Perth Fair – Flashbacks of Fun!

Perth Fair midway 1

It wasn’t just our Mother who loved the Perth Fair.  Yes, she spent months preparing for those brief few hours each Labour Day weekend, at the fairgrounds, along Rogers Road, but the rest of the family also felt a sense of excitement, rivalled only by Christmas morning!

Perth Fair logo on blue

The day had arrived!  The day that we would drive into Perth, park at our Aunt Pat and Uncle Peter Stafford’s house on Halton Street, walk up the road, and enter the gates.  By the time we got to the entrance, and Mother showed her Exhibitor’s Pass, we were bursting with anticipation. I knew that Mother would be heading straight for the Homecraft Building to check on her entries, but instead, I chose to slow down, look around, and take it all in.

Perth Fair poster 1966

She glanced back, waved, and then rushed down the well worn path, through the midway, and up to the buildings. I stood with my back against the side of the Lion’s Hall, and glanced around. There was so much to see that I didn’t know where to look first.  Being a kid, my eyes naturally gravitated toward the rides.

Perth Fair ride 1   tilt a whirl

They were all spinning and whirring, and the bright sun was bouncing off of all of the shiny metal.  There was a Ferris wheel, a Scrambler, a Tilt-a-Whirl, and the Bullet.  The Swings took up a lot of room, and so they were set up to the right of the buildings.  I could see four kiddy rides: a Merry-Go-Round, Baby Airplanes going round in a circle, Ladybugs, and a Little Red Caboose making its way along a tiny round track.

Once my eyes had taken in the rides, my senses turned to all of the sweet aromas of the Fair. Right across from where I was standing was the Lion’s Club ladies’ booth, and I could smell their fresh, homemade hamburgers, and the savory scent of fried sweet onions.  Straight ahead of me, just past the entrance was a vendor swirling a paper funnel around and around, in a circle, pink cotton candy swelling out from the stick, as he twirled it inside the machine.

concession 1  cottonn candy

Next to the cotton candy stand, was a man selling corn on the cob, and several people were waiting in line.  Folks were holding their cobs by a short wooden stick that had been plunged right into the big end of the cob, and there were two or three separate unwrapped pounds of butter set on the edge of the counter of the vending cart. The butter had already taken on a curved shape as people spun their cobs, and then salted them.

corn on a stick  corn dog

Next to the corn vendor was the hot dog cart. A tall, lanky man was grilling hot dogs on one side, and the finished dogs were spinning slowly around glistening on the grill. On the other side of the wagon, a younger lad was piercing hot dogs with long slender sticks, dipping them in batter, and placing them into a big deep fryer.  The cart had a low shelf with mustard, ketchup and relish and some diced onions for people to dress their hot dogs.

candy apples   caramel apples

 

There were two more food carts, so I strolled a bit farther down the midway toward the buildings. The first cart held a popcorn machine, even bigger than the one that I’d seen at the Soper Theatre in Smiths Falls.  It was a large, metal machine, painted red, and the popcorn was spilling out of the top into a big glass case.  The vendor was lifting it out with a bright, silver scoop, and placing it into small white paper bags that were decorated with red stripes and a clown’s face.

popcorn

The last food vendor in front of the Commerce building, was making snow cones.  There was a square, metal and glass machine and an old man in a dirty apron was pouring ice cubes into a big funnel on the top.  There were white cone-shaped paper cups stacked in a tall dispenser attached to the side of the machine and when he cranked the handle on the opposite side snow came out of an opening at the front.  There were clear plastic squeeze bottles lined up on a shelf, at the front of the machine, and each was labeled with a different flavour: cherry, orange, lemon-lime, grape and blueberry.

snow cone

I’m not sure if I was really hungry or if it was just from seeing and smelling all of the different kinds of food, and I thought that I might buy either a small bag of popcorn, or a blueberry snow cone. I dug deep into my pocket, and pulled out my money.  I had exactly twelve dollars, and my money had to last for the whole weekend, and this was just the first day.  I needed to save some, because my friends Susan and Jane Munro, Patti Jordan, and Debbie Majaury, would be coming into town later, and I’d want to go on the rides with them. Because the rides were $1.25 each I had to be careful not to spend money on food, so I stuffed the bills and change back in my pocket, and kept walking, taking in all the sights along the way.

midway 2

Photo: 1967 Old Home week,  David Bromley (clown on the left) Fred Mather (clown on the right)

I heard a man’s voice yelling at me, and it startled me so much that I jumped.  I looked toward the man timidly, and he was in a game booth, right behind a food cart, and he had a table set up with some wooden milk bottles, stacked in a pyramid.  He had a baseball in his hand, and called to me to come and knock over the milk bottles. It scared me so much that I just walked away.  I wasn’t used to strangers.  We knew everyone out on the Third Line, and lots of the folks in Perth as well.  None of the people we knew ever yelled at us like that, right out of the blue, and certainly not a stranger.  I walked quickly away, not looking back.

ring toss

The people that operated the games made me nervous.  They had a lot of tattoos, which was something we never saw in those days.  Many of them were a bit too aggressive. I’d played some of those games before, and although I won, I didn’t get the big stuffed bears and dogs that were hanging along the top and sides of their booth.

carnie

I’ll never forget the first time I played a game.  The back wall of the booth had four or five rows of balloons blown up, and they were stuck to the wall.  I thought I’d have no problem hitting one of the balloons, so when the man yelled at me to come and play, I thought it would be a sure thing.

prize every time

He said it was $1.00 for three darts so I handed him my money, and he handed me three darts.  Sure enough, the balloons weren’t that far away, and I hit and burst all three of them.

3 darts for a dollar

 

He reached down under the table, into a big cardboard box, and handed me a mangy looking stuffed snake.  It was about six inches long, and had an orange felt tongue, badly stitched onto its mouth, and two black felt eyes, that weren’t even lined up.

I looked up at the big stuffed bears and asked him why I hadn’t won one of those.  He said that my prize was a ‘small’ and if I wanted a ‘large’ prize I’d have to play and win, trading up to a ‘medium’ then win a certain number of ‘mediums’ and then I’d finally get one of the big bears. Holy cow!  Talk about disappointed!  What kind of scam was that?  Folks from Bathurst Township were used to other people dealing with them fairly. This game seemed like out and out trickery, and I wasn’t very impressed.  Still, I didn’t want to tell Mother that I’d just wasted my money, so I kept it to myself.  I didn’t even want to tell my friends that I’d been fooled like that.  I just felt stupid.

I walked by all of the other game booths, and watched people play.  Some folks walking around the fairgrounds were actually carrying one of the great big stuffed animals.  I wondered to myself how many of those mangy stuffed snakes they’d had to trade up in order to finally claim the big prize.

Perth Fair 1956

Photo: Perth Fair 1956 – L to R –  Wanda Mahon, Bette Duncan, Mary Douglas, Marsha Ann Nichols, Heather Murphy, Bill Redman (Bill operated the concession stands for the March Midway)

I walked past the last game in the midway, and there was a rough-looking older woman, holding a bunch of short, wooden fishing rods, with small black metal squares on the ends.  There was a round aluminum tub of water on the ground, and floating along the surface of the water were dozens of little yellow plastic ducks, and they each had ‘S’, ‘M’ or ‘L’, marked on their heads in black marker – small, medium and large I guessed.  I must have been staring too long at the tub of ducks because she called out at me to come and play.  She said everyone is a winner.  Not to be tricked again, I asked her what the prizes were, and she showed me.  She didn’t have huge stuffed animals, but it was only fifty cents to play, and you could fish in the tub until you caught a duck.

fishing game

I dug into my pocket, and pulled out two quarters, gave them to her, and she handed me a fishing rod.  By this time, after watching other folks play for a few minutes, I had figured out that the heavy black square on the end of the rod was a magnet, and that each of the yellow plastic ducks must have a magnet inside so they would stick to the line.  I looked down into the tub, and I could see that there were about forty or fifty ducks marked with an ‘S’, maybe ten marked with a ‘M’ and there were only three that I could see marked with an ‘L’.   I took my time, and positioned my rod right over one of the ‘L’ ducks and plunged it into the water.  Wouldn’t you know it, just my luck, the magnet had stuck to a duck with an ‘S’, the lady pulled it out of the tub, and handed me a prize.  It was a 45 rpm record in a paper sleeve.  I thanked her, and looked at the label.  It was the Shirelles’ song “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow”  Hmmm.  Well, the record was a few years old, but we had a record player at home, and some plastic adapters to play 45s, so this didn’t seem like such a bad prize after all.  Not bad for fifty cents!

The late August sun was working its way up into the sky, and I thought it must be close to noon.  I was starting to feel hot, and decided to head up to the buildings, and cool off inside.  The exhibit halls at the Perth Fair were grey metal arched buildings, with straight walls, and rounded roofs.  One of the buildings was known as the Commerce building, and it had lots of different vendors selling their products and services.  The other building was the Homemaking building, and this is where you could find exhibits of sewing and fancy work, vegetables, flowers, canned goods, maple products, and of course home baking.  It’s also where you could find our Mother!

Home Baking

As I walked closer to the building, there were two tables set up, right outside of the entrance.  One person was raffling off a quilt made by Mrs. Bert Frizzell, and the other was selling tickets for the annual draw to win a baby beef. Sure enough, as I approached the main door, I spotted Mother, standing along one of the baking counters, talking to Evelyn Bothwell, and Margaret Campbell.  Mrs. Willard Shaw and Mrs. Archie Ferguson were working at the next counter, arranging some of the craft displays.  The ladies all nodded and smiled at me, knowing that I was one of Mother’s ‘helpers’, responsible for carrying her baking in to the building each year, the evening before the judging took place.  I usually had a meringue pie on my lap, in the car, on the way into Perth, and there were countless trays of muffins, loaves, cakes, pies, cookies, bread, rolls and biscuits to carry, carefully, into the building each year.  Along with all of those tasty treats, she would also enter photography, flowers, vegetables and sewing, but it was the home baking competition where her talents shone.

maple syrup and honey display

Mother spotted me, smiled excitedly, and waved me over to the counter.  “Your Mother won the most points in the baking category again!” Mrs. Bothwell exclaimed, and the ladies pointed out all of the red ribbons and tags, behind the glass counter.  Mother beamed, and said that Mrs. Bell from Balderson had come very close to beating her, and that she’d have to stay sharp for next year!

prize ribbons     most points in baking 1965

There were also many other folks who won prizes at the Fair that year as well.  There was a gate prize each year, and the ticket number would be drawn, called out, and the winner received ten pounds of Balderson Cheese.  Now who wouldn’t want that!  They estimated that the crowd that year was around 15,000 and I’m not sure who won the gate prize, but someone went home that night with a big slab of the best cheese in the county.

mammoth cheese

One of the most popular events was the harness racing, and the winner was Eddie Norris of Perth. There was also a Tractor Rodeo – contestants had to drive tractors through an obstacle course pulling wagons and manure spreaders.  In the 14-18 yrs. division some of our local lads had a good showing.  Bill Poole came 1st, Allan Lowry was 2nd, and Brian Miller of Drummond Centre came 3rd.  In the 19 yrs. and over division Mervin Conboy of Maberly took first place, with Jack James from Middleville taking 2nd, and our neighbour from the Third Line, Wayne Conboy taking 3rd.

Donald Hossie, another neighbour, was the top winner in the seed and grain competition, and Mrs. Robert Moodie won the Sewing and Fancy work class with no less than 23 firsts! Mrs. John Auchterlonie, also from the Third Line, took top honours for her vegetables and fruits, and Mrs. Isobel Kent came first in the Flower competition.

flowers Perth Fair

giant pumpkin

Ray Poole was the winner of the best bale of first cut hay, and our neighbour, John Miller of Glen Tay, won for the best dairy cattle.  John’s sister Ruth Miller, won for the best senior calf.  Other winners from the Third Line included Paul, Dale and Jane Brady, winners for their 4H dairy cattle entries. In some of the other 4H competitions local lads Alfred Bowes and Brian Miller, John Miller, and Linda Bell of Balderson were winners.

showing calf      4H logo

Everyone enjoyed the light and heavy Horse Shows and the livestock competitions.  That was the first year that Charolais cattle were introduced into the mix, and so it was quite special to see them in the arena.

Horse and Charlolais at the Fair

showing calf # 2

showing at the Fair # 3

My good friends came to the fairgrounds that Saturday afternoon, and we had a wonderful time, riding the Scrambler, and the Tilt-a-Whirl, screaming, laughing, and then feeling dizzy on our walk back down the ramp, at the end of the ride.  We were all a little nervous about riding The Bullet, because while one of the two cars was right side-up, the opposite car was up-side-down.  We stood there quite a while watching other people riding, and screaming, and laughing, before we got up enough nerve to try it out ourselves.  I didn’t really like being upside-down, and some of my change fell out of my pocket, onto the ground below.  Luckily, one of our neighbours Linda Brady saw it fall, and she stood there and waited, until the ride was finished, and hung onto my change for me.

bullet ride

As always, the Grandstand shows at the Perth Fair were great entertainment for people of all ages!  Beautiful late summer evenings, clear skies, all the rides lit up, the scents of delicious food in the air, and wonderful live music, made those nights magical!

grandstand 2

grandstand

bandstand 3 edit

Everyone always came out to see the famous Trans Canada Hell Drivers!

Hell Drivers 1969Hell Driver clown

Hell Drivers at the Fair

Along with the Grandstand entertainment, one of the highlights of the Fair that year, was the Old Time Fiddlers competition on Sunday, and the musically-gifted Dawson Girdwood walked away with the top prize. Barb Closs from Lanark came second in the step-dancing competition, although we thought she should have come first, she was such a talented performer.  Watching the fiddling and step-dancing was a memorable finish to the Labour Day weekend.

Dawson Girdwood

Dawson Girdwood

The last night of the Fair, as always, was bittersweet.  We knew that it was almost over for another year.  I walked through the midway one more time, all the way to the Lion’s Hall.  The ladies in the Lioness Booth were packing up their big jars of mustard and relish, and some of the nearby vendors were starting to clean their food carts, and take them apart.

midway 4

Some diehard fans of the Fair were still playing games; taking a last spin at the Crown and Anchor wheel, or throwing one last pitch at Skeet ball, not wanting the fun to end.  Although it was getting late, there were still a handful of people on the rides laughing and screaming. The good-natured folks running the rides didn’t seem to mind and they gave these last few stragglers extra long rides.

As I walked back up through the midway, I took one last look behind me, as if I wanted to freeze the moment in my memory, then I reluctantly climbed into the car.  Dad started up the engine, and drove through the side entrance, onto Cockburn Street.

It was a wonderful fair!  I sat in the back seat of the car, tired from the busy weekend, as Mother chatted excitedly to Dad, already planning her exhibits for next year’s fair.

kids driving away

School would be starting soon, and the days would grow cooler, and the sun wouldn’t feel quite as strong as it did for the Fair.  In the weeks to come we’d bring our jackets down from the attic, and spend our evenings doing homework, instead of riding our bikes up and down the Third Line. As the daylight hours dwindled down we’d begin to see the onset of nature’s paintbrush, and its random strokes of yellow and orange, dotted across the maple trees in our yard. This would be our last taste of summer for a long while, and what could possibly be a more fitting way to finish off the season, than a glorious sunny weekend spent at the Perth Fair!

…………

Perth Fair 1963

…………

 

This story is an excerpt from:

Memories of Home Drummond North Elmsley

The story ‘A Day at the Fair’, first published in
“Lanark County Calendar: Four Seasons on the Third Line”   ISBN 978-0-9877026-30
some photos from: ‘Perth Remembered’, and from ‘Perth Fair’
L C Calendar book cover

http://www.staffordwilson.com

 

Lunch with the Retired Women Teachers of Ontario

Retired Teachers of Ontario 10001_1

The scenic town of Perth glowed in the warmth of the bright spring sun as we made our way along historic Gore Street last Thursday.  The Retired Women Teachers of Ontario had kindly invited me to speak at their monthly meeting, and they chose the popular Maximilian Restaurant as their venue.

Maximilian, open since 1975 has enjoyed tremendous popularity in Perth, as well as the surrounding area, and many come from neighbouring towns and cities to sample their delicious cuisine; particularly their famous melt-in-your-mouth schnitzel dishes!

Retired Teachers of Ontario 60001Retired Teachers of Ontario 20001

I received a warm welcome from the RWTO, and once everyone had arrived and settled into their seats, I read two short stories to the group –each with a theme about education. The first story from my book “Lanark County Kid”, is about the transition from the one room school houses to a centralized school, built in 1968 – Glen Tay Public School.  The story describes the debates that went on and on for months, regarding the financial strain on the townships and  should they proceed with building a new school. The discussions that followed highlighted the pros and cons by both parents and teachers concerning which of the two styles of education provided the best overall experience for the students.  The story describes the new school, larger student population, and the advantages and benefits of the new facilities and modern methods of teaching.

The second story that I presented focused on a popular local teacher in the 1960s and 1970s – Mrs. Dencie (Tryon) Conboy.  One of the unique features of Mrs. Conboy’s classes was her fondness for blending studies with physical activities, usually in the form of softball games, designed to help burn off pent-up energy when students became restless in her classroom.  Her teaching style was ahead of its time, and many of her students went on to become successful, contributing members of their communities.  The story was a tribute to her methods of ‘thinking outside the box’ in her popular and perhaps slightly unorthodox and much-loved teaching style.

Retired Teachers of Ontario 40001Retired Teachers of Ontario 50001

After lunch there was an opportunity to meet with many of the teachers, and to discuss the changes in education through the years, and some interesting new developments on the horizon.

The lunch at Maximilian was delicious as always, and it was a delight to meet with so many of the members of the RWTO.   There were lots of fascinating discussions as well as questions about the five books on Lanark County that I brought to the presentation.  I would imagine that teachers and books go together like honey and bees, so it was my pleasure to introduce the members to my collection of published books.

Retired Teachers of Ontario 30001

The sun was still bright and warm as we departed from our delicious lunch with the RWTO members.  There are few things as peaceful and lovely as a drive through the town of Perth on a mild spring day.

Many thanks to the RWTO members for their warm hospitality, and for making our visit with them such a delight!

———

For more information about ‘Lanark County Kid: My Travels Up and Down the Third Line”

For more information about Maximilian Restaurant in Perth Ontario:

Maximilian Restaurant Perth Ontario

For information about the Retired Women Teachers of Ontario:

RTWO history

 

“Lanark County Calendar” Book Launch

Arlene &  Leslie Nov 2 20130001

One of the best things about visiting Perth is seeing old friends, and yesterday was no different during the launch of ‘Lanark County Calendar’.

Many thanks once again to Leslie Wallack, owner of The Book Nook for hosting the book launch. The Book Nook is a bright, cheery store filled to the rafters with books of all kinds and features a broad selection of titles by local authors. It was a perfect setting to introduce ‘Lanark County Calendar’ to local readers.

We had barely finished setting up the books at the ‘feature table’ when Tom, an avid reader of local history, stopped by for a visit, and was the very first to pick up his signed copy of ‘Lanark County Calendar’. Despite the cool November weather, traffic into the store was steady throughout the day and brought many visitors and friends from days gone by and some new readers as well.

Maxine Jordan, an old friend from Calvin United Church as well as former neighbour from the Third Line in Bathurst Township stopped by for a chat and a copy of the new book. We also had the pleasure of spending some time with Elaine Morrow and her husband Dave, also long-time residents of the Third Line and we had a chance to catch up on some of the goings on in the old neighbourhood.

A couple of former classmates stopped by and it was wonderful to have the chance to chat and find out how they were doing. Dianne Tysick Pinder-Moss, a classmate who goes back to the one-room schoolhouse near Christie Lake, as well as being a former fellow 4H Club member, came by for her copy of the new book and we shared a few laughs and a quick chat. Another school chum from days gone by Marie Kerr stopped by the store and was great to see her as well. I hadn’t seen Marie for many years so was an unexpected treat to spend a few minutes with her again.

Another friend, who is in the process of building her dream home near beautiful Rideau Ferry, Carol-Ann McDougall stopped by. Carol-Ann surprised me with a lovely bouquet of red carnations with congratulations on the new book. Many thanks for this thoughtful gesture Carol-Ann and for taking the time to stop by.

Thanks also to Sean and Meaghan Christie for joining us on this special day and helping to make the launch a success.

The day breezed by quickly with so many visitors to The Book Nook and we are grateful for a successful launch of the new book and look forward to visiting Perth again in the near future.

http://www.staffordwilson.com

Mrs. Conboy: An Iron Fist in a Velvet Glove

baseball

It was nothing short of a miracle that Mrs. Conboy managed to keep her sense of humour in our rowdy often boisterous classroom at Glen Tay Public School. After all, she had some of the most ‘lively’ boys in the entire building nestled snuggly at the back of her classroom. They all seemed to sit in a tight cluster at the far left side of the six neatly-spaced rows that ran from front to back, close enough to the windows for them to become distracted more often than not.

I often wondered if that was why they had chosen Mrs. Conboy to be in charge of some of the oldest and most challenging characters in the shiny new school, a building barely four years old at the time. The powers-that-be had decided in their questionable ‘wisdom’ to close down all of the one-room school houses in Lanark County and to bus us all from near and far to the modern, gleaming school on Harper Road.

So there she was, not a particularly tall or imposing lady, but one with enough of a serious nature, tempered with a quick smile that managed to keep order in a class of almost forty students. Many of her charges were large, strapping, farm lads, with high levels of energy that might have been better served in a sunny open field, than trapped inside four closed walls, so far from their homes and waiting chores.

I don’t think I have ever played as much softball before or since, as I did that year in Mrs. Conboy’s class. She was wise enough to know when the activity level in the classroom had gone beyond an environment suitable for learning and she’d announce that we’d be taking a break from our lessons to play a game of ball. Off we’d go outside to the ball diamond at the back of the school, carrying balls, bats and gloves. Sometimes we’d play for just half an hour, sometimes an hour or more and I think it all depended on Mrs. Conboy’s calculations of just how much pent up energy needed to be burned off before returning to class.

When she wasn’t keeping order in her classroom or acting as an umpire at our frequent softball games Mrs. Conboy was an excellent teacher. Standing at the front of the class, beneath the portrait of Queen Elizabeth II, she managed to convey to us the finer points of English grammar, how to construct a decent poem, and maintaining good cursive writing skills so that our long-hand would not be mistaken for that of a doctor’s.

She also taught History and managed to bring some of the characters from the past back to life again in her colourful descriptions. Her lessons were always sprinkled with some of her own slant on the facts and a bit of her own brand of common sense thrown in for good measure. She was not afraid to toss her own opinions into the mix, nor did she hesitate to ask us for ours. Nothing seemed to please her more than to get a good debate going in the classroom and she encouraged our participation and challenged our arguments.

Above all, Mrs. Conboy understood children. She knew when it was time to sit and learn and when it was time to get some fresh air and burn off some energy. She knew how to calm down the rowdy boys with a mixture of a stern tone and a smile that never seemed to completely leave the corners of her mouth. She inspired us to be the best we could be and to go out into the world and be good citizens and to make a contribution to our communities. She gave us the tools to accomplish our goals and expected no less than excellence.

If we’re lucky in life, we can all name a teacher or two like Mrs. Conboy who made a lasting impression, who stays in our fondest memories and whose voice we hear reminding us that if we work hard we can achieve our goals. A teacher need not be a Harvard professor, or an Oxford scholar to make a lingering impression on a child. A good teacher needs to understand that not all education comes from a book but can come from a sunny day on a baseball diamond sharing laughter and developing friendships and social skills. Mrs. Conboy, like other great teachers leaves a lasting legacy, as we, her students from so long ago; continue to be inspired to always do our best. Mrs. Conboy, you will not be forgotten.

(This post is in memory of: Dencie Ellen (Tryon) Conboy,
July 02, 1922 – July 21, 2013, Retired Elementary School Teacher)

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 still cool outside, 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. 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 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. I was very upset when I heard that because I’d always thought that I was the same as everyone else.  I felt ashamed, 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.

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 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 got 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 at DeWitt’s Corners. 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. 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 laneway, 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. Mother had read in ‘The Perth Courier’ that they had their Easter Lilies on sale, and she wanted to pick one up for Aunt Pat because we were having Easter dinner at their house. We walked into the store, and the lilies were right up at the front. 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.

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 last time I’d worn them, but they would still do. I took them off and carried them downstairs.

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.

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

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.

Aunt Pat was busy in the kitchen preparing the 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.

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 had been 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 crazy story from Roger. I would be more careful in the future not to believe his wild tales.

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So that’s how some of us became skeptics. It wasn’t something that began when we bought our first car from a crafty salesman in a plaid jacket. It didn’t come to us out of the blue when someone borrowed money and didn’t pay it back, or when someone in a store told us that something was guaranteed only to find out later that it wasn’t. No, it didn’t happen overnight. Healthy skepticism develops slowly, gradually, and usually begins as a response to a sibling’s tall tales, or a class-mate’s misguided claims.

My particular form of skepticism began with an older brother who liked to tease. It began with a story about a baby being left in a basket near the train tracks. The next attempt was a false claim about our Mother’s secret life as the Easter Bunny. The attempts to mislead me became more creative as the years went by, but as his talent for telling tales grew, so did my ability to spot holes in his stories. When all is said and done we have these pranksters to thank for our 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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http://www.staffordwilson.com

Spring Came Up the Third Line

maple girl

One of my friends from DeWitt’s Corners said that they’d seen a robin in their back yard, but I hadn’t seen one yet. The only sign of spring that I’d noticed was the steady drip of water coming off of the old roof in the late afternoons, when I returned home from Glen Tay School. That meant that the temperature was rising above freezing during the day, so the sap must be running again.

Sure enough, that same day, I saw Dad heading down the lane toward the Third Line, and he had his carpenter’s auger in his hands. That old thing looked battered and ancient, but it sure did the trick when he needed to tap some trees. We didn’t have a big maple bush like Korry’s across the road, but Dad always tapped a few trees along the laneway so that we’d have enough syrup for the family.

carpenter's auger   spile

If anyone had bothered to stroll past the trees that we’d tapped they likely would have laughed themselves silly. It wasn’t exactly a professional operation. None of the buckets matched. We had a grey metal pail that hung on one of the spiles by a rusty wire. We also had a white plastic bucket that Mother had made by cutting up an empty corn syrup jug.  Another bucket was made from an empty Billy Bee honey container. We even used one of my old sand pails that I’d played with on the beach when we went to Silver Lake in the summer. Any available container was ‘fair game’. It was only for a few weeks after all, and they couldn’t afford to be spending money on something that was used for such a short period of time each year.

Looking back, it didn’t really matter what kind of buckets you used as long as you had something to collect the sap. I used to stand at the side of the tree and watch as the clear, sweet liquid dripped ever so slowly, drip, drip and splashed into the bucket below. I’d lift the bucket off of the metal hook, and dump the sap into Mother’s biggest mixing bowl, hook the bucket back on the tree, and carry the bowl gingerly up the lane way and into the kitchen. Mother would be ready with a piece of clean cheesecloth stretched over the big aluminum pot on the stove, and she’d take the bowl of sap, and dump it into the pot. The cheesecloth would catch all of the little specks of dirt or bits of wood that had come from the tree, so that the sap in the pot was nice and clean.

I guess if I’d been a little older, and a lot smarter, I would have asked Dad for one of the big pails from the garage and transport all of the sap in one trip into the kitchen. Instead, I emptied one bucket at a time into the big mixing bowl, and trekked all the way back and forth, up to the kitchen. Up the lane, and down the lane, I went over and over again, until I was finished; usually just before supper time. One night I forgot to empty the buckets, and the next night the sap was overflowing, running down the side of the tree, onto the snow. No one said anything about it, but I felt bad because I hadn’t done my job, and worse still we’d have less syrup because of it.

The air in the old kitchen smelled sweet for those few weeks each year, as the sap boiled away on top of the stove. Usually by the third or fourth day we’d have enough for a little bowl of syrup for dessert. The first syrup of the year was always the lightest in colour and in flavour, perfect for eating straight out of the bowl. Dad liked to pour a little cream into his syrup, and give it a stir. He’d take a piece of day-old homemade bread and dip it into his creamy syrup mixture, until he was down to the last sweet drops, and then he’d do one last sweep of the bowl with his bread.

maple syrup jug
The other kids in the family poured their syrup over vanilla ice cream, but I liked mine straight-up, with nothing getting in between me and that sweet, perfect, maple flavour. I’d take a melamine bowl and teaspoon out of the old sideboard, pour myself a little, and enjoy it just like that.

As the weeks passed by, the syrup became darker in colour, and the flavour grew richer, and more intense. It was like magic watching the syrup change from a light honey colour to the rich, dark, amber toward the end of the run. The sap dripped slower and slower from the trees, as the days grew longer and warmer. It wasn’t as dark outside, nor as cold in the early mornings, as I waited for the big orange school bus to chug up the Third Line.

The sun was shining a little brighter each week, and our driveway became a soggy obstacle course, as we stepped around the growing puddles of water. The snow banks finally shrunk, and shriveled away. Soon after, we’d take the buckets down, and put them away in the back porch for another year. Dad removed the spiles from the maple trees, wrapped them in a soft cloth, and placed them in the top drawer of his tool chest in the garage.

By then, the maple trees were beginning to bud, and a few of the familiar spring birds were returning to Mother’s bird feeder in the back orchard. Almost all of the snow had shrunk down to a few dirty white mounds spaced here and there in the yard, and the ground was spongy, cold and brown. The sun grew a little brighter each day, and stayed up in the sky later and later after supper each night.

robin in snow

Spring wasn’t here yet, not even close; but all the signs were there that it was just around the corner. Each year when we tapped those maple trees I knew that spring was not far away. It was only a matter of time now that she’d be coming up the Third Line, with all of her delicate shades of green. She’d be bringing her warm sun, and her gentle breezes. She’d slip into our yard quietly one morning, and tell all of the flowers to wake up, and show their colours. She’d whisper to the squirrels and the chipmunks, and invite them to come back and play in our yard.

black squirrel

I often wondered if ‘Spring’ could see us tapping our trees, and if that was her signal to make her way back into Lanark County, and into our yard. Maybe there was something magical about the syrup, and once we’d had our first taste Old Man Winter knew that it was time for him to pack up his snow and his cold winds, and head up north. Either way, we always knew that as soon as the sap began to run we’d be seeing spring in all of her glory in no time at all!

spring buds

 

 

http://www.staffordwilson.com

January Turkey? Time for a Change

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, 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