Merry Month of May

trilliums

If the fall in Lanark County was big, bold, and colourful, then spring was just the opposite.  The autumn was in-your-face, unavoidable, brilliant hues in every direction; yellows, oranges, reds and greens. The soundtrack for this colourful season consisted of hunters’ rifles echoing in the distance, Canada geese honking, and cottagers speeding up and down the Third Line, making their last few trips to Christie Lake, before the cold weather set in for the season.

Spring was the exact opposite.  Sometimes Old Man Winter just didn’t want to let go, and spring came quietly, hesitating, like a shy young lady, not quite sure if it was her time to come up on the stage for the show.  Sometimes we’d see a sneak preview of spring, and she’d enter ever so softly into the yard, drifting along on a warm south wind, only to be turned back at the gate, as winter stubbornly hung on, refusing to leave.

The yard dried up a bit more each day, and the sun stayed up in the sky a little longer.  We’d clean off our boots for the season, and store them up in the attic; only to find snow on the ground the very next day, as though winter had been spying on us through the window, and wanted to make his presence known once again.  Up the back-stairs we’d march, retrieve our boots reluctantly, and set them back down on the rubber mat by the kitchen door, all the while feeling discouraged and beaten.

rubber boots

With the snow finally gone, the plants began to poke their heads timidly out of the ground.  First, the flowering bulbs along the sidewalk, then thin, frail strands of grass began to stand up straight and green again and next the bashful buds on the trees slowly unfurled their pale green leaves.  There was a soft green glow all through the yard, as the plants cautiously came back to life.

budding trees 2

Just like the budding leaves around us, the earliest flowers sensed that the frost was past, and it was safe to inch their way out of the chilly ground, and show their colours. The very first flowers to bloom were always the crocuses, tulips and daffodils, and we monitored their growth like hawks.  No other flowers of the summer or fall would get as much attention as those first few bulbs that bravely made their way through the cold earth each spring.  Mother’s bulbs were planted right along the sidewalk leading up to the old house, so there was no way we could miss their progress.

crocus

iris

The sun began to feel stronger and hotter on our faces, the purple and yellow Irises sprang up along the creek beside Perkins’ field.  With the snow melted, moisture soaked the ground, and the water drained from the fields, rushed along through the culverts, and into the lowlands.  Yellow Cowslips appeared at the edge of the woods, and tiny black tadpoles darted back and forth, searching for food in the cold, clear water that rushed along in the creek.

cowslips  tadpoles

Early in May, the ditches along the side road were painted bright with Trilliums – mostly white, but also pink and some even burgundy coloured.  Past the ditches, and at the edges of the fields, there were tiny purple Violets, and fragile, white, Lilies of the Valley, bobbing their heads in the breeze.  Taller and bolder, stood the Jack-in-the-Pulpits, and nearby, were the rounded silhouettes of the showy Lady Slippers.

purple trillium  violets  jack in the pulpit  lady slipper

Closer to the railroad tracks, we saw the comically shaped Dutchman’s Breeches, waving in the warm spring winds.  Not really a flower, but a much-loved bloom of our spring nonetheless, were the Pussy Willows, and we often took a branch or two back for Mother, to put in her glass vase on the dining room table.

dutchman's breeches  pussy willow

As the days and weeks of spring passed by, the lilac bushes filled our yard with their unmistakable fragrance. If spring had a signature scent in Lanark County surely it was born in these heavy clumps of flowers, that graced almost every yard in the region.

lilacs

There was no escaping the heady perfume, and even as we opened the car doors, outside of Calvin Church on Sunday mornings, we’d be greeted by that sweet smell, as it drifted across the road from Cameron’s farm, and from up near the manse, where the minister lived. The bumble bees had awakened from their dormant state in the hives, and they buzzed around the white and lavender lilacs, gliding from flower to flower, and just like us, were drawn to their rich, sweet scent.

bees

Along with the rebirth of the flowers and trees in our yard, some of our familiar birds re-appeared, as the weeks grew warmer, and days grew longer. Everyone wanted to be the first to spot one of the robins, returning each year, to the nest in the spruce tree near the house; but long before that, the skies were filled with geese, flying in their familiar ‘v’ formation.

geese

In the weeks that followed, we saw the return of the Red-winged Blackbirds, the Barn Swallows, and the bright orange and black Orioles. The Wrens were a common sight in our yard, and the Killdeers had by far the most distinctive cries, as they soared high in the branches of the maple trees. Less common, were the tall, regal Blue Herons, that appeared in the lowlands near the train tracks. The mallard ducks paraded their young along the duck-pond, near the Fourth Line.

ducks

The bees were not the only ones with a taste for something sweet, and the earliest treats from our spring gardens were the strawberries and the rhubarb. The rhubarb grew wild in a clump beside Perkins’ fence, at the edge of Mother’s flower bed, and although it was tart on its own, it was a perfect complement mixed with the sweet juicy strawberries. The rhubarb was picked, cleaned, chopped into pieces, and simmered gently, on top of the old stove. Sugar was added to sweeten the taste, and Mother served the stewed rhubarb in little melamine dishes, for a spring dessert.

rhubarb (1)   stewed rhubarb

The strawberries and rhubarb were often combined with sugar in a saucepan on top of the stove, simmered slowly, cooled, and spooned into one of Mother’s rich pie crusts. She would cut long strips of pastry, lay them criss-crossed on the top of the sweet combination of strawberry-rhubarb, and bake to a golden brown in the old oven.

strawberry-rhubarb-pie-4-550

When the local strawberries were at their peak, Calvin Church held their annual Strawberry Social. The ladies’ auxiliary, the Calvinettes, bustled about in the church hall, preparing for the crowds that flocked to sample the sweet, rich, strawberry shortcake. Frances Dixon and Audrey Jordan, Betty Miller, Ona Closs, Eleanor Conboy, Merle Korry, Jean Jordan, Wilma Munro, Doris Popplewell, Phyllis Korry, Agnes Stiller, Shirley Tysick, Carmel Jordan, Wilma Scott, Laura Milne, Marge Cook, Betty Johnston, Maxine Jordan, and of course, Mother, would all be busy in the tiny church kitchen. These ladies had worked together on so many occasions, that they moved about in harmony, like a symphony orchestra, each one performing their parts to perfection.

There were kettles to boil, and pots of tea to prepare. Coffee was made in the tall metal percolator, and the china cups and saucers were all arranged on the plastic table cloth, at the center of the kitchen. The long, wooden tables were set up in the hall, and the wooden chairs placed along each side. Cheery vases of spring blooms graced the tables, and of course the stars of the show, the dozens of plates of strawberry shortcake were displayed on a wooden table beside the door, as if to entice the visitors to come and enjoy our first social outing of the season.

strawberry shortcake  Calvin United Church brightened.jpg  church social

The Strawberry Social was our sign that the nice weather was officially here. The boots and coats were finally packed away for the season, and it was time to reconnect with neighbours and friends, along the Third Line.

Spring may have come slowly and timidly at first, but now she confidently took her rightful place on center stage. Over the weeks she gained determination, and brought forth a sense of optimism, along with her soft greens, and her fragrant flowers. Her bright sun warmed our bones, and lingered on after supper, making our days longer, and our spirits brighter. It was a time for rebirth in the barns, woods and meadows, and for planting the crops in the fields.

calf in meadow  tractor

We stepped a little lighter, laughed a little louder, and chatted over the fences a little longer. We gathered bouquets of wildflowers, dined on fresh strawberries and began to ride our bikes up and down the Third Line again. We ran up grassy hills and rolled back down again through the young clover, feeling light and giddy, free from our boots and coats. There were trilliums to pick for Mother, and tadpoles to catch and keep in a jar. Spring had come at last to Bathurst Township, and was it ever worth the wait!

 

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Enjoy a taste of spring from Lanark County!

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

Pastry – for double-crust pie, sufficient for top and bottom 9 inch crust.

Filling:

3 c chopped rhubarb
3 c sliced strawberries
¼ c Lanark County maple syrup
1 ½ c white sugar
3 Tbsp tapioca
1 Tbsp all-purpose flour
½ tsp lemon zest
½ tsp lemon juice
½ tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla
3 Tbsp butter cut in small cubes
1 egg white beaten with 1 tsp water

Filling Preparation:

Mix rhubarb, strawberries, sugar, maple syrup, tapioca, flour, lemon zest and lemon juice, cinnamon, and vanilla. Mix and pour onto chilled pie crust. Dot the top of the mixture with butter. Brush edges of pie crust with egg white wash. Roll out the other piece of dough slice into long strips and place half of the strips across pie, then overlap remaining strips on the diagonal. Crimp with fork to seal edges. Lightly brush with egg white – water mixture. Cover edges with foil and bake at 425 degrees F for 15 minutes. Lower temperature to 375 degrees F and bake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until the filling begins to bubble.

 

 

“Merry Month of May”

-an excerpt from “Lanark County Calendar: Four Seasons on the Third Line” ISBN 978-0-987702630

LC Calendar

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http://www.staffordwilson.com

An Easter Tale from the Third Line

Easter Bunny 2

I’d heard some pretty far-fetched claims from my brother Roger before, but this one had to top them all. One spring morning long, long ago, he tried to tell me that our Mother was the Easter Bunny.

“He’d better be careful saying things about the Easter Bunny, I thought to myself, or he won’t be getting anything at all in his Easter basket.”

It was a typical, cool, Lanark County spring, and I could feel the wind from the north make its way into my coat, as I jumped rope on the sidewalk in front of our house. There really weren’t many flat surfaces good for skipping, in our yard.

girl jumping rope

 

The brownish spring grass was still wet and mushy, and the driveway was nothing but puddles all the way down the lane – soggy remnants of the melting snow. The old concrete sidewalk was definitely my best bet that day, for skipping, so that’s where I was. Jump, jump and swing the rope around; jump, jump and swing the rope around. Skipping was a pleasant activity to do when I was deep in thought, and my mind was racing a million miles a minute, on that day so long ago.

It was right after Mother left the room, as we finished breakfast on Saturday morning, when Roger had leaned over, and said in a hushed voice,  “She is the Easter Bunny!” Roger was older, and he knew a lot more, about a lot of things, than I did, so I tended to believe him most of the time; but this seemed pretty crazy. He had told me the summer before that I wasn’t born in the Perth Hospital like him, and that the family had found me in a cardboard box, near the railroad tracks, back the side road.

tracks back the side road

I was very upset when I heard that because I’d always believed that I was the same as everyone else.  Feeling ashamed, I ran outside, sat on the rope swing, and started to cry. I was still crying when Dad got home that night, so I didn’t wave at him when he drove up the lane. I was angry because he hadn’t told me the truth.

rope swing

Dad was smiling as he walked over to the swing, and asked why I was crying. When I told him what Roger had said, his whole face turned red, and he walked straight into the house. A few minutes later he returned with Roger, and made him apologize for lying to me. What a relief to find out that I hadn’t been found in a cardboard box, and was born in the Perth hospital, and that I was related to everyone else. Maybe this latest story about Mother being the Easter Bunny wasn’t true either?

I continued to skip, and once in a while the water on the sidewalk was swept up with the rope, and splashed on me. We’d had piles and piles of snow in the yard that year, and there was water everywhere, including the sidewalk, even though I’d done my best to sweep it off. I kept hoping that the story was just made up, and I tried to think of how it couldn’t be possible for our Mother to be the Easter Bunny.

There was no way that she could travel all over the world in one night, delivering chocolate. After all, it took twenty minutes just to get to Perth. It took ten minutes to get to Cavanagh’s store, in DeWitt’s Corners.

Cavanagh's store

It took at least ten or fifteen minutes for her to drive to Glen Tay School, and drop me off, whenever I missed the bus.

Glen Tay School

There’s no way that she could cover that much territory in one night. Maybe I should just ask her, I thought to myself, but what if she is the real Easter Bunny? Would she be mad at me because I’d found out?

Just as I was wondering if I should ask her, Mother opened the door, and told me that we’d be going to town soon, to pick up some things for Easter. I hung my rope over the handrail beside the steps, to dry, and came into the house. Mother already had her purse in hand, and her car keys in the other. As I headed back outside, she closed the door behind us. We stepped around the puddles in the driveway, got into the car, and she started it up.

It was a wet, mushy drive down the lane-way, and the Third Line wasn’t in much better shape. Big puddles everywhere on the way to Perth, and cars splashing each other as they passed. This was the dirty part of the year; not quite winter, and far from summer; just lots of mud, water, and small piles of murky-looking snow.

We drove up to Wilson Street, turned right, and in a few minutes we were parking in front of  the IGA store.

IGA store

 

Mother had read in ‘The Perth Courier’ that the Easter Lilies were on sale, and she wanted to pick one up for Aunt Pat, because we were having Easter dinner at their house.

IGA page 1

IGA page 2

(“The Perth Courier”, March 26, 1964, page 7.)

We walked into the store, and the lilies were near the front entrance. We picked one up, paid, and drove back out to the Third Line.

The days passed quickly, and soon it was Easter morning. There was a little yellow wicker basket at the end of my bed, filled with small chocolate eggs, wrapped in foil, and one tall chocolate rabbit, sitting on shredded green tissue, just like always. The wrapper on the rabbit said, ‘Mr. Solid’, and I peeled back the top of the wrapper, and took a little bite off of his ears. It tasted so rich and creamy that I took another little bite, wrapped him up, and set him gently on the green ‘grass’ in the basket.

 

Easter basket

I put on my new Easter dress, which wasn’t really new, but was new to me, and next I put on my little white shoes, with the strap across.  I took my small white stretchy gloves, and slid them on my hands.  They were a little tighter than the last time I’d worn them, but they would still do. I took them off, and carried them downstairs.

Easter kids

Mother had our breakfast on the table, and she was also getting ready for church. She had her good dress on, and was wearing an apron over it, to protect it. After breakfast we headed up the Third Line, toward Calvin Church.

Calvin church

When church was over, we stayed in the churchyard for a few minutes, talking with our friends and neighbours, then headed back home, and had our usual bowl of soup for lunch.

soup

Later that afternoon, we headed into Perth, drove up Gore Street, and turned off onto Halton Street, where Uncle Peter and Aunt Pat lived, at house number 48. Mother had been holding the Easter lily on her lap in the car, and carried it up the steps, to Aunt Pat’s house.

Easter lily

 

Aunt Pat was busy in the kitchen, preparing the ham and scalloped potatoes.

ham and scalloped potatoes

We always had the same thing at Easter – ham, scalloped potatoes, and fruit cocktail for dessert; and it was always tasty. Everyone went ahead into the living room, sat down, and Uncle Peter was telling jokes, as he often did, and kept everyone laughing.

Uncle Pete and Aunt Pat

(Uncle Peter Stafford and Aunt Pat Stafford)

I stayed behind in the kitchen, with Aunt Pat, and waited until no one else was around.  I asked her the question that had been bothering me all week. “Aunt Pat, is my Mother the Easter Bunny?”.

Aunt Pat was checking the ham in the oven, and she turned quickly around, and looked surprised at my question. “Who told you that?”, she asked. When I explained that Roger had told me, she laughed, and shook her head, and said, “Your brother is full of beans! Sometimes boys make up stories, and you shouldn’t pay any attention to him.”

What a relief! I finally had my answer, and now that I did the question seemed ridiculous. My hunch was right all along, that Mother wouldn’t have time to deliver chocolate to everyone in the world. It was just another ‘creative’ story from Roger. I would be more careful in the future not to believe his wild tales.

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Aunt Pat, had solved the mystery, and this little girl became a wee bit more skeptical.

In the years that followed, I had many memorable times with my older brother, and as the decades passed, he became a great friend, and a good-hearted companion.

Arlene and Roger

(Arlene Stafford-Wilson and Roger Stafford, Sept. 2018)

 

When all is said and done, we have our older siblings, as well as the local school-house pranksters, to thank for our healthy sense of skepticism, and the way it shields us from modern-day predators……. so much bolder and more cunning, than the early ones we encountered, on the Third Line.

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(an excerpt from “Lanark County Calendar: Four Seasons on the Third Line”  ISBN 978-0-9877026-30)

LC Calendar

http://www.staffordwilson.com