Merry Christmas 2015 from Queensborough and the Manse

Wreath on the Kincaid House

Merry Christmas from historic Queensborough!

Happy Winter Solstice, dear readers! (I hope you have checked out today’s delightful Google Doodle that marks the occasion.) The shortest day of the year is a day that always makes me happy. Why? Because it only gets better from here on in. On each succeeding day between now and the Summer Solstice on June 20, we will have a little more daylight to enjoy.

People, the dead of winter is already behind us. And it hasn’t even snowed yet! At least, not in Queensborough. Not really.

Anyway, the night of the Winter Solstice seems like the perfect time to wish you all a very happy Christmas. And what better way to do that than with a kind of digital Christmas card, featuring Christmas scenes from Queensborough? (Which is, as I have noted before, kind of a perfect little Christmas village.)

Many homeowners around here do an absolutely spectacular job of lighting up and otherwise decorating their properties for Christmas. Obviously it’s most impressive at night, but since I have not yet mastered the art of taking good nighttime pictures, I can’t (this year, anyway) do those scenes justice. But here are a few images that I hope give you a sense of Christmas in Queensborough:

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In addition to decorations on private homes, Queensborough has been made Christmassy thanks to the elves at the Queensborough Beautification Committee. They have added some lovely seasonal touches to public spaces in the village. Thanks, elves! Here’s a sampling:

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I think we can all agree that Queensborough is about as nice a place to spend a quiet Christmas as there can possibly be, and Raymond and I are looking forward to doing just that. And hey – if you’d like to get a taste of a country Christmas in our beautiful North-of-7 part of the world, you can! Here’s a hint:

Hazzards Church wreath

Regular readers and people who know this area will instantly recognize this historic building. It’s Hazzards Corners Church, where every Dec. 23 at 7 p.m. a lovely candlelight Christmas service of lessons and carols is held. It is a highlight of the Christmas season. Every year people from near and far fill the old pews to sing O Come All Ye Faithful and Silent Night and Joy to the World, and to listen to the story, timeless in its beauty and simplicity, of the birth of Jesus.

Because, as Linus says: “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

Showered with gifts (I): Aunt Hazel’s jewelry holder

Aunt Hazel's slipper in its new home

This lovely little 1950s (I think) jewelry holder came to me this past fall, a gift from my Queensborough friend Elaine. It had belonged to her Aunt Hazel, who was a teacher and force of nature. I love it!

Last night I wrote about how the topics I choose for posts here at Meanwhile, at the Manse often come as a result of gifts from readers – gifts of ideas, or of photographs, or of actual things. Since we are coming up on (as of Jan. 6, which is Epiphany, or the day after Twelfth Night, or the day before Orthodox Christmas, depending on how you approach it) the end of the Christmas season, a time for gifts, I thought that in the next few posts I’d share with you some of the lovely and interesting things that have come my way recently in the form of gifts from readers who thought – or in some cases, just knew, thanks to reading about my tastes in mid-20th-century vintage stuff – that I’d like them.

The first such object is a delightful little thing – at least, in my view. I must tell you that in the view of the person who gave it to me, my Queensborough friend Elaine, it’s ugly, and she never liked it, and she was awfully glad to give it a new home with someone else – someone who did like it.

woman at dressing table

The dressing-table. Should we bring these back?

And what is it? Well, as far as either Elaine or I can make out, it’s a jewelry holder for your bedroom dresser – or dressing-table, as perhaps it would have been called back in the era when this little artifact was made. Remember when your grandmother had a little chair or stool in front of her dressing-table, so she could sit down and observe herself in the mirror as she applied face powder (yikes!) and lipstick and jewelry? Wow, talk about a lost era… though a charming one, I think.

Anyway: the first reason Elaine thought I would like the little china slipper was because its exterior is turquoise, more or less, and by now the whole world knows (since I’ve written about it so often) that I love turquoise. But also: it’s from the midcentury era into which also fits the early period of my childhood growing up at the Manse here in Queensborough – so there’s that connection too. There is also the fact that it is just plain funky – a jewelry holder in the shape of a ballet slipper. (At least, that’s what Elaine and I think it is supposed to be.) And finally, there’s the fact that its original owner was Elaine’s Aunt Hazel, who was Hazel Thompson (Elaine’s father’s sister), a teacher and a force of nature. And that’s really the best part of all. Here’s part of an email Elaine sent me about her Aunt Hazel:

Aunt Hazel started teaching at English School, SS#8 Madoc (readers: SS in references to schools from back in the day stands for “school section”) from 1927 to 1930. Her (annual) salary was $800, later $1,000. Then she went to Codrington where from 1930 to 1932 she taught at Holland School. She taught from 1932 to 1967 in Belleville. Most of her time there was at King George School.

Aunt Hazel was a strong-willed, independent woman who liked kids. She disciplined us (that would be Elaine and her sister and brothers, in Queensborough) as if we were her kids. She did not suffer fools quietly but loved a good time. She travelled the world and liked to take us on little trips.

Her journal has excellent descriptions of farm life, hydro coming down Queensborough Road, World War I, Cedar School, church parties, etc. etc. Please feel free to borrow it anytime. 

She never married but was engaged once when she was young. 

I could talk for a very long time about Aunt Hazel.

Now, I have two things to add to this: one, I realized as I copied and pasted parts of Elaine’s email that I had not taken her up on her offer to look through her Aunt Hazel’s diary, which I must do; and two, that this evening when I spoke by phone to my mum, Lorna Sedgwick – who lived here at the Manse back in the middle of the 20th century not just as my mum but as the minister’s (my dad‘s) wife and as a bit of a trailblazer because she was a full-time teacher as well as a minister’s wife and mother of four little kids – and mentioned Elaine’s Aunt Hazel, she happily recognized the name and recalled what a terrific person Hazel Thompson was. “She was a person you respected!” she said, enthusiastically.

So all of this is why I love my little ballet-slipper jewelry holder.

But on to a tiny bit more about it (as opposed to Aunt Hazel). Here is a closeup of the top:

Carlton Ware slipper top

And here is the underside …

Carlton Ware slipper bottom

… which reveals it to be a piece of Carlton Ware. Now, until this evening when I started to write this post I knew nothing about Carlton Ware. But in the intervening hour or so, I have discovered the site Carlton Ware World, which seems to tell you, or link you to, everything you might ever want to know about Carlton Ware. Which was, the site tells us, “pottery (that) was first made c1890 by Wiltshaw & Robinson in the town of Stoke in the County of Staffordshire in an area known as The Potteries. Its wide-ranging, high quality output is well represented on the Internet, emphasizing its importance.” (Whatever that means.)

I also discovered in poking about the site that this little slipper from Aunt Hazel is probably a piece of what was called Twin Tone Carlton Ware (from its “Contemporary Ware” range, introduced in 1956, close to the high point – 1959-60, I’d say – of midcentury style): in Twin Tone pieces, Carlton Ware World tells us, “the inside was painted in one colour and the outside in a contrasting colour.”

That would be my turquoise and pink ballet-slipper jewelry holder, would it not?

I love that little thing thanks to my newfound knowledge about Carlton Ware, and to its being a pretty piece of midcentury English Carlton Ware. ( And “Handpainted,” as the stamp on the bottom points out.)

But I love it way, way more because it belonged to Elaine’s Aunt Hazel – and thus has all those connections to both Queensborough and to a strong, independent woman who seized life and travelled a lot and didn’t suffer fools quietly but loved a good time. My kind of person.

Thank you, Elaine!

An extraordinary locally handcrafted gift

Jen Couperus hand-carved ornaments

Possibly the most amazing Christmas gift ever: hand-carved (by our friend Jen Couperus) birds for our Christmas tree: from bottom left, a nuthatch, a blue jay, a chickadee and a cardinal. And another nuthatch!

You know, there are things that happen sometimes here in Queensborough that just make me think: this is the best place I ever could be. Such a thing happened last evening.

Raymond and I were sitting at the dining-room table, sweating it out writing way-overdue Christmas cards, when a knock came at the front door. (Kind of a welcome relief from Christmas-card-writing, truth be told.) I jumped up and ran to see who it was, and was delighted to see our friends and neighbours Jen and Ed. Who came in for a pleasant pre-Christmas visit, but who also – and this is why I’m writing this post – gave us an amazing Christmas gift. And here is what it was.

Oh, but first let me remind you of two things: one, that both Jen and Ed are amazing wood-carvers, as I wrote about here; and two, that living in quiet little Queensborough has awakened in both Raymond and me quite an interest in the beautiful birds that we have started to watch and study as they flit about the Manse. (I’ve written about those birds many times, but notably here and here and here and here and here.)

Okay, so perhaps you can guess where this is going: Jen and Ed’s gift to us, which was absolutely extravagant (though they explained it away as thanks to us for looking after their cats while they were on a cross-country cycling trip this past spring and summer) was: five beautiful, delicate, extraordinarily detailed, hand-carved, hand-painted birds. The same kinds of birds we see and admire around the Manse: blue jays, cardinals, chickadees and nuthatches. Christmas-tree ornaments, with threads for hanging them attached!

Blue jay on the tree

Jen’s blue jay in flight – on our Christmas tree!

The detail of the carving and the painting on these tiny birds is amazing, and I can only imagine how many hours went into their construction. Raymond and I can proudly tell a story about every single ornament on our Christmas tree (because they all come from a certain time and place, as I wrote about here), but I know that from now on we will always be proudest of the blue jay and cardinal and chickadee and nuthatches. Because they are beautiful, of course. But mostly because they were made by our friend Jen, of Queensborough.

Raymond and I are the luckiest people, with the best neighbours and friends, in the world.

Cutest Christmas decoration, locally sourced

Santa's clothesline

Santa’s clothesline, my new favourite Christmas decoration at the Manse. Found at the Old Hastings Mercantile, one of the best-ever Hastings County gift shops.

Well you just can’t believe how late I am doing my post tonight, people! It has been a busy day with friends and tasks and whatnot and – well, Christmas is a busy time, is it not? (“Too busy!” I hear many of you say in the background. To which I say: “I concur!” Or, well, wait a minute; when has anyone since about 1925 ever uttered the word “concur”? But anyway, you know what I mean.)

But be that as it may, tonight’s very late-night post features possibly the cutest-ever Christmas ornament, a very sweet thing that Raymond and I discovered (and decided that we had to have) on our most recent visit to what is perhaps the best gift shop in all of Hastings County, the Old Hastings Mercantile. It is called Santa’s Clothesline, and it features all of Santa’s clothes hung out to dry (in those frigid North Pole climes, so the drying is going to take a while; they’ll probably freeze before they dry) after he returns home from his Christmas Eve duties. Note that there are suspenders, and hat, and jacket, and two sets of mitts (you need two sets of mitts when it’s really cold) and two sets of socks (ditto), and a very nice cozy sweater to wear under the jacket. All red! (As befits Santa.)

It is a sweet and happy Christmas thing, the kind of decoration that makes you smile every time you look at it. And since smiling and happiness are a critical part of Christmas, well, I have to say: God bless us, every one!

Dickens and dinner by lamplight: a North Hastings treat

Awaiting the Christmas guests, Old Ormsby Schoolhouse

The tree is lit, the lamps are lit, the tables are festively set, and the Old Ormsby Schoolhouse awaits the guests to come and enjoy Dickens and Dinner by Lamplight.

Tonight, people, I want to tell you about a splendid Christmas event that takes place each year in tiny Ormsby (population 20) up in the northern reaches of Hastings County. Raymond and I had been wanting to attend it ever since we first heard about it, and this past weekend were fortunate enough finally to be able to do so. And guess what? If you are lucky enough to be able to snag a ticket, you can too, this coming weekend. (And if the tickets are gone, or your schedule doesn’t allow it, you can mark it in your calendar now for next year. It is most definitely worth planning an excursion around.)

Dickens and Dinner by Lamplight

The event in question is called Dickens and Dinner by Lamplight, and it takes place at the Old Ormsby Schoolhouse (oldormsbyschoolhouse.ca), a beautifully restored historic one-room schoolhouse that is now a tearoom/restaurant. Both the restoration and the running of the tearoom are the work of Ernie Pattison, who happens to be the twin brother of Gary Pattison – who, with his wife, Lillian Oakley Pattison, runs the Old Hastings Mercantile (oldhastingsgallery.ca) just over the brow of the hill from the Schoolhouse. I’ve written before (notably here) about the Mercantile, one of the most splendid gift shops you are ever likely to find. And the great thing is, when you visit the Schoolhouse Tearoom you can shop at the Mercantile, and when you shop at the Mercantile you can eat at the Schoolhouse. It’s a terrific setup.

A cheery fire blazes in the wood stove at the front of the schoolroom.

A cheery fire blazes in the wood stove at the front of the schoolroom.

So here’s the deal with Ernie Pattison’s Dickens and Dinner evenings: You take your seat at a seasonally set table lit with an old-fashioned hurricane lamp. You soak up the warmth coming from the blazing fire in the wood stove. If you’re a little early, you can poke around the schoolroom and take in all the interesting and fun artifacts Ernie has collected: old schoolroom maps (brought to you by the chocolate-bar companies, remember?); vintage textbooks; all the old chalkboard tools, including a protractor for that pesky geometry; and so on and so on. It’s fascinating! You can also leaf through meticulously kept photographic records of the project of restoring the schoolhouse.

Editions of A Christmas Carol at the Old Ormsby Schoolhouse

Ernie Pattison has amassed a collection of editions of A Christmas Carol, and at Christmastime they are displayed on the old wooden school desks.

Okay, so then you are served a wonderful turkey dinner: butternut-squash soup, then turkey and mashed potatoes and gravy and stuffing and veg and cranberry sauce and a light-as-a-feather homemade scone. And then comes the dessert plate, a beautifully presented collection of half a dozen sweet things. And as dessert is served, the lights are dimmed and the evening’s entertainment begins. That entertainment is an hour-long radio adaptation of Charles Dickens‘s beloved A Christmas Carol – first aired by CBS on Dec. 24, 1939, with narration by none other than Orson Welles and starring Lionel Barrymore as curmudgeon-turned-giant-hearted Ebenezer Scrooge. It is beyond delightful.

It’s quite magical to sit and listen to an entertainment, just as people did back in the days of radio and before television. You really do have to listen; which means you can’t be chatting amongst yourselves or doing something so foolish and trivial as sending texts on your phone. (Good luck with that anyway; Ormsby is far enough off the beaten track that there isn’t much of a cell signal.) And as you listen, your imagination conjures up the images for you.

Candelabra at the Old Ormsby Schoolhouse

The candelabra at the Old Ormsby Schoolhouse really does have candles, the light of which glows against the beautifully restored tin ceiling when the electric lights are turned off for the radio performance of A Christmas Carol. On the walls are oil-burning sconces.

As the roomful of us this past Sunday evening sat in happy silence, listening and enjoying the story (and digesting our excellent turkey dinner), I couldn’t help but think of how cozily old-fashioned it all was. There we were on a dark and cold winter’s night, gathered in a warm and lovely place around good food and a simple, charming entertainment. It was what people in small rural places used to do all the time – when going to “town” was a big deal and something not often done, and people created their own entertainments in community halls and churches, with songs and plays and pageants and recitations. Simpler times. Some would say: better times. I think I might be among those people.

Anyway, if you’d like to attend this wonderful event yourself (either this coming weekend or next year), here are the particulars:

Dickens dinner details

I urge you not to miss this old-fashioned celebration of Christmas in our very special part of the world.

Chocolate? Advent calendars? Keep them separate, say I

Advent calendar

This is the 2014 advent calendar at the Manse, and I am less than thrilled by it. Why? Because it’s all about chocolates – and to my mind, it should be about the real meaning of Christmas. I guess I’m old-fashioned. Like Linus.

Well, it is Sunday – the third Sunday of Advent, if you want to get all precise and Christian about it – and so I just think I’m going to get a bit preachy for a moment. On the subject of advent calendars, if you must know.

Long story short: what’s with the chocolates?

When I was a wee child in the very Manse where I am writing this post, we had a lovely fold-out (i.e. three-dimensional) nativity-scene advent calendar that my mum brought out every Christmas season. There were, of course, 25 windows for little children – my mother had four of same (little children, that is) – to locate and open, each in its turn. And behind each numbered door was a pretty symbol of Christmas: a tiny drum; a sheep; a French horn; a star. As one moved closer to Christmas, an angel; perhaps there was a donkey. And finally, on Christmas morning, one among us four kids was lucky enough to be the one to open the big window, the one that showed the Christ child in the manger. I still can remember the anticipation and the joy in finding and opening those little windows. And how, even though we used that calendar year after the year, the pictures that were the surprises behind the windows really were a surprise, and happy ones at that. It was very – well, it was very Christmassy.

I think I was in my late teens when I first heard of an advent calendar that had chocolates in it. Chocolates! I couldn’t even imagine it, or picture it. There were no cavities where chocolates could be hidden in our old, beloved and well-worn Manse advent calendar; and besides, who needed chocolates anyway? Wasn’t the anticipation of Christmas, and the day-by-day recognition of the symbols around it, enough of a treat? Chocolate seemed to me like ridiculous overkill. But as I got a little older, I got used to the fact that we live in a world of ridiculous overkill.

Which is perhaps why I succumbed to the temptation to buy a chocolate-filled advent calendar when I spotted one not long ago at the checkout of a fancy grocery store in Montreal. Not because I wanted the chocolate – though I know Raymond would like it; he likes sweets of a morning, and morning is when you open the windows of an advent calendar. And the calendar was a gift for him.

But really I bought the chocolate-filled advent calendar just because I wanted to have an advent calendar, period, at the Manse once again. That old nativity-scene one that my mum used to bring out is almost certainly long gone, and so a person has to make do. Apparently with Santa’s workshop as the theme, and Lindt chocolates behind the doors.

Well, it’s better than nothing. But here’s what I say: come Dec. 25, bring on that magical and miraculous – and chocolate-free – nativity scene. Because, you know, that’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

I’ll be home for Christmas

2014 Christmas tree at the Manse

Our 2014 Christmas tree, a lovely tall balsam. I hope longtime readers will also appreciate the curtains in our living room – the very same ones that adorned those old windows back in the 1960s when I was growing up here!

It’s been a busy, busy day, my friends, and I am weary; and so I am going to write a very brief post – featuring little more than a photo of the 2014 Manse Christmas tree, erected today. It’s a beautiful fresh balsam that makes the house smell good and Sieste the cat mildly curious. And as of just a few minutes ago, when Raymond and I finished the job, it is decorated with all the ornaments we have collected over years of travelling and seeking out decorations that will remind us of the places we’ve been. There’s a miniature lobster trap from Maine, a little toboggan from Montreal, a string of ceramic garlic found on Beacon Hill in Boston, a bright red cardinal from Port Hope, Ont., a miniature ceramic tuxedo cat (like Sieste) from Burlington, Vt., and even a lone star from Galveston, Tex. Every ornament tells a story!

But the best part is that the place where they’re telling their stories is right here at the Manse, our cozy home in perfect-Christmas-village Queensborough, which as of this evening – what with all the decorating and ornaments pulled out of storage and whatnot – is just one Christmassy house, let me tell you. And appropriately, the Christmas tree is, as always, right in the same corner where it (almost) always used to be when I was a kid growing up in this very same Manse.

As Raymond and I were finishing the tree-trimming, good old Bing Crosby was crooning away on a CD in the background: “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.”

And we are!