In what is news to precisely no one: women’s work is never done

Peeling potatoes for the Turkey Supper

Me in the midst of peeling 20 pounds of potatoes late at night, after a long day’s work, in the cramped Manse kitchen. (Photo by Raymond Brassard)

More than once here at Meanwhile, at the Manse I’ve paid tribute to my mum, Lorna Sedgwick, for somehow surviving the Manse years of my childhood. Now that I am living through the Manse years of my adulthood (having moved back to this great old house in Queensborough a while back), I think I have a much better appreciation of what was involved in raising four small children, working full-time as a high-school teacher, keeping a big old house in reasonable order, preparing three meals a day for an ungrateful lot (and this when she hated cooking), and last but certainly not least, fulfilling all the demands that were placed on a midcentury minister’s wife – including having company to dinner pretty much every single Sunday.

And all this without a dishwasher! Or many other of the conveniences we all take for granted today. (Mind you, Raymond and I still don’t have a dishwasher at the Manse.)

My mother told me not long ago that quite often on Friday afternoons, when she would arrive home at the Manse after a week of teaching, she would just sit in the car in the driveway for a while, too exhausted to immediately face the job of cooking supper for the family. Too exhausted to even face the family.

Now, my workload is not nearly as heavy as my mum’s was. For one thing, there are zero small children to raise, though there are three cats. For another, my husband does an immense amount of work around the house, including cooking meals more than half the time. That said, my paid job (co-ordinating and teaching in the journalism program at Loyalist College in Belleville) is probably more demanding and time-consuming than my mum’s job was. And I have a daily commute of almost an hour each way, whereas Mum only had the less-than-15-minute drive to Madoc and back, to teach at Centre Hastings Secondary School. And even though I don’t have minister’s wife duties, I do have quite a bit of work in my role as secretary at St. Andrew’s United Church. And then there is Meanwhile, at the Manse to produce!

Let’s just say that I sometimes feel, as I’m sure my mother felt a hundred thousand or so times back in those Manse days of my childhood, that I am really tired of being tired.

But who doesn’t feel that way these days? Every working person I know is putting in more hours than workers did even a generation ago. Nine to five? What the heck is that? And we’ve all got so much going on outside of work as well. The other day I was talking to a businesswoman in Madoc who works full time six, and often seven, days a week. How does she do it?

While I fully realize that many, many men (like my husband) work every bit as hard as their wives do, I’ve been thinking a lot about “women’s work” over the past two or three weeks. You won’t be surprised to know that these thoughts have been prompted by being at the Manse, and by thinking about my mum and the women of her generation, and the generations before that.

These reflections kind of got started on a recent Friday night, when, after a very long and trying week at work, I had to spend several hours in the Manse’s ridiculously small and poorly laid out kitchen/pantry doing prep work for a meal to be served to guests the next day. They are guests whom we always enjoy having over, and the meal was not at all a fancy one; but because Raymond and I had out-of-the-house stuff to do most of the following day, I had to get things ready Friday night – when, let me tell you, I was ready to drop from exhaustion. Here I am whipping the cream for the world’s greatest retro dessert at about 10 o’clock at night, feeling more than a little sorry for myself:

late-night-whipping-cream-in-the-manse-kitchen

As I whipped, I kept thinking about my mum, and all those long-ago evenings in that very same kitchen when she, as exhausted as I was, would be using the hand-held mixer to prepare some dessert or jellied salad or other so as to lighten the load of same-day preparations for company. “How did she do it?” I kept wondering.

(But you know, it paid off: the next day when dinner was a snap to get on the table because of all the advance work that I’d done, I felt pretty pleased with myself. That, however, was after a good night’s sleep.)

I got thinking along the same lines last week, on the night before the Turkey Supper at St. Andrew’s United Church that I told you all about in last week’s post. My assigned task, because I am utterly incapable of baking one of those homemade pies that St. Andrew’s and Queensborough are so famous for, was to peel and cut up (into small pieces, so they’d cook quickly) 20 pounds of potatoes. People, do you know how long it takes to peel and cut up 20 pounds of potatoes? I’ll tell you. It takes exactly an hour and a half – 45 minutes per 10-pound bag of potatoes. There was a time when leaning over the kitchen sink for an hour and a half would have caused my back no problems whatsoever. But as a woman of a certain age, I can definitively say: this is not that time. And this hour-and-a-half mission happened, of course, after another very long day at work and another long commute home. You can see me hard at work on the potato front in the photo at the top of this post, and here’s another view where my peeling hands are just a blur!

peeling-potatoes-2

But I hasten to add that I wasn’t really feeling sorry for myself on potato-peeling night. Instead I was thinking about all the other women of St. Andrew’s United Church and the wider Queensborough community who, that night and over the past several days, had worked way more than my measly hour and a half to prepare food and make everything ready for the Turkey Supper. And then there was the day to come, when many of the same women would be working all day long doing prep work and setup, then serving up the food at a furious pace during the 2½ hours of the supper, and then working late into the night to clean everything up. And people, I hope I’m not giving away any secrets if I say that most of those women are older than I am – some by quite a bit.

They are amazing. Absolutely amazing.

Every year I vow that I will take lots of photos of our Turkey Supper, and every year I fail to fulfill that mission. Why? Because I’m so busy running around helping out! There’s just no time to stop and take photos. And most especially not this year, when – thanks in part to you excellent people – we had what was probably the biggest crowd in the long, long history of St. Andrew’s Turkey Suppers.

Cars parked all through Queensborough for the Turkey Supper

“The cars were parked all over Queensborough!” one visitor to our Turkey Supper told me, completely accurately. I am pretty sure it was the biggest turnout in the history of the St. Andrew’s Turkey Supper.


Turkey Supper 2016

A view of the newly renovated hall at St. Andrew’s packed with people who were there for our famous Turkey Supper.


Turkey Supper 2016 2

Another shot of the Turkey Supper diners, featuring Raymond (in the checked shirt) who, with our minister, Norm Long, never stopped pouring coffee and tea.

I hope my photos give you some sense of how busy we were. Thanks to ticket sales and donations, our church has received a wonderful financial boost that will help its work a lot in the coming year. But oh, how I wish I had photos or video of Lorraine mashing the potatoes and keeping a steady stream of warm and delicious food coming out of the oven; of Ann Lee making sure all the trays on the buffet table were always filled; of Joan and Stephanie and Barb and Wanda and Lorna and Doris tirelessly washing and drying the plates, cutlery and glasses over and over and over as they kept being used over and over and over; of Netta and Debbie and Susanna racing to clear tables and install new place settings in time for the next round of diners! How I wish I could show you Eilene, making pot after pot of coffee and tea; of Joan, filling bowl after bowl of salads; of Lois, cutting and serving up dozens and dozens of pies; of Sandra, keeping track of when there were spaces at the table and summoning expectant diners to fill them; and especially of Betty, overseeing the whole shebang, as she has done for so many years, and doing a fantastic job. And how I wish I could show you the bustle – exhausted bustle, but bustle nonetheless – as everyone worked to clean everything up afterwards – on empty stomachs, because the crowds were so huge that there was no turkey dinner left to feed these hard-working volunteers!

Pictures failed me. And really, so do words.

Except this: thanks to the work of these women, of women like my mother, who have spent the majority of the days of their lives working until they were ready to drop – we have been fed, and cared for. The world is a much better place for “women’s work.”

Like the sign says: Vote ↑ !

VoteWhen you read this, my friends, it will be Election Day in Canada. And I have one word, and one word only, for you. That word is: Vote!

Just like it says on the sign on the door of the Queensborough Community Centre, our hamlet’s historic former one-room schoolhouse.

That’s where Raymond and I cast our ballots on Day 2 of advance polling, a week ago Saturday. It was a glorious autumn day, and what with our polling place being super-conveniently located just around the corner and up the street from the Manse, it was as easy as pie to head up and do our civic duty. The experience was made more pleasant by the friendly faces and helpfulness of the election crew working there – one of them someone I’ve known practically all my life, from the time when I was a kid growing up in the Manse in the 1960s and ’70s – and the musical soundtrack from the iPod that one member of that crew had brought along. How can you not dance around a little bit when you’re casting your ballot as the sun shines down on you through the windows of Queensborough’s historic schoolhouse, while Linda Ronstadt sings Silver Threads and Golden Needles?

(Which reminds me that very soon I must do a post on how totally great Linda Ronstadt’s songs from my Manse-growing-up years were.)

Anyway, voting in the advance poll – which Raymond and I did because both of us would be busy on Election Day, me working with journalism students at Loyalist College as they report on the outcome; you can follow our coverage on Election Night here – was a thoroughly pleasant experience for us. Judging by the steady stream of people arriving at the schoolhouse, lots of others were taking advantage of the advance-polling option. But I hope that everyone who hasn’t voted ahead of time will take part in the same pleasant experience on Monday, Oct. 19 – whether at the Queensborough Community Centre or wherever your polling place may be.

It doesn’t matter whom you vote for; what matters is that you vote. We are so fortunate to live in a country where we can exercise our franchise so readily. Anyone who fails to take advantage of this opportunity is letting us all down, and missing out on one of the most important rights and freedoms that we as Canadians enjoy.

So here, let me get you in the mood. Silver threads and golden needles will not mend this heart of mine – but you marking an X in the circle of the candidate of your choice, whoever it may be, will do the trick. Take it away, Ms. Ronstadt!

A great new source of old photos

Madoc's Quiet Charm

The main street of Madoc, featured in a big Toronto newspaper, once upon a time. Charming!(Photo from Madoc and Area Local History)

Sometimes, people, this blog just writes itself. Or maybe it would be more accurate to say that sometimes things that happen around me, as I sit here in the general vicinity of the Manse in pretty little Queensborough, make it really, really easy to come up with something that I think will be of interest to you good people. That happened today.

There I was at work at Loyalist College in Belleville this morning, firing up my Mac and opening the usual tabs on it – our journalism program‘s website, QNet News; TweetDeck; Gmail; and of course Facebook – when what should appear on that last one but a post on Vintage Belleville, Quinte & Trenton Region (a great local-history site that I’ve mentioned before) telling the world about a new Facebook arrival: Madoc and Local Area History. It was illustrated by the photo you see at the top of this post; and since regular readers know how much I love local history, and how Madoc is “town” for those of us who live in Queensborough, you can imagine how little time I wasted in clicking on it. And you shouldn’t waste time either! You can go to that page right here.

Madoc and Area Local History was started just a few days ago by a chap named Brock Kerby, who says in its “About” section: “Created this page for the purpose of preserving local history. Great way to connect with each other and share our local history!
Hope you enjoy!” And he goes about his preservation-of-local-history work immediately by sharing some fabulous photos of the area from both the far distant and the more recent (translation: the era of my childhood here in the Madoc area, living at the Manse) past. And it is just wonderful!

You need to go check it out for yourself, and add your own photos and likes and comments to the great stuff Brock has put there. Here are just a few photos that captured my attention and that I hope will serve to whet your appetite for this splendid local project:

Old Madoc

No indication as to when this photo of the main street (Durham Street) in Madoc was taken, but it looks to be a party. And – is that a blimp overhead? (Photo via Madoc and Area Local History)

Stickwood's fire

A report from the no-longer-extant, and much-lamented, Madoc Review (formerly the North Hastings Review) about the fire that destroyed a mainstay of the main street, Stickwood’s dry- goods store, in 2001. (Photo via Madoc and Area Local History)

Madoc OPP station, 1975

The Madoc OPP station in 1975, when it was at practically the easternmost end of St. Lawrence Street East and in much more modest quarters than the current OPP officers (now housed in considerably larger digs on Highway 7 beside Tim Horton’s) enjoy today. (Photo from Madoc and Area Local History)

McCoy's Grocery

McCoy’s Grocery! I wrote about that store here; it was one of several small independent grocery stores that existed in downtown Madoc back at the time when my family moved to this area, in the early 1960s. Nice to see it again! (Photo from Madoc and Area Local History)

And here (in my humble opinion) is the coolest one of all:

Madoc Arena 1975

The Madoc Arena, 1975. Right smack in the middle of town – where the Home Hardware store is now. If you didn’t ever freeze your toes in that place, then you aren’t a true local of the Madoc area! (Photo from Madoc and Area Local History)

People, this site is just splendid, and that’s all I can say. Anyone interested in Madoc history should offer a great big thank-you to Brock Kerby for getting it off the ground. And Brock – please consider this my own thanks!

The pleasure of simple comforts, especially at Christmas

Our table at the Tweed Christmas dinner

One of the Queensborough tables at this evening’s Christmas dinner for volunteers with the Municipality of Tweed: clockwise from left, Elaine, Betty, Barb, Wendy, Raymond and Joanie. There’s no gang I’d rather hang out with!

I was at an event at my workplace, Loyalist College in Belleville, yesterday, at which contributors to a large capital campaign at the college – individuals, families, businesses and municipalities from the area – were being honoured and thanked. There were lots of prominent people from the Belleville/Quinte/Hastings County community there, and it was interesting to watch and listen and get a sense of who the local movers and shakers are.

I found myself thinking what an odd feeling it was not to know these people, and here’s why: in my former job at deputy editor of the Montreal Gazette, I used to attend a ton of similar events – fundraisers and celebrations of fundraising work – at which the movers and shakers of Montreal, and Quebec generally, would be on hand. I’ve sat at head tables and rubbed shoulders with provincial cabinet ministers, premiers and former premiers, MPs, former prime ministers, university presidents, military generals and prominent businesspeople. When you attend enough such functions, you get to know the lay of the land and who’s who, though of course it doesn’t hurt that lots of them are in the news fairly often. By contrast, yesterday there I was in Belleville, all at sea. However, one reason I was attending was precisely to try to get to know some of these local folks who do a lot for the community.

Anyway, where am I going with this? Well, I guess it’s turning into a bit of a reflection on how pleasant the simple rural life in a place like Queensborough can be. Because despite how my former Montreal existence could be kind of fancy-schmancy, I tended to get stressed out at those events. In contrast, over the last couple of days Raymond and I have attended some simple and extremely pleasant local Christmas-themed events. And it has been so nice and unstressful to hang out with unpretentious and un-fancy people – because we are un-fancy and (I hope) unpretentious people ourselves. Basically I always felt wildly out of place at those dress-uppy Montreal things (though I have to say Raymond was brilliant at them). Here, I feel at home. Because I am home.

Last night Raymond and I were invited for dinner at the home of our nearby neighbours. It was a warm and convivial evening, filled with friendly chat and lots of laughs, and we enjoyed an absolutely excellent meal. It was exactly what I needed at the end of a long day at work: a great meal, friends and fun. Totally unpretentious. And all just a few steps from our home at the Manse.

And then this evening Raymond and I were among the invitees at an annual Christmas dinner that the Municipality of Tweed holds to thank its employees and the volunteers who do things in the community. (We get invited as members of the Queensborough Community Centre Committee, which is technically a municipal body.) It was a simple but jolly time, with a very nice turkey dinner cooked and served by Selena’s Country Catering, entertainment by two local singers, and a chance to rub shoulders with volunteers from throughout the Greater Tweed Area and the politicians who represent us. By contrast with those fancy Montreal events it was simpler than simple, but you know what? We had a really nice time.

Low-key is good, isn’t it? As is spending an evening with people from your own corner of the world, with whom you have lots in common. And celebrating the season with those folks, simply but happily.

And then heading home to your Manse afterward! Life is good.

How can something so timelessly great have been so long ago?

So there I was early this evening, heading home to Queensborough and the Manse (and, of course, Raymond) after a busy but happily productive day at work in Belleville. It was a day in which our students in Loyalist Journalism had produced a ton of good work, and I’d edited and otherwise worked with them on many of those stories. It’s the kind of thing I love to do, and it’s incredibly satisfying helping young journalists make good work even better. But man, was I tired. And a feeling a little bit brain-dead, though not in a bad way. Just pleasantly weary.

I bumbled along, thinking about not much of anything. Dum dee dum dee diddley bum. Switched on the radio. And since my man Freddy Vette, DJ extraordinaire on CJBQ AM 800, bringing the Quinte area the hits from the 1950s and ’60s, is on vacation this week, I switched over to FM and CBC Radio 2. Where I landed smack in the middle of a great rock and roll song, the Rolling Stones doing Get Off of My Cloud. Which I of course, in my pleasantly brain-dead state, hummed along to. (As can you, if you click on the video atop this post. And in the process marvel at a very youthful-looking Keith Richards in spectacles.)

Then it was over, and Pete Morey, the fill-in host on Rich Terfry’s afternoon-drive show, shared some information about the song. It tuned out he was playing it because it had been #1 on the charts on this very day. Nov. 6. In 1965.

Nineteen-sixty-five, people!

I mean yes, the year is good because it places the song in the era of my childhood at the Manse (1964 to 1975) and thus permits me to blither on about it here to you ever-patient folks.

But let’s stop and think about this for just a second – as I did, sitting behind the wheel of a vehicle pointed and zooming due north on Highway 62.

Nov. 6, 1965, is – I know this because I counted the decades on my fingers to make sure I had it right – only one year shy of 50 years ago. That would be half a century.

How did that happen?

A sad day for Canada, but an exciting one for new journalists

Newsroom headlines

The developing top story on QNet News (the student-produced news website at Loyalist College) on display on the overhead monitors, on a very busy day in our newsroom today.

A brilliant former Montreal Gazette colleague of mine who is now, as of the start of this academic year, a professor of journalism at a university, posted something rather poignant on Facebook at midday today: “It is so weird not to be in a buzzing newsroom right now.”

She was referring, of course, to the shocking (and as of the time of her posting, still very much unfolding) events in Ottawa, when shots were fired in the halls of Parliament and a young reserve soldier with his whole life in front of him was shot and killed at the National War Memorial. As I write this, several hours later, I think the whole country is still trying to wrap its collective head around the very un-Canadian events of the day. And mourning the death of that soldier, whose smile is so dazzling in all the photos.

My former colleague’s post referred to the fact that she is in academe now, as opposed to a professional newsroom. Both she and I have been in newsrooms on so many days like today, when shocking events catch everyone by surprise and it is necessary to dispatch a vast team of reporters to cover them, to co-ordinate and manage the coverage, and to ensure that the news as it develops is posted as quickly and as accurately as possible online and, eventually, in our newspaper. While the events of such days are, unfortunately, almost always tragic, the adrenaline rush you get from working through them and helping bring the news to the world is like nothing I can describe.

So I could certainly relate when I saw my former colleague’s post, right after I had emerged from the cocoon of teaching a class of first-year journalism students at Loyalist College about writing leads for news stories. And I came this close to adding a comment to her post, along the lines of “Me too.”

But then I stopped and looked out the door of my office, toward the centrepiece of the journalism program at the college: our own newsroom. And it was a scene of non-stop activity, full of students monitoring social media and websites and TV screens, taking notes, making phone calls, preparing to head out to nearby Canadian Forces Base Trenton to report on what impact the day’s events might be having there, prepping radio newscasts, and producing a constantly-updated running report for QNet News, the website made up entirely of our students’ journalistic work. And I thought: “Wait a minute! I am in a ‘buzzing newsroom’!”

Newsroom in action

All hands were on deck in our newsroom today as everyone worked on local angles to the huge story of the shootings on Parliament Hill in Ottawa.

As I hastened into that newsroom to offer to help (providing a brief break for a colleague, Robert Washburn, who had been in the hot seat directing operations through the morning), I thought: “I’m right at home here. This is what I do.” And in the midst of all the activity, I offered up a brief thanks that my own transition from professional journalist to journalism teacher had landed me in a place where the focus is on practical learning – on teaching students to become multiplatform journalists by working with them as they actually produce multiplatform journalism. Or (to quote a slogan I knew well in my Queensborough youth – the slogan of 4-H clubs, of which I, as a young rural person, was a member more than once): as they “learn to do by doing.”

The other thing I took away from today is how exciting it is to see young journalists experience and work on a huge breaking story for the first time. Our team worked so hard, and did such a good job. The adrenaline in the room was palpable, and it fired up the reporters and editors. At the end of the day they were excited and proud of the work they’d done, and justifiably so.

My heart broke late this afternoon when we got word that the soldier who had been killed had been identified as 24-year-old Cpl. Nathan Cirillo. Not just because it was just such a damn stupid waste; it was really because of the reaction of one of my students, who was preparing to do the 5 p.m. radio newscast. “He was 24,” he said softly, shock and sadness in his voice. “Twenty-four. That’s just a year older than I am.” Suddenly it was very, very real. For him. And for me.

This evening, my heart was again touched, by another one of my students. It was warmed to the core by his post in our program’s Facebook group: “Wanted to say it was great working with everyone involved with the Ottawa Situation. Was a nice taste of the real job.”

For a veteran journalist like me, there’s probably not a thing in the world better than to see these brand-new journalists find out about the thrill, the scariness, the realness, the rawness, the demands, the stress, the fun and – perhaps most of all – the teamwork of covering news.

These young people will go far. I am very, very proud of them.

Is this the ultimate late-1960s song?

One late afternoon two or three weeks ago, when I was on my way home to the Manse from work in Belleville, I stopped in the village of Madoc to do a couple of library/post-office errands. When I got back into the car and turned it on, the radio of course came on too – and I caught the last few tantalizing notes of a song that was oh so familiar, and yet I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was.

Freddy Vette

Here’s Freddy Vette in action as the leader of Freddy Vette and the Flames – the wildly popular live band that he runs on the side of his equally popular radio show. (Photo from freddyvette.com)

(The program I was listening to, Hastings County residents won’t be surprised to hear, was the Freddy Vette Show on CJBQ Belleville, 800 on your AM dial – the station I grew up with here at the Manse in Queensborough. Freddy is a supremely gifted DJ, musician, musical historian [there is nothing about the music of the 1950s and ’60s that he doesn’t know], comic – and graduate of the radio-broadcasting program at Loyalist College, where I now teach. His show, featuring the music of the ’50s and ’60s, is wildly popular locally, and with good reason; he is an entertainer par excellence. [Check out his website here, and an excellent article about him from Country Roads magazine here.] Even though I am not a huge fan of ’50s music [doo-wop and the like], Freddy plays enough good nostalgic stuff from the ’60s, peppering it with his always-entertaining commentary, to keep me tuned in every afternoon.)

Anyway, back to the fading notes of that song I couldn’t quite identify. It had strings. It had bass. And more to the point it had something – something kind of wistful and musical at the same time that I couldn’t identify but that instantly told me (or my subconscious) that it came from the era of bouffant hairdos and Dippity-Do, of Vietnam and TV magazines that featured Green Acres, and movie magazines that featured Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. It came from the era of Avocado Green, of living-room-showpiece hi-fi units sold at Pigden Electronics on the main street of Madoc. It came from the time of both the easy-listening vibe of Little Green Apples and the swampy rage of Fortunate Son.

It was, of course – as I discovered when I checked Freddy’s daily blog about his show – Wichita Lineman.

Was there ever a song more representative of the final few years of that incredible decade than that wistful, tuneful and, yes, weird composition by Jimmy Webb (yes, the man who brought you the sublime Galveston and the sublimely awful MacArthur Park, among others), as sung by the truly great Glen Campbell?

People, I am open to your thoughts. But my answer to my own question is this: I think not.