Nollaig na mBan(pronunciation Null-ug na Mon) is ‘Women’s Little Christmas’ or the Feast of the Epiphany as it is more commonly known—marking the end of the 12 Days of Christmas, a Christian feast day celebrating the the visit of the Three Kings or Wise Men to the baby Jesus in his manger in Bethlehem, with their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Taking Down the Decorations
Women’s Little Christmas Eve is the day when some will add the wise men to their nativity displays. This would be the final decoration added in the home, done on January 5th, and at the end of the day on January 6th, these, and all of the other decorations would be taken down. Some Roman Catholic families chose to keep their tree up until February 2nd, according to the traditions of Candlemas, which marks the presentation of Jesus at the Temple.
The Burning of the Holly
In ancient times, in more modest Irish homes, holly was the only decoration used, and so it was taken down from the mantle, and burned on January 6th for good luck. It was symbolic to leave the holly up until Women’s Little Christmas.
Holly was thought to have important spiritual attributes, and the Druids believed it could guard against dark witchcraft and evil spirits. The Irish believed that its spikes could capture evil spirits and prevent them from entering a house. Holly placed around the home was thought to be a safe haven for the little people, who traditionally guarded the house from more sinister forces.
It was a tradition if holly was the first evergreen plant to be brought into the house at Christmastime, then the man would have the upper hand and rule the roost for the coming year. For that reason, women usually instructed that the ivy be collected first, then the holly. The timing of taking down the holly was very important. Once brought inside it must not be discarded or taken down until after 6th of January. Throwing out a symbol of good fortune too soon could mean that you were looking for trouble.
Visiting with Friends and Neighbours
Women’s Little Christmas, on January 6th each year, was the day that women rested and relaxed after a busy season of cooking and festivities. In rural and small-town Catholic Ireland, women gathered in each other’s homes, or down at the local pub, for a few hours of fun, while men looked after the home and the children. As all were seated, a pact was made, to leave the worries and cares of the old year, outside the door.
Some women stayed in their neighbourhood, and did rounds of visiting in the afternoon. Fruit loaf and tea, or a shot of something stronger, served at someone’s house, and was the day that women did something for themselves, and had a rest after all of their Christmas work.
….And what would a Women’s Little Christmas be without a nice warm Irish Toddy to finish the day?
Irish Toddy Recipe
1 ½ teaspoons brown sugar
1 measure of Irish Whiskey (Bushmills or Jameson)
1 slice or wedge of lemon
You may use any whiskey you desire, or for an authentic Irish toddy, use Bushmills or Jameson Irish Whiskey
Add sugar, and dissolve in a splash of the hot water.
Add the whiskey, cloves (if desired) a slice of lemon, and fill up with boiling water.
It is customary to give a New Year’s toast on Women’s Little Christmas, with an Irish blessing:
The Irish brought their Christmas traditions when they settled in Lanark County, in the earliest times. Our ancestor, Tobias Stafford, came in 1816, from County Wexford, Ireland, and married Elizabeth, ‘Betsy’ McGarry, who came from Mullingar Parish, County Westmeath, Ireland.
Christmas, in those times was a far more religious, and far less commercial holiday than it is today. Priests traveled from larger centers, like Perth, to smaller communities, and people gathered at one of the larger neighbourhood homes to hear mass, and to celebrate the birth of Christ. In 1856, St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church was built, on a gentle hill, overlooking the Mississippi River. Finally, the locals had their own church, not just to mark religious holidays, but also a place to witness baptisms, weddings, and to seek comfort at the funerals of their dearly departed.
St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church, built in 1856, Ferguson Falls, Ontario
One of the early Christmas traditions at St. Patrick’s Church was the lighting of the Advent Candles.
Four candles were set up at the front of the church, and one was lit at each of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas.
1st Sunday of Advent
The first candle was lit with a sermon on being watchful and alert, waiting for Christ’s arrival:
“Therefore, stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.” Matthew 24:42
2nd Sunday of Advent
On the second week, the next candle was lit, with a sermon focusing on making preparations for the birth of Christ:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.’ Matthew 3:3
3rd Sunday of Advent
On the third Sunday of Advent, after the lighting of the third candle, the sermon focused on St. John the Baptist, and the foretelling of Jesus coming to earth:
“I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming.” Luke 3:16-17
4th Sunday of Advent
Week four of Advent was the lighting of the fourth candle, and a reflection on the unwavering faith of Mary and Joseph, and a call to those who believed in what was to come:
“Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” Luke 1:45
Thomas Stafford’s Family
Thomas Stafford, the youngest son of Tobias and Betsy, was just 10 years old when St. Patrick’s was established, and so, he attended the church as a child, and throughout his entire life, with his own children, as he remained on the ancestral Stafford property, on the 11th concession of Drummond Township.
Family of Thomas Stafford, his wife, Mary (Carroll) Stafford, seated with their eldest son, Peter in the middle row. Back row – Ann Stafford, Mary Stafford (local schoolteacher in Ferguson Falls), Thomas Patrick Stafford, and Julia Stafford (who married William Quinn), front row – Margaret Stafford, Anastasia ‘Stasia’ Stafford, and Michael Vincent ‘Vince’ Stafford, (my grandfather, named for his uncle, Rev. Father Michael Stafford, the Apostle of Temperance), photo taken 1896.
In the weeks before Christmas, dried fruits were soaked in whiskey and rum, and more alcohol was added each day as the fruit became plump and full. A large, square piece of fresh clean cloth was dipped in hot water, and rubbed with flour to make it waterproof. After two weeks of soaking, the fruit was added to a traditional cake batter, and this ‘pudding’ was tied in the cloth sack, boiled for one hour, and then hung in the pantry to ripen.
Christmas puddings were hung in cloth sacks to ripen
An Irish pioneer’s Christmas pudding
Back in their homeland, the Irish decorated with sprigs of holly, ivy, and other evergreens native to Ireland like Arbutus, and Yew. Once in Canada, they used the native Eastern Ontario greenery – like spruce, pine, and cedar.
Small branches of spruce and cedar were brought into the home, and laid along the mantle
A spruce tree was cut from the surrounding forests, and brought into the house about a week before Christmas. White candles were attached to the tree, and lit in the evenings leading up to Christmas.
I recall our Dad saying that he was nervous when they lit the candles on the family tree because so many house fires were caused by this practice in the Ferguson Falls area, around Christmastime, when he was a young lad.
Shiny Christmas ornaments that we know today were very rare in the early days, and most of the decorative glass ornaments were imported from Germany, were very expensive, and only available in larger towns, like Perth, or Carleton Place. Often, the ladies of the family made homemade ornaments to hang on the tree, and some were made using needle-craft, like tatting, or crochet.
Lace Christmas ornaments were hand-crafted by the early settlers
Some of the more affluent families purchased ornaments imported from Europe
Precious and costly ornaments, imported from Europe
Bloc na Nollag – the burning of the Yule Log
The cold dark days and nights of the winter solstice were known as “Yule” in Ireland, and most of northern Europe. Burning the “Bloc na Nollag” (Nollag pronounced ‘null-egg’), was an old Irish tradition that continued through the generations, and was common to the Irish who settled in Eastern Ontario. The men of the family dragged home the largest log they could find. After dusting off the snow, the log was placed whole at the back of the fire. This large log was supposed to last for the entire 12 days of Christmas. A small piece of the log was saved to use as kindling for the lighting of the next year’s yule log .
A Candle in the Window on Christmas Eve
All through Ireland a candle is lit and placed in the window on Christmas Eve. This tradition was brought to Canada by the settlers, and was a symbol of welcome to the Holy family. It is thought that this custom originated with the tradition of lighting the way for all travelers on the winter solstice, the longest night of the year. It is a tradition for the eldest person in the family to light the candle in the window on Christmas Eve.
A candle lit in the window on Christmas Eve, lighting the way for the Holy Family
An orange in the Christmas stocking
According to Dad, they hung simple stockings, sometimes wool socks, without decoration, on Christmas Eve, and in the morning, the stocking would hold a few pieces of hard candy, a small toy usually made of wood, and always a lovely, ripe, Christmas orange. He said that fresh fruit was scarce when he was growing up in the 1920s, and it was a very special thing to receive a fresh juicy orange on Christmas morning.
A simple stocking with a precious fresh orange was a treat in the 1920s, in Drummond Township
On Christmas morning, the family got dressed up in their best clothing, hitched up the horses to the cutter, and headed to St. Patrick’s Church.
All of the families in the area donated a bit of money to the local priest, and presented it to him with thanks, at the end of the service. The custom came from Ireland and was known as the ‘priest’s box’, even though the settlers used an envelope, or folded paper together and sometimes painted colourful designs on the outside.
Envelope for a special Christmas donation for the local priest
Irish Christmas Dinner
Many of the traditional foods from Ireland were not available to the Canadian pioneer settlers, so they made a few substitutions when needed. Although goose was the traditional bird cooked for Christmas dinner in Ireland, the settlers sometimes roasted a duck, chicken, or turkey, instead. The clove-studded baked ham was a tradition brought from the old country, and cooked in our ancestor’s homes. Stuffing was made of bread crumbs spiced with sage, onion, salt and pepper. Potatoes were always a favourite daily staple, and they were usually roasted in the fat of the duck or chicken. Roasted carrots were served, along with gravy made with the poultry drippings. The plum pudding was boiled again on Christmas Day, then a whiskey or rum sauce was poured on the top and it was lit at the table, at the end of the Christmas meal, and served as dessert.
Traditional Irish Christmas dinner with ham, turkey, stuffing, carrots, potatoes, gravy, and Brussels sprouts
Clove-studded baked ham
roasted potatoes and carrots
After dinner, the leftover food was put away, the dishes washed, and chairs were moved close to the fire, placed in a semi-circle. This was a time for music! Fiddles were played, and traditional Irish songs from the old country were sang around the fire. Stories were told of Christmas’ past, and jokes were shared, generous glasses of whiskey were poured, and the dancing of a little ‘jig’ to go along with the music was common.
The merriment went on into the wee hours, and it was a tradition for the youngest in the family to leave the home’s door unlatched, before going to bed, to give shelter to any travelers who may pass by. When the story-tellers and the musicians grew weary, and the last soul in the house finally retired to bed, it was their task to make sure that the Christmas candle was still lit in the window, to help guide the Holy Family through the long, dark, night.
And so, the traditions and customs of our Irish ancestors were passed down through the generations, from the very first settlers, to the present day. The special Christmas foods, the hanging of the stockings, the lighting of the candles for Advent, the singing of songs, the fiddling, the whiskey, the story-telling, and the lone candle in the window, lighting up the dark, cold, December night.
So, I’ll leave you with a traditional Irish Christmas blessing, and hope that you will pass along some of your own family’s customs to the next generation, from your grandparents, to your parents, to you, and onto your children, and their children. Peace be with you and yours this holy Christmas season.
This is the house where it all began. It is the place that became the setting for so many stories, so many books; the idyllic backdrop where canopies of Lanark County sugar maples dominated the peaceful grounds surrounding the house.
The home had been in the family since 1936, when Dad’s aunt and uncle, Thomas and Clara Carberry purchased the property, but it truly became the Stafford house, when Mother and Dad returned from the war in 1946.
Audry stared down thoughtfully, her hands cradling the pink and white china tea cup. Was the war really over?, she wondered. It had been so many months, that turned into years, with those dark uncertain clouds hanging over their heads. All they seemed to hear in those days was bad news; news of young lives lost in battles far away. Could it be true? Could they finally get on with their lives now, and spend time together as a family? She’d read about the victory celebrations, and seen photos in the newspapers of the ticker-tape parades, but it wasn’t until she heard from her husband; it was the news that she’d been waiting for…he’d be boarding a ship bound for Canada. He was coming home.
They met at the #8 Bombing and Gunnery School, in Lethbridge, Alberta. She was a pretty young Air Force Corporal, from Edmonton, and he, a dashing young Sergeant from Lanark County. Mother was drawn to his handsome face, and neat appearance. She claimed that she could spot him across the parade square on the base because the crease of his pants was so crisp.
Corporal Audry Rutherford, W.D. Royal Canadian Air Force
Tobias ‘Tim’ Stafford & Audry Rutherford, on a date in Lethbridge, Alberta
In those days, relationships on the military base developed quickly by necessity, never knowing when someone would be deployed to serve elsewhere. Within a few months of their budding romance, the orders came that Dad was to be shipped overseas, to serve at the RAF base in Bournemouth, England. They quickly made plans to marry. Mother would remain on the base, and continue her duties as a Corporal, and Airforce Physical Education Instructor.
On their wedding day, July 12, 1943
Home At Last
There was an unmistakable sense of hope and optimism beaming from every deck on that grey hulking warship as it left the English port, bound for Halifax. It seemed that every man aboard had a permanent smile on his face, a joke to tell, and precious well-worn photos to show the others; of faces they’d be seeing soon, after so many dark and lonely years.
He longed for home. He missed the rugged Canadian landscape; the tall pines, the colourful sugar maples, and the crystal clear lakes and rivers that dotted the Ontario landscape of his youth. Most of all he missed…her. He could almost see her face above the dark rolling waves of the north Atlantic, as the ship sailed closer to their base in Halifax. The constant ache in his heart whenever he thought of her, gradually easing into a sense of purpose. The nervous dread and unsettling fears of war were behind him now, and he had a wife, and two young children to provide for.
The Stafford House
“My Aunt Clara and Uncle Tom own a beautiful property. They said we can come and stay with them until we get settled. I know you’ll be very happy there; I promise. It’s a red brick house, built on a gentle hill, surrounded by lovely shade trees. There are lots of bedrooms, plenty of space for a growing family. There’s even an apple orchard behind the house. When the kids are older we can send them apple-picking, and you could bake us some pies!”, he grinned.
Clara and Tom were approaching retirement age by the time the young Stafford family moved in with them. Clara didn’t drive, and wanted to move to Perth, so that she could get around a bit easier. Maybe it was time for her nephew and his young family to take over the property….
Some Help for the Veterans
Over one million Canadians served in WWII, and in 1944, the Department of Veterans Affairs was created to assist soldiers returning from duty. Their mandate was to ease the way back to civilian life, after so many years of war. The Veterans’ Land Act was one of the programs established so that veterans were eligible for loans to buy land, livestock, and equipment. Over 30,000 Veterans obtained land for farming through this program.
….and so, the young Stafford family was able to purchase the beautiful property from Aunt Clara and Uncle Tom….
Tim Stafford & Judy Stafford, in the driveway at Stafford House
….and many years later, this 1947 photo was featured on the cover of a book…
Tim and Judy Stafford, featured on the cover of “Recipes & Recollections: Treats and Tales from Our Mother’s Kitchen”
…and then there were 3
Judy Stafford, baby Jackie Stafford, and Tim Stafford, 1948, at the Stafford House
The family settled in, and bit by bit, it grew in size. Jackie was born, then Roger, and finally Arlene, and the family was complete.
Judy Stafford, Tim Stafford, Jackie Stafford, and Roger Stafford in 1958
Arlene Stafford in the apple orchard, behind the Stafford House
Many years later, the Stafford House, the picturesque yard, and the woodlands surrounding the property would be the inspiration and the setting for many stories and books.
From the early days of spring and the young buds on the trees, gathering sap, and the house filled with the sweet scents of maple, as the sap boiled in a huge pot on the old stove. The shy tulips and daffodils nudging their way out of the cold ground, and the songbirds returning after a long, cold winter.
Summer was filled with the fresh scents of hay, and the rattling, rumbling tractors and wagons parading up and down the Third Line. Trips to Carl Adams’ swimming hole, and Christie Lake on the steamy hot days, and the nightly spectacles of tiny black bats swooping and sailing through the tall maple branches, followed by the sounds of the bullfrogs in the lowlands, and the crickets lulling us to sleep.
Fall was all about colour, from one end of the yard to the other, and as far as the eye could see; spectacular shades of orange, red, and yellow, and the scents of wood-smoke and the sweet ripe apples hanging low in the orchard.
The year always finished the same way, with the magical weeks leading up to Christmas. It was a busy, bustling, time, for baking, stringing lights, mailing cards, repairing broken ornaments, practicing for Christmas concerts, and most of all, waiting for Santa….
Arlene Stafford, Mike, the family dog, and Roger Stafford
…and so, these were the early years at the Stafford House; the weeks and months after the war. They were the busy years, and years of adjustment. They were the years after two young soldiers met on an airbase in faraway Lethbridge, and fell in love, in such uncertain times.
It was because of their love, their hope for the future, and their sense of optimism that the family grew and prospered at the Stafford House. It was where we developed a strong work ethic, a respect for others, and where we learned about the importance of honesty, integrity, and faith.
Today, on Remembrance Day, I will think of these two soldiers, who possessed both the courage and the optimism to forge ahead with their love and their commitment, even in the darkest days, when the world was at war, and for this, I will be forever grateful.
Lest We Forget
‘Poppies’ – watercolour painting, by Jackie (Stafford) Wharton, 2020
Those were the first words spoken to our mother, the day she met her new father-in-law, Vince Stafford. He was referring to the fact that they were married on the twelfth of July. He made it quite clear that he was not pleased that his son had chosen to welcome a Protestant into their Roman Catholic family, on July 12th of all days!
Some called it Orangeman’s Day, and some referred to it as the ‘Glorious Twelfth’. On July 12th each year, Protestant organizations celebrated the victory of Protestant King William of Orange, riding a white horse, who defeated Catholic King James, at the Battle of the Boyne in July 1690.
The Orange and the Green
When I was a kid, the Irish Rovers recorded a song called “The Orange and the Green”, about a child growing up with one Roman Catholic parent, and one Protestant parent. We saw them perform the song many times over on a popular television show called ‘The Pig and Whistle’, and the irony of the song was not lost on us.
Our father, a Roman Catholic, from Drummond Township, grew up attending St. Patrick’s church in Ferguson Falls, while our mother attended Calvin United in Bathurst (Tay Valley) Township.
Although the feelings of bias and animosity between these two religions may seem foreign to us in these more inclusive times, they were still very much in the forefront, during the 1940s, when my parents married. Mother said she never felt accepted by Dad’s family, particularly his parents; and that never changed even up to the late 1950s and early 1960s when the in-laws passed away.
This religious prejudice ran on both sides of the fence. I recall our cousin, Ruth Rutherford, in Ogdensburg, New York, was forbidden to marry her sweetheart, a Catholic lad, and she never got over it. She remained single for the rest of her life, unable to marry her true love.
It may be difficult for us to imagine, but there were times in our early history in Canada where it was not uncommon for the July 12th celebrations to result in violence or even death.
‘The St. Alban’s Advertiser’, July 20, 1877, p.3
In the early years of the last century, the Orangemen’s Day parades in Canada drew crowds in the thousands, and it was not unusual for fights to break out, and insults along with injuries were to be expected.
Orange Parade, Toronto, July 12, 1911
Although Orangeism originated in Ireland and England, Ogle Robert Gowan, the Order’s first Canadian Grand Master is recognized as the founder of Canadian Orangeism. It is interesting that Gowan is known to have been a frequent visitor to a local fortune teller, Mother Barnes, the Witch of Plum Hollow. Not wishing to be seen consulting a sooth-sayer, he often sent his wife and their maid to ask questions about his politics and his career.
Orange Lodges, as the membership halls were called, sprang up all over Canada, and in Eastern Ontario, they were a common sight in almost every community. The closest Orange Hall to our house was at Wemyss, frequently used as a dance hall, and a place to play cards and socialize.
“The Perth Courier” Sept. 27, 1940, p.4
Carleton Place was one of the first communities to establish a Loyal Orange Lodge, along with Perth, Smiths Falls, and Montague Township.
In the early days, thousands attended Orange events:
“The Perth Courier”, July 8, 1904, p4
Through the decades, many community organizations also held their meetings and socials at the local Orange halls.
“The Perth Courier”, Oct. 23, 1941,p.1
Carleton Place had one of its largest crowds of visitors on July 12, 1920:
In 1921, the Orange Order agreed on several resolutions, including one intended to abolish all separate schools in Canada.
The popularity of the Orange Order celebrations continued through the 1930s…
“The Perth Courier”, July 13, 1934, p.1
Flag of Canada’s Grand Orange Order
An Orange parade was often led by one of the members on a white horse, symbolizing the white horse ridden by King William of Orange, at the Battle of the Boyne.
Some of the symbols worn by members of the Orange Order
Orange Order – ‘Keys to Heaven‘
To assist in the war efforts, every Orange Lodge in Canada was turned into a recruiting office in WWII
“The Perth Courier”, July 19, 1940, p.1
Lanark County Oranges Lodges, Active in 1946
Lanark County – Orange Order Officers 1946
“The Perth Courier”, July 18, 1946, p.1
In 1957, the Orange Day celebrations were held in Almonte, and Rev. Canon J.W.R. Meaken, shared some comments as part of his address to begin the meeting:
“The Perth Courier” July 25, 1957, p.7
Interest in joining the Orange Order began to dwindle in the 1960s and 1970s, and instead of thousands attending the annual parade, it became ‘hundreds’.
“The Perth Courier” July 8, 1971, p.1
Memberships grew smaller and smaller in many parts of the country, and in Lanark County, one of the oldest Orange Lodges, in Carleton Place, closed after 185 years, in January of 2015. The existing membership would merge with the Montague lodge # 512. (The Grand Lodge of Ireland issued the original warrant for the Carleton Place Lodge back in 1830.)
Left, John Arksey, County Master for Rideau/St. Lawrence County Orange Lodges,center, Kevin Bradley, Grand Master of the Carleton Place Lodge, and Mark Alexander, provincial grand master, Ontario East, of the Grand Orange Lodge of Eastern Ontario.
“Inside Ottawa Valley” Dec 02, 2015, by Desmond Devoy, ‘Carleton Place Almonte Canadian Gazette’
At one time, there were 30 Lodges throughout Lanark County. After the closing of the Carleton Place Lodge in 2015, only the Montague Lodge and the Smiths Falls Lodge (No. 88), remained. The Almonte Lodge (No. 378) amalgamated with Carleton Place in 1987, Franktown in Beckwith Township (No. 381) in 1992, and Drummond Centre in Drummond/North Elmsley Township (No. 7) in 2013.
Throughout the many decades of the celebration of Orangemen, their sometimes vocal, and occasionally violent encounters with the Catholics, our family will continue to celebrate July 12th for a different reason. July 12th, for us, was the joining of the two religions, historically separated on this date, a young Protestant girl from the west, and a handsome Roman Catholic lad from Drummond Township.
Maybe they were ahead of their time. It was 1943 afterall, and marrying outside of one’s religion was often frowned upon. Luckily for us, the five children that followed in this unconventional marriage, would grow up in a home where we learned to respect different opinions, different points of view, and different religions.
And so, the Protestant girl, and the Catholic boy were married for almost 50 years, until Dad passed away.
I still smile when I hear that Irish Rover’s tune, “The Orange and the Green”, and July 12th, for us, will always be a special day in our own family history.
Just like the title of the book, when Lanark County calls us back home, especially in the fall of the year, we are welcomed by a panorama of fiery oranges, blazing reds, sunny yellows and dazzling greens.
Signs of fall were everywhere, and a flock of geese escorted us along the road, all the way to Perth….
A sunny drive up historic Gore Street, then we arrived at our destination – The Book Nook & Other Treasures.
Shortly after our arrival, I received a lovely bouquet of flowers from Rideau Ferry resident, Carol-Ann McDougall, along with her good wishes for the book launch. What a thoughtful gift!
Owner of the Book Nook & Other Treasures, Leslie Wallack, provided a delicious assortment of milk chocolate and dark chocolate cookies, and piping hot coffee for all of the visitors to the store.
One of the first visitors to the book launch, was old friend, and former class-mate Dianne Tysick Pinder-Moss. Dianne and I have a long history, going back to our earliest days, at S.S. #5 School, a one-room schoolhouse, at Christie Lake, then to the Scotch Line school, and next, Glen Tay Public School, before heading off to Perth and District Collegiate Institute. Dianne and I also attended 4H Club together, as did many of the boys and girls in our rural farm community west of Perth. Dianne is writing an article for the Agri News, on the new book “Lanark County Calling”, so mixing a bit of business, with the pleasure of spending time together again.
Another special visitor who came early to the book launch, was former Art teacher from P.D.C.I – Wynne White. What a pleasure to see Wynne after so many years have passed, and to learn that she remains active in her artistic pursuits. This talented artist shared many of her techniques and methods over the years, and inspired those of us who attended her classes. She often played the music of our time, during class, on a record-player at the front of the room. One of the albums I recall was ‘Magical Mystery Tour’, and a tune that was played often – ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’. Mrs. White understood the connection between music, art, and inspiration, and with her gentle ways, and kind encouragement, had a way of bringing out the best in all of her students.
Two special visitors drove all the way from Kingston, Ontario to be with us for the book launch, cousins Marie and Yvonne. Marie and Yvonne, like myself, are descendants of pioneers Tobias Stafford of County Wexford, Ireland, and Elizabeth McGarry, of County Westmeath, Ireland, who were among the earliest settlers to Drummond Township in 1816.
It was a special treat to have my brother, Roger Stafford, stop by, and spend some time with us. Roger divides his time these days, between his home in London, Ontario, and his winter place in Fort Myers, Florida. Like the geese we saw overhead earlier in the day, Roger will be returning south in the next few weeks. It was great fun to have him at the book launch!
A book launch would not be complete without a visitor or two from the home soil, the Third Line, DeWitt’s Corners to be specific. Elaine and Dave Morrow stopped by, and we had a lovely visit with them, and caught up on some local news.
A great deal of research goes into writing the stories in any book, and one of the stories in “Lanark County Calling”, is about the Soper Theatre, in Smiths Falls. Jan Stepniak was a great help with the story, and he shared some fascinating, behind-the-scenes highlights of his many years as both Projectionist, and Manager, at the Soper Theatre.
Another memorable guest, one who was tremendously helpful in telling the story of the Soper Theatre, was Violet Gariepy. Violet began working at the Soper in the late fifties, right up to the time when the theater closed in 2012. She shared her memories, stories, and some insights into the people who worked there over the years, and the special recollections that made her time there such a pleasure.
After a busy day chatting with special guests, and visitors, it was time to say good-bye.
Many thanks to our host, owner of The Book Nook & Other Treasures, Leslie Wallack. Treasures indeed, the busy, cheery store is overflowing with unique gifts, and lovely items for the home, along with a huge assortment of books, for children and adults alike. Leslie carries all of my ‘Lanark County’ series of books, as well as many other local authors.
Special thanks to those who shared their memories, stories, and special recollections for the story ‘A Night at the Movies: Soper Theatre in Smiths Falls: Violet Gariepy, Jan Stepniak, the late Gordon Evoy, Scott Irvine, and Tammy DeSalvo.
Also, thank-you to award-winning country music artist Neville Wells, along with Marilyn Taylor-Dunham for sharing their memories and tales, for the story: “The Legendary Ompah Stomp”.
This post is dedicated to the memory of Gordon Evoy, former Usher, at the Soper Theatre. Gordon passed away before the book launch, and I was not able to thank him in person, for the many hours he spent sharing his memories, and insights from his years working at the theater. I had many phone calls with Gordon, and he would always end them saying he had to go and walk his little dogs, in the park, near his home in Smiths Falls. It was clear that those lively little dogs were very close to his heart. Gordon also shared two photos with me, one of his mother Phyllis Evoy, a former staff-member of the Soper Theatre; Phyllis worked in the ticket booth for many years, and it has been said that she called many of the local children by name, and was a friendly face during her many years working there.
Gordon also proudly shared a photo of his grandfather, Harry Jenkins, former theater staff-member, an Usher at the Capitol Theatre, in Smiths Falls. When Harry retired, he worked as a crossing guard, on Brockville Street, helping children safely navigate the busy streets.
Thank-you Gordon. Your stories and memories are captured forever in the book. God Bless. May you rest in peace.
“So it is.” – It was an expression we heard often, spoken in our father’s even, melodic tones, with a hint of an accent, faded over the past three generations, since his great-grandfather left southern Ireland.
There were many lively expressions, and old customs, that surfaced from time to time, reminding us that our father had grown up in an isolated area, populated mostly by Irish and Scottish immigrants . It was a close community, where the Roman Catholics married other Roman Catholics, whose families had also come from the old country. The traditions of story-telling and singing, fiddle-playing, and hard-drinking were tempered with an absolute and unwavering devotion to family, and to the church.
He grew up in a rural area where the dead were waked in the home. He recalled one particular wake where the deceased, an uncle, was laid out on the dining room table, as was the custom. The drinking had commenced long before the funeral took place in the tiny, packed, St. Patrick’s Church in Ferguson’s Falls. Some would claim that they drank to help deal with their grief, at the loss of their dearly departed. Dad said that some used any excuse to drink. Before the wake was over that night, Dad, a young boy, would see two men pour whiskey down the dead man’s throat.
In the years that followed, he continued to witness the destructive powers of alcohol abuse, as it fueled conflicts, tearing families apart, and caused children to abandon their education in order to support themselves. Determined not to repeat the past, he would not tolerate the presence of alcohol in his own home. This remained unchanged from the early days of dating my mother, through the five decades that would follow, until his death.
A mild natured man, reflective at times, he was hard-working, and steadfast. A farmer’s son, he loved nature, and frequently called us to come and admire the bright night sky, or a hovering hummingbird in the yard. He loved his family, and smiled proudly as we left the nest one by one, to try our luck in the world. When one of us drove away, down the lane, after a visit home, he would stand out in the yard, and wave at the car until it eventually went out of sight. In keeping with his personality, he was not a demonstrative man, and expressed his love for us in a quiet, reserved way.
An avid reader, he cherished the written word, and regularly devoured the epic novels of James Michener, with some westerns by Zane Grey thrown in for good measure. He would be pleased that all five of his children became insatiable readers, and his grandchildren as well, as the passion for prose continues down through the generations.
As the hot, sultry, days of July are upon us once again, I remember this man, who was our father. He worked tirelessly to provide for us and put food on our table. He shared his wisdom with us, and cautioned us, “everything in moderation” and “always think for yourself, or someone else will do it for you”. He was the role model who gave us a strong work ethic, and reminded us to “always keep your word.”
Today, on his birthday, I recall many July 15ths when we celebrated together. I remember the jokes and the laughter, familiar faces gathered around the weathered old picnic table, and our mother beaming, making her way across the lawn, carrying his chocolate layer cake, candles lit….
It’s a beautiful day to remember our Dad,……so it is.
This post in memory of Tobias ‘Tib’, ’Tim’ Stafford
July 15, 1918 – July 18, 1992
(photo: l to r: Tobias “Tib” “Tim” Stafford, Audry (Rutherford) Stafford, their eldest son,Tim Stafford (standing), seated – Ethel (Burlingame) Rutherford, Fred Rutherford (Mother’s aunt and uncle from Ogdensburg, St. Lawrence County, New York.) (Home of Christopher ‘Chris’ and Leanore Perkins and family can be seen in the distance.)