Woodstock Revisited

They say that being a senior is just like being a teenager again, only you have more money.   You have no responsibilities, don’t have to work and can stay up late and party all night, if you wish.    While many of the today’s younger seniors may remember Woodstock, you definitely know you’re getting older when a local retirement home holds a Woodstock 50th anniversary night and you agree to go because your neighbor has free tickets and it would be a shame to waste a nice meal.   My mother agrees to go with us, although neither of us really remembers Woodstock.   My neighbor has more recollection of it, but I feel like I missed the whole hippy era, as at almost 13, I was just a bit too young and by the time I was old enough to peace out, disco had arrived.    While I remember much of the music from the era, I was more into the clean-cut Monkees than the Beatles, who had by then morphed into those long haired dudes strolling across Abbey Road.    My mother was a forty-something housewife back then who only listened to our music because the radio was on in the morning while we were getting ready for school, but I’m sure the station got changed as soon as we left for the bus. 

For those of you younger folk who may be unfamiliar, Woodstock was a famous music festival held on a dairy farm in upstate New York in Aug 1969, which attracted almost half a million young people and which became a symbol of the hippy era.   It rained over the three days, people camped and slept outdoors in the mud and listened to music and generally a peaceful groovy time was had by all.   Surprisingly there was no violence, considering the size of the crowd, but then the mood was mellow-yellow.      

Woodstock

Peace, Love and Fame!

(The couple in this iconic photo of the era, which first appeared on the Woodstock album cover, got married a few years later and are now seventy years old.   In a recent interview they said they didn’t even recall the photo being taken because they had just woken up.  Here’s a link to more on their story.)

 Woodstock had a music lineup of some of the best rock and roll groups of the time.   A friend of mine has a copy of the original festival poster, with the band playlist.   She was on her way to the show with a group of friends, complete with camping gear, when for reasons she doesn’t remember, they turned around and came back to Canada.   Most likely it was due to the negative publicity at the beginning – the drugs, the rain, the traffic, the lack of washroom facilities etc.   As she later went on to work in the music industry, she recalls it as one of the regrets of her life.   Here’s the playlist. Woodstock poster (2)

Of the groups who played, I only remember Creedence Clearwater Revival CCR (Bad Moon Rising), Blood Sweat and Tears (And When I Die), Janis Joplin (Me and Bobby McGee), Jefferson Airplane (White Rabbit, Somebody to Love), Santana (Evil Ways), and Sly and the Family Stone (Hot Fun in the Summer Time).    While I recognize some of the others, (Joan Baez, Arlo Guthrie, Jimi Hendrix), I don’t recall what they sang, so Linda over at Walking,Writing,Wit and Whimsy (who has a great Woodstock post), shared this link with me,where you can check out the songs each band played at the venue.    https://www.woodstock.com/lineup/     The site also has some great photos and videos, and man do those kids look young, as do the performers.   Of course that was in the day when we didn’t trust anyone over thirty.  

Many of the musicians who were asked to play, turned it down, (The Doors, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Chicago, The Moody Blues, Simon and Garfunkel) and have expressed regret, including Joni Mitchell, who went on to write this famous song, after seeing the news clips on TV.   

I was surprised to read that the music went on so late,  but being out in the country there were no noise bylaws, although I’m sure the neighboring towns weren’t too thrilled about the sudden descent of half a million hippies.   John Fogerty of CCR, remarked that most of the fans were asleep on the muddy ground by the time they went on at 3am, so he played to one guy way at the back, who was flicking a Bic lighter.   (Wikipedia link)

Imagine hosting that kind of party today, half a million people united by music, singing in peace and harmony. 

Not likely to happen – there’s too much violence in the world now.   The organizers of the 50th anniversary bash ended up cancelling.  (Sorry Jay Z and Miley Cyrus, no soggy fields for you, although I’m not sure why you got invited in the first place).   There will never be another Woodstock.     There was however a smaller anniversary gig held in Bethel Woods, with performances by Arlo Guthrie, John Fogerty and Carlos Santana, who were all there at the first one – what a trip that must have been for them to play again at the same site so many years later. 

But back to my Woodstock party….

So maybe it was a good thing the retirement home stepped in to fill the void – keeping the flame alive for all us aging hippies.  (I believe they are called hipsters now if Taylor Swift lyrics are correct). 

This particular retirement home is a bit of a white elephant, the product of a poorly developed plan hatched by some company in Toronto where the rest of their buildings are located and fully occupied.    It opened several years ago, and fewer than 25% of the units are rented.   I’m not sure who it’s actually marketed for, as many in this small town could not afford the high prices, most seventy somethings would want more space (the apartments are very small), and the over-eighty crowd who might inhabit such a place, might need some medical help of which there is none available.   But I give them A for effort, as they are trying hard to fill it up.   One of their marketing ploys is to offer community events and free dinner tickets to anyone who might have expressed even the slightest bit of interest.  (My friend went to a yoga class there.  They even sent my mother a Christmas gift in the mail – a puzzle of one of her art works).   They host monthly theme nights, Roaring Twenties, Casino, Neil Diamond, and while older people in the community might support the events, it seems no one actually wants to live there.  

There is a big atrium, like in a fancy hotel, wasted space, but it’s supposed to be a social area.    A perfect spot for a sit in or a love-in or at least a free buffet with some folk music.     

I have a hard time deciding what to wear, and have to visit the basement and unearth a few old Seventeen magazines to refresh my memory of the clothes of the era.   I found the magazines in the attic when my mother moved off the farm.   They’re from 1970, the summer I entered high school, when I must have been worried about looking hip, although why I don’t know, as we wore uniforms, other than the first Friday of the month which was Dress Up Day.   

Seventeen Magazine

Dig those blue tinted shades!

Back then, Seventeen magazine came in the the big twelve-inch size format, like Life and Look magazines.    The ads alone were a trip down memory lane.   We seemed to be consumed with lightening our hair (Sun-In, Lemon Go Lightly), darkening our tans (Coppertone, Johnson’s Baby Oil, Sea and Ski, Noxzema), and wearing blue eye shadow (Bonne Bell, Yardley, Max Factor).   

But back to the fashions, and the all important question, when Jupiter aligns with Mars will you be dressed for it?

Seventeen Magazine

You will if you sew your own threads!

That song was far out – Aquarius – by the Fifth Dimension. 

In the fashion pages, we wore bell bottoms, embroidered peasant shirts and gauzy skirts, mini skirts, maxi skirts, tie-dye, leather sandals, headbands, love beads, rose or blue tinted granny glasses and anything with fringe.

Seventeen Magazine

Model Susan Dey before The Partridge Family and L.A. Law

And don’t forget the flower for your hair, preferably a daisy.   

The song San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair) was written by John Phillips of The Mamas & the Papas,to promote the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967.    It also gave birth to the flower-child movement and the phrase flower-power.  

At age ten, I remember being annoyed when my first pair of bell bottoms got caught in the spokes of my bike, but later being quite envious of my grade eight teachers mini skirts and especially her long black maxi coat.  By high school short skirts were all the rage even in Canada, and my mother, who made our navy uniforms, made them short, but we still rolled them shorter, until the nuns caught you out.   By grade eleven she had given in, but it does make me cringe now looking my high school year book that they were that short.   I believe the nuns had given up by then too.   One year hot pants were in, but not part of the uniform.   The nuns would have fainted at that.    I had a pair I wore under a matching mini dress.   By grade twelve we were allowed to wear navy pants, but nobody did as jeans were in, wide and flared by then. 

But back to party prep….(which as I recall was often the best part of a night out). 

I found a pink cotton embroidered shirt, last worn fifteen years ago, in the back of a closet, and piled on some beads and bracelets.    As luck would have it, I had also found a suede necklace with a peace symbol at an outdoor craft show the weekend before, a bargain at $10.   

Hippy outfit Woodstock

Finishing touch, some dangling feather earrings.   I had a problem with my gold chain headband, as I have bangs and it did not sit quite right.   Alas, I did not have any bell bottom blue jeans, faded or otherwise, as in this famous Cat Stevens song, so regular skinny jeans had to do.  (How is it that I now own only one pair of jeans, which I admit haven’t been worn in two years, and seemed a bit snug, but isn’t that why yoga pants were invented). 

The residents really got into the spirit of the evening.   There were prizes for best costumes and I got some great ideas should I decide to resurrect my hippy costume for Halloween.    Daisy chain headbands, flowing caftans, ponchos, embroidered jean jackets, with most of the guys looking like cool cats in their bandannas.    Obviously, many of these people had lived through the era, and had a better idea than I did.   Someone had tie-died some white sheets to hang as a backdrop behind the stage.  As my only memory of tie-dye was a blue and white t-shirt which came out uneven, I had no idea it could be so colorful. 

Woodstock - Tie-DyeUnfortunately, after Bad Moon rising, the musician/guitar player wandered into the wrong decade and stayed there, as I’m sure Tequila Sunrise and Margaritaville were not played at Woodstock.   His final nod to the sixties was Love Potion Number Nine, when really it was Diovol I needed, as the food was – well the polite word might be – institutionalized.   Can you dig it?   No I could not, and this is coming from someone who ate hospital food for years way better than that.   Unlike the original Woodstock, no drugs were allowed, well at least no psychedelic ones.   Although marijuana is legal now in Canada and they are even trialing it in nursing homes for pain control (don’t get me started), there was none in evidence.   Thank God, smoking inside buildings is not allowed.   

As parties go, it ended fairly early, but I was tired (one of the disadvantages of getting older is you can stay out all night but you don’t want to), and this hippy-chick was happy to go home to my nice comfy bed and grateful I did not have to sleep out in the mud with half a million other people.   While not quite as exciting as the first Woodstock, it was a fun happening.    Maybe they can do it again in another fifty years and  invite the Rolling Stones – they’ll be 125 and on their final world tour. 

PS.  In these strange and tumultuous times, maybe we need to be reminded of those famous slogans, “Make Love, Not War” and “Give Peace a Chance.”  

PS.  Do you remember Woodstock and the hippy era?   Do you remember any of the fashions and music?    

PS.   I think we had much better music back then, a lot of which is still listened to today.   I may be showing my age, but I have a dislike for much of the current music scene, especially rap, which I feel is totally lacking in lyrics and melody.   I listen to classic rock, oldies but goodies stations, and even the really old classics like Sinatra and the Big Band era.   Younger readers, how do you feel about your generation’s music versus the older stuff?    Do you think it will have staying power?    I read recently that Drake has now surpassed the Beatles record of eleven number one hits in a single year/album, but I could not tell you one single song Drake song, or Beyonce or Justin Beiber for that matter  – I guess I have turned into my mother and just change the station! 

The Tall Ships

        The Tall Ships have come and gone, sailing away on a south wind and lots of good cheer, as the Gordon Lightfoot song goes.   They have spent the summer visiting ports along the Great Lakes and were in my vicinity for the weekend, attracting 100,000 visitors in the process.   You could purchase general admission day and weekend passes, as well as boarding passes that included deck tours, but as I am not a fan of big crowds or standing in long line ups in the sweltering heat, I viewed them from afar on Friday afternoon – along with thousands of other people lining the shore with the same idea!   

The Tall Ships

Among the six ships in dock, was The Bluenose II, a famous Nova Scotia ship,  and my favorite, the Nao Santa Maria, the flagship from the 1492 voyage Christopher Columbus made when he discovered North America.

The Tall Ships

Photo courtesy of Nao Santa Maria Facebook page

This replica was built in Spain to celebrate the 525th anniversary of the discovery of the new world and has spent the past two years touring various ports of call on this side of the Atlantic.   (The Nao Santa Maria has it’s own Facebook page if you wish to check if it will be in your area).    

The Tall Ships

We probably all remember the grade school rhyme, “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue,” and we may remember the three ships on that famous voyage, the Santa Maria, the Nina and the Pinta, but I was unaware that the Santa Maria did not make the return journey home as it had run aground on a sandbar in Hispaniola/Haiti on Christmas Day 1492. 

Shipwreck AMc

Shipwreck!

Here’s a link with more description about the three ships, and also a Wikipedia link with some information about the design, cargo, and the voyage.   As the largest of the three, the Santa Maria was the main cargo ship, carried the most men, 52 of the 90, and was considered an old tub too unwieldy to navigate river mouths and shallow bays, which was left to the smaller faster Pinta.   Columbus had struggled for years to obtain financing for his project (searching for a sea route to the far east and the treasures of Cathay), until the Queen of Spain reluctantly granted approval for the journey.    How overjoyed they must have been to have sighted land and being proven right, even though they were unaware at the time that it was a whole other unexplored continent.   

The Tall Ships

Ahoy mates! Land ahead! (Photo from Nao Santa Maria Facebook page)

Can you imagine travelling across the ocean in that for two months?    

I had anticipated the opening Parade of Ships to be a glorious sight to behold – a beautiful sunny day, blue sky and water, white sails billowing in the breeze.  While the weather was okay (coolish, sunny but lots of clouds), there was such a brisk north breeze, it wasn’t really a Parade of Sails, it was a Parade of Masts! 

The water was so dark and choppy, I had to lighten my pictures to be able to see anything, plus a cloud managed to obscure the sun every time a ship went by.    One of the crew was quoted as saying the sails were not up for safety reasons, as the river channel was too deep and narrow to allow much maneuverability, and it was too windy and rough once they got out on the lake.   Plus, it wasn’t really a parade, as there were long gaps between the appearance of one ship and the next.   We chatted and visited with fellow sightseers, many of whom had driven great distances, and ate french fries from chip trucks under the bridge, which is one of the touristy things to do in this town.   This is the first ship which came along, although I don’t know the name, as I was too far away to see.  

The Tall Ships

Several were so tall, we watched in awe as they barely cleared the bridge. 

The Tall Ships

The Tall Ships

For $120 you could go on board for a two hour cruise during the Parade of Sails, which was sold out, as were all the more reasonably priced ($85 and $60) morning and evening cruises where the proceeds went to charity.    I suspect the lack of sails was a liability issue also, as they wouldn’t want to risk anything with all those VIP’s and tourists aboard, especially if they were puking all over the nicely polished wooden decks.

The Tall Ships

I had a moment of regret, when the Empire Sandy went past.  It looked like such fun, and I don’t usually get seasick on boats, having been on cruise ships, ferries and even a small motorboat.         

The Tall Ships

But then I remembered the five days I spend on a Windjammer cruise in the Caribbean, back in my younger years, when I could more easily be talked into such things.   I’ve learned my lesson, while something might sound romantic and adventurous, the reality often doesn’t match up.   (Plus I require much more luxury in my vacations now).    I distinctly remember arriving in St. Marten’s and gazing at the small vessel in the harbor and thinking – no that could not possibly be it.   Nothing so small could hold 160 passengers and crew.   It did, except for the two who got off at the first stop and flew home, thus saving themselves four more days of misery.     Everyone on the boat was sea-sick the first 24 hours – the captain explained that was normal because the stretch from St. Martens to St. Kitt’s was notoriously rough.   (Well if that was the case, then why didn’t they depart from a port with calmer waters?)    He said most people were okay after the first day.   Many were not.   He said, stare at the horizon.   It didn’t help.   Better to be above deck, than below.   It wasn’t.   Have some more booze.   I don’t drink.   While the cabins were so small as to be claustrophobic, the rocking of the ship was somewhat comforting when you were tucked up in your bunk bed at night.   I tried not to think about the fact that only a foot of timber separated me from the watery depths.   The food was okay, if you could eat it.  (The dry crackers were highly recommended).    We visited St. Bart’s and a private island for a picnic and scuba diving which was a welcome break.    On Day 3, I applied one of those anti-nausea patches behind my ear – upon awakening on Day 4, I removed it, after walking into a wall and being told my pupils looked strangely dilated.  (Most fixed-dose drugs are not for me, as I am a featherweight).   Night 5 was particularly rough again, the rocking cradle turned into a see-saw, invoking a few prayers.   I was never so glad to see dry land again, and practically kissed the ground at the hotel.    The only good thing about the whole trip was the two days of shopping and restaurants in St. Marten’s capital city.  The only good thing about the ship was there was plenty of hot water in the showers, and they played Amazing Grace on deck in the evening when they unfurled the sails, a nice romantic ritual.   (Funny, I don’t remember the sails being raised during the day, probably too many drunken tourists about who might fall overboard).    Thank God a wretch like me was saved – but I swore never to set foot on a sailing ship again!

It may be exhilarating to be on board when the wind grabs the sails, but sailing is only for more adventurous souls, with strong stomachs.   For the rest of us, the Tall Ships are a pretty sight, best viewed from the safety of the shore.   

The Tall Ships

(photo courtesy of the Tall Ships Festival Facebook site)

Postscript:   Like the best of all plans, Columbus started small, with old ships.   News of his new world discovery spread quickly throughout Europe, so on his second voyage, he was given a fleet of 17 ships, with 1,200 men and the supplies needed to establish permanent colonies in the New World.  Which just goes to show how any new venture can start with one small step, which with a bit of luck and a favorable south wind, can turn into something much larger.     

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pioneer Village

Victorian Tea China        Last month I blogged about a Victorian tea party I attended on the grounds of a local museum.    If you are a history lover, please join me for part two of the tour,  a visit to yesteryear.   

Moore museum collage

While the Victorian cottage is one of the original buildings on the museum site, there are many others.   Most have been moved to the site, including a one room schoolhouse, a small church and a log cabin from the days of the early settlers, as well as a local lighthouse.           

The 1919 church with the original pipe organ in the corner.

 

The one room schoolhouse.

schoolhouse

At the risk of sounding like someone from Little House on the Prairie, I seldom admit I once attended a one room schoolhouse.   It was located less than half a mile down the road from our farm, within walking distance even for a first grader, and was the same school my dad and all his ancestors had attended.   In 1963 the government closed all the remaining rural schools, and our parents drove us into town to the Catholic school until the bus system was started a few years later.  

What do I remember from my year and a half there?   Not much, as I was only six.   The big wood burning stove, so hot you could cook hot dogs wrapped in tin foil on top for lunch, schoolhouse

games of baseball for all ages at recess, getting the strap once (just a little tap on our hands) for talking in class and being made to stand in the corner with my cousin – much more humiliating.  schoolhouseThe teacher was always yelling and in a bad mood – can you imagine trying to teach 40 kids of all ages.   It may sound archaic, but I suppose it would be similar to home schooling now, with different age appropriate lessons.    As there were only three of us in grade one, myself, my cousin and an unkempt boy whose family no one knew, we did not get much attention, but I must have absorbed something from listening to her teach the older grades, as when we were given tests at the new school I passed with 92%.  (They thought we were country hicks who would have to be held back a year).   My new grade two teacher was pleasantly surprised and told my parents I was smart, a moment I remember to this day.   I always had a friendly rivalry with the boy sitting in front of me over who would get top honors, sometimes it was him, sometimes me, and as I went on to graduate from the University of Toronto, it didn’t to me any harm, although I admit some kids who needed extra attention were not as lucky.    

Compare this slate with the tablets of today.   I vaguely remember the sound of the school bell being rung.  

schoolhouse

At the one room schoolhouse the grade ones were let out half an hour early, and my cousin, who lived next door, and I would dawdle along, catching tadpoles in the ditches, playing in the snowbanks and making up fairy stories, the road being lined with beautiful trees, (channeling Anne of Green Gables here), and arrive home the same time as my siblings.    It seems I remember more than I had thought.   

Here is a picture of the class of 1934, with the school in the background appearing larger than I remember. 

schoolhouse dad

This is a log cabin from 1874, not a replica but an actual cabin moved to the site to preserve a part of history. 

cabin

My great-grandparents John and Ellen were married in 1870 and I try to imagine my Irish ancestors living in such a small drafty house during their early years on the farm.  The old white farmhouse I grew up in had two parts, the initial smaller dwelling and a larger addition with bedrooms upstairs to accommodate their growing family of nine children. 

This picture of an old stove certainly puts my complaints about the ongoing delays in my kitchen reno into perspective.   What my ancestors would have given for such modern conveniences as a stove you could turn on with the touch of a button.

cabin

Not too keen on the sleeping arrangements, a loft accessed by very steep stairs.    I remember my dad saying some of his uncles slept upstairs in the granary when it was new, which probably looked like this.  I imagine it was freezing in the winter, hence the quilts. 

cabin

Open concept floor plans were popular back then too!   We have an antique farm table dating from 1870, longer than this one.  

cabin

While most farms had large vegetable gardens, including rhubarb, and were mainly self-sufficient,

cabin

there were times you simply had to go into town for a few provisions at the general store,  

general store

and perhaps a new hat.

general store hats

The model train room, which boasts three large train sets, is always a hit with the guys.  

model train

 As well as the individual buildings, there is a large agricultural building full of old farm implements such as this cutter/sleigh.    We had one just like it and my dad sometimes took it for a spin behind the Clydesdales.

cutter sleigh

There is also a large exhibition hall, with a marine room and different display rooms and lots of historical archives.   It does seem strange that my Barbie/Skipper carry case has now achieved vintage status.   

vintage toys

I remember playing with this doll house too. 

vintage doll house

Several volunteers were setting up the loom for a display of weaving the day of our visit, a time consuming process.   There was no fast fashion back then.  

loom

And of course, I always enjoy looking at old medical exhibits, such as this infirmary,

infirmary

and pharmacy.   

pharmacy

The tools of my trade

Perhaps somewhere among those antique bottles is a clue for my (long neglected) murder mystery?    Agatha Christie used the knowledge acquired during her days as an apothecary apprentice when writing her books.   

When I think back to the changes in my profession over the past one hundred years – the invention of penicillin and antibiotics, vaccines, insulin – these are discoveries which saved lives.   In my student days pharmacy labels were prepared on typewriters, not as ancient as this one as ours were electric with correcto-tape.

typewriter

The last forty years of my career has seen the implementation of computers (a massive improvement for record keeping, drug information and drug interactions), clot-busters for preventing damage in heart attack and stroke, palliative care measures for end of life, improved chemotherapy, drugs for depression and mental illness, biologicals for autoimmune diseases, and more new drugs on the market than you can possibly keep up with.   When I think of the future – targeted chemotherapy, gene therapy, cures for diseases never thought possible – it is amazing the amount of change that can happen over the course of a century. 

One Christmas my father was given one of those autobiography books to document your life for the grandchildren.   One of the questions was what are the most important changes you have seen in your life as compared to that of your grandparents.  

“When my grandparents settled here the land was all bush.   Roads were Indian trails.  People lived far apart.   They had to build houses, barns, roads, clear land.   Walking and horses were the main modes of travel.   Machinery was crude or non-existent.   Since then tractors and combines have been invented.  Hydro, paved roads, cars, radios, toasters, tvs, micowaves, computers.   Household goods and furnishings have changed such as washers and dryers, refrigerators and stoves, air conditioning in summer and furnaces in winter instead of a wood stove.    My mother churned butter and we had an ice box and a root cellar for vegetables, an outhouse, no running water in the house and having to heat water on the stove for a bath.    Materials are softer now than the scratchy clothes I wore as a child.  You have toys now that we never dreamed of.   The biggest changes are education and modern schools, and medicines and childhood diseases.”

My father was a child of the Depression, and one of changes he recalled was hydro.  The farm didn’t get hydro until after WW2, 1947, and all of a sudden you had lights in the barn and weren’t milking cows by lantern light, and you could stay up late with hydro in the house.   Worth thinking about  the next time I grumble because the power is out a few hours due to a storm.   As to the future, he commented on computers and the internet which was just starting up.   In the twenty years since he died we now have – Google, Youtube, Facebook, Wikipedia, Skype, Instagram, Twitter, Siri, Spotify, Netflix, IPods, IPads, GPS, digital cameras and clouds which are not rain clouds, although we have plenty of those too!   We are now testing cars that drive themselves, robots and artificial intelligence.   It feels like something out of the Jetsons –  that old 60’s cartoon about a futuristic world which was very predictive.   Does anyone else remember the theme music?

What will the future hold?    Maybe someday my old 1986 DOS computer, currently residing in the basement, with it’s orange blinking screen and large floppy disks, will be on display at the museum, resting behind the electronics exhibit, along with a  Sony Walkman and a ghetto-blaster.

As a history lover, I feel it is important to preserve our heritage, and I hope you have enjoyed this peek into the past.  

Postscript:   My mother painted the log cabin (two versions), but she placed it in winter time, as my ancestors arrived here in late October, not expecting snow.   Is the lighthouse a beacon to the new world?    You can tell I’ve been hanging around the art world too much…

Postscript:  This is my 100th post.  I never would have imagined that!

 

A Victorian Tea

Every May 24th weekend one of our local museums hosts their annual Victorian Tea, complete with freshly baked scones, white tablecloths and fine china.   

 The May 24th holiday weekend in Canada is called the Victoria Day weekend, because May 24 was Queen Victoria’s birthday.   Older people may remember the schoolyard rhyme children chanted years ago – “the twenty-fourth of May / Is the Queen’s birthday; / If they don’t give us a holiday / We’ll all run away!”    Now many people don’t even know who Queen Victoria was, unless you watch the PBS TV show Victoria, but she was Britain’s longest reining monarch, although Queen Elizabeth surpassed her in 2015.   She became Queen at age 18 and reined over the British Empire for 63 years, from 1937 until her death in 1901, a period known as the Victorian era.   She married her cousin Albert, had nine children and survived 20 different governments and 11 prime ministers.   After her death, her birthday was made a federal holiday, which was eventually was moved to the Monday preceding May 24 because of the weekend.   Queen Victoria most likely would have approved as weekends were an invention of the Victoria era.   This May 24th marks the 200th anniversary of her birth in 1819. 

Victorian Tea CottageNote: the Union Jack (Canada did not get it’s own Maple Leaf flag until 1965) and the old fashioned lilac bush (see Lilac Time)

The Victorian cottage is one of many buildings on the museum site, whose mandate is to display our past customs and heritage.   Many have been moved to the site, including a one room schoolhouse, a small church and a log cabin from the days of the early settlers, but the cottage was part of the original grounds.   It is a small one floor dwelling, built in 1893,  which was used by a Detroit woman as a summer home until her death, when it was donated to the museum.    She was known as the cookie lady, for her kindness in treating the neighborhood children to sugar cookies on the veranda when they were passing by. 

Victoria Tea Cottage

 It consists of a good sized dining room, living room and  kitchen and two very small bedrooms.   

Victorian Tea

Victorian Tea Cottage

The inside still looks as it did during the time she lived there, floral wallpaper, quilts and all.  

China cabinet Victorian Tea

The problem with the Victoria Day weekend is that the weather is usually guaranteed to be cold, rainy and miserable, which does not deter the campers, as it is considered the unofficial start to summer.   It seldom fails, whereas the following weekend, the US Memorial Day is often quite nice.  Still, not one to let a bit of rain (or even forty days of it like this spring), get in the way of a good tea spread, I decided to attend.   The last time I was there,  it was miraculously a warm and sunny day, with a pleasant breeze coming off the river, and we were able to take our tea outside on the veranda, as opposed to inside huddled beside the stove.     It was such a fine day we lingered over a second cup.  

Victorian Tea cottage

Although the day started out warm and sunny, the forecast was rain by 3pm, (I’m quite serious about the forty days of rain), so we set out early and decided to tour the buildings first (my friend had never been there), as we could always sit inside later if it started to pour.   On our walk about, I noticed a big patch of rhubarb growing beside the log cabin and took some pictures which I could have used in last week’s Rhubarb Lunar Cake blog.  (It’s never too late to edit!)  

Rhubarb

There’s something so civilized about a tea party and the clink of china tea cups, shades of Downton Abbey.    Each small table was laid with white tablecloths, cream and sugar sets, crystal butter dishes, jars of strawberry jam and a colorful mixture of china cups and plates. 

Victorian Teat

 The servers, young and old, were dressed in the costume of servants of the day, complete with frilly caps and white aprons.   The wind was so strong, their aprons were billowing in the breeze and the tablecloths were threatening to blow away, so we decided to sit inside. 

Victorian Tea

The only occupant of the veranda was a bird nesting high up in the rafters, most likely anticipating left over crumbs.   

Bird nesting

 Even inside, with the veranda doors open, it was so windy that our vase of flowers blew over soaking the tablecloth, which they removed and replaced with one even more exquisitely embroidered.   Our server, a charming young girl of about ten, inquired as to our choice of tea and scones – raisin, rhubarb, orange or apple cinnamon.   

Victorian Tea China

 Such a difficult decision, but my choice is always the rhubarb – it was divine, light and fluffy, and I am still trying to get the recipe, a carefully guarded secret.    Unfortunately I forgot to take a picture of it before it was consumed!   Victorian Tea Cottage

They make up to 400 scones for the day, using the cottage’s own wood-fired stove.  (Note the mirror at the top – I guess that was to check your appearance after slaving over a hot stove all day?)    The cost of the tea was $7.50 with donations to the museum fund, ordinary admission being $5, a bargain for the price.    

Exactly at 3 pm as predicted, the skies opened up and rained on our lovely tea party.   Oh well, there’s always next year…I’m sure I’ll be back.  

Postscript:   Easy rhubarb scones, only for truly lazy cooks or those whose kitchens are about to be torn apart.   Mix this, Rhubarbwith this, Rhubarb scones

bake as directed,  Rhubarb sconesand you get this.  Rhubarb scones

Enjoy with a nice cup of tea in a china cup!

 

 

Come From Away

Nfld Wash Day Two - AMc

Newfoundland Wash Day

When 911 happened, 38 airplanes were diverted to Gander Airport in Newfoundland.   The island of Newfoundland is the most easterly province in Canada and generally the poorest, with high unemployment and a mostly rural lifestyle, but Newfoundlanders are also known for their friendliness and down home hospitality and the small community of Gander took in 6500 stranded passengers, supplying meals, beds and entertainment for five days and spawning lifelong friendships in some cases.  The musical “Come From Away”, which debuted on Broadway last year and is currently playing in Toronto, is based on this true event.   The phrase Come From Away, is east coast slang for the fact that you are from someplace else, somewhere other than here.   

       It is human nature to want to help those in need, especially true if those in distress have a face and a name, but what if they come in the tens of  thousands, and we had to help them indefinitely?   Would we be quite as accommodating?  Or what if they were a boat full of 500 Sri Lankan refugees, as happened on the west coast of British Columbia in 2010, people from a different country and language and background?   Ah, it’s getting complicated.     

A overloaded raft filled with refugees sinks and a dead toddler washes up on the beaches of the Mediterranean – tragic.   Angela Merkel expresses sympathy for the drowned victims.  Gangs of young men board trains in Germany and swarm European borders, not so tragic – maybe even scary, in the way that large unpredictable crowds can be.   Now, it’s even more complicated.   

They are all asylum-seekers, but are they “refugees” fleeing conflict and death in a war torn country, or “economic migrants” seeking a better, more prosperous life?   Should people who follow the rules, fill out the required paperwork and wait their turn, be treated differently from those who just show up?    

As a writer with an interest in history and genealogy I have been mulling over these questions lately, because immigration is a hot issue today.   There’s a lot of anger and resentment.   Many people are in search of a better life, whether it is planned immigration, like my Dutch grandparents (see Dutch Inheritance), or fleeing a crisis, like my Irish ancestors (see Irish Roots), during the potato famine when a third of Ireland’s population starved to death.   But it’s also a much more complicated issue. 

When my Irish and Dutch ancestors came here, the country welcomed immigrants – they were needed to settle the wide open spaces.  The immigrants weren’t dependent on the government to support them, because there was no support system, or very little – unless you count that one pound note they received from the government for water transport to their new home.   They lost three members of their party of twenty on the way over, and jumped ship while it was lined up waiting to dock at the quarantine station in the St. Lawrence River, thus arriving destitute but nevertheless alive, although they lost one fifteen year old son in the bush and never found him.   I’m not sure how they traveled from Quebec to Toronto, where they were issued the loan, but as Quebec was swamped with the Irish, as were major US cities like Boston and New York, perhaps there were charities to give them a meal and help them disperse.    Certainly they were penniless, as the record, for the three brothers and their families, referred to them as indigent emigrants – poor and needy.   To put this cost of Great Lakes water transport into perspective, the ship fare from Ireland was 3 pounds per person to Canada, and 5 pounds to the US.    In many cases the landlords paid for the passage, eviction being an established practice.  National Archive Record -

In 1846 much of Canada was forested, and it must have been a daunting task to clear the land of all those trees to be able to plant a small crop.  They arrived in late October and wouldn’t have survived the first winter if the Indians hadn’t helped them build some kind of hut to provide shelter from the snow. 

First Homestead - AMc - 2017

First Homestead 1846

 Their first years were so bad that they gladly would have returned to Ireland, but slowly they started to prosper.  I can follow their prosperity through the agricultural census reports, so many acres farmed, bushels of wheat, livestock etc.    

My mother’s Dutch parents planned their immigration in 1922.   By then, immigrants had to pass a pre-medical and be sponsored by a Canadian farmer for a year.  Harvesting sugar beets in the hot sun was hard work – which they continued to do even after the year was over, until my grandfather found carpentry work building houses, barely surviving during the lean years of the Depression.   Both groups eventually adjusted and assimilated into society and their descendants considered themselves Canadian first. 

Canada is a lucky country in that we tend to have a fair degree of cultural tolerance – yes people can retain their culture here, but they are also expected to become Canadian.   But we have our limits too.  Unfortunately, demands to accommodate customs and episodes of cultural extremism tend to breed intolerance and distrust of all immigrants.   There’s a reason why America was called a melting pot – if people don’t wish to adapt and aren’t willing to abide by the laws of their new society, then perhaps they would be better not to come.   Respect is a two way street – if a country is kind enough to welcome someone in, they should be respectful of that country’s customs too.      

Being from a rural area as white as Wonder bread, I was in university in Toronto in the late 70’s, before I met anyone of a different race or color.  Now I work with so many different nationalities I don’t even think about it, because they are all just Canadians.   A few years ago during a playoff game I saw a TV clip of a group of fans cheering their hometown team in a sports bar in downtown Toronto, truly a multi-cultural city now, and there wasn’t a white Caucasian face among them.   Mind you, they were most likely first generation descendants who grew up on hockey and baseball, but certainly the face of the nation is changing.  (If you come here, you must love hockey – it is the law!)    

A co-worker of mine went through two years of paperwork and red tape to immigrate from an eastern European country.   Neither she nor her husband could work here in their respected careers (engineering, translator), but they came anyway.   They wanted a better life for their children.   They started with modest jobs and a modest home, then got better jobs and a better home.  Another colleague of mine was visiting her sister after graduation and got stranded here when the Croatian war broke out and the borders were closed back home.   She taught herself English and obtained her Canadian license.   Planned, not planned – both of them became excellent Canadian citizens, hard working, educated, the kind of people any country would want. 

But are all educational degrees the same?  Skills, knowledge?  There are lots  of taxi drivers with degrees.  What about values, ethics?  It would be naive to think all refugees share our moral standards.   If a person comes from a country where violence, fraud and corruption is rampant, and sometimes the only way to get ahead, then they might think those practices are acceptable here?  They’re not.  There has been some talk of making an ethics test a requirement for immigration.  But just how do you go about that?  It’s about as impractical as a test for terrorists.   I’ve often wondered why we letting so many international grads into the country when our own Canadian grads can’t get jobs.  It seems unfair.   Ordinary citizens may find their tolerance slipping away every time they read something negative in the newspaper or on social media or perhaps experience something themselves, because so many of our opinions are influenced by our personal experiences. 

When our prime minister (polite, nice hair but politically inexperienced, champion of women’s rights until one disagreed with him), proudly but  naively proclaimed that Canada welcomes immigrants, he also opened the floodgates to over 40,000 illegal immigrants walking across the Canadian-US border at unofficial entry points, most fleeing possible US deportation.   What he actually meant was applying for it the usual way.   But can the steady stream of people wheeling their over-sized suitcases across the fields near the Quebec and western borders be considered “refugees” fleeing a war torn country, or are they “economic migrants” who have heard Canada is a good place?   The social services system in the big cities like Montreal and Toronto have run out of places to put them – they are housing them in hotels and calling on federal reimbursement for the millions spent accommodating them, as Ontario is already in a major-debt crisis, (346 billion and climbing, similar to California and Greece).   The refugee claimants are entitled to free social assistance, education and medical care while awaiting their hearing before the Immigration Board, for up to one year but often longer, as there aren’t enough immigration officers to process them all.   They are also allowed to apply for a temporary work permit after the claim is initiated but many have children to look after and who would hire them temporarily?   And just how do you sort out which ones might be ‘undesirables” – perhaps criminals or drug dealers back home.   It must be a difficult process doing background checks, if they can be done at all.   Recently, in an effort to stem the tide, the government enacted legislation to try and deter the “asylum-shoppers” – if they have already claimed asylum in the US then they will be deported back to await a hearing there.      

Years ago, borders between the nations were more fluid.  People moved to where there was work and stayed there.   Most of my grandfather’s siblings went to the US.    In 1913, the big Detroit car factories (GM and Ford) were just starting their production lines and needed workers, so they advertised $5/day, enticing many Canadians to move across the river.  But by the 1960’s, I remember my great Aunt Bea hesitating about visiting the farm in her old age, as she did not have any papers to show the border officer.   Another of my grandfather’s siblings went to Seattle to work in the logging industry in the 1920’s.   When he couldn’t get work the first year, the whole family picked apples.   Now, nobody wants to do that kind of manual labor anymore, so our fruit and vegetable farmers must hire Mexican or Jamaican seasonal workers through a government sponsored program.   My ancestors didn’t settle in the big city, they spread out to the rural areas where land was cheap and work available and settlers needed. 

Both my Irish and Dutch ancestors faced some prejudice as foreigners.  The Irish were universally hated, there were so many of them taking away all the jobs, but now 1/4 of North Americans can claim some Irish descent and no one thinks anything of it.   My mother remembers the teachers not liking the Dutch and foreign kids as the parents couldn’t speak English, one of the reasons most of the new immigrants prefer to stay in the big overcrowded cities.  Perhaps they feel more comfortable with their own kind, but often it is the opposite of what they might expect.   The people in the smaller towns may be more welcoming and the churches who were sponsoring the Syrian refugees and had raised enough money for a year to qualify, were delighted to have a family to help out.      

While Canada did take in it’s share of Syrian refugees, many are still unemployed.   It’s hard to find work when they can’t speak English or their English is poor.  The schoolkids always do better at picking it up.   For some their sponsorship money has run out and others have expressed the wish to return to their own country once things settle down – the winters here are too cold.   (Yes, Canada is a great country, except for the snow and the winters that drag on for six months and the high taxes).   One poor Syrian family lost all seven of their kids in a tragic house fire in Nova Scotia – such beautiful children all perished.   They may have wanted the promise of a better life, but sometimes that promise isn’t fulfilled.   

If a person is destitute they are glad of a safe haven anywhere, but is their new life what they expected?  (My Dutch ancestors stepped off the train in Niagara Falls into a foot of snow, and the Irish crew had heard Canada was a temperate climate requiring nothing more than a straw hat!)   Perhaps their lives are better overall, but are there regrets?   I wonder about the caravans coming over the southern US – Mexican border – if they don’t speak English do they even know what they are facing, or are they just fleeing from a situation which is even worse?   Are they aware they might be separated from their children (like my ancestors losing one son in the bush and never finding him).    Or is the hope and promise of a better life for their children worth the chance?     

In today’s era of entitlement, I have been reminded lately of the famous J.F. Kennedy quote “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”   While each individual case may be different, the goal is the same for everyone – hopefully each immigrant will become a hard working, law abiding, contributing and tax-paying citizen of their new country. 

Taxes – those necessary evils that help support our enviable social programs, and yes the taxes here (in our cradle to grave social state) can be as high as the snow.    But people can’t pay taxes if they’re here illegally under the radar.   If I wanted to move to Provence permanently as I hear the sun shines there 300 days of the year – and I’m there illegally and don’t pay taxes, eventually I would be sent right back to snowy Canada.  And if I insisted on butter tarts from le patisserie instead of macrons I would be deported tout suite!   

In addition to humanitarian concerns and human rights, each country also has the right to decide their own fate, to have a system in place which is fair and reasonable and not so costly that it deters the country from letting anyone in at all.   Which is what might happen if this heated issue continues to build steam.  The door will be closed to everyone.  You can already see individual countries everywhere (Australia for example where immigrant boats are diverted to an island offshore), tightening up their immigration policies.           

A recent UN survey states there are 227 million migrants in the world, people who have left their countries in search of work, to join their families or fleeing conflict.  There are probably another billion or two who would like the opportunity to leave.   47 million migrants said they would most like to move to Canada, a nation of just 37 million.  (I’m not sure how they arrived at this data other than through extrapolation).    Any country with a good standard of living, offering free social services and health care is attractive, witness the desire for many of the Syrians to travel north to Denmark and  Sweden.   But Canada lets in just 300,000 immigrants per year.   The dilemma is deciding who and how? 

We may want to help everyone, but can we afford to?   Canada is a big country land wise – maybe we could take in more people if we didn’t have to guarantee them so much, for so long?   What if social assistance was limited to six months, could we take in twice as many?   Three months, three times the amount?   Or just vet the applicants and open up the border like centuries ago and let everyone fend for themselves?   No, there are too many people now and the world has changed too much for that.   And what about human rights? 

Immigrants and asylum seekers have rights too, but sometimes a plea for help may seem like a demand, especially if there are large numbers  involved, a mob of people versus an orderly process.   “Let me in, support me financially while I’m waiting even if takes years, let me stay and let me appeal if you decide to deport me.”   Is this a right, a plea, a hope or a demand?   There’s everything good and decent and right about giving someone a helping hand, a start to a new life, and that’s what it should be, a start.   Our ancestors did it, they had no other choice.     

Fast forward a few decades to the future and the possible issue of mass migration and “climate refugees”.   If climate change evolves, and droughts and flooding and food shortages occur all over the world, will hordes of people be leaving their counties seeking food and shelter elsewhere?  If that happens more prosperous countries will simply shut their doors and take care of their own.  It will be every country for themselves, and every man for themselves.   Our face of humanity will be lost.   It’s disappearing now.  People are losing tolerance and empathy.   The immigration systems are strained and overwhelmed.   It’s something to think about and there are no easy answers, but we need to figure it out, sooner rather than later.       

To sum up, we all came from away at some point, even those white Europeans who came over with Columbus on the Santa Maria, but surely there is some middle ground somewhere, and room for reasonable discussion and action.   We need to learn to balance practicality with compassion, for the storm is coming.       

PS.  Your respectful thoughts and opinions are welcomed.

And because there’s always a book or two in my blogs, may I recommend some excellent reads on the refugee crisis.      

A fictionalized account, the Canadian novel The Boat People by Sharon Bala explores the Sri Lanka refugee boat incident from all angles – the refugees, their history and the workers in the legal and immigration systems who have to decide who can stay.   

Castaway: True Stories of Survival from Europe’s Refugee Crisis by journalist Charlotte MacDonald-Gibson, first hand reporting mixed with personal stories, told from an observer point of view leaving you to draw your own conclusions. 

Tears of Saltby Dr. Pietro Bartolo – memoir by an Italian physician of his many years of treating the many Mediterranean refugees who washed up on his small Italian island.   

They Poured Fire on Us From the Sky – The True Story of Three Lost Boys of Sudan   –  A  heartbreaking memoir by three orphaned cousins, aged 5 to 7,  who spent over ten years in a refugee camp before immigrating to the US in their teens.

First They Killed My FatherA Daughter of Cambodia Remembers – by Loung Ung  – memoir of life as a child soldier in a work camp during the days of the Khmer Rouge.  

In my shoes

(Next week I will return to my regularly scheduled non-political topics.   Also, when The Tall Ships visit this summer, I hope to blog about the replica of the Santa Maria, of Christopher Columbus fame.)

Dutch Inheritance

Dutch china       It’s a sad fact of modern life that when you receive an inheritance letter in the mail, you automatically assume it’s a scam and throw it away – especially if it’s from someone who promises that if you will only oblige and send your bank account information the money will soon be on it’s way.    But as it turns out not all inheritance letters are scams.

Tulips

          It’s almost tulip season again, which always reminds me of my grandmother.   I have blogged about my Irish Roots (see also A Visit to an Irish Graveyard), but not about my Dutch ancestors.   My maternal grandparents were from Holland but I never knew any relatives from that side of the family because they immigrated to Canada in 1922.   My grandmother was from a family of seven siblings and my grandfather ten, and being from the same village she was friends with some of my grandfather’s sisters.   In this picture, which was taken in front of the family home just before she immigrated, my grandmother is in the back row, second from the right. Gramma's family (2) My grandparents were married the week before Christmas and left on a boat to New York, arriving in Ellis Island on New Year’s Day 1922.    According to the Ellis Island archives, they traveled with two other couples, one of which was my grandfather’s sister and her husband.   Two of his other sisters and their spouses were already here in Canada, a country where things were supposed to be more prosperous, especially after WW1.    My grandmother had grown up on a small farm and my grandfather worked on the boats on the canals, but there wasn’t much farm land available or work to be had, after he put in his mandatory four years of service in the army reserves.   In order to come to Canada, you had to pass a medical and be sponsored by a Canadian farmer for a year, so they decided to settle in a small Ontario town where there was already a small contingent of Dutch people.   

      I used to tease my grandmother that the ocean liner came over on was her honeymoon cruise, as she was just newly married.   She was 24, the baby of the family and a homebody, and I suspect had she known she would never see any of her family again, she never would have left.    Her parents did not want them to go – but ah, the things we do for love.   She boarded the boat with a large wicker trunk containing all her worldly possessions, her trousseau, blankets and household items, and wearing her mother’s brooch.   I suspect her mother knew they would not be coming back.   She was the only one of their party not seasick on the way over, but if you pretended you were and stayed below deck then you got an orange, which was a luxury at the time.  She remembered having a nice turkey dinner on Christmas Day.   When they got through Ellis Island, they were immediately whisked away to a waiting train enroute to Canada.   They got off the train in Niagara Falls, stepping into a foot of snow, with no boots, as they were not used to that much snow back home. 

       Times were not as prosperous as promised.   They worked in the sugar beet fields to meet the sponsorship requirements.   They had to learn how to speak and write English.   My grandmother’s English was good by the time we were kids but she always had a trace of an accent, and certain words were mispronounced, Kalander for calendar and sleep-out for sleep in, and if she was discussing something with my mother that she didn’t want little ears to hear, she spoke in Dutch.   My grandfather was a quiet man, a real Checker fiend who would never let a poor kid win!   After they had been here a few years, they thought about trying their luck in the US (Chicago), and had a family passport picture taken, (my mother is the baby), but changed their plans when the Depression hit in the 1930’s.  

Gramma passport picture (2)

Those were hard years, but my mother said they always had enough food to eat, unlike some families.   An uncle was a butcher and used to supply them with meat.   It was shameful to go on the dole, considered a last resort.  Only if you were sick or starving would you apply for food stamps, otherwise you made do or did without.   It was WW2 which brought them into relative prosperity, as all four of them, including my 16 year old mother and her brother, worked in the war plants, which enabled them to save enough for a down payment on a farm two hours away, (and right across the road from my father, so effectively she married the boy next door).  

It was nice having my grandma right across the road, as we visited frequently, and she would feed us Gouda cheese, homemade root beer and those Dutch ginger windmill cookies which are still available today, plus it meant we didn’t have to travel far at Christmas and holidays.    She was a kind woman, but strong in her opinions and philosophy, could debate any topic, and she raised my mother to be a strong woman.   We were raised to be strong and independent too.   There were no helpless damsels in distress or pampered princess types in my family.    She loved to knit and crochet and tried to teach me once, but I was hopeless.   Her afghans came  in bright colors and I still have a brown/orange/green one she made for me when I was away at school.   She always painted her kitchen farm table an aqua green, where we sat talking many an afternoon, with the white curtains fluttering in the summer breeze and a cat curled up on top of the freezer.   She favored lime green aprons, (it was the sixties), and often wore one even when not cooking, but my mother was by far the better cook.    Emigrating so young she had no one to show her and Canadian food was different from back home.   She had a set of those shallow European soup bowls in her (blue and white) china cabinet long before they were all the rage here.   In her later years, she was starting to lose her vision and hearing, but her mind was still sharp, and she knew everything that was going on in the world and still had an interest in life.    She always told me I was the best of the bunch, because I would go and visit her after she moved into town and bring her cans of lobster, (she had grown up on seafood).   I wish I had visited more often.   You don’t realize what an influence a grandparent has on you until after they are gone.   The last time l was there, she grabbed my hand when I left, her hands were so warm – a few weeks later she was dead from a sudden stroke.  

      I suspect my grandmother always regretted coming to Canada.  She missed her family.   In her old age, she said she was a woman without a country.   When the stairs got to be too much for her she moved into a one floor house in town and hung a photo of her childhood home on the living room wall where she could see it every day.    In this picture are her mother, brother, sister and young niece.

Dutch home

Even if they could have afforded it, my grandpa would probably never have gone home for a visit, as he suspected she wouldn’t have come back, but after the Depression, came the war, and then her parents were dead.   My mother remembers getting the black edged envelopes containing the death notices in the mail and my grandmother dissolving into tears.  Death notice envelope 3 (2)          After my grandfather died, my sister tried to talk her into taking us to Holland on a trip but she said she was too old (she was only in her early 70’s) but I don’t think she wanted to go by then, fifty years had gone by, it had been too long.   But she continued to send airmail letters back and forth to her brothers and sisters over the years.   They sent her a bouquet of tulips for her 80th birthday.   Her siblings all lived well into their 90’s, the last one dying at 95, still riding his bike around town.   They had moved into town by then too, as their farm had been swallowed up by development.   My grandmother herself lived to be 96 in her own home – she was the last of her family and many condolence letters arrived from nieces and nephews in Holland after she died.

       Flash forward to five years ago when my mother received an inheritance letter in the mail.   A cousin had died and she was entitled to 1/17th of her estate, if she would just sign off for the debts of the estate and return said form as soon as possible.   The English was poor, the grammar worse.  Obviously a scam, who would sign for debts for someone they didn’t even know.   Although my mother was aware of this cousin (the young girl in the picture above), we thought it quite strange, and I assumed scammers, ever a resourceful lot, must have been cruising Ancestry.com for single elderly people  and their distant out of country relatives.   I googled the law firm on Facebook – a group of women lawyers, all wearing navy suits and white shirts, and a few testimonials, all in Dutch – this was in the days before google translate was a feature.   I put the letter aside.   A few months went by.   I mentioned it to my brother when he was home, and he decided to email them – no response.    Six months went by and another letter arrived, this one an official looking form.    By then I was beginning to think it might possibly be true.   But why didn’t they just pick up the phone, they had my mother’s address, exactly as it was wrongly printed in the phone book.   I decided to take the official looking form to the library.    One of the new librarians was Dutch and I had commented on her accent one day as it reminded me of my grandmothers.   She informed me it was a tax form from the Dutch government.  She had emigrated many years before but had an overseas phone plan as she still had relatives back home, so she very kindly offered to call the law firm for me and speak to them in Dutch.   It was legitimate – not a scam at all, and there were no debts – the estate taxes had all been paid off.   My mother had only to send her bank account information, and a copy of her passport.   In the meantime, I received an email from the relative in charge of the estate, assuring me it was not a scam, and they were all waiting for her to sign off.    He sent a copy of the obituary which I later asked the librarian to translate.  By then I had gone through my grandmother’s papers and found a condolence letter from a nephew, and called him, as he spoke English.   We emailed a bit, I asked for some stories about the deceased cousin, and he said he would email later, but he never did.   I wish I knew more about her life, I know she took care of the old folks but nothing else about her.   She must have died without a will as the estate was split among all those cousins.  By then my mother was thinking maybe she would just decline her share and let someone who had looked after her have it, but she wasn’t allowed to decline as then it would go to her children and get even more complicated.    Several weeks went by while the euro continued to drop.   The exchange rate is usually fairly stable at 1.5 but it was down to 1.3.    I emailed the law firm when to expect the money so I could keep an eye on the bank account we had opened, and they said there were now 36 people who had to sign off.  I quite  liked the idea that I have 36 relatives I have never met, surely there must be a family genealogist among them.   Eventually, about a year after the first letter, my mom received about $7,000 worth of euros, which she later used for a new air conditioner/furnace.   I wish she had spent it on something extravagant, like a trip to Holland, but my mother is practical, and at 93, her travelling days are over too.  

Luckily, if you are an immigrant now,  you have much better ways to communicate than my grandmother did – email, Skype, Facebook, getting on a cheap economy flight for a visit.    Be grateful for ways to stay in touch.   Remember when you chose a man or a job or a country, you are choosing a lifestyle.  Choose wisely.   If you want to travel, go when you are young – don’t wait until it’s too late.   Eat plenty of Gouda cheese – it’s good for your bones.  When you grow old, make a will.   Stay interested in life.   Be strong but be kind.  Plant or buy some tulips and enjoy! 

PS.    Do you have a relative who especially influenced your life?     

Dutch Inheritance - AMc

 (Next week in Come From Away, I will be tackling the timely topic of immigration from a genealogical point of view…if I’m brave enough.)   

     

 

 

A Visit to An Irish Graveyard

Ireland church
       
         When I traveled to Ireland in the early 80’s, in the days of cheap Euro-rail passes, I went by myself, which looking back was a gutsy thing to do and certainly out of character for me, a reserved introvert (and I might add the one and only time I traveled by myself).   None of my family or friends were interested in Ireland, but it was one of two places I wanted to see when I graduated, the other being New York city.  Ireland was not then the popular tourist destination it is today.    I remember it as a dismal country, full of small dreary towns, but I had Irish ancestors and even at a young age I was the family historian.   It was the stories that interested me.   In addition to researching the family history, I had booked a week at an English-riding academy, as a promise to my younger horse-crazy self.  This was in the days when Glamour magazine (my fashion bible) had the travel section, which profiled said establishment and promised a glorious week in the Irish countryside (I remember the exact wording) with lovely walks by the sea.   I must have envisioned riding to the hounds or galloping along the cliffs like  Poldark, something which appealed to the poetic me.  After spending a few days at the Dublin Library going through old microfilms of land records (computers and the internet had not been invented), I located a section of Leitrim County where there seemed to be a large concentration of Patricks and Marys and Johns with my last name, spelled with an a and not the more common o.   My dad said it was always with an a, but you have to be careful with genealogy records as variations in spelling can sometimes be the recorder’s honest mistake.    
       My great great grandparents Patrick and Mary had immigrated to Canada  in 1846 at the start of the potato famine and their 14 year old son John came a year later through New York.   For more on their story check out last years St. Patrick’s Day blog – Irish Roots.   
Patrick and Mary

Patrick and Mary – (tintype)

Their son John below, sitting in the chair, aged 80 yr in 1912. 

Family Portrait

John and Ellen Family Portrait – 1912

Patrick was proud of his Leitrim County heritage and had it inscribed on his  tombstone when he died in 1880, where it is barely legible today.    
Gravestone
After sight-seeing in Dublin, I took the train around Ireland, staying in B&B’s and doing some side tours, the usual ones, The Lakes of Killarney,
The Lakes of Killarney - AMc - 2018

The Lakes of Killarney

the Ring of Kerry, the Dingle Peninsula (the only sunny day), and the Cliffs of Moher.   Readers of my long-winded posts might find it hard to believe but I bailed out of kissing the Blarney stone. Blarney castle (4)

 The medical me was horrified at the unhygienic aspect, especially considering my general lack of immunity to foreign germs, plus the thought of reclining backwards over the parapets at that height was not exactly appealing.  (see picture under Wikipedia link) 

          It was September and the weather was gloomy – it rained every day.  If it wasn’t raining, it was overcast.  (I forgot to put film in the camera, thus missing a whole role of dull gray skies).   Central heating was mostly non-existent.    I was cold all the time, and wore both of the Irish sweaters I had bought in Dublin the first week.  Cliffs of Moher (2)

It poured rain on the Cliffs of Moher and I got thoroughly soaked, then the bus broke down and we sat for hours waiting for a mechanic to arrive.   It was a scary drive back to Cork in the dark with no headlights.   Fortunately, my very kind B&B owner met me at the station, as she wondered why I hadn’t returned at 6 pm as planned.    She turned on the bedwarmer/electric blanket and after I had a hot bath, brought me tea and cookies, while I sat in bed writing in my journal about my dreadful day.  I guess you could say Ireland is where I first started to write, as I kept a travel journal  and wrote in it at night if there was nothing else to do.   Although it was easy to meet people in the B&B’s, I wasn’t much of a party person and there are only so many pub/Celtic music nights you can handle over a three week period.    Looking back over my journal entries, they’re not half bad.      

       The glorious week at the equestrian centre turned out to be one lesson in a drafty old riding ring, listening to a rude female instructor yell at a group of tweens, horses and myself, in that order.   I wasn’t sitting up straight enough, and even though I have a bit of scoliosis, she showed no mercy.  Towards the end of the lesson, when the horse sat down on me, I got off and went back to the B&B just down the road.   So much for that expensive pair of riding boots I had bought in Dublin.    The next morning I woke up with a terrible cold, but luckily I had a nice B&B to convalesce in.  The proprietress kept insisting there were some lovely walks to the sea (perhaps it was she who had supplied the Glamour advertisement), but I barely left the room, sleeping and reading, and being entertained by their talkative twelve-year old daughter (a carbon copy of Anne of Green Gables complete with red pigtails), who kept me amused with her drawings and music collection.   I would surface for supper with the only other guest, an older lady from Dublin in search of a holiday and some company.   She talked non-stop.   I listened, nodded, and after a spell by the turf fire, went back to bed.      
       When I was sufficiently recovered, I took the train to Carrick-on-Shannon.    Leitrim County (see Wikepedia) is located in central Ireland near the northern border.   It’s definitely off the beaten tourist path, but I wasn’t brave enough to rent a car as there were white crosses on the roads marking the spots where tourists had died from forgetting to drive on the left side of the road.  I  found the local parish and the priest said there was a church in Fenagh and they might have records.  He said he didn’t have any records, that I’d come at the wrong time of year and that the area was ‘polluted’ with people with my surname.  I didn’t have time to reply that it was spelled with an a, before he slammed the door in my face.   (Sigh….they must get tired of tourists).
      While I had been blessed so far with lovely B&B’s, the one I booked into  must have been the worst in all of Ireland.    It was undergoing renovations, there was doggy do-do on the stairs, no hot water or heat, and the not very nice landlady told me I had to have breakfast by 8 or I wouldn’t be getting any at all.    She did however make arrangements for a driver to take me out to the parish church.   There was only one Catholic church in the outlying area  and only one cab driver in the town.    The next morning when the driver (your typical small Irishmen), showed up he was dressed in a tweed suit and tie and not a day under 85.   He looked frail, but the B&B lady had assured me he was in good health, just a bit senile, and unlike most Irish people not much for conversation.   The only word I remember him saying was ‘aye’.    

       It was a very foggy morning as we drove out into the countryside and all I could see were hawthorn trees and piles and piles of rocks, swirled in an eerie mist.    It was the most desolate place ever, and I kept thinking no wonder they left.     The west parts of Ireland around Connemara by the sea are rocky but picturesque – but this was just plain bleak.    When we got to the church, it looked like a new modern church, right in the middle of nowhere.

     An old priest answered the door.   His eyes were red and rheumy and he looked hungover, but he opened the church so I could take some pictures.  He told me the church had been built in 1840, (so perhaps my ancestors had worshiped there), but the records only went back to 1855 because of ‘the fire’.  There were a few Patricks and one John listed in his old book but the dates weren’t right.  The church had been renovated in 1970 and there were about 700 people in the parish.  We certainly hadn’t passed any houses so the parish must have taken up a large area of the countryside.   (We hadn’t passed any cars either, so perhaps I could have driven on the right side of the road).  

       When I went back to the car the driver had fallen asleep, so I woke him up and we drove down to the church cemetery which was about a mile down the road, just outside a small village which consisted of a pub, a store, a few houses and a school.    The church graveyard was at the site of an old monastery (Fenagh Abbey) which originated around 500 AD and held the ruins of two churches which dated from the 15th century.   

Ireland church

     There were some newer tombstones, most with the o spelling, a few Patricks and Johns, and lots of crumbled old stones which were impossible to read.   I wandered around for awhile taking pictures – it was a strange  experience being in the place where your ancestors might have stood and could be buried.     The atmosphere was certainly mystical. 

Ireland church

      Patrick and Mary’s parents, being too old to travel, had stayed behind, and I assume John must have stayed with them when all the others left.   Maybe they died in the famine and so he had no choice but to leave a year or two later.  They  probably wouldn’t have had a proper burial place as in 1847, the worse year of the famine, corpses littered the fields and roads and there was no one left to bury them, nor any coffins to be had.  Tombstones were only for the rich. 

Ireland church

I recently read a book by John Kelly, The Graves are Walking, which details the horror of that era of Ireland’s history.

The Graves Are Walking: The Great Famine and the Saga of the Irish People

The Graves Are Walking: The Great Famine and the Saga of the Irish People by John KellyMy rating: 4 of 5 stars  A scholarly well researched history of the Irish Potato Famine, this book is an important but disturbing read, especially for those of Irish descent.

 

 

Having read it, I’m having difficulty with the decision of John being left behind, but then they left in Sept 1846 when the potato crop had failed but before the worst of the famine hit, and if it was John’s decision to stay behind and go to school, then perhaps 14 then wasn’t the child it seems today.  Someone must have paid for his passage and put him on a ship to New York, the poor survival rate on the coffin ships to Canada being well known by then.   (NB: there is also a Famine Museum in Roscommon Ireland, a tribute to the national disaster). 

      When I went back to the car the driver had dozed off again and I didn’t have the heart to wake him so I wandered around some more, snapping pictures.  Finally I had to rouse him as I had to catch the train to Dublin.  The fog had burned off by then, so I could see more of the countryside on the way back, poor rocky land, the odd house, a few cows and sheep here and there.   It was September which would have been harvest season if they had been able to grow anything at all, even potatoes.    We passed a small lake, perhaps they fished?  

Ireland church
        The Irish tourism site says that Leitrim County, at 32,000, is one of the most sparsely populated counties in Ireland.   It was certainly a godforsaken place.   At the time of the famine it had a large population of over 150,000, many of whom emigrated.   When we arrived  back at the B&B I gave the driver 15 pounds instead of the 10 he requested.   I was just glad he got me back in one piece – that we hadn’t driven into a bog someplace where I might have been preserved for centuries like the famous bog man in the Dublin museum.  

         Certainly, it was a surreal experience to visit the land of your long lost ancestors.  Now that we have Ancestry.com and numerous online resources, and personal genealogists who will do all the searching for you, I might go back some day, with a more specific plan in mind.   For it has certainly occurred to me, that I possibly wasn’t even in the right place.  A few years ago, a distant relative tried to do further research and came up empty-handed.   There are so few records, that I may have to remain content with my “lost in the mists of time” experience.   

      A friend brought me back some souvenirs from her Irish trip last year, a Leitrim County flag and a miniature bottle of whiskey, which my leprechaun is enjoying here. 

        In the thirty five years since I was there, Ireland has prospered, every small town now a picture of tidy charm.   Her photographs were gorgeous, but then cameras have improved too.   Sensibly, she went in May and had two weeks of solid sunshine and balmy weather.   The clerk in the tourist shop inquired why would you want a souvenir from that place –  nobody lives in Leitrim County.   Well my ancestors once did.   I placed the flag on Patrick and Mary’s tombstone in our church cemetery, as I thought they might enjoy the fact that a great great granddaughter was thinking of them and their old homeplace.    I hope their Irish eyes were smiling down on me. 

Gravestone

A few weeks later, the flag was gone, blown away by the wind, or removed by an unappreciative grass-cutter or priest, someone trying to obliterate the past.   

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
Postscript:    When I got back to Dublin, I booked a hotel on Grafton Street which had central heating, plenty of hot water and lots of shopping nearby, then switched to a B&B the night before my flight.   My suitcase was so full of souvenirs that I had to leave the riding boots behind in the B&B.  I simply could not cram them in, so I left them there beside the bed.    I hope someone else found them useful – but I have regretted that decision to this day, as there are many times when I’m mucking around in the garden in the spring when they would have come in handy!  
Irish Cottage - AMc

Irish Cottage

Downton Abbey Revisited

Downton Abbey

‘Village for sale in Yorkshire – property includes a great house with 43 low rent cottages,’ said the ad on the internet.   For only 28 million pounds you could have your very own Downton Abbey, complete with a butler saying, “Welcome to Downton” or whatever you wished to call your estate.  Downtown Abbey

I was late to the British Television drama Downton Abbey, having binge-watched five seasons over the winter of 2015, when it’s ending was already rumoured.   Forty some episodes later, I was addicted, and could see why it was watched by over 100 million people in 200 countries and considered the best drama series ever.   I had heard people talking about the show and had even tried watching a bit here and there but there were so many characters and relationships to keep straight.   The librarian suggested the only solution was to go back to the beginning, so I did.   It helped make a long snowy winter pass pleasantly, as I spend it in balmy Britain in the early part of the twentieth century.   Recently our local Public Television station has been airing the re-runs, which inspired me to revisit the world of Downton and make some observations, focusing on the fun, food, and fashions.

As a history lover, I found the era of the show fascinating, as it was a time of much change and innovation in the world, which is one of the reasons that producer Julian Fellowes chose it for his period drama.    He starts his saga in 1912 with the fateful sinking of the Titanic (and the death of the Downton heir apparent), and subsequently covers WW1 and the 1920’s, all the while working many of the decades most famous innovations into the script – cars, electricity, telephones, early airplane travel, listening to the king’s speech on the wireless/radio plus household appliances like refrigerators, toasters, mixers, sewing machines, typewriters, curling tongs and hair dryers as well as covering changes in women’s fashions, hairstyles and roles.   Looking back, Downton is a strange world in many ways, one many of us may find hard to relate to, especially if you are not British and your only exposure to the aristocracy is a picture of the Queen on your Canadian money.   The show is interesting because it depicts the rigid class structure of the time, the wide gulf  between the social classes and the upstairs downstairs aspect of running a great house, as well as the developing increase in the middle class and the importance of education.  Of course, we would all like to have lived such a life of leisure, and never have to worry about cleaning the house, making supper or childcare – there were nannies for that.   It was an envious lifestyle in many ways, even if they did tend to spend very little time with their children – an hour after tea time, but as the Countess Dowager exclaimed, it was an hour every day!

The Food

While some things would have been lovely, such as having a breakfast tray brought to you in bed, (only for married women, spinsters like Edith were expected to show up at the table) and having an elegant five course meal prepared for you every night, other things like being a slave to the 7 pm gong (dinner at eight seems way too late), and eating in the formal dining room in your best clothes in the presence of the butler and footmen, would have seemed very rigid on a regular basis.   (No sneaking leftover pizza in the kitchen of that household.)   Could you eat when someone was standing there like a statue, pretending not to watch you  or listen to the conversation whilst being ready should you require any attention.  It might be a tad uncomfortable, but maybe preferable to trying to flag down a waitress to bring you a coffee refill.    There was always conversation over dinner, and after they “went through” to the living room, more conversation.   So different from today when so many people dine with their cell phones instead of their companions.  

Downton Abbey

One would think they were a family of anorexic alcoholics from the dining room scenes.   While they served themselves from the platters proffered by the footmen, there never seemed to be much food on their plates, (especially the deserts, and I watched!) which might explain why they were so thin.    They tended to savour small exquisite portions – certainly no supersized meals there. 

Strawberry Trifle

Strawberry English Trifle

And the wine, so many different ones for each courses, but as Carson said, they usually only take a sip.   What a waste of good wine, why not just open one bottle for the meal, and be done with it.    The china and crystal were lovely however – why don’t we use the good china anymore.   It’s so much more elegant – as long as you don’t have to wash the dishes, and why did they never ever show anyone washing all those dishes night after night?Teacups

And the tea – so many cups poured, so few sips taken…but such pretty teacups.  But no scones or treats?   It’s a long way until supper  – ah yes, the crumbs and calories.  Teacups are elegant, but they hold 4 oz at most, and when I want a cup of tea, I want a bracing hot mugful.   Recently I saw a lovely silver tea service at a thrift shop, but it would need polishing and I already own too many teapots I seldom use – no one entertains like that anymore, which is why it was in the thrift shop.     

Downton Abbey The Fashions

Oh, the clothes – that long elegant silhouette, nothing too clingy, or skin tight like today’s fashions with everything emphasized and/or overexposed.    I especially liked the flapper style when they entered the 1920’s, and all the jewelry and hair ornaments….and the hats, so many stylish hats, week after week.    Even their nightgowns and robes were feminine and elegant.Hat

 For a fashionista it was worth tuning in just for the clothes.  The show must have been a wardrobe persons dream job.   The colours and fabrics were exquisite too.   But did they really need a lady’s maid to help remove their jewelry and undress themselves before bed, like a bunch of toddlers?   I found this 1912 book The Chronicles of Downton Abbey, by Jessica Fellowes (Julian Fellowes niece) most interesting in explaining the jobs of the various household servants. Downton Abbey

There were chapters on each of the characters, as well as general historical information about the running of such an estate and depictions of common household items.   Downtown Abbey Part of the lady’s maid’s job was to maintain, mend and care for the clothing.   Sign me up – I hate doing laundry and despise that half hour of ironing every week.   Imagine having someone to pack and unpack for you when traveling – it would be pure bliss.   Downton Abbey

While women’s clothing can be delicate and in need of more care, the valet’s role was even more puzzling and seemed to consist of nothing more than brushing the dandruff off the shoulders of the men’s evening jackets and polishing their shoes.  But again, there was the packing and maintenance and plenty of rules for black tie,  white tie and tweeds.   In one of the early episodes, Lady Mary inadvertently insults one of the staff by commenting that he was only a footman, but a staff position in such a great house was a steady and respected job, guaranteed employment and a step-up for many in the village.

Jessica Fellows has published a number of these lavish hardcover coffee-table type books, including this earlier one, The World of Downton Abbey, 2011, with lots of behind the scenes photos.  Downton Abbey      Highclere Castle, where the filming takes place, is a real working estate, and the present day countess, Lady Fiona Carnarvon has published At Home at Highclere:  Entertaining at the Real Downton Abbey, which chronicles the food, menus and entertainment of four historic weekend house parties held at the estate from 1866 to 1936.   There seems to be no shortage of books about Downton as recently I ran across this book, Downton Abbey and Philosophy, edited by Adam Barkman and Robert Arp, with contributions by 22 writers, about such diverse topics as the War Years, Master and Servant and Lady Edith and the Trials of the Modern Woman, as well philosophical ventures into morality, manners and socialism. Downton Abbey

The Fun

What did they do for fun?  They seemed to read a lot of books – at least they are always opening and closing them, and wouldn’t it be splendid to have that red carpeted library, although many of the books look like dusty tombs.    The dinners and parties and dances look splendid, especially the waltzes and the jazz tunes on the phonograph.   The fox hunting and horse race scenes were gorgeously filmed as was the grouse hunting in the heather filled moors and the visit to the Scottish castle.   A life of privilege would certainly have its pluses, but would it be enough?   (see the philosophy book – finding the meaning of life in Downton Abbey).    I suppose you wouldn’t question it if that was all you knew, but I am reminded of Sybil’s remark after the war was over, when they had grown accustomed to having a purpose in life (in her case nursing).   Instead of going to dress fittings and endless teas and charity events she said she wanted to be tired at the end of the day, tired from doing useful work.  Well Darling Sybil, I’m sorry they killed you off in Season Three, but work is tiring, very tiring – try it for twenty years or so and let’s check back or let’s change places.   I think I could adapt to being a lady of leisure –  are there any British castles where they will let you sample the life of a lord and lady for a month?     Highclere Castle does host some daytime events and there are cottages you can rent overnight, which brings me back to that ad?    Anyone have an extra 28 million pounds they can spare?    Or if not, then anyone care for tea?   We can always pretend…..

The Cast

I know some people who stopped watching after Season 3 as they could not handle the deaths of two of the main characters, but apparently those two actors had specified they only wanted 3-year contracts.    Maybe they were afraid of being typecast, but having watched Dan Stevens as Charles Dickens in The Man Who Invented Christmas, well seriously – Mathew was all I could see.  The story-line of Downton Abbey really draws you in, it is multilayered with many characters.   The scenes are short for the most part, and the pace quick.   Having such an excellent cast of strong actors helps, they really inhabit their roles.    My least favourite characters were Mr. Bates (bad temper, shady past and way too old for Anna), Cora with her breathy baby-like voice and snobby ways, Shirley McClain as her American mother (horribly typecast), as was Miss Bunting (rude and much too short).   I’m glad they ended the show on a high note after six seasons, as I really couldn’t take Bates facing jail time yet again…..and Mary’s multiple suitors were no replacement for Mathew.   Although she did eventually chose one, none of them could ever measure up.Downtown Abbey

In some cases, (the pigs anyone?) they seemed to have run out of story-lines.  But I was very glad poor Edith was happy at last, and ranked higher socially than Lady Mary, (but then I was a middle child too).      Downton Abbey Epilogue:     There are rumors of a Downton Abbey movie swirling, with a tentative release date of Sept 2019, but I wish they had left them frozen in time at New Years 1926.    It ended perfectly, with all the story lines wrapped up nicely, so why run the risk of spoiling it – but then I may be convinced otherwise.   I’ll be watching…..I wonder if the movie theatres will be serving tea and scones?

The official movie trailer: 

 

 

Toys of Yesteryear

        “Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” grumbled Jo March famously, in the opening sentence of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.   Statistics say that the average child in the developed world owns over 200 toys but only plays with 12 of them on an average day, and only 3% of the world’s children live in the US but they own 40% of the world’s toys.    Certainly we have become a nation of excessive consumption of toys as well as every thing else, but it wasn’t always this way.   Last summer while visiting a local library branch I snapped some pictures of a museum display on Early Toys which I found quite interesting and would like to share….if only to give you pause to think before you buy someone yet another stuffed animal.  (Guilty as charged – but those Panda Bears are so cute).        

Toyland

Early toys simply reflected everyday life and activities.   It was generally accepted that children were attracted to toys along gender lines.  

Toyland

Toyland

Dolls were always popular and were often homemade.

Toyland

Toyland

My mother grew up in the during the 1930’s Depression when times were hard.   Her few dolls were cheap versions with stuffed bodies and porcelain heads and she never had a really nice one, although some of the richer kids in town did.   One of her friends never even had a doll.   She remembers getting a toy tea set one year and they would always receive an orange (which they never had any other time of year), a popcorn ball, some hard candy and candy canes which would be placed on a chair on Christmas morning.   Her brother got a baseball and bat or a hockey stick and puck, and one year a steel car (my dad had the same model so it was probably the Hot Wheels car of the time).    They never had a Christmas tree until the 1940’s – just once in her childhood and then they had nothing to put on it except red crepe paper and a string of popcorn.   I know this sounds like Little House on the Prairie, but there were no Christmas lights until later.     

If you didn’t have money for a real doll there were paper dolls, and I remember playing with these a bit in the 1960’s.    It was fun to change their clothes about but then we played with our Barbie dolls until we were ten or older as most of the fun was in the fashion, including sewing their little outfits. 

Toyland

Toys for boys gave them skills needed for adult life such as building things.    

Toyland

Toyland

Toyland

When my older brother was about ten he got a train set for Christmas.  My dad had nailed the track to a big sheet of plywood and after the supper was cleared it was placed on the long dining room table and all the guys in the family, including the adults, had great fun watching that little train chugging round and round the track, the engine breathing a plume of smoke.  

Books were popular for both boys and girls, and were always one of my favorite childhood Christmas presents.    I was thrilled to get a new Trixie Belden (girl detective) or a classic like Little Women, and could usually be found reading it on Christmas night while everyone was playing euchre and card games with my grandparents and eating Pot of Gold chocolates and chips and drinking Coke.  We never had those (junk food) treats other than on holidays or occasionally on Saturday nights when Hockey Night in Canada was on.   Toyland

Toyland

Even if you didn’t grow up in the Depression era like my parents, children didn’t have as many toys back then because they had to help out with the chores both inside and outside the house.   

Toyland

My dad said when he was growing up, Christmas was just a big meal and going to church.  It was not about presents, because people couldn’t afford them.   His best present was a pair of ice skates he got when he was 13.  He had saved towards the $5 to buy them.   This was in 1939 when the Depression was ending, which was also the first time he saw a movie,  A Christmas Carol, with his brother and sister.   He said they were scared to death, and I remember finding the Ghost of Christmas Past quite frightening when I was a child.   It was always on Christmas Eve and I would go to bed before the scary part came on.   I don’t think his skates looked like this ancient pair – I don’t know how they were attached but my mother says her roller skates had straps to fit over the shoes.

Toyland skates

Skates were always a favorite in Canada, but compare this rusty pair with today’s modern technology of molded boots and super sharp blades which could easily cost several hundred dollars.   While we may have fond memories of skating on outdoor ponds when we were children, will today’s kids have the same fond memories of their video games and electronic gadgets?   They may still have story hour at the library, but I have noticed even the tiniest 4 or 5 year olds are eager to get their allotted time on the children’s computer.

Toyland

But what if you have no toys?   It is a sad fact that half the world is living in poverty.

Toyland

My dad recalled making mud pies in the Depression…..and I remember my younger brother and I lining up the chestnuts we had gathered at Thanksgiving as fields and fences for his farm animal set.   My dad made him a wooden barn one year –  it was painted white with a green retractable roof.  I crept down to the basement a few nights before Christmas while Santa was at work sawing the wood – fortunately the paint was dry by Christmas morning.   Playing is instinctual in a young child, and children are ingenious for inventing games out of what is at hand, which is why you see children in refugee camps playing games with improvised materials such as a pile of rags wound tightly to make a soccer ball.    (see link to last years blog on The Good Samaritan Shoebox Project which sends toys to impoverished countries).   

Who can forget the excitement of lying awake on Christmas Eve and wondering what Santa would bring.   We all have our favorite presents that we remember as a child….and sometimes the worst, like those bunny suit pajamas poor Ralphie got in the 1983 movie A Christmas Story. 

Xmas presents (3)

I don’t remember making a Christmas list as a child.   Our parents just bought us things they thought we would like, but can that really be a toy ironing set in that box, as ironing is now my absolutely most hated household chore?    My best ever present was my Skipper doll when I was nine and had to go in hospital after Christmas to get my tonsils out….looking back it was probably a bribe of sorts.   Skipper was Barbie’s younger sister and she had bendable knees.   She came with at least twelve different accessorized outfits which I credit with my ability to coordinate any outfit today (see skills needed in later life).   I can still remember the thrill I felt when I opened that stack of individual boxes of tiny clothes and accessories.   I already had Midge (Barbie’s best friend), who my mother had convinced me was far superior to my older sisters Barbie, in the same way that Chatty Cathy (she talked when you pulled the string on her back), was superior to her boring ballerina doll who never said a word, (lesson learned, it is better to be different and unique and to speak out than to just look pretty).    While money was not as plentiful then, especially compared to today’s standards, and we never got toys other times of the year, my parents always made sure we had a good Christmas, (although I have never quite forgiven my mother for those pixie haircuts her French hairdresser talked her into when all the other girls in the class had long hair and curls).  

How many toys are too many toys?  Can a child really appreciate anything if they have such an excess of stuff.    I once spent a Christmas in a house where the entire living room floor was covered with so many presents it took the better part of the day to unwrap them all and a ten year old whined because they didn’t get the one present they wanted.   It was sold out by mid-November, every parent’s nightmare, a sad phenomena which started with the Cabbage Patch Kids in the eighties and recently those $80 Hatchimals which this year are gathering dust on the store shelves.   It is far better to give a child the one toy they really want than a pile of stuff they don’t, but perhaps that is a teachable moment too?  

 I long for the days when toy shopping was as easy as buying a playdoh set (which is fun for grownups too), but I haven’t toy shopped in years.   This year as I have some little ones to buy for (as in younger than two and more likely to play with the box), I discovered to my disappointment that Tickle Me Elmo does not laugh as much as he used to…..two laughs and that’s it?   He used to laugh so long and hard it made you laugh….we had one in the ER department for prn use if a child was crying inconsolably.   No doubt they have modified this feature for the sake of the parents sanity, but as he was on sale for half price ($20) I bought him anyway….plus some books….you can’t go wrong with books.   If you think a child might have too much and doesn’t need more of the same, a small present to open and money for the education fund might be appreciated……someday.     

Sometimes it is fun to buy toys for the grownups too, as Charles Dickens said in A Christmas Carol, “for it is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a child Himself.”  Last year I started someone on an animated Christmas village with an ice rink, thinking she could use it in her waiting room, (I remember the fish aquarium which kept me entertained as a child while waiting to see the doctor), but I don’t believe it ever made it to her office. Toyland

This year I have been on the hunt for a musical carousel, with no luck, as they are all too big or like this one some of the horses are going backwards? Toyland

The Facebook blog where I happened upon the statistic about the number of toys children own, was encouraging parents to buy experiences, family outings, lessons etc instead of things which is a great idea as long as it is something the child really wants as opposed to the parents wanting to re-live or replace something they missed in their own childhood.    Hopefully in the end what a child will remember most is not the toys so much, but the time spent with family.

So whether your Christmas morning is a sea of wrapping paper or a more modest affair like the Cratchits, we should be reminded of the rest of the opening scene of Little Women, because that is what Christmas is all about. 

“Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.

“It’s so dreadful to be poor!” sighed Meg, looking down at her old dress.

“I don’t think it’s fair for some girls to have plenty of pretty things, and other girls nothing at all,” added little Amy, with an injured sniff.

“We’ve got Father and Mother, and each other,” said Beth contentedly from her corner.

Toyland

My mother’s Christmas Angel Doll

PS.  What was your favorite Christmas present growing up?

 

 

Bronte Country

Heathcliff is dead……again.    This is the third time I have tried to grow heather, but alas, it was not meant to be.   I have resigned myself to the fact that you can not grow heather in North America, there is a reason it is only to be found in abundance on the windswept moors of the UK.    Here is a photo of  Heathcliff (the-Plant-formerly-known-as-Heather), from last June, all healthy and blooming and alive.  

Heather  And here is a picture of him in September at his funeral.    

Heather

 I arranged a few red maple leaves around his skeletal remains, for a more poetic look, otherwise he might have been mistaken for a stringy birds nest which had fallen to the ground.    I had planted him in the same kind of poor rocky soil I imagined on the moors, and basically neglected him for the rest of the summer.   Heather likes full sun, (see care sheet), but the days were cloudy and melancholy and he took up drinking and drowned his roots in sorrow, (kind of like Branwell).    I must console myself though, that while we were not meant to be, he died young at the end of the rainiest season ever.   It was nothing personal, he just did not like our Canadian soil or climate.     

Heather

While doing some postmortem research, I discovered too late that heather likes well-drained acidic soil, and mine is clay and clumpy, so once again I had been lured in by a pot of pretty flowers.   I had thought they were more hardy souls (like lavender), who would grow anywhere.   Apparently there are many different types, and this  Better Homes and Gardens article says anyone can grow heather and heaths……well perhaps not the truly heartbroken gardener like myself who may never fully recover.         

Heather 

I have occasionally seen heather for sale in nurseries here in early spring, sometimes with pinkish flowers.   One July I bought some half-dead half-price specimens from the bargain bin.   I knew when I bought them they were probably beyond CPR, but they were only a dollar.   I planted them one week and dug them up the next.   My other futile attempt involved a specimen which the nursery clerk told me was the only heather they stocked.   It lived one short season, spread out a bit, produced 2 or 3 purplish blooms, then died off never to be seen again.   I knew it was not real heather because the foliage was too soft.    A friend who used to visit Scotland regularly, brought me back a piece of heather once as a souvenir – lucky for him the plant police did not catch him as smuggling plants is generally against the law.   I was surprised by how coarse it was.    I had expected from the pictures that it would be softer to the touch.

The moors must be beautiful in the summer and early fall, with all that heather blooming and the sky a bright blue, very Wuthering Heightish.  

Bronte Heather

Before Heathcliff, my only exposure to heather was from the window of an  tour bus in a downpour.   I was in Ireland in September where it rained every day – so why did my poor heather not survive?    The Irish heather (which was near a bog where they were cutting turf), was not nearly as stunning as the English heather in Downton Abby, the last episode of Season Five where they pack up the whole household and go grouse hunting at a castle on the moors and Mary and Edith meet their future husbands.    (You see, heather does inspire romance).   That was a beautifully filmed scene and inspired my mother to paint a picture called The Moors, which she included in her last art exhibit, (but then she has been known to paint shipwrecks from Poldark too).

The Moors - AMc

The Moors

 Victoria magazine is one of my favorite sources for inspiration, and in this past September issue they had a feature on Exploring the Bronte Legacy and the village of Haworth where they lived.  (September is always the British issue and there was also a Susan Branch picnic party in the Lake District for any Beatrice Potter fans). 

Victoria Bronte

Here are some of the pages, including the famous heather.

Bronte

We have Emily to thank for the popularity of heather, as we will forever associate it with her descriptions of the moorland in Wuthering Heights, as this quote attests,  “I have fled my country and gone to the heather.”   Although I have never been to England, I hope some day to put those words into action, as a literary tour is definitely on my bucket list. 

No wonder the Bronte sisters wrote such wonderful books, having that lovely vista to gaze at during their daily constitutional on the moors.  (Although no matter the scenery, I find that after a particularly fruitful writing session, a little walk can be beneficial for mulling things over).

Below, the steep cobblestoned streets of the small village of Haworth.

Bronte

Here’s the dining room table where they wrote their works of art and paced and plotted how to find a publisher, and no doubt discussed what to do about Branwell. Bronte

 The magazine article mentioned the 2017 PBS movie, To Walk Invisible, the story of the Bronte’s, which I watched and was somewhat disappointed in, although it is certainly worthwhile for any Bronte fan.   In truth I found the movie as dark and dreary as the moors must be on an overcast winter’s day.  There did not seem to be much joy in that household, but maybe I am confusing their rather bleak existence with that of the moors.     

I thought Charlotte and Anne well-cast, Emily miscast, and Branwell just plain annoying.   The movie ends with them walking on the moors after Branwell’s death, so it is not as depressing as if they had ended it later after they had all died.   But then their story is not a happy one.   I wonder if they would have traded their fame for more happiness and a longer life.   

This year is the bicentenary of Emily’s birth in 1818.   Here is Emily’s small and cozy room with a wonderful window view, as befitting a genius at work.  

Bronte

Emily remains the most puzzling one, so reclusive, yet the creator of such a  stormy and passionate tale.   No doubt she drew inspiration from her beloved moors but perhaps it’s very wildness was a reaction to their isolated existence.   She had a lot of time to think and imagine.   Her novel was considered dark and disturbing and somewhat shocking at the time, while Charlotte’s more conservative Jane Eyre was the more popular.    In the movie there was a scene where Emily was talking about where she got the idea for Wuthering Heights, but she spoke so quickly I could not follow, and I have since tried to research it to no avail.  Although googling did reveal plenty of theories about Asperger’s syndrome, as it seems popular these days to slap anyone the least bit anti-social with that label (think Doc Marten).     There are plenty of books about Charlotte, (see postscript), but not so many about Emily or Anne (who I think of as the forgotten middle child).    After seeing disheveled, weak, whiny immature Branwell it seems unlikely he could have been the muse for such a strong character as Heathcliff.    (But would any sane woman want a Heathcliff in real life?  All that anger and rage and jealousy just creates a whole lot of drama and angst, and wasn’t he a bit too possessive?  Somewhat stalkerish?  Better to marry someone more stable and level-headed if you want a happy home life, but I suppose if a wild passionate affair is your aim, then Heathcliff is your man).    

The movie contained nothing new, if you have already read such bio’s before, including the usual dose of family dynamics.   The ending was well done, three bright suns who were expected to dim their literary lights and walk invisible, in order to prevent embarrassment for the male heir of whom much had been expected, but little produced.   As for the issue of addiction so rampant in our modern world, that too is an age old question.  Their clergyman father could not decide whether to give in and supply his feckless son with drinking/opium money or just say no – the parent’s universal dilemma, to be an enabler or an enforcer of tough love?    In the end, it didn’t matter anyway –  TB won out.   Tuberculosis caused by a drafty old parsonage and those windblown moors.   Unfortunately, he took his two sisters with him.    

I have to admit the part I found most disappointing in the movie was the cinematography of the moors.   They must have filmed the outdoor scenes in  winter for there was no heather to be seen, just a bleak and brown landscape and overcast skies.   Perhaps they didn’t  have a choice, or more likely they wanted that gloomy depressing atmosphere, for it all looked as dull and dreary as a November day.           

Now that we are in late November, the weather has grown chilly and darkness descends early, and tonight the winds are howling and there is sleet against the windowpane.   The perfect night to settle in by the fire with a cup of tea, and re-read Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte’s masterpiece.  Although, I noticed that her name is not even on the cover of my 1984 copy, one of those classic editions with the fancy gold edging that are hard to find anymore.    

Wuthering Heights

I must confess, it has been a long time since that high school book report, and I cannot recall much of the story, other than it was a sad tale with a layered multi-generational plot.   But I do remember the descriptive imagery of those famous windswept moors, and the tragic ending of Cathy and Heathcliff, two star-crossed lovers who were never meant to be, but who remain immortalized forever between a marble and gilt cover.        

Postscript:   Most likely Charlotte, Anne or Emily never dreamt at the time that their books would still be bestsellers over 150 years later.    I wonder how those classics would fit into the Best Seller Code, which I will be blogging about next week. 

Postscript:  A goodreads review of  Charlotte Bronte: A Fiery Heart 

Charlotte Brontë: A Fiery HeartCharlotte Brontë: A Fiery Heart by Claire Harman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This latest 2016 biography of Charlotte Bronte is well worth the read, even if I do wonder why Charlotte always gets all the attention. I enjoyed it so much, I bought a bargain bin copy. A good choice for fans, both old and new.

Bronte Country - AMc

Bronte Country