Spring is here to cheer the soul

Welcome to spring, dear readers! Despite the mild winter we’ve had here in Queensborough and many other parts of North America, I think I speak for pretty much all of us when I say that it’s good to experience the sights and sounds of the change of season.

One of the greatest things about spring is that it’s so colourful. After months of the world outside our doors being largely white and brown and grey, it is delightful to see various shades of green emerging – like this bulb poking up hopefully from a spot in the Manse’s tulip and daffodil garden:

A bulb coming up

And the deep orange and black of a woolly bear caterpillar:

Woolly bear caterpillar

And the light-blue buckets that have been hung to collect sap for maple syrup on Queensborough Road:

Sap buckets, Queensborough Road

That’s a sight that gladdens my heart, because it was this same stretch of maples that my father, The Rev. Wendell Sedgwick, used to tap for syrup back in the days of my childhood here at the Manse. (I wrote about those happy maple-syrup memories here.)

But there are some brighter signs-of-spring colours too, like the cheerful mix in the spring/Easter display at the headquarters of the Pronk Canada machine shop in “downtown” Queensborough, in the historic building that (in my childhood days) housed Bobbie Sager Ramsay’s general store:

Easter display at Pronk Canada

Meanwhile my friend Graham has done his own annual welcome-to-spring ritual by bringing out his colourful collection of Adirondack (or Muskoka, if you prefer) chairs for a perfect riverside view:

Graham's colourful chairs

But before I get to the most colourful spring event of all in Queensborough, let’s get all multimedia here and switch to audio. Another way you know it’s spring is the chatter and song of the birds, the blue jays and chickadees and mourning doves and juncos and who knows who else who were in full voice the other morning at the Manse:

And now the most colourful part of spring in Queensborough, and it happened just this past weekend. It’s when intrepid kakayers taking part in MACKFest (the Marmora and Area Canoe and Kayak Festival) brave the high, cold waters and challenging rapids of the Black River – just for the fun of it. (I have to tell you that spending several hours in freezing-cold water and scary rapids in a little kayak is not my idea of fun, but these brave souls just love it.) Their run ends with many of them going right over the dam on the river that’s at the heart of Queensborough, something we spectators love to see. And they are rewarded for their efforts on the beautiful lawn of Elaine and Lud Kapusta’s historic home with a warm fire and barbecued hamburgers and hot coffee and lots and lots of pie served up by volunteers with the Queensborough Community Centre Committee. This year there were fewer kayakers than in past seasons, probably due to the MACKFest organizers having changed the date of the event (because of uncertain water conditions) at rather short notice. But it’s always a sight to see, and thanks to three photos by Queensborough photographer Dave deLang you can get a taste of it:

Kayakers above the dam by Dave deLang

A collection of kayakers in the still waters above the dam that is the finish line for their run. (Photo by Dave deLang)

Kayaker about to go over by Dave deLang

The moment of truth: a kayaker far braver than I could ever be prepares to go over the dam. (Photo by Dave deLang)

Kayakers going over the dam by Dave deLang

This is what we wait for all year! You have to see it to believe it. (Photo by Dave deLang)

I don’t know about all of you, but I’ve found this past winter to be a rather trying one. The sights and sounds of spring in Queensborough, though, are guaranteed to make a person feel better about just about everything.

The story of Bobbie’s wedding.

It took me about half a nanosecond to know which one was Bobbie when I saw this 1939 photo of a Queensborough United Church Sunday School class. There she is, front and centre, her eyes just as penetrating and all-knowing at the age of – what? 10, maybe? – as they were when I knew her as the village storekeeper and unofficial mayor. (Photo from the Marion Love collection, by way of Elaine Kapusta)

In a post several months ago I promised that one day I would tell the story of Bobbie’s wedding. Today is the day. I have been inspired by seeing a great old photo (sent by my Queensborough friend Elaine Kapusta) that features Bobbie as a little girl. She may be young, but she is so Bobbie in it – and the sight of it brought back a flood of memories.

All the time that I was growing up at the Queensborough Manse, and for many years after my family moved away, Bobbie Sager was the unofficial mayor of Queensborough. She ran one of the two general stores (and then, when McMurrays’ store closed, the only one). She was the Sunday School superintendent. She was the one who called out the numbers for seating at the St. Andrew’s United Church ham and turkey suppers. She held down alto in the church choir. She was the person my mum looked to for a diagnosis (chicken pox) when her eldest child (me) developed itchy red blotches all over my tummy. She was tall and strapping and strong, and very smart and very, very funny. She was an excellent and tough businesswoman. She had a soft spot for kids and was known to treat them with candy from her store. She knew everything that happened in Queensborough, and was discreet with the information – save for when spreading the news was called for.

She was, in short, a force of nature.

And for much of her life she was, to use the old-fashioned word, a spinster. All her siblings (one brother and four sisters, if I’m not mistaken) married, but Bobbie stayed single and lived at the family home, a handsome brick house a little south of St. Andrew’s United Church with her widowed mother, Elsie. (Her father, and Elsie’s husband, was Robert Sager, after whom Bobbie – Roberta – had doubtless been named. He was the proprietor of the store before her.)

The building that for many, many years housed Sager’s general store, operated first by Robert Sager and then by his daughter Roberta – Bobbie.

Bobbie’s store was in a large building that had an apartment in the back, and she rented that apartment to Allan Ramsay, of the Queensborough Ramsays. (There are a lot of Ramsays in Queensborough. Good folk.) Allan was a big, sturdy guy, owner of large trucks and heavy equipment, and did the things that owners of dump trucks and the like did. Since my father the part-time woodlot manager and farmer (and full-time United Church of Canada minister) was fond of doing things that required trucks and heavy equipment, he and Allan of course hit it off. “The Preacher and the Bear,” Bobbie used to laugh when she’d see them together.

Anyway, Allan lived in the back of the store and Bobbie ran the store and everyone had the sense that they sort of “kept company,” but that was that. Bobbie lived a ways up the road with Elsie, and continued to live alone in the big house long after Elsie died, when Bobbie was quite well into middle age. I am pretty sure everyone in and around Queensborough thought that was just the way things were, and that Bobbie would stay Bobbie Sager, spinster and mayor (mayoress?) forever.

Then one day in about 1973 or 1974, we four Sedgwick kids were told the biggest news, and the biggest secret, ever, by our parents: Bobbie and Allan were getting married. We had to be told because the secret ceremony was to take place at our house, the Manse, so of course we’d see what was going on. But we were sworn to secrecy and, I think because we would have instantly realized that this was the BIGGEST NEWS EVER TO HAPPEN in Queensborough, we just got the fact that this was not a secret to be told. To anyone. Under any circumstances.

(Actually, upon further reflection I am not 100-per-cent sure that all of us were told in advance. John and Ken, if you’re reading this: were you? Maybe it was just Melanie and me, the older ones.)

I did not tell, but I was bursting with that secret. The people of Queensborough would have been mad with excitement had they caught a whiff of the news. I remember being at a Thursday-evening choir practice at Bobbie’s house (where we always had choir practice) and playing Crazy Eights afterward with some of the choir members who stayed (a little choir-practice tradition). One of them was Bobbie’s own nephew, Gene Cassidy (son of her sister Bernice, who is second from left in the back row of the 1939 Sunday School photo at top, and her husband, Ken Cassidy), and I remember thinking: “Bobbie’s getting married in a couple of days and I know and almost nobody else, not even her own nephew, does!” It was very exciting.

Our choir leader, Katherine Burnside, did know; she and Bobbie were fast friends, and Katherine was maid of honour at the tiny ceremony. Gene’s older brother, Wayne, a chap of very few words, was Allan’s best man. (The story goes that when Wayne was leaving Ken and Bernice’s home to head for the Manse for the ceremony, one of his parents asked him where he was off to. He answered with the one thing that nobody would believe: “Bobbie’s wedding.” Of course they thought he was being just hilarious.)

Bobbie and Allan and Katherine and Wayne stood facing my father, The Rev. Wendell Sedgwick, in the Manse’s living room, and there Dad pronounced Bobbie and Allan man and wife. And Bobbie was proudly Bobbie Ramsay for the rest of her life.

A vey welcome late addition to this post: a photo of newly married Bobbie and Allan! And it was taken in the dining room of the Manse, right after the ceremony. My mother told me she had commissioned a cake for the occasion from a colleague at the high school in Madoc, where she taught. Don’t Bobbie and Allan look great? (Photo courtesy of Barbara [Sager] Martin, Bobbie’s sister, via Elaine Kapusta)

As I recall they departed on their honeymoon under cover of darkness, and as far as I know it was not until the next morning that the people of Queensborough learned the momentous, the stunning, the incredible news:

Bobbie’s gotten married!

Oh, that was some kerfuffle, let me tell you. “How? Where? When? How did they keep it secret?” It gave us all something to talk about for a long, long time. (Those of you who remember all this, please chime in with your stories!)

And then Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay came home from their honeymoon. And Allan moved into the big house with Bobbie. And Bobbie ran her store for many more years, and Allan drove his trucks and operated his heavy equipment. And they lived happily ever after.

Allan died a few years ago, not long after my father did; I remember Bobbie telling me at Dad‘s funeral that Allan couldn’t come because he wasn’t feeling well. And Bobbie herself died a few years after that. You can imagine how packed to the rafters St. Andrew’s United Church was for the funeral. And afterward during the social time (complete with a trademark Queensborough spread of great food, including of course platters of local cheddar cheese) many stories and memories were swapped.

And none was better than the story of Bobbie’s wedding.