The Cat Who Lived

Teddy on the hassock

The Cat Who Lived: our Theodora Roosevelt Brassard (or just Teddy if you prefer), at home on one of the Manse’s vintage hassocks. Isn’t she beautiful?

Anyone even mildly familiar with the Harry Potter stories will know that Harry is sometimes known as The Boy Who Lived, because he is the only wizard to have survived the Killing Curse (sent his way by the evil Voldemort). Well in this week’s instalment of Meanwhile, at the Manse, I want to tell you about The Cat Who Lived. She’s not quite as famous as Harry Potter – not yet, anyway – but her story is much dearer to my heart. Which is saying something, because I am a huge fan of Harry Potter.

The Cat Who Lived is the Manse’s very own Theodora Roosevelt Brassard – Teddy for short. She is one of the two kittens whom Raymond and I adopted at the end of this past summer from the Cat Care Initiative cat-rescue operation and shelter in Campbellford. The other adoptee was Honey Bunny, and here she is:

Honey Bunny in the tunnel

Tortoiseshell Honey Bunny can be hard to spot in pictures because her colouring makes her blend into the background. Here she looks out at us from the bottom level of her nothing-but-the-best-for-our-cats leopard-print at-climbing tower and scratching post.

Like most of the cats at the Cat Care Initiative, Teddy and Honey Bunny – who are close to the same age, to wit about five months as of this writing, but not sisters – came from a feral-cat colony. Volunteers rescued them and socialized them until they were ready to be adopted, and that’s where Raymond and I came in:

eddy and Honey Bunny on adoption day

Raymond and me with our new kitties on the day we adopted them from the Cat Care Initiative. (Photo by Irene Lawson)

Why did we choose Honey Bunny and Teddy from the other cats and kittens up for adoption? Well, we thought they were both beautiful – but then, all cats are beautiful. Teddy also struck us as exceptionally sweet, which has definitely proved to be the case. And Honey Bunny – well, we chose her partly for her name, believe it or not. “Honey Bunny” was Raymond’s pet name for Bayona, the big-bundle-of-love cat whom we had in Montreal and whose sudden death a few years ago left a great big hole in our lives. (You can read about that, and see lots of photos of Bayona and Sieste, who went on to become the First Official Manse Cat, here. Sieste died of old age last spring, which broke our hearts; that story is here.) When we learned that the striking tortoiseshell cat who looked up so lovingly at Raymond as he held her had been given the name Honey Bunny, we looked at each other and decided it was a sign. We were meant to have her.

Here are the girls on their way home in the car:

Teddy and Honey Bunny on their way to the Manse

They must have been wondering what their new life would be like! “Can we get out now?”

Both kittens proved to be playful and cuddly and full of beans, with Honey Bunny soon impressing us with her unceasing energy, her acrobatic skills and her smarts. Have you ever seen a cat play fetch before? Well, here you go:

(Honey Bunny can keep Raymond amused with that game for hours.)

But Teddy? Well, Teddy was just the sweetest kitten ever, with beautiful soft fur made for petting and a propensity to sit in your lap and purr while helping you with your work:

Teddy is a good helper

Teddy helps Raymond with his work on the National Newspaper Awards.

But before too long we realized that Teddy was a little bit fragile. For one thing, her balance didn’t seem to be particularly good; she had trouble jumping into laps, and when she tumbled (as cats will do when climbing and playing), she sometimes fell awkwardly – uncharacteristic for cats, who are almost always graceful. One time when she fell she seemed to have something like a seizure; she twitched oddly for a few moments and couldn’t seem to get her legs under her to get up. We were hugely relieved when she was back to normal after a few minutes of being held and petted. But several weeks later, when she fell again, the result was a lot worse and a lot scarier. That time her twitching and struggling were much greater, and even hours later she absolutely could not walk – she could barely stand up. Her hind legs dragged under her, and it was sickening and terrifying to watch. Her eyes were glazed and she seemed completely out of it. We thought she was going to die.

I stayed with her all that night, waking frequently to check to see if she was still breathing. She was, but not much more than that. In the morning – it was a Sunday – we drove her to the animal hospital, worried sick.

I’ll spare you all the ins and outs of the story, save to say that the eventual diagnosis was that Teddy was suffering from a neurological illness that she’d acquired while still in her mother’s womb, and that is very common in feral cats. It begins to show up when they’re about three months old, which was exactly what had happened with Teddy. The kindly doctor said the best-case scenario was that she’d just be a wobbly walker for the rest of her life, but that there was a strong chance that the neurological problems would progress and cause other physical problems. There is no cure.

Well, Teddy got a bit better in the next few days. Her walking improved somewhat. But she wasn’t eating much, and she didn’t seem to be drinking any water at all – not a good sign. And in a very unpleasant turn of events, she forgot how to use the litter box. A followup visit with the doctor revealed that she was losing weight, and that she had developed some pain in her spine that hadn’t been there on earlier visits. Things were not looking at all good, and the doctor told us – in the gentlest possible way – that she might start to suffer and that the kindest thing we could do for her if that happened would be to put her down.

You can imagine how we felt. Teddy and Honey Bunny had captured our hearts the day we met them, and they had become part of the family immediately. And Teddy being the sweetest cat ever…

Things did get worse. Teddy could barely move, and pretty much stopped trying. She cried in pain when I tried to pick her up. She ignored the cat food and refused to touch water. She ceased grooming herself. It was heartbreaking to look at her.

Teddy and Honey Bunny share the bed

This was about all Teddy could do when she was feeling so sick and lethargic. Her sister Honey Bunny was very good about snuggling up with her and even washing her when Teddy was too weak to do it herself.

Last Tuesday I called the animal hospital and made an appointment for her to be put down. And then I hung up the phone and sobbed.

And then… well, then something happened.

When I came home from work that evening and went to see Teddy – feeling miserable that I had had to schedule the end of her sweet little life – she greeted me with interest. She got up and wobbled around. She wobbled after me and she wobbled after Raymond, wherever we walked. Her eyes were brighter than they had been in days. She went to the food dish! And ate a little bit!

And then peed on the floor. But at that point we were so happy with this sudden change in her condition that it didn’t matter. (Oh, okay. It mattered a bit to Raymond.) We cleaned it up and carried on watching with delight as our little cat seemed to perk up by the minute.

Was it a last gasp, the final spark that creatures (including humans) often display just before the end of life? We thought it very well might be. But the next morning, Teddy was still bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. She stayed that way all day, and the next, and the next, and – well, needless to say, the appointment at the animal hospital was joyfully cancelled. Teddy ate with relish, drank water, gained weight, walked better and better all the time, and even started to show some interest in cat attractions like rolling balls and dangling strings.

It is quite something to be certain you are going to lose someone you love to illness and death, and then have them restored to you. I really can’t tell you how happy we are, but you can probably imagine.

Teddy may never be the kitty she once was. She doesn’t jump or climb anymore, and she’ll probably always be wobbly when she walks:

And while her toilet habits are much improved from a week ago, she still forgets to venture to the litter box sometimes when she needs to pee. (If anyone has any ideas about how we can help her get better at this, we’d sure love to hear them.) She may well not live a long life, and we will always have to be careful with this fragile little creature.

But Teddy is back. As I write this, she is sitting purring in my lap, supervising my work. She’s just had a great big feed. She’s about to launch into a bath.

She is one happy kitty. Almost as happy as we are. Here are Teddy and Honey Bunny, signing off from the Manse. More adventures await tomorrow!

%22Good morning!%22 say Teddy and Honey Bunny

Long time gone, or: after 40 years of wandering, a return home

The Manse on Dominion Day 2015

The first three-quarters of Dominion Day 2015 (don’t get me started on “Canada Day”) were cloudy and rainy here in Queensborough, but as I was taking this photo of the Manse the sun suddenly broke through. A good sign for a momentous (in my life, anyway) anniversary!

Happy Dominion Day, everybody! As you can see from the photo I took today, the “new” (well, new as of 1965, a mere half-century ago) Canadian flag has replaced our usual Ontario flag in adorning the Manse in celebration of July 1. As I’ve reported before, Raymond likes to use his ever-growing flag collection to mark special national and regional days. If you noticed Quebec’s fleurdelisé flying at the Manse a week ago today, that was in celebration of St. Jean Baptiste Day, Quebec’s “national” holiday; and you’d better brace yourself for the Stars and Stripes this coming Saturday, the Fourth of July.)

But national holidays are not what this post is about. This post is about anniversaries, and the passing years, and the joys (and sometimes sorrows) that come with them.

Let me back up a tiny bit.

The weekend before last, we were thrilled to bits to have a visit from Raymond’s sisters Eloise and Jeannie, coming all the way from their homes in the Boston area, and his daughter Dominique, from Montreal. It was the first time that any immediate members of Raymond’s far-flung family have been able to come see us here in Queensborough, and it was just delightful to have them and to show them the Manse and the beautiful area in which we live. It was also a very lively time; normally the Manse is a pretty quiet place with just Raymond and me knocking about in it (and especially since we no longer have Sieste the Manse Cat to share her point of view with us). With four women and Raymond in the house, the place was full of chatter and laughter, and that was just great.

The gang on the front porch

A houseful of Brassards! Left to right, Dominique Brassard (Raymond’s daughter), Jeannie Brassard Tremblay (Raymond’s sister), Raymond, and Eloise Brassard Maddox (Raymond’s sister), all enjoying the view of Queensborough from the Manse’s front porch.

But at one point in the weekend, I had occasion to leave the hubbub behind for three-quarters of an hour and enjoy some quite reflections on this place in which we live. The occasion in question was Raymond having forgotten to buy a key ingredient of his Caesar salad – that would be the romaine lettuce, a rather important part of the whole operation – and I volunteered to drive in to town (Madoc, in this case) to pick some up. It was about 7 p.m. on a glorious summer day, the time when late afternoon is just turning into evening, when the shadows are ever so slightly beginning to lengthen and the slowly declining sun puts a golden evening glow on everything.

It’s only 10 or 12 minutes to drive to Madoc from Queensborough, but those 10 or 12 minutes there and back were so filled with the beauty of this place that my eyes were brimming with tears more than once. That golden glow that I mentioned made everything – the rolling farmland, the rocky outcrops, the silos, the old farmhouses, the split-rail fences, the pretty flower displays at the entrance to Queensborough, the gardens at some of the places along the way – look its absolute best. The quiet of the evening was broken only by birdsong. “We are blessed,” I thought.

us six at the Manse

My family – Dad and Mum and (left to right in front) me, my sister, Melanie, my brother John and my brother Ken – in about 1968. At the Manse, of course.

And then something struck me. It was this: that it was at this exact time of year – end of June/beginning of July, when everything is green and golden, and summer holds out its promise, and life is good – that I first came to Queensborough, as a child of four; and it was also the time when I left Queensborough (though not forever, as it later turned out), as a 15-year-old, having spent all of my formative years in this lovely and never-a-dull-moment little place. My dad, the newly ordained Rev. Wendell Sedgwick, arrived here to begin his career as a minister at the start of July 1964, with my mum and three little kids (we later became four) in tow; the only thing I remember about that first day in Queensborough was the shouted warning from our across-the-street neighbour Will Holmes not to drink the water that came out of the tap. (More on that story, and the years of carrying buckets of drinking water from one of the village’s communal wells, here.)

Actually, there is one other thing I remember about that first day in Queensborough, which could very well have been 51 years ago this very day: It was bright and sunny and warm and summery. Just that kind of day that this July 1 has turned into. Queensborough looked its best.

As it did on another sunny summer day 11 years later, on or about July 1, 1975, the day that my family left Queensborough as my dad took up a new pastoral charge in Seymour Township, outside Campbellford, Ont. So much had happened in those 11 years, in Queensborough and in the world. Humans walking on the moon. Vietnam. Trudeaumania. Watergate. Hippies. Woodstock. The Rock Acres Peace Festival!

Rock Acres Peace Festival, Queensborough, Ont., 1971

The Rock Acres Peace Festival, Queensborough’s answer to Woodstock.

And I had grown up. And watched and read about all those exciting things happening in the larger world from right here at the Manse in Queensborough. I remember how very sad I was as we drove away, to be leaving behind that golden past and that golden place, the place of my childhood. “I never dreamed you’d leave in summer,” a pretty song sung by one of my (and my dad’s) heroes, Joan Baez, goes. Well, I never dreamed that I’d leave in summer. But I did.

And was gone for a long time. And lots happened in the interim, both to me and to Queensborough.

But now … well, now I am home again. And you regular readers all know the story: how Raymond and I bought the Manse, on a whim and a prayer (i.e. not really knowing what on earth we were doing or getting into), back in January 2012. How we quickly began to love our connections with this beautiful and little-known part of the world as we visited when we could, on the occasional weekend away from home and work in Montreal. And how we ended up, counter to all expectations, actually moving here in October 2013, Sieste in tow to make it really official. And how life has never been the same since. In a good way. I am so, so happy to be home. To have returned. In summer.

Today, the rest of Canada celebrates our country’s 148th birthday, and that is an excellent thing. But I hope you will excuse me, as I sit here in one of the most beautiful parts of Canada, if I celebrate another sort of anniversary, a far more personal one: the one in which, 40 years from when I left, I am back from my wanderings – not quite in the wilderness, where some people famously spent 40 years, but wanderings nonetheless. It is summer; and I am home.

Life is good.

Songs in the key of Grade 3

Songtime 3Does this book trigger any school-day memories for you? It sure did for me when I came across it recently in a thrift shop in Campbellford, Ont., and so of course I snapped it up. It is one in a series – the third, clearly, given its title – produced for classroom use back in the days when I myself was in the classroom, at Madoc Township Public School not far from the Manse here in Queensborough. Songtime 3 was published by Holt, Rinehart and Winston – a Canadian publishing company that as far as I can see is no longer with us –  in 1963, just in time for my school days.

Days, I might add, when singing was something that was actually taught and practised in the classroom. Every school had a music teacher (who might be shared among a few schools, but nevertheless who was there in your classroom for music class at least once a week), and we not only learned and sang songs, but actually learned something about how music works – doh, re, mi, fa, sol and so on, but also a little bit about how to write music: half-notes and whole notes and quarter notes and bass clefs and treble clefs and all that stuff. Is there a hint of this in today’s elementary-school classrooms, I wonder? I suspect not, and more’s the pity.

Anyway, it’s a trip back in time to leaf through Songtime 3, and I’m going to take you on that little trip.

The first time I examined it, standing in that thrift shop in Campbellford, I failed to recognize any of the songs I came across, and wondered if perhaps my experience with the Songtime series began in Grade 4 as opposed to Grade 3 (when, again from its title, I’m assuming this book would have been used in the classroom). But later, when I went through it more carefully, some of the little ditties started to come back to me. Ah, the soundtrack of school days!

The first thing the struck me about the book was the funky midcentury-style drawings that accompany the songs. Sometimes they are quite cool, like in these two:

Five Little Pumpkins

Home on the Range

And other times, especially when illustrating songs supposedly representative of other countries and cultures, they are more than a little bit facile and stereotypical:

Come, Senorita


One thing that really struck me was the prevalence of Christian hymns and songs:

Morning Hymn

Away in a Manger

God Who Touchest Earth With Beauty

Prayer at Evening

I mean, I suppose the argument could be made, with some of these songs at least, that they were directed at the God of one’s choice and not necessarily the Christian version of God; but Away in a Manger is pretty definitively Christian. Now, as someone who considers herself a Christian I don’t have a problem with this on a personal level, obviously; but in multicultural Canada of 2015 it’s pretty hard to imagine – even if you lived through it, which I did – a time when it was considered perfectly okay to includes songs like this in the standard classroom songbook. Had any Jewish or Muslim kids happened to show up in class at Madoc Township Public School, they would have felt pretty uncomfortable, I imagine.

A few other things that struck me during my perusal of Songtime 3:

The inclusion of songs paying tribute, in a possibly ham-handed way but doubtless well-meaning, to our country’s First Nations:

Indian Children

Lullaby of the Iroquois

A once-popular song I would never have thought of again in my entire life if I hadn’t spotted it here:

Polly Wolly DoodleAn astoundingly inappropriate (by today’s standards) number called Mother, I Want A Husband:

Mother, I Want a Husband

(Though I think it is quite sweet that the young woman who wants a husband – apparently more than anything else in life – rejects  “a Frenchman,” “a German” and “an Englishman” for … a farmer. That particular element of the song was very appropriate for the rural Ontario environment in which I grew up.)

And finally – well, of course any Canadian school songbook would have to end with these two numbers:

Canada/God Save the Queen

It was a sweeter time and a simpler time, wasn’t it? There were some wackadoodle and inappropriate songs in that book; but there were some really good ones too. And of course the funky illustrations.

And they taught kids about music and singing in those days. Even if it was to the tune of Mother, I Want a Husband.

A roadmap to happy vacations and simpler times

Eastern Motor Court Map Lake Ontario

Ah, the old days – when a map showing attractions like Old Fort Henry and a chance to ride the “American Adonis” in the Thousand Islands could set the heart racing.

Eastern Motor Court Map

The other day Raymond and I were in Campbellford, Ont., a nice little town with links to my past that I wrote a full post about here, and I found a fun thing in an antique store. It’s called the Eastern Motor Court Map, and its purpose was to guide travellers of the era – it was published in 1960, a very good year if I do say so myself, and perhaps you can guess why – to “motor courts” (we would call them motels today) in Ontario, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland.

(There were apparently companion maps for the Northeast [New England] and the Central region – Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, etc. My map says that if I send “10¢, in coin or stamps,” I can get another of the set. Do you think that would still work?)

I love vintage travel stuff, and here at the Manse I have a bit of a collection of old maps, guidebooks, menus (including menus from transatlantic liners and no-longer-extant airlines) and the like – so I couldn’t resist the Eastern Motor Court Map. It is such a throwback to a simpler time, when a “motoring” vacation was a real adventure and “motor courts” were a shiny new thing.

The map pinpoints all the spots where travellers would be able to stay at motor courts in the Eastern region. It has useful travel advice: “The practice of making advance reservations is always helpful. It helps you by preventing disappointment, particularly in resort areas, for holiday periods and over week-ends. It helps the operator to plan so that he can take care of you.” But the best part is the ads, which introduce some bright orange to the black-and-white map and feature charming invitations to visit motor courts like the Hi-Hat in Watertown, N.Y. (“A Good Complete Stop” with “Hot Water Heat”) and the Maple Leaf Motor Hotel of Buffalo, N.Y. (“One of America’s Largest and Finest Courts”), not to mention attractions like Storytown U.S.A. and Ghost Town (“A Million Dollar Attraction for Family Fun and Adventure”) and the Enchanted Forest (“A World of Fantasy for the Young and the Young at Heart”) and Roadside America (“World’s Greatest Indoor Miniature Village”) and Historic Fort William Henry (“SEE Buckskin-clad Rangers firing flintlocks!”). Here’s a little photo gallery to give you a sense of what I mean:

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Doesn’t it just make you want to pack up the woody wagon and hit the open road?

Great community journalism: the North Hastings Review, 1971

North Hastings Review

The North Hastings Review issue of June 16, 1971. I don’t know if I’ve ever enjoyed reading a newspaper as much as I enjoyed reading this one.

A wondrous thing arrived in the mailbox here at the Manse the other day. It was a copy of a now-defunct weekly newspaper: the North Hastings Review, issue of June 16, 1971. Its arrival was easily the best thing that’s happened to me so far in 2015.

You’re thinking I’m addled, aren’t you? You’re wondering: How on earth could a 44-year-old copy of a tiny and long-gone newspaper be such a thrill to that Manse woman?

Well, I will tell you. But first let me tell you how this treasure – which I must emphasize is only on loan – came my way. Its sender was Ken Broad, who has been known to read and comment on my posts here at Meanwhile, at the Manse, and who, while he now lives elsewhere, is a native of the Queensborough area, having grown up on a farm just a bit west of here in Madoc Township. (Ken notably sent me a photo of his ticket to the 1971 Rock Acres Peace Festival, an incredible artifact of Queensborough’s version of Woodstock. More on that anon, as it happens, but if you’d like to see that photo, it’s here.)

Anyway, I am pretty sure that the reason Ken had held on to this particular copy of the North Hastings Review – which was published in nearby (to Queensborough, I mean) Madoc, and later became the Madoc Review before it became nothing at all (sometime in the late 1980s or early 1990s, I believe) – was that there was a story about him right there on the front page. He had just sold his fuel-delivery business to Tom Fox of Campbellford – a familiar name in this area – and there is a story about the change in ownership, and a photo of the two men, right there at top left of Page 1.

In a brief note he sent along with the paper, Ken said that his father (a remarkable person whom many people called “The Major” due to his distinguished service in both the First and Second World Wars – but that’s a whole other story, and a great one) used to call the North Hastings Review “the 7-7-7 paper: 7 days to print, 7 cents to buy and 7 seconds to read.” Oh lord – as the former editor of another small-town newspaper, the Port Hope (Ont.) Evening Guide, I am very familiar with readers’ joking comments about how one could throw our modest little daily paper up in the air and read it on the way down. But you know what? Behind the joking, people loved and (more to the point) needed that paper, that daily report on what was going on in their own community. And I am totally certain that The Major and all the other readers of the North Hastings Review also very much appreciated its community reporting, even while they made gentle jokes at its expense.

Anyway, I must tell you that, as I told Ken in my email of thanks to him, it took me a lot longer than seven seconds to read that paper. With the exception of the small print in some of the classified ads, I read every single word. And all of it was an utter joy.

Why? Two reasons.

North Hastings Review front page

This is a front page with a lot of local news. And so many of the names are familiar!

One: this was the local news from what I consider my time. On June 16, 1971, I was about to turn 11 years old. My family had been living at the Manse in Queensborough for seven years, and we would live there for four more. We were deeply embedded in the Queensborough-Madoc-Eldorado-Cooper area, and because my father was the local United Church minister, we had contacts and friendships with many, many families in that area. The people who are mentioned in the pages of this issue of the North Hastings Review are people I knew (and in some cases still know) – everyone from teachers and fellow students at Madoc Township Public School (where I would have just been finishing Grade 6 in June 1971) and Madoc Public School (where the following September I would start Grade 7), to players on the local minor-sports teams whose games are reported, to the ministers of the local churches cited in the long column of notices for church services, to the mother and father of the bride in a delightful report on a wedding that my father had conducted.

North Hastings Review church ads

Some of the church ads (people actually went to church in 1971!) in the North Hastings Review.

And two: This newspaper is great journalism. And no, I am not trying to be funny. The North Hastings Review is chock-full of local news, and providing local news is what local newspapers are supposed to do. When you’d finished reading it, you really knew what was going on in the local area – from who had dined with whom the previous Sunday in Cooper and who had visited whom in Bannockburn; to who was the winning pitcher (as it happens, the late Lorna Matthews, a wonderful person who was the church pianist at St. Andrew’s United Church in Queensborough for many years) when the Cooper women’s softball team defeated the “Madoc Ladies” 24 to 7; to who gave a demonstration on refinishing furniture at a meeting of the senior citizens’ club; to where local school groups had gone for their end-of-year excursions (Sainte-Marie Among the Hurons and the Shrine Circus in Peterborough; the reports, which appeared on the front page, were written by some of the students themselves, and I can only imagine how proud their parents must have been); to what was on sale that week at George West’s Men’s Wear.

North Hastings Review Rock Acres story

The major story of the week: the latest news on the Rock Acres Peace Festival, which had been planned for the Quinlan farm near Queensborough – or “Queensboro,” as the Review spelled it.

You got the big stories – an in-depth report on what at that point looked like the defeat of the plans to hold the aforementioned Rock Acres Peace Festival on the Quinlan farm outside of Queensborough; in fact, the Quinlan family later won the legal battle against the local authorities, the festival went ahead, and you can read all about that here and here and here and here.

North Hastings Review community news

Everything you might have needed to know that week about what was going on in the hamlets of Bannockburn and Gilmour. Good stuff!

And you got the small ones: the aforementioned who-visited-whom listings for the local hamlets, like Bannockburn, Cooper and Gilmour. You got full reports on the doings of three municipal councils; the police news; the meeting of Unit 3 of St. Andrew’s United Church Women; a birth notice (on the front page); and the new officers of the Kiwanis Club. And all of it, I have to tell you, is well-written and well-edited. I think I spotted maybe two typos in the whole affair; that is very impressive, and significantly better than any newspaper (or news website) can boast these days. (Kudos to its publisher, Maurice Goulah, and its editor, Carol Foley, for that.)

North Hastings Review Letters to the Editor

A letter to the editor from Grant Ketcheson, comparing the farming life in Scotland to that in the Madoc area. Good stuff!

But there’s more! There’s a letter to the editor from a young whippersnapper farmer from the Hazzard’s Corners area named Grant Ketcheson (still a great friend to this day), who was visiting Scotland on an agricultural scholarship and sent a lively report on farming practices (and weather) there as compared to the Madoc area. There’s the report on that wedding conducted by my father, complete with the extraordinarily detailed description of the wedding dress that those reports always had: “The bride was lovely in a full length taffeta gown highlighted with a dainty lace trim around the scoop neckline, down the full-length sleeves and around the full skirt. The bodice and sleeves also featured rose appliques and her long full train with matching lace trim was attached at the waist with a large bow. The three-tiered bouffant veil was gathered to a circle of dainty white orange blossoms and seed pearls, leaving the centre open for flocks of curls. She carried a cascade bouquet of yellow daisies.” (And if you want to know what the mother of the bride and the mother of the groom wore at the reception, you’ll just have to get you hands on your own copy of the paper.) There’s a column by Bill Smiley, who was omnipresent in small Canadian weekly newspapers back in those days. It was delightful to see the late Mr. Smiley’s byline again after all these years.

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And there are the ads for businesses that bring back such good memories: George West’s, as I mentioned; Wilson’s (which only recently closed down after many years in business; I wrote about that here); Johnston’s Pharmacy (still going after all these years; that too is reported on in this post); the long-gone and much-missed Plaza cinema in Marmora (I saw my very first movie there!); and (ta-da!) the Cash & Carry! Which was having a sale that week on wood panelling. I’d almost be willing to bet my bottom dollar that the wood panelling that got put up in the Manse kitchen during my family’s tenure here – about which we were so excited at the time, because wood panelling was so fashionable; and which Raymond and I are now very keen to get rid of, because, let’s face it, it’s awful – might have come from that very sale at the Cash & Carry down there on St. Lawrence Street East in downtown Madoc.

It is community journalism at its very best.

I know that Ken Broad knew I would appreciate having a chance to go through that paper, but I bet he didn’t guess just how much I’d appreciate it. Such wonderful, wonderful memories, all thanks to a terrific community newspaper. And a person who had the excellent good sense to preserve it – and the kindness to share it.

Showered with gifts (IV): the games people played

Probe and other vintage games

A windfall! Three vintage games, bestowed on us by our new friend Jan of Madoc.

Do you remember that old (1968) song Games People Play? It’s perhaps an appropriate one to have running around in my head (as can you, if you click here) as I start this latest instalment in my series of posts about interesting and delightful vintage things that kind folks who read this blog have given Raymond and me recently. (Instalment 1, about a midcentury jewelry holder for a dressing-table, is here; Instalment 2, about a collection of drawings of local churches by local artists, here; and you can read last night’s post, about a set of TV trays that made its way into the Manse at last, here.)

Now, I should clarify that while Joe South‘s song Games People Play is (according to the Wikipedia entry) “a protest song whose lyrics speak against various forms of hate, hypocrisy, inhumanity, and intolerance, both interpersonal and social,” what I’m talking about tonight are actual games. You know, board games. The kind people used to sit around card tables and play of a Saturday afternoon or long winter evening. I expect that in some homes people still do enjoy the fun and camaraderie of playing board games, and that’s actually quite brilliant.

While I am totally in favour of the theory of board games, however – the aforementioned fun and camaraderie and all that – I’m afraid that Raymond and I lead busy enough lives that there is very rarely time in practice for a rousing game of Monopoly, or Sorry!, or Masterpiece, or Yahtzee. But that sure doesn’t stop me from being happy every time I spot a vintage edition of one of these games that I so much enjoyed playing in my childhood here at the Manse in Queensborough. And as I’ve written in some earlier posts (like here and here and here), I seem to have the start of a fairly decent collection of those vintage games.

A collection that has been significantly enhanced in recent times, thanks to gifts from readers!

So let’s start at the top of this post, with the three games that we chose when Jan of Madoc called us up and invited us to come poke through a boxful of vintage games stored in her garage, and take whatever we liked. My heart leapt when I spotted Probe, which was a particular favourite of my paternal grandmother and, since it’s a word game, one that I always liked too. Get a load of the players wearing ties on the cover!

Then there was a 1970s (at least, so I’m guessing judging by the garish orange, brown and gold colour scheme) variant on the more traditional Hi-Q game, called Hi-Q Euclid. I’d never seen that one before, but really, how could I pass up that evocative colour scheme?

And finally there was a game I was not at all familiar with; it is English, I believe (the games came from Jan’s British father), and it is about Shakespeare, and since I’m a Shakespeare aficionado I could not possibly say no. Thanks so much, Jan!

Billionaire from John

Meanwhile our friend John passed on to us Billionaire, another in the very long line of board games made by good old Parker Brothers. The Parker Brothers collection here at the Manse is getting fairly substantial, but Billionaire had been a notable omission. The gift was especially appreciated since John himself is something of a collector (or at least keeper) of vintage toys and games. It was nice of him to part with this one to allow us to build our collection. Thank you, John!

Booby-Trap from Nicole

And finally, the most recent addition, also from Parker Brothers: Booby-Trap, from 1965. (Which means it fits perfectly into the era when I was a kid at the Manse, from 1964 to 1975.) Hey, it’s tantalizing! It’s terrific! It’s vintage, and in great shape! And it came from Nicole, who is Raymond’s second cousin once removed (are you following?), who’s a reader of Meanwhile, at the Manse (and so knew I liked vintage games) and lives with her husband, Tim, way off in east-central Massachusetts. How did Nicole and Tim happen to be here at the Manse, delivering this lovely gift? Well, get this: because Tim’s parents live in nearby Campbellford, Ont., where he went to high school a few years ago (as did I, after my family moved there from Queensborough), and was pals with my youngest brother Ken. Is it a small world or what?

Having Nicole and Tim come visit us was gift enough – Booby-Trap was just a bonus. As I think I said already in Instalment 2, the real gift is the friendship and kind gestures of readers who share things from our collective past. Things that now have a very happy new home at the Manse.

Some small-town good news.

New Aron Theatre, Campbellford

The restored Aron Theatre, a great small-town cinema if ever there was one – and the reason why Raymond and I recently spent a very pleasant afternoon and evening in the town of Campbellford.

In last night’s post, I told you about some bad news that’s hit Marmora, a small town in our part of Hastings County where the only bank in town is going to shutter its doors. (And I added in a few choice thoughts about what a rotten move this is by TD Canada Trust.)

Tonight, on a much happier note, I’d like to tell you about some really positive and encouraging signs of healthy small-town Eastern Ontario life that Raymond and I spotted not too long ago. As I mentioned in last night’s post, seeing small towns do well is something dear to my heart, so our late-summer experience in not-far-away Campbellford was a happy one indeed. And, I hope, might offer some ideas for our local towns, which are Madoc and Tweed.

We were in Campbellford – a town with a population of about 3,500 in eastern Northumberland County, which borders the southern half of our own county, Hastings – for a night at the movies. And that fact alone tells you something about Campbellford that distinguishes it from so many other small towns: it still has a movie theatre!

The movie theatre in question is the Aron (or, as we called it back in the day, the New Aron), which I visited many times in my teenage years – because, you see, my family moved to Campbellford in 1975, when I was in high school. (So 1975 was the end of my childhood here at the Manse, and it took a heck of a long time for me to find my way back here.) Our visit to Campbellford and a screening of Guardians of the Galaxy at the New Aron was, therefore, a bit of a nostalgic one for me. (Particularly since the New Aron was where in 1977 I first saw, and loved, a predecessor of Guardians of the Galaxy, a little number called Star Wars.)

The Aron was privately owned and operated back in the ’70s, but a while back it was taken over (and doubtless saved) by a non-profit collective formed for just that purpose. It’s called the Aron Theatre Co-operative, and these folks have done a marvellous job of restoring the Aron and bringing great films (and other special events) to the people of Campbellford and area. They deserve a huge round of applause, and while you’re clapping I’ll show you a few photos of this coolest of small-town cinemas:

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Raymond and I did a couple of other things while we were in Campbellford (which is about a 50-minute drive from Queensborough): we enjoyed a really nice meal at a restaurant that we were most impressed with, called The Bridge; and we explored the downtown. That exploration partly entailed me seeking out signs of the retail Campbellford that I remembered from those long-ago teenage years, like the original sign for Rabethge’s Jewellers that you can find hiding behind the current modern awning:

Rabethge's old sign

But it also meant we had to do some shopping! And that’s what I mostly want to tell you about. We visited several great little shops (and were particularly impressed by Kerr’s Corner Books, a fine small-town bookstore that Campbellford is fortunate to have), but I fell in love with one modest-but-cool (or is that cool-but-modest?) store that was in many ways not much changed from when my family lived just a couple of blocks away from it:

O'Briens' Stedmans store, CampbellfordIt is a Stedmans store; do you remember Stedmans, fellow small-town Ontarians? It was/is a chain (though with fairly individual franchises, like the Campbellford one, in my experience), with an interesting history that you can read here. Your typical Stedmans store is an old-fashioned kind of place: basically, it’s a small-town department store. Kind of like the dry-goods stores that those of us of a certain age remember – stores like Stickwood’s of Madoc – in that it really does carry a lot of “dry goods” like clothing, shoes and materials for people who knit, sew and crochet (think “notions“). But the Stedman’s store run by the O’Brien family – now, just as back in the days when the O’Brien kids were in high school with my siblings and me – sells so many other things! Toys and lawn chairs and books and kitchenware and giftware and stationery and on and on and on. Why, there were even plastic decorative things to put on gravestones! Here’s my little photo gallery:

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So yeah, that’s what I loved about this store: it sells things that ordinary people in an ordinary small town actually need. At reasonable prices. It’s not high-end stuff; there aren’t designer labels. But if you need some extra dinner plates, or a measuring cup, or a wedding-shower or baby-shower gift, or toys for Christmas gifts, or a T-shirt, or some casual shoes, or some yarn to make a sweater with, or a tote bag, or … well, it’s all there.

People, that is the kind of store that will save your small-town downtown. It offers humans things that they need and want, and that they don’t have to drive three-quarters of an hour to a stupid Walmart (I hate Walmart) to get. It’s run by friendly folks who know their customers by name. And the names of their customers’ parents. And those of their children.

And it’s also not a dollar store, which is the closest equivalent that many small towns have. Now, I’m not saying that dollar stores don’t provide a useful retail service, because they do. But the O’Briens’ store is a nice step up from that, with better-quality goods (most of them brand names) and a more pleasant and satisfying retail experience.

Raymond and I had more fun than anything looking around that store. I took some pictures, and bought children’s books (some classic Golden Books like The Poky Little Puppy) and a beautiful pair of leather moccasins for Raymond. And felt very glad, in making those purchases, to be contributing to the success of a retail operation that is in its own turn contributing to the overall success of the town it is in.

We left Campbellford that evening having had a nice meal, watched a fun movie in a great vintage theatre, and enjoyed an excellent shopping experience. And feeling like there was a lot of hope for small-town Eastern Ontario, if other towns follow some of the examples that Campbellford and its arts, food and retail communities are setting.