A historic country church, and a commitment to the future

Roofing and painting at Hazzards Church

Hazzards Corners Church on a blazing-hot day this past week with the new shingles having been installed on the west side of its roof (and roofers working away at the east side, which you can’t see in my photo), and the louvers on the steeple being painted. How wonderful to see this major project being done, just in time for the annual summer service there!

Every year around this time I like to alert – and invite – you readers to a happy event that takes place just up the road from Queensborough: the annual summer service at historic Hazzards Corners Church. This year is no different – or … wait. Actually, it is different.

Because this post (unlike the ones I’ve done here and here and here, the last of which rather incidentally features a pretty great recording of the Carter Family singing Church in the Wildwood) is not just to inform you of the event this coming Sunday (Aug. 21, 2016). It’s more to pay tribute to a group of community volunteers who are doing an outstanding job of preserving that lovely little country church so that it may be enjoyed by you and me at events like the summer service.

Hazzards Church sign 2

Built as a Methodist church in the pioneer days of 1857, Hazzards has been a local landmark ever since. Its graceful architecture even earned it a place in a coffee-table book called Rural Ontario that was published in 1969 by the University of Toronto Press. In it, the authors (historian Verschoyle Benson Blake and photographer Ralph Greenhill) write: “The builder has managed with very simple means to produce a building of great charm, slightly suggesting the Gothic style, but with a doorway that is purely Neo-classic … The church tower proportions are, for some reason, particularly satisfying … The whole effect seems reminiscent of New England, though it is hard to say why this is so.”

Pretty much everything you would ever want to know about the history of Hazzards Church is contained in a book called Pilgrimage of Faith. It’s a history of all the churches in Madoc and Madoc Township (and a few adjacent areas, including Queensborough, which is in Elzevir Township) that was published in 1974. I treasure my own copy, inscribed by the authors – three amazing women, now all deceased, whom I remember with fondness and admiration:

Title page and dedication, Pilgrimage of Faith

Perhaps I should also note that in my father, The Rev. Wendell Sedgwick, was the minister at Hazzards Corners Church – which became part of the United Church of Canada when the national church was formed in 1925 – during my childhood here at the Manse. He wrote the introduction to Pilgrimage of Faith:

Introduction to Pilgrimage of Faith

The authors provide all kinds of interesting information about the founding of Hazzards Church, and stories about church life through the years. Re-reading it this evening, I was struck by how many of the names of the church founders way back in the 19th century are still very much associated with the local area today – names like Ketcheson, Harris, Burnside, Moorcroft, Broad, Blair, Love, Kincaid and McCoy.

Hazzards Church by Vera Burnside

A sketch of Hazzards Church by the late Vera Burnside (once my Sunday School teacher, and a truly great woman – and you’ll note her family name, which harks back to the church’s founders) showing the old drive shed for the horses and buggies that was still beside the church in my youth. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to buy note cards featuring this drawing at Sunday’s service.

And I loved some of the tidbits about the church building. Like: that the division down the middle of the long pews in the centre aisle was to separate the men and the women (the authors speculate that this may have been a Quaker influence carried over to the Methodists).

Hazzards Church interior

The interior of Hazzards Church, showing the old pews (not terribly comfortable, I can tell you from childhood experience) and many original finishes.

And that the original pews (which are still there) show “the mark of the adze used in smoothing the wood” when they were built.

And that “the pulpit, plain and unadorned, has had the lectern raised to accommodate taller ministers in more recent years” – my dad was quite tall, as was the minister who immediately preceded him, The Rev. George Ambury.

Hazzards Church facing rear

The clock on the back wall of the church, impossible for the minister in the pulpit not to see. Better not let those sermons run on too long…

And also that the clock on the back wall – facing the minister dead-on as he stood in the pulpit – was a gift from a female parishioner “wishing to be helpful to the minister, who possibly was allowing his sermon to be a bit over long.”

There is also a nicely written bit about the old windows. Until 1953, when most of them were replaced, we read, they were

“20-pane double-hung sashes (that is, forty small panes in each window, which were well blessed by the women each time cleaning day came!)”

Here is one of those old 40-pane windows still in place at the front of the church:

Window, Hazzards Church

The book’s section on the windows also points out that the glass was clear (rather than colourfully stained, as in most churches), and goes on to quote a poem that I did not know before tonight:

No stained-glass windows hide the world from view,
And it is well. The world is lovely there,
Beyond clear panes, where branch-scrolled skies look through,
And fields and hills, in morning hours of prayer.

Thanks to the internet I discovered that the lines are from a poem called A Country Church, and that the poet is Violet Alleyn Storey. Oddly, and sadly, I could discover little about Violet Alleyn Storey, save that she must once have been a poet of some renown because several of her pieces were published in Harper’s magazine in the 1920s. But leaving that aside, the words and images also delighted me because they reminded me of something my friend Doris – whose family roots in the Hazzards area run very, very deep, and whom I hope to see at this Sunday’s service – said in a recent comment here at Meanwhile, at the Manse. I did a post that mentioned the lovely springtime blossoms on the trees in the vicinity of the old church, and wondered what those trees were. As she shared the knowledge that they are Black Locusts, Doris said: “I remember looking at them through the window [of the church] when I should have been listening to the sermon.” Just like Violet Alleyn Storey said: “The world is lovely there/Beyond clear panes.”

Okay, so that’s a lot about the history (and the interior) of Hazzards Corners Church, and the only other thing I’ll say on that front is that copies of Pilgrimage of Faith will be on sale before and after the Aug. 21 service. Pick one up and you’ll not only get to enjoy this history for yourself, but you’ll be supporting the work of the people who keep Hazzards Corners Church maintained and preserved and ready to welcome people like you and me for special services a couple of times a year. (You can read a bit about the annual Christmas candlelight service, which always takes place the evening of Dec. 23, here.)

And that’s a good segue into what I want to tell you about.

Hazzards Corners Church was closed as a United Church of Canada place of worship in 1967. The decision was made by the central church, not locally; it came at a time when many small country churches were being closed and consolidated as the number of Canadians attending church regularly began to show a major decline. It was a very painful thing for people to see the church that they had attended all their lives, that their parents and grandparents had attended all their lives, shut down. Those were sad times in many country churches and pastoral charges.

Often when a church is closed, it is sold into private hands. Occasionally buyers turn the historic buildings into something attractive – a funky house or an interesting business operation. But you’ve all seen the sad sight of pretty old churches that have become run-down places – sometimes lived in, sometimes boarded up and empty – that are more an eyesore than anything else. I think of the former Eldorado United Church, where my dad was also the minister after Hazzards closed. It’s now in private hands and sits looking forlorn, weedy and semi-decrepit:

Former Eldorado United Church

And sometimes when churches are closed they are just torn down. Not very far from Hazzards Corners there was, until 1962, a  small church at the intersection of Hart’s and Tannery roads, Hart’s United Church. When you drive by there today, all you see is a plaque marking the spot (and thank goodness for the community supporters who had it erected):

Hart's United Church plaque

When you look at the site as a whole, however, it’s pretty hard to imagine a church there. Nature has taken it back, as nature always does:

Site of Hart's United Church

Here’s another place, right in the centre of Queensborough, where once a church stood, though you’d be hard-pressed to guess it now:

Stairs to former Queensborough Methodist Church

And here’s what that building, the Queensborough Methodist Church, looked like:

Queensborough Methodist Church, 1912

Are our communities better places for historic former churches being torn down, or neglected until they’re run down? I think not.

Hazzards Church is one fantastic exception to this too-frequent fate. Somehow or other, the Hazzards Corners community managed to get the central United Church to keep its hands off the property. Their church may have been closed, but by God those people weren’t going to see it disappear. And ever since, thanks to dedication and a lot of hard work, and financial support from the community at large at those twice-yearly services (and through other gifts, such as in-memoriam donations), Hazzards has kept on keeping on. One recent project was a new metal sign over the adjacent cemetery, made by Queensborough metalsmith (metal wizard is more like it) Jos Pronk of Pronk Canada Inc.:

Sign over Hazzards Cemetery

At last year’s summer service, Grant Ketcheson, whose family back in the day was among the founders of Hazzards Church and whose family today continues to work very hard to preserve it, told the gathering before the offering was taken up that the church was going to need some major work very soon.

Grant speaks to the bus tour

Grant Ketcheson, a tireless volunteer at Hazzards Corners Church, talks about the building’s history to an audience of people on a bus tour organized by the Hastings County Historical Society this past June.

Grant has a winning and humorous way with words, and in the nicest possible way he was telling us to dig deep into our pockets if we want to continue to enjoy events like the summer service and the Christmas service, and to see this landmark building maintained. And I’m sure many, probably most, of the people in those hand-hewn pews did dig deep.

But a new roof and exterior painting of an old building are expensive propositions. And so over the past year, the Hazzards Church volunteers did a thing that many community groups would like to do but that is hard to do well and successfully: they applied for a grant. And they got it! From the Belleville-based John M. and Bernice Parrott Foundation, a fund that has helped so many good causes in Hastings and Prince Edward counties (and probably beyond) over the years. “Our prayers have been answered!” the group reported on the Hazzard’s Church Facebook page back in April of this year.

And now the work is taking place. This past week, in heat and humidity that almost defied description – sweltering, to put it mildly – a crew was busy replacing the worn-out roof tiles with new ones that will last a very long time. When I stopped by to take some photos of the work a week ago, the louvers on the steeple were also being repainted; and I understand that the rest of the building is to be painted this coming week. Very exciting!

It is a wonderful thing to see this small group of committed people keeping alive the stories, the history, and of course the actual structure of Hazzards Corners Church for all of us, and for those who come after us, to appreciate and enjoy. And good for them for moving into the social-media era and keeping us informed of what’s going on (even including photos of the very cute fox who’s taken up residence under the church) via Facebook. Smart move.

Their dedication inspires others. A few years ago, the children of the late Everett and Pearl Moorcroft, Hazzards parishioners, contributed the money to build what is very probably the world’s cutest church outhouse:

Hazzards outhouse

As you can imagine, at Hazzards events there always are a lot of photo ops outside that outhouse!

At the risk of being a little over-churchy for non-churchy readers, I thought I’d start drawing this post to a close with the full text of Violet Alleyn Storey’s A Country Church. I think its words are rather perfect in the context of this particular country church at Hazzards Corners. Here it is, and if it’s too much for you, just skip on to the end.

A Country Church

I think God seeks this house, serenely white,
Upon this hushed, elm-bordered street, as one
With many mansions seeks, in calm delight,
A boyhood cottage intimate with sun.

I think God feels Himself the Owner here,
Not just rich Host to some self-seeking throng,
But Friend of village folk who want Him near
And offer Him simplicity and song.

No stained-glass windows hide the world from view,
And it is well. The world is lovely there,
Beyond clear panes, where branch-scrolled skies look through,
And fields and hills, in morning hours of prayer.

God spent His youth with field and hill and tree,
And Christ grew up in rural Galilee.

– Violet Alleyn Storey

For those who, like me, are moved by this evocation of God’s presence in a place of “simplicity and song”; and also for those who may rarely attend church but who appreciate historic buildings and maybe even belting out some old familiar hymns – the service this coming Sunday afternoon at Hazzards is for us all. Here are the details:

Hazzards Summer Service 2016 poster

At this past year’s Christmas service, Hazzards Church was packed. Every pew spot was filled, as was every chair that could be rounded up and placed in the aisles. A whole bunch of people stood against the back wall through the whole service, just to be part of that meaningful event in that lovely old place.

What does that tell you about this coming Sunday? This: come early if you want to get a seat! And hey – if Grant tells you to dig deep, please do. Let’s keep this good thing going.

A fashion trend for sheds, once upon a time. Featuring: pink.

Pink and grey barn

An ordinary-looking barn, right? But what I find not so ordinary about it is the colour scheme: grey with pink trim. It was kind of a thing in our rural area, back in the day – and now that I am living in that area once again, I can’t help but wonder: why pink?

Memory can be a fickle thing, they say. There are so many things that we think we remember that may in fact be quite wrong. (Here is a very interesting article from The New Yorker on the subject.) Have you ever got together with family members or old friends and, in reminiscing about the things that happened in the old days, discovered that various people in the group had quite different versions of some of those events? Or that they’ll all remember something vividly and you – who apparently were there as well – have no recollection of it at all?

I say all that by way of introduction because I’m about to tell you my very first memory of Queensborough, from when I had just turned four years old. But is it a real memory? I think so, but…

Maybe you’ll laugh when you hear what it is: a grey shed with pink trim, with a pink swing set in front of it.

The shed and swing set were at a house right near the Manse, and in my memory my family – Dad, Mum, me, my younger sister, Melanie, and my baby brother, John – drove by that house as we made our way to our new home (the Manse) in Dad’s 1956 Chev for the very first time, in July 1964. Dad, newly ordained a United Church of Canada minister, was about to take up duties as minister of the Queensborough Pastoral Charge.

I remember it so vividly because of the swing set; I was convinced that it meant that the house’s yard was a public playground, like the one where I had played on the swings so often near my maternal grandparents’ home in the Leaside neighbourhood of Toronto. That is where we had been living before moving to Queensborough, while my father finished his studies in divinity school at the University of Toronto‘s Emmanuel College.

The day we arrived in Queensborough we had probably driven all the way from Toronto, or possibly from the Sedgwick family farm up in Haliburton County; either way, it was a long car ride for a four-year-old, and you can imagine how appealing a swing set looked at the end of it. And a pink swing set at that! Perfect for a little girl!

It was all my parents could do to keep me from dashing the 50 yards or so over there and jumping onto the swings at the house of people we didn’t even know. (We very soon found out they were the Gordon family, and their daughter, Connie, became a good childhood friend of mine.) Presumably Mum and Dad put me to work instead, carrying some things from the car into the big brick house that was to be our home for the next 11 years. (And that is now home again, after my husband, Raymond, and I bought it three years ago.)

The Gordons’ house is now the home of our neighbours and friends Chuck and Ruth, and the pink swing set is long gone. The shed/garage is still there, but it is no longer covered in grey insulbrick with pink trim. But, people, that shed colour-scheme trend that dates from sometime around the middle of the last century still shows up in this area, and every time I see it, I am reminded of that first sunny July day in Queensborough, so very long ago.

Every weekday on my drive to and from work I pass not one but two such buildings. One is the small barn that you can see in the photo atop this post: the other is a garage between the hamlet of White Lake and the hamlet of Ivanhoe, along Highway 62:

Pink and grey garage

I finally stopped and got photos of them both yesterday. Because – well, who knows how long there’ll still be traces of that interesting midcentury colour scheme for barns, sheds and garages?

I mean, I get the grey insulbrick. Grey is a pretty traditional colour for garages and sheds, right? But what, people, what on earth is, or was, with the pink trim? I mean, I love it – but why would the men (inevitably men) who built and/or covered those barns and sheds in siding, and painted the trim, have chosen pink? It seems like such an odd thing to have happened over and over and over again. I’m thinking there must have been some sort of marketing campaign or something: “Pink is the perfect colour to set off your brand-new grey insulbrick siding!”

I have trouble imagining the farmers of central Hastings County going for such a marketing push. But how else to explain it? People, do you have any ideas?

This funny little colour thing is a happy circumstance for me – because it reminds me of a sunny day long ago, when all the world was young, and there was a shed with pink trim with a pink swing set in front of it. But I sure am curious to know how all those pink-trimmed sheds came about.

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

Inside cover of The Hymn Book

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

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

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

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

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

New Creed, new version

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

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

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

United Church Creed

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

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

New Creed, new version

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What a gift.

A story that began exactly 50 years ago – and continues

Melanie and me at the Manse, 1965

This is the earliest photo I have of the Manse. It was not taken in 1964, the year my family arrived here, but a year later – June 6, 1965, according to my mum‘s handwriting on the back. That’s me on the right and my sister, Melanie, at the front gate that used to be here. The date is significant because it would have been Melanie’s third birthday, and it was also (again according to my mum’s notation) her first day at Sunday School at St. Andrew’s United Church. Scroll down for a 50-years-later version of the same scene.

I feel I must not let July 2014 slip away without mentioning that it has a very special significance for me. You see, it was 50 years ago this month – in July 1964 – that my family – my dad, The Rev. Wendell Sedgwick, my mum, Lorna, and my younger siblings Melanie and John (Ken, the youngest in our family, wasn’t yet born) – came to live at the Manse in beautiful little Queensborough, Ont.

We came here because Dad, newly ordained as a minister of the United Church of Canada, was taking up duties at his first pastoral charge, which included the churches in Queensborough, Hazzard’s Corners and Cooper. (You can take a little tour of that pastoral charge with me here.)

I don’t think I remember the day we first pulled up in the driveway in Dad’s 1956 Chev. (I was, after all, only four years old.) My mum remembers it vividly because pretty much the first thing that happened when we got out of the car was Will Holmes, who lived across the street, calling out to us with a warning: “Don’t drink the water!” (The water in the well at the Manse at that time was not potable, which meant we had to carry our drinking water in buckets from a community pump up at the schoolhouse. You can imagine what happy news this was to a mother of three children aged 4, 2 and 4 months.)

I don’t know what was the exact date of our arrival in July 1964. However, I assume it must have been around the middle of the month, because I have Dad’s sermons from 1964 and the very first one is dated July 19.

I read through that sermon the other day, sitting on the front porch of the same Manse that my family arrived at all those years ago. It is a good sermon; Dad’s sermons were always good. His text was from Mark 6:34, which is in the story of the feeding of the 5,000: “(Jesus) had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd, and he had much to teach them.”

Dad did a good job in the sermon of explaining how lost, confused and helpless a flock of sheep is when their shepherd – the person who lives with them and whose call they know, the one person whom they will trust and follow – is suddenly not there. I confess I’d never really thought about that before. Obviously that was only a small part of his overall sermon, but it stuck with me.

As did one other thing, a phrase that I found really striking. Dad was talking about “the instinctive reaching out of the human soul to God,” and saying how we, like the crowds who flocked to Jesus in the story from Mark’s gospel, often can’t say exactly what it is we are looking for: “There is some help, some guidance, some teaching we all lack even if we cannot put our finger on our particular need.” He goes on: “Underneath all our surface needs is the instinctive reaching out of the human soul to God. Jesus understood that need of man to reach out to God, the need of the finite to touch the infinite.” (Italics mine)

“The need of the finite to touch the infinite” – it’s a beautiful and profound turn of phrase, isn’t it?

Anyway, aside from the thought-provoking content of my father’s first sermon as a young minister: isn’t it something that exactly 50 years later I am able to read and reflect on that sermon in the very same house in which he wrote it? I feel very fortunate – perhaps blessed is a better word – to be living in the handsome old Manse once again. And to be here with Raymond, who is the best (and most patient) husband ever.

In fact, I am going to show you a photo of Raymond and me that pays tribute to that full-circle thing. Remember Melanie and me at the front gate? Well, here are the current occupants. Same place – and a half-century later on.

Melanie and me at the Manse, 1965

Same place and one of the same people (me) as in the photo at top – half a century later. (Photo by Ed Couperus)

Will this be the year that the renovation gets started?

Is that not a handsome Manse? The house looking its best, May 2012.

Is that not a handsome Manse? The house looking its best, May 2012.

Welcome to Meanwhile, at the Manse’s first anniversary!

Growing up at the Manse: Dad (Wendell), Mum (Lorna) and left to right me, Melanie, John and Ken.

Growing up at the Manse: Dad (Wendell), Mum (Lorna) and, from left, me, Melanie, John and Ken, circa 1967.

I began this blog a year ago today, the day that my husband, Raymond, and I became the owners of the former United Church manse in tiny Queensborough, Ont., north of Highway 7 and on the edge of the Canadian Shield. It is the house in which I spent what I consider the formative years of my life – from age 4 to age 15 – because my father, The Rev. Wendell Sedgwick, was the minister of the United Church of Canada‘s Queensborough Pastoral Charge and the job came with, well, a manse to live and raise your young family in. You can read my very first post, explaining the whole thing, here.

And if you read the “About” post at the top of this page, you’ll see that Raymond and I had great visions of getting the interior renovation/restoration that the Manse needs under way. One year later, what have we accomplished? Not so much.

Will this be the year?

Raymond with our new clothesline, put in by our friend and neighbour Ed.

Raymond with our new clothesline, put in by our friend and neighbour Ed Couperus.

Mind you, it’s not like we haven’t done any property improvements since January 2012. We have done something that we are very proud of, planted two trees – an elm and a maple. (And in the process removed the huge sad stump that was all that remained of the great big maple that shaded our front yard when I was a kid at the Manse.) We have had the rotted old clothesline post replaced and now have a brand new clothesline.

Newly painted red oil tank and new (to us) red truck.

Newly painted red oil tank (in the background) and matching new (to us) red truck.

We have done a lot of grounds cleanup, with help from our friend and neighbour John Barry. We’ve had the eavestroughs repaired, and installed ice guards on the roof. We have done a little bit of gardening. We have cleaned out the garage. We have pulled up old (dating from my childhood) carpeting. We have painted the oil tank bright red. And we have done battle with the ladybugs (indoors) and the wasps (outdoors and, sometimes, indoors – and Raymond is very allergic).

But we’ve also done a lot of just enjoying our quiet place in Queensborough, sitting out on the front porch in the nice weather and taking in the view and the birdsong. We’ve identified birds. We’ve cooked meals, both for ourselves and for a few visitors. We’ve taken lots of drives along the quiet country roads throughout the area, exploring places both familiar (to me, at least) and new. We’ve met lots of great people, and learned a lot about the history of – and current events in – our little neck of the woods.

We’ve been soaking it all in.

The other day Raymond and I were discussing what might be at the root of our not having got started on the renovation. (Aside, that is, from not having a spare couple of hundred thousand dollars.) The thing seems to be that everything is connected to everything else. For instance: the house needs electrical work: outlets are few, three-prong outlets even fewer, and there are some wonky switches. But it doesn’t make any sense to have an electrician go into the walls until we’ve made a decision on the insulation and the plaster. The insulation is: sawdust. Vintage (very), and funky, and environmentally friendly, and not inefficient. But is it really sufficient? It will have settled since it was installed when the house was built in 1888. Do we top it up with something? Do we remove and replace it? And if we remove and replace it, can we do that without trashing the original plaster walls, which I do not want to do? But are the original plaster walls in good enough shape to keep? Some are; some (now covered with wallpaper or panelling) may not be. But even if they’re not in good shape, should we replaster them or replace them with drywall? And – what was that about the electrical work again?

You see what I mean? It feels like it has to be a whole-house project, one thing at a time, and – very importantly – everything done in the right order. You can’t be going back and replacing insulation after you’ve got final interior wall finishes in place. Or, well, you can, but it’s stupid and it’s costly.

You know what it is? Intimidating.

It’s so much easier to just sit in the sunshine on the front porch watching Queensborough go by…

King John’s Christmas

The worn and yellowed pages of my childhood copy of When We Are Six. Many was the time my dad read the poems in it to me, in particular King John's Christmas.

The worn and yellowed pages of my childhood copy of When We Are Six, and in particular my favourite poem, and my dad’s: King John’s Christmas.

Raymond and I were driving home to Montreal from Queensborough the other night, through the dark and the freezing rain, the car radio tuned to CBC 2 as usual. And mention was made of A.A. Milne‘s delightful poem King John’s Christmas, and what a flood of memories that suddenly brought back!

I think I’ve mentioned that my father, The Rev. Wendell Sedgwick, had an enormous capacity for remembering and reciting poetry (not to mention composing his own à l’improviste, in full rhyme and metre, as fast as the words could come out of his mouth).

My well-worn and much-loved copy of Now We Are Six. When I hold it in my hands, I think of Dad holding it isn his hands as he read to us.

My well-worn and much-loved copy of Now We Are Six. When I hold it in my hands, I think of Dad holding it in his hands as he read to us.

The poems for children of A.A. Milne – who is most famous for Winnie-the-Pooh – were published in the volumes When We Were Very Young and Now We Are Six in the 1920s, and Dad was born in 1931. Whether he knew these poems, or was read them, when he was a child I do not know. But he most certainly had the books, and read and recited them to us, when we – my siblings Melanie, John and Kenneth – were children growing up in the Manse in Queensborough.

Dad’s favourite by far, I would say, was King John’s Christmas, from Now We Are Six. He would recite it at the drop of a hat, and he did it so well – all the pathos of poor (though bad, one mustn’t forget) King John never getting any Christmas cards or presents, and how much he wished he would at least get one thing one time, and how the thing he most longed for was a big red India rubber ball, and how – well, you’re going to have to read to the end of the poem to discover how things turn out.

The CBC announcer reminded us that another CBC announcer, Bob Oxley*, was famous for his annual reading of the poem on the air, but try as I might I have failed to find a link to that. Meanwhile, this particular CBC announcer thought he would try it himself, which he did. And it was fine, but it wasn’t like Dad. And in looking online I’ve found lots of other people who think they do King John’s Christmas splendidly, and doubtless they do.

But they don’t do it like Dad.

Many were the times Dad would recite it at Sunday School concerts and the like at the churches and church halls of the Queensborough Pastoral Charge of the United Church of Canada. In my mind’s eye I can still see him doing it in the hall/basement of Eldorado United Church (now, sadly, closed and sold), probably in about 1972 or ’73. I remember enjoying it mightily even though I’d heard him do it so many times before (often in the kitchen of the Manse), and I remember how it was greeted with wild applause from the Eldorado adults and children. Those were simple and happy times, and that is a memory to treasure.

Anyway, in honour of Christmas, and A.A. Milne, and the return to Queensborough of Raymond and me, and most especially of my dad, here is King John’s Christmas:

King John’s Christmas

King John was not a good man –
He had his little ways.
And sometimes no one spoke to him
For days and days and days.
And men who came across him,
When walking in the town
Gave him a supercilious stare,
Or passed with noses in the air –
And bad King John stood dumbly there,
Blushing beneath his crown.

King John was not a good man,
And no good friends had he.
He stayed in every afternoon …
But no one came to tea.
And, round about December,
The cards upon his shelf
Which wished him lots of Christmas cheer,
And happiness in the coming year,
Were never from his near and dear,
But only from himself.

King John was not a good man,
Yet had his hopes and fears
They’d given him no presents now
For years and years and years.
But every year at Christmas,
While minstrels stood about,
Collecting tribute from the young
For all the songs they might have sung,
He stole away upstairs and hung
A hopeful stocking out.

King John chimneyKing John was not a good man,
He lived his life aloof;
Alone he thought a message out
While climbing up the roof.
He wrote it down and propped it
Against the chimney stack;
“TO ALL AND SUNDRY – NEAR AND FAR –
F. CHRISTMAS IN PARTICULAR.”
And signed it not “Johannes R.”
But very humbly, “JACK.”

“I want some crackers,
And I want some candy;
I think a box of chocolates
Would come in handy;
I don’t mind oranges,
I do like nuts!
And I SHOULD like a pocket-knife
That really cuts.
And, oh! Father Christmas, if you love me at all,
Bring me a big, red india-rubber ball!”

King John was not a good man –
He wrote this message out,
And gat him to his room again,
Descending by the spout.
And all that night he lay there,
A prey to hopes and fears.
“I think that’s him a-coming now,”
(Anxiety bedewed his brow.)
“He’ll bring one present, anyhow –
The first I’ve had for years.”

“Forget about the crackers,
And forget about the candy;
I’m sure a box of chocolates
Would never come in handy:
I don’t like oranges,
I don’t want nuts,
And I HAVE got a pocket-knife
That almost cuts.
But oh! Father Christmas, if you love me at all,
Bring me a big, red india-rubber ball!”

King John was not a good man –
Next morning when the sun
Rose up to tell a waiting world
That Christmas had begun,
And people seized their stockings,
And opened them with glee,
And crackers, toys and games appeared,
And lips with sticky sweets were smeared,
King John said grimly: “As I feared,
Nothing again for me!”

“I did want crackers,
And I did want candy;
I know a box of chocolates
Would come in handy;
I do love oranges,
I did want nuts.
I haven’t got a pocket-knife –
Not one that cuts.
And, oh! if Father Christmas had loved me at all,
He would have brought a big, red india-rubber ball!”

King John stood by the window,
And frowned to see below
The happy bands of boys and girls
All playing in the snow.
A while he stood there watching,
And envying them all …
When through the window big and red
There hurtled by his royal head,
And bounced and fell upon the bed,
An india-rubber ball!

King John ballAND, OH, FATHER CHRISTMAS,
MY BLESSINGS ON YOU FALL
FOR BRINGING HIM
A BIG, RED,
INDIA-RUBBER
BALL!

 

 

 

 

*Correction: My original version of this post described longtime and much-respected CBC-Radio announcer and newsman Bob Oxley as “the late Bob Oxley.” Bob’s son-in-law was kind enough to post a comment on the About page here at Meanwhile, at the Manse on March 18, 2015, pointing out that his father-in-law is very much alive and well. Bob and family – I am so sorry for my error! Now, Bob’s son-in-law, Bill, also said he thought that the CBC personality who read King John’s Christmas each year must have been the late Alan Maitland, wearing his Fireside Al hat. That sounds very probable. I am as sure as I can reasonably be that the CBC person I heard making reference to the reading said it was a Bob Oxley tradition, but it is very possible that he was mistaken and I unhelpfully repeated the mistake. Fireside Al was known for his readings at Christmas, but I can find no online link or reference to him doing King John’s Christmas. It’s a bit of a Christmas muddle! But I hope you’ve enjoyed the poem nonetheless.

The crib corner, then and now

Where the crib for my brothers – first John, later Ken – was, once upon a time. Raymond and I bought the cedar chest (blanket box) that you see in the photo at the auction sale at the Melbourne place. We may very well make it into a reading corner. And the carpeting will soon, I hope, be gone.

This is the corner of the upstairs where the baby crib was. When my family moved into the Manse in July 1964, I was four years old, my sister, Melanie, was two, and my brother John was brand new, just four months old. (And as I’ve recounted before, you can imagine how my mother, busy with these three very young children and soon-to-start minister’s-wife duties, must have felt when Will Holmes, our neighbour across the street, greeted our arrival with the words, “Don’t drink the water!” Right. The water in the Manse’s well was not potable. Eleven years of carrying drinking water from the community pump ensued. We all survived it quite nicely, but my mother must have wondered on that July 1964 day whether she would.) Anyway, the crib for baby John was in that corner, and when my youngest sibling, Kenneth, was born at Belleville General Hospital two years later – he has the honour of being the only one of us four to be born while we lived at the Manse – he of course occupied the same crib corner.

Because I think people (readers) like (okay, also because I like) before-and-after shots – or in this case, after-and-before shots – here is the same corner back when baby John was in the crib:

John sound asleep in the crib, I guess in 1964, the year he was born. You can see why I have a soft spot for that corner of the Manse. (Photo by my grandfather, J.A.S. Keay)

It’s quite the feeling to stand in any particular spot in the Manse – like, say, the once-upon-a-time crib corner – and just know so clearly what used to be there. Like, a crib containing one or the other of my two infant brothers, now middle-aged (sorry, guys) men with children of their own.

But of course the Manse housed many more minister’s families than that of The Rev. Wendell Sedgwick. Between 1888 (the year it was built as the Manse for the long-gone Methodist Church in Queensborough) and our arrival in 1964, and from 1975 (the year my Dad took up new duties at the United Church of Canada‘s Seymour Pastoral Charge outside Campbellford, Ont.) until 2012, when Raymond and I bought it, the Manse has housed many ministers and their families. Including, I expect, at least a few infants.

Was this their crib corner too? Maybe it was; or maybe they used this corner at the end of the hallway, with a window allowing in lots of sunlight, as a reading corner. (Which is what Raymond and I may very well do.) Or maybe a minister’s wife or two used it as a sewing corner.

It’s kind of cool to think about the different ways that different corners of the Manse may have served different ministers’ families. But it goes without saying that my strongest connection is to how it served my own family. So this is the crib corner. Whether there’s a crib in it or not.