Homecoming

“Hearts glowed in friendship, forged over decades,

and the Spirit of Christmas entered the house, and walked among us.”

Christmas House Tour 2014 neighbourhood gals0001

For some people it’s the music of the season, the smell of the turkey, or the glittering gifts sitting under the tree; but for me it was a special visit to the house where I grew up, a homecoming, after a long absence of twenty-two years.

It doesn’t really seem that long ago since our father passed away in 1992, and our mother moved to town. I almost half expected to see him coming from the garage, carrying a tangled mess of Christmas lights, asking me if I’d hold the ladder steady, while he fastened the wire clamps onto the big spruce tree at the front of the house.

When I first heard from Wendy Parker, the current owner of our former home, that it was to be part of a Christmas House Tour, my thoughts turned back to days gone by, of the heavenly smells of Mother’s baking, bright cards in the mailbox at the end of the lane, and special concerts and plays at Calvin Church. There would be eight houses in total on the Christmas House Tour, and the event was sponsored by the Canadian Federation of University Women, and the money raised would help support education in the community.

Kevin and I arrived early that afternoon, with ample time to visit some of my old, familiar haunts. We drove first to Christie Lake, a place I knew well, the bridge at Jordan’s, where I’d jumped many times into the cool, clear waters. Hot days spent riding bikes with friends on the Third Line, and when that bridge was finally in sight it was like seeing an oasis in the middle of the desert. What a welcome sight it was! And even on this cold, December day, the lake appeared as serene and as lovely as it always did, calm and blue, waiting patiently for cottage season, and the laughter of little ones, the parties and music of the older ones, and a place of peace and serenity for the eldest ones.   We drove along the shore, and then headed back up the Third Line.

Jordan's Christie Lake0001

A visit home would not be complete without making a stop at the church where our Mother brought us every Sunday. This was where we celebrated baptisms, witnessed weddings, and met for comfort after funerals. This was the setting for the Strawberry Socials, Easter Sunday white gloves and hats, the lighting of the advent candles and Christmas Eve. The church stands proudly on Cameron Side Road, looking solid as ever, a place for meeting neighbours, friends, a place for worship, a place for solitude, and a shelter from the storms and turmoil of the outside world.

Calvin United Church December 20140001

We headed back to the Fourth Line and rounded the curve, up to the railroad tracks. There were many strolls along these tracks to the duck pond, watching the beavers at play, seeing the ducks return year after year, raise their babies, and leave at the end of the season.   Memories of sitting under the big tree along the tracks with my brother Roger as we patiently placed a penny each on the rails, sat back, waited for the train to go by, then retrieved our flattened pennies. Many hours in my youth were spent waiting for trains, listening to the sounds of the lonely whistles, and hearing the rumbling and chugging down the tracks as they headed for Perth.

Tracks back the side road0001

This way to the duck pond0001

Tree near the tracks0001

We continued up the side road to the little creek and as soon as I spotted it, I remembered scooping up the tadpoles in my sand pail, and then pouring them into a big glass pickle jar to set on the window ledge in my bedroom. Every spring it was a ritual to catch some of these quick, black tadpoles, or pollywogs, as we called them, and watch them for hours, swimming contentedly in the jar, until we dumped them back into the creek.

Creek behind the house0001

Lowlands behind the house0001

The lowlands, across from the creek were still flooded, and ice was already beginning to form. It was back on these lowlands that we all learned how to skate; not on a flat, pristine ice surface in an arena, but through the weeds, and over the bumps, and up and down the imperfections of a farmer’s field. The fact that our skates were old hand-me-downs was the least of our worries!

Field back the side road0001

We drove up the side road to the laneway and parked the car. As we walked up the lane, the slopes and curves of the land were as familiar to me as if I’d never left, and we made our way to the door and knocked.

Kevin at the Christmas House Tour0001

Christmas House Tour sign0001

Garage - Christmas House Tour0001

Stafford House 20001

Stafford House0001

When the door opened and we stepped inside, the home was beautifully decorated for the season. Wendy’s elaborate table was laid out with her mother’s china and cutlery with festive accents fit for a holiday gathering. The whole house in fact, was lovely and bright, adorned with reds and greens and touches of gold and shimmer. As we walked through the rooms, one by one, they were warm and inviting, and almost made me forget that something was missing – the smell of fresh baked bread, a permanent aroma in our house as Mother baked daily for a family of seven.

There was a lovely display arranged on a table in the den, an album of our Stafford family photos and copies of ‘Lanark County Kid’ and ‘Lanark County Chronicles’. I thought that they looked very much at home in this well cared-for house, so lovingly maintained and obviously cherished.

Perkins' house from window0001

Stafford family photos0001

Sunset from kitchen window0001

Perhaps what made the house seem so much like home, after so many years away, were the familiar faces, friends and neighbours, who came to share the memories, of the things that once were; and to celebrate a new Christmas season, content and happy in each other’s company. Though Wendy’s is the newest face among us, it’s as if she’d been with us all along. Wendy is a gracious hostess, and we all had a wonderful time chatting about the house, and catching up on the news in the neighbourhood.

I walked through the house, room by room, and the memories of the past lurked playfully around every corner.   The house seemed to remember me, and the walls and ceilings surrounded me with love, and kept me warm and safe once again.  It was a special day, and a rare treat to be back home.

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Heartfelt thanks to Wendy and to the members of the Canadian Federation of University Women, for making our visit possible, and many thanks also to old friends and neighbours Margery Conboy, Beverly Ferlatte, Betty Miller, Eleanor Paul and her lovely daughter Heather for joining us on our trip down memory lane!

As I continue to bask in the glow of our visit to the old house, I will leave you with this quote from Thomas Wolfe:

“But why had he always felt so strongly the magnetic pull of home, why had he thought so much about it and remembered it with such blazing accuracy, if it did not matter, and if this little town, and the immortal hills around it, was not the only home he had on earth? He did not know. All that he knew was that the years flow by like water, and that one day we come home again.”

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This story –   in memory of Betty Miller  (1934-2015) – “gone, but not forgotten”

betty-miller

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January Blues – Feeling Stuffed Like a Turkey?

 

 

Christmas had come and gone for another year, and by early January we were back in our classrooms at Glen Tay Public School. Frigid, gray 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.

school-bus

Even though the winter solstice had passed, the days in Lanark County were still short and dark for the most part. The cold months that were still to come stretched out ahead of us like the long, heavy, trains that thundered and chugged down the tracks, back the side road, near the Fourth Line.

This way to the duck pond0001

Winter in the country sometimes looked barren and lifeless. The soft green grass and fragrant flowers were almost forgotten, as they lay dormant 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.

winter-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.

snow-drifting

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. The wood stove in the kitchen eventually died out over night, and my glass of water on the bed-side table was frozen like a miniature hockey rink by morning.

winter-bed

The turkey sandwiches, so delicious on Boxing Day, began to lose their luster, as the first few days of the new month found us eating the leftovers from the enormous Christmas bird. Turkey soup. Turkey pot pie. Turkey casserole. Would it ever end? Endless stacks of sliced turkey were stored in the old chest freezer for those daily turkey sandwiches, dressed with mustard, salt and pepper, staring up at me from my lunch pail at school.

turkey-leftovers

One morning that same January, before heading off to work, at Chaplin’s Dairy in Glen Tay, Dad requested, ever so politely, that we have eggs for supper that evening. Eggs were one of Dad’s favourite meals, any time of day. He liked them fried, over easy, boiled, scrambled, any way at all, and that was his request for supper. My fingers were crossed that Mother would comply and take a break from her relentless production of turkey leftovers.

fingers-crossed

What a treat it would be to have a nice, light supper after so many heavy meals, rich baked goods, and endless servings of turkey! After Dad left that morning, Mother decided that she would indeed make fried eggs and pancakes for supper, so she began to assemble her ingredients. Hopefully she had everything she needed, or one of us would be making a long, cold trek down to Cavanagh’s store in DeWitt’s Corners.

cavanaghs-store-black-and-white-without-garage

Mother began her preparations on the old kitchen table. I breathed a sigh of relief, welcoming a change from the endless turkey leftovers. On that cold winter’s evening, so long ago, when Dad returned from work, we had the very best cure for a January Turkey Hangover.

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pancakes

Audry Stafford’s  Farm-style Buttermilk Pancakes

3 cups all purpose flour

3 Tablespoons sugar

3 teaspoons baking powder

1 ½ teaspoons baking soda

¾ teaspoon of salt

¼ teaspoon of cinnamon

3 cups buttermilk

½ cup milk

3 eggs   (Mother always used large eggs)

1/3 cup melted butter

1 teaspoon vanilla

Our Mother, being a prize-winning baker at the Perth Fair, had a few good tricks for making her pancakes light and fluffy and melt-in-your-mouth delicious.

First, let your buttermilk, milk and eggs sit out for a full hour before making the pancakes. By allowing them to reach room temperature the pancakes will rise higher and fluffier.

Use real butter, don’t substitute with margarine, or the flavour will not be as good.

Make sure that your baking powder is fresh to give as much lift and height possible to the pancakes.

Use real buttermilk. If it’s not possible to use real buttermilk, you can sour some regular milk by adding a tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar to each cup of milk. The recipe will still work, but the flavour will not be nearly as rich as using real buttermilk. We always had a quart of buttermilk in the fridge because Dad liked to have a small glass at night before bedtime. Buttermilk is low in fat and very high in protein.

In case you don’t know, buttermilk is the fluid remaining when the fat is removed when cream is churned in to butter. When I was a kid, farmers separated the milk from the cream on the farm, and shipped cans of cream to cheese factories once or twice a week. The cream would be used to make cheese and butter. Today, cultured buttermilk is produced by adding lactic acid to pasteurized whole milk and adding a touch of salt.

Don’t forget – Mother always warned us not to stir the pancake batter too much. Over-stirring will cause the pancakes to be flat, not fluffy. Just stir ever so slightly, don’t worry about the lumps of flour, just combine the wet and dry ingredients together gently with a wooden spoon or spatula; don’t over-mix.

Method:

Use a large bowl and combine your flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon.

In another large bowl, combine your eggs, buttermilk, milk, melted butter and vanilla.

The wet and dry ingredients should be kept separate until you are ready to make the pancakes.

Next, heat a lightly oiled frying pan at medium-high heat. To test the temperature you can add a drop of water to the center of the pan, and it should bead up and sizzle.

When the pan is ready, you can mix the wet and dry ingredients. Remember, just mix very lightly, and don’t worry about the lumps. Never over-stir. This is very important.

Scoop up the batter with a ladle and use about half a cup for each pancake. When one side is golden, flip it over with a spatula and cook the other side. Add more oil to the pan as required.

This recipe will make a dozen 5-inch pancakes.

If you have any leftover pancakes, you can let them cool, place waxed paper between them and freeze.

Top the finished pancakes with salted butter and some Lanark County Maple syrup. For a fancy look you can sift a bit of icing sugar on top.

lanark-county-maple-syrup    maple-syrup

If you’re having eggs with your pancakes, like we did, fry them up in a little bacon grease for added flavour. Mother always poured her leftover bacon drippings into a small container and kept it in the fridge. Use it for frying eggs, onions, and home-fries, and make an old fashioned country-style meal.

So cure your January Turkey Hangover, enjoy some fluffy Buttermilk Pancakes, and have a Happy New Year!

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Note:   To discover   “10 Things You May Not Know About Maple Syrup”, and for a listing of the top maple syrup producers in Lanark County:  10 Things You May Not Know About Maple Syrup

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http://www.staffordwilson.com

Grey November Skies

It was one of those mornings in the late fall, when the sky was so grey that you couldn’t tell whether it was daylight, or still dark outside. Halloween was over for another year, and the snow hadn’t begun for the season, to remind us that Christmas was coming. It was just one of those four or five dark, grey, lifeless weeks in between the colourful fall, and the bright snowy winter, when Mother Nature didn’t seem to know what to do.

bare trees 2

I headed downstairs that Saturday morning, and took a quick look at the clock on the kitchen wall. With the sky so overcast, I couldn’t even guess what time it was, and I didn’t have a clock in my bedroom upstairs. All I knew was the weekend was here, so I didn’t have to go back to Glen Tay School for another two days.

The whole house seemed gloomy. When I got to the bottom of the stairs, and opened the door, the living room was empty. Where was everybody?

old fashioned living room

The only room that seemed to be lit up in the old house was the kitchen, and as I walked through the living room, and got close enough to see, Mother was in full production, as usual.

Mother in the kitchen

She had the old aluminum meat grinder attached to the kitchen table, and had bags of flour and sugar, and boxes of baking soda and baking powder lined up along the edge.

Christmas cake ingredients

There were packages of raisins and candied pineapple, and currants and cherries, all over the top of the freezer, as though they were waiting their turn to go into the huge white ceramic mixing bowl. It looked as though some kind of dried fruit was making its way through the meat grinder, and dropping into one of the melamine bowls waiting below.

grinding fruit

“Can you run down to Cavanagh’s, and pick up some molasses for me?”, she said without looking up from the meat grinder. “I forgot to pick some up at the IGA last night, and I’ll need some for the Christmas cake.”

“Sure.”, I said, and picked up the three quarters that were already sitting there waiting for me, at the end of the table.

three quarters

I grabbed my blue corduroy jacket off of the hook, and headed outside. As soon as I opened the door the cold air hit me, and I remembered how the weather had been getting cooler and cooler these past weeks. It felt cold enough to snow, I thought to myself, and I picked up my old, red, battered bike, still lying on the same spot where I’d left it in the yard, the night before.

old red bike 2

Brrr. It felt even colder once I was on the bike and moving. The lane was downhill, and I coasted all the way onto the Third Line. I had a quick check for cars, and turned right, still coasting for a bit, then I began to pedal. Ugh, Heney’s dogs!, I thought. I needed a newer, faster bike, or a car, or a spaceship; something to get me past Heney’s faster.

As soon as I saw Conboy’s house, I pedaled like mad. I should have eaten breakfast first, I thought. I could use some energy.

I made it past Heney’s unscathed. They didn’t even come out barking that day. They must have been feeding them or something, I thought. Whew! That was easy.

I was moving pretty fast, and made it to Cavanagh’s in no time. Helen was working, and she pointed out the molasses, and asked how everyone was doing, just like she always did.

molasses

I paid for the molasses, and picked up my bike where I’d left it; propped up against the front entrance of the store.

cavanaghs-store-black-and-white-without-garage

Since it was Saturday, I decided that I’d take the long way home. I just didn’t feel like riding past Heney’s again and was sure those dogs would be back out on the road, full of food now, and ready to chase me up the Third Line.

I crossed the road and headed up Cameron’s side road. I passed S.S.# 4 school, and was heading up toward Calvin Church.

S S # 4 School for book

This part of the trip was a bit harder, as it was uphill all the way.

Calvin United Church December 20140001

I passed the church, then up the road a bit more, and turned right onto the Fourth Line. It wasn’t long until I was down near Calvin and Marion Jordan’s place, and I slowed down a bit, as I rounded the corner, and headed toward the railroad tracks.

Tracks back the side road0001

I glanced down into the ditches and spots where I could usually find some flowers to bring home for Mother, but there was no colour in the ditches that day, and even the cattails had gone to seed in the swamp and looked dirty,white and furry. I didn’t see anything worth bringing home for a bouquet.

cattails autumn

When I finally arrived back in the yard, I threw down my bike, and walked into the kitchen.  I could smell the cake batter as soon as I opened the door. The batter for the Christmas Cake was pinkish. I’m not sure why it was that colour; maybe it was juice from the cherries. Mother had saved the bowl for me to clean, and it was sitting on the edge of the table. Mother said she would add the molasses in with the ground fruit, and that sure worked for me. I loved cleaning out the cake batter bowls. This was my kind of breakfast!

cake batter bowl

I’m not sure why the Christmas Cake had to be made so early. Mother said it had to ‘ripen’ and I was never really sure what she meant by that. It wasn’t like a green banana, or one of the green apples from back in the orchard. Still, it was part of the process of making the cake each year, and there was no point in arguing.

dark fruit cake

No matter what the reason for making the Christmas Cake in what seemed like the drabbest, dreariest part of the year, I liked to think of it as kind of a light at the end of a tunnel. It was so grey and colourless outside. The bright leaves were lying, lifeless on the ground. The birds had left the yard. I couldn’t find one bright, pretty flower to bring Mother for a bouquet; not even a cattail. Nature seemed to be in limbo; not sure what to do next.

Creek behind the house0001

Making the Christmas cake was the first sign that the brightest season of the year was on its way. In just a matter of weeks we’d be celebrating Christmas. Bit by bit, in the days ahead, we’d be making progress on our preparations. The Christmas cards would be signed and addressed. Betty Miller and Frances Dixon would begin organizing the Christmas concert at Calvin Church, and we’d all have our parts to study, and new songs to learn.

Dad would be stringing the Christmas lights on the big spruce tree near the house, any day now. Soon, we would be strolling back into the bush to size up the possible candidates for the Christmas tree, that would grace the corner of our living room.

Before too long, pans of fudge would be prepared, and all sorts of cookies and squares would be baked and stored. Crepe paper streamers would be brought out of storage, and old decorations glued and repaired.

So the grey days, I concluded to myself, were days of preparation. These were the days when we would have time to spend getting ready for Christmas. They were the days when we wouldn’t be distracted by the bright sun, and green grass, to go outside and play, but would stay indoors, and stroke things off of our to-do lists.

In its wisdom, Nature had given us quiet, thoughtful days like these,to focus on the things to come, because Christmas would be upon us in no time at all.

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Granny Rutherford’s Dark Fruit Cake

(should be baked a few weeks ahead, and allowed to ripen before Christmas)

2 cups raisins

1 1/2 cups of cherries

1 cup currants

1 cup dates

1 1/2 tsp cinnamon

1 1/2 cups seeded raisins

1 cup pecans

1 1/2 cups mixed dried fruit

1/2 cup candied pineapple

1/4 tsp. mace

1/2 tsp. ginger

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1 tsp salt

3 cups flour

1 cup butter

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1 1/4 cup brown sugar

1/4 tsp cloves

6 eggs

1/2 cup molasses

1/3 cup cold coffee

Mix fruit and nuts (may grind coarse or fine, as desired)

sift flour and spices and mix well

cream butter, and add sugar and eggs

Add dry ingredients

Bake at 300 degrees for 3 – 3 1/2 hours

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Allow to cool on baking racks

(double-wrap in plastic, then double-wrap in foil, and store in a cool dry place to ripen)

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Who was Granny Rutherford?

Dorothy Woolsey, born in Lincolnshire, England, was just sixteen years old when her mother Mary-Jane Foster Woolsey, passed away.  She often told the story of how they dyed her favourite red coat – black for her mother’s funeral.  In 1909 her father, William Woolsey, brought Dorothy and her siblings over to Canada, because his eldest daughter, Edith, had weak lungs, and the doctor advised him the air in Canada would be better for her.

Dorothy Woolsey Rutherford

Dorothy Woolsey at age 20, in 1914

They settled first in Winnipeg, and Dorothy’s older sister Florence, married, and moved to Saskatoon.  Dorothy went to visit, and she met a handsome young man named Charles Rutherford, a Mechanical Engineer, who came to Canada from St. Lawrence County, New York, to seek his fortune.  Dorothy and Charles fell in love, married, and settled in Edmonton, where their children Dorothea ‘Dolly’, Mildred ‘Mill’, Audry, Muriel, and Jack were born.

Mother and Granny Rutherford

Mother, (Audry Rutherford Stafford) age 18, with her mother, Dorothy Woolsey Rutherford, in front of their home in Edmonton in 1936.

Arlene Granny Mother

Arlene Stafford (Wilson), Granny Rutherford, and Audry (Rutherford) Stafford, 1967

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Christmas Cake recipe – in “Recipes and Recollections –  Treats and Tales From Our Mother’s Kitchen, available in local stores or online.  ISBN 978-0-9877026-0-9

recipes & recollections cover 1

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