Good neighbours

Ruth and Chuck on moving day

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

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

We’ll miss them. A lot.

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

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

Jen and Dustin loading the truck

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

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

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

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

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

It was a disaster.

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

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

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

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

Ruth's pie vs. my pie

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

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

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

lemon-pie-in-the-barbecue

The surprise lemon-meringue pie in the barbecue.

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

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

Chuck helping Raymond boost the truck

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

And:

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

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

Avocado-green phone

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

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

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

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

Henry, Justine and Pepere on the swings

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

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

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

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

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

Burned coffee pot

What happens when you lose your neighbours.

Okay, that’s Part 1 of the story.

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

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

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

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

rainbow-over-chuck-and-ruths-house

1,001 Nights at the Manse

Katherine in blog position

This is the view of me that Raymond has had for many and many an evening – 1,001 evenings, in fact – as I’ve worked in the blue glow of my MacBook Pro to churn our yet another yarn about life at the Manse. It’s time to move away from the blue glow, just a bit. (Photo by Raymond Brassard)

Tonight we are celebrating here at Meanwhile, at the Manse. Why? Because we have reached our 1,001st post!

Celebratory Manhattans

A thousand and one posts? Hey, that calls for a Friday-night Manhattan at the Manse!

Yes, just like Scheherazade, that legendary young woman of the Arabian Nights who held off a cruel king’s bloodthirsty urges by telling him stories every night for 1,001 nights – featuring Aladdin and the lamp, and Ali Baba, and Sinbad the Sailor, and all that stuff – I have recounted a yarn for you every single night (minus Sundays, because a minister‘s daughter shouldn’t work on Sundays, right?) 1,001 times, as of this very night. Now if that doesn’t call for a little celebration, what does? It being Friday night and all, I think I’ll have a Manhattan – minister’s daughter or no.

I’m in a bit of a celebratory mood for another reason too. It’s this: I decided a while back that with my 1,001st post I’d cut myself a bit of slack and lift the daily deadline that I imposed when I started this blog, on Jan. 30, 2012 – the day that Raymond and I became the owners of the Manse, the house that I grew up in. I do this with mixed feelings; I know from many years of practising journalism that deadlines are what force writers to produce, and without them, they… well, they often don’t produce. My daily deadline has been very helpful in giving me both focus and an imperative to get the job done.

But writing a post every day takes an extraordinary amount of time, and I am finding that I need some of that time – time being, along with health, the most precious commodity that any of us has – for other things. I have community work to do; I have St. Andrew’s United Church work to do. (I am the church secretary.) Also, spending a bit more time with my mum and the rest of my family couldn’t possibly hurt. Having more time to spend with Raymond would be a very good thing; he has been unendingly patient as dinner has been delayed night after night after night as I have hunched over this laptop, writing like mad about Avocado Green and Freshie and antimacassars and crokinole and the like. I’d like to stop dipping into his huge well of patience. And hey, the timing is good too: two days from now (April 12) is our seventh wedding anniversary, and maybe giving more of my time to my excellent husband and less to producing words on my laptop is a good anniversary gift.

Also: I could use a bit of a rest. Since I started this blog I haven’t taken a break from it, even when on vacation. I need a vacation.

Now, this doesn’t mean that Meanwhile at the Manse is going to go dark. Far, far, far from it! I promise I’ll still post with great regularity. Because, you know, there is just so darn much going on in Queensborough to tell you about! And there are so many interesting bits of local history to be dug up and reported on! So much artistic activity to investigate! Why, just last night as I was going through my photo files to find a picture I took a year ago of a crumbling shed on the road to town (to use in last night’s post, which is here), I realized that I have a lot of photos and ideas for posts kicking around. And then of course there are all those memories of my childhood here at the Manse in the 1960s and ’70s still to be mined – along with pictures of vintage finds from auctions and flea markets and yard sales to complement those memories, and take us all back to those happy midcentury times.

So yeah, there’ll continue to be Meanwhile, at the Manse stories. And if I give myself a little more time to produce them, I should be able to do some deeper research when it’s warranted, which it often is. Like: doing an interview with one of the people who was on the scene shortly after the UFOs landed in Cooper. (I am not making that up.) Or: checking out a hand-painted mural of a Queensborough scene that exists in a local house, a wonder that I only recently learned about. Or collecting still more reportage about Queensborough’s first and only (to date) rock festival.

Remember that old line about there being “a million stories in the naked city”? (In researching it just now, by the way, I discovered that the line is actually that there are eight million stories in the naked city.) Well, I am pretty sure there are a million stories in Queensborough alone – or, for that matter, in any place on this good planet. Every place, no matter how small, has history, and art, and interesting human beings, and anecdotes, and oddities, and slices of life both ordinary and extraordinary. All that’s needed is someone – a Scheherazade-type character – to find and tell those stories.

As of this post I’ve told 1,001 stories about life in Queensborough, and life at the Manse. And I’m rather proud of that accomplishment. Well, proud, and – ready for a bit of a rest.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the stories so far. I hope you don’t mind if it’s a bit longer in between them from now on. Most of all, I hope you’ll stay tuned. There are many more stories to come. I can’t wait!

Is this the ultimate late-1960s song?

One late afternoon two or three weeks ago, when I was on my way home to the Manse from work in Belleville, I stopped in the village of Madoc to do a couple of library/post-office errands. When I got back into the car and turned it on, the radio of course came on too – and I caught the last few tantalizing notes of a song that was oh so familiar, and yet I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was.

Freddy Vette

Here’s Freddy Vette in action as the leader of Freddy Vette and the Flames – the wildly popular live band that he runs on the side of his equally popular radio show. (Photo from freddyvette.com)

(The program I was listening to, Hastings County residents won’t be surprised to hear, was the Freddy Vette Show on CJBQ Belleville, 800 on your AM dial – the station I grew up with here at the Manse in Queensborough. Freddy is a supremely gifted DJ, musician, musical historian [there is nothing about the music of the 1950s and ’60s that he doesn’t know], comic – and graduate of the radio-broadcasting program at Loyalist College, where I now teach. His show, featuring the music of the ’50s and ’60s, is wildly popular locally, and with good reason; he is an entertainer par excellence. [Check out his website here, and an excellent article about him from Country Roads magazine here.] Even though I am not a huge fan of ’50s music [doo-wop and the like], Freddy plays enough good nostalgic stuff from the ’60s, peppering it with his always-entertaining commentary, to keep me tuned in every afternoon.)

Anyway, back to the fading notes of that song I couldn’t quite identify. It had strings. It had bass. And more to the point it had something – something kind of wistful and musical at the same time that I couldn’t identify but that instantly told me (or my subconscious) that it came from the era of bouffant hairdos and Dippity-Do, of Vietnam and TV magazines that featured Green Acres, and movie magazines that featured Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. It came from the era of Avocado Green, of living-room-showpiece hi-fi units sold at Pigden Electronics on the main street of Madoc. It came from the time of both the easy-listening vibe of Little Green Apples and the swampy rage of Fortunate Son.

It was, of course – as I discovered when I checked Freddy’s daily blog about his show – Wichita Lineman.

Was there ever a song more representative of the final few years of that incredible decade than that wistful, tuneful and, yes, weird composition by Jimmy Webb (yes, the man who brought you the sublime Galveston and the sublimely awful MacArthur Park, among others), as sung by the truly great Glen Campbell?

People, I am open to your thoughts. But my answer to my own question is this: I think not.

Old, Harvest Gold – and built to last

Harvest Gold stove

I have gained a new respect for our old Harvest Gold stove. (Though I still rather wish the vintage white washing machine that you see just to the left of it were located somewhere other than the Manse’s tiny pantry, but we’ll get there.) Hey, are you by any chance asking yourself what that curious object is on the windowsill to the right of the golden stove? Read tomorrow night’s Meanwhile, at the Manse post!

Yes, I’ve poked gentle fun at the Manse kitchen’s elderly Harvest Gold stove several times in the course of this blog’s life. I mean, the very fact that it is Harvest Gold means it has to be old, because that colour was considered the bee’s knees, the apex of home decor (second only to Avocado Green), back in the early 1970s. (I know this because I remember those days. Which you can probably tell from the fact that I used the phrase “the bee’s knees” just now.) It was one of the appliances that the previous owners of the Manse – the trustees of St. Andrew’s United Church in Queensborough – were good enough to leave in the house for Raymond and me when we bought it. We knew those appliances were old, and didn’t expect to keep them very long, but we were grateful for the fact that they’d be useful until we did renovations and bought new ones. (Yeah, well, those renovations have been a while getting started. But I digress.)

What I want to tell you tonight is this: Once upon a time, appliances were built to last.

If you read my post this past Tuesday, you’ll know that the oven on our Harvest Gold stove suddenly quit working that night just as I put a meat loaf in it to cook. We pretty much figured it was the end of the line for the old stove. Not so fast, Raymond and Katherine!

Yesterday Raymond made contact with Tough’s Appliance Repair in Madoc – a business that several people have recommended highly to us – and this morning a repairman from Tough’s, a nice chap named Charles, came around to the Manse to tackle our stove. Long story short: thanks to Charles, the Harvest Gold stove is working perfectly, and will probably give us quite a few more years of service. And the cost? Let’s just say it was a lot less than we would have paid for a replacement stove, even if the replacement had been a used one from Smitty’s (a Hastings County appliance dealer that everyone knows thanks to its ubiquitous signs).

Here’s the amazing thing: Charles said that the last year General Electric Harvest Gold stoves were manufactured was 1979. So that means ours is, at a minimum, 35 years old. He also told us that parts were of higher quality back in those days, and pointed to the burners on the top of the stove – they are the originals, and they are in fine shape. (Which is just as well; they couldn’t be replaced, because they’re just not made any more.) The very fact that there are no fancy electronics or computer-type operations in old stoves like ours – just switches, wires and elements – makes them simple to repair. Which means they can have a nice long life of service to us.

So the old Harvest Gold stove that I’ve been mocking? No more mocking. I have a newfound respect for that baby, even as it approaches its fourth decade. Yes, respect and appreciation: for our old stove, for a knowledgeable and helpful repairman – and for a time when appliances were built to last.

Is this the perfect “chesterfield” for the Manse?

Mad Men couch

I have loved this couch – or chesterfield, as I once would have said – for more than two years. Perhaps it is time to finally buy it and install it at the Manse. What do you think?

First things first: why doesn’t anybody say “chesterfield” anymore? When I was growing up here at the Manse in the long-ago 1960s and ’70s, that’s what we (that is, my family) always called the “couch” or “sofa” in our living room. Were we just weird? Or is “chesterfield” a word that was genuinely common back then but has simply faded away?

Anyway, leaving that pressing issue aside: I want your vote on a chesterfield – oh, all right, couch – that I’ve been eyeing for the Manse’s living room for quite some time. It comes from a relatively prosaic place: The Bay. I first spotted it in a glossy Bay flier that came tucked into our Gazette (the former workplace of both Raymond and me) a couple of years ago in Montreal. I loved the midcentury style, and I loved the colour. And the price was right too; it was on sale for something under $1,000.

Which, as it turns out, this couch often is. (On sale, I mean.) Every time I check it on The Bay’s website or in the big downtown-Montreal Bay store, it seems to be on sale once again. This past weekend I tracked it down at that store (hence the photo) with a tag on it saying, “This weekend only! $799, regularly $1,599!” Except when I went to The Bay’s website just now (that would be Tuesday evening), it was still on sale for $799. Not that I’m complaining.

In the store they had it displayed along with a bunch of fabric swatches, showing that you could get it in quite a variety of colours. Including a nice red, my favourite colour in the world. But I have to say that that bright lemon-lime shade seems just perfect for the Manse’s living room. Or is it? Perhaps it is a colour that Raymond and I will get thoroughly sick of in less than five years, and wonder a) what we were thinking and b) why we didn’t just buy something in a nice sedate beige or cream? Is this lemon-lime Mad-Men-style couch my own variation on the late-1960s Avocado-Green-appliance craze that I remember so well?

To help you make an informed decision on this weighty matter, I offer up a photo of the couch that the lemon-lime model would replace. It came with the Manse when Raymond and I bought it back in 2012, and while we were a little snickery at first about its pleather upholstery and evident wear, we got a little less so when we realized that a) it was actually pretty comfortable and b) it was the only couch – oops, chesterfield – that we had. Here it is, with Sieste the cat as the crowning touch:

Old couch

Our current living-room chesterfield at the Manse. (And our current cat.) I hope you’ll note the vintage curtains in the background – the same ones that adorned those windows when I was growing up in this house in the 1960s. I think the lemon-lime couch would look just great with them! (Please note too the bit of crocheted-by-hand doily – which is not, as I have explained before, an antimacassar.)

And here, just to confuse matters further, is another 1960s-style chesterfield that I found at The Bay last weekend when I was seeking out my lemon-lime model. This one’s a hundred dollars or so more expensive, a bit more comfortable to sit in, and has those funky Jetsons-style rounded lines:

Jetsons couch

Perhaps this is the one I should be considering? Do you like the rounded lines? Do you like the colour? It’s retro like the other one, but I am not quite as enamoured of it.

I don’t, however, much care for the colour, and while there were other upholstery options with it too, none of them really grabbed me. But I don’t know; maybe this is the chesterfield for the Manse.

What do you think, people? Let’s hear from your inner (or, heck, outer) decorator. I need some advice!

Happy colours for a happy little boy

Henry's high chair

If ever there was to be a high chair at the Manse, this had to be the one. Don’t those happy colours take you straight back to the early 1970s? And as it happens, we have the perfect happy boy to sit in it.

Welcome to 2014, everyone! I hope this new year will bring you good things and happy surprises.

One excellent thing that came our way in 2013 was the birth of Raymond’s first grandchild, Henry. He is a good boy! And in an hour or so he will be arriving for a New Year’s Day visit, which is very exciting. And so I thought I should show you the perfect vintage high chair that we recently acquired for the occasions when Henry dines with us at the Manse.

The high chair came from my good friend Elaine, who is well aware of my love for all things from the great midcentury era of my childhood at the Manse. She’d been in the attic of her gorgeous Queensborough home to bring down a more modern high chair for a visit by her own newest grandchild – his name is Lucas, and he is beautiful – and came upon one that had belonged to her sister when her niece was a tot in the 1970s. Talk about a period piece! Aren’t those colours something? Does it get any better than an avocado-green tray on an orange-and-yellow high chair? (You can read more about the love affair with avocado green that went on in my youth here.)

It was very kind of Elaine to offer it to us to add to our collection of midcentury vintage stuff at the Manse. And I just can’t wait to see Henry in it. Those colours may look jarringly bright to the ever-so-sophisticated eye of us 2014 folks, but you have to admit they are happy colours, pure and simple. And Henry is a very happy boy.

So on that note, here’s to a happy, brightly coloured year!

The thrift shop coughs up my past. (Again.)

those old green jugs

Okay, they may look like ugly 1970s avocado-green plastic jugs to you. But I was thrilled to find them! Another bit of my Queensborough childhood, discovered in a local thrift shop.

I have been a thrift-shop aficionado all my adult life. There is nothing more thrilling than finding a piece of great designer clothing, or a rare first-edition book, or some vintage Fire-King kitchenware, for about a hundredth of the price of what you would pay at an antiques/collectibles store, or a used-book shop, or a “friperie” (as they call vintage-clothing shops in Montreal and France). And without going into detail (I’ll save that for possible future posts, except to mention that my long-wished-for and hard-to-find vintage Stock Ticker game was one day’s prize), I have to tell you that the thrift shops in our local towns, Madoc and Tweed, do not disappoint.

But even though I’m by now used to unearthing good stuff in them, I was particularly surprised and excited one recent Saturday to find the plastic jugs that you see atop this post in the Madoc thrift shop. Now, I know what you are thinking: that those jugs are an ugly colour (an attempt at avocado green, I think) and, since they’re plastic, they’re – well, basically, why would anyone want them?

Ah, but you see there’s this: we had those jugs! Or at least one of them. In the Manse. In Queensborough. In my childhood. Probably for water on the dinner table, I suppose. Or lemonade in summer, maybe? I expect the green jug came from the Green Stamps catalogue, or maybe the Beamish (a kind of low-end department store in Madoc back in the day).

The better part of a lifetime later, I had utterly, utterly forgotten about the ugly green plastic jug. And then that recent Saturday, there it was – actually two of them – in the Madoc thrift shop. And I believe I paid something like a quarter for the two of them. And currently they serve very well for watering the Christmas tree here at the Manse every morning, so they are earning their keep.

And more to the point, they make me smile every time I see them. Which makes them – priceless.