Sunday, October 31, 2010

By the time I had my children the Hallowe’en scene had escalated considerably. Carrving a pumpkin being an absolute necessity; with three children that meant carving three pumpkins into ‘Jack-O-Lantern’ faces. Costumes were an absolute ‘must have’. And treats had progressed from single molasses candy kisses to chocolate bars and much, much more.

Each Hallowe’en became a ritual. “What would you like to dress as this year” I would ask. I often wonder why I just didn’t buy a pre-made costume. No! Out came the sewing machine. I’ve fashioned everything from a green martian, the friendly lion, tin man, a big round pumpkin, fairy princess and Dracula! But it was fun and I must say the resulting costumes were prize winners!

I will always remember my first born’s first Hallowe’en. He was just the cutest clown you ever did see…and just shy of two years of age. Off we went with other young mothers….making our ‘ego’ statements “Look at how well I have dressed my youngster for Hallowe’en”! We only toured a few houses to ‘show off’ then home; and there he stood. Looking into his bag of goodies and then at me….total confusion written all over his little face. He didn’t know what to do; he had been told to never, ever accept candies or treats from ANYONE! I finally clued in and told him I had better check out what he had…and he was happy. Checking … while trying desperately to keep my ‘sweet tooth’ in abeyance!

Pumpkins carved and lining the front steps, goodies ready to dispense. I loved it. Having the children come to the door and filling their sacks was such fun. Smiles on everyone, positively loved Hallowe’en.

The children were of course always accompanied by one parent, we switched years so the one at home could have the fun of giving out the treats.

One year I decided to make real ‘autumn fair’ style candy apples… the red toffee covered apples on a stick. Very soon the bushel hamper … the large bushel hamper not the little ones you see on markets today, was gone and we had to scramble for chocolate bars. The next year I doubled the candy apples. Well, word had gone around town and children were arriving not with parents walking….but driving up for candy apples….by the car and truck load! I gave that up the next year and went back to chocolate bars, candy popcorn balls and homemade fudge.

One Hallowe’en that will always remain in my memory is the first time my three youngsters decided they were old enough to venture forth on their own. Being the over protective parent I couldn’t possibly let them out unprotected.

Their father stalled them while I secretly dressed and would follow them to make sure they were safe. Covering my face with a nylon stocking stuffed with cotton balls, wearing a rag mop under a large hat, my three inch spike heels inside steel toed boots and a ratty old jacket – plus large plastic ears, I followed.

My daughter was calling on friends, my two sons going on their own with the eldest in charge. First I followed my daughter; her friend’s mother admonished me for trick and treating at such an age….she did not recognize me. I stayed several steps behind and my daughter told one mother answering a door “that poor big kid doesn’t know what to do, he can come for a treat too but he’s afraid….come on big kid it’s okay”. The woman immediately gathered all children indoors and called the police. I heard her tell the children they would be alright, the police were coming to get the “big kid with the big ears”.

Off came the big ears and I changed my course to follow my sons as they had gone a different route. I lagged behind , my eldest son saying to the younger lad “stay with me, stay with me and we will be safe”. Well I didn’t want to frighten them so I walked the other way and knowing their route would catch up with them around the block.

As I came around the block they saw me and took off at a run for home….running up the walkway “Dad, dad, there’s a big kid…..Oh Dad, he’s coming right in the door”. They peeked around him as I doubled over with laughter. To this very day they have not forgiven me. They are convinced I was trying to frighten them and really I was only trying to be certain they were safe.

Since I was already dressed I decided to visit our friends. Our neighbour finally figured out who I was and added to my costume with a barbecue apron that read “beer, just beer” and handed me a very large glass bottle, put a note on saying ‘refill please’.

Except for an occasiional glass of wine, I am a non-drinker, so after three further friends homes…..and they did not recognize me ….and two beers, one wine, one cognac, my Hallowe’en excursion ended on a very, very tipsy note. I repeated this three years in a row. One set of friends never, ever discovered who I was, another family discovered my identity when the third year the lad who was my son’s best friend looked under the brim of my hat and said “that’s Ruby, I know her eyes”.

Today my daughter pipes haunted house music, has a hanging skeleton on the pathway that is motion sensitive and rattles and clanks his bones as you pass. She has bats, witches, spiders and webs and other dark and eerie characters. Homes are decorated like Christmas trees…so Hallowe’en has changed and definitely lines the pockets of stores and manufacturers. I hope today’s trick and treatsters will remember with fondness and happy memories of Hallowe’ens past such as  I have had the privilege of sharing with you.!


Saturday, October 30, 2010

Childhood Memories of Hallowe'en

Arriving home from our begging  the ‘loot’ would be shared with younger children who had not been allowed out. The loot usually comprised loads of molasses candy kisses, apples, home made fudge, black balls, wax lips and bubble gum. Food for the soul!

To have so many apples at once was unbelievable! Just the apples! No concerns about objects being imbedded in any of the treats, no hunt for needle punctures or razor blades. Many of our apples wound up in apple pie or apple sauce and that was wonderful as well.

But on coming home the real fun began for Hallowe’en was a family celebration. Mother and dad would suspend apples from string tied to the clothes line in the kitchen. You had to eat the apple to the core while holding your hands behind your backs. Then you bobbed for apples which were floating in our metal wash tub on a stand in the kitchen…once again with hands behind your backs…..faces dripping wet, every time you tried to bite the apple it would sink!

All this while mother and dad finished off the fudge covered apples on a stick. Home made candy applies! And fudge! I remember one year we had home made toffee. Pulled over a basin of snow … pulled, folded, pulled, folded….just close your eyes and take a 'whiff'...smells of fudge, apples and toffee! I smell them still!

After the children were all in bed some of the adults would venture out to celebrate Hallowe’en. Women usually dressed in men’s miner helmets and big boots; painted their faces with charcoal and lipstick or wore their husband’s long john underwear up the main street in town,. My single aunts would borrow their brother’s long johns and head out for the celebrations. Mother and dad stayed home and enjoyed the antics of the children and the following clean up.

This was also the night the local high school held its ‘club’ initiations and inductees could  be seen on the main street tracing their footsteps with chalk all the way up main street dressed in some outlandish costumes....the boys usually having to dress in a negligee and curlers in their hair; the girls dressed as fellows in underwear.  And by the way that was considered risque!

It was the night local Girl Guides and Boy Scouts held their ‘ghost walks’ where you walked round a table and down corridors in the dark with someone doing witch cackles and hooos and booos in the background. You had to feel the eyeballs (peeled grapes) in a bowl and the ‘guts’ (cooked spaghetti) of some monster and other such revolting objects...memory fails me on the peeled orange sections; I can't recall what they were supposed to be.

If one was lucky enough to be a teenager you could also see a ‘horror’ movie of the time. The most frightening, scaries movies ... nightmare movies!   Sinister, evil characters and plots….starring Boris Karloff or Bela Lugosi. Very few graphics if any in these old movies; primarily relying on facial expressions and lighting. Almost always set in dark places, haunted castles and hallways of evil.

“Cuddle movies”! “Nail Biters”! “Cuddle Closer”!.

The girls would scream and cuddle closer to their dates, cover their eyes and the fellows would lap it all up with an ear-to-ear grin! Remember them…depending on the year…Dracula, Son of Dracula, Dracula’s Daughter! House of Frankenstein!. And do you remember Bud Abbot and Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein! Scared to Death with Bela Lugosi or The Snake People with Boris Karloff. I don’t have any statistics but I’ll wager the drive-in movies did box office breaking business over Hallowe’en!

Memories built to last a lifetime. To smile and remember still decades later!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Memories of Hallowe'en

Hallowe’en! What do we know about Hallowe’en – not much I can tell you; and do we care? It is a time for ‘fun’ … pure and simple fun!

Hallowe’en has roots in the Celtic festival of Sanhein and in the Christian holiday All Saints Day. All our rituals of costume, scary and evil characters and ‘trick and treating’ are left overs incorporated into one fun filled evening. In Scotland for instance, young men dressed in white costume with veiled or dark masks to apparently appease evil spirits of the dead. And beggars in England went door to door begging for food on Hallomas – the day after Hallowe’en evening.

All I knew about Hallowe’en as a child was that you came home with a bag full of goodies and those of the Catholic faith had to do something on November 1st, All Saints Day.

And that was enough for me. The excitement around our home was intoxicating as Hallowe’en approached. Never mind Christmas visions of sugar plums dancing in our heads….Hallowe’en provided many, many more sweet treats than Christmas!

Hallowe’en was a time for masking oneself, for trick and treating, for fun games, for mischief!.

We started by anticipating a mask….usually just a small thing that covered the eyes and as we got older charcoaled or grossly made up faces. And paper bag masks. Paper sacks were drawn with crayon into some grotesgue gargoyle like face, slits cut for eyes and worn over the head. The younger children who would remain at home would wear these for weeks about the house and you were forever replacing paper bag masks as they became torn and abused while the make believe ‘devils’ fought for supremacy. Paper bag masks were also produced in school art periods with crayon and added construction paper.

Most school classes featured a ‘costume day’ where you paraded through the auditorium and the best costumes were selected by teachers. Purchased costumes were made primarily of crepe paper that would quickly disintegrate into a wet mass when worn out in the snow. Most families could not afford the cash outlay so costumes were primarily homemade. Our school parades featured a multitude of ghosts draped in old bed sheets, hobos (vagrants) dressed in someone’s larger clothes with sooted faces and a handkerchief of worldly possessions hung from a stick. A few straw men and many, many Egyptian mummies!  There was one school Hallowe'en parade that remains forever in my memory. Our last year before moving on to wht is now termed 'middle school' .  A rather large boy, still with all his 'baby fat' and added more.....arrived dressed in a 'baby bonnet' ......and a HUGE diaper carrying a baby bottle.  I could not look at him....I had never seen so much naked flesh parading anywhere!  I still see him....and am still somewhat aghast!

We usually ventured out into the snow and cold to do our ‘trick or treating’ so costumes were not a primary concern. We would layer larger garments over our winter clothing and maybe a silly hat; and admire each other for the good looking fools we became.

So bundled up warm with a mask and a paper bag for goodies off we older children went into the dark night where ghosts and evil spirits lurked; one year I actually ‘saw’ a witch fly across the moon! I can’t seem to recall pumpkins being carved although there must have been some somewhere in town, but not in our area. Not at least until my sister and I started working and had throw away cash to purchase a pumpkin strictly for decoration and not the food table. But porch lights were all ablaze as we set out. If a porch light were not lit you knew you could not knock at that door. No one had yard decorations…no lanterns or ghostly sheets in trees. We were allowed to only travel our street and one other. None of this run all over town. We always wanted however to venture to ‘snob’s hill’ where the professionals lived for we heard the treats on the hill were awesome! But we wouldn’t dare for we would be found out if we were over our ‘time allotment’

Then started the ‘trick or treat’ gimmick. ‘Trick’ supposedly inferred …. ‘give me a treat or else I will perform some mischief on your property. Of course this was reversed by the grownups to translate – “you do a trick and I will give you a treat’. They always had a trick or two up their sleeves those adults! My sister always had more in her sack than I ever had … she would actually sing for a ‘trick’ much to my embarassement.

Tricks were played. Friends of ours who lived in farm country would inevitably wake in the morning to discover their outhouse was sitting high on a perch in a tree; others may find their yard gates suspended from a telephone pole. But that’s all it was – done in good fun and nothing that couldn’t be quickly remedied the next morning.

The excitement of venturing out on dark and ‘scary’ Hallowe’en will forever live in my memory and I am still to this day ‘mad about Hallowe’en!

More to come…

For a description of these 'naive' works of art see my art blog:-pinnaclesandpotholes

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Dressing For Winter in Days Gone By

We’ve had somewhat chilly weather lately; wind blowing quite nicely whipping everything about; one degree the other morning. And my goodness, to watch some of the people you’d think it was forty below! Padded winter jackets, insulated gloves, woolen hats. I did get strange looks walking about with only a hoody, bare head and hands.

Ah but, I would wager a bet some of those I saw bundled to the teeth haven’t really experienced a true north winter.

Now that is where you had to be ready to bundle! When the temperature dipped, the snow cracking under footsteps, frost forming on eyelashes and breath suspended you had to be clothed in layers! 

The first layer of course was winter underwear! For boys and men this was a one piece suit of underwear…buttons down the front and trap door behind. As children we had a great time with dad’s on washday. Clothes were hung outdoors on a clothes line and were frozen stiff as a board when brought indoors to hang on clothes lines arrayed from corner to corner in the kitchen. We’d use dad’s as a dancing partner around the kitchen doing the ‘long john waltz’.

Enough! Girls and women were suited with heavier drawers and undershirts. And – long cotton knit stockings. These stocking were secured with pin-on garters (garters without the belt) pinned to the undershirt - older girls were allowed to wear garter belts; adult women had garters hanging at the edge of their girdle for suspension of stockings. My stockings always were saggy at the knees and mended! My sister’s were always perfectly straight! Not fair. When I got to high school I refused to wear stockings and garters. I wanted nylons. No such luck so I went bare legged and would freeze by legs white and blue. Oh how my legs pained….but no stockings, no siree!

And then – wool! Wool everything. Wood sweaters, wool skirts, wool hats, wool mittens, wool scarves. Everything - itchy, scratchy wool. Wool that shrunk when washed and fit as tight as a glove. And then the outerwear. And guess what – wool! When snowy clothes were hung to dry the kitchen smelled like a sheep pen! And – girls were not allowed to wear slacks. They could however wear wool ‘leggings’ – worn with skirt tucked it and immediately removed once entering a home.

Winter boots weren’t as smatzy as those fashioned today. They were made of rubber with a thin felt coating inside and felt insoles. Worn over top of one’s leather shoes. Certainly not the protection we shop for today for our youngsters and our selves. Stylish young ladies could select those with a real fur cuff.

When the weather became excrutiatingly cold and blizzard winds blow one just added more layers. Usually more sweaters - and always a scarf wrapped round forehead, neck and chin…with only eyes revealed.

The photograph included with today’s blog is of me in my find wool melton cloth cloat. Just outside posing for a picture, so no leggings or boots.

Just in case you think I may exaggerate the snow...this gentleman has just finished shovelling his driveway, it is January and the snow bank he stands on is six feet high and still further snowy months ahead!

And the cold is not exaggerated either....quilts were thrown over car engines; light bulbs suspended under hoods; batteries taken and stored indoors overnight, or cars started every two or so hours; car engines had been known to crack from the cold.

I have also posted art work on you art blog this morning; although totally unrelated to the topic here:-pinnaclesandpotholes

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Growing Up - Winter Baths

Just out of the shower … and it has me reminiscing again! Must be my age! Anyway we take our daily shower as part of our routine; never give it a thought; well, yes I guess a thought, we wouldn’t go out without it!

When water was hauled from wells or springs or heated in hot water tanks attached to Findlay kitchen stoves and very few bathrooms were equipped with showers bathing daily was not always possible……just daily washing up in the bathroom basin was freezing cold. But it woke you quite nicely for the day ahead.

Winter baths were quite a ritual in our home. We had a large metal laundry tub, hauled up from the basement on Saturday night for the weekly bath….whether you needed it or not. Our family bathed in reverse order from the old adage. “careful, don’t throw the baby out with the bath water” …. Meaning baby was bathed last. In our home the adage went “careful not to throw the eldest out with the bath water”.

The doorways to hallway and dining room were shut tight and children lined up in the dining room waiting their turn. The kitchen fire was built up, the oven door propped open for added warmth and towels laid on the door to warm; and when the kitchen reached sauna temperature the baths began. First the baby; toweled dry and handed to eldest for bed, then the next, then the next……there were seven children in our home. Hair was scrubbed and rinsed with a pot of water from hot water reservoir at end of stove. Each new bather managed a top-up of a pot of water from the reservoir to bring back some warmth to the water. I was the eldest and was constantly afraid of being tossed out with the bath water!

Mission accomplished … seven shiny faces in a row all scrubbed to a rosy red! Everyone assembled for their nightly cup of home made, hot cocoa; then were tucked away for the night.

Beds were made up with flannelette sheets, at least two pure wool blankets and quilts or spreads. And when the night was forecast to be particularly cold father would layer his ‘great coats’ on top. Coats from his younger days that went from neck to ground … and he was over six foot tall. Heavy wool coats. You couldn’t move for weight on top….but you were warm…and bathed!

Now all the steam from the ‘kitchen sauna’ had to be released from the home or the house would feel twice as cold overnight. The entrance doors were opened to allow the moisture to escape outside. It was fascinating to watch the cloud of steam emerge out the door into the winter night! Mother and dad cheated though….they bathed after shipping us all off to Sunday school….in the regular, claw footed bathtub in the bathroom. Didn’t find that out until years later.

Oh, p.s.  This tub was also our summer swimming pool.  It was placed on the back lawn, filled with water from the hose and we were swimming!  All seven of us!

I have also posted on my art blog; remembrance of artistic skills learned and discarded:-pinnaclesandpotholes

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Growing Up in the North; Winter Preparations

I read a blog this morning talking about ‘living in the past’. I hope what I am posting on this blog does not come off as ‘living in the past’; I would like it to be a ‘remembrance of a different way of life’.

And life was considerably different in northern Ontario; even different from the southern reaches of our province. Our community was busy establishing a foothold in the unexplored northern forests, busying extracting precious gold from the earth and learning to live with what was at hand, so remote from the rest of the province.

I was speaking yesterday of ‘winter preparations’; and believe it or not, I am not yet finished.

The food successfully put away and winter fuel in; there were many chores left to tackle. And you know, there was never any comment ‘you need to do….’ Or ‘have you done’. These weren’t necessary, each person knew and attended to their own set of tasks.

Before twenty-four hour a day fires were to be lit, my father would assemble a large cinder block with something wrapped round and attached to a rope. Up on the rooftop ‘click, click’…no not Saint Nick! Father sweeping the chimney with his homemade chimney sweep contraption removing the year’s creosote and soot.

Then the windows! Windows at that time were single glazed, set it wood frames and puttied all around the glass. I am certain you can see them on old residences still. These were covered with a second set of windows….’storm windows’. Putty was checked and replace if required and they were fastened to the outside frame by means of a butterfly hinge. But first they were caulked with felt strips and thoroughly cleaned inside and out. The windows were designed with a little flip up opening at the bottom of the frame with three or four holes drilled through….these were flipped open to allow air during the day. Attaching storm windows was a full day job. Then of course the storm doors were attached and we became like ‘bugs in a rug’; all cozy and protected from the winds of winter.

Even with all these preparations winter cold still seeped into homes. Having a concrete basement was indeed a bonus for us; many homeowners had ‘dirt’ or dug out earth basements and frequently were required to thaw frozen water pipes with blow torches. Our morning baths and washes were indeed cold and quick but not frozen.

The frost would build up overnight on bedroom windows with so much moisture from the breath of sleeping occupants. It could build as thick as one half to three quarters inch. That is when the little shutter would be opened to change the air. The windows generally had a coat of frost in our upstair rooms. As children we thought it was great fun….carving at the frost….for me it was an instant drawing palette.

All the labour, all the care taken by the adults….I am forever thankful! I was warm, well fed and clothed. Thanks to all who cared.

More of winter and my happy childhood memories tomorrow, if you can bear it!

The painting with this blog is described on my art blog:-pinnaclesandpotholes

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Growing Up In Northern Ontario, Winter Preparations

It’s late fall here in Ontario and today I was reminiscing with a friend about winter preparations and how there are virtually no such tasks anymore, except for purchasing winter wardrobes. Other than that tedious task, we merely set our thermostats and continue as we have all year.

Well, now ‘back when I was young’!

In the Northern Ontario town where I grew up winter could, and often did begin with a snowfall in early September and if a short winter; warmed up in May. … so eight or nine months of winter! And yes the snow fell as did temperatures!  Fourteen feet of packed snow was not unusual, and the frost invaded everything! Walking through a forest in January one could hear trees splitting open from frost. On really cold nights you could hear the timbers in our two storey home crack! Frost in the north country was not merely a dusting of the ground and few inches of frozen earth. It could be up to a foot deep, depending on the severity of the winter. The weight of snow was also a hazard and roof tops often had to be sholved clear.  It was pristine, it was a wonderful winter wonderland, and it took much in preparation to survive the cold north.

There were so many winter chores lined up in preparation for -40F or colder winter months that they began as soon as summer took hold. They would begin in our kitchen with ‘preserving’ fruit. Baskets and baskets of peaches and pears and blueberries were prepared for winter. Mother and dad would process the fruit and pack in glass preserving jars, cover with a sweet sugar syrup and immerse in a huge caldron of boiling water. Then covered with blankets to allow to cool. Apparently covering with blankets was really important for it retained the ‘fresh fruit’ flavour of the fruit; although the only flavour I remember was the sweet, lovely syrup….with a ‘hint’ of fruit. The aroma was delightful and made us children wish for winter!

Many residents  laid up a store of root crops - potatoes, carrots, parsnips and other vegetables storing by the canvas sack in basements that were dugout earth or preserving as my parents did with fruit.  We did not have a root cellar so except for potatoes in our basement; we purchased vegetables in winter months in cans. To this day I have a strong dislike of canned vegetables!  Fresh produce became expensive during winter; all such items were shipped by train freight so the ‘fresh’ was hard to come by.

But there were pickled beets, mustard pickles, relishes and bean pickles from our grandmother’s kitchen.

The next prime consideration, after the stomach was appeased with thoughts of winter feasts was winter warmth. Gathering of wood for winter fires began in early July. The mining industry used logs to support tunnels built in the mines. The logging company would square off the trees and the cutaway rounded pieces were cut into 18” pieces called ‘slabs’. They were sold for winter fuel. Alternatively one could cut timber from the forest and use logs for winter fuel. We burned slabs. They would arrive in early July and father would pile column after column of ‘slabs’ in the driveway and at the side of the house; piled in such a way air could circulate and the wood could dry. Then after assembling all these piles they would be taken down in August and re-piled in the basement of our home and in the back porch. Most homes had wood sheds at the back of their properties for storage of winter wood – our back porch was our wood shed.

The wood was burned in a basement cast iron stove and in the kitchen cast iron range.  Fires burnt 24 hours a day in the winter.  I can recall sitting on the stairs watching the stove top glowing red in the dark of night.  I would wait until I heard my father snoring and would stealth down and throw baking soda on the fire....hoping to cool down the stove.  Then father would wonder why the fire burnt so low the following morning.

My parents and all members of our community worked hard to prepare for winter which leads me to thinking….it was a good thing they didn’t have television or video diversions, we might have all frozen or gone hungry.

The painting included here is described on my other blog site   pinnaclesandpotholes.