Groundhog Blues in Lanark County

mr-groundhog

Even though the winter solstice had passed months before, the days in Lanark County were still short, and dark, and lifeless, for the most part. It seemed as though the cold months ahead stretched out, with no end in sight; like the long, heavy trains that thundered and chugged down the tracks, back the side road.

train-snow

Frigid, grey mornings were spent shivering at the end of the long lane, waiting for the big orange school bus to come rattling up the Third Line.

Winter in the country looked barren and lifeless. The soft green grass and fragrant flowers were dormant, as they lay forgotten under the heavy blanket of snow. The massive, frozen, white shroud seemed to conceal every trace of life that had ever existed in our yard.

Evenings after school were spent shoveling, pushing and lifting the snow, from one pile to another. Week after week, more snow fell, and it blew and drifted back into the paths that we’d made.

winter-yard

I was always cold, always shivering, cold face, cold hands, cold feet on the floors of the old house. Even with layers of tattered, wool blankets on the bed, the icy drafts snuck into my room, and the windows were coated in a heavy layer of frost and ice. When the wood stove in the kitchen died out overnight, yesterday’s glass of water would be frozen like a miniature hockey rink by morning.

Groundhog Day was finally here. Would he see his shadow? Would there be an early spring, or would there be another two months at least of these cold, grey days? Punxsutawney Phil had predicted the onset of spring since 1890 in Pennsylvania, and his Canadian counterpart Wiarton Willie began his annual forecast in the 1950s. At our house we listened closely to both forecasts, hoping that at least one of these rodents would offer some hope of an early spring.

So, we had two possible groundhog predictions, and two different radio stations. There was CJET in Smiths Falls, and Mother would often tune in and listen to Hal Botham after we left for school, while she did her ironing. CFRA was her usual early morning station and we’d often hear Ken ‘General’ Grant shouting, “Forward Ho!” as we ate our puffed wheat in the mornings, before walking down the lane to wait for the school bus.

I could tell that Mother was also growing weary of the long, cold days of winter and if the ‘General’ didn’t report the prediction she wanted to hear then she’d likely turn the dial to CJET hoping that Hal Botham would have another version of the groundhog’s forecast. If it was cloudy, and the groundhog didn’t see his shadow, we’d have an early spring – just six more weeks of winter. By the first week of February we didn’t want to hear any other forecast. Six more weeks of winter would be enough to bear, without the possibility of the season being any longer!

When I came downstairs for breakfast that Groundhog Day morning so long ago, Mother had already set up the old ironing board and was busy ironing a linen tea-towel. I asked her if she’d heard the groundhog’s prediction yet, and she didn’t look up, but continued to iron. “It’s just a myth, just folklore”, she said, and she folded the tea towel neatly, and started on the next one.

ironing

“So, he saw his shadow?” I asked. “Yes they both did.” she responded somberly, still not looking up from her work, and folded up the next tea-towel.

I sat quietly at the old kitchen table, ate my bowl of puffed wheat, drank my orange juice, and took my cod liver oil capsule without even being asked. Six more weeks would have put spring sometime into the middle of March, but now it would be even longer. I finished my breakfast, put my dishes in the old porcelain sink, pulled on my boots and coat, grabbed my wool hat, mitts and lunch pail, and headed out the door.

little-girl

As I trudged down the long, snowy lane-way to the Third Line, I felt defeated. It was sad how a couple of groundhogs that we didn’t even know could make Mother and I feel so depressed. I didn’t even understand how they could have seen their shadows that morning, because it wasn’t sunny outside at all. I couldn’t see my own shadow, and that meant that our local groundhogs wouldn’t be able to see theirs either.

school-bus

I didn’t really know where Wiarton was located in Ontario, and didn’t have a clue about Pennsylvania, but I was sure that none of the groundhogs in Lanark County saw their shadows on that cloudy, grey morning in February. Maybe the other groundhogs were wrong! Maybe there would be an early spring after all! Maybe the snow would be gone soon, and I could ride my bike up to Christie Lake again. I had to stay positive. I had to keep hoping. I had to………………

 

 

 

 

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

 

 

 

 

 

(an excerpt from ‘Lanark County Calendar: Four Seasons on the Third Line
ISBN 978-0-9877026-3-0)

l-c-calendar

http://www.staffordwilson.com

First Snowfall of the Year

mailbox-snow-2

The first snowflakes of the season fluttered down softly, carried gently by the light breezes, back and forth across my path, until they finally touched the earth, and vanished. The very first snowfall of the year seemed magical, and we gazed up in wonder as if we’d never seen the fragile white crystals before.

It had been many, many months since the last few signs of snow had disappeared late in the spring, and I wondered to myself if these first light flakes of the new season would stay on the ground. Almost in unison with the first snow, the merchants of Perth began to decorate their windows for Christmas, and up and down Gore Street there were signs that Christmas was coming.

Gore Street 1960s

 

James Brothers, Stedman’s, and Beamish had bright lights and shiny garlands in their windows, and Shaw’s always had a festive window display.

kids Christmas store window

jamesbrothers1963-644x435

 

shaws1-644x336

A walk down to Haggis’ candy store was not to be missed, as Mrs. Nee’s colourful candy canes, creamy Christmas fudge, and salty nuts were temptingly displayed.

 

Sophia Nee candy cane

(photo of Sophia Haggis Nee in front of her shop at 60 Gore Street, Perth, Ontario)

The Perth Apothecary always had a beautiful Christmas window with all of their lotions and potions packaged so beautifully, ready to place under the tree.

girl at store window   Christmas store window

Charlie gift set Old spice gift set

 

The signs of the season weren’t visible only in the town of Perth.

Out in the country, we turned on our outdoor lights on December 1st, and even though the lane was long, we could see Dad’s handiwork as we drove up the Third Line, coloured lights draped round and round the spruce tree.

Dad putting up Christmas lights

Tobias ‘Tib’ Stafford, attaching Christmas lights onto our spruce tree, Third Line, Bathurst Twp. , Lanark County  – c. 1970s

Dad took great pride in his annual Christmas display, though it was a far cry from the elaborate decorations on the more stately homes in Perth. It’s strange how, as a child, the lights on your own home, no matter how modest; seem brighter, and more magical than all the rest.

spruce-tree

That first, delicate snowfall of the year falls so silently, whispers so softly, and serves to remind us that Christmas is on its way. It’s time to gather the boxes of decorations from the attic, and time to test our outdoor displays. There are Christmas cards to prepare for mailing, and special foods and drinks to assemble for the big day.

Whenever I see that first snowfall, and the lights and displays all around, I am reminded of our own humble spruce tree on the Third Line, and the weeks of preparation that followed, leading up to the most glorious time of the year.

……….

Christmas mailbox

 

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………
http://www.staffordwilson.com
“First Snowfall of the Year”, an excerpt from ‘Lanark County Calendar: Four Seasons on the Third Line”  ISBN  978-0-9877026-30

L C Calendar book cover

photos of James Brothers Hardware and Shaws of Perth courtesy of ‘Perth Remembered

 

Time for Christmas Baking!

“I think a little mouse has been in my cupboard!”, Mother would say mischievously. Of course I knew exactly who the ‘mouse’ or ‘mice’ were that had been sampling the baking supplies in the kitchen cupboard near the old sink. I was the ‘main’ mouse, and loved to sneak a little taste of the walnuts, coconut and cherries that Mother stored for her Christmas baking. My brother Roger was the other mouse in the house. He would sneak handfuls of chocolate chips from her baking cupboard after school, and scurry away into the living room.

walnutschipits

coconut                   cherries

Luckily, on those days, so long ago, there were still enough ingredients so Mother could add yet another type of cookie onto her list.

date squares   chocolate chews

Stacks of cookies and squares had been accumulating in the old chest freezer over the past couple of weeks.

toffee   chocolate fudge

 

She was knee-deep into her Christmas baking, and as the weeks flew by, there was an ever-growing supply of shortbread, sugar cookies, chocolate chews, date squares, fudge, and toffee piling up in preparation for the big day.

 

christmas-cookies

 

One of my favourite types of cookies Mother made, and tucked away in the freezer for Christmas, were the peanut butter balls. Once thawed, they were as sweet and tasty as the day they were made. They don’t require a lot of fancy ingredients, and they look festive and elegant on any Christmas dessert plate. Make them now, and stash them in your freezer! Hopefully, the ‘mice’ in your house will leave a few for Christmas!

 

kids-and-cookies

Peanut Butter Balls

1 c of peanut butter
1 c of rice crispies
½ c chopped walnuts
1 tsp vanilla
½ tsp of melted butter
1 c icing sugar
Desiccated coconut

Mix together the peanut butter, nuts, rice crispies, butter and vanilla, and roll into balls.
Drop the balls into a mixture of thin icing
Roll in coconut
Place on a sheet of waxed paper, and let them set

For variety,  Peanut Butter Balls may be dipped in melted chocolate, mixed with sprinkles, M & Ms, or decorated with bits of pretzels and candies for a festive holiday look!

peanut-butter-balls-dipped-in-chocolate  peanut-butter-balls-with-holiday-sprinkles

peanut-butter-balls-chocolate-chips-and-sprinkles  peanut-butter-ball-reindeer

 

Enjoy this traditional Christmas treat now, or freeze for the holidays!

little kid and cookies

 

What would a Christmas sweets plate be without some melt-in-your-mouth homemade Shortbread Cookies!

 

whipped shortbread

Shortbread Cookies

1/2 c  corn starch

1/2 c  icing sugar

1 c  all purpose flour

1 c  soft butter

Mix dry ingredients.   Blend-in butter, until soft dough is formed.  Chill for 1/2 hour.  Shape into balls 1 inch in diameter.  Flatten with fork.  Decorate with cherry slices.

Bake in slow oven at 300 degrees F, for 20 – 25 minutes, until light golden.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Be sure to leave some Christmas cookies for Santa!

 

Santa and cookies

 

Who was the lady behind all of those melt-in-your-mouth Christmas cookies?

Audry Stafford competed in local fairs in Lanark County for many decades, and won so many prizes in the baking divisions that eventually she was asked to become a Judge.

In the years that followed she judged baking at fairs, large and small, across the county, and throughout Eastern Ontario.

 

Mother with birthday cake

 

photo:  Audry Stafford with Tib Stafford, in their farmhouse kitchen, on his birthday, July 15, 1990, Third Line, Bathurst Township, Lanark County, Ontario.

……………

Recipes in this story are from “Recipes and Recollections: Treats and Tales from our Mother’s Kitchen”
93 of Audry’s prize-winning recipes are assembled in a book “Recipes and Recollections”, along with stories from her five children, about growing up in rural Eastern Ontario, spanning the years from the 1940s through to the 1980s.

…………………………………………

http://www.staffordwilson.com

Recipes and Recollections book cover sept 2012