Groundhog Blues in Lanark County

mr-groundhog

January always seemed like the longest month on the calendar. It was still cold and dark when February arrived, and there were so many months ahead before we could ride our bikes to DeWitt’s Corners, or Christie Lake.

Each year, we  waited patiently for Groundhog Day.  Would he see his shadow? Would there be an early spring, or would there be another two months at least of these cold, grey days?

Punxsutawney Phil had predicted the onset of spring since 1890 in Pennsylvania, and his Canadian counterpart Wiarton Willie began his annual forecast in the 1950s. At our house we listened closely to both forecasts, hoping that at least one of these rodents would offer some hope of an early spring.

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

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

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

ironing

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

I sat quietly at the old kitchen table, ate my bowl of puffed wheat, drank my orange juice, and took my cod liver oil capsule without even being asked. Six more weeks would have spring starting sometime in the middle of March, but now it would be even longer.

I finished my breakfast, put my dishes in the old porcelain sink, pulled on my boots and coat, grabbed my wool hat, mitts and lunch pail, and headed out the door.

little-girl

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

school-bus

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

 

 

 

 

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

l-c-calendar

http://www.staffordwilson.com

First Snowfall of the Year

mailbox-snow-2

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

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

merchants-of-perth-at-christmastime

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

kids Christmas store window

jamesbrothers1963-644x435

James Brothers Hardware store, at the corner of Gore and Foster St., Perth, Ontario
(photos of James Brothers Hardware and Shaws of Perth courtesy of ‘Perth Remembered’)

shaws1-644x336

Shaws, on Gore Street, in Perth, ON

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

Sophia Nee candy cane

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

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

girl at store window   Christmas store window

Something for the girls and guys, from the Perth Apothecary, Gore St., Perth

Charlie gift set Old spice gift set

Perth Apothecary

“The Perth Courier”, Dec. 9, 1976. p.11

First Snowfall of the year, at the Stafford House

stafford-house-1973

The Stafford House – 1973

The signs of the season weren’t visible only in the town of Perth. The first snowfall in the country meant bringing out our sleds, our flying saucers, and our winter toys!

Judy and Arlene with sled

Judy Stafford (with Mike, the family dog),and Arlene Stafford, at the Stafford House, 1963

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

Dad putting up Christmas lights

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

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

spruce-tree

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

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

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Christmas mailbox

Arlene Stafford-Wilson at the creek behind Stafford House
Arlene Stafford-Wilson at the creek, where we skated as children, in the lowlands behind the Stafford house, 2014
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http://www.staffordwilson.com
“First Snowfall of the Year”, an excerpt from ‘Lanark County Calendar: Four Seasons on the Third Line”  ISBN  978-0-9877026-30

L C Calendar book cover

At the Book Launch for “Lanark County Calendar”

Lanark County Calendar Book Launch 2013 Arlene Stafford-Wilson

Arlene Stafford-Wilson and Leslie Wallack, owner of The Book Nook, 2013, at the book launch for “Lanark County Calendar”

Carol Bennett McCuaig reviews “Lanark County Calendar: Four Seasons on the Third Line:

Lanark County Calendar

“This memoir by Arlene Stafford-Wilson is, to paraphrase the poet Keats, ‘a thing of beauty and a joy forever.’ This is my favourite among the books by this author. Her latest memories of a happy childhood spent on the Third Line of Lanark County’s Bathurst Township are sure to please her host of fans.

The book has its appeal on several levels. Schoolchildren will enjoy Arlene’s accounts of what it was like to be a child in the in the not-so- olden days, especially if the book is read to them by a teacher or grandparent. How will today’s youngsters view a little girl who played with a skipping rope, enjoyed board games with the family, and waxed autumn leaves to preserve their colour, with never a computer in sight? And how many may have heard the lonesome sound of a train whistle. or have woken up on a winter morning to find their drinking water turned to ice beside the bed?

Any child will surely understand the author’s dismay at being scammed by a carnie at the fair, after investing a whole two dollars in a game of skill designed to cheat the customer. Some things never change.

Present and former residents of Bathurst who find themselves mentioned in the book will no doubt set off on their personal trip down memory lane as a result. Who knows? The thrill of discovery may encourage them to record their own memories for posterity and we shall all be the richer for it.

As for me, I found myself identifying with Arlene’s Mother, who occupies a special place in the author’s heart. I was a country wife and mother in Lanark County in that same era and Mrs. Stafford’s daily round was familiar to me. Cooking, cleaning, baking, washing, ironing, gardening, making jam, maple syrup, pickles and preserves. Sewing, knitting, mending. Entering home craft articles in the fall fair. Working to make Christmas a magical time for the family and filling in for the Easter Bunny. Most of all, trying to make a quarter do the work of a dollar.

The author gives us a glimpse into a vanished era. When did you last attend church on Easter Sunday complete with white gloves and, if you were lucky, a new hat? Your mouth will water when you read about the wonderful homemade treats produced by Bathurst Township housewives for the delight of small ghosts and goblins at Hallowe’en. Nobody worried back then that the offerings might be tampered with, and what fun the youngsters had while contriving costumes from whatever materials that came to hand. No child in those days dreamed of wearing expensive store-bought outfits that would be abandoned after one evening’s wear. Modern-day parents could learn a thing or two from reading this book.

And who can forget the delight of cleaning the batter from the baking bowl when something delectable was being prepared for the oven, as the author did? Back then nobody worried about getting salmonella poisoning from raw eggs and somehow we all survived the experience.

Lanark County Calendar: Four Seasons on the Third Line is definitely a book for everyone. When you reach page 136 you will find yourself looking forward with pleasurable anticipation to the next book in the series. 

In the meantime, as Arlene says, ‘We need only to close our eyes and we are back on the Third Line, walking up the lane, through the yard and entering the bright, warm kitchen. We are home again.”

Book review written by Carol McCuaig November 11, 2013

Carol McCuaig photo

Carol Bennett-McCuaig (1938-2018) was a former weekly newspaper editor who became a prolific and respected author. She earned two degrees from the University of Waterloo, one in History and the other in Religious Studies. She wrote sixty three books, including regional histories, commissioned works and books geared to helping people who are researching their Lanark and Renfrew County (Ontario) roots, and a long list of historical novels. One of her histories, In Search of the Red Dragon: The Welsh in Canada, received the Ninnau award for its contribution to North American Welsh culture. In 1997 she received an Achievement Award from the Ontario Heritage Foundation, for her body of work in recording regional history. She was a life member of Heritage Renfrew, and a past president of the North Lanark.

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http://www.staffordwilson.com

Time for Christmas Baking!

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

walnutschipits

coconut                   cherries

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

date squares   chocolate chews

Stacks of cookies and squares had been accumulating in the old chest freezer since the cooler fall air blew in from the north, along the Third Line.

toffee   chocolate fudge

 

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

 

christmas-cookies

 

One of my favourite types of cookies that Mother made, and tucked away in the freezer for Christmas, were the peanut butter balls. Once thawed, they were as sweet and tasty as the day they were made. They don’t require a lot of fancy ingredients, and they look festive and elegant on any Christmas dessert plate.

Make them now, and stash them in your freezer! Hopefully, the ‘mice’ in your house will leave a few for Christmas!

 

kids-and-cookies

Peanut Butter Balls

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

little kid and cookies

 

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

 

whipped shortbread

Shortbread Cookies

1/2 c  corn starch

1/2 c  icing sugar

1 c  all purpose flour

1 c  soft butter

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

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

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Be sure to leave some Christmas cookies for Santa!

 

Santa and cookies

 

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

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

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

 

Mother with birthday cake

 

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

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

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http://www.staffordwilson.com

Recipes and Recollections book cover sept 2012