The lucky penny from long ago

The lucky pennyThe Manse had some houseguests this past week, and that was a very nice thing. But this story is not about the houseguests, delightful as it was to spend some time again with Raymond’s sisters from the Boston area. This story is about what happened just before the guests got here.

I suspect I am not alone in having a tendency to leave serious housecleaning duties until I am forced into it by the imminent arrival of guests. (I should add that my husband, who leans toward the neat-freak category – though in the nicest possible way – does not have this failing.) So as usual in the day or two leading up to the visit, I transformed myself into a bit of a Bugs Bunny Tasmanian Devil, whipping around the house, upstairs and down, dusting, washing, Windexing and especially tidying (i.e. putting things where they should have been put when they first entered the Manse, as opposed to an in-between spot on one of the Manse’s two stairways as they awaited their final landing place). Raymond of course did his part (to put it mildly) with lots of cleaning and tidying and especially vacuuming, a task that I loathe.

Sieste the cat in my old bedroom

The view (featuring the late and much-loved Sieste the cat) of the childhood bedroom of my sister, Melanie, and me

Anyway. On the evening before the visit, I was up in one of the guest bedrooms, a spot particularly close to my heart because it was my bedroom (well, mine and my sister’s) through my childhood and early teens when I was growing up in this very house. I was in the process of putting nice crisp linens on the bed, which of course means doing a lot of back and forth, tucking in sheets and whatnot. And as I was doing this back and forth around the bed, something caught my eye.

Vintage linoleum mat 1

A detail from one of the Manse’s linoleum mats, this one in the master bedroom.

It was a small round raised spot in the vintage linoleum mat that covers much of the wooden floor of that bedroom, and in fact all the bedrooms in the Manse. Long ago – that post is here – I told you about how delighted I was when Raymond and I discovered these midcentury floor coverings not long after buying the Manse, as part of the necessary task of removing some 1970s carpeting that had seen better days many days before. At the time I wrote about somehow preserving some semblance of those linoleum “carpets” laid down on the original wooden floors; since then, we have grown extremely attached to them, and it is very likely they will remain just where they are even after the house is renovated. They are a lovely vernacular midcentury touch, and the colours are cool.

But back to that round raised spot. Here’s what it looked like (centre of the photo, tending toward the bottom – it’s hard to spot, and so you can probably understand why no one had seen it before this):

Penny-shaped outline in the vintage linoleum mat

“It looks like there might have been a coin stuck under there once,” I mused absent-mindedly to myself as I fluffed pillows and tucked in corners. And then I stopped and looked at it again, and said to myself, “Hey, self – maybe there is a coin stuck under there.” And reached under the linoleum mat. And pulled out – a penny from 1965.

Nineteen-sixty-five, people! Do you realize how long ago that is?

In 1965, Expo 67 was still in the planning stages. Nobody had heard of Pierre Trudeau. John Robarts was the premier of Ontario, and you couldn’t order a drink on a Sunday in his province. The Sound of Music was the movie of the year. The pop hits included a brand-new number from the Rolling Stones called Satisfaction …

… as well as Help!, Ticket to Ride and Eight Days a Week from the Beatles, What’s New, Pussycat? by Tom Jones, Unchained Melody from the Righteous Brothers, and one of my all-time favourites, Petula Clark’s Downtown. Oh, and Roger Miller’s classic King of the Road:

I was five years old.

My family had only moved into the Manse the year before as my father, The Rev. Wendell Sedgwick, took up duties as minister of the Queensborough Pastoral Charge of the United Church of Canada. I don’t think I’m giving away any secrets when I say that rural ministers in those days did not make princely salaries. Which means that no coins, even pennies – “coppers,” my dad used to call them, now that I think of it – went to waste at the Manse. Why, that penny could have bought my sister or me two blackballs or two wintergreens from the vast penny-candy selection at McMurray’s general store “down’t street” in Queensborough! We would never have let it go astray knowingly.

But go astray it somehow did – very possibly not right in 1965, when it was newly minted; but sometime before the linoleum mats were covered by that garish carpeting early in the 1970s. And there the penny lay from that day until this past Tuesday night, April 5, 2016. Forty-five years or so.

Call me sentimental, but as I examined the penny I’d just discovered, I couldn’t help but think about all the things that had happened in those 45 or so years – things that had happened in that very room; in this Manse; and in this big old world. As the penny lay hidden, I grew from a little kid into a teenager; my family moved away from this house, and a series of other ministers and their families came and went; prime ministers and presidents took the world stage and moved on; movie hits went from the sweetness of The Sound of Music to the grittiness of Midnight Cowboy and Chinatown, and then on to the megahits like Star Wars and all those comic-book-themed extravaganzas. Pop music went from the Beatles to the Eagles to Fleetwood Mac to the Sex Pistols to Nirvana to Kanye and Beyoncé. And still the penny lay hidden and unchanged, even as every single thing in the world around it changed practically beyond recognition.

You won’t be surprised to know that I have stored the penny in a special place, and that I think of it as my lucky penny. There are times – and the evening that I found it was one of them – when I think I am the luckiest person in the world, to be living once again in the house I grew up in, in the beautiful and largely undiscovered corner of the world that we locals call North of 7. And to have seen and lived through as much as I have, the wonders that this wonderful world has to offer, in all the years that my penny lay hidden and lost.

Is it silly to say that I wish the penny could tell me the stories of what transpired in my old bedroom through all those years it lay there?

Is it silly to say that I’d like to tell my penny some of the stories of the things that have happened to me in all those years?

It probably is. And maybe those stories don’t even need to be told. But I’m glad I have been prompted at least to think about them, and about all that can happen as a penny lies lost. My lucky penny was a lucky find.

You know you’re living in the country when…

Manse mailbox

Our mailbox, properly accessible, on the sparkling cold morning after two days of non-delivery of mail because we had been neglectful of the winter obligation of keeping it completely shovelled out. Lesson learned!

Anyone who lives in a rural area of Canada knows the following rule: You have to shovel out the mailbox.

That is: If it is winter, and if your mailbox is on the side of the road that runs in front of your house, you have to shovel away any snow that accumulates in front of it. If you don’t, the person who delivers your mail won’t be able to drive up to it, open its door from inside his or her vehicle, and pop your mail in. (Canada Post‘s rules prohibit mail deliverers from getting out of their vehicles to put stuff in your mailbox. I expect it’s primarily a safety precaution, but possibly also a time-saving measure.)

Now, longtime readers of Meanwhile, at the Manse might remember that I have previously declared myself fully cognizant of that winter requirement on the mailbox front. In a post I did a couple of years ago (and which you can read in full here), I invoked my late father, The Rev. Wendell Sedgwick, in recounting how I was making it a point in the midst of a very snowy winter to keep the mailbox shovelled out so as to clear a path for the mail carrier. And I’ve kept up my mailbox resolution, shovelling it out many, many times since that post was written.

But as those of you who live in the northeastern part of North America know, the winter of 2015-16 has not, to date at least, been a very snowy one. I’ve shovelled out the mailbox a few times this winter, and Raymond has too; but when the amount of snow on the ground is little more than an inch or two, mailbox shovelling is not top of mind as an essential Manse chore. As a result of this complacency, two things happened recently: one, we failed to get mail for a couple of days; and two, I learned a valuable and happy lesson in how things work in small towns and rural areas.

Last Wednesday, Raymond and I were thoroughly puzzled when the red flag on our mailbox – the indicator that one does, in fact, have mail – failed to go up. There were a couple of things we were vaguely expecting to arrive that day; but more to the point, Wednesday is the day that the Tweed News weekly newspaper comes by mail, and the Tweed News never fails to appear. Why, the only thing surer than that columnist Evan Morton (curator of the wonderful Tweed and Area Heritage Centre) will have a good read in the paper about some aspect of Tweed’s history is the fact that the paper will show up, like clockwork, on Wednesday in the mailbox.

Not last week, though. “That’s odd,” Raymond and I said to each other Wednesday evening at the non-appearance of the Tweed News – and any other mail. But we shrugged and assumed that everything had just been delayed a day for some reason.

But when no mail – and especially no Tweed News – appeared Thursday, we suspected something might be wrong. It never crossed our minds that an unshovelled mailbox was the problem; we hadn’t taken the shovel to it in a while, but there seemed no reason to. The amount of snow on the ground was pretty small, and to the casual observer (i.e. us, from our front porch), the mailbox looked quite accessible.

But that is where we had it wrong. And that is how I learned my lesson.

On my way to work in Belleville on Friday morning, I stopped in to our local post office, which is in the village of Madoc. (Long gone, and very much missed, are the days in my childhood when Queensborough had its own post office at McMurray’s general store, and the late Blanche McMurray was the extremely capable postmistress.)

Madoc Post Office

The Madoc Post Office, where you always get service with a smile.

On duty at the counter that morning was Sheryl, one of the two very pleasant people who staff the Madoc Post Office. “Hi, Sheryl!” I chirped as I walked in. “Hi, Katherine!” she cheerily responded. “Is there something up with the mail?” I asked, starting to explain that we uncharacteristically hadn’t received anything for the past couple of days. (I had worriedly been wondering if our carrier had been ill and they’d been unable to find someone to replace her.) Sheryl knew instantly where I was going with that, and I didn’t even need to finish my sentence. “She [the mail carrier, that is] hasn’t been able to get to your mailbox for the last couple of days,” she explained.

Well! I was mortified, knowing as I so well do, from my earliest childhood, the importance of keeping the mailbox shovelled. I blithered something apologetic about not having realized there was a buildup of snow, plus an assurance that things should be okay as of Friday because the neighbour who snowplows our driveway had, the previous afternoon, taken a good swing at the area in front of the mailbox. Sheryl assured me that all should therefore be well: the carrier had our accumulated mail in the truck with her at that very moment, and so it all should end up in the mailbox that day. And she was right. It did. Tweed News and all.

(Which, I will add parenthetically, was especially good because Raymond had, as in each of the previous few Februarys since we bought the Manse, placed a Valentine’s Day message for me in the classifieds! How sweet is that?)

Valentine in the Tweed News

Raymond’s (“R.B.”) 2016 Valentine’s Day message to me (“K.S.”) in the classifieds of the Tweed News. He generally chooses Shakespeare, my favourite – this time A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

So why am I telling you this story? Because it’s actually not, despite appearances, about an unshovelled mailbox. I didn’t even realize it was a story until the end of the day on Friday, when I was recounting to Raymond (who was in Montreal) my exchange with Sheryl. As I told him how she had had the answer to my query about not getting mail before I could even get that query fully out of my mouth, I suddenly burst out laughing. It was a laugh of delighted recognition at another of the joys of living in a rural area. (For other examples of said joys, I refer you to many hundreds of previous posts here at Meanwhile, at the Manse.)

Think of it this way: if you lived in a larger town, or a city, what are the chances that:

a) You know the first name of the person behind the counter at the post office, and she knows yours?

b) The post office is actually a post office, and not a corner of a Shoppers Drug Mart?

c) The post-office person whose name you know, and who knows yours, is completely familiar with the condition of your mailbox? And knows off the top of her head the specifics of why you haven’t had mail for a couple of days – without having to look into it, or check the computer, or make a phone call, or promise to get back to you, or – most likely of all – tell you it’s not anything he or she knows anything about and therefore why are you bothering him or her with your dumb question? (Though they might phrase it more politely.)

d) The person behind the counter would know the whereabouts of your accumulated mail at that very moment (in the truck with the carrier, on the way to Queensborough)?

My laughter as I told the story to Raymond was delighted laughter – delight at living in a place where people know each other by name, and problems get fixed, and mail gets delivered, and lessons (about always being vigilant about mailbox shovelling) are learned – and we all just get along. And we do it, in part, through knowing more about each other’s business than people in the big city do. Is that a bad thing?

I don’t think so.

And the prize for the most impressive icicle goes to…

Biggest icicle of the winterWell, it seems to have happened, right around the time of the dreaded (by me, anyway) return of Daylight Saving Time: spring is officially in the air. Why, everybody I met today was positively gleeful about the warmth of the sunshine, the 5C temperature, and the melting snow and ice. After this harsh, brutal winter, there is hope! Spring will come!

But before it does, I have to show you this photo of what I have decided is the prizewinning icicle, for this winter anyway, in all of Queensborough. It’s in a very significant place, too: the east side of one of the most historic buildings in our historic village, the former McMurray’s General Store (and before that, Diamond’s Hotel, and before that, the American Hotel; this impressive building was erected as a hotel when Queensborough was a bit of a boom town in the early 1850s).

Now, there has been competition for the prize of most impressive icicle of the winter. Thanks to the bitter cold and all that comes with it, pretty much every house in Queensborough had a quite glorious display of icicles. Here, for instance, is a photo of one of the better ones at the Manse, taken this past weekend:

Icicles at the Manse

Icicles large and not-so-large at the Manse: the one on the upper story, outside the window of the study, was probably four feet long. Not bad, but not the champion.

But that icicle in front of our study window was as nothing compared to the one down at the former McMurray’s store. That was an icicle (I am using the past tense deliberately, because I expect that thanks to the moderating temperatures it will be gone by the time you read this) worthy of the name! It had to be at least 20 feet from top to bottom!

Very impressive. But listen, speaking of icicles: how many of you remember breaking off the smaller-sized ones and sucking them like popsicles, the taste of the wool of your red mittens mixing with the cold clear tastelessness of the ice?

I don’t know about you, but I have to say: could have used a little sugar.

A friendly face from the past: Kel Kincaid of the Madoc IGA

Kel Kincaid in the Toronto Star

Longtime readers might remember that I’ve been known to reminisce about Kincaid Bros. IGA in Madoc. Back when I was a kid growing up in the 1960s and ’70s at the Manse here in the hamlet of Queensborough, Madoc was “town” – the big place. And Kincaid Bros. was a great big shiny modern supermarket compared to Queensborough’s two old-fashioned general stores – Bobbie’s and McMurray’s – where we bought most of our groceries, our gasoline, and lots of other stuff, ranging from penny candy to rubber boots.

Because my mum, Lorna Sedgwick, taught for many years at Centre Hastings Secondary School in Madoc, she did do a fair bit of shopping at Kincaid Bros. At the end of a long day of teaching, that’s where she’d stop in for wieners and beans or hamburger and the other essentials (remember the tasteless tomatoes from Mexico, the only tomatoes you could get in those days when it wasn’t August, that came three to a pack in a green cardboard base covered with Saran Wrap?) that she needed to make supper when she got back home to the Manse. (Because, you know, despite the fact that she taught full-time and had four small kids to deal with, of course it was her job to make dinner. Always. Those were the days, my friend.)

These days, when I go into the wondrous Hidden Goldmine Bakery in Madoc, which is housed in the building where Kincaid Bros. IGA was, I am stunned to think that the same relatively modest space housed what we thought of as a big supermarket – complete with aisles and a meat counter and a produce counter and checkout counters with a bunch of cashiers. But hey, everything was smaller and more modest back then. And I am not at all sure that that was a bad thing.

Anyway: the face of Kincaid Bros. in my memory (and, I think, in the memory of many other people) was Kel (short for Kelvin) Kincaid, who always seemed to be front and centre in the store with a friendly smile and a helpful presence. In a post here, I lamented the fact that the painted plywood figure of a grandfatherly grocer who looked a lot like Kel Kincaid was no longer adorning the side of the building where Hidden Goldmine now is. (After putting that post up, I received the reassuring news that, while “Kel” is no longer up there on the side of the building, he is safely in storage.)

So you might imagine how tickled I was today to receive in the old inbox the image that’s at the top of this post. It came from Keith Kincaid – fellow journalist, and chronicler of the Kincaids of central Hastings County, as I wrote here; and thank you, Keith! – and it shows a page from no less than the mighty Toronto Star in 1972 (back when the Toronto Star was really mighty) in which none other than Kel Kincaid of “Kincaid IGA, Madoc, Ont.” is “Mr. IGA.”

And I only have this to say: it takes me back to happier times and makes me feel better about the world in general to see Kel Kincaid’s smiling face and bow tie once more. (And to see those tasteless Mexican tomatoes on sale, 3 for 99¢!) For all those who, like me, remember Kincaid Bros. IGA – I hope it has the same happy effect on you.

Nobody here but us dogs, cats and people


Here is Oliver, one of my favourites among Queensborough’s dogs and cats.

You won’t be surprised to know that when I was growing up in Queensborough many years ago, everybody knew everybody else. That is especially not surprising because Queensborough is so small. (Today it is smaller still, and by and large everybody still knows everybody else – though I think maybe a little less so than in the old days, something I attribute to the fact that our two general stores are no longer with us. It’s harder to get to know people who live in the area but work and buy their groceries and stuff in some larger centre. Whereas when everyone congregated at the general stores back in the days of in my childhood – for groceries, gas and most especially gossip – you really got to know everybody.)

Anyway, as I’ve mentioned before, not only did we all know each other, we also tended to know each other’s pets – their names, their habits, their personalities. “Oh, there’s (Allan Ramsay‘s big old dog) Jim – well, he’ll be heading back to the store (Bobbie’s store; Bobbie and Allan were eventually married, and that great story is here) for a nap.” (Napping was one of Jim’s favourite things, right over the heat register in the store. I can still hear Bobbie’s voice telling him forcefully, when she thought he should be napping rather than chatting with her customers, “Go lay down!”) Anyway, like that. And such pet knowledge really is the stuff of a small-town (actually small-hamlet) childhood, isn’t it?

Even today, though, in this rather less sociable world we live in (thanks to TV and the internet), Raymond and I aren’t doing too badly when it comes to picking up the names of the local dogs and cats. I haven’t yet learned the name of this friendly dog who came by for a visit and a nap in the shade of our mailbox one day…

My new doggy friend

… but I do know Princess, and Abby, and Rainman, and Oliver, and Fozzie, and Lin-Lin, and Roady, and Chester, and Leroy, and Mother, and Smokey. And sooner or later I’ll figure out the name of that skinny orange cat I keep seeing, the one who hangs out with his lookalike, Roady.

I don’t know about you, but I like the idea of living in a place where the local dogs and cats are, like the local people, your friends and neighbours.

I may have more copies of this book than anyone alive.

Donna Parker in HollywoodDo you still have the books you loved in your childhood? I think the world is probably divided into two kinds of people: those whose response to that question is “Of course I do! I’ll always keep them!” and those who’d say “Why on earth would I?”

Given my many reports (like here and here and here, for instance) on the size of the book collection that Raymond and I have amassed between us, you can probably guess what my answer is. My childhood books are among my dearest treasures.

One book in that childhood collection is a bit of a ’60s oddity. It is Donna Parker in Hollywood, the book you see in the photo at the top of this post. (Although, as I’ll explain, the Donna Parker in Hollywood in that photo is not the Donna Parker in Hollywood that has been with me since my childhood days.) It was one in a relatively short series of books about Donna Parker, a perky American teenage girl who had adventures. (In this she was entirely like all the other perky American teenage girls and young women in the many literary series that were so popular back in the 1950s and ’60s – heroines like Nancy Drew and Cherry Ames and Vicki Barr. You won’t be surprised to know that I loved all those books too.)

I acquired Donna Parker in Hollywood when I was maybe eight or nine years old, growing up in the Manse where I now live once again. And I am almost certain that it was a purchase I made from the fairly limited book selection at McMurray’s General Store in Queensborough. I expect what attracted me to it was the pink cover and the image of that perky American teenager apparently doing something exotic: you know, tropical flower in hair, swimming pool in the background, tropical fruit in the foreground and – most exotic of all – she is eating with chopsticks! (People, that is not something one did in Queensborough, Ont., when I was growing up there.) Truth be told, I still find that cover pretty appealing, although now it’s for the sheer retro-ness of it.

I forgot the plot of Donna Parker in Hollywood many decades ago, except for the general drift that Donna was lucky enough to be able to travel from her home (wherever that was; the Midwest maybe?) to exotic and exciting Hollywood. Where she of course had adventures. But though the details are long gone from my memory, the book itself remains firmly in my possession – and it is all the more precious because it came from long-closed McMurray’s General Store in Queensborough.

The first time I saw another copy of it for sale, at one of the antiques warehouses that Raymond and I love to visit, I was awfully tempted to buy it. Of course I told myself that was dumb, since I already had a copy. But something in the back of my mind kept whispering, “Backup copy!” So: did I resist the temptation?

Of course not. And besides, it was only five bucks or so.

I think my third copy came about because, at the time I found it in an antiques barn, I couldn’t quite remember whether I’d purchased the first backup copy or not. And since this latest one was only about three bucks, I figured what the heck. But I felt kind of sheepish when I got home and realized that I now had three copies in total.

And then a couple of weeks ago, at an auction, I failed to resist the temptation to buy several boxes of books (because that was how they were being sold – a whole box of 20 or so books at a time) for just a few bucks per box. And what did I discover at the bottom of one of those boxes when I’d brought them all home?

You guessed it. Donna Parker in Hollywood. Copy #4. That’s the one you see in the photo.

Hey: is Donna following me around?

Eldorado, then and now

Eldorado, early 20th century

“Downtown” Eldorado, looking south, probably somewhere between 90 and 100 years ago. The rather basic (to put it mildly) road running through it is what is today Highway 62. (Photo courtesy of Grant Ketcheson)

Eldorado, January 2014

The same scene, more or less, photographed by me, January 2014. I love the fact that the former general store (at least, I assume that’s what it was) with the great verandah is still there.

Everybody loves then-and-now photos, right? Or is that just me? Well, anyway, since it’s my blog I’m going to say that everybody does. And I’m happy to say that, thanks – once again – to one of my wonderful readers, I have what I think is a cool set of then-and-now photos for you today, both featuring “downtown” Eldorado, a village in Madoc Township that is maybe seven miles from Queensborough (via Cedar School and Rimington Roads and Highway 62).

Eldorado’s main claim to fame is that it was the site of Ontario’s first gold rush, and that gold rush is of course what gave it its name. (El Dorado having been, as my handy online dictionary puts it, “an imaginary place of great wealth and opportunity; sought in South America by 16th-century explorers.”) Writer Isabella Shaw, who lives near Eldorado, has written a history of the area with a focus on the gold-rush years, called Quest for Gold. Eldorado was also the location of one of the two United churches in the Queensborough-Eldorado Pastoral Charge, of which my father, The Rev. Wendell Sedgwick, was minister between 1967 and 1975; you can read about the pastoral charge here.)

Anyway, the photo at the very top of the post shows Eldorado perhaps a little less than a century ago, with several townsfolk (all of whom look to be male) out for the photo-taking occasion. Note the Bell telephone sign outside what I assume was the general store; I imagine it would have been the only phone in town at the time. (Which makes me wonder whether one of the two general stores in Queensborough in my childhood, Bobbie’s and McMurray’s, might have once housed the only phone in Queensborough. Since the post office was at McMurray’s [until it, along with many rural post offices, was closed], I would put my money on that one if I were a betting woman.)

My source for the vintage photo tells me, “The aproned guy is the blacksmith” and that “The blacksmith shop was to the right, on John Street.”

What a remarkable look back in time!

But what I find most remarkable about the old photo is the road that you can see in it, running south in the direction of Madoc. That rutted, muddy and winding route, my friends, is the precursor of what we now know as beautifully smooth and straight Highway 62 (or, as older folks sometimes call it, “62 Highway”). And that’s one reason why I wanted to take a “now” photo. Let’s just say it makes a person realize that we don’t have much to complain about when it comes to the state of our roads.