This is dedicated to the one I love

Oban scotch on a cold, rainy day

Cheers to Raymond on his birthday! Here’s a very recent photo of him enjoying a small glass of Oban scotch whisky as a warmup on a cold, rainy day in Kennebunkport, Maine. It seemed appropriate because almost exactly a year ago, we had visited the whisky’s distillery in the beautiful coastal Scottish town of Oban.

Today we interrupt the regular goings-on here at Meanwhile, at the Manse to pay tribute to someone who plays a critical role in everything that goes on at the Manse. As it happens, today (July 30, 2018) is that person’s birthday, and quite a significant birthday at that. (I won’t say what it is, save that it is five years more significant than the last significant birthday.) You’ve probably guessed that the person I’m talking about is none other than my husband, Raymond. He’s feeling a little put out about having reached this landmark birthday. So let’s try to cheer him up a little by reminding ourselves – and him – of what a remarkable and wonderful guy he is.

As Raymond might well be the first to tell you, probably the single biggest proof that he loves me is this quote that crosses his lips fairly frequently: “I came to Queensborough!”

Queensborough, of course, being the location of the Manse, the house that I grew up in during the heady midcentury days of the 1960s and ’70s. As you know through almost countless (oh, okay: 1,334) posts here in this space, Queensborough is a beautiful and interesting place to be. But let’s just say it was not exactly where Raymond had envisioned spending his retirement years. In fact, until Raymond met me, he’d never heard of Queensborough. (I know, it’s hard to believe, but it’s true.) The places he dreamed of retiring to were, you know, a farmhouse in the south of France. Or a rambling cottage on the New England coast. (Raymond is a native of Lowell, Mass., so a born-and-bred New Englander.) Or a nice big flat in Paris. Or his beloved Eastern Townships of Quebec, a beautiful place where, during his long career as managing editor and then executive editor of the Montreal Gazette, he lived part-time for several years. Queensborough was not exactly on his radar.

Raymond in his Gazette office

Raymond in his days as executive editor of the Montreal Gazette – a life far, far removed from the one he now leads in Queensborough.

But you know that saying “Happy wife, happy life”? Raymond appears to be a subscriber to that philosophy. I wish I could capture the look that came over his face the day I told him back in late 2011 that I’d just discovered that the Manse, my beloved childhood home in Queensborough – a fixer-upper located an inconvenient 4½-hour drive from our home and work in Montreal – was for sale at the price I could afford, and that the die was cast; we had to buy it. The look certainly wasn’t one of horror; I’d describe it more as a mix of:

  1. Surprise;
  2. I’m bracing myself;
  3. Gulp; and
  4. Loving support.

And with that, our joint adventure in Queensborough began.

We bought the Manse in January 2012. For the first year and three-quarters, it was our house in the country, the place we’d get to for a weekend once or twice a month after a long work week at the Gazette, and for somewhat longer periods during the summer.

Those were the days of Raymond discovering, and me rediscovering, what life in Queensborough, a tiny village in very rural Eastern Ontario, was like. We learned about the importance of things like:

  • Vacuuming ladybugs and cluster flies and wasps and other seasonal winged visitors out of the windows (and everywhere else) in the Manse:

raymond bugs

  • Appreciating prizewinning giant watermelons at the Madoc Fair:

Raymond and the watermelons

Raymond and the newly painted oil tank

Red Truck Ray

  • Shovelling the driveway after every snowstorm:

Raymond shovelling

clothesline

  • Planting trees – this elm is the first of two (the other was a maple) we successfully planted in the Manse’s front yard:

Raymond elm tree

  • Doing yard work, when you have quite a large yard (and a lot of trees dropping leaves and needles):

Raymond yard work

Raymond helping the turtle

Raymond on carving duty

  • A hairdryer when the pipes under the kitchen sink freeze:

hairdryer on frozen pipes

Raymond tries our crokinole

To name just a few.

Among Raymond’s many adventures in living at the Manse these past six years have been:

  • Cooking in a kitchen that is ridiculously small, is serviced with ancient (midcentury Harvest Gold) appliances, and has essentially zero counter space. Oh! But it does have the washing machine. (Wait. What?) Here’s Raymond doing his best to produce a great dinner in that tiny space, as he does – very successfully – so many evenings:

Pantry December 2014

  • Cats: As regular readers will know, there are a thousand stories on that front, some happy, some heartbreakingly sad. All our cats (we have five currently) are rescues, and we love them very much. Here is Raymond with Teddy, who was born with a degenerative illness and did not live very long. But while she lived, she was very happy at the Manse, especially when she was in the lap of her beloved dad, “helping” him do his early-morning work:

Teddy loves her dad

  • Considering whether we could justify (or afford) the purchase of a gorgeous small Massey-Ferguson tractor for snowplowing and snowblowing and, you know, whatever else you need a multipurpose tractor for. (We decided we could neither justify nor afford it, but it was fun to dream):

Raymond and the red Massey Ferguson

Raymond at the A-frame

Raymond introducing Paul Wells, Tweed Library

  • Taking on the demanding volunteer job of treasurer of St. Andrew’s United Church in Queensborough; Raymond spends hours every week staying on top of the finances and the books. He also does many other volunteer jobs at St. Andrew’s, the only one of Queensborough’s four original churches that’s still open. Here he is (in checked shirt) doing one of those jobs – pouring coffee and tea at our famous annual Turkey Supper:

Turkey Supper 2016 2

The gang at the QCC booth

The Queensborough Community Centre booth at the Hastings County Plowing Match in 2016. The QCC volunteers are (standing, from left): Raymond Brassard, Dave DeLang, Ludwik Kapusta, Ann Brooks, Barb Ramsay, Joanie Harrison Sims, Elaine Kapusta and Frank Brooks; (seated, from left) Stephanie Sims, Susanna Sims and Tyler Walker.

Raymond and the chipmunk

Those are some excellent adventures!

So today I’d like to invite you all to join me in wishing a very happy significant birthday to Raymond, who is…

  • The keeper of the flag rotation at the Manse, keeping passersby guessing what special day it might be in some country or other based on the flag out front (in this case, the Scottish saltire):

Scottish flag at the Manse

Raymond on Campobello Island

And here he is at the statue of Greyfriars Bobby (a very good wee dog) in Edinburgh:

Raymond and Greyfriars Bobby

  • A willing participant each Christmas season in making the Manse the most Christmassy house of all. Here, for instance, is Raymond gamely installing the Yoda Christmas-light set I had decided I had to have as a decoration for the Manse’s front door:

Raymond putting up the Yoda lights

And here is the fabulous finished product:

Yoda lights at the Manse

Red Sox Ray

  • An avid cribbage player (in the rare junctures, like vacation, that he has time for it); here he is just a few days ago with his sister, Jeannie, and her partner, Bob, considering strategy as he thinks about which card to play next:

Raymond, Jeannie and Bob playing cribbage

  • A newbie chainsaw owner! (Hey, if you live in Queensborough, you kind of have to own a chainsaw.) This is kind of a starter version (and yes, he knows you have to take the blade protector off to actually saw something):

Raymond, chainsaw owner

  • The best cat dad ever. Here is handsome Raymond with handsome Roscoe the kitty:

Raymond and Roscoe

  • Finally, and most importantly, a proud and kind father and grandfather. Here he is with his children (clockwise from top left), Justine, Mathieu and Dominique, and grandson Henry…

Raymond and Roscoe

… and here he is with the newest grandchild, Frédérique (who is very interested in her Pépère’s beard):

Raymond and Fred

Raymond, you are the best. I (along with many, many others) wish you a very happy birthday. And to return to the song referenced in the title of this post, and in keeping with the midcentury vibe that I try keep going at the Manse, I’m dedicating this next number (from 1967 – a very good year) to you: the one I love.

They say our school should be closed. We can push back.

Madoc Township Public School

Madoc Township Public School, opened in 1961 to serve students from the rural area that includes Queensborough. Will this be its final year of operation?

The place where I began my school days, where I learned cursive writing and the times tables and long division and the parts of a flower and the life cycle of a monarch butterfly and how to say “Je m’appelle Katherine” and how to play Red Rover – that school is threatened with being closed at the end of the current school year. And I am very sad about that.

Well, sad – and mad. And mad not necessarily for the reasons you might suspect.

Me in front of Madoc Township Public School

Me in front of my old school.

The school in question is Madoc Township Public School, located a little west of the hamlet of Hazzards Corners, south of the hamlet of Eldorado, and north of the village of Madoc – pretty much dead centre in Madoc Township. That central location is deliberate, because the school was built in 1961 as a big (by the day’s standards) modern central facility to replace the one-room schoolhouses where until then the children of Madoc Township had received their primary-school education – schools at Hart’s, Cooper, O’Hara’s and so on. (I know those geographical references won’t mean anything to readers from outside central Hastings County, but please bear with me on this: they mean a lot to the people who live where I do.)

As time went on, children from one-room schools a little further afield were also moved to Madoc Township Public School. That was the case in 1966 for kids from Queensborough; our hamlet’s one-room school, built in 1901 (and now the Queensborough Community Centre) was closed that summer, and so in September I, along with all the other kids from the village, climbed aboard a big yellow bus to attend the new school a few miles west of us. I was just starting Grade 1 – we didn’t yet have kindergarten – so Madoc Township Public School was my very first educational experience.

I have the happiest of memories of those school years. Educational standards at Madoc Township Public School were high; our principal, the redoubtable Florence McCoy, demanded the best of her staff and students even as she set and encouraged an atmosphere of friendship and support for all. Florence McCoy is one of my all-time heroes. Here she is surrounded by her staff at the time I began school there:

Staff of Madoc Township Public School

The staff of Madoc Township Public School, c. 1966-67: back row, from left, Anna Carman, Sadie Miller, Vera Burnside, Monica Tobin and Evelyn Boyle; front row, from left: Irene Reid, principal Florence McCoy and Gayle Ketcheson. As I’ve said before: best teachers ever.

So you’re probably thinking I’m mad about the threatened closing of Madoc Township Public School because it’s my old school. I expect there’s a bit of that running around in my head and heart, and I don’t know how there couldn’t be. But what I’m really mad about is this being yet another undermining of our rural way of life here in our historic North of 7 part of the world.

Here’s what we know as of this writing about the possible fate of our local school:

A report has been prepared for the school enrolment/school capacity committee of the Hastings Prince Edward District School Board (which oversees all public schools throughout those two counties) recommending several school closings and consolidations because of declining enrolment and the cost of maintaining aging school buildings. The recommendation that affects us here in the Queensborough/Madoc Township area is this (and here I am quoting from the document prepared for the committee):

  • Close Madoc Township Public School and consolidate students to Madoc Public
    School for September 2017.
  • Relocate Grade 7 and 8 students from Madoc Public School to Centre Hastings
    Secondary School, creating a Grade 7-12 model, for September 2017.
  • Explore opportunities for community partnerships aligned with the 2015-2020
    Strategic Plan priorities.

(I have no clue what that third recommendation means. As a journalist who covered the education beat for several years, I learned that there is no human organization more given to bureaucratic bafflegab than school boards.)

Now, I also attended Madoc Public School; that’s where students from Madoc Township P.S. went for grades 7 and 8 when I was a kid here, and that’s still what happens now, more than four decades later. It’s a happy little school, like Madoc Township, and I bear it no malice as I voice my opposition to our school being closed and its students sent there.

But Madoc Public School is almost at capacity now (unlike Madoc Township, or Centre Hastings Secondary School, which is the immediate neighbour of Madoc P.S.), and more to the point, it has almost no land. Its playground area is absolutely minimal – whereas one of the wonderful things about Madoc Township Public School is that it was built in the middle of farm fields and wide open spaces. Here’s just one area of the playground:

playground at Madoc Township Public School

Oh my goodness, what fun we used to have on “Field Day” at Madoc Township Public School, with those wide-open fields for races, high jumping, long jumping and so on. And we played ball in our own ball diamond too!

And here’s another:

Soccer field at Madoc Township Public School

The soccer field at Madoc Township Public School.

And that’s not all of it! There is a lot of space for kids to play at that school.

Now, don’t you think that at a time when kids are getting very little exercise and having a hard time focusing their brains because of the constant distraction of the phones and screens they spend their lives in front of (much like their parents and, let’s face it, all of us), a school with magnificent wide open spaces for good old-fashioned play is – well, a good thing?

Founders' plaques at Madoc Township Public School

Plaques paying tribute to the founders of Madoc Township Public School – including, of course, its founding principal, Florence McCoy.

So I’m mad about this great school, in its unparalleled natural setting, possibly being closed.

And I’m mad about the loss of a rural institution. God knows we here in rural Ontario have enough to contend with – high hydro rates; businesses that struggle to survive in the shadow of people’s incomprehensible (to me, anyway) determination to drive 35 miles to Walmart rather then buying local; less-than-great access to health services – without losing our community school too.

I’ve mentioned that once upon a time I was an education reporter who covered school boards for my local newspaper. One thing I learned from that experience is that nothing gets people more riled up than the threat of their kids’ school being closed. Another, more important, thing that I learned is that if you fight hard enough, you can sometimes win. The school board is directed by paid bureaucrats who make recommendations (like closing Madoc Township Public School); but the actual decisions are made by the trustees elected by you and me, and those trustees’ job is to represent the wishes and needs of their constituents.

On that note, here, central Hastings County, are your local trustees on the Hastings Prince Edward District School Board, along with their contact information:

Bonnie Danes (who once taught at Madoc Township Public School):
Phone: 613-472-6107
Email: bdanes@hpedsb.on.ca

Justin Bray:
Phone: 613-478-3696
Email: jbray@hpedsb.on.ca

I believe you should let them know what you think.

I believe you should, if you have the time, let all the other board trustees know what you think; you can find their contact information (as I did for Bonnie Danes and Justin Bray) at the school board’s website here. (Also: board chair Dwayne Inch is at 613-476-5174, dinch@hpedsb.on.ca; the top bureaucrat at the board, director of education Mandy Savery-Whiteway, is at 1-800-267-4350, x2201, directors.office@hpedsb.on.ca.)

If you can manage it, go to the meetings where this important decision will be discussed; there is great power in numbers, and in representation. The first such meeting (which crops up rather suspiciously soon, in my view, after the news about the planned closures emerged late this past Friday) is supposed to take place this very day (Monday, Nov. 21 – though the current weather situation might have an impact) at Prince Edward Collegiate Institute in Picton at 3:30 p.m., when the aforementioned school enrolment/school capacity committee meets. That will be followed later today by a full meeting of the board, also at PECI in Picton, at 7 p.m.

At those meetings and the others that will follow, make your case for why Madoc Township Public School is a vital part of our community. Elect spokespeople. Organize. Don’t be intimidated by anyone who might suggest they know more about our school, or the needs of our community, than we do.

I think we should stand up for our school, and for the sustainability of our rural way of life. It’s important. Let’s not give up without a fight.

The stories that we tell

Madoc Ontario c. 1960 (from postcard)

A postcard showing off the main street of Madoc in about 1960 (a very good year), generously shared by fellow central Hastings County storyteller Russell Prowse.

One of the absolute best things about being the creator, curator and general dogsbody here at Meanwhile, at the Manse is that quite often readers share their stories with me. This brings two large benefits. One, the stories are invariably enlightening and/or entertaining – whether they be about local (i.e. Queensborough-area) history, or about their own family history, or old-home-renovation success or horror stories, or memories from the mid-20th-century era when I was a kid growing up here at the Manse, or – well, whatever. And the second big benefit is that these stories provide me with interesting new material to in turn share with the readership as a whole, and thus to build up the amount of shared knowledge and anecdotes that one can find right here at Manse Central. And of course, stories that come in and are shared tend to prompt even more memories and stories. It’s a productive and happy little process.

Pigden Motor Sales sign at Bush Furniture

The old Pigden Motor Sales sign that made a brief reappearance during renovations to the exterior of the building’s current occupant, Bush Furniture.

Today I want to share a story that is not my own, but that is very close to home. It comes from reader Russell Prowse, who posted a comment a little while back on a post I did about the brief reappearance (due to some renovations at Bush Furniture in Madoc) of a long-ago sign from when the building housed Pigden’s Garage. Since some readers probably won’t have seen the comment, here’s what it said:

“I have a postcard of Madoc from about 1958 or 1959 which is a photo of Highway 62 in the centre of town, facing north. Directly opposite Kincaid Brothers’ Red & White Super Market and immediately south of the Madoc 5c & 10c store, beside the Cafe Moira, is a large sign over the western sidewalk that reads “Ford, Monarch, Falcon”. [Note from Katherine: I believe this would have been Brett’s Garage.] I imagine it identified only the office for the dealership. I can’t imagine there was any kind of showroom in that small storefront for any vehicles sporting those three venerable badges. I wish I could give further clarification, but I was a very young kid at the time, and my family of cottagers were just beginning our long relationship with Madoc’s main street. I’d love to send you a copy of the postcard if you’d be interested. Thanks for your great efforts in providing such happy memories. More power to you.”

Now if that isn’t the kind of comment to gladden a blog writer’s heart, I don’t know what is!

Of course I responded to Russell’s comment on the blog. But I also sent him a private email – when people post comments, I am able to see their email address, though other readers are not – thanking him for his kind words and issuing a hearty invitation to send along that vintage picture postcard of main-street Madoc. Which he did!

Now, it turned out that it was a picture that had crossed my path before, and that I’d written about after discovering it framed and hanging in the Madoc used-book store The Bookworm; that post is here. But my photo of it at the time of that post, back in 2014, was basically a picture of a picture, reflections in the glass and weird angle and all. Thanks to Russell scanning the postcard, you can see the real thing at the top of this post, and it is a lovely trip back in time for anyone who remembers Madoc in the middle of the last century.

But really, even better than the picture was Russell’s own story of his connection with Madoc and how he came to have that postcard. And so this evening I’m going to let him tell the story. All you have to do is sit back and enjoy:

My connection with Madoc is due to my family’s yearly summer visits to Steenburg Lake, north of Madoc, near the hamlets of Gilmour and St. Ola.

Our Mom would drive us up from Toronto on the last day of school and we’d return on Labour Day. We were so lucky. We have been going there for sixty years now, starting when I was about five, and we still own our cottage. The postcard (probably purchased at the Rexall) just slightly pre-dates my strongest memories of the street: I don’t remember Cafe Moira, but I certainly remember the Madoc five and dime for its bags of plastic toy soldiers and beach paraphernalia. I remember Stickwood’s, where we could buy Bell brand (as in Belleville) flannel shirts. I would look at the records at Pigden’s, and buy my comics at Johnston’s Rexall. But across the street, in Rupert’s, the other drug store, where the really, really nice white-haired man worked, I would gaze, week after week, with deep longing at an outstanding collection of harmonicas on sale. Harmonicas! Eventually I bought my first Hohner Chromatic there with, I suspect, a little financial help from him (the Chromatic’s the one with the little push button at the side, like Stevie Wonder plays, and it isn’t cheap), and the white-haired man tossed in his friendly encouragement as a bonus. I wish I could remember his name. I’ll never forget his kindness.

Our shopping day was Thursday, I think, and that meant lunches at Richard’s Restaurant, SW corner of 62 and 7, which we called Johnny’s because we believed that was the name of the man who ran it. I’ll have a turkey sandwich – all white meat, please – on white with fries and a chocolate shake, and excuse me but I have to get up and put a another dime in the jukebox for another play of “Surf City“. That would be the third play, actually, but nobody seemed to mind. I bloody loved that place!

sunset on Steenburg Lake

This is our part of the world: sunset over Steenburg Lake, a little over a half-hour’s drive north of Queensborough. (Photo from the “Scenes from the Lake” gallery at the website of the Steenburg Lake Community Association)

My Dad was the type of guy who went out of his way to get to know people, and that included Kel Kincaid. They were a lot alike, kind of boisterous and sometimes a little too in your face for some. But my Mom and Dad got to know everybody who worked at the Red & White and later the IGA and when we finally got a phone at the cottage they began the habit of calling ahead to the store’s butcher and ordering the week’s BBQ. They swore by “Madoc Meat”. At Steenburg (at the time, still known as Bass) Lake, about half the population of cottagers would make the trek north to Bancroft for supplies. But we always drove the couple of extra miles south to Madoc because we felt it was maybe a bit gentler, a bit friendlier. And for Mom and Dad, that lasted to end of their days. After Kel died and his daughter and son-in-law took over, the friendship continued and in fact they held a bit of a party for my parents’ 50th anniversary – a wonderful and sweet gesture.

I have always felt as though the town was mine too, even though I would only engage with it for a few months a year. I have mourned the losses over the years of the buildings on that street, and the fading of the town. It troubles me. Because I love it.

What absolutely wonderful memories! I think Russell has told the story of many, many families who have come from the city to spend summers enjoying the quiet lakes of central and northern Hastings CountyMoira Lake, Stoco Lake, Crowe Lake, Weslemkoon Lake and so on – and also enjoying their occasional visits to “town” for turkey sandwiches, shopping at the five and dime, and maybe the latest hits on the jukebox. As for sadness about Madoc not being as busy as it once was, I told Russell in my email reply that I too am sad for what is gone, but optimistic about the future thanks to the local-food movement that is starting to take effect in our area; the number of arts companies and arts projects (the arts being the lifeblood of interesting, healthy communities); and to the inevitable spinoff effects of the enormous popularity of our immediate geographical neighbour to the south, Prince Edward County. (Then again, do we really want the rest of the world to discover the secret of our own beautiful and semi-hidden part of the world? Maybe not.)

Anyway, the stories are just great.

As I was starting to think about writing this post, I found there was a long-ago and almost-forgotten song lyric running around in my head – something about “the stories that we tell.” As you can see, I used it for my title, but even at the time I wrote that title I couldn’t remember the song that the line came from. A bit of searching and some memory work finally turned it up, and I thought sharing it might be a nice way to end this post – what with Russell having got the music theme going with his recollection of playing Jan and Dean on the jukebox at Richard’s Restaurant in Madoc all those years ago. The song was written by John Sebastian, but the version I know (from the album called A1A) is by the one and only Jimmy Buffett. What he says at the end of this live performance pretty much goes for me tonight – to Russell and to all readers who share their memories: “Thank you for the stories; thank you for the fun!”

Food news you need: where to get great local sausages

Seed to Sausage on Street View

Thanks to Google Street View, we can all see what sausage-making operation extraordinaire Seed to Sausage of Sharbot Lake looks like. Sadly, the retail end of things isn’t open in the winter. But fear not: I have found a place to buy their products – possibly the best sausages ever!

Ah, Friday night. Often it is a time for a musical interlude here at Meanwhile, at the Manse, as we try to have an entertaining and not-overly-demanding end to the work week. Tonight, however, instead of focusing on the pleasures of music, we’re going to focus on the pleasures of good eating. Good local eating, to be precise.

As far as I know I have no Teutonic or Eastern European blood whatsoever, but I do enjoy a meal that features good sausages. (The absolute best is an Alsatian-style Choucroute Garnie, sauerkraut topped with various kinds of sausages and other porky things, washed down with a nice Riesling, and ideally eaten in a place like the Brasserie de l’Isle Saint-Louis in Paris. Oh, am I digressing?)

Seed to Sausage back label

Proof of how local the superb Seed to Sausage sausages are: the address of the operation, south of Sharbot Lake.

As I wrote here, I discovered possibly the best sausages I’ve ever eaten, made locally to boot, at a food event held in Tweed this past September. The company that makes these extraordinary sausages is called Seed to Sausage, and it is based in tiny Sharbot Lake, about an hour’s drive east of Queensborough along Highway 7 (and then south a bit on Highway 38).

Now, Seed to Sausage does have a retail outlet at the Sharbot Lake home base, but it’s closed in the wintertime. And it has an actual store in Ottawa, but Ottawa is far. And so I’d been hoping to find someplace closer that might have these delectable sausages – and now I have! And that’s what I am here to report this evening. Because I think everyone who appreciates a good sausage every now and then needs to know.

So here’s the skinny (possibly the wrong word to use when one is talking about sausages): you can buy the products of Seed to Sausage at a new food store – it opened this past December – in downtown Belleville (249 Front St. to be exact) that is called Gourmet Diem. The store’s web page seems to be still under construction and doesn’t provide any information, but you can read about Gourmet Diem here, in a nice little story done by one of my students in the Loyalist College journalism program.

Seed to Sausage sausages

The Garlic Red Wine sausages feature wine from Prince Edward County. Nice!

Raymond and I finally got a chance to try some Seed to Sausage products from Gourmet Diem just this past week, and I am very happy to report that both the Jalapeno Cheese Curd Smokies (made, as I reported in that earlier post, with cheese curds from Empire Cheese of Campbellford, possibly the best local cheddar-cheese-maker of all) and the Garlic Red Wine sausages (made with wine from the Casa-Dea Estates Winery of Prince Edward County) were superb.

So there you go, fellow sausage lovers. Try them now, and thank me later. These are sausages that sing!

I guess my mum was right.

Electric frying pan at the Manse

Electric frying pans may not be fashionable now the way they were in the middle of the 20th century, but our new model served its primary purpose – warming up tea biscuits – very well indeed. Doesn’t it look chronologically appropriate atop our 1970s Harvest Gold stove?

When I was a kid growing up here at the Manse, one of the small appliances that was in extremely heavy rotation in our kitchen was the electric frying pan. My mum, Lorna Sedgwick, used it for all the things that many people would have used a non-electric frying pan for: that is, frying bacon and eggs, sautéing (canned) mushrooms, and making grilled cheese sandwiches. She also used it to fulfill what is now the primary role of the then-uninvented microwave oven: to warm up leftovers. And finally, she used it for what I have decided was its highest and best purpose, which was to warm up dinner rolls from the bakery or supermarket.

Since I grew into a teenager as snotty and snarky as is the next teenager, I used to make fun of my mum’s use of this old-fashioned appliance. (Which, by the way, she had almost certainly been given as a wedding or shower gift; she and my dad were married in 1959.) I haughtily informed her that bacon, and most other things that one fried or grilled, tasted better when done in a cast-iron frying pan that sat directly on the stove. And also that in using such a pan (or its successor in my culinary life, the non-stick non-electric frying pan) there was no bother about an electrical cord and, besides, it was easier to wash up. But Mum always stoutly defended her electric frying pan, cord and all, and in fact does to this day.

Can you see where I’m going with this? Of course you can. Guess who just recently acquired the very first electric frying pan of their lives? It’s Raymond and me, of course. Which means that once again there is just such a thing in that same Manse kitchen.

Proctor Silex Factory Store

The sign that caught our eye in Picton.

Here’s how it came about – and in telling you the tale I might be doing you a shopping service. When Raymond and I were down in Picton, in neighbouring Prince Edward County, one day late last month, we noticed a sign for a “Proctor-Silex/Hamilton Beach factory outlet.” Well! Picton seemed like an odd place for such a thing, but that made it all the more important that we check it out. And sure enough, there, in an utterly nondescript building with minimal and unenthusiastic signage, was indeed a Proctor-Silex/Hamilton Beach factory outlet! With all kinds of different appliances at pretty decent prices, especially the ones that were on back-to-school special.

Wondering how the heck this happened to be, I asked a pleasant person behind the counter whether the “factory” of the “factory outlet” in the place’s title was also in the building, or at least in Picton. She told me that the appliances were all made elsewhere and imported, but that the Picton operation is the distribution centre for the whole of Canada. Now isn’t that something!

nside the Proctor-Silex factory store

Browsing at the factory outlet, where there are lots of small appliances.

We left with three appliances: an ice-cream maker (electric, that is; not the kind that requires rock salt, a bucket, and endless hours of churning); a coffee maker (to replace our old one, which dripped coffee all over everything when you poured); and – yes – an electric frying pan. They were on special sale, you see. And as I noted to Raymond, we don’t have a microwave, so warming up leftovers is kind of a nuisance.

And way more to the point, there is no better way to warm up dinner rolls than in an electric frying pan. Why? Because the low heat you can set it to, and the lid you place securely on top, allows them to get warm while staying nice and soft – not too crispy, as happens when you put them in the oven, but not too mushy, which is the inevitable result of microwaving them.

And how did I know this wondrous thing about electric frying pans? Because my mum told me, that’s how. Raymond and I put it to its first test this past weekend, warming up some buttermilk tea biscuits (yum) from Madoc‘s Hidden Goldmine Bakery to accompany the corn chowder that I’ve already told you about – the one that was delicious but would have been better had some slab bacon been available to add to it.

Anyway, the tea biscuits were perfect. Raymond was happy. And my mum was right.

Here is a downright poetic thing to do this long weekend

Purdy - Active Arts August Ah, the last days of summer. They are upon us, people. It is hard to believe how quickly July and August have passed. And now we have shorter days and cooler nights – and, looking on the bright side, the glories of autumn in North-of-7 Ontario soon to come.

But hey, we still have the long Labour Day weekend to look forward to! And this evening I am here to tell you about an event that you should attend, should you be of a literary bent, or of a local-cultural-events bent, or of a Prince Edward County bent, or really if you’re just interested in something cool and different to do, on the Saturday of this Labour Day weekend.

It is an event celebrating Al Purdy, perhaps Canada’s greatest poet and a local Hastings County boy (by way of Wooler – which, yes, is probably actually in neighbouring Northumberland County, but only just – and Trenton). Longtime readers will know that I am a huge fan of Purdy, in part because his famous poem The Country North of Belleville so perfectly describes the landscape where our beloved Queensborough and Manse are located. In fact, I’ve made so many references to Purdy and his work, and to Purdy-connected events, since this blog started that tonight I’ve gone and got myself organized and created a new Al Purdy category right here at Meanwhile, at the Manse. If you click on that category on the home page you’ll find all kinds of stuff by me connected to Al.

Anyway: the event I’m going on about is a fundraiser for the Al Purdy A-Frame Association, a non-profit group that has done a miraculous job of preserving and restoring the very rustic A-frame cottage that Al and his wife, Eurithe, built on Roblin Lake at Ameliasburgh. That cottage, as I’ve written here, was the place not only where Al wrote many wonderful poems, but where he and Eurithe welcomed generations of Canadian writers, both established and famous and unknown but up-and-coming. It is a very important place in Canadian literary history – and for those of us in Hastings and Prince Edward counties (and Northumberland County and Lennox and Addington too) it’s right here in the back yard.

While the cottage has been purchased and mostly fixed up, there’s still lots to be done – not only on the property, but to ensure the continuance of a new writer-in-residence program whereby young Canadian poets stay for a few months at a time at the A-frame, pursuing their literary work but also keeping the flame burning for Al and his legacy, and for the magic of poetry in general.

Now, I could tell you all the detaila about Saturday’s event – which takes place at Rednersville, on the shores of the beautiful Bay of Quinte – but you can get a lot of it from the poster that you see at the top of this post. And what you really should do is check out the entertaining and enticing stuff in posts here and here and here and here at the marvellous Purdy-themed blog In Search of Al Purdy, written by our brilliant friend Lindi Pierce. I urge you to go enjoy those posts  – and, if you’d like a good laugh, Al’s poem When I Sat Down to Play the Piano, which Lindi makes reference to in this one.

Raymond and I will certainly be on hand for the event, having been involved to a greater or lesser extent (greater for Raymond, considerably lesser for me) in the A-frame project for the past few years. We’d love to see you there – and to raise with you a glass of a new beer being made by Prince Edward County’s Barley Days brewery in honour of Al, and to financially support the A-frame. Its unusual name, A Sensitive Man, is taken from Al’s legendary poem At the Quinte Hotel, wherein he proclaims himself (even as he is drinking rather large quantities of beer at that classic old tavern) just such a man. As I’m sure he was.

Anyway, an afternoon of music, poetry, theatrical readings, food, celebration of Al Purdy, support of a good cause, and beer called A Sensitive Man – what more could you ask for on the last weekend of summer?

A local musical blast from the country-singin’ past

The Singing Post FamilyPeople, do the words “The Singing Post Family” mean anything to you?

The Posts were a family country-music band quite well-known and popular in the Hastings County area (where I grew up at the Manse in Queensborough) back in the late 1960s and 1970s. (How far into the ’70s, or beyond, the band kept going, I’m afraid I do not know.) But only recently did I discover the probable reason for their popularity in this region: it was because they were from here. The album cover of a vinyl treasure that I found at the Madoc Thrift Shop (source of many treasures, in my experience), called simply The Singing Post Family, says they are from neighbouring Prince Edward County. A quick internet search narrowed that down to the village of Carrying Place. (If you’re interested, Carrying Place got its unusual name because it was the place of a long portage for the First Nations people who first lived and moved through the area. You can read more about that here.)

Because they were local performers, the Posts were doubtless regulars on the regional country-music circuit (fall fairs and jamborees), which in turn would explain why they were “names” to residents of this area. But I actually think their fame may have spread further, and I’d be interested to hear from anyone who might know more about that.

The Singing Post Family, back cover

The back cover of the LP The Singing Post Family. (Note how a fan in the household of its previous owner doodled the singers’ names. Cute!)

Anyway, in the great tradition of family groups – the Carter Family, the Jackson 5 and of course the Partridge Family (Hahaha! Just pulling your leg) – the Posts were a real family band: Dad Norman, daughters Joanne and Debra, and son Kenneth. The record that I found at the thrift shop – which appears to be their first, given its eponymous title – unfortunately has no date anywhere on it, but the album cover says that they “started singing country music as a family in 1967,” so it has to be at least a year or two later than that. At the time of the record, again according to the album cover, Joanne was 17, Debra 13 and Kenneth 7.

Here is the only song by the Post Family that I could find on YouTube. It’s not a song I know, and I don’t find it as interesting as the tracks on the album that I dug out at the thrift shop, but it’ll give you an idea of what they sound like:

I was tickled to death to find my Singing Post Family album. It wasn’t in great shape, but given that I paid something like a quarter for it, so what? It was the memories that it brought back that mattered – and boy did it bring back memories! This baby has a whole bunch of classic country tunes on it. They’re all (as far as I can tell) covers of songs that much bigger stars first recorded, but the Posts definitely have that old-timey country twang, and I have to say they lend the right spirit to material like D-I-V-O-R-C-E (made monstrously famous by Tammy Wynette, of course), Green Green Grass of Home (sung by everybody back in the day, like some other songs I wrote about here, but quite famously by Merle Haggard), and Daddy Sang Bass, which Johnny Cash and the Carter Sisters were known for.

Some of the other titles on the track list were not immediately familiar to me, but once I put the record on for a spin (yes, people, Raymond and I actually have a record player; would you have expected any less from such collectors of vintage stuff?), it all came hurtling back to me, WHAM! Man, did I know those songs! Songs like:

If you don’t love me, baby
If you’re not satisfied
If you don’t care, get on your horse
And ride, ride, ride.
– Ride Ride Ride, made famous by Lynn Anderson

Don’t it make you wanna go home now?
Don’t it make you wanna go home?
All God’s children get weary when they roam;
Don’t it make you wanna go home?
– Don’t It Make You Wanna Go Home, recorded by its writer, Joe South (who also wrote Games People Play – remember that one?), and Bobby Bare, among others

Her two little feet would come running into
Our bedroom almost every night.
Her soft little face would be wet from her tears
And her little heart pounding with fright.
She’d hold out her arms, then she’d climb in beside us
In her small voice, we’d hear her remark,
“Mommy and Daddy, can I sleep here with you?
‘Cause Jeannie’s afraid of the dark.”
– Jeannie’s Afraid of the Dark, written by the brilliant Dolly Parton and first recorded by Parton and Porter Waggoner

There’s a whole lotta people lookin’ down their noses at me
‘Cause I didn’t come from a wealthy family.
There was ten of us livin’ in a two-room shack
On the banks of the river by the railroad track.
We kept chickens in a pen in the back, and everybody said we was po’ folks.
– Po’ Folks, made famous by Bill Anderson

(Here is a fun little dissection of the Posts’ version of that last one, by blogger Graham at The Vinyl Resolution [thevinylresolution.blogspot.ca], who, like me came across their record by happenstance.)

Anyway, now I’m not sure whether I recognized those songs, and others like them on The Singing Post Family, because of the original versions that would have been on the radio and on other people’s LPs and singles back in my childhood – or because of the local renown and well-known repertoire of the Singing Post Family.

Whatever, I have to reiterate that Norman, Joanne, Debra (I think she was known locally by the familiar Debbie) and Kenneth (ditto: Kenny) had a great old-fashioned, down-home country sound, and I think they totally deserved whatever fame they found, locally or further afield. Their music sounds thoroughly retro to the modern ear. But hey – what’s wrong with that?