Tag Archives: Rednersville

My Little Brother Turned 50 Today…Memories of a Big Sister…

I was three when I came home from a trip to my Grandma Shoots’ house to find that I was no longer an only child.  The usurper was ten lbs. of trouble topped by a giant head which had torn my petite mother stem to stern when it passed through (that was all from the Shoots side)…they told me his name: Jeffery Layne…we called him “Jeffy”.  I thought he looked like a little old man!

Jeffy wasn’t much fun for me the first year…he slept too much!  If I caught him asleep, I’d give him just enough of a poke to wake him up…unfortunately for me, Mommy caught me doing it more than once!  Later, he repaid me for disturbing his slumber by sinking his teeth into my upper arm: “Mommy, Jeffy bit me!” was a common complaint thereafter…

Jeffy was very cautious…I was walking at eight months, but it was well after his first birthday before Jeff was brave enough to take his first independent steps.  I remember him getting down on all fours and turning around backwards to negotiate any small change in the terrain.

My brother was the noisiest kid I’d every encountered in my short life.  He screamed constantly, not because there was anything wrong with him, but because he seemed to enjoy the sound of his own voice!  It’s a wonder I lived through the summers of 1964 and 1965…our poor mother used to keep the windows closed (in our 95-degree Ohio weather) so the neighbours wouldn’t think she was beating him!  Luckily, by the time he was two, Jeffy replaced screaming with singing (which he would often practice randomly at church, during Daddy’s sermon).  We have an audio tape of Jeffy singing his version of the theme from Batman: “Batman! Wah, wah, wah, wah.  Batman!”

Jeffy had curly brown hair, which endeared him to everyone who saw him in my parents’ arms:  “Oh, what a pretty little girl!”, they’d say.  Wanting to put an end to the confusion, Daddy took my brother for his first visit to the barber when he was two…Jeff never had curly hair again!  I think he must have been inspired by the experience, because when he was five, my dad asked Jeffy what he wanted to be when he grew up: “I want to be a barber,” he answered.  “I got REAL scissors!”

Three-year-old Jeffy stuck at the kitchen table playing with his balloon boat, while he was supposed to be eating his peas!

Three-year-old Jeffy stuck at the kitchen table playing with his balloon boat, while he was supposed to be eating his peas!

The year Jeffy turned five was a particularly memorable one: We moved to Canada that summer, and for his birthday, Jeffy got a brand-new metallic green bike with a banana seat, monkey handlebars, and training wheels (which would stay on for the next three years…did I mention Jeff was cautious?).  Jeffy also was sent reluctantly off to kindergarten, which in hindsight, I don’t think he was ready for…almost every day, I was summoned from my Grade Three classroom to come to the kindergarten, because “Jeffy’s crying again”.  He missed about half the school year due to tonsillitis, which was lucky for me…I had just enough time in my own class to pass!   I remember being jealous when Jeffy came home from having his tonsils out…he got to have ice cream!

Jeff with his brand new bike.

Jeff with his brand new bike.

That first year in Canada was also the year that we had our first cat named Tripper…Jeffy was particularly fond of him (and a decade or so later, named a second cat “Tripper”).  We started attending church in Trenton, where Jeffy and the minister’s son, James, became best friends, and engineered many wild adventures, which you can read about here: https://writerwoman61.wordpress.com/2010/05/11/our-first-year-in-canada-part-1/, and here: https://writerwoman61.wordpress.com/2010/05/12/our-first-year-in%C2%A0canada%E2%80%A6part%C2%A02%E2%80%A6/.

In 1970, our family moved to Rednersville, where we met our friends, Jimmy and Dougie.  Jeffy and Dougie were the same age, and Jimmy was a year older.  I used to organize plays and musical productions in our back yard, which the boys would ultimately get roped into.  When I was ten, I had mastered Bob Dylan’s “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” on the guitar, and recruited my seven-year-old brother to play the part of the girl picking the flowers.  I made a “wig” out of paper cut into strips, and plopped it on Jeffy’s head.  I played my song and sang, while he skipped around the back yard collecting the paper flowers I had carefully coloured.  The audience loved it!

Our dad built us a tree fort, and had purchased an old VW van, which he parked underneath it…the four of us spent hours playing in the van and the tree house.  We also had a path to ride bikes around the house, since we weren’t allowed to ride on the road until later.  One of our other favourite activities was a modified form of kickball, which we called “Running Around the Bases”.

When Jeffy was eight (and I was eleven), I suggested we get a paper route together…we had about 50 customers between us.  Jeffy did the closer houses, and I did the ones farther away.  Sadly, Jeffy had all the good tippers on his part of the route…jealousy reared its ugly head again!  The little bugger saved most of his money too, which I had great difficulty doing (although I did save enough to buy myself a ten-speed!).

We spent every nice day outdoors, which wasn’t always the best thing for my brother…Jeffy had inherited our mom’s hay fever in a big way!  I remember hearing him sneeze and sneeze and sneeze all summer, especially later on when he was picking vegetables for a living.

Jeff and I at the Sandbanks, ca. 1972.

Jeff and I at the Sandbanks, ca. 1972.

My mom had gotten a job by the time Jeffy was eight, so we were left to our own devices after school, which often led to bickering…one time, he was chasing me, so I ran into the house and shot the little slide bolt on the door over (our only lock).  Somehow, the lock ended up getting broken!  Another time, I thought it’d be funny to put icing from the beaters onto Jeff’s nose…he apparently didn’t share my opinion!  He chased me upstairs, and pushed me backwards into the bathtub!  We rarely fought physically, but that incident has always stuck in my mind.  Usually, I’d claw him with my nails if he started hitting me (he used to bite me, remember?)…our parents were not impressed!

When Jeff was thirteen, our parents gave us some money they’d saved for us, probably about $1500 each.  Jeff bought himself a lawn tractor from Sears, and soon had lawn mowing customers from all over the neighbourhood (I started a candy store).  He was a hard worker, and earned enough money to buy his first car from the proceeds, a Renault that he’d drive around our fields because he wasn’t old enough to have a license yet.  Jeff tried to teach me how to drive it, but I never mastered the art of letting the clutch out slowly enough not to stall the car!

Jeff got his driver’s license soon after he turned sixteen…I didn’t have mine, so my brother became my new driver…I think our parents were glad to get a break!  We took a memorable trip to Ohio in a borrowed Honda Civic with our mom one summer: https://writerwoman61.wordpress.com/2010/03/24/the-kilbourne-vine-caper/

In the summer of 1982, Jeff was working for a market gardener picking produce, and got me on to the all-male crew…that was one of the funnest jobs I’ve ever had (and a lucky break since I’d been laid off from my job at the photo lab because I’d had to take six weeks off for my college internship!).  It was in those cornfields that Jeff had some of his most spectacular sneezing fits!

Jeff on his way to work on the farm...

Jeff on his way to work on the farm…

I left home in 1983 and moved to the Maritimes…Jeff stayed at our mom’s house for several years and helped look after her (she and our dad had divorced in 1985, and she was chronically ill).  Later, he took a soldering course at Loyalist College.  Jeff’s first job after finishing school was at Leigh Instruments in Carleton Place, where he met and later married my sister-in-law, Bev (I like to think he picked her because she’s a lot like me).

In 1994, my niece, Taylor Dawn, was born.  Jeff was a doting dad and taught Taylor useful things, like how to fetch beer for him and play golf.  She inherited his love for classic cars (and beer), but she turned out all right anyway!  Jeff, Bev and Tay visited my family in Moncton, New Brunswick, in the summer of 1996.  We took them to the Magnetic Hill Zoo, which featured a small train to transport visitors around the property.  We were all riding on the train, and Jeff stuck his head out the window to look at something behind us…he pulled it back in, just as we came to a signpost along the tracks, which was disturbingly close.  When Jeff realized that he might have been decapitated had his head been out the window for another split second, he freaked out: “I could have been killed!”  He talked about it for the rest of the afternoon year..I don’t think he appreciated my uncontrollable laughter at the situation…it made for a good story, though.  Jeff’s always been a master storyteller!

Today, Jeff is still working at what is essentially the same company in Carleton Place (its third incarnation is called “DRS”).  He spends his spare time riding his motorcycle, working around the house and yard, and fishing small dead animals out of his back yard pool.  Jeff has also organized a regular summer “Cruise Night” for the other classic car lovers in the area, which has raised several thousand dollars for the local children’s hospital over the years.

Jeff and Bev on the bike...they wear helmets when it's moving!

Jeff and Bev on the bike…they wear helmets when it’s moving!

Happy 50th Birthday, Jeff!  I tease you a lot, but you’re still my brother and I’m very proud of the man you’ve become!


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Flax, Fishing, Flickr, Flatulence, and Frustrations…But the Alliteration Stops Here…

It’s been another “can’t get out of my own way” week…here are some of the highlights:

1. Flax.  Spurred by my friend Suzanne’s success with homemade bagels,  I decided to give them a try.  I make bread a lot, but have only tried to make bagels one other time (with disappointing results!).  I eat a bagel (with jam) every morning for breakfast…my favourite flavour is “Sunflower Flax,” so I looked for a recipe for Flax Bagels online (thank you, Kristin!).  The recipe I used recommended dividing the dough into small balls before forming the bagels by sticking your thumb through the ball and stretching the hole a bit.  The boiling time was also quite a bit longer than Suzanne recommended: 5 minutes (I compromised with about three minutes).  One thing I learned is that I should have loosened the bagels from the cookie sheet right after I took them out of the oven…as they cooled, the sugar water stuck them to the tray like glue (even though I oiled the pan first).  Here are six of my 18 “beauties”:

Flax Bagels...they tasted as good as they look!

2. Fishing.  One of Jim’s work colleagues invited him to visit his ice-fishing hut this past weekend (we wanted to go, but were too busy ferrying kids around – maybe next weekend!).  I’ve loved to fish since I was a kid in Rednersville in Prince Edward County, Ontario…the best part of fishing is digging for the worms!  My younger brother and I would buy fish hooks at our neighbourhood store (2 for 5 cents), and take our rods down to the Bay of Quinte.  Mostly, we caught sunfish, perch, and large and small-mouthed bass…we always threw them back (the only fish we ate then came in stick form, and the Bay was known for its mercury contamination).  One day, I caught a big catfish. Unfortunately, it had swallowed my hook…I tried and tried to get it out (I even went home and got Dad’s needle-nosed pliers!).  After an hour-and-a-half, I reluctantly cut the line, knowing that the fish would probably die…what a decision for an eleven-year-old!  I was a guilty mess for the rest of the day!

The last time I was fishing was about seven years ago, when Hope was five…we took the kids to a Fish Farm, where they had a pond stocked with speckled trout.  You could catch as many as three fish, and pay, based on the weight of what you caught.  Hope has a rather short attention span…she was done in about three minutes.  I took over her pole (Anna stuck with it!).  We got our three fish, and took them home.  Once they were cleaned and filleted (a part of fishing I refuse to do), I stuffed them with fresh mushrooms and baked them in the oven…yummy!

Jim and I got fishing licenses the first summer we lived at Hammond River, but never ended up going fishing…maybe this summer!

3. Flickr.  Anna got a spiffy new camera on the weekend, the Nikon D3100.  The plan is for her to start building her portfolio for her post-secondary education (she graduates in 2012).  She’s been borrowing Jim’s zoom lens and taking photos of our back porch wildlife.  Anna has a new account on Flickr if you want to see more (link also under “Photos” at right).

One of our kamikaze squirrels...someone should tell them that plastic isn't good to eat! (Photo by Anna Matheson)


4. Flatulence.  The other day, I was having a spirited conversation with a customer at the bookstore about the beauty of structural details in old buildings.  We were standing in front of the “Technical” section…I heard a series of small explosions as he stepped quickly away from me, excusing himself.  Whoo-eee!  I don’t know what the man had for breakfast, but my money’s on beans!  I bit my lip, trying hard not to laugh…it doesn’t take much to get me going…I wonder sometimes if I was a 10-year-old boy in another life!

5. Frustrations.  We had another snowstorm yesterday, which dropped another foot on us, and gave the kids another snow day, their fifth one this winter (it came at the end of the high schoolers’ exams, and two “turn-around” days, so the older kids had a whole week off!).  Since Jim had a doctor’s appointment in the afternoon, his boss suggested he work from home in the morning.  I decided to take a “snow day” too.  I stayed in my jammies all day, stepping away from the computer every once in a while to break up arguments in the family room (and load the dishwasher with millions of cups and bowls!). 

Jim left for the doctor’s office around two…the snow was a blizzard by then!  He texted me to let me know he’d made it to the office, and then called once he was finished with his appointment.  He advised that he was going to pick up a prescription and then return home.  My dad called at 4:00 from the bookstore to say that he was planning to close early and come home…he wanted to know how the driveway was.  I told him our plow guy hadn’t come yet, but he’d probably make it in if he hurried!  Fifteen minutes later, Jim called to tell me the transmission on the car had died a mile down the road…he was waiting for a tow truck, and directing people around the car, which was still in the roadway.  Luckily, our neighbour who lives in the house near where he broke down invited Jim in to get warm while he waited…he usually wears several layers of clothing (he once went to work with two pairs of pyjama pants under his jeans), but had left the house in a hurry in the afternoon (at least there was a toque and gloves in the car!).  He finally got home about 5:15…the tow truck driver had kindly dropped him off (for just over $140, it was the least he could do!).  So our Toyota is sitting at the transmission repair place in Saint John waiting for parts, in line behind several other vehicles whose parts were delayed by the snowstorm.  Did I mention we just had our van towed to the garage on Monday to have the problems with the power steering and the blower fixed (tally for that is over $1000 so far – they found some rusty lines)?  Thankfully, Jim’s parents will lend us a car until we have at least one of our vehicles back!

I got to bed late last night after a long distance phone call to a dear friend who’s going through a big crisis in her life.  Apparently, I neglected to set my alarm, and woke up an hour late this morning (and spent ten minutes looking for Anna’s cheerleading shorts, and then her coat).  I’m hoping people won’t notice that I haven’t had a shower…

At least I’m not farting…


Filed under books, cooking, family, memories, nature, self-discovery

Winter Tales…

Long-time readers of my blog know that I was born in Ohio, and spent the first eight years of my life there.  Winter in Ohio is kind of “hit and miss”…sometimes you have snow, but not very much, and sometimes it gets cold, but not very cold (at least, not by Canadian standards, where I live now!)…

When there was snow in Ohio, my brother, Jeff, and I would put on our snowpants and boots, and take out our sleds, which had metal runners…generally, they didn’t work very well because more than three inches is a lot of snow in Ohio, and doesn’t happen a lot!  We had better luck with our red “flying saucer”…which looked a lot like a giant Frisbee with rope handles.  Our back yard in Oregon (a suburb of Toledo) had a big hill which was fine for “flying.”

We moved to Ontario when I was eight…Jeff and I were ecstatic to live where there was snow pretty much continuously from mid-November through February (and sometimes March)!  Our parents bought us a big wooden toboggan, and we also had Crazy Carpets to use by ourselves.  We had lots of snow the winter of 1970-71…my dad would pile the snow he shovelled out of our driveway at the end of it, where there was a deep ditch.  With the snowpile being about ten or twelve feet high, we had a great long run from the top of the pile down into the ditch…often we didn’t even bother using vehicles…we’d just slide on the bums of our snow-encrusted layers of jeans (we’d outgrown our snowpants by then – we’d just put on 2 or 3 pairs of pants and play until we were soaked to the skin!).

Here's a picture of Jeff and I standing on top of our snowpile in the winter of 1970-71...yes, those are power/phone lines beside our heads!

We had great fun sliding behind/beside the Rednersville house too!  I remember at least one occasion when my brother and I were on the toboggan together and going very fast, when suddenly, we stopped dead and we both flew off the toboggan landing face-first in the snow.  We weren’t hurt, and couldn’t stop laughing because when I emerged from the snowbank, the snow had packed itself into my glasses!

There was a big field beside the house.  One winter, we’d had freezing rain, which had created a beautiful crust on about eight inches of snow…it was so slippery, you could barely walk on it!  Our family decided to take advantage of the excellent conditions and got out the toboggan.  That was the only time I recall my mom actually going out sliding with us (Dad came out quite often).  Mom sat on the toboggan by herself, and Dad let go when she was ready.  A minute or two later, we heard a thump and a blood-curdling yell: “Dave…I think I broke my back!”  My mom had “found” the one apple tree in the middle of the field!  Dad made his way out to the scene of the accident, loaded Mom back onto the toboggan, and pulled it to the car.  After we were all in, we left for the emergency room.  Mom’s back wasn’t broken, just badly bruised!

We were lucky at the Rednersville house to have 43 acres of land with a big hill behind us.  With our friends, Jimmy and Dougie, we could go to the top of the hill, and slide several hundred feet, almost all the way back to the house.  Crazy Carpets were the best vehicle for that, once the trail was established.  One winter, there was a friendly dog around which we christened “Wolfie” because he sort of looked like one.  Wolfie used to like to jump on our backs as we hurtled down the hill on our stomachs on our Crazy Carpets.  The worst injury we ever got was ending up in thorn bushes!

A couple of times, my best friend, Angela, took me out “Skidooing” in the woods behind her house.  We were about eleven, I think (snowmobiles were a lot smaller then).  That was always fun!  My dad hated it when snowmobilers trespassed on our property…he’d go out and yell at them until they left!

I moved to New Brunswick in 1984…winter was different again…you could have snow in late October, right through April sometimes!  There is also not much of a spring…you can literally go from wearing your parka to wearing shorts (and back again, sometimes several times).  There is no gradual warming like we had in Ontario.

I lived in Moncton in February of 1992 when an all-time snowfall record was broken…Moncton had a total of fourteen feet of snow that month in THREE storms.  The biggest storm was on February 1st.  At the time, I worked at a non-profit agency which was about a 10-block walk from our apartment, and we didn’t have a car.  Buses were off the road.  I walked to work, wearing a skirt (I was wearing other clothes too!).  When we got to the building, there was a snowbank about twelve feet high in front of it!  I met one of my co-workers outside, and together we decided to go around the corner and get a coffee, in hopes that our boss might arrive soon, equipped with a shovel to dig a path to the front door!  We had our coffee, and went back to work…everything was as it was when we left.  Since it was already past time to start work, I decided to bite the bullet, and climb the snowbank!  I probably didn’t resemble a mountain goat very much in my long black wool coat, and knee-high boots as I clambered up the hill.  When we arrived in the office, there was our boss, clad in a snowmobile suit…she had come in the back door, and hadn’t thought about us trying to get in the front!  I never liked her!

I tried to find public domain photos of the big Moncton snowstorm on the Internet, but failed.  I remember a paint store on St. George St. cutting “windows” in the snowbank in front of their store and setting paint cans in them to let people know they were there!

Winters in Moncton could be very cold too…I remember one year that we had three solid weeks of windchills between -30 and -36 C. (which is almost the same temperature in Fahrenheit).  School was never cancelled for cold weather, and every day I walked Kaylee the three blocks to her elementary school.  It’s a wonder we didn’t turn into Popsicles!

I moved to Saint John, New Brunswick in November of 1997.  Winters are milder in this area due to the proximity to the ocean.  There are a lot of freeze/thaw cycles, and a lot more ice.  We had some freezing rain in November of 2007 when my dad was undergoing radiation therapy for prostate cancer.  About 6:30 a.m., he was walking to the bus stop to go to the hospital, and ended up flat on his back in the driveway two doors from our house.  He got up, and continued on his way.  While Dad was having his treatment, he mentioned that he’d had a fall and that he might need an X-ray.  The X-ray confirmed that he’d cracked five ribs.  I didn’t find out about the accident until several hours later…when I asked Dad why he didn’t just come back home, he said, “I didn’t want to mess up their schedule at radiation!”  Sometimes, my dad’s so stoic, I just want to shake him!  I was glad he wasn’t more seriously injured though!

We moved to Hammond River the following year…there’s a little more snow here than in town, and it gets a little colder, but we love it!  I’ve got the best snowplow guy in the world, which is a good thing because our driveway is a quarter mile long…way too much to shovel!  He always has us plowed out by 7 a.m.  When we can get them off their computers, the kids go out sliding, or skating at the little pond down the road.  Here’s a photo of Jim and I taken in January of 2009…not much snow then:

Wendy and Jim beside our house in Hammond River...that's the back yard behind us, and the view of the hills on the other side of the river...

 It’s been raining all week, with more to come…I hope we get some snow before Christmas!


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Our First Year in Canada…Part 2…

So, I left off yesterday with my brother and his friend entertaining the citizens of Trenton with their creative rendition of “Chopsticks” on the church organ…I believe the boys were probably reprimanded by James’ dad after hearing the racket from his study in the parsonage next door.  I seem to recall at least one incident involving small boys with squirt guns and unsuspecting parishioners too.  The church also had a fairly large bat population…it was amusing to look up high in the sanctuary and imagine the rodents hanging upside down from the ceiling detaching themselves and landing on some old lady’s Sunday hat (it certainly would provide a diversion from the sermon)!

The bats were quite easy to see on the light-coloured ceiling...

Some Sundays after church, we would go out for lunch – we liked A&W, which we didn’t have in Ohio.  They had a drive-in, where the server would come to your car and hang your tray full of food right on the car window!  Root beer is still my favourite pop!  My parents also took us to a Chinese restaurant – until we moved to Canada, I’d never had anything as exotic as Chinese food!  They used to make little hats out of the paper napkins when they put them on the table!  I liked eggrolls and chicken balls – my tastes have matured since then!

We used to collect these mugs at our house...

When we arrived in Ontario, we’d never lived in the country before.  There was a wealth of things we could do that we’d never had a chance to try in the suburbs.  One of the first things my dad did was build us a clubhouse out of scrap wood.  It had a ladder in the middle leading to a hole in the roof.  A favourite game was climbing up the ladder and then jumping off the roof (which was probably about 5 feet high).  We played for hours in there with our new friends, Willy and Judy.

Growing up in Ohio, ice skating was a totally foreign concept to us…I was watching the Comedy Channel last night, and heard a comedienne joke about Canadians being born wearing ice skates!  All my friends in Grade 3 could ice skate, except me (they’d all been doing it for years)!  I had a pair of roller skates (the kind with a key that you strap on over your shoes), but the movements of roller skating and ice skating are completely different.   So, I dragged an old wooden kitchen chair down to the pond, and proceeded to teach myself to skate.  Barbara Ann Scott had absolutely nothing to worry about…maneuvering my fork from my plate into my mouth without dropping the food is as coordinated as I get…Needless to say, I fell…a lot!

This is me in my fashionable parka and white figure skates...

Another winter joy was tobogganing…there was rarely enough snow in Ohio for that!  We never had snowpants…we would just put on two or three pairs of pants, and stay outside until we were soaked or frozen!  Dad used to pull us around on the big wooden toboggan too.  Until we moved to Canada, we’d never had to take off our shoes to put on boots before – our old boots just went on over our shoes, like galoshes!  We’d come in the house after being outside for three hours in sub-zero temperatures, and hold our feet over the register trying to thaw our frozen toes…oh, the pain!

We had "real" snowfalls in Ontario...this is Jeff and I standing on the snowpile at the end of our driveway...

Willy and Judy introduced us to “Skidooing.”  Willy was 8 and Judy was 9 – they both were driving their own snowmobiles at that point (snowmobiles were a lot smaller in the late ’60’s than they are now)!  Willy used to fly around the fields at tremendous speed…I can’t remember if he wore a helmet over his red hair or not…Both kids had Skidoo suits (one piece snowsuits) and Skidoo boots, which had removable liners and ties at the top.

These are what "Skidoo boots" looked like when I was a kid...

In the spring, we’d go down to the pond and catch tadpoles in old glass jars…it was fun to watch them develop into little frogs…we’d always let them go after that!

Tadpoles in a jar...our water was muddier than this...

I saw my first garter snakes at that house…there was lots of long grass out back that they delighted in hiding in, and then slithering out when we least expected it!  Snakes aren’t my favourite animal!  There were also rabbits and groundhogs around…some of the groundhogs were huge!  Their big teeth scared me!

Scary little sucker isn't he?

In the summer, we went to North Beach, which was near Brighton on Lake Ontario.  The water was cold, and there were lots of rocks.  We had fun, but I was happy later when my parents discovered the Sandbanks in Prince Edward County, and we started going there instead!  The water was warmer, and the beach was sandy!  We used to stand in the water and jump when the waves came in…

Sign at entrance to North Beach...

In the late summer of 1970, we said goodbye to the stone house…my parents bought a house in Rednersville, a few miles away.  It meant that we would have to change schools, but we finally had our own place (it was our homestead for the next 30+ years!).


Filed under family, memories

Music Monday…

Yesterday, for the sixth straight year, the event known as Music Monday celebrated the joy of singing and the importance of music programs in Canada’s schools.  For the sake of the kids, I surely hope there have been some significant changes in the 30 years since I graduated!

I attended Kindergarten through Grade 2 in Oregon, Ohio (a suburb of Toledo).  We sang “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” every morning.  In kindergarten, music instruction consisted of me and my 35 classmates marching around the room to recorded military music playing hi-tech instruments such as wood blocks and kazoos made with combs and wax paper.  Our teacher, Mrs. W., was in her mid-60’s, and never put up with any nonsense!  She was probably all of 5 feet tall, but we were all terrified of her!   It was a special privilege if Mrs. W. chose you to play the triangle in our ragtag marching band!

We all wanted to play the triangle...

I don’t remember much about music in Grades 1 and 2, except the “Do-Re-Mi” song and “On Top of Old Smoky” which we changed to “On Top of Spaghetti”, and square dancing in the gym (which subject that was is unclear – music or gym?).  I did like to square dance, even though I wasn’t very good at it…that old coordination thing.

Opening Bars of "Do-Re-Mi" Song...

Our family moved to Canada after I finished Grade 2…I had to learn a new morning song, “God Save the Queen.”  The song that always takes me back to Grade 3 is “English Country Garden.”  There was something about the tune I liked, although the words escape me.  After many hours, I taught myself to play it on the old pump organ at our new home.

Queen Elizabeth II - it's a good thing she didn't count on our singing to "save" her...

I went to a three-room school for Grades 4 to 6, Rednersville Public School.  Mrs. G. was our music teacher.  She was almost as wide as she was tall and wore dresses with large floral prints.  Mrs. G. pulled her reddish hair back in a tight bun, and smelled old-ladyish.  I’ll never forget her “batwing” upper arms jiggling as she “counted” music notes in her own special way, “Ta, ta, tee-tee, ta.”  I thought that most of the songs we had to sing in class were stupid, with the exception of two native-inspired songs that stick in my mind: “Land of the Silver Birch” (you could sing that one in rounds), and the “Huron Carol.”  I enjoyed singing the “Huron Carol” as part of our Christmas Concert with the school choir at Rednersville Church one year.  I liked choir, except when I was put beside some poor tone-deaf girl (did I mention I can’t stand bad singing?).

Rednersville Church...

When it was time for junior high, we were bused up the hill to Kente Public School.  It was a big school housing kindergarten to Grade 8.  Mr. C. was the Art/Music teacher.  I’m pretty sure that his musical training was non-existent – I think he was probably told to teach music just because he was an artist.  We all thought Mr. C. was cool – he was one of the youngest teachers we had.  He also had the longest hair (blond), and a moustache!  Mr. C. would bring in records from home, and we would sing along with them.  Whenever I hear the song “Teen Angel” from the early 1960’s, I remember that class: those lyrics are embedded in my brain: “Teen angel, can you hear me?, Teen angel, can you see me?, Are you somewhere up above?, And am I still your own true love?”  I think Mr. C. had a bit of an obsession with tragedy songs…we learned “Last Kiss” too.  We were sometimes allowed to play our own records…I wonder what the administration would have thought had they known that we were listening to Cheech and Chong routines…

Teen Angel 45...

Music instruction (and band) in high school at Belleville Collegiate Institute and Vocational School was a whole new world!  Under Mr. Williams (a trained musician/conductor), we studied a nice mix of classical and contemporary music (see https://writerwoman61.wordpress.com/2010/04/19/sounds-that-soothe-my-soul-part-1-the-first-20-years/).  A song that always takes me back to those years is “The Hustle” – it was fun to play the flute part.  In Grade 11, we got to arrange a piece for a full orchestra – I aced that assignment and pulled off 100%!  Even though it was a lot of work, I loved it!  Our band used to play quite a bit at local elementary schools – I was horrified to see a photo of us one day – there I was in the front row wearing my black band sweater and a skirt, and my knees were wide open!  I was more of a jeans kind of girl…

This flute reminds me of my own...

From what I can see, standards in music education have been raised since I was in elementary school – both my younger daughters had the opportunity to learn violin through school programs, and they have both participated in choir.  There is a strong music festival here in New Brunswick where most of the school choirs compete.  The music teachers I have met are committed to what they do, and all have a high level of training.  I hope the government continues to recognize the value of music in children’s education, and that the programs are still intact by the time my granddaughter begins school in 2014.

Elise...Musician of the Future...


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