In what is news to precisely no one: women’s work is never done

Peeling potatoes for the Turkey Supper

Me in the midst of peeling 20 pounds of potatoes late at night, after a long day’s work, in the cramped Manse kitchen. (Photo by Raymond Brassard)

More than once here at Meanwhile, at the Manse I’ve paid tribute to my mum, Lorna Sedgwick, for somehow surviving the Manse years of my childhood. Now that I am living through the Manse years of my adulthood (having moved back to this great old house in Queensborough a while back), I think I have a much better appreciation of what was involved in raising four small children, working full-time as a high-school teacher, keeping a big old house in reasonable order, preparing three meals a day for an ungrateful lot (and this when she hated cooking), and last but certainly not least, fulfilling all the demands that were placed on a midcentury minister’s wife – including having company to dinner pretty much every single Sunday.

And all this without a dishwasher! Or many other of the conveniences we all take for granted today. (Mind you, Raymond and I still don’t have a dishwasher at the Manse.)

My mother told me not long ago that quite often on Friday afternoons, when she would arrive home at the Manse after a week of teaching, she would just sit in the car in the driveway for a while, too exhausted to immediately face the job of cooking supper for the family. Too exhausted to even face the family.

Now, my workload is not nearly as heavy as my mum’s was. For one thing, there are zero small children to raise, though there are three cats. For another, my husband does an immense amount of work around the house, including cooking meals more than half the time. That said, my paid job (co-ordinating and teaching in the journalism program at Loyalist College in Belleville) is probably more demanding and time-consuming than my mum’s job was. And I have a daily commute of almost an hour each way, whereas Mum only had the less-than-15-minute drive to Madoc and back, to teach at Centre Hastings Secondary School. And even though I don’t have minister’s wife duties, I do have quite a bit of work in my role as secretary at St. Andrew’s United Church. And then there is Meanwhile, at the Manse to produce!

Let’s just say that I sometimes feel, as I’m sure my mother felt a hundred thousand or so times back in those Manse days of my childhood, that I am really tired of being tired.

But who doesn’t feel that way these days? Every working person I know is putting in more hours than workers did even a generation ago. Nine to five? What the heck is that? And we’ve all got so much going on outside of work as well. The other day I was talking to a businesswoman in Madoc who works full time six, and often seven, days a week. How does she do it?

While I fully realize that many, many men (like my husband) work every bit as hard as their wives do, I’ve been thinking a lot about “women’s work” over the past two or three weeks. You won’t be surprised to know that these thoughts have been prompted by being at the Manse, and by thinking about my mum and the women of her generation, and the generations before that.

These reflections kind of got started on a recent Friday night, when, after a very long and trying week at work, I had to spend several hours in the Manse’s ridiculously small and poorly laid out kitchen/pantry doing prep work for a meal to be served to guests the next day. They are guests whom we always enjoy having over, and the meal was not at all a fancy one; but because Raymond and I had out-of-the-house stuff to do most of the following day, I had to get things ready Friday night – when, let me tell you, I was ready to drop from exhaustion. Here I am whipping the cream for the world’s greatest retro dessert at about 10 o’clock at night, feeling more than a little sorry for myself:

late-night-whipping-cream-in-the-manse-kitchen

As I whipped, I kept thinking about my mum, and all those long-ago evenings in that very same kitchen when she, as exhausted as I was, would be using the hand-held mixer to prepare some dessert or jellied salad or other so as to lighten the load of same-day preparations for company. “How did she do it?” I kept wondering.

(But you know, it paid off: the next day when dinner was a snap to get on the table because of all the advance work that I’d done, I felt pretty pleased with myself. That, however, was after a good night’s sleep.)

I got thinking along the same lines last week, on the night before the Turkey Supper at St. Andrew’s United Church that I told you all about in last week’s post. My assigned task, because I am utterly incapable of baking one of those homemade pies that St. Andrew’s and Queensborough are so famous for, was to peel and cut up (into small pieces, so they’d cook quickly) 20 pounds of potatoes. People, do you know how long it takes to peel and cut up 20 pounds of potatoes? I’ll tell you. It takes exactly an hour and a half – 45 minutes per 10-pound bag of potatoes. There was a time when leaning over the kitchen sink for an hour and a half would have caused my back no problems whatsoever. But as a woman of a certain age, I can definitively say: this is not that time. And this hour-and-a-half mission happened, of course, after another very long day at work and another long commute home. You can see me hard at work on the potato front in the photo at the top of this post, and here’s another view where my peeling hands are just a blur!

peeling-potatoes-2

But I hasten to add that I wasn’t really feeling sorry for myself on potato-peeling night. Instead I was thinking about all the other women of St. Andrew’s United Church and the wider Queensborough community who, that night and over the past several days, had worked way more than my measly hour and a half to prepare food and make everything ready for the Turkey Supper. And then there was the day to come, when many of the same women would be working all day long doing prep work and setup, then serving up the food at a furious pace during the 2½ hours of the supper, and then working late into the night to clean everything up. And people, I hope I’m not giving away any secrets if I say that most of those women are older than I am – some by quite a bit.

They are amazing. Absolutely amazing.

Every year I vow that I will take lots of photos of our Turkey Supper, and every year I fail to fulfill that mission. Why? Because I’m so busy running around helping out! There’s just no time to stop and take photos. And most especially not this year, when – thanks in part to you excellent people – we had what was probably the biggest crowd in the long, long history of St. Andrew’s Turkey Suppers.

Cars parked all through Queensborough for the Turkey Supper

“The cars were parked all over Queensborough!” one visitor to our Turkey Supper told me, completely accurately. I am pretty sure it was the biggest turnout in the history of the St. Andrew’s Turkey Supper.


Turkey Supper 2016

A view of the newly renovated hall at St. Andrew’s packed with people who were there for our famous Turkey Supper.


Turkey Supper 2016 2

Another shot of the Turkey Supper diners, featuring Raymond (in the checked shirt) who, with our minister, Norm Long, never stopped pouring coffee and tea.

I hope my photos give you some sense of how busy we were. Thanks to ticket sales and donations, our church has received a wonderful financial boost that will help its work a lot in the coming year. But oh, how I wish I had photos or video of Lorraine mashing the potatoes and keeping a steady stream of warm and delicious food coming out of the oven; of Ann Lee making sure all the trays on the buffet table were always filled; of Joan and Stephanie and Barb and Wanda and Lorna and Doris tirelessly washing and drying the plates, cutlery and glasses over and over and over as they kept being used over and over and over; of Netta and Debbie and Susanna racing to clear tables and install new place settings in time for the next round of diners! How I wish I could show you Eilene, making pot after pot of coffee and tea; of Joan, filling bowl after bowl of salads; of Lois, cutting and serving up dozens and dozens of pies; of Sandra, keeping track of when there were spaces at the table and summoning expectant diners to fill them; and especially of Betty, overseeing the whole shebang, as she has done for so many years, and doing a fantastic job. And how I wish I could show you the bustle – exhausted bustle, but bustle nonetheless – as everyone worked to clean everything up afterwards – on empty stomachs, because the crowds were so huge that there was no turkey dinner left to feed these hard-working volunteers!

Pictures failed me. And really, so do words.

Except this: thanks to the work of these women, of women like my mother, who have spent the majority of the days of their lives working until they were ready to drop – we have been fed, and cared for. The world is a much better place for “women’s work.”

In which we eat locally, and well, in glorious surroundings

Railway Creek Farms at Feast from Farm

Visitors check out the amazing selection of different kinds of organic garlic grown by Elly Finlayson (behind the counter, left, aided by her mum, the artist Jean Finlayson) at her Railway Creek Farms operation – which, I am pleased and proud to say, is just up the road from Queensborough in the hamlet of Cooper. Note the brilliant blue skies and the setting right beside Stoco Lake. Pretty nice!

Many’s the time I’ve told you about how good we are, here in the Queensborough area, at serving up great community meals. Whether it’s the famous St. Andrew’s United Church suppers (the Ham Supper in the spring and the Turkey Supper in the fall, and more on the latter at the end of this post), or community potlucks, or pancake breakfasts, or barbecues that are part of special events, or the food booth at the recent Hastings County Plowing Match – well, let’s just say that if you are fortunate enough to be in Queensborough when there’s a meal to be had, you will go away happy and replete.

Yesterday there was just such an event in our little hamlet, but before Raymond and I could even get to it, we had the opportunity to eat very, very well just a few miles away. The occasion was the annual Feast From Farm event in the village of Tweed, where local food producers show off their bounty – vegetables, beef, pork, lamb, chicken, herbs, baked goods, and so on – and we lucky visitors get to sample delightful dishes made by local chefs with these local products.

Palmateer's at Feast from Farm

Palmateer’s Meats of Tweed has been in business a long, long time, and there’s a reason for that – great-quality local products. Yesterday people were lining up for a taste of sausage freshly made by Tara Palmateer (left). It was delicious!

So I’m going to show you some photos from Feast From Farm, and then carry you on into a much lower-key but also delightful food event that happened later in the afternoon right here in Queensborough. All to show you that we really know how to eat and have a good time around here.

Enright Cattle Company tent at Feast from Farm

The booth of the Enright Cattle Co., a farm just outside Tweed that produces beef that’s in demand in top Ontario restaurants. We enjoyed an amazing snack – Hoisin Glazed Enright Cattle Beef Taco with Srirachi Aioli – prepared by the folks from the excellent Capers Restaurant in Belleville. Yum!

Leather bags from Enright Cattle Company at Feast from Farm 2016

Also at the Enright Cattle Co. booth: a display of the gorgeous handcrafted bags made from the carcasses of the farm’s cattle. I am lucky enough to own one of those bags!

Lineup for Langevin lamb, Feast from Farm

A lineup (which Raymond was in, though toward the back) for treats made from Langevin Sheep Company lamb.

Langevin Sheep Company, Feast from Farm

I like the fact that there’s a sheep farm not far from us – it’s between Tweed and Flinton – and I also like their pretty sign! Raymond, who loves fresh lamb, likes all of this even more than I do.

Pumpkin carving, Feast from Farm

Another thing you can do with locally grown food products: carve them! The kids were enjoying this.

Aside from all the good food we got to enjoy, I have to say the beautiful early-fall weather and the glorious lakeside setting made the event that much more enjoyable.

Great trees and blue sky at Feast from Farm

Beautiful trees (I believe they are ash) tower over the lakeside site of Feast From Farm.

Lineup, Potter Settlement Winery, Feast from Farm

The Potter Settlement Winery booth was a popular spot, where lineups formed as soon as the sun made it over the yardarm. Don’t worry – I don’t know what “the sun’s over the yardarm” means either, and I’m not sure anyone does. Basically it think it means  it’s a respectable hour to taste some amazing wine made with grapes grown right here in central Hastings County. The owner of Potter Settlement, Sandor Johnson, was on hand to pour and talk about his products, which are very quickly gaining wide acclaim. Just check out this recent splashy article in the Toronto Star!

Potter Settlement Winery at Feast from Farm 2

Another look at the Potter Settlement Winery booth. Raymond and I were lucky enough to be able to purchase a case of the fast-disappearing 2013 Marquette, which is an absolutely outstanding red. And made right here in our neck of the woods!

So after all this tasting, we headed back to the car with a case of Potter Settlement wine, some fat, fresh Hungarian garlic from Elly Finlayson’s Railway Creek Farms, a bottle of Kricklewood Farm Cold-Pressed Sunflower Oil, some recipes and business cards to aid us in future purchases (fresh lamb, yum, says Raymond) – and very full tummies.

But the eating wasn’t over yet!

Cornstalk/scarecrow at QCC corn roast

This friendly cornstalk scarecrow welcomed visitors to the Queensborough Community Centre corn roast.

Next on the agenda was the annual corn roast hosted by the Queensborough Community Centre committee, of which we are members.

Garden at the QCC

What a lovely garden! It was planted by children taking part in the annual summer youth drop-in program at the Queensborough Community Centre. There’s a mix of annuals and perennials, including some from historic local gardens. Since the summer program ended at the start of August, volunteers have been carefully tending to the garden.

The QCC holds several events throughout the year, and the corn roast is probably the most laid-back of them all. On a sleepy September Sunday afternoon, 10 or 12 dozen ears of fresh local corn are boiled, a few dozen hot dogs barbecued, and people come, grab some nosh and a drink – all free of charge – and sit down for a spell on one of the benches that have been set out under the trees in front of the community centre, our village’s former one-room schoolhouse dating from the dawn of the 20th century.

Did I mention that these food events were taking place in beautiful locations?

Yesterday as we sat on the benches under the trees, we shared stories and news and gossip with our neighbours as we enjoyed the simple but good food. People came, people went; there was a quiet buzz all afternoon. At the corn roast you almost always meet someone from the neighbourhood whom you didn’t know before, and that’s really nice.

QCC corn roast 2016

A relaxed way to spend the afternoon: enjoying hot dogs and fresh corn on a bench under the trees at the historic Queensborough Community Centre (formerly the village’s one-room schoolhouse).

I would like to think that right about now you are saying to yourself: “My gracious but there’s a lot of good stuff going on in the Queensborough area! Notably when it comes to food. I must visit one of these times…”

Which is exactly what you should do. And I will tell you exactly when.

Pies at the St. Andrew's supper

Homemade pie is the specialty at the St. Andrew’s Turkey Supper on Sept. 28.

The St. Andrew’s United Church Turkey Supper – at which you will enjoy a full turkey dinner, including our absolutely fabulous homemade pies – takes place Wednesday, Sept. 28, from 4:30 to 7 p.m. It’s held in the hall of our church, at 812 Bosley Rd., and this year while you’re eating your amazing turkey dinner you can also take in the renovations we (the St. Andrew’s congregation, that is) have done to the hall over the past summer: a new floor, newly painted walls, and a fresh look overall. The ticket price for the supper is $14 for adults, $6 for young people aged six to 12, and free for children under six. All proceeds go to support the work of St. Andrew’s, a vibrant little rural church.

It’s an event about food and community, in equal measure. It’s in Queensborough. In lovely surroundings. What more could you ask for?

Engelbert Humperdinck. Yes, you heard right.

What can I say, people? Lately I’ve been thinking about Engelbert Humperdinck.

And no, I don’t mean the 19th-century German composer. I mean the crooner (although apparently he hates having the term “crooner” applied to him) who was ever so popular in pretty much exactly the time period (mid-1960s to mid-1970s) when I was a kid growing up here at the Manse in Queensborough.

Engelbert Humperdinck Another Time, Another Place

The only Engelbert Humperdinck album the Manse had ever had – until recently.

The Sedgwicks were not big Engelbert Humperdinck fans. I believe we owned exactly one of his records (and being a detail person, I’ll tell you that it was this one). And I’m fairly certain that it entered our household only as a result of us having had to order a certain number of albums from the Columbia House Record Club, or another of those “get-15-albums for 99¢!” record clubs that were so popular back in those days. Since the last time the last song on that album (which was I’m Holding Your Memory, But He’s Holding You, if you must know) spun its way around the turntable on the old Electrohome (or was it RCA?) stereo here at the Manse in 1974 or 1975, I doubt I’d thought of Engelbert Humperdinck more than three times. Until about two months ago. But weirdly, he’s come across my aural radar screen several times since.

That first time, a couple of months ago, I was driving to Kingston and amusing myself by listening to the Jim Wright oldies show (I love that show) on good old CJBQ radio, the Belleville-based station of my youth that I’ve written about many times before. Just as I turned off the Marlbank Road, an unintroduced easy-listening-type song by a guy with (I soon decided) a really great voice came on. The voice was oh so familiar, and yet I just couldn’t put my finger on which of the crooners of the late ’60s/early ’70s it might have belonged to. Tom Jones? Not rough and sexy enough. Frank Sinatra? Way too modern-sounding (well, mid-century modern) for that. Pat Boone? Perish the thought. It was a little too cool for that. Elvis? No, not the distinctive voice. By process of elimination, I decided that Engelbert Humperdinck was my best guess. And when Jim got back on the mike, I learned I was right!

But then I almost immediately forgot what song it was, which tends to be the case with those interchangeable midcentury crooner songs. I think it might have been this one – which I will tell you, at the risk of getting ahead of myself, has now become one of my favourite Engelbert Humperdinck numbers because of its sheer hummability:

Or maybe it was this one, which is, frankly, pretty great:

But anyway, it got me thinking after all these years – nay, decades! – about Engelbert Humperdinck. And not just thinking about him, but re-evaluating him. Because I’d always considered him a lower-end Tom Jones, a showboat at whom women even more desperate than were Tom Jones fans would fling underwear at concerts. (And that was true; that did happen.) But what I’d failed to appreciate in my younger days, when I was listening to the Beatles and Bob Dylan and (embarrassingly) the Partridge Family, when I was so (I thought) much smarter than anyone a generation or more older than I, was that Engelbert Humperdinck had – and has – an amazing voice, and an insanely great way of delivering a song.

And so when I happened across an album called Engelbert Humperdinck: His Greatest Hits in the used-record bin one recent Saturday at the wonderful thrift shop in downtown Madoc, I snapped it up, cheesy cover photos and all:

Engelbert Humperdinck's Greatest Hits front cover Engelbert Humperdinck's Greatest Hits back cover

And I took it home and listened to it. And, well… have been humming Les Bicyclettes de Belsize, and Spanish Eyes, and Release Me, and The Last Waltz, on and off ever since.

(But not Quando Quando Quando. That is a terrible song, and I defy anyone to say otherwise.)

Then a couple of weekends ago, I came across still more Humperdinckia!

Engelbert Humperdinck Souvenir Song Album

Yup, it’s an old, battered and stained collection of Engelbert songs, though not really his greatest hits; this one is more about songs made famous by others (Gentle On My Mind, for instance) that he had also covered. But still, it is a great piece of midcentury nostalgia, and I love it.

And hey! Should I ever need to know the chords for A Man Without Love – well, I’ve got them.

But meanwhile, let’s leave with another great song by Engelbert Humperdinck from back in his prime. Heck, let’s go all out and have his greatest hit ever. It’s got emotion, and a love that’s grown cold, and a hot new love waiting in the wings. Not to mention one of those sleek and funky late-1960s microphones. What more could you want?

Rural cathedrals: the beautiful old barns of Hastings County

"Local Barn in Black and White," Dave deLang

“Local Barn in Black and White” is what Queensborough-area photographer Dave deLang – whose amazing work I’ve praised before, notably here and here and here – calls this gorgeous photo. The barn in question is near the corner of Declair and Rockies roads northeast of Queensborough. You can see more of Dave’s work, and contact him about it, through his posts on Flickr, which are here. (Photo courtesy of Dave deLang)

“Nobody builds barns anymore,” the chap at the rustic antiques place between Madoc and Belleville said to Raymond and me.

I can’t remember how we’d got onto the topic of barns – this conversation took place quite a few months ago – but I do recall how startled I was by his statement. The man went on to explain what he meant, and I realized I had noticed the phenomenon he was talking about without really noticing it, if you know what I mean. That phenomenon being: these days farmers who need new structures for storing crops or equipment, or the other things that barns are used for, are installing the semi-circular fabric structures – are they maybe called “coveralls”? – that now dot the rural landscape. Here’s an example:

Modern barn, Highway 62

And here’s another:

Modern barn, Ridge Road

I’d seen these structures without realizing that they are the modern-day equivalent of – and actually, I guess, replacement for – the beautiful 19th-century wooden barns that one can still find throughout Hastings County, and especially in our North-of-7 area. The photo by our friend Dave deLang that’s at the top of this post (and that Dave very kindly gave me permission to use) is easily the most beautiful example I have to show you, but here are a few others in photos by yours truly:

Tokley barn

The Tokley barn, Declair Road, Queensborough.

Cassidy barn

The Cassidy barn, Queensborough Road east of Queensborough.

Shaw barn

The Shaw barn, Keller’s Bridge Road north of Eldorado.

Queensborough Road barn

Another Queensborough Road barn, east of Queensbororough.

With the exception of my sojourn of a little over 15 years in Montreal, barns have been a part of the landscape of my life since childhood. Now that Raymond and I have moved permanently from Montreal to Queensborough, barns are once again something I see every day, passing by them on my way to and from town, and work, and so on. You see them without seeing them, most of the time; but every now and then – like when the antiques guy made that stark announcement – you realize what an important part of our history and landscape they really are.

It takes a lot of work to build a big wooden barn. We’ve all heard of old-time barn-raisings, when all the neighbours in a rural area would get together to get the job done in one or two sweat-soaked days, the men and boys working in teams to get that huge building up and the women and girls working in teams to produce the giant joints of roasted meat and gallons of mashed potatoes and endless pies needed to fuel that hard manual labour. Whether that’s how the barns that I see every day were built, or whether it was more commonly done by just the family members and a smaller group of helpers over a longer building period, I don’t know – and I’d love to learn more about that, if any of my readers have some knowledge or even experience on that front.

McKinnon barn

The McKinnon barn (Queensborough Road west of Queensborough) under a glorious late-afternoon sky.

What I do know is that we should not take these huge and wonderful buildings, these monuments to the agricultural life and to the people who lived and worked it in the earlier days of this region, for granted. I am happy to say that many of the old barns in the Queensborough area are well-kept-up and still used. Some others have started to crumble, and they can be magnificent even as they fall into ruin.

Either way, they are a lot more interesting to look at than their modern-day equivalents.

Have you heard the one about the terrific DJ’s goofy joke?

Oh my my: can anything make you happier than the songs that were on the radio when you were 14 years old?

That’s the question I’ve been asking myself on this springlike day in Queensborough, as I’ve been searching out suitable songs to share with you as part of a post that technically isn’t about music at all.

Or at least, it is about music, in that it’s about a radio disc jockey. But really this post is about a joke: a silly, long-drawn-out joke with an unexpected punchline that a long-ago fan of that radio DJ remembered all through the years – and that, thanks to the power of friendship and the internet, I am able to share with you all, including that long-ago fan, right now.

Our story begins – well, where does it begin? That’s a good question.

Does it begin with a post I did here at Meanwhile, at the Manse three years ago this month, looking back at the great songs that one used to hear on AM radio in my childhood and early teen years? (When I was living right here in the Manse in Queensborough where Raymond and I now live once again, and where those songs came to us via good old CJBQ radio out of Belleville.)

Or does it begin with a landmark followup post in October 2014 when I proudly announced that I had found and made contact with Joey Edwards – the very guy who, as CJBQ’s weekday-evening disc jockey, played many of those songs for us?

Or does it begin with a comment on that post that I received only recently, at the start of this month, from a another person with fond memories of the music and voices and stories and hijinks of Joey Edwards?

Actually I think our story begins in about 1974 in the kitchen of a home in Tweed, Ont. (which is just down the road from us here in Queensborough; Tweed is one of two villages that vie for the title of being “town” to Queensborough folks). Let me take you back to that kitchen, where a teenager named Iain is plugging away at his homework while perhaps his mum is finishing up the supper dishes and maybe his dad is reading the latest issue of the Tweed News. In the corner of the kitchen is a radio, and out of that radio come songs like Takin’ Care of Business, and Then Came You, and The Joker, and Let Me Be There, and Top of the World, and Annie’s Song, and Midnight at the Oasis, and Sundown, and… oh, I have to stop. This is just too, too good, music-wise. Let’s take a pause and listen to one of the catchiest of those 1974 hits:

Anyway. Back to that warmly lit kitchen on an early-spring evening in Tweed, a little more than 40 years ago. In between all those great the songs on the AM radio comes the voice – or more correctly, voices – of DJ Joey Edwards. Joey was great at funny voices and imitations (notably of various Beatles), and his between-song patter and jokes were easily as entertaining as the music he played. Here’s how Iain put it this month when he came across my blog post about Joey:

“That is SO COOL! Growing up in Tweed we listened to Joey Edwards doing our homework in the evening… His stories were always great – ask him if he remembers the one that ended with “tag – you’re it!” … Thx again for the memories!”

Now, my response to Iain was that I had a feeling I should remember the “You’re it!” story – but I just couldn’t quite. Since I am fortunate enough to be in contact with Joey, however, I promised Iain I’d ask him about it.

And what a response I got! First, some more memories from Joey about his CJBQ gig all those years ago:

Joey Edwards on the job

Joey Edwards, the star DJ at local radio station CJBQ back in my childhood days at the Manse, and my new friend, thanks to Meanwhile, at the Manse. (Photo courtesy of Joey Edwards)

“I am still amazed that so many people remember my little radio show. Every night at 7 p.m. as I sat in front of that CJBQ microphone, I was never thinking about how many were listening or who they were. There was only ONE question on my mind: ‘I wonder how much fun I’ll have tonight?’ I figured if I was having a blast, so were the listeners. Every night when I did my show, I was like a little kid with a new toy. Even today I am still VERY much in touch with my ‘inner child.’ Now if only I could get in touch with my ‘inner adult!

“But I digress … Nightly on my show I presented my ‘Joke de Jour’ which was very popular. Below is the infamous ‘YOU’RE IT’ joke … It was one of my favourites.”

Upon which Joey proceeded not only to share the text of that kooky joke, but also an audio file of him telling it. Which means that – drum roll, please – Iain and all you other Joey Edwards fans out there (including me) get to hear the story all over again, straight from the source. Without further ado…

Oh boy. I don’t even know what to say, and I bet you don’t either. Except that those were simpler times, and it makes one smile to think that that ridiculous story made kids having a go at their homework in Tweed and Madoc and Queensborough and Belleville and Trenton and Stirling and Frankford and Marmora and Picton and Ivanhoe all stop what they were doing and have a chuckle.

To be followed with another great song from that totally great era of pop music. Let’s pick one with a title appropriate to what we’re doing right now: Reelin’ in the Years. And hey: Thanks, Iain. Thanks, Joey. And, as Joey always said at the conclusion of his show (in a Liverpudlian Beatles accent): Thaynks, Muum.

You know you’re living in the country when…

Manse mailbox

Our mailbox, properly accessible, on the sparkling cold morning after two days of non-delivery of mail because we had been neglectful of the winter obligation of keeping it completely shovelled out. Lesson learned!

Anyone who lives in a rural area of Canada knows the following rule: You have to shovel out the mailbox.

That is: If it is winter, and if your mailbox is on the side of the road that runs in front of your house, you have to shovel away any snow that accumulates in front of it. If you don’t, the person who delivers your mail won’t be able to drive up to it, open its door from inside his or her vehicle, and pop your mail in. (Canada Post‘s rules prohibit mail deliverers from getting out of their vehicles to put stuff in your mailbox. I expect it’s primarily a safety precaution, but possibly also a time-saving measure.)

Now, longtime readers of Meanwhile, at the Manse might remember that I have previously declared myself fully cognizant of that winter requirement on the mailbox front. In a post I did a couple of years ago (and which you can read in full here), I invoked my late father, The Rev. Wendell Sedgwick, in recounting how I was making it a point in the midst of a very snowy winter to keep the mailbox shovelled out so as to clear a path for the mail carrier. And I’ve kept up my mailbox resolution, shovelling it out many, many times since that post was written.

But as those of you who live in the northeastern part of North America know, the winter of 2015-16 has not, to date at least, been a very snowy one. I’ve shovelled out the mailbox a few times this winter, and Raymond has too; but when the amount of snow on the ground is little more than an inch or two, mailbox shovelling is not top of mind as an essential Manse chore. As a result of this complacency, two things happened recently: one, we failed to get mail for a couple of days; and two, I learned a valuable and happy lesson in how things work in small towns and rural areas.

Last Wednesday, Raymond and I were thoroughly puzzled when the red flag on our mailbox – the indicator that one does, in fact, have mail – failed to go up. There were a couple of things we were vaguely expecting to arrive that day; but more to the point, Wednesday is the day that the Tweed News weekly newspaper comes by mail, and the Tweed News never fails to appear. Why, the only thing surer than that columnist Evan Morton (curator of the wonderful Tweed and Area Heritage Centre) will have a good read in the paper about some aspect of Tweed’s history is the fact that the paper will show up, like clockwork, on Wednesday in the mailbox.

Not last week, though. “That’s odd,” Raymond and I said to each other Wednesday evening at the non-appearance of the Tweed News – and any other mail. But we shrugged and assumed that everything had just been delayed a day for some reason.

But when no mail – and especially no Tweed News – appeared Thursday, we suspected something might be wrong. It never crossed our minds that an unshovelled mailbox was the problem; we hadn’t taken the shovel to it in a while, but there seemed no reason to. The amount of snow on the ground was pretty small, and to the casual observer (i.e. us, from our front porch), the mailbox looked quite accessible.

But that is where we had it wrong. And that is how I learned my lesson.

On my way to work in Belleville on Friday morning, I stopped in to our local post office, which is in the village of Madoc. (Long gone, and very much missed, are the days in my childhood when Queensborough had its own post office at McMurray’s general store, and the late Blanche McMurray was the extremely capable postmistress.)

Madoc Post Office

The Madoc Post Office, where you always get service with a smile.

On duty at the counter that morning was Sheryl, one of the two very pleasant people who staff the Madoc Post Office. “Hi, Sheryl!” I chirped as I walked in. “Hi, Katherine!” she cheerily responded. “Is there something up with the mail?” I asked, starting to explain that we uncharacteristically hadn’t received anything for the past couple of days. (I had worriedly been wondering if our carrier had been ill and they’d been unable to find someone to replace her.) Sheryl knew instantly where I was going with that, and I didn’t even need to finish my sentence. “She [the mail carrier, that is] hasn’t been able to get to your mailbox for the last couple of days,” she explained.

Well! I was mortified, knowing as I so well do, from my earliest childhood, the importance of keeping the mailbox shovelled. I blithered something apologetic about not having realized there was a buildup of snow, plus an assurance that things should be okay as of Friday because the neighbour who snowplows our driveway had, the previous afternoon, taken a good swing at the area in front of the mailbox. Sheryl assured me that all should therefore be well: the carrier had our accumulated mail in the truck with her at that very moment, and so it all should end up in the mailbox that day. And she was right. It did. Tweed News and all.

(Which, I will add parenthetically, was especially good because Raymond had, as in each of the previous few Februarys since we bought the Manse, placed a Valentine’s Day message for me in the classifieds! How sweet is that?)

Valentine in the Tweed News

Raymond’s (“R.B.”) 2016 Valentine’s Day message to me (“K.S.”) in the classifieds of the Tweed News. He generally chooses Shakespeare, my favourite – this time A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

So why am I telling you this story? Because it’s actually not, despite appearances, about an unshovelled mailbox. I didn’t even realize it was a story until the end of the day on Friday, when I was recounting to Raymond (who was in Montreal) my exchange with Sheryl. As I told him how she had had the answer to my query about not getting mail before I could even get that query fully out of my mouth, I suddenly burst out laughing. It was a laugh of delighted recognition at another of the joys of living in a rural area. (For other examples of said joys, I refer you to many hundreds of previous posts here at Meanwhile, at the Manse.)

Think of it this way: if you lived in a larger town, or a city, what are the chances that:

a) You know the first name of the person behind the counter at the post office, and she knows yours?

b) The post office is actually a post office, and not a corner of a Shoppers Drug Mart?

c) The post-office person whose name you know, and who knows yours, is completely familiar with the condition of your mailbox? And knows off the top of her head the specifics of why you haven’t had mail for a couple of days – without having to look into it, or check the computer, or make a phone call, or promise to get back to you, or – most likely of all – tell you it’s not anything he or she knows anything about and therefore why are you bothering him or her with your dumb question? (Though they might phrase it more politely.)

d) The person behind the counter would know the whereabouts of your accumulated mail at that very moment (in the truck with the carrier, on the way to Queensborough)?

My laughter as I told the story to Raymond was delighted laughter – delight at living in a place where people know each other by name, and problems get fixed, and mail gets delivered, and lessons (about always being vigilant about mailbox shovelling) are learned – and we all just get along. And we do it, in part, through knowing more about each other’s business than people in the big city do. Is that a bad thing?

I don’t think so.

A midcentury Madoc Christmas tale, with a dram or two of whisky

First bottle of Top Secret off line 1 smaller

The first bottle of Jack Baker’s Top Secret rye whisky – a legendary product with a strong connection to the Manse’s geographical area – comes off the production line. On hand with the gals who helped produce it are Jack Baker himself (he’s the gentleman with the silver hair) as well as the president of the company (and Jack’s son-in-law), Frank Baillie. It’s courtesy of Frank and his wife, Elizabeth (Lib), that I am able to share all this great local lore with you today. (Photo courtesy of Frank Baillie)

Welcome to December, my friends, and welcome to my somewhat delayed weekly post here at Meanwhile, at the Manse. Perhaps another time I will regale you with the story behind the partial reason for the delay; for now I’ll just say that it was yet another new adventure in rural living for Raymond and me, having to do with a full-to-the-brim septic tank and the kindness and help of both a neighbour and a local septic-tanking-pumping company. You might even be able to fill in the blanks without me telling you the whole story.

But today’s instalment is about two other things: Christmas – which seems appropriate, it being early December and all – and Canadian whisky. Actually, make that three things: it’s also about making connections with interesting people who have great stories to tell.

Now, I hope you’ll bear with me as I backtrack a little here. Back in March 2014, I did a post (which you can read here) featuring a vintage (1964) newspaper ad for Seagram’s V.O. Canadian whisky that, slightly inexplicably, shone a spotlight on the good taste in Canadian whisky of the people of Madoc, Ont. (Which is “town” for most of us who live in Queensborough.) I say “slightly inexplicably” because a reader of Meanwhile, at the Manse had already filled in the blank for me, sharing the information that a top gun at Seagram’s back in those heady 1960s days was a chap with a huge Madoc connection named Jack Baker – and also that Jack Baker had later gone on to produce a whisky with his own name on it.

Jack Baker's Secret 1976 Bar magazine

Jack Baker and his legendary products at the time they were launched (1976), featured on the cover of Bar magazine. (Photo courtesy of Frank Baillie)

That post garnered all kinds of comments (click here to read them) from folks who knew or had worked with Jack Baker (or at least, whose fathers had), and also comments from Canadian-whisky connoisseurs who remembered Jack Baker’s namesake product very fondly.

Eight months later, in November 2014, I followed up on that post with one (which is here) sharing some of the interesting information that readers had come up with, and a bit more that I had gleaned myself about Jack Baker. The main element of that post was the legendary whiskies made by Jack Baker. Jack Baker’s Secret and Jack Baker’s Top Secret whisky are long-gone mid-20th-century libations, but they are remembered fondly by many drinkers of Canadian whisky, as I reported then.

And that, I thought, was that.

But a short while ago – a year after that second post, in fact – something marvellous arrived: a comment from the person who, as he very accurately put it, “can best give you info about Jack Baker Distillery.” Who would that be? Well, I’ll tell you. It would be Frank Baillie, who not only was president of the company that produced Jack Baker’s Secret and Jack Baker’s Top Secret – Jack himself being chairman of the board (and, as Frank says, the real boss) – but also the man who has been married to Jack’s daughter, Elizabeth (Lib), for the past 54 years. Now isn’t that something?

Thanks to the enlightening and entertaining comments that Frank and Lib posted (you can see them here) and their subsequent email exchanges with me, I have learned all kinds of interesting things about not only the whisky, but the man behind it – and behind a whole lot of stories about Madoc back in the day.

And among those stories is a Christmas one that I am going to share with you.

But first, a bit more from the treasure trove of material and memories that Lib and Frank were kind enough to send along.

Probably the best place to start is with a bit of background on Jack Baker. He served in the Royal Canadian Air Force in the Second World War and, looking for some peace and quiet after that, chose tiny Madoc to settle his family in. A man of enterprise and ambition, Jack set up a construction business and a service station. And then – have I mentioned that he was an enterprising sort? – it struck him that Madoc could really use a liquor store. Or, as it says in an ad for his whiskies that Frank sent me, Jack “noticed that the local townsfolk in and around Madoc spent a good deal of their time driving back and forth to the area’s only liquor outlet in Belleville. Not being a man to ever look the other way when opportunity was staring him in the face, Jack leased a store which he owned in Madoc to the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, who made him the manager.” (Interestingly, another ad for Jack Baker’s Secret and Top Secret says that Jack built – rather than leased out – the building that was to house the Madoc liquor store. As with all legends, the details sometimes get a little cloudy.)

1950s LCBO store

The interior of a midcentury (1950s) LCBO store, not long after the time that Jack Baker built and became manager of the Madoc outlet. This was long before the days of self-serve liquor stores; customers had to consult the product listings posted around the store (which you can see in the photo) and fill out a paper chit for the bottle of their choice. Then one of the men (always men) who worked there would go into the back room and get the requested libation. Heaven forfend that bottles of wine and liquor should actually be on display! (Photo from lcbo.com)

Anyway, Jack became the manager of the Madoc liquor store, which Lib tells me was close to the intersection of St. Lawrence Street West and Russell (or is that Russel?) Street in downtown Madoc. As you already know, he later went on to work with Seagram’s and to produce a whisky of his own (and a little more on that below), but it is evident that his time as a businessman in an interesting line of work in a small town in central Hastings County is what stuck most with him in later life. Why is it evident, you ask? Because those Madoc days are all referenced big-time in publicity that was produced for his whiskies.

And thanks to Frank and Lib Baillie, I can show you those ads from the 1970s. Click on each one to enlarge it – in some, the reproduction is a tiny bit fuzzy, but I think you can read them all when you zoom in. Herewith, stories about a wrist-wrestling contest, and a rollerskating rink on the roof of the LCBO, and Big Bill Baker, and all manner of interesting local lore. Do any readers remember?

Jack Baker: wristwrestler

Courtesy of Frank Baillie

Jack Baker: roller rink

Courtesy of Frank Baillie

Jack Baker: Mud Cook

Courtesy of Frank Baillie

Jack Baker: empties

Courtesy of Frank Baillie

Jack Baker: Big Bill

Courtesy of Frank Baillie

Jack Baker: my friends

Courtesy of Frank Baillie

I’m going to let Lib Baillie tell the last part of the story of her dad and the whisky that bore his name:

“Secret and Top Secret were produced in Waterloo [Ont.] at the House of Seagram. Father was very close to Charles Bronfman and when the patriarch Sam gave Charles a distillery for his 21st birthday (Thomas Adams Distillers), Father ran it for Ontario, Quebec and The Maritimes. Charles made space available in Waterloo as a thank-you.

“Jack Baker’s Distillery died shortly after he did. He really WAS the company – I’ve never met anyone with his level of salesmanship, tenacity and guts.”

In reading the stories that Jack recounted in those 1970s ads, you certainly do get a sense of his “salesmanship, tenacity and guts,” as Lib so aptly puts it. But I think you also get a sense of how his experiences in Madoc helped shape him: helped him learn about human nature and human foibles, and thus perhaps how to be a better salesman and businessman. And even more to the point, gave him a wealth of great stories to tell!

And here’s the Christmas story I want to share with you this Christmas season. It says a lot about small-town life in central Hastings County back in the middle of the last century. Though I would like to think that if the same Christmastime catastrophe happened in little Madoc today, the response would be exactly as it was back then.

Herewith, with huge thanks to Frank and Lib Baillie (and the late Jack Baker), The Day a Town Gave Itself for Christmas:

Jack Baker: Christmas

Courtesy of Frank Baillie

The Day a Town Gave Itself for Christmas

“It was a bitterly cold Sunday night that December 23rd, 1945. Even today I can see the flames from my service station lighting up most of Madoc, Ontario.” Jack Baker chuckles. “I wasn’t laughing then, I can tell you. I had just spent every thin dime I had to buy that station. Every spare penny I could scrape up was invested in the 5000 gallons of gas in those tanks. Whether my family and I had a Christmas at all, was a matter of whether or not I sold that gas. When I ran up and saw those flames shooting through the roof, I saw my whole life going up in smoke. Including every stick of furniture I owned, which was stored above the station. I was wiped out.

“Everyone tried their best, but it was a burned out shell by morning. As I stood there, alone in the frozen ice coated remains, I saw a 300 pound air compressor that I had thrown outside at the height of the fire. I tried to lift it and I couldn’t.

“Then a strange thing happened. As I stood there in the wreckage of my station people started arriving. Before long most of the town was there. Even farmers from miles away. They didn’t waste time talking about it, or offering sympathy, they just pitched in and started chopping and shovelling away all the ice and snow. They worked like beavers. Pretty soon the lot was cleared. The town electrician rigged power for my pumps, which had escaped damage.

“As if that wasn’t enough, those people did the darnedest thing. They got into their cars and lined up at the pumps. They filled their tanks to overflowing. I still think some went home, filled the tractor from their car and came back for more. Anyway, by dark I had sold more gas than I ever had in my life. They cleaned me out. And I had money for Christmas.

“Every year since, just before Christmas, I can’t help remembering the charred remains of that other Christmas. But most of all, I remember those wonderful people in Madoc. Without asking, or hesitation, they banded together and unselfishly gave me a priceless Christmas present I’ll never forget. That taught me one thing. Besides having your health, there’s nothing more important in life than having good friends. Fortunately for me, I’ve kept both. Which has enabled me to realize my life’s ambition, to create two of the finest, smooth-tasting Canadian whiskies available today, Secret and Top Secret. When you taste them, I know you’ll be pleased. All you have to remember is to mention my name: Jack Baker.”

Wow! Jack Baker was a great salesman (as you can tell from the story’s end – but it is an ad, after all), and a great storyteller. And thanks to Frank and Lib Baillie coming across Meanwhile, at the Manse and sharing their wealth of Jack Baker and Madoc knowledge, I can share a wonderful Christmas story with you all, featuring kindness and neighbourliness and true Christmas spirit in our own Madoc.

I think we can all raise a toast to that.