Today we interrupt the regular goings-on here at Meanwhile, at the Manse to pay tribute to someone who plays a critical role in everything that goes on at the Manse. As it happens, today (July 30, 2018) is that person’s birthday, and quite a significant birthday at that. (I won’t say what it is, save that it is five years more significant than the last significant birthday.) You’ve probably guessed that the person I’m talking about is none other than my husband, Raymond. He’s feeling a little put out about having reached this landmark birthday. So let’s try to cheer him up a little by reminding ourselves – and him – of what a remarkable and wonderful guy he is.
As Raymond might well be the first to tell you, probably the single biggest proof that he loves me is this quote that crosses his lips fairly frequently: “I came to Queensborough!”
Queensborough, of course, being the location of the Manse, the house that I grew up in during the heady midcentury days of the 1960s and ’70s. As you know through almost countless (oh, okay: 1,334) posts here in this space, Queensborough is a beautiful and interesting place to be. But let’s just say it was not exactly where Raymond had envisioned spending his retirement years. In fact, until Raymond met me, he’d never heard of Queensborough. (I know, it’s hard to believe, but it’s true.) The places he dreamed of retiring to were, you know, a farmhouse in the south of France. Or a rambling cottage on the New England coast. (Raymond is a native of Lowell, Mass., so a born-and-bred New Englander.) Or a nice big flat in Paris. Or his beloved Eastern Townships of Quebec, a beautiful place where, during his long career as managing editor and then executive editor of the Montreal Gazette, he lived part-time for several years. Queensborough was not exactly on his radar.
But you know that saying “Happy wife, happy life”? Raymond appears to be a subscriber to that philosophy. I wish I could capture the look that came over his face the day I told him back in late 2011 that I’d just discovered that the Manse, my beloved childhood home in Queensborough – a fixer-upper located an inconvenient 4½-hour drive from our home and work in Montreal – was for sale at the price I could afford, and that the die was cast; we had to buy it. The look certainly wasn’t one of horror; I’d describe it more as a mix of:
- I’m bracing myself;
- Gulp; and
- Loving support.
And with that, our joint adventure in Queensborough began.
We bought the Manse in January 2012. For the first year and three-quarters, it was our house in the country, the place we’d get to for a weekend once or twice a month after a long work week at the Gazette, and for somewhat longer periods during the summer.
Those were the days of Raymond discovering, and me rediscovering, what life in Queensborough, a tiny village in very rural Eastern Ontario, was like. We learned about the importance of things like:
- Vacuuming ladybugs and cluster flies and wasps and other seasonal winged visitors out of the windows (and everywhere else) in the Manse:
- Appreciating prizewinning giant watermelons at the Madoc Fair:
- Painting the oil tank (in my favourite colour, bright red):
- Shovelling the driveway after every snowstorm:
- Clotheslines! This photo was taken the bright spring morning when Raymond proudly showed me the clothesline he’d commissioned for the Manse, because he knew I really wanted one:
- Planting trees – this elm is the first of two (the other was a maple) we successfully planted in the Manse’s front yard:
- Doing yard work, when you have quite a large yard (and a lot of trees dropping leaves and needles):
- Saving turtles – Raymond is an excellent turtle-saver:
- Carving Jack-o-Lanterns to make sure all the local kids come to the Manse for bags of candy on Halloween:
- A hairdryer when the pipes under the kitchen sink freeze:
To name just a few.
Among Raymond’s many adventures in living at the Manse these past six years have been:
- Cooking in a kitchen that is ridiculously small, is serviced with ancient (midcentury Harvest Gold) appliances, and has essentially zero counter space. Oh! But it does have the washing machine. (Wait. What?) Here’s Raymond doing his best to produce a great dinner in that tiny space, as he does – very successfully – so many evenings:
- Cats: As regular readers will know, there are a thousand stories on that front, some happy, some heartbreakingly sad. All our cats (we have five currently) are rescues, and we love them very much. Here is Raymond with Teddy, who was born with a degenerative illness and did not live very long. But while she lived, she was very happy at the Manse, especially when she was in the lap of her beloved dad, “helping” him do his early-morning work:
- Considering whether we could justify (or afford) the purchase of a gorgeous small Massey-Ferguson tractor for snowplowing and snowblowing and, you know, whatever else you need a multipurpose tractor for. (We decided we could neither justify nor afford it, but it was fun to dream):
- Getting involved in the drive to preserve the Al Purdy A-Frame, the offbeat house that the famous (but, at the time, broke) Canadian poet built with his hardy wife, Eurithe, in neighbouring Prince Edward County. Here’s Raymond at the A-Frame some years ago, during a volunteer cleanup day; he is now a board member of the A-Frame Association:
- Joining (and very shortly thereafter being elected chair of) the Friends of the Tweed Library, and working to bring top writers to speaking events at the library. Here’s Raymond introducing well-known Maclean’s magazine columnist Paul Wells:
- Taking on the demanding volunteer job of treasurer of St. Andrew’s United Church in Queensborough; Raymond spends hours every week staying on top of the finances and the books. He also does many other volunteer jobs at St. Andrew’s, the only one of Queensborough’s four original churches that’s still open. Here he is (in checked shirt) doing one of those jobs – pouring coffee and tea at our famous annual Turkey Supper:
- Serving as a member of the hard-working Queensborough Community Centre Committee. Here he is (far left) with other committee members in our booth at the Hastings County Plowing Match at the McKinnon Farm just west of Queensborough in Summer 2016:
- Trying (and failing) to get the better of a determined tunnelling chipmunk:
Those are some excellent adventures!
So today I’d like to invite you all to join me in wishing a very happy significant birthday to Raymond, who is…
- The keeper of the flag rotation at the Manse, keeping passersby guessing what special day it might be in some country or other based on the flag out front (in this case, the Scottish saltire):
- The most wonderful travel companion ever. Here he is in front of the summer “cottage” (I’d personally call it a mansion) of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt on Campobello Island, N.B.:
- A willing participant each Christmas season in making the Manse the most Christmassy house of all. Here, for instance, is Raymond gamely installing the Yoda Christmas-light set I had decided I had to have as a decoration for the Manse’s front door:
And here is the fabulous finished product:
- A diehard – and I mean diehard – Boston Red Sox fan:
- An avid cribbage player (in the rare junctures, like vacation, that he has time for it); here he is just a few days ago with his sister, Jeannie, and her partner, Bob, considering strategy as he thinks about which card to play next:
- A newbie chainsaw owner! (Hey, if you live in Queensborough, you kind of have to own a chainsaw.) This is kind of a starter version (and yes, he knows you have to take the blade protector off to actually saw something):
- The best cat dad ever. Here is handsome Raymond with handsome Roscoe the kitty:
- Finally, and most importantly, a proud and kind father and grandfather. Here he is with his children (clockwise from top left), Justine, Mathieu and Dominique, and grandson Henry…
… and here he is with the newest grandchild, Frédérique (who is very interested in her Pépère’s beard):
Raymond, you are the best. I (along with many, many others) wish you a very happy birthday. And to return to the song referenced in the title of this post, and in keeping with the midcentury vibe that I try keep going at the Manse, I’m dedicating this next number (from 1967 – a very good year) to you: the one I love.