War and remembrance, and a long-ago wedding at the Manse

rocky

Newlyweds Joan and Roscoe Keene in front of the Manse (and their decked-out wheels), on June 9, 1945 – just a month after VE Day brought an end to the Second World War in Europe. (Photo courtesy of Grant Ketcheson, whose late father, Allen, is the young chap at left throwing the confetti)

A while back, my Madoc Township friend Grant Ketcheson sent me a couple of photos from June 1945. They feature a happy occasion: a wedding that took place right here at the Manse in Queensborough.

Now, before I tell you the rest of the story, let me explain that back in those days, it was fairly common for couples to be married at the minister’s home rather than in a church; I wrote about another such wedding, which took place in October 1939, here. And in this post I told you the story of probably the most famous wedding in Queensborough’s history, that of village storekeeper and unofficial mayor Roberta (Bobbie) Sager and her longtime beau, Allan Ramsay, in the mid-1970s. The wedding was top-secret, and man was the rest of Queensborough surprised when they learned about it the next day. It happened right here in the Manse living room where I’m typing these words; and it is one of the great boasts of my life that I can say I was present on that historic occasion when my dad, The Rev. Wendell Sedgwick, declared Bobbie and Allan man and wife.

But back to the June 1945 wedding of Joan Murray and Roscoe Keene – the happy couple you can see having confetti tossed at them in the photo at the top of this post, and eventually Grant’s aunt and uncle.

Grant sent me that photo, as well as the one you’ll see just below, because he knew I am interested in a) local history and b) photos showing the Manse (the house I grew up in, and to which I returned a few years back) in earlier times. To which I say publicly (as I told him privately at the time): Thank you so much, Grant!

Here’s the second photo:

Keene wedding

The wedding party is all smiles in this photo taken at the northeast corner of the Manse: from left, Winnifred (Keene) Ketcheson, sister of the groom; bride Joan (Lomax Murray) Keene; dashing groom Roscoe Keene (Winnifred’s brother); Bessie Keene (mother of Roscoe and Winnifred); and Cora Patterson, wife of The Rev. W.W. Patterson, who had just performed the marriage at the Manse. You can read more about Cora and W.W. Patterson and their time at the Manse here and here and here. (Photo courtesy of Grant Ketcheson, Winnifred’s son)

I’ll dispense fairly quickly with the house details that Raymond and I spotted with interest in examining these two photos. And then I’ll turn to my main focus for this post: war and remembrance. Because, as we all know, this coming Friday is Remembrance Day.

So yes, house details: it is fascinating to see what our Manse looked like a little over 71 years ago. Probably the first thing I noticed was the lovely maple tree on the front lawn behind Joan and Roscoe in the first picture; that tree was an important part of my childhood in this Manse. Here’s a photo from about 1968 of my two little brothers, John and Ken, playing in the shade of that same tree:

John and Ken 2

My brothers Ken (left) and John, sometime in the mid to late 1960s, playing in the shade of the old maple tree that you can see behind the newlyweds in the photo atop this post.

The tree was, most unfortunately, cut down some years before Raymond and I bought the Manse; as I told you here, we have honoured its memory and striven to bring shade back to our front lawn by planting a new maple in its place.

We were also interested to see that in 1945 the rounded door to nowhere off a second-storey room (my father’s study during my childhood here), as well as the “official” front door (which no one ever used) that shows up in both of Grant’s photos, were painted quite a dark colour as opposed to white, which they are today. There are also the old windows, two panes over two, that I hope to replicate as part of our renovation/restoration project. And finally in that first photo, I am struck by how well one can see, in the top left corner, the house far to the rear of the Manse on the property next door. Trees that have grown up since then would make that house invisible in a photo taken from the same angle today.

In the second photo, the main change we noticed was the railing along the porch of the Kincaid house in the right of the picture, immediately to the north of the Manse. Raymond and I added that empty historic house to our Queensborough holdings a year and a half ago, and arranged to have a new porch built to replace the crumbled old one:

New porch being built at the Kincaid House

But we didn’t think about a railing. So that old photo is food for thought, and possible future action.

However: architectural details are surely not what you will find most interesting about these photos. What makes them compelling is the story behind them, which I will tell with Grant’s help.

“My uncle’s wedding, June 9, 1945,” he begins. “He married a war widow, Joan Lomax-Murray.

“Her first husband, Alec Murray, was a Barnardo boy who grew up at Hazzard’s.”

Now, I’ll stop the narrative here to explain for younger readers (or readers from other countries) who may not catch the reference: “Barnardo” children, named for Thomas John Barnardo, were children from the United Kingdom who, because they were orphans or came from impoverished families, were “rescued” and sent to Canada, where they were raised by Canadian families, usually rural ones. Here’s how Library and Archives Canada explains it, in the introduction to a large amount of information about “Home Children”:

Between 1869 and the late 1930s, over 100,000 juvenile migrants were sent to Canada from the British Isles during the child emigration movement. Motivated by social and economic forces, churches and philanthropic organizations sent orphaned, abandoned and pauper children to Canada. Many believed that these children would have a better chance for a healthy, moral life in rural Canada, where families welcomed them as a source of cheap farm labour and domestic help.

Thomas John Barnardo began the movement, first opening a school in London for these kids who came from dreadful circumstances, and later arranging for them to travel to Canada. Doubtless his intentions were good, but many of these children, torn from home and everything they knew, were placed in unsympathetic families who used them as a source of free labour. Here is a story from the Winnipeg Free Press that gives a sense of what some of them endured. That said, there can be no doubt that other “Barnardo boys” found good and welcoming homes in Canada. It seems Alec Murray was one of these; the fact that, after his death, his English widow went to the trouble to come and visit his Canadian “family” tells you that he must have spoken fondly of that family and his experience in this country. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s let Grant continue to tell the story.

As he told me in a phone conversation this evening, Alec Murray – known locally, like other Barnardo boys, as “an English lad” – became very much a part of the Madoc and Madoc Township community, and particularly the community around the tiny Madoc Township community of Hazzards Corners. He worked on farms in the area, and was very active in the historic landmark church that marks those corners.

As an adult, when war came to the Commonwealth and the world, Alec Murray returned to England, to serve and, it seems, to revisit his roots in the area of Manchester, England. While there, he met and fell in love with a young woman from that same area – and they married. Here is a photo of that wedding at Swinton, England:

alec-and-joan-murrays-wedding

(Photo courtesy of Grant Ketcheson)

When you see the bright smiles on the faces of Alec and his new bride, the former Joan Lomax, it’s heartbreaking to know that Alec did not survive the war. Private Alec Murray “of Madoc, Ontario” was killed at Ortona, Italy, in December 1942. Grant continues:

“His widow came to Canada to visit with Alec’s Canadian family, and [eventually] married my mother’s brother, Roscoe Keene. It is a long and touching love story that I hope to put on paper someday.

“My mother [who, readers, you will recall from the second photo in this post was there at the wedding at the Manse] always said that there should have been a stone in the cemetery for Alec Murray as he had become a ‘Hazzards boy,’ always active in the church. When my Aunt Joan died, Uncle Roscoe had the stone inscribed with their names [his and Joan’s] and “Farewell My English Rose” added after Aunt Joan’s name.

“At the bottom of the stone, he had this added: ‘In loving memory of Sgt. Alec Murray C4552, Killed in Italy 09/12/43. He gave his all for us.’

Here is a picture of that gravestone:

keene-gravestone

(Photo courtesy of Grant Ketcheson)

I don’t know about you, readers, but as Remembrance Day 2016 approaches, my eyes fill with tears when I read, “He gave his all for us.”

Perhaps especially so because the inscription was done at the behest of Roscoe Keene, the now-nonagenarian second husband and widower of Joan, who died in 1999. The same Roscoe Keene who is the dashing young man you see in those photos taken on his wedding day – June 9, 1945 – here at our Manse in Queensborough, and who now lives near Kingston, Ont., enjoying a well-deserved retirement after many years as a marine engineer. What a class act Mr. Keene is, to have had an inscription honouring Alec Murray added to the tombstone for himself and his late wife in the historic cemetery at Hazzards Corners Church.

“Yes, Alec Murray is remembered at Hazzard’s Cemetery!” says Grant. “Now, I think my uncle is a classy guy, and I have told him so. I think that whole story would make a great Nov. 11 story.”

And indeed it does. A story of love, loss, sacrifice, strength and reslience.

Let us not forget.

Meet the new bike – same (almost) as the old bike

us six at the Manse

I’ve showed you this photo before; I love it because it’s the only picture I have of my whole family (my dad, The Rev. Wendell Sedgwick; my mum, Lorna; and, from left, me, Melanie, John and Ken) from the days when I was growing up at the Manse in Queensborough in the 1960s. However, I’m showing it to you today because it is ALSO the only known photo of my very first bike. It’s the sweet little blue CCM that you can see parked on the Manse’s front porch behind us. Dad always made me park it on the porch to keep it out of the sun that might fade its paint – and I haven’t forgotten the lesson. (Photo probably by my grandfather, J.A.S. Keay)

People, I have got myself a bike! It’s something I’ve been wanting pretty much since Raymond and I bought the Manse four years ago – a way to get around Queensborough (and a little beyond) when I want to go quicker than on foot but without burning fossil fuels.

My dream, much scoffed at by people who are more serious cyclists than I am (which is pretty much the entire world), was an old-fashioned bike with no gears to work, no cables running from handlebars to wheels, and brakes that you’d apply by cycling backwards. Also: a bike with a comfortable seat and that allowed you to sit up straight rather than hunkering down over the handlebars.

A bike, in short, very like my first one. Which was the best gift ever from my parents, The Rev. Wendell and Lorna Sedgwick, when I was perhaps eight years old and growing up right here at the Manse in Queensborough.

I remember that bike well. It was a little CCM, just the right size for a small girl of eight or so, and it was a lovely light blue, with a white seat and handlebars and fenders. I didn’t yet know how to ride a bike when I received it, but I remember my dad patiently holding me steady and upright as I wobbled a few times around the Manse’s front yard – and how then, suddenly, magically (as always happens when people figure out bike-riding), I got the hang of it and took off to ride on my own around the block that is “downtown” Queensborough. And from there, I could go anywhere on my bike! The best was riding up to the top of the hill at the western edge of our village, past the former one-room school and the former St. Henry’s Roman Catholic church, and just whizzing down it at what felt like the speed of sound, whistling down the wind. (When I came back to Queensborough many years later, I was startled at how un-steep that hill, so challenging and fun in my childhood, turned out to be; but I have decided that it must have been levelled down a bit in the interim. Either that or it’s yet one more case of things being so much larger and more impressive when seen through a kid’s eyes.)

Anyway: my dream of having a bike in my Manse adulthood that’s like the bike I had in my Manse childhood has come true! And here it is:

Me with my new bike

Same house, same porch, and a delightfully similar bike! Me smiling about my new wheels as Raymond and our friend Lauraine look on from the porch. (Photo by Paul Woods)

I gasped when I saw this bike in the bike section of the Target store in Biddeford, Maine, during the recent seacoast vacation that Raymond and I took. It was perfect! Retro styling, no gears, brake by pedalling backwards, a comfortable seat – and it was turquoise! (Which is a very resonant colour for me here at the Manse, as longtime readers will know from posts like this and this and this.)

It is a Schwinn Cruiser, and while it looks (in my opinion) like a million bucks, the price was stunningly low. People, this gorgeous bike cost only $139! Now, granted, that’s $139 U.S., which at the current horrible exchange rate is about $3,500 Canadian – no, no, I’m kidding. The exchange rate is horrible, but still, I got this great-looking bike for considerably less than $200 Cdn. You can’t beat that with a stick.

I had to laugh at myself as I wobbled around the Manse’s front yard a few times when I first got on it – just like the first time I got on that little CCM back in about 1968. (And don’t think I wasn’t missing my dad being there to keep me upright.) It had, I realized, been a long time since I’d been on a bike. But I got the hang of it once again, and have zipped around the block a few times since. I need to get a basket so that I can cart stuff – like a dozen farm-fresh eggs from Debbie the Queensborough egg lady, or bulletins to be delivered for the Sunday service at St. Andrew’s United Church – while I’m riding around on my retro turquoise two-wheeled wonder. But aside from that, I’m thrilled about my bike and the possibilities.

Now I just have to work up the nerve to climb up that hill on the western edge of the village – and whip down it once again, after all these years. I hope the wind still whistles.

The door in the dump

The door in the dump

I was startled to find, lying atop a pile of construction debris at the dump, a door that looked remarkably like the doors in the Manse. A sad end for a fine old thing.

“These don’t go in the recycling,” the helpful attendant at the dump told me, holding up two wire hangers from the dry cleaners that I had tossed into the blue bin along with the tin cans, aluminum foil and hard plastics.

“You have to take them to the bin for metal back there,” he said (not unkindly), gesturing with his head to the large section at the Municipality of Tweed dumpsite where you take your bagged garbage and also large items such as furniture and construction materials, which go into big dumpsters.

I sighed a little bit, because it was a wet, overcast, muddy day, I was sick with a bad cough, and I really just wanted to get this dump excursion over with. Now I had to make a stop at the metals bin along with my recycling and garbage-bag stops.

But in the end I was kind of glad he’d sent me there. Well, glad – and sad.

Because in the construction-materials dumpster that was close to the metals dumpster, I spotted the nice old wooden door that you can see in my photo. It caught my eye because it is very similar to the old wooden doors still in use here at the Manse, and that I imagine date from the time when the house was built in 1888.

Bathroom door at the Manse

The door of the bathroom at the Manse (formerly the minister’s study, we have it on good authority). As you can see, it’s a lot like the one I spotted in the dump.

I am pretty sure the one at the dump was bigger than our doors, so even if I could have retrieved it – I couldn’t; it was too far down and out of my reach, plus I would have had no way of transporting it in my little Toyota – it probably wouldn’t have been helpful in eventual Manse renovations. And also it had obviously been modified, the way the front door of the Manse had been sometime after the years when I lived here as a child:

Inside front door

The front door of the Manse as it is today – modified and very much in need of repainting and general touchup, but still solid.

Front door back in the day

This c. 1971 photo of me and my family at the Manse (from left, my sister, Melanie, being a cutup as usual; me standing; my Mum with a cat whose name I’ve long forgotten; and my brothers Ken and John with Finnigan the not-very-bright dog) allows you to see (in the background at right) that the front door of the Manse was in its original state then, with no window in it.

As with our front door, the top panels of the one at the dump had been cut out to make a window. And also, it was very battered and worn – just like our doors are.

But it was not so battered and worn that, after some stripping of old paint and touching up, it wouldn’t have looked quite splendid installed in a house of its period. And that’s why it made me sad to see it lying there in the dumpster. A good solid wooden door that had been made – probably locally – well over a century ago, featuring some nice detail, and that had served its intended purpose well for many, many years – now just tossed, to be forgotten and replaced with something that I’d be willing to bet won’t be nearly as nice or as sturdy, and won’t have been made by local craftspeople.

Well – let me just say that if you ever go dumpster diving at the Tweed dump, I don’t think you’ll be finding any of the Manse’s doors.

The front-yard hockey rink, long, long ago

Larry, John and Ken on the rink

The place: the Manse’s front yard. The time: winter (obviously) 1971 or ’72. The hockey players: (from left) Larry Parks of the Boston Bruins, John Sedgwick of the Montreal Canadiens, and Ken Sedgwick of no fixed team and, like a real hockey player, missing a few front teeth.

People, I am no weather forecaster, but I’m going to venture this: I think we may have finally broken the back of this brutal winter. Yes, I know the windchill is supposed to be down at some ridiculous double-digit-below-zero number – again – overnight tonight; but have you noticed how in the daytime for the past couple of days, the air has felt a tad less bitter? That there has seemed to be a tiny bit of warmth in the sun when it shines? And that the sun has, in fact, been shining a fair bit recently? I do believe we will come out of this thing yet. And that there will be spring, and that the bulbs I planted late last fall on the south lawn of the Manse will come up.

But before winter gets away from us, I want to share a happy winter memory from long ago at this same Manse. The photo that you see at the top of this post was taken on the makeshift ice rink that my family had in the front yard for several winters in the years when I was growing up here. And the young hockey players are none other than my brothers John (centre) and Ken (right) and their great friend (and all-round excellent guy) Larry Parks, whose family lived at the other end of Queensborough. (Which is all of about 300 yards away from the Manse.)

Isn’t it a great photo?

Don’t you love the low-tech hockey uniforms and equipment, the less-than-fancy skates, the missing front teeth in Ken’s big smile, and the chipped, uneven ice under those skates? Does it bring back memories of the days when a makeshift rink in the front yard was all kids needed for endless hours of fun?

The photo (which comes to me courtesy of grown-up John) does all that for me, and in addition provides still more useful evidence of how our corner of Queensborough looked back then – which I’m guessing would be about 1971 or ’72. Maybe you won’t be surprised to hear that this corner of Queensborough doesn’t look very much different even now, 40-some years later.

Which cheers me almost as much as does this delightful photo of three boys having fun on our front-yard rink, in simpler times. Good old times.

A long-ago lick-and-stick project, for a good cause

Inside cover of The Hymn Book

To you, dear readers, I’m sure this looks like nothing more than a couple of bookplates stuck inside the cover of a book. To me, they bring back some happy memories.

Since this is a rare Sunday post from me here at Meanwhile, at the Manse – I usually give myself Sundays off, treating Sunday as the day of rest that it was in the Christian tradition in which I was raised in this very house – I thought I might deal with a Sunday kind of topic. As so often happens, it has been inspired by a chance discovery I made a while back here in central Hastings County.

The church that Raymond and I attend, St. Andrew’s United right here in Queensborough (where my dad was the minister when I was growing up here), has a shared-ministry arrangement with two other churches, St. John’s United in Tweed, and Bethesda United in the hamlet of White Lake, just south of Madoc. (You can read about that arrangement here, if you’re interested.) Whenever there is a fifth Sunday in the month, we hold a joint service at one of the churches, which gives us a chance to worship in a different place and see friends from those other churches. One recent Sunday that joint service was at Bethesda, and so I hied myself off to that pretty and historic little church.

At Bethesda they use older hymn books than we do at St. Andrew’s – one of them being The Hymn Book, which was published jointly by the United Church of Canada and the Anglican Church of Canada back in 1971, when the two national churches were considering an amalgamation that was eventually called off. I have always liked this hymnal very much; its hymn selection is elegant and wide-ranging, traditional but with some interesting and challenging pieces thrown in. (As well, it was the hymnal in use throughout the United Church when I was a young teenager singing in the choir at St. Andrew’s, and I suspect that everything from one’s happy teenage years, even hymn books, seem special.)

Anyway. When I opened my pew copy of the The Hymn Book for one of the hymns that Sunday at Bethesda United, I was interested and touched to see (thanks to a bookplate inside the front cover) that it had originally been used at Eldorado United Church, where my father had been the minister. The bookplate notes that this hymnal (and probably several others) had been given to Eldorado United by the Sandford family in memory of the Sandford and Franks families:

New Creed, new version

Sadly, Eldorado United closed a few years back; I suppose its congregation must have chosen to donate its hymn books to Bethesda as a congregation that was still active.

I was delighted to be holding in my hand a hymn book that, for all I know, I had once held in my hand as a much younger person standing in the pews at Eldorado United.

And I was also delighted to read once again the United Church Creed, pasted (rather crookedly, and I’ll get to that in a bit) onto the right-hand page inside the cover:

United Church Creed

That creed was adopted by the church in 1968, and I have always considered it to be a splendid and poetically, pithily written statement of Christian belief. (In this I am not alone; I know that churches of various denominations all over the world include this United Church of Canada creed among their own statements of faith. Hey, did you know that the word “creed” comes from the Latin “credo,” meaning “I believe”? So a “creed” is simply a statement of what ones believes.)

The original version of “The Creed,” as we called it back then, has since been altered a bit to get rid of the male-centric language: “Man is not alone” has been replaced, sensibly, with “We are not alone;” “the true Man, Jesus” is now “Jesus, the Word made flesh;” and so on. And one line has been added, again I think sensibly: in the part that starts with “He calls us to be his church” (now changed to “We are called to be the Church”), “to live with respect in Creation” is added in between “to celebrate his (now ‘God’s’) presence” and the timeless “to love and serve others.”:

New Creed, new version

But aside from the happy reminder of that well-written statement of faith which came into being during my childhood years at the Manse, another memory came into my head as I looked at the United Church Creed pasted into that copy of The Hymn Book. And it was this: I probably pasted it there!

Flooding back came a dim memory of my dad, The Rev. Wendell Sedgwick, enlisting my sister and brothers and me to stick those copies of the Creed into the hymn books in use at St. Andrew’s and Eldorado United churches. And here’s the best part: I am fairly sure that we had to lick each one to make it stick! That is, I know that they were sticky on the back when moistened; but was there anything resembling a sponge or some such to moisten them? Why, who needed that, when you had four little kids who were good at doing as they were told, and would probably enjoy the adventure of licking a hundred or so (maybe more!) bookplates and sticking them into hymn books?

That was so like my dad: make good use of the ready and willing labour at hand. And really, what’s wrong with that?

When I saw my sister Melanie the other evening – we were celebrating my mum‘s birthday with her – I showed her the picture of the rather crookedly-pasted Creed and asked her if she remembered licking and sticking them in. She cast her mind back, and her recollection was a little fuzzy like mine, but – she did!

Hey, maybe the reason our memory of it is fuzzy is because of the chemicals we ingested from licking those bookplates…

But you know, those were good times. Heady times. The late 1960s! The United Church of Canada, the largest Protestant denomination in the country, had come up with a truly great statement of faith. My dad, a great rural minister (if I do say so myself) was keen to share it. We kids – Melanie, John, Ken and myself – were always up for a project if Dad put us on it. Even if it meant a lot of licking and sticking – and even though the sticking may not always have been very straight or very square.

What a gift it was to be reminded of all of that, completely unexpectedly, when I opened my Hymn Book at Bethesda United Church that recent Sunday.

What a gift.

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.

What did I get for Christmas? Vintage building blocks!

Sta-Lox Blocks under the tree

Under our Christmas tree, my new (old) set of Sta-Lox Building Bricks. Just like the set I might have played with under the Christmas tree (in the exact same place here at the Manse) back when I was a very young child. All thanks to my friend Lynn, whom I thank for such a wonderful vintage Christmas gift!

“What did you get for Christmas?” Remember how all the kids used to ask that of each other when we reconvened at school after the Christmas holidays, in early January?

Knowing what I know now, but failed to see through childish eyes then – which was how very poor some of the families around us here in the Queensborough area were, and how probable it was that a fair number of those kids got nothing for Christmas except, hopefully, a decent meal – I wish I hadn’t ever asked it.

But I did. We all did. Can’t change that now, though I sure wish I could.

Anyway. Even though Raymond and I decreed this a gift-free Christmas (which, let me just tell you, really alleviates the stress of the season), I did get a gift. And I want to tell you about it, because it is (of course) a vintage classic. Which, by the way, cost the giver precisely nothing, so so much the better. It is: a set of Sta-Lox Miniature Building Bricks! Does it get any better than that?

All right, I know perfectly well that you’re yawning at this revelation. But people, look at those blocks! Here is another image:

Sta-Lox blocks, closeup

Two words for you, people (okay, maybe only one word if you count the hyphenation): pre-Lego.

These Sta-Lox blocks are the building blocks that all us North American kids – or at least us Canadian kids – had, and loved, before those Scandinavian Legos conquered the world, which was sometime around the time when my younger brothers (John and Ken) started playing with building blocks in the later ’60s and early ’70s. Sta-Lox were perfectly good building blocks, if you didn’t mind the fact that they were small enough to readily make their way into a child’s mouth and choke him or her. Which, come to think of it, might well be the reason why Sta-Lox were eclipsed, or, actually (truth be told), obliterated by Lego.

Our good friend Lynn, who visited Raymond and me at the Manse just before Christmas on the way from her home in Nova Scotia to spend time with family in Toronto, had picked up this wonderful tube of Sta-Lox for me from – get this! – someone who had been throwing them out! She saved them from the dump! And she brought them to me in Queensborough, knowing I would recognize and love them. Which of course I did. I took one look at them and remembered being about four years old, on the tiled linoleum floor of my maternal grandparents’ comfortable home in the leafy Toronto neighbourhood of Leaside, trying to build homes and maybe even castles with those same blocks.

Which were, by the way, made right there in Toronto! Back in the days when we actually manufactured things in Canada! Here’s the evidence, from the back of the tube of building blocks that Lynn gave me:

Sta-Lox Peter Austin Manufacturing

Oh, and one last photo. I was pretty useless at making good stuff from those little flexible red bricks, but obviously others were not; get a load of this Sta-Lox suburban masterpiece, courtesy of the internet:

Sta-Lox built

Anyway, this has perhaps been a longer post than it needed to be. Long story short: Sta-Lox Building Bricks were a brilliant and important part of my early childhood, which was mainly at the Manse. Where Raymond and I now live again; and so a gift from Lynn of some Sta-Lox bricks for the Manse was just a perfect Christmas present.

And so: what I got for Christmas could not have been better.