Duz glasses, found at last. (Not in the detergent box.)

Duz glasses at the Manse

I am pretty proud of this collection: vintage box of Duz detergent; vintage red dial phone (still fully operational); Harvest Gold clothes dryer (also operational, though probably not very energy-efficient); and – the most recent addition – two tumblers (in their original boxes, and still coated with a thin later of detergent dust) that once upon a time, probably a half-century ago, were “free gifts” inside Duz boxes.

Would you like to know what gets you page views if you write a blog? I’ll tell you what gets you page views. It is a post headlined “When towels came in detergent boxes,” that’s what.

Very rarely does a day go by without at least one person, somewhere in this wide world of ours, paying a visit to Meanwhile, at the Manse because that person had entered into Google the search terms “towels in detergent box” or “Duz detergent towels,” or “things that came in Duz boxes,” or some variation. Who knew that so many people would be interested in reading about the days when towels – and, more to the point for tonight’s post, other good stuff, like drinking glasses – came as a “free gift” inside boxes of laundry detergent?

I wrote the post headlined “When towels came in detergent boxes” more than a year and a half ago. It was a little paean to those simpler days when things like a free towel made consumers (fancy name for “housewives”) more likely to buy a certain kind of laundry detergent. And when the bathroom of every household you might go into had very familiar hand and/or bath towels – familiar because they, like the towels in the bathroom at your own house, had emerged from a box of detergent.

Anyway. In writing that January 2013 post I searched for a vintage TV ad about getting a free towel in the Duz, unfortunately in vain. But what I did find, and link to there, was an ad about free drinking glasses you could get in Duz. So given that, and also given how popular that year-and-a-half-old post continues to be, perhaps you will be able to imagine my delight when, this past summer, I came upon some vintage Duz drinking glasses for sale in an antiques emporium. Wow!

One of the two boxes had been opened, so that you could pull out the glass and examine it. (It’s brownish and kind of ugly but, endearingly, still bears a thin coating of laundry powder.) The other box was pristine – never opened, in all the years (it would have to be at least 50) since it had been packed into the Duz. They cost $2 (U.S.) each. Of course I had to have them.

And now they sit proudly on our almost-as-vintage Harvest Gold clothes dryer here in the kitchen of the Manse. Right in front of a vintage box of Duz that our friend and former colleague Gordon Beck (co-proprietor of a wonderful gallery/emporium in beautiful Brockville, Ont.) generously donated to the Manse’s growing collection of  relatively useless but nonetheless interesting midcentury stuff. And right beside our vintage red (it’s the hot line, you know), fully functional rotary-dial phone.

The lot of them make me smile every time I look at them. And hey, internet: I’ve just given you another post about when free gifts came in detergent boxes. You’re welcome!

The old split-rail fences, and a machine that can do them harm

split-rail fence damaged by bush-clearing machine

This is how the split-rail fence looked after the bush-mashing machine had passed through on Queensborough Road. I do not have a good feeling about this.

So there’s this machine that some rural-Ontario municipalities have started to use to clear brush along the roadsides. I don’t know what it’s called. Bushwhacker? Bush-hog? But here’s what I do know: it makes a mess of things.

I think I first heard about the destruction this machine causes to rural roadsides thanks to a letter to the editor of the Tweed News a few months ago. A local resident had been out walking, or maybe driving, along a pretty rural road, and was horrified to see the destruction to the trees – limbs ripped off, parts of trunks stripped away – caused by this brush-clearing machine. His letter was great, though (as often happens in small local newspapers) was, as I recall, followed up by a response from someone (a township worker? the mother of a township worker?) defending the practice. (The same thing happens when people write in complaining about how long it takes to get the power turned back on after a hydro outage. My gracious but the hydro workers – or maybe it’s their mums and/or dads – get riled up about that! It is rather entertaining to read. Though less so, I imagine, if you’ve suffered an extended power outage. Or are employed by Hydro One.)

Anyway, not long after we read that letter last spring Raymond and I were driving back to Montreal from the Manse in Queensborough and, along a very pretty stretch of township road between Perth and Brockville, saw evidence of the same kind of machine having been used. What a mess! Utter destruction on both sides of the road, and for what? This was not a narrow little road threatened by overgrowth; it is quite wide, and the brush would never have got in any driver’s way. Yikes!

Then we kind of forgot about it – until this past weekend. We were driving in to the Manse on Friday night via Madoc, and at one point along Queensborough Road between Hazzard’s Corners and Queensborough, Raymond pointed out that the grass had been cut along the sides of the road. I thought to myself, “Well, at least they didn’t use that godawful machine that makes a mess of the trees.” Ah, but it was dark, and I couldn’t see the trees. The next morning we drove in the opposite direction along that same stretch of road – again, a wide road that is in no way threatened by overgrowth from the sides – and I was taken aback to see the destruction.

split-rail fence along Queensborough Road, Hastings County

This photo that I took in spring 2012 shows the split-rail fences along Queensborough Road at their best. They are a lovely and historic part of the local landscape. And worth preserving!

Hey, I know that trees, and especially shrubs and bushes, are resilient, and will bounce back after having limbs ripped off and so on. What really worries me are the lovely old split-rail fences that line that road – as they have for probably a hundred and fifty years – and that, as far as I could see, did not escape unscathed from this bushwhacking machine. Those fences are an integral piece of the local landscape. They are part of our collective history. And they are beautiful.

So please, township officials and politicians, and the people who operate this machine: please, please, please be mindful of the old fences.

In which we get an idea of what we can do with the books.

Raymond (at rear, to the right) in his element: among the fantastic collection of books at From Here to Infinity in Brockville, Ont. As you can see, the store is beautifully done, thanks to the hard work of Gordon and Ewa.

Raymond (at rear, to the right) in his element: among the fantastic collection of books at From Here to Infinity in Brockville, Ont. As you can see, the store is beautifully done, thanks to the hard work of Gordon and Ewa.

Raymond and I have had an absolutely splendid few days at the Manse, enjoying our big bright house and pretty little Queensborough and the things we found to do in the area. But the weekend’s fun began with an event not in Queensborough but a couple of hours further east, in Brockville, Ont. In that historic and attractive town, our friend and longtime colleague Gordon Beck, photographer extraordinaire, and his wife, Ewa, have just opened a gallery called From Here to Infinity. In this gorgeously restored main-street building you’ll find both Gordon’s own work and the artwork of others; and you’ll find books, and lots of them. Gordon collects books like Raymond and I do, only perhaps (if that is possible) more so; so the entire rear section of From Here to Infinity is take up by shelves loaded down with the fruits of his many years of book collecting – and they are for sale!

You wouldn't find this in every bookstore: a statue that Gordon and Ewa call Emma Bovary in a corner of From Here to Infinity.

You wouldn’t find this in every bookstore: a statue that Gordon and Ewa call Emma Bovary in a corner of From Here to Infinity.

Knowing Raymond and I as you do by now – having seen the books stacked in our living room (before a lot of them were moved to the Manse), and newly shelved in the study at the Queensborough house, and turned into a festive book tree at Christmas – you can probably guess what Raymond and I did when we stopped in to the opening of Gordon’s gallery. Yes, people: we bought books. It turns out that Gordon’s taste in books is very, very similar to ours. There were a lot of history books, with a great emphasis on local (i.e. various parts of Ontario and Quebec) history. There were travel books, and books of biography, and many, many books of art and photography. It was like looking through our own books, except there were some we didn’t have yet! So we had to buy them.

And it gave us an idea: why don’t we do this with our own books? Not the ones we absolutely must keep, mind you; we are like Gordon, who told us that he has a whole other (large) stash of his own books that would not be going onto the gallery shelves. But let’s face it: when you have as many books as Raymond and I do, you find you have quite a few that you could live without. Or that you have got as much enjoyment out of as you ever will, so don’t mind saying good-bye to. And then there are the duplicates, which we have thanks to our closely aligned tastes in books (and thus each having brought to the marriage of our two libraries quite a few of the same thing) – and to the fact that Raymond keeps forgetting he already has several copies of Stephen King’s book about the Red Sox (it’s called Faithful) and keeps buying more at used-book sales.

So yeah, why not a used-book shop? Perhaps this could be the little commercial enterprise that I keep insisting Queensborough needs. Why, maybe we could turn our little white garage into a cute little bookstore!

Could our largely unused garage at the Manse be transformed into a cute little bookstore?

What do you think: could our largely unused garage at the Manse become a tiny perfect bookstore?

And maybe Gordon will come and take some of them off our hands. Hey, the subject matter is right up his alley.

A box of Duz, just for me!

A Manse-warming gift from Gordon: a pristine box of Duz detergent, and three beautiful cream-coloured glass lightshades. How nice is that? (Photo by Gordon Beck)

A Manse-warming gift from Gordon: a pristine box of Duz detergent (“Safe Suds! Whiter Washes!”), and three beautiful vintage cream-coloured glass lightshades. How nice is that? (Photo by Gordon Beck); and read on to find out what that is in the background.)

I have been remiss in not sharing until now an absolute treasure promised to me as a gift by our friend and former Montreal Gazette colleague (and photographer extraordinaire) Gordon Beck. After he retired from The Gazette, Gordon and his wife, Ewa, moved to an 18th-century stone carriage house that they had painstakingly restored in lovely little Merrickville, Ont., and opened a photo gallery (called From Here to Infinity) there. More recently they have restored another great old building, on the main street of equally nice (though larger) Brockville, Ont., and this April they will be opening a combination bookstore and photo gallery there. Trust me, it’ll be wonderful. You can find out lots more about Gordon, and see his stunning photos, here.

Anyway, after my post about the good old days when things like towels and drinking glasses came in boxes of detergent – and I’m pretty sure Duz was the brand – Gordon posted this comment:

“I have a Manse warming gift for you. Three old glass lampshades (Milk opaque) and (drum roll) an unopened box of DUZ from an E[astern] Townships auction in the 60′s.”

There is only one word for this, and it is: awesome.

In his email when he sent the photo of the gift (which you see at the top of this post), Gordon said of the Duz, “I can’t wait to read the results of your using a little at the Manse.” But I don’t think I could bear to open it! How often does one find an untouched box of Duz, for Pete’s sake?

Meanwhile, aren’t those lamp globes beautiful? They will be sure to be put to good vintage-y use at the Manse.

And you might be interested to know what’s in the background of the photo Gordon sent. It has to do with a project at the new Brockville building that involves displaying pieces of the beautiful historic wallpaper that he and Ewa found there: “On the [computer] screen is one of the wallpaper bits I photographed in the context of the setting with a partial joist and plaster and other detritus.  I’ll have about 30 of these when I open the gallery. The show will be called ‘Wallpaper…and the art of vertical digging.”  One must have dreams.’ ”

One must indeed, Gordon. Thank you for your wonderful gift, and Raymond and I look forward to visiting the fulfillment of your and Ewa’s new dream in beautiful Brockville. Readers, you should too!

Lights shining in the darkness


It is Epiphany, people, and do you know what that means? Okay, well, yes, it means it’s the day on which we (western Christians, anyway) mark the visit of the three kings, or wise men, to the baby Jesus. It’s also known as Twelfth Night – the “twelfth day of Christmas,” as that annoyingly catchy song has it. (If you saw the Stratford Festival‘s production of Shakespeare’s comedy of that name a couple of years back, lucky you!)

But it also means, to my mind and I hope to the minds of all right-thinking people, that after today Christmas is over and done, and it is time to move on. And that in turn means: as lovely as your Christmas tree and your outdoor Christmas lights may have been again this year, it is time for them to go. Christmas lights still shining in late January or even February (and sometimes even later than that) are just, well – not right.

However, I wanted to say in these waning hours of the Christmas season how particularly enjoyable I have found looking at Christmas lights this year.

When I was a little girl growing up at the Manse, my mum used to find it a real treat to “go for a drive and see the lights.” I kind of wondered what the fuss was about. (And in retrospect I think one reason she liked it was simply that it was a chance to get out of the house she shared with a husband and four little kids, and away from her minister’s-wife and professional [she was a high-school teacher] duties for a little while. It was a respite, basically.) She especially loved to go look at the lights when we were visiting a city, like say Peterborough, where my grandparents, her parents, had retired. I think she enjoyed seeing a lot of displays all at once, and comparing and contrasting different households’ efforts.

Our own household’s effort at the Manse in Queensborough was never particularly spectacular. We had one string of multicoloured lights like the ones in the picture at the top of this post, and my father the minister – who didn’t put much store in anything along the lines of aesthetics or decorative work – would, grudgingly and after many reminders, put a minimalist effort into getting them strung up along the roofline of the Manse’s front porch. They were never remotely like those straight-as-an-arrow displays that many homes had; we kids used to joke that Dad kept tossing the lights up in the general direction of the nails installed for that purpose, and once they stayed he left them alone. So they tended to be a bit droopy and helter-skelter. But at least they shone out into the darkness of winter nights, and there is a lot to be said for that.

Which Raymond and I have really come to appreciate this winter as we have been driving back and forth between Queensborough and Montreal. Usually we drive Q’boro-ward on Friday night after work, and we take a backroads route that we found by happy accident after being stuck too many times in awful Highway 401 traffic backups around construction near Gananoque, Ont. We get off the dreaded 401 at Brockville and drive northwest through little places like Addison and Toledo and Mott’s Mills and Frankville and Rideau Ferry and Lombardy and then the “big city” of Perth, and once we get to Perth it’s only a blessed hour and 10 or 15 minutes along good old Highway 7 (the Trans-Canada) and Queensborough Road to our happy unfinished work-in-progress Manse in downtown Queensborough.

And as we drive along those dark country roads and through tiny country communities, we have been thrilled by, and appreciative of, the festive lights we have seen. My mum may have liked to see lights all together in the city, but I think I prefer them coming at us individually, through the deep darkness of the rural night. You are driving along in darkness and snow, and it’s kind of a lonely feeling even if you are in a nice warm car, but seeing a display of festive lights at a house (or better yet, a village or a town) makes you feel less lonely. When people have really gone out and done their best to make a beautiful seasonal display, then it’s just that much more warming and cheering.

So more power to you, Christmas-lights-people! But now, after Epiphany, the magic is done and the lights have to go. We will see and enjoy them again next Christmas, next winter. Now, the nights just have to be dark.

Which perhaps makes the lights of home – our happy Manse in lovely Queensborough – more welcome than ever.