2017 A To Z Challenge – B

Challenge2017

When I sieved out the following list of B-word prompts, I was struck by how many of them could apply to me.  Rather than choosing only one, here are some random thoughts about a few of them.

Bibliophile
blood
baggage
belief
bold
books
beach
barn
blog

Letter B

My home town is halfway up the East coast of Lake Huron, in Ontario. It has 3 miles of lovely warm, soft, white sand beach.  It has become a vacation haven, and tourism is a large part of its financial wellbeing.

The town to the south gets only 1 mile of shoreline. The tiny tourist village to the north sits in the center of 10 miles of sandy shore.  Access to the water is good, and the swimming is wonderful but, in both cases, the sand barely reaches above the water level, and their beaches are flat, hard and damp.

My mother constantly read to me as a child, and I learned to read quite young. I became a bibliophile, a lover of books.  I am also a logophile, a lover of words, but all the wonderful words are in the wonderful books, so we’ll discuss that later.

Ray Bradbury said, “Libraries raised me.” My tiny little town had a tiny little library, about the size of a medium house.  It was only open two days a week.  The volunteer librarian was a former teacher.  It was here that I learned early, the value of linguistic precision.

The fine for late books was 2 cents, biweekly.  The intent was for 2 cents, per book, for each of the 2 weekly open days.  I stood beside a man who went and got a dictionary to show the librarian that ‘biweekly’ also meant ‘every two weeks.’  He would pay 2 cents, but not the 8 cents that she demanded.

A local man became a mining engineer. He located an ore field in Northern Ontario, staked a claim, and sold the rights to a mining firm which would extract the minerals.  With the initial payout and ongoing royalties, he retired early, as the town’s richest resident.

He and his wife were great readers, but they never had children. When his wife died, and he was facing his own mortality, he donated a large portion of his fortune to the municipality, to be used to build a library in memorial to his wife.  We got a fairly large (for a small town) new library, right beside the Town Hall.  His bequest bought lots more books, and an annuity paid for hired staff.

When I moved 100 miles to Kitchener for employment, it was easy to pack my luggage. I had very little.  I also had to pack my baggage – my propensity for procrastination, my learning disorders, my neurological syndrome which causes poor physical control and lousy short-term memory, as well as my autistic-type inability to read social cues, and make and hold friends.

I am more methodical, determined, and tenacious; I would never be described as bold. Having survived an interesting, if not terribly thrilling life, now in the twilight of my years, I can put these thoughts and remembrances down, and publish them in my blog.   😀

 

Housecleaning Memories

This post will be a sort of guest post from Granma Ladybug.

Recently she has assisted me with our Fall Housecleaning.  She has been reluctant to do so, not because of the labor, or the allergies, but because of the need to divest ourselves of many things which bring back strong memories.

Some years ago, when she was downsized out of a job, she took advantage of a government grant to return to school and upgrade her computer and English skills.  To assess incoming students’ language abilities, the English teacher asked them to write a one-page essay.  She recently came upon a file with hers, along with some other submissions.

The prompt was, “Write about something which strongly affected you, hopefully pleasantly.”  Her mother died when she was only three, and she was raised by a succession of older sisters and an evil sister-in-law.  When we engaged, my mother took her in like her own.  Read how this affected her.

A SUNDAY AFTERNOON DRIVE DOWN THE
SOUTH SHORE OF LAKE HURON

“Welcome to Bruce County!”  This is a sign that, over the years has come to mean a homecoming to me.  Unfortunately, this spring my mother-in-law had a stroke that affected her short-term memory, and she had to be placed in a nursing home.

Every trip home means visiting my father-in-law, who still manages to live at home, and fitting in three visits with Mom over the weekend.  This trip home, my husband and I decided to take Mom out for a Sunday afternoon drive.

After getting Mom settled in the car, our first stop was The Chip Shop, for French fries which we could enjoy during the drive.  Our journey took us down the main street to Lake Huron, and a view of Chantry Island.  We then travelled along Huron Street, taking a right onto Adelaide Street, down to Lake Street, left on Lake Street past the tennis courts, and another right to Beach Street.

Lighthouse

 

 

 

 

At the end of Beach Street is Chantry Park, where the Long Dock was.  You can still see the rocks which made up the dock, stretching far out into the water.  We then continued down Front Street, which turns into Harmer Street, then becomes Harmer Road, paralleling Lake Huron.

Lighthouse II

 

 

 

 

 

The road winds along the shoreline, curving to accommodate Mirimachi Bay, where a lower water level reveals mud flats with pools of murky water that house bulrushes, and other aquatic life.  We pulled over to the side of the road and watched two sailboats rounding Chantry Island, the sailing conditions being absolutely perfect.

mini-railroad

 

 

 

 

As we continued down the shore road, the brightly shining sun made the calm water sparkle with diamonds….almost too brilliant for the eyes.  On we meandered, past the miniature gauge railroad tracks in the lakefront park, past Port Elgin’s marina, up to the main street and to the Tim Horton’s, to pick up Timbits for Mom and her roommate, Christina Eagles.

Returning Mom to the nursing home was very difficult for Mom and us; however, Christina was glad to see Mom, as she has become very attached to her, and is frightened to be left alone for too long.  We brought out the Timbits, which are Christina’s favorite treat, and had a small party to celebrate the end of an enjoyable day.

While it was pleasant to take Mom out for the day, it brought to mind past years when Sunday meant putting on a roast and loading the car with grandparents, parents and children, to take a tour of the Bruce Peninsula.  We have, in past years, gone to the flea market at Mar, seen the spring and fall colors at Lion’s Head, and investigated many, many garage sales that dot the countryside during the fine summer weather.

Outings that were taken by the Smith family include a litany of small town names such as Chesley, Tara, Allenford, Wingham, Oliphant etc.  These were memories in the making, something to bring out later, and to let the remembering heal the hurt that adverse changes can bring.  To make pleasant memories is a very important detail.

This was the bitter-sweet last time we were all able to enjoy such a get-together.  Mom remained in good physical condition, almost until her death from a virulent case of flu when she was 92.  Soon after this day though, the mental light in her eyes faded, and there was almost no spark of who she’d been.

While we may be forced to jettison some of our physical things, we hold our memories dearly.  They remain almost as bright and strong as the days they were created.  They take no room to store and, not only can we pull them out and enjoy them at any time, but we can share them with others.   😀

Digging in – Digging Out

Snowplow

 

 

 

 

The recent ‘lake effect’ snowstorm which buried poor Buffalo, yet again, has served to remind me of a similar piece from my past.  Lake effect snow is caused by (relatively) warm winds blowing across still-unfrozen water, and then over much colder landmass, which causes the moisture to condense and freeze.  Once the Great Lakes freeze over completely, snowfall is greatly reduced.

In November and December of 1957, Lake Huron, warmer than usual from a hot summer had not yet frozen over.  Storm after storm came rolling across the lake from Michigan, so that we could blame the Americans, as they often do Canada, for the terrible weather.  A 150 mile swath of lakeshore and inland towns were buried under feet of snow.

Now being bused to a high school five miles away, I experienced my first ‘snow day’ on a Wednesday, when the bus couldn’t get through.  Before our days of television, I was at home with my mother, when we heard on the radio that the roof of an arena in a town 50 miles southeast had collapsed, killing several children and a skating coach, and injuring several others.

On Friday afternoon, as we dismounted the now-running school bus, the town’s Police Chief informed several of the members of the Boys’ Club, that there was a BYOS party being organized.  At 10 AM Saturday morning we were to bring (Y)our own shovels, and assemble at the town’s (natural ice) arena to shovel snow off the roof to prevent a similar disaster happening in our town.

Before the advent of aluminum scoops and shovels, snow was moved with heavy, awkward, steel garden spades, or square-mouthed coal shovels.  The next morning, about 25 of us showed up with an ill-assorted mix of tools.

I hadn’t thought about our task, or the reason given for it, until I arrived at the arena.  The collapsed one down the road had a low-domed roof, which allowed the accumulation of a significant snow load.  Our arena had a 90° roof, with a 45°slope on each side.  Snow just didn’t accumulate.

After it had been built, a two ice-sheet curling rink had been added to one side.  It was this annex, with its 7° roof, that we were assigned to save.  Not many school-kids at risk here, but many of the privileged members were also the well-off citizens and business owners who donated to, and supported our club.  That was as good a reason as any.

Snowbank

 

 

 

 

The snow on the roof was 3 to 5 feet deep.  It needed to be cleared off.  A ladder was leaned against the side of the building.  If it had been up to me, I’d have sent one guy up to reduce the weight, and clear a space for another shoveler, and so on, and so on.  It wasn’t….so the Police chief went up, kicked his way into the snow and called the rest of us up to join him.  Soon we had 25 teenage boys, and two adult men on the roof.  If it was going to collapse, this is when it would have happened.

My fisher-boy schoolmate attacked the piles of snow like a Tasmanian Devil, his sharp steel shovel and snow flying in all directions – except actually off the roof.  He was a safety hazard, not to be got too close to.  Within five minutes, he rapidly tired, and really accomplished very little, but he was the one who impressed the Game Warden enough that he was the only one mentioned when the tale was told, for years.

The rest of us soon organised a much more efficient system.  Starting at the roof edge we cut 2 foot square blocks, like for an igloo, and slid them off the smooth roof. Then others would move up and cut more blocks, and slide them down, to be pushed over the edge.  Soon we had several crews cutting, pushing and dumping.  The roof was cleared and our civic duty done by noon.

The side of the building that we dumped snow from was a town works-yard, with piles of sand and fine gravel that crews used to cast concrete water culverts, as well as dozens of finished units.  By the time we were finished, these were all covered, and there was a 20-foot high, 50-foot wide pile of snow about the same slope as the now-clear roof.  I don’t know if they did any water work before June.

Do those of you who live in snow country have white horror stories?  Will those of you who don’t, stop snickering!

Horse-Drawn History

I’ve done a few “Remember When” posts about growing up Oh-so-long-ago, and in a small town at the end of the universe.  I’ve written a post about the development of roads, and if I don’t get my numbering mixed up, it will already be published.  What I haven’t put together is the horse and buggy combination.  Anyone want to go for a wagon ride?

I’m still a long way from being a suave, sophisticated, city-dweller, but, as a kid, I was far more urban than rural.  I don’t know if my little town helped make me so, or if I was just of that bent, and lucky to be born where I was.  When I got old enough to visit the next little town down the road, I was quite dismissive.

Our town had all the interesting, up-scale social amenities that they didn’t.  We had a movie theater, a bowling alley, and a pool-room.  They had none of these.  They did have a United Co-op farm supply store, and a Western Tire store, even back here in the east, not even a real Canadian Tire store.

Back when I was knee-high to a grasshopper, it was not unusual to see horses pulling wagons around their town.  Local farmers hauling hay, bringing milk to the dairy, or stopping in to that Co-op store to pick up seed or fertilizer.  My town was not exempt from horse and wagon combos though.

When I was a kid, we still got milk delivered to the house by horse and wagon.  I don’t remember seeing milk taken to the little dairy in my town by horse; it was picked up by truck from farmers who set it by the side of the road in five-gallon pails.  It sat out in the winter cold and summer heat until it got back to the dairy.  Thank God for Pasteurization.

This was all back when every little town had its own little dairy, before the economies of volume caused all the milk in North America to be controlled by a dairy-products company in Italy named Parmalat.

The milk guy delivered right to the door.  If it sat on the porch in the winter, it froze, and expanded.   Milk wasn’t homogenized, so an inch or two of cream would raise the cardboard cap out of the glass bottle.  The frozen cream would have to be cut off and saved, or it would melt and run off.

Later, the delivery schedule changed, and the wagon didn’t arrive till just after lunch.  Sometimes I would ask my Mom for a nickel to get a half-pint of chocolate milk.  The deposit on the glass bottle was another nickel.  We could have paid it once, and just kept exchanging bottles, but it was far more fun to climb into the delivery wagon and ride a couple of blocks while I sipped it finished.  Then I’d walk back home.

Townie boy learned a little about driving horses.  “Gee” meant turn right, “”haw” meant turn left.  I’ll leave “giddy up” and “whoa” to your imagination.  “Gee” was a crossword puzzle solution to the clue, “right to a horse,” last week.

We didn’t have an electric refrigerator for a number of years.  We had an icebox, which sat in a shed, attached to the back of the house.  Every couple of days in the summer we put a twenty-five pound block of ice in a top compartment.  The ice would melt, so there was a hole bored in the floor, where the melt water ran out.

Each winter, a businessman and his assistants would go to a small cove of Lake Huron, and cut blocks of ice out by hand, using large human-powered saws.  When the cove refroze, they would come back for another harvest, and another, until they filled a barn-like warehouse.  The ice was covered by a thick layer of fine sawdust, which reduced thawing during the summer.

The ice was delivered to most homes in town by horse and wagon.  Their blocks were about fifty pounds, and had to be hacked in half with a trowel-like hand-tool with a toothed edge.  I would often run out and grab a large sliver of ice, and suck on it like a no-cost Popsicle.  Occasionally I got to ride along for a couple of blocks, as I did with the milkman.  It takes a village to raise a child.  Since I was almost the only child in my neighborhood, these village men protected, entertained and educated me before I went to school.

The third horse and wagon for many years was the garbage-man’s.  The town’s work-crew was small and, immediately after WW II, trucks, and the money to buy them was scarce.  The garbage-man seemed ancient to a small child, but he was probably in his fifties.  He and his patient horse would make the rounds, and he would dump loose garbage from metal cans into the wagon.

When the wagon was full, he would take it to the south edge of town, about a half-mile from the lakeshore.  He would have the horse back the wagon into an open area, and then pry up the loose boards which formed the bottom of the wagon, and stand them on edge, dumping the garbage.

About the time the old man, and his horse, retired, and town employees using a truck took over, a real estate developer wanted space to build more cottages for the burgeoning tourist trade.  Suddenly all the garbage was compacted with a bulldozer and covered with clean fill, and the site was sold.  I wonder how many of the cottage-owners know what’s under their summer palaces.

Horses and wagons….as Benzeknees’ quiz proved a while ago, I am older than dirt.  At least this tale of long ago and far away didn’t contain any dinosaurs or woolly mammoths.  Be careful as you walk away from the wagon.  Don’t step in that stuff!

 

Home Sweet Home

SavortheFolly wondered what it was like, growing up in a small town.  She seems, sadly, to have left the blogosphere.  We can only hope that things turn out well for her and she returns at some future time.  For her, and for the rest of my readers who don’t doze off, I present this little trip back in time, to see what shaped little Archon into what he is today.

The road to “different” and “loner” probably started on the property, and, in the house where I was born.  When I was born, there was no hospital in my town.  I was astounded to discover that, because, diagonally across the corner from my house, was a hospital.  I was born at home, because at that time, the “hospital” was a summer tourist lodge.  It failed, financially, when I was a couple of years old, and the town seized it for back-taxes and converted it.

Three years after I was born, my mother went to a birthing home in the next town, a week before her due date, to give birth to my brother.  She said it was actually a horrible experience.  There were no TVs and no radios.  The drapes were always drawn, and the expectant mothers were expected to remain quiet and in bed.  You could cut the boredom with a butter-knife.  Immediately after giving birth, women who hadn’t moved a muscle for a week or more, were expected to get up and go home.  If Dad hadn’t held her up, she said she’d have collapsed on the floor.

Ours was an older neighborhood.  I was the only non-teen child for two blocks in any direction.  My ten-year-older half-sister managed to fit in, but I learned how to play by myself.

Our property consisted of three building lots, two on the main road and one across the back, on the side street.  When I got old enough to help, there was a vegetable garden, a flower garden in front of it, and a huge lawn to mow with a manual push mower.  Our property was unique in the town, and possibly in all of Ontario, in that, of home properties with trees, ours was the only one without a single maple tree.

We had two poplar trees.  We had three mountain ash, two elm trees, two lilacs, planted before I was born and grown to almost tree size, and a horse-chestnut.  I don’t know how we got the horse-chestnut.  It’s native to southern Asia.  All those great big nuts, and they were bitter and poisonous.  At least we could throw them at each other and mount them on strings, to play conkers.

Dad sold the lot on the side street.  Years before, it had been a farm orchard with apple and pear trees.  All of those were dug out except two pear trees at the back edge of our lot.  Eventually these too, died.  Dad cut off all the branches, leaving two trunks about six feet tall.  He strung a steel cable between them for an auxiliary clothesline.  No dryers, back then, or Laundromats, you washed clothes at home and hung them outside, to dry.

We had tax records of “barn and sheds” from 1848, and “house and sheds” from 1852.  The house was built somewhere in those four years.  We were only four blocks off the retail district, but this had been a farm.  The foundation of the house was three feet thick, built with the stones taken from the tilled fields.  The basement beams that held the house up, were roughly squared elm trees that had been cut down to clear fields.  The bark was still on some sections of them.

When piping was installed for the kitchen sink, it was put right up against the stone foundation, to reach the sink, mounted on the outside wall.  If we had a particularly cold winter, sometimes the pipe, (cold water only at that point) would freeze, and Dad would have to go down to the basement with a blowtorch or real torch, made of an old shirt on a stick soaked in lighter fluid, and thaw it out.

There was a full? basement under only half the house, and it was only about five feet tall, to the bottom of the beams.  The floor was bricks.  We were up on a hill, thirty feet above a large pond a block away, and fifty feet above Lake Huron, but, apparently the water-table was high.  We lifted a few bricks, and the holes started filling with water.

The ceilings in all the rooms were twelve feet high, almost impossible to heat.  One room at a time my father and a friend put in false ceilings to the top of the windows, only eight foot-six.  We punched a hole in the upper wall of the attic stairway, and my brother and I crawled out on the new ceiling and broke holes between the studs on the outside wall, and poured in loose fibreglass insulation.  The first room we did was during a hot summer, so we wore only shorts and sleeveless shirts….and ITCHED for days.  As we did each successive room, we learned to wear long clothing.

When I was about eight, Dad had installed a propane water heater.  Till then, water for laundry or baths was boiled in a couple of huge copper pails, on a wood-burning stove, even in the summer.  A couple of years later Dad had a propane furnace installed.  We’d had the wood-stove in the kitchen and a coal-fired “furnace” in the living room.  One year we had a thaw and then a refreeze.  When it thawed the second time, water poured in through the stone foundation and burned out the new furnace.  We still had the wood stove, but it was a cold couple of days till we got the water pumped out and the new furnace repaired.

In the winter, it was cold enough in the mornings to see my breath, in my bedroom.  I would often grab my clothes and run into the living-room and stand beside the now red-hot furnace and hold my clothes up to warm them, before I put them on.  One day, I shucked off my pyjama bottom and went to put on my undershorts, and caught my toe and fell sideways.  I left the skin from one ass-cheek on the furnace.

There are portions of my childhood that I wish were still available to me, but there are as many, or more, that I’m just as glad are long gone.  Vive technology.