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.

Life lessons from a wobbly little cat

Theodora Roosevelt Brassard

Theodora Roosevelt Brassard (better known as Teddy), June 2015-Jan. 22, 2016: the sweetest kitty ever.

I almost can’t believe that the latest news from the Manse is the loss of another beloved cat. Readers mourned with Raymond and me when we lost our dear Sieste (the first Manse Cat); and even before that, when Bayona the chubby and loving calico died suddenly before ever getting to see this big old house that was just made for cats to chase each other around in.

But this past Friday night, little Teddy (short for Theodora Roosevelt Brassard) succumbed, at the age of only seven months, to the neurological illness that she was born with and that began to manifest itself a couple of months after we adopted her and her sister, Honey Bunny, from a feral-cat rescue organization. That illness affected her balance so that she could not jump or climb, or raise her head really; and she had a bit of a to-do getting herself up and onto her feet – finding her sea legs, as Raymond liked to say – when it was time to get up and walk. And then when she did get upright, she walked with a wobble. But she had determination, and she always got there. “Teddymarch!” we would say. In fact, here she comes now:

Teddy was, quite simply, the sweetest cat ever. She loved her people. She loved new people, visiting with them without shyness and with great affection. She loved to be held, or just to be close. Here she is showing how much she adores her dad:

Teddy loves her dad

As Raymond (still in bathrobe) gets an early start on the day’s National Newspaper Awards work, Teddy shows her appreciation for being allowed into his lap.

And here she is helping him at foot level in the kitchen, something she was very fond of:

Teddy helping Raymond in the kitchen

“Teddy underfoot!” Raymond and I would say to each other when we noticed she’d parked herself beside us in the kitchen. (Our highly unrenovated kitchen, I should add – but that will change soon.) One didn’t want to step on her!

Here’s Teddy with Raymond during what was her first and, very sadly, only Christmas. It was a lovely Christmas at the Manse, and it makes me happy that she shared it with us:

Teddy's Christmas

Teddy’s Christmas, 2015. What does she do while curled up in her dad’s lap? Why, Teddypurr, of course. It will be hard not to have her with us next Christmas.

We’d had a close call with Teddy’s health once before, but to our great joy she pulled through. I wrote about that experience here, giving Teddy the Harry Potter title of The Cat Who Lived. Sadly, it turned out to be only a reprieve. Teddy died this past Friday evening.

I hope you’ll pardon me for revisiting the theme of the loss of a feline pet, but I feel like I have to write about Teddy. Mainly it’s because I am just so sad, and telling you folks about what a sweetie Teddy was will make me feel better. And then there’s this: if I don’t write about Teddy, I won’t get a chance to share with you one of the funniest and cutest cat photos you’ll ever see. And we can’t have that. (It’s toward the bottom of this post.)

Teddy’s death was as peaceful as it could have been. For the previous couple of days we had vaguely noticed her showing some small signs of weakening – moving around a little less than was normal for her, and having a slightly harder time getting her legs under her. But it never crossed our minds that she was approaching the end of her short life. Teddy was pretty much herself on Thursday, beginning the day as usual by quietly asking me if she could sit in my lap while I had my morning coffee. Twenty-four hours later, she suddenly could not walk at all, and then lost interest in food and water.

Her final illness really only lasted a day, and we looked after her all of that day. She slept in her soft bed, and she allowed her sister to nuzzle and bathe her:

And then she quietly breathed her last at about 9 o’clock in the evening. She did not suffer. She died in complete peace in a warm, happy and comfortable place, with Honey Bunny, Raymond and me all with her. It was the kind of death we all should wish for when our time comes.

While Teddy’s life was very brief, she had a big impact on our lives – just how big we are in some ways only realizing now that she is gone. I am beginning to understand that the reason for the immense love we felt – and always will feel – for her is the fact that she was a special-needs cat. She needed our help: to steady her sometimes as she tried to get her balance; to clean up after her when she temporarily forgot, during that first health crisis, how to make it to the litter box in time to pee (something she fortunately figured out again eventually); to lift her up and down from places she couldn’t jump; to stop her rambunctious sister from playing too roughly with her; and most importantly, to show her that she was loved as deeply as she loved us. In needing these things from us, she taught us what a gift it is to help someone in need.

I’ve been thinking about all of this a lot over this weekend, in between bouts of weeping for my dear Teddy. And I have concluded that we could all stand to learn some life lessons from the late Theodora Roosevelt Brassard, aged seven months when she left this world for a better place where, I hope, she doesn’t wobble any more. Here they are:

  1. Life is short. Spend all of it being gentle, kind, open and loving.
  2. Be close to the people you love for as much time as you can possibly manage. March after them if you have to.
  3. Don’t complain.
  4. Don’t let physical impairments stop you from getting where you want to go.
  5. Love everyone you meet unreservedly and unfailingly.
  6. When you’re happy and you know it, purr.
  7. It is sometimes all right to be unladylike. Especially when your legs don’t work very well and a big stretch makes them feel better:
Teddy looking unladylike

When Teddy was really, really comfortable in someone’s arms or lap, she would stretch herself out as far as she could. It seemed to ease the physical discomfort she experienced. It wasn’t very ladylike, and it was pretty funny to see, but if it made her happy, then we were happy too.

Our friend Jill said something perfect about Teddy in a kind note of sympathy:

She had the best care from all of you (including her furry mate) while she tiptoed this earth and warmed your hearts.

I love to think about Teddy tiptoeing this earth. That really was what she did: tread lightly and gently for a few short months, spreading goodness wherever she went.

It was peaceful outside as Teddy was buried yesterday afternoon. A gentle snow was falling, and a gentle winter sun was shining. It was just right for saying goodbye to a gentle and loving kitty who in the five short months she lived with us taught us a very great deal about showing kindness and gentleness and love. Her life was … a Teddygift.

The Cat Who Lived

Teddy on the hassock

The Cat Who Lived: our Theodora Roosevelt Brassard (or just Teddy if you prefer), at home on one of the Manse’s vintage hassocks. Isn’t she beautiful?

Anyone even mildly familiar with the Harry Potter stories will know that Harry is sometimes known as The Boy Who Lived, because he is the only wizard to have survived the Killing Curse (sent his way by the evil Voldemort). Well in this week’s instalment of Meanwhile, at the Manse, I want to tell you about The Cat Who Lived. She’s not quite as famous as Harry Potter – not yet, anyway – but her story is much dearer to my heart. Which is saying something, because I am a huge fan of Harry Potter.

The Cat Who Lived is the Manse’s very own Theodora Roosevelt Brassard – Teddy for short. She is one of the two kittens whom Raymond and I adopted at the end of this past summer from the Cat Care Initiative cat-rescue operation and shelter in Campbellford. The other adoptee was Honey Bunny, and here she is:

Honey Bunny in the tunnel

Tortoiseshell Honey Bunny can be hard to spot in pictures because her colouring makes her blend into the background. Here she looks out at us from the bottom level of her nothing-but-the-best-for-our-cats leopard-print at-climbing tower and scratching post.

Like most of the cats at the Cat Care Initiative, Teddy and Honey Bunny – who are close to the same age, to wit about five months as of this writing, but not sisters – came from a feral-cat colony. Volunteers rescued them and socialized them until they were ready to be adopted, and that’s where Raymond and I came in:

eddy and Honey Bunny on adoption day

Raymond and me with our new kitties on the day we adopted them from the Cat Care Initiative. (Photo by Irene Lawson)

Why did we choose Honey Bunny and Teddy from the other cats and kittens up for adoption? Well, we thought they were both beautiful – but then, all cats are beautiful. Teddy also struck us as exceptionally sweet, which has definitely proved to be the case. And Honey Bunny – well, we chose her partly for her name, believe it or not. “Honey Bunny” was Raymond’s pet name for Bayona, the big-bundle-of-love cat whom we had in Montreal and whose sudden death a few years ago left a great big hole in our lives. (You can read about that, and see lots of photos of Bayona and Sieste, who went on to become the First Official Manse Cat, here. Sieste died of old age last spring, which broke our hearts; that story is here.) When we learned that the striking tortoiseshell cat who looked up so lovingly at Raymond as he held her had been given the name Honey Bunny, we looked at each other and decided it was a sign. We were meant to have her.

Here are the girls on their way home in the car:

Teddy and Honey Bunny on their way to the Manse

They must have been wondering what their new life would be like! “Can we get out now?”

Both kittens proved to be playful and cuddly and full of beans, with Honey Bunny soon impressing us with her unceasing energy, her acrobatic skills and her smarts. Have you ever seen a cat play fetch before? Well, here you go:

(Honey Bunny can keep Raymond amused with that game for hours.)

But Teddy? Well, Teddy was just the sweetest kitten ever, with beautiful soft fur made for petting and a propensity to sit in your lap and purr while helping you with your work:

Teddy is a good helper

Teddy helps Raymond with his work on the National Newspaper Awards.

But before too long we realized that Teddy was a little bit fragile. For one thing, her balance didn’t seem to be particularly good; she had trouble jumping into laps, and when she tumbled (as cats will do when climbing and playing), she sometimes fell awkwardly – uncharacteristic for cats, who are almost always graceful. One time when she fell she seemed to have something like a seizure; she twitched oddly for a few moments and couldn’t seem to get her legs under her to get up. We were hugely relieved when she was back to normal after a few minutes of being held and petted. But several weeks later, when she fell again, the result was a lot worse and a lot scarier. That time her twitching and struggling were much greater, and even hours later she absolutely could not walk – she could barely stand up. Her hind legs dragged under her, and it was sickening and terrifying to watch. Her eyes were glazed and she seemed completely out of it. We thought she was going to die.

I stayed with her all that night, waking frequently to check to see if she was still breathing. She was, but not much more than that. In the morning – it was a Sunday – we drove her to the animal hospital, worried sick.

I’ll spare you all the ins and outs of the story, save to say that the eventual diagnosis was that Teddy was suffering from a neurological illness that she’d acquired while still in her mother’s womb, and that is very common in feral cats. It begins to show up when they’re about three months old, which was exactly what had happened with Teddy. The kindly doctor said the best-case scenario was that she’d just be a wobbly walker for the rest of her life, but that there was a strong chance that the neurological problems would progress and cause other physical problems. There is no cure.

Well, Teddy got a bit better in the next few days. Her walking improved somewhat. But she wasn’t eating much, and she didn’t seem to be drinking any water at all – not a good sign. And in a very unpleasant turn of events, she forgot how to use the litter box. A followup visit with the doctor revealed that she was losing weight, and that she had developed some pain in her spine that hadn’t been there on earlier visits. Things were not looking at all good, and the doctor told us – in the gentlest possible way – that she might start to suffer and that the kindest thing we could do for her if that happened would be to put her down.

You can imagine how we felt. Teddy and Honey Bunny had captured our hearts the day we met them, and they had become part of the family immediately. And Teddy being the sweetest cat ever…

Things did get worse. Teddy could barely move, and pretty much stopped trying. She cried in pain when I tried to pick her up. She ignored the cat food and refused to touch water. She ceased grooming herself. It was heartbreaking to look at her.

Teddy and Honey Bunny share the bed

This was about all Teddy could do when she was feeling so sick and lethargic. Her sister Honey Bunny was very good about snuggling up with her and even washing her when Teddy was too weak to do it herself.

Last Tuesday I called the animal hospital and made an appointment for her to be put down. And then I hung up the phone and sobbed.

And then… well, then something happened.

When I came home from work that evening and went to see Teddy – feeling miserable that I had had to schedule the end of her sweet little life – she greeted me with interest. She got up and wobbled around. She wobbled after me and she wobbled after Raymond, wherever we walked. Her eyes were brighter than they had been in days. She went to the food dish! And ate a little bit!

And then peed on the floor. But at that point we were so happy with this sudden change in her condition that it didn’t matter. (Oh, okay. It mattered a bit to Raymond.) We cleaned it up and carried on watching with delight as our little cat seemed to perk up by the minute.

Was it a last gasp, the final spark that creatures (including humans) often display just before the end of life? We thought it very well might be. But the next morning, Teddy was still bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. She stayed that way all day, and the next, and the next, and – well, needless to say, the appointment at the animal hospital was joyfully cancelled. Teddy ate with relish, drank water, gained weight, walked better and better all the time, and even started to show some interest in cat attractions like rolling balls and dangling strings.

It is quite something to be certain you are going to lose someone you love to illness and death, and then have them restored to you. I really can’t tell you how happy we are, but you can probably imagine.

Teddy may never be the kitty she once was. She doesn’t jump or climb anymore, and she’ll probably always be wobbly when she walks:

And while her toilet habits are much improved from a week ago, she still forgets to venture to the litter box sometimes when she needs to pee. (If anyone has any ideas about how we can help her get better at this, we’d sure love to hear them.) She may well not live a long life, and we will always have to be careful with this fragile little creature.

But Teddy is back. As I write this, she is sitting purring in my lap, supervising my work. She’s just had a great big feed. She’s about to launch into a bath.

She is one happy kitty. Almost as happy as we are. Here are Teddy and Honey Bunny, signing off from the Manse. More adventures await tomorrow!

%22Good morning!%22 say Teddy and Honey Bunny

With autumn closing in, time to say so long to sweet summertime

Going fishing

Looking a bit Norman Rockwell-esque, two young Queensborough people head “down’t street,” fishing poles in hand, to go fishing on a perfect summer day. That would be summer in Queensborough at its best.

Happy almost fall, readers!

Did you know that fall officially begins this coming Wednesday, Sept. 23? No? Well, neither did I – until CJBQ radio host Jim Wright dropped that fact during this past Saturday’s broadcast of ’60s and ’70s oldies, a show that (as you can imagine, knowing as you do my feelings for that era) I love.

In fact, one of the things I love about the era of the ’60s and the ’70s is that those were the days when fall started on Sept. 21 – every year. Just as summer started on June 21, winter on Dec. 21, and spring on March 21. There was a kind of reassuring certainty about those unchanging seasonal start dates, despite the fact that blizzards were known to dump several feet of snow on the first day of “spring,” and we’d often been suffering through a weeks-long heat wave by the time summer “started” on June 21. Now that science and technology and whatnot have got us all fancy about precision when it comes to the start of the seasons (as with everything else) – well, you just never know (unless Jim Wright tells you) when autumn might officially begin. And where’s the usefulness of that? Thank goodness for Jim.

Anyway. I’ve ranted about that topic before here at Meanwhile, at the Manse, and I probably will again. Had to get it out of my system. But let’s go back to where we started: Happy almost fall!

Boxes of books

Some of the many, many boxes of books that had to be moved from Montreal to Queensborough.

I hope your summer has been long and languorous and happy, filled with family times, and perhaps with travel to new places, and with some seriously good gardening. I am painfully aware that one thing your summer has not been filled with is reading posts from yours truly here at Meanwhile at the Manse. Raymond and I have spent our summer truly, finally and completely getting our stuff  – primarily books – moved from our former home in Montreal to our new home in Queensborough. This has involved many, many long trips between the two places, much packing, much stress, much expense. I’ll spare you the details, but I hope you’ll be understanding and excuse my absence from your internet space.

And hey, here I am again! I don’t think my busy schedule will allow a return to daily posting, but I think once a week is highly doable. What do you think: does “Monday at the Manse” have a bit of a ring to it? I shall aim for a post for you every Monday (with perhaps some occasional extra posts when I can manage it or feel particularly inspired) for the foreseeable future. And hey, this is the first one!

And so now, as the air turns crisp and cool, the leaves on the trees turn to scarlet and gold – autumn closing in, as Bob Seger once sang – I’d like to show you lots of pictures of what summer 2015 has been like for Raymond and for me and for Queensborough. It was great! If you weren’t here, you missed a lovely quiet rural old-fashioned summertime. Sweet, sweet summertime, to quote Bob Seger once more. Here it is – or at least, was:

Welcome to Queensborough planter

Welcome to Queensborough! The beautiful flowers and plants at one of the entrances to our hamlet, courtesy of the Queensborough Beautification Committee. Note the Canadian flags in honour of Dominion Day.

Helping a turtle on Barry Road

Summer isn’t summer without turtles crossing the road – something we all should try to help them with, to save their lives. Here’s Raymond helping a tiny one cross Barry Road between Queensborough and Cooper.

Bee balm

Beautiful bee balm in the Manse garden. Good for the bees and pretty to boot!

Wild parsnip

Wild parsnip – a problematic, invasive plant that is, unfortunately, taking over the roadsides in our area. Watch for a future post specifically on the subject. And in the meantime, avoid touching the wild parsnip!

Johnston's before move

The interior of Johnston’s Drugstore in Madoc just before the old store on the main street that’s been there for so many years finally closed and moved to a new, larger location. Johnston’s is a truly great local family business of many decades’ standing.

New Johnston's

An employee cleaning the windows of the new Johnston’s location, just before the opening. It’s a nice big store! But it’s still sad to lose the old one.

Historic sign planter

Another beautiful planter in Queensborough, this one around the sign by the Black River telling a bit of the history of our hamlet.

Bob Hudson Queensborough painting

A lovely painting of the bridge over the Black River in Queensborough by Bob Hudson, a talented artist with strong ties to the Madoc area. This original painting is now in the Sedgwick-Brassard collection: it was my gift to Raymond on his birthday this past July 30.

Toad before disappearance

This is a toad that showed up in the Manse garden one summer afternoon and commenced to doing something quite amazing: it disappeared into the ground! See next photo …

Toad after disappearance

Can you find the toad? Neither can I! it parked itself in a corner of the garden, and proceeded to bury itself and just … disappear! I looked into it on the internet and discovered that this is actually a thing with toads. Amazing!

New Queensborough sign front

The Queensborough Beautification Committee undertook an excellent project this summer: erection of a new sign at the northern entrance to town on Barry Road. The sign was designed and made right here in Queensborough at the Pronk Canada Queensborough Machine Shop.

New Queensborough sign back

Here’s the back side of the new sign. Beautiful! And – thank you for visiting!

Ray's Famous lobster and crab salad

Raymond and I did actually take a holiday this summer – two weeks in Maine, where we love to go. Here is one supper from that vacation, Ray’s Famous Lobster and Crab Salad (one scoop of each, on top of a bed of greens). It was inspired by a similar dish at the wonderful Kennebunkport restaurant Mabel’s Lobster Claw, and Raymond pulled it off smashingly.

Dominion Day planters

The lovely planters throughout the village (with Dominion Day windmills as of July 1), installed and tended to by hard-working volunteers with the Queensborough Beautification Committee.

Colourful carrots

Colourful (and delicious) carrots from the garden of our friends and neighbours Jen and Ed. Pretty as a picture!

Farm equipment at Jos's

Kind of a classic photo of summer in Queensborough: farm equipment in for repairs at the Pronk Canada Queensborough Machine Shop – the former Sager’s General Store. Jos Pronk’s work is much appreciated by local farmers for his ability to repair all manner of equipment.

Camaraderie at Hazzard's service

The wonderful local music group Camaraderie performing at the annual summer service at historic Hazzard’s Corners Church

War of 1812 ceremony at Hazzard's

… and a ceremony honouring a War of 1812 veteran buried in the Hazzard’s cemetery that was part of the same summer service.

QCC yard sale

The giant fundraising yard sale held by and at the Queensborough Community Centre (the village’s historic former one-room school).

Moving Chuck's shed

An exciting late-summer afternoon: loading a heavy old shed from the property of our friends and neighbours Chuck and Ruth onto a big truck owned by Smokey’s Towing of Queensborough. We all came out to watch this interesting (and eventually successful) operation. Good Queensborough entertainment!

Queensborough rainbow

Full-bow rainbow over Queensborough after a midsummer rainstorm.

Croissants on the back deck

A breakfast that, sadly, Raymond and I can’t get in Queensborough (until that patisserie – French bakery – eventually opens up here): croissants and pain au chocolat with morning coffee and reading on our back deck in Montreal. Probably for the very last time, given our move to Queensborough.

Red truck at 780 de l'Epee

Raymond’s red truck in front of our former home in Outremont (Montreal), during one of our many trips back there to move stuff this summer. That’s our place with the green door.

Not-quite-ripe tomatoes

The heirloom tomatoes in our garden at the Manse that didn’t quite turn ripe and red in time for Raymond to live his dream of entering them in the vegetables category at the Madoc Fair. Maybe next year!

Fair teacups

Hey, and speaking of the Madoc Fair – you know it’s coming when the teacup ride shows up in the parking lot at the Madoc arena in mid-September.

Honey Bunny

The big news for Raymond and me at the end of this summer was the arrival of our two new kittens. Here is Honey Bunny…

Teddy

… and here is her sister Teddy – who we initially thought was a male, and hence the name. Now Teddy is short for Theodora.

Tired kitties

And here are both Teddy and Honey Bunny, exhausted after a day of chasing each other around the Manse. They have brought much happiness to the Manse, which was a sad place after our beloved Sieste died at the start of the summer.

Unloading boxes of books

The end of the endless move! Just this past weekend, our books from Montreal were unloaded from the great big moving truck into our new acquisition: the historic Kincaid house next to the Manse.

Yes, people, the end of Summer 2015 for Raymond and me was the excitement of being able to become the new owners of the great old house next door, a funky place even older than our 1888 brick Manse. It is the new home of our many, many books. And one of these days we hope to restore its interior, along with that of the Manse – and maybe there’ll even be some sort of commercial enterprise there. Like, say… a bookstore? Bosley Road Books, Queensborough? What do you think?

Long time gone, or: after 40 years of wandering, a return home

The Manse on Dominion Day 2015

The first three-quarters of Dominion Day 2015 (don’t get me started on “Canada Day”) were cloudy and rainy here in Queensborough, but as I was taking this photo of the Manse the sun suddenly broke through. A good sign for a momentous (in my life, anyway) anniversary!

Happy Dominion Day, everybody! As you can see from the photo I took today, the “new” (well, new as of 1965, a mere half-century ago) Canadian flag has replaced our usual Ontario flag in adorning the Manse in celebration of July 1. As I’ve reported before, Raymond likes to use his ever-growing flag collection to mark special national and regional days. If you noticed Quebec’s fleurdelisé flying at the Manse a week ago today, that was in celebration of St. Jean Baptiste Day, Quebec’s “national” holiday; and you’d better brace yourself for the Stars and Stripes this coming Saturday, the Fourth of July.)

But national holidays are not what this post is about. This post is about anniversaries, and the passing years, and the joys (and sometimes sorrows) that come with them.

Let me back up a tiny bit.

The weekend before last, we were thrilled to bits to have a visit from Raymond’s sisters Eloise and Jeannie, coming all the way from their homes in the Boston area, and his daughter Dominique, from Montreal. It was the first time that any immediate members of Raymond’s far-flung family have been able to come see us here in Queensborough, and it was just delightful to have them and to show them the Manse and the beautiful area in which we live. It was also a very lively time; normally the Manse is a pretty quiet place with just Raymond and me knocking about in it (and especially since we no longer have Sieste the Manse Cat to share her point of view with us). With four women and Raymond in the house, the place was full of chatter and laughter, and that was just great.

The gang on the front porch

A houseful of Brassards! Left to right, Dominique Brassard (Raymond’s daughter), Jeannie Brassard Tremblay (Raymond’s sister), Raymond, and Eloise Brassard Maddox (Raymond’s sister), all enjoying the view of Queensborough from the Manse’s front porch.

But at one point in the weekend, I had occasion to leave the hubbub behind for three-quarters of an hour and enjoy some quite reflections on this place in which we live. The occasion in question was Raymond having forgotten to buy a key ingredient of his Caesar salad – that would be the romaine lettuce, a rather important part of the whole operation – and I volunteered to drive in to town (Madoc, in this case) to pick some up. It was about 7 p.m. on a glorious summer day, the time when late afternoon is just turning into evening, when the shadows are ever so slightly beginning to lengthen and the slowly declining sun puts a golden evening glow on everything.

It’s only 10 or 12 minutes to drive to Madoc from Queensborough, but those 10 or 12 minutes there and back were so filled with the beauty of this place that my eyes were brimming with tears more than once. That golden glow that I mentioned made everything – the rolling farmland, the rocky outcrops, the silos, the old farmhouses, the split-rail fences, the pretty flower displays at the entrance to Queensborough, the gardens at some of the places along the way – look its absolute best. The quiet of the evening was broken only by birdsong. “We are blessed,” I thought.

us six at the Manse

My family – Dad and Mum and (left to right in front) me, my sister, Melanie, my brother John and my brother Ken – in about 1968. At the Manse, of course.

And then something struck me. It was this: that it was at this exact time of year – end of June/beginning of July, when everything is green and golden, and summer holds out its promise, and life is good – that I first came to Queensborough, as a child of four; and it was also the time when I left Queensborough (though not forever, as it later turned out), as a 15-year-old, having spent all of my formative years in this lovely and never-a-dull-moment little place. My dad, the newly ordained Rev. Wendell Sedgwick, arrived here to begin his career as a minister at the start of July 1964, with my mum and three little kids (we later became four) in tow; the only thing I remember about that first day in Queensborough was the shouted warning from our across-the-street neighbour Will Holmes not to drink the water that came out of the tap. (More on that story, and the years of carrying buckets of drinking water from one of the village’s communal wells, here.)

Actually, there is one other thing I remember about that first day in Queensborough, which could very well have been 51 years ago this very day: It was bright and sunny and warm and summery. Just that kind of day that this July 1 has turned into. Queensborough looked its best.

As it did on another sunny summer day 11 years later, on or about July 1, 1975, the day that my family left Queensborough as my dad took up a new pastoral charge in Seymour Township, outside Campbellford, Ont. So much had happened in those 11 years, in Queensborough and in the world. Humans walking on the moon. Vietnam. Trudeaumania. Watergate. Hippies. Woodstock. The Rock Acres Peace Festival!

Rock Acres Peace Festival, Queensborough, Ont., 1971

The Rock Acres Peace Festival, Queensborough’s answer to Woodstock.

And I had grown up. And watched and read about all those exciting things happening in the larger world from right here at the Manse in Queensborough. I remember how very sad I was as we drove away, to be leaving behind that golden past and that golden place, the place of my childhood. “I never dreamed you’d leave in summer,” a pretty song sung by one of my (and my dad’s) heroes, Joan Baez, goes. Well, I never dreamed that I’d leave in summer. But I did.

And was gone for a long time. And lots happened in the interim, both to me and to Queensborough.

But now … well, now I am home again. And you regular readers all know the story: how Raymond and I bought the Manse, on a whim and a prayer (i.e. not really knowing what on earth we were doing or getting into), back in January 2012. How we quickly began to love our connections with this beautiful and little-known part of the world as we visited when we could, on the occasional weekend away from home and work in Montreal. And how we ended up, counter to all expectations, actually moving here in October 2013, Sieste in tow to make it really official. And how life has never been the same since. In a good way. I am so, so happy to be home. To have returned. In summer.

Today, the rest of Canada celebrates our country’s 148th birthday, and that is an excellent thing. But I hope you will excuse me, as I sit here in one of the most beautiful parts of Canada, if I celebrate another sort of anniversary, a far more personal one: the one in which, 40 years from when I left, I am back from my wanderings – not quite in the wilderness, where some people famously spent 40 years, but wanderings nonetheless. It is summer; and I am home.

Life is good.

After 125 years, a church community is still – community

St. Andrew's by Dave deLang

I think that this beautiful image of St. Andrew’s United by Queensborough photographer Dave deLang (delangphotographics.smugmug.com) gives you a great sense of our pretty and historic little church, up there on the hill and serving its community today in 2015 as it has for the past century and a quarter. (Photo by Dave deLang)

Hello, dear readers! I know it’s been ages since last I posted (about the demise of our beloved Manse Cat, Sieste), and I apologize for my absence. But there is a reason for it: I have been over-the-top busy with a project that I took on in my role as secretary of St. Andrew’s United Church here in Queensborough. And tonight I’m going to tell you a little bit about that project, and don’t you dare yawn at the prospect. It is a project that has taught me a lot about how small rural communities work, and about how good work quietly gets done in them. So there.

But first, an invitation! This coming Sunday, May 31, is the 125th anniversary of St. Andrew’s, and any and all of you who are, or would like to be, in the general vicinity of Queensborough are very welcome indeed to come and join us in a service of worship celebrating that remarkable milestone. The service begins at 11 a.m., will feature special musical performances, and will – this being Queensborough, where you always come away well-fed – feature a lunch afterward. St. Andrew’s is at 812 Bosley Rd., just up the hill from the Manse.

As a lead-up to that century-and-a-quarter milestone, yours truly decided that the church’s historical roll and mailing list should probably be updated – the latter mainly because, as I reported a while back here, Canada Post has become reluctant to deliver mail that is addressed only to a rural-route number (as opposed to an actual “street address,” which is kind of a funny thing to talk about in rural areas where there are no “streets.” Here we call those street numbers “911 numbers,” since with the advent of 911 emergency service came a number for every home and property. Modernization!

Historic Roll

The Historic Roll of St. Andrew’s United Church

Anyway. A church’s historical roll is an important document, because it records everyone who has ever been a member of that church. Names are never removed from a historical roll; if a member dies, or transfers his or her membership to another church, or asks to be removed as an active member, that information is recorded – but the fact that the person was once a member is always preserved for posterity. And meanwhile, the information for people who remain as members has to be updated as their lives and circumstances – addresses, spouses, etc.– change.

Many, probably most, churches struggle to keep their rolls up to date, because in the 21st century people move a lot more often than they did when the whole idea of historical rolls was born. Also, in those days larger churches would have had a paid staff person to look after such records, and smaller churches had volunteer workers who could and did devote endless time to keeping on top of the records. These days, paid church staffers are a rarity, as are volunteer workers with any amount of spare time – and so many churches’ membership records are a bit of a disaster.

Now, the records at St. Andrew’s were far from a disaster; in fact they were probably in better shape than those of many churches. But it was time for an update, especially because of that Canada Post mailing rule that I’ve already mentioned. And so I thought I’d just tackle that little project. Which, I soon realized, was a way bigger project than I had expected.

One problem was ascertaining who people listed on the rolls actually were. I mean, there were many names I recognized from my childhood here at the Manse, when my father was the minister here; but many people had come and gone since then. (It was 1975, not exactly yesterday, when my family moved away from here, after all.) Many of the names were unfamiliar to me, though as it turned out one reason for that was women who’d changed their last names upon marriage. Quite often during my research I’d have an a-ha moment, as in: “Aha! That’s (so-and-so) Devolin! or Cassidy! or Alexander! or Holmes! – or whatever was the woman’s maiden name, under which I’d known her when she was a girl or young woman all those years ago.

And then there was the matter of figuring out where people who, when their names were entered on the rolls, had “Queensborough” or “Cooper” or “Eldorado” or “RR# Whatever,’ listed as their address, actually are now. Some of them are still in the same places, but we needed a 911 number to be able to contact them by mail; and many others had moved to other addresses altogether, near and far. What a job it was tracking them all down!

But I was not without assistance, and that is the real point of this post. First I asked some of the longtime members of St. Andrew’s for help, and we spent a long evening of consultation and tea and cookies here at the Manse going through the list of names and pooling our knowledge. (Actually I should say pooling their knowledge, because they were the ones who had it, and I was just the collector of all this information.)

And then once I’d recorded everything I had gleaned from that session (which was a lot), I realized there were still some holes and some missing addresses and information. And so I would call up people and pick their brains and ask who else I could call. And so often those people volunteered to make the calls themselves, to help me out. I spent a lot of time on Canada411 trying to track down addresses and phone numbers; and I used email and Facebook and anything else I could think of to try to find people.

It took a lot of time. There were a lot of phone calls. But those phone calls, those conversations – some with people I’d known ever since my childhood; some with people I’d never spoken to in my life before; some with people I’d known a little bit but hadn’t talked to in years – were revelatory, and wonderful. I learned so much.

It wasn’t just getting to the bottom of the proverbial “Where are they now?” and thus being able to contact the church members. It was connecting the dots, so to speak; in many cases putting faces, or at least information (“daughter/son of so-and-so, lives in such-and-such a place now, has become an insert-profession-here”) to what had before then just been names on the list. And everyone I spoke to, even those who said things to the effect of “Gracious, I haven’t been in the area for ages; you should take my name off the list!” was so kind and helpful, and, I sensed, a little pleased to hear from a representative of the church of which they had once been a part. Those conversations made the work so very rewarding.

The absolute best part of the work was learning about the things people are doing to help St. Andrew’s that I hadn’t even been aware of, even though Raymond and I are very active members of the congregation. For instance, I learned about how, every time there is a Ham Supper or a Turkey Supper at our church (major fundraisers for its work, and also important social events in Queensborough), a long-established network of communication goes into high gear. Calls are made: “Could you make a salad? Scalloped potatoes? Baked beans? A dessert?” They can, and they do. Or if they can’t, they make a financial donation instead. And they in turn call their friends and neighbours, inviting them to help out, to support the event, to attend and enjoy it.

Many – most – of these people don’t come out to Sunday services at St. Andrew’s. But they remain attached to the church, remain committed to supporting it in many different ways.

So my exercise in getting the church membership roll updated, and by extension getting myself up to speed on who is who and where they are, turned into a bit of an education about community and how it works. Which, it turns out, is: quietly. Without any fuss. But with a deep sense of commitment to the connections of the past and the present. And with hope for the future.

The Manse has lost its Manse Cat, our dear Sieste

Sieste in the sun

I took this picture of Sieste in a pool of sunlight in the middle of the Manse’s kitchen several months ago, and I’ve always liked it. I was saving it for a good time to share it with you. This evening seems like that time; Sieste died today. The Manse is a very sad place.

It’s been a while since I’ve posted here at Meanwhile, at the Manse. I’ve been busy with other community projects, all of them worthwhile. But tonight I have to interrupt that worthwhile work to share with you some very sad news. It is this: Sieste the Cat, easily one of the most popular characters here at Meanwhile, at the Manse, is no more.

Sieste in her happy place

The cushion says, “This is my happy place.” And this is our happy cat on it, not very long ago.

I am pretty sure that from my many previous posts about Sieste – like here, when I wrote about her Big Move to Queensborough from Montreal, and here, when she took on the role of the In-and-Out Cat, and here, in which she was Queen of All She Surveys, and here, in which her daily routine at the Manse had become thoroughly established – you could tell how much Raymond and I loved her. She has been a part of our family since we have been a family, and a very important part. Raymond and I both love cats, but I think it might be safe to say that we loved Sieste best of all.

She died quietly today, after being ill for just a few days. She was old; while we don’t know her exact age (we adopted her from the SPCA), our best guess is 18. That’s not too shabby for a cat. While she’d been showing signs of age and some frailty for the past year or so, she was 100-per-cent her smart, full-of-beans, affectionate but independent-minded self right up until three days ago. Over those three days she quickly became weaker and less able to control her bodily functions, and at midday today her body quietly gave out. It was a blessing. We hated to see her so ill, and I am sure she hated being so ill.

But she was still our old Sieste to the end. In these last days she always acknowledged us when we came near to her bed, and purred when we stroked and cuddled her, which was often. She did her best to get up and follow us around when we were in another room, as she always has.

And here is the best story of all, one I will not be able to write for you without sobbing.

As I mentioned in this post chronicling Sieste’s daily routine here at the Manse, for a long time it was her habit to come upstairs early each morning and yowl at us when she thought it was time to be up. Which tended to be half an hour or so earlier than we actually needed to be up, half an hour before the non-feline alarm clock would sound. Many were the mornings when we would sleepily curse at this too-early wakeup call from Sieste, even while we (of course) always continued to love her and appreciate the fact that she wanted us to come and hang out with her at the start of a new day.

Sieste hasn’t done the early-morning wakeup for the past couple of months or so, probably because she was just getting elderly and tired. Those steps can be hard for an old girl to climb, especially the high, steep ones ones in the Manse’s back staircase (as opposed to the front staircase; and why there are two staircases is an interesting question). But frankly, Raymond and I weren’t complaining about the lack of early-morning yowling.

Last night we stayed up quite late with her, as she lay in her bed in the dining room downstairs, just beside where I am writing this now. She was very weak and obviously fading quickly. She could hardly move, and when she did try she could not go even a step without wobbling, often falling over and having to lie where she’d fallen. We knew she was almost gone, and it was hard to say goodnight.

I set the alarm for 7 a.m., when I had to get up to go to work.

At 6:30 on the nose, there came a quiet, familiar yowl from a familiar place.

Peekaboo Sieste

Sieste playing peekaboo a few months ago, on the same steep staircase that she climbed one last time this morning.

Sieste the cat, who was failing so quickly and had absolutely no strength left, had somehow climbed those steep old back stairs at just the right time (that is, half an hour before the alarm was to go off), lain down in her familiar old position as the sun was rising, and issued one last wakeup call to her people.

I spent a lot of time with her this morning in that place at the top of the stairs, stroking her and telling her over and over again how much we loved her and how much we appreciated the morning alerts. Which in general was not exactly the truth; but on this morning, it was the truest thing ever. What a good, brave girl to have forced her dying body to do it one last time.

She died a short time later.

As I take a few minutes to weep about that lovely final gesture, I will turn things over to some pictures of our Sieste, Manse Cat Extraordinaire:

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It feels so strange to be finishing this post without Sieste perched either on the living-room chesterfield (where she could keep an eye on everything) or on the hassock right beside me (where she could keep me close company). She was always an excellent assistant for Meanwhile, at the Manse.

The Manse feels very lonely tonight. And very quiet.

Raymond and I buried Sieste late this afternoon. Her final resting place is beside the clothesline pole, a place that sees lots of action by her clothesline-loving mum (me). I will think of her every time I hang the laundry out and take it in. I know she would like that.

We don’t yet have a grave marker, so in the interim we put up a little sign that we bought a while back (at Wilson’s of Madoc) and that formerly hung in the corner where Sieste’s food and water dishes are. It was perfect for Sieste: “What part of MEOW don’t you understand?”

Sieste's grave

Here is her grave, with a tulip from our garden and a scattering of some Madoc Mix grass seed – the latter the subject of a future post.

Which I will have to write without Sieste’s help. Our good pussycat. Our good girl.

Never was a cat more loved.