On a beautiful spring morning birds singing awaken me, robins chirping and blackbirds clucking and chicking. It is hard not to reflect back to my childhood, to the many things our maternal grandfather had taught us. Every spring, Mnookmi, is a fresh start he would say. My cousin and I would go into the bush for some of these new wild and wonderful things. The burgundy and white trilliums and there was also a flower we called Jack-in-the-Pulpit, the Dutchman’s Britches, tiny blue, yellow and white violets and of course, the real purpose of our trek in the bush, morels. These delicious mushrooms are difficult to find but with effort we would fill up our peach baskets and journey home.
Our Gran would tell us to clean them, cut them in half and wash them thoroughly, then soak them in salt water overnight. Yes, we would sometimes have them for breakfast with warm scone washed down with hot sugared tea, simple but so nourishing. Lunch would be fresh perch, potatoes and bread and then back to school we would go. When school was out at four, we came home to do chores. Mine was to fill the reservoir on the stove with water so we would have warm water to wash the supper dishes. The boys would chop wood, pile some and then carry it in. Supper might be salt pork or pork jowl, fried, potatoes or beans and of course, more scone and tea. The dishes would be washed and put away so the table would be available for games like Parcheesi or cribbage. We played by lamplight, good old coal oil. Our evenings were not late, everyone would be tucked in bed by 10:30 pm or I 1:00 pm, no later, and we had to be careful of our lamp oil.
Our way of life was beautiful and natural. My cousin and I would play outside by the field beside our old house. There was an apple tree we used to climb and you know sometimes apple trees can be prickly and awkward, anyway, my cousin picked what he wanted, put them in his pocket and slid down and there I was in the tree! I picked my apple and of course had no pocket. I was so scared holding on with only one hand. I promptly fell from the tree. I was hurt, but not seriously, cut mouth and bruised ankle. My poor cousin carried me running across the field as fast as he could so Gran could fix me up. I was only about seven years old, and my cousin was nine. I was fine in a couple of days.
On another one of our adventures in the woods, around Christmas, we always got to find and chop down our own tree. This particular time we left after school and went straight back from Grandpa’s place. Now the snow was fairly deep in some places, which made it difficult for me being small and short, but I kept up. It seems we walked and walked and still he had not spotted a tree to his liking. It was getting dark and I knew my cousin got turned around. He said we must get back. Now I was really scared. We kept on walking then we sat for a bit so he could listen. He was determined to get us home before it got pitch dark. As we were walking he suddenly stopped, holding me by the arm now, he said, “Don’t be scared, I hear the bells, we will just keep walking towards the sound.” What had happened was our grandparents were aware we were very late and it was dark and unlike us to stay in the woods that long. They got the idea to ring the church bell so we could hear it. We were both so very tired by now but we kept trudging on. Soon we saw an opening and a road, and then we could hear Grandpa’s team of horses. We were so happy. He and my Uncle had hay and blankets on the sleigh and my cousin and I thought, “Boy, we are really going to get heck! ” but we didn’t. We were reminded not to venture into the bush late in the day. But we did get our Christmas tree, the next day. Early!
“The calf made a swift turn, hit a nearby tree and we all tumbled out.”
In the winter we would go sliding down at the lake, and skate when the lake froze over. Grandpa had some cows and horses and this one time my cousin made a harness for the calf and he hitched him onto a sleigh. Well, we got on the old flat sleigh and there were three of us, and it was too heavy for the little calf and he started running real fast and bucking and kicking. We all hung on for dear life. We were laughing and yelling and just as were told what would happen, it did. The calf made a swift turn, hit a nearby tree and we all tumbled out. Thank goodness no one was hurt, the sleigh was broken up and we had a hard time catching that little calf though!
The winter was a great time, the teams of horses would travel with cords of wood and people would hitch a ride over to get groceries, usually on a Saturday. It was also hockey time in Sutton. Our own men and boys would play against the Sutton Green Shirts. This would cause an exodus from the Island. Some walked over, others who were lucky enough got to ride with a team. The games were always so exciting, fast, sometimes rough, but a good time was had by all.
Then of course, maple sugar time was not far behind. This was also an enjoyable time. They would take a team of horses to the bush laden with all the utensils, boiling kettles, spiles, pails to catch the sweet sap, and you also took your lunch and goodies to cook in the open fire. You would be gone for a whole day, the end result being jars of beautiful syrup and candy and a wonderful experience.
These memories are as vivid as if they happened yesterday. Our times of growing up in the early “40’s” on the Island were good. We were never hungry, certainly never bored, we made our own happenings. My cousin Reg was a person who could snare rabbits, hunt ducks and fish, was good a woodsman and a beautiful singer. I have written these short stories to honour his memory. He passed away July 20th, 2003.
Our home was a nice log house, a little farm, horses, cows and chickens on Georgina Island with Tom and Hannah Big Canoe, Cliff (Chowie) and Hugh and us two.
that’s for sure