Christmas Dinner: the aftermath

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Just before starting the big cleanup tonight after a successful family Christmas dinner here at the Manse, I stopped and took a look at the wreckage on the dinner table. And smiled. And snapped this photo, because I figured it was something that a lot of people could relate to at about this point on Christmas Day (or, as it now is, midnight having passed, Boxing Day). It’s all there: empty or half-empty coffee mugs and wine glasses and ginger-ale glasses; emptied Christmas stockings; the silly toys and jokes and paper crowns that are inside the Christmas crackers; the uneaten portion of the plum pudding; and so on and so on.

Another Christmas, come and gone. Ours at the Manse was busy and merry and bright. I hope yours was too, and that your dinner-table wreckage reflected it!

Our Christmas hamlet

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So over the past couple of days Raymond and I have had occasion to pass through most of the hamlets that help make up the larger municipality of Tweed. And while each one has the same-style sign at its entrances, only one – Queensborough’s, of course – has pretty Christmas wreaths attached. Our beautification volunteers are the best, and are at their work no matter the season. From us to them: thank you, and Merry Christmas!

The supper of all our childhoods

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Do you recognize this, people? Of course you do. We (that is, those of us of a certain age who spent our formative years in rural Ontario – or, I expect, rural Anywhere, North America) grew up on it. It is hamburger, macaroni and tomato casserole, re-created at the Manse in Queensborough this Friday evening because a) I felt nostalgic for the good old comfort food that I grew up on, and b) I was starving and in want of something easy and quick to prepare. And the end result was better than I expected. No wonder we used to eat that stuff all the time!

Halloween has exceeded expectations

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Thanks to all of you nice people who responded to – and obviously identified with – my post last night about old-fashioned Halloweens in small, neighbourly places like Queensborough. It is such a good feeling to know that many of us experienced those same happy times in out-of-the-way rural places, and I like the fact that we can share the memories amongst ourselves. It’s like we’re all in the same rural-childhood club. Which, given the fact that the kids from rural areas were never, in my experience, allowed to be the cool kids, is rather nice. A club of our own!

I just wanted to follow up by saying that my first Halloween at the Manse in Queensborough in almost 40 years went swimmingly. There were a lot of charming little trick-or-treaters at the door, so much so that I had to package up a few more bags of treats than expected. I think we may well have hit a total of 40 or more, and I credit Raymond’s excellently carved jack-o-lanterns (which you can see lit up in the accompanying photo of our ever-so-spooky – okay, not so much – Manse) for that. Who wouldn’t want to visit a Manse with those welcoming jack-o-lanterns out front?

We had a few Spidermen, and a witch, and a fairy, and a Batman, and skeletons, and someone from Despicable Me, and even a little panda, who was utterly adorable. And they all very politely said “Thank you!” for the candy.

It was a happy Halloween all round. I hope yours was too!

A historic spot along the road home

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I’ve been trying to find different routes to take home to Queensborough from work in Belleville – an excuse to drive along new (to me) and generally very scenic country roads. One day recently I turned north off County Road 14 (between Belleville and Stirling) up a road called Baptist Church Road. Now, given the name, I probably shouldn’t have been surprised to come upon this pretty and historic Baptist Church, but surprised I was. Why? Because it seems to appear out of nowhere as you’re driving north along that very quiet country road – and also because it is very impressive. I mean, it’s not a cathedral or anything, but for a rural church with no town anywhere in sight, it’s pretty sizeable. And the steeple! Man, that is one high (and very graceful) steeple. It is really quite a lovely sight – and also a historic one, as the plaque erected there tells you: one Asa Turner (I love that very old-fashioned name, Asa), came to the area as a missionary from the United States in the 1790s, and there helped set up the first Baptist association (doubtless a prelude to the erecting of an actual church building) in all of Ontario. And the coolest thing of all? This very historic and very beautiful “church in the vale” (as the old Carter Family song Church in the Wildwood puts it), Sidney Baptist Church, is still in operation all these years later. Sunday service is at 10:30 a.m. Good for them.

You CAN go home again. And the chores haven’t changed.

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“You can’t go home again,” the American novelist Thomas Wolfe famously declared, using that pronouncement as the title of perhaps his best-known book. I confess I haven’t read it, so I don’t know how Wolfe reaches his conclusion, but I would humbly submit that the adventure that Raymond and I have had here at the Manse proves that you CAN go home again. “Back to where you once belonged,” as another writer (the British tunesmith Paul McCartney) put it.

Late this afternoon I found myself thinking about how, when you buy the house you grew up in (in Queensborough, Ont.), you can find yourself doing precisely the same chores that you were doing at that house several decades before. Which is a slightly odd, though not unpleasant, feeling.

Due to a widescale power outage that hit Belleville, Ont., this afternoon, the school day ended early at Loyalist College, where I teach. As a result I got back home to the Manse earlier than usual, 4:30 or so. Since there was still well over an hour of daylight left, and it was pleasantly sunny (though cold), I thought I’d better seize the unexpected opportunity to get some more autumn debris raked up off the Manse’s rather expansive lawn before the frost sets in for good and the snow falls. And so like a good scout I raked up and bagged seven or eight big bags’ worth of fallen leaves and evergreen needles. (What you see in the photo is the last big pile before it was bagged; note rake leaning against clothesline pole in the background.)

Anyway, toward the end of the exercise it suddenly struck me that, had it been a sunny after-school afternoon in late October 1973 instead of a sunny after-school afternoon 40 years later, in late October 2013, I would in all likelihood have been doing precisely the same thing in precisely the same place: raking up fallen leaves in the Manse yard. The only difference being that back then it would have been a chore assigned by my mum or dad (and probably protested bitterly by adolescent me), and this time I assigned myself, because – well, because it had to be done.

I have to say that, cold and tired though I was by the end of the operation, the delight in the then-and-now symmetry of it all made up for everything.

So there, Mr. Wolfe.