it changed practically beyond recognition.

You won’t be surprised to know that I have stored the penny in a special place, and that I think of it as my lucky penny. There are times – and the evening that I found it was one of them – when I think I am the luckiest person in the world, to be living once again in the house I grew up in, in the beautiful and largely undiscovered corner of the world that we locals call North of 7. And to have seen and lived through as much as I have, the wonders that this wonderful world has to offer, in all the years that my penny lay hidden and lost.

Is it silly to say that I wish the penny could tell me the stories of what transpired in my old bedroom through all those years it lay there?

Is it silly to say that I’d like to tell my penny some of the stories of the things that have happened to me in all those years?

It probably is. And maybe those stories don’t even need to be told. But I’m glad I have been prompted at least to think about them, and about all that can happen as a penny lies lost. My lucky penny was a lucky find.

The agricultural event of the year is coming to Queensborough

Cornervue Farms, site of the 2016 plowing match

The McKinnon family’s Cornervue Farms on Queensborough Road will be where all the action is this coming Aug. 24 and 25 at the Hastings County Plowing Match and Farm Show.

“A time-honoured practice of plowing the soil still has its place in agricultural practices today, and achieving the elusive perfect furrow continues to challenge plowmen and women.” So begins the section called Plowing on the website of the 2016 Hastings County Plowing Match and Farm Show. And I think it’s a good place to begin today’s instalment of Meanwhile, at the Manse.

Why? Well, mainly because this instalment is about the happy fact that the 2016 Hastings County Plowing Match and Farm Show is going to be happening right down the road from Queensborough. That’s going to be more excitement and activity than this neck of the woods has seen in quite some time!

Hastings County Plowing Match 2016

But also because I expect there are some readers – urban folks – who are wondering: “What on earth is a plowing match?” Those readers – and any others who’d like to know more about the contest “to achieve the perfect furrow,” whether with a modern tractor, an antique tractor, or a team of horses, can read lots more here.

I personally am looking forward to watching competitors try to achieve that perfect furrow – and, being the inquisitive journalistic type, to learning through observation of the judges what exactly constitutes “the perfect furrow” in the first place. I may have grown up in a rural setting here in Queensborough, but the fine points of plowing are not something I’m particularly familiar with.

Mainly, though, I am excited that a farm in our little neighbourhood is going to play host to this big event. In recent years, farms in the Stirling area and down south in Tyendinaga Township have been the site of the Hastings plowing match; this time round, the choice is the farm of Don and Angus McKinnon. The McKinnons, father and son, have a fine spread that runs quite a distance along Queensborough Road just west of our village, in Madoc Township. The focus of the event will be Angus’s Cornervue Farms at 2431 Queensborough Rd.

Plowing

This is what it’s all about, people. But if you’re not that into plowing, there are food and merchandise tents and lots of other activities.

This will be only the second plowing match I’ll have attended in my life, and the first one was a very long time ago – 1970, in fact, the International Plowing Match held in Victoria County (now called Kawartha Lakes). I don’t remember much about that long-ago event, save that there were tons of food and merchandise tents, lots of displays about all manner of farm equipment and products, and so much mud – it rained – that my kid-sized rubber boots would stick in it and my feet would come right out of them when I tried to walk. I had a ball! (And somewhere I probably still have the vintage sample-sized tin of 3-in-One Oil that was one of the giveaways at the merchandise tents.)

County plowing matches are not as big a deal as “international” plowing matches. (I put “international” in quotation marks because I do not believe that there are a lot of competitors from, say, Spain, China or Kenya at those affairs. Here is a fun and nostalgic read about them, though.) But the county matches attract many hundreds of spectators and competitors, and they’re a huge deal on the regional farm scene. They are two days when farmers and farm families take a bit of a break from their toils and get together with their friends and fellow farmers to compare notes, look at new products, shoot the breeze – and, yes, check out that elusive quest for the perfect furrow. In a rural area like this, agricultural events don’t get any bigger.

Regular readers of this blog will not be surprised to learn that there will also be lots of good food at this event. Basically when you come to any farm event you are going to be well-fed – but especially in Queensborough, where, as I’ve often reported, we know how to feed people. One of the food tents that will be set up at the plowing match will be run by folks from St. Andrew’s United Church in Queensborough, Bethesda United Church at White Lake, and St. John’s United Church in Tweed. Our three churches form an informal pastoral charge, and the food tent will be a fundraiser for the work of the churches. As anyone who has ever enjoyed the annual Ham Supper or Turkey Supper at St. Andrew’s knows, the food will be good and plentiful. As regulars at St. Andrew’s, Raymond and I are looking forward to meeting and helping feed all the visitors to the show.

So there you have it, people: two days of your summer all mapped out for you.

Welcome to QueensboroughMake your plans now to head to 2431 Queensborough Rd. on Wednesday, Aug. 24, and/or Thursday, Aug. 25. Spend the day watching some fine plowing, catching up on all that’s new on the tractor and farm-equipment front, enjoying the activities at the family tent, and of course eating some great food prepared by our church group and other community organizations. At some point take the short (less than five minutes) drive east along Queensborough Road into beautiful “downtown” Queensborough and admire our historic little village on the Black River:

Downtown Queensborough, summer

“Downtown” Queensborough, summertime.

If you’re coming from “away,” you might consider staying overnight in one of the motels, campgrounds or bed and breakfasts that the nearby towns of Madoc and Tweed have to offer, and learning more about this beautiful part of the world that I’m always telling you about.

Meanwhile, if you’re looking for me, I’ll be the one either serving you up a hamburger – or still trying to figure out what makes one furrow more perfect than another. Come say hello!