FROM THE SCRAP BOOK
By Dr. Bill Randall
Looking through my Scrapbooks I came across an item written by Alistairs Cameron and
published in a Woodstock newspaper some years ago. It seems an ideal item to share with you so close to Christmas. I phoned Alistairs, whom I have known for many years. Emma trained in nursing with his wife, Ruth, and Alistair gave me permission to use the material. True it is not written with the geographical background of Harvey, but the old Scottish customs of Kirkland and Bloomfield were very similar to those of the Harvey area.
If you like this item there are some books which Alistair has written available. Phone me I have
Alistair Cameron was born in Birnie, Scotland. He came to Canada with his family in 1929. He served Canada Post for 35 years, retiring in 1973. I like his writing.
I cherish the glimpses of Christmases past that adds hope and joy to the ordinary current of human life. That was my thought as I harnessed old Tony to the pung on that twenty third day of December 1932.
The Christmas season had awakened many home feelings, and I knew that the thoughts of my parents were far across the sea. The night before, when the chores were done, my father pulled his chair closer to the stove and puffed on his pipe. He spoke quietly of his young days in Edinkillie. Outside the wind moaned and whistled down the chimney before it sighed away to leave us steeped in the stillness of that special night.
Now on this Friday morning, with the grocery list tucked safely in my pocket with a “fiver” pinned to it, I set out for Woodstock. Dad had sold some potatoes to Perley Strong so there was an extra dollar or two to splurge on luxuries, an uncommon occurrence in the house of the Camerons.
Coming down from the stable, Tony shook his head making the sleigh bells jingle, but it did not muffle the voice of my mother singing “The Last Rose of Summer” as she stood in the doorway to wave goodbye. It seems like yesterday. But the years have been long and many since then.
Silhouettes of chimney smoke floated beneath a soundless sky as old Tony broke into a trot just before we reached Bill Baker’s house.
“Old Billy” was standing by his mail box, leaning on a shovel. He had asthma, an ailment he loved to talk about. It brought him and Melinda, his wife, a heaping measure of sympathy from neighours who saw to it that this worthy pair were not forsaken. The spirit of Christmas lasted all year round for folks in Bloomfield. For them it took more than carols, hymns and music to fill the soul.
Billy squinted skyward when I asked him, “was it your prayer or mine that gave us such a glorious morning?” He scratched his head with a gnarled hand. “I don’t rightly know,” he answered. “But I just told the Almighty last night that I didn’t bother Him very often so He might just hear me this once and give me a good night’s sleep away from the asthma, and I’m thinkin’ He surely did. I haven’t wheezed since. So this is a good day for me, sun or no.”
He turned to look at the snow drifts piled against the fence. His gum rubber boots squeaked on the crisp and frosty ground. Melinda in her yellow flannel night gown came to the front door to give me a wave. I looked at the aging couple standing there and felt a touch of sadness. An old saying came to mind. “May the winds of adversity never blow open your door.”
Tony was anxious to go and as he trotted along the Bloomfield Road the sleigh bells had a new sparkle in their sound.
“My Love She’s But A Lassie Yet,” I sang on going past the woods at Dobbins Hollow. That was when the sky darkened. The sun had lost it’s glint. Great white flakes began to fall soft and white on the rough fail fences. They are like goose feathers, I thought, as some of them took a fancy to my eyelashes and clung there until they melted. I closed my eyes and when I opened them again I saw a man with a limp coming towards me. We met on the railroad tracks at Lindsay. No wonder he looked familiar in the distance. He was my brother Geordie who had worked in the woods at Pocologan the past two months.
His voice quavered when he told me he didn’t get any wages because the man he worked for could not sell his pulp. Poor Geordie had walked many a wintery mile past scattered barns and back-road places to catch a train to Woodstock. “It took my last copper to buy a train ticket,” he said, “and now I’ve nothing left to buy my “mither” a Christmas present.”
“Don’t worry Geordie, Dad gave me fifty cents to buy a lunch. I’ll use that to buy something for you to give her. Anyway the sight of you will be the best present she’s had in a long time.” Geordie squared his shoulders and coughed a couple of times. His load was lighter now and the chilblain on his heel had eased its paining. Or so it seemed. Now when I hear the strains of Silent Night, I think on that day and remember how privileged I was to see a certain way of life which has vanished forever.
Now that I am old, time goes quietly and I see it all again, that Christmas of 1932 when I was fifteen.
With Tony safely stabled in Lutzs’ stable munching his oats, I crossed the street to Coxs’ Harness Shop where I lett my mother’s shoes that were bursting at the seams. They needed to be stitched. Then on to join with everyone who had come to share the beauty of the town square. Somehow the world is always young at Christmas. Merry voices mingle when friends meet friends on every street corner. It’s plain to see that a kinship has been minted from friendships gathered through the changing years.
When the Salvation Army band appeared and began to play, its sound brought its own message of good tidings. Old and young rallied around the Christmas tree to hear hymns and carols peal out. The town clock added its on Amen as it bonged out the hour. Mrs. Furlong passed the plate and listeners joined to sing “() Come All Ye Faithfill”. The echo of the drum as Mr. Stanley Sproul gave it his own. personal beat lent enchantment to the wonder and gladness of that special time.
I hadn’t finished with the shopping list. The luxuries had to be bought. Currants, raisins, mixed peel and spices. The clerks were busy in George True’s grocery when I went in. Manche Dunstan waited on me. She weighed each purchase with a thoughtful smile. “There’s never a dull minute in here,” she exclaimed. “Or an idle one,”
She snapped the string that tied the last package and added it to the brown paper bag that smelled of crackers and cheese.
I hurried along Queen Street to buy a pound and a half of sausages from Kirk the butcher, whose meat was always prime. There was fresh sawdust on the floor and a row of freshly dressed turkeys and. geese just inside the door. Eliza Francis came in and saw me looking at them. She took a deep breath and muttered. “Them poor things never did nobody any harm, they are all God’s creatures just like ourselves and now look at them.” She tossed her head, straightened. her hat., and walked out. Little did she realize that her remarks spoiled my appetite for the roasted rooster that was our Christmas dinner.
The farmer’s store, standing guard by the old Grafton Bridge, was a favorite place for country folks to rally. There was laughter as customers jostled each other among tables, bins and barrels filled with tasty things. The bare light bulbs shone down on cheery faces and on eyes gleaming with obvious satisfaction.
Christmas was the time when butter and egg money that had been safely tucked away, was used to fulfill some secret hope or fond illusion.
Patten’s Drug Store was my next stop. Of all Woodstock’s sidewalk stories, it was favored most of all. It was where teenagers popped in to indulge in talk and fiin. Soda clerks mixed milk shakes by the score and laughed at the jokes Harry Patten told. A gust of warm air welcomed me as I went in to buy Geordie’s present for his mother with my 50 cents. I admit I was proud of myself.
I couldn’t go home without one last trek up the town hill. I was hungry and the smell coming out of
Tommy;s Restaurant advertised the good food within. it took a strong will to pass it by, but it had to be done.
It was quiet that late afternoon. Tony plodded along with an even gait, pausing long enough to quench his thirst from the trough at the bottom. of Marven Brook hill.
My thoughts began to wander. I was a little boy again thinking on another Christmas when neighbors gathered round the fireside in our highland home. Jock Anderson who had been sitting half asleep in the platform rocker woke up. Atter a little persuasion he realized something was expected of him, and he does his best. With fiddle tucked under his chin, he began to play. The firelight cast a strange glow on his sunken eyes and white hair. The shadows fell sharply on the rugged lines of his face. The tunes he played told tales of a Scotland in days long since gone. There was music of the Hebrides and the Island of Skye. I remember how the old violin quavered in melancholy cadences as he played, Turn Ye. To Me. Then there is silence. Outside the wind came blowing down from the glen and rattled the panes in the kitchen window. Every year at this time those tunes, wafted by a gentle breeze, came.back to haunt me.
Back To Reality
I was on the outskirts of Hartford when I came back to reality. Down country lanes and side road places the lights were coming on. Going down the Lindsay hill, Tony picked up speed and dashed across the railroad tracks.
What a blessing it was to see the glow of the lamp in the window of our house. If I had not been so weary I would have been singing, “There’s No Place Like Home.”
A thick slice of new made bread and rhubarb jam whetted my appetite. I licked my lips as mother checked the luxuries and put them away. She smiled with pride when I banded her a dollar and fifty two cents change. “Are we gain’ to have a clootie dumplin’ this year?” I asked. To me the sight of this steaming pudding was the stuff of pure magic. “Yes, Alistairs, we surely are, Clootie dumplin and lots of it.”
That Christmas of 1932 holds many memories but one stands alone among the rest. It was the look on Geordie’s face and the smile on my mother’s when she opened his present. A small jar of face cream and two cakes of heather scented soap. Although. I had to go without lunch in order to buy it, I was filled with something far more satisfying. A feeling that money could not buy.
Was it my imagination or did I hear a far off voice saying the Celtic Blessing.
May every day be joy to you,
May every face be love to you,
May every solitude be God with you,
I like to believe that this blessing has followed me all my days. I’m sure it has.
Source: Rev. Bill Randall’s “From The Scrapbook Vol. One.”