MAPLE SYRUP

It is getting to be that time of year. When I was little, having a good season meant money for extras. Our farm was small, and not especially profitable – not for lack of trying on anyone’s part. If we had a good sap season, it meant we might get a new appliance for the house, a new piece of machinery, new spring shoes wouldn’t be so hard to buy. It was very important for the family.

The “Sugar House” was in the field across from the house at the foot of a small hill. The process goes like this. Dad would put the buckets, lids and spiles on the sleigh and go to the ‘sugar bush’ – the maple woods.  First he took his hatchet and cut a spot on the tree through the bark, then he took his brace and bit and drilled a hole, where he inserted the spile. A spile is like a little metal tube with a bump at the front. This is what the sap comes through to get to the bucket. Then the sap bucket was hung on the spile, and  the lid was put on. Many people didn’t use lids, but Dad did because it kept any leaves or dirt out, as well as rain. Then you crossed your fingers it would be a good season..

I can’t remember how many ‘taps’ we had, but we tapped all of our trees, as well as some of a neighbour’s. It was a busy time as the farm chores still had to be done, in addition to gathering the sap and boiling it down.

The sap was gathered on foot. There was a very large sap tub on a sleigh. The top sloped toward the center with a strainer which kept out the bits of wood, moths, etc. The sleigh was pulled by our two work horses. You would carry the empty pails through the snow, dump the buckets of sap into them, and carry them back to the sap sleigh. Sometimes, if it had been a good day for the sap to run, you would make several trips to each little grove to empty all the buckets. The snow nearly always was higher than your boots, and you got snow down inside. The worst time of all was when there was a crust on the snow. You would step on it, and it would almost hold you, down you would go, and if you were carrying sap it splashed down your boot along with the snow collection. You just kept gathering, moving the horses bit by bit, until you finished that bush, and then you took it back to the sugar house to unload.

It is easier now because instead of buckets, they now.use plastic hose which goes from tree to tree, and down the hill to a gathering container.

Dad was a very smart man, as well as a talented carpenter. He built the sugar house below the hill, and we would drive the sap sleigh up the hill to the trough that ran into the sap storage container inside the sugar house. When you went into the sugar house, you would see that huge tank up near the roof, and he could slowly release the sap into the evaporator. Gravity ran everything.

Inside the sugar house was a pile of wood at the far end – all stacked up ; in the middle was the evaporator – in two sections about a total of fifteen feet long,  on a big firebox which ran under it. Next to the tank was Dad’s throne . It was a chair he built way up high over the evaporator so he could see what was going on. He could tell by the size of the bubbles when it was close to syrup.

The sap would come in from the tank as Dad controlled it, and go up and down sort of  lanes going from front to back, making its way to the front evaporator. By the time it got there it had warmed up and was quite hot, Then it had little lanes going across the evaporator, gradually getting thicker. Dad would test it with a dipper. He could tell as it came off the edge of the dipper when it was boiled down enough, and was syrup. Then it was released by a tap . It ran into a milk can with a strainer lined with a felt sieve . Dad would keep testing, and when it was getting too thin, he would turn off the tap, and let in more cold sap, and the process would begin all over. It takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup.

Dad always made sure he had a few jar of dill pickles left and he would eat them to counteract the sweetness in the air! There was constant steam.

We would always have visitors on Sunday afternoon. Syrup making was the only time Dad worked on Sunday, but the sap buckets could run over if not collected, the holding tank wasn’t big enough, and Dad would never catch up if he left it until Monday. Because our sugar house was close, it was an easy walk from the road . Although Dad was basically a shy man, he did love explaining the process to visitors, We also made sure there was a bucket or two hanging over the fence from a tree by the road so that people driving along could have a drink of sap instead of climbing over the fence and breaking it down !

Then the milk cans were carried into the house where it was put in cans – gallon and half gallon as well as empty liquor bottles. Since Mom and Dad did not drink, we had to rely on neighbours and family who did! Mom would weigh them to make sure the density was right. I don’t know what it was supposed to be, but the numbers 13 lb.2 oz keep coming to mind. We had labels which had to be glued on to the cans.

This leads to an only Mom story. One summer Mom had tried unsuccessfully to wash the label off an empty jar of something – maybe mayonnaise.  She wrote to the processor to ask what they used to glue on their labels. They answered her ! She wrote to the glue company and bought some jars of this white paste! – only Mom!!

Mom did not teach from the time Virginia was born until Barry was 2 1/2, so she would gather sap and Dad would do the chores and boil down the sap. Sometimes we would have a teenage girl from the next farm for the kids, but usually I would look after them while Mom went out and gather what Dad hadn’t already collected.

The only time I remember Dad punishing me (that was usually Mom’s department) was one day, instead of hurrying home, the neighbour boy and I had been playing, diverting the water dribbling down the road , making canals. They were very impressive, but Dad wasn’t impressed.  Mom had gone gathering and he was with the baby waiting for me to get home so he could start boiling.

My other ‘OOPS’ moment was also when I got home from walking from school –and yes I did walk two miles!  I was cold, and didn’t think the fire was hot enough. I put more wood in the kitchen stove, and since it wasn’t catching, I did what I had seen Dad do. I threw on some coal oil! It flared up of course, which wouldn’t have been too bad except Mom had baby diapers hanging from a clothes hanger over the stove to dry, and of course they caught on fire. Thankfully she had just carried up a pail of water, and a friend of mine was there. We both took dippers and threw water on the fire. When Mom came in, there was water all over the floor and black bits of cloth hanging from the hanger , a singed ceiling and an empty water pail! The only thing that saved me from not being able to sit down for a week was that I had wrapped the baby up, and put her on the couch by the door, so if we had to escape the baby was ready! She knew she didn’t have to tell me about using coal oil ever, ever again!. The really scary thing is that part of our house was about 200 years old, and would have caught on fire and burned quickly if we hadn’t got it out immediately.

Another OOPS involved my cousin and me. Even after I was married, I would come down on the weekend to help gather sap, as Dad was more comfortable with the idea of me driving the horses. My cousin helped him all week. Lloyd, my cousin Thomas and I set off to gather the sap. I had stopped the horses, put the reins round the sap tub and was gathering sap with the two men. I had to step up on the sleigh because I was not tall enough to empty my pail from the ground.  As I stepped up on the sleigh to dump my pails of sap , Thomas said “Gitty-up” and the horses did! There I was on the very front of the sleigh, sap tank behind me, the reins wrapped around the tank, and nothing to protect me from the horses’ hooves. When the horses realized no one was driving them they started to go faster and faster. By the time I got the reins, and  stopped them, we were about two feet from a cliff dropoff.

I got off that sleigh, toward Thomas, yelling all the time! By the time I finished,  my great big gentle cousin knew 1) it wasn’t funny to tell horses to get going for a joke and 2) while RubyAnn was a lot smaller than he was, she was a force to be reckoned with!

The first run of syrup was ours! – Dad’s hot biscuits and warm syrup – what a treat. Nothing tastes like brand new syrup. We were allowed to bring ‘old’ syrup to a boil and pour it in dribbles on clean snow. Many people call it ‘taffy on snow’, but we called it Jack-‘o-wax.

We had customers who came to the farm to buy, some in Gananoque to whom Mom delivered and then we would also go to the Kingston Market. We sold syrup, maple sugar and sometimes maple butter – which was maple sugar that wouldn’t set! 

Mom always said she would work off winter fat in sugar making, and never had to worry about her weight until Dad stopped making syrup. He stopped because by then that was the only time he needed the horses, the tractor couldn’t make it and if there was a poor year, the only one who made money was the hired man!

I don’t believe there is any work on the farm that is harder – even haying. No matter what syrup costs, believe me, it’s a bargain.

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ALL THE KIDS I’VE TAUGHT (PART FOUR)

After I sort of accidentally got into the area of special education, except for one year , I spent the next twenty years in this field. Actually it became the “School of Special Education”, and I couldn’t get out and teach a regular grade. I guess I should never have obtained my specialist in Special Education.

I spent many years at Joyceville in my “Ungraded” special education classroom. We were lucky, because at first, our class was not actually recognized. So we got to put the children in it that we felt would benefit, and actually were able to return some of them to regular grades after a year or two. There was no curriculum, so I made it up. I had about twelve students, ages 8 to 14.It was like teaching several grades in my one-room school. It was very basic. I covered arithmetic, reading, writing stories – always important to me – a bit of science, a lot of music and physical education as well as personal care.

I made a discovery one year. When I got to school in August. the only slot available for phys. ed. was first thing in the morning, so I took it for every day, not the two or three times a week as was usual. We started every day with activity, and had the best year ever! I had proven that movement enhances learning. I also used a lot of music. One thing I didn’t even realize until after, that it was very different from the norm, was when I divided them in three groups, found a little record player for each group, and several LPs of classical music. They were to come up with some type of story, using the music. I will never forget the one where they used excerpts from Pyer Gynt Suite ( I just KNOW I’ve got that completely wrong) They had it as a cowboy story, around a camp fire, which they had made out of tissue paper. It was amazing how they had everything coordinated. When they were ready , we invited the principal (who also was my mother!) to come to see our productions. The inspector just happened to be there, and came to. He was really impressed that these kids, supposedly slow learners,  could do this. That is when I realized something unusual had happened.

One unusual thing I did was having Lloyd build me a 3×3 guinea pig pen, which we put on top of old desks. They were ideal – clean, no odour, couldn’t climb!, easily looked after. The children loved them, and looked after them. I had one boy who would get himself into rages and he started taking one of the guinea pigs and hold it on his lap ,pet it and rock in my old rocking chair. At first it would be rather frantic rocking, and gradually slow down. Then he would get up, return the guinea pig to the pen and get back to work.

During these years, I had our second child – Cynthia Laurene (Cindy) in 1972. What a difference 7+ years can make. Not only did I NOT have to resign, I could teach as long as I wanted. I taught until March Break, she was born April 8, and I returned to teaching in June. I was allowed three unpaid months. I will always remember when teachers started paying into employment insurance – January, 1972. You had to have paid into it for ten months before you could claim coverage. I was so annoyed, I kept threatening to have another baby because I knew I would never claim it any other way!

Also, during these years the last addition was build, and I got a real classroom, and the teachers now had a room, and did not have to sit in the room where all the supplies were kept! I had the fun of designing the room. By then, we were as a  recognized special education program, and there was funding to set up the room. I had three long cupboard on casters built which together were the length of the room. There were electric strips along that wall, so I could plug in where ever I wanted. There were slanted shelves in which to store art work, and materials. It was a dream.

One very unusual thing was the make up of my class – I had several older girls. We learned to do comparison shopping using flyers from grocery store, learned to read recipes, and even made our lunch every other Friday. This was mostly the girls’ lesson, but the boys were involved as well. We would sit down on Monday and decide what food we had to work with, and decide what the meal would be on Friday. One would say her/his mom said she had potatoes , another carrots, sometimes a piece of meat. I bought a lot of stuff , and the principal (Mom) would often supplement our food. One time she bought us a little ham. We baked it, the next week used the bones, and pieces of meat and had bean soup. We also made bread! One unit was exploring the difference in taste, cost and convenience of cooking vegetables or baking cakes from scratch or purchased. It was so much fun.

I was not happy when the powers-to-be had decided to set up some new experimental program in a few schools, one in a  neighbouring school, and who do you suppose they chose to be the teacher, despite my reluctance.  I left my class – everyone in tears – and headed to my next experience. Right from the beginning I did not like the fact I no longer had my own class- no one to say, “That’s my teacher ”  My job title was S.E.R.-  special education resource teacher. Years later after the program was used all over, I went into a meeting as a S.E.R. teacher and came out as a L.P.S. teacher – Learning Program Support.This was to help people understand that “Special” does not always mean learning problems. One year I went from working with kindergarten and grade one children who were obviously going to have problems, get in my car, drive to the main school and teach grade nine math to four very bright grade eight students. I almost had to give my self a shake to go from ‘slow’ to ‘fast’! I would either work in the classroom to help the teacher, or take some children out to work with me – once more in the Teacher’ Room. Later the little satellite schools were closed.

I had been trying to get out of special education and back to regular classes. My principal understood, and was trying to help, when he was told to ” keep his hands off the School of Special Education.” The problem was I had the qualifications and experience. I did manage to teach grade three for one year, and when they tried to put me back in Sp. Ed., I took a half time leave to complete my degree, and was a LPS teacher the other half of the time. After a few more years as a resource teacher, I finally got my own class, albeit a primary special ed. class in another school.

This was a real cultural shock. I went from a school where the children came from mostly middle and upper class families to an inner city school where the majority were on assistance! I had eight children – ages 8 to 10. Multiply that by 5, and that’s what it was like. All but one came from the same type of family. In that school, many in each class had problems learning. What got them entry into my class was behaviour! Well. I wanted a class of my own!

I spent the next three years in that room with the most wonderful children. Once they realized my expectations, for the most part they were well behaved.  I told them they couldn’t help having problems learning to read, but they certainly could help how they behaved, especially when walking in the hall, and I would accept NOTHING else! They worked hard, made the best possible progress. One time a new teacher commented on how lucky I was to have a well behaved class as most weren’t like mine. I could feel myself bristling, but another teacher said she should have seen them when I first started! He saved me from saying something probably a bit rude!

I did some of the same things as with my first class. We did baking, and I talked the teacher of the senior special class into making a Christmas dinner. We had the whole thing. There was some food they had never seen! My class had made rolls and pumpkin and apple pie. We had an inspector, two special ed. consultants, the principal and vice principal serving the food! It was a great success. The children were so pleased with what they had done.

One of the biggest changes teaching in this area was their reaction to special things I did for them. The first Hallowe’en party, I didn’t ask the children to bring food because I knew they really couldn’t afford it. There were times they themselves didn’t have enough food. So I made up a plate for each – celery with cheese whiz, several kinds of sandwiches. pickles, cheese squares and cookies. They ate hardly anything ! I went to the principal in puzzlement. He started to laugh and said they were taking it home to show what their teacher had done for them! I suspect they also shared the food. They absolutely loved anything done for them.

That is when I started wearing bright coloured clothes and big earrings. They would come up and touch them with big smiles on their faces.

One time we made rice krispie squares. The next day one girl came and said her mother wanted the recipe. I was about to tell her to look at the recipe on the box, when I realized she probably couldn’t read it! So I printed it out on a big recipe card, made sure the girl could read it, and sent it home.

One day, we were not having a good day. One girl was out of it, running around the room screaming. I was standing in the door so she couldn’t “escape”. Two other boys decided this would be a good time to hit each other. I thought to myself, ” I gave up nights and summer holidays to get my degree and specialist for this?” I started to laugh! Brenda stopped running around, Walter and Ricky stopped fighting, the whole class staring at their teacher laughing so hard. I told them what I had been thinking. They sat down and started to work. I am sure they were thinking I got along so well with them because I was as bad as they were!

My principal liked to be in control of everything, and we often had some nose-to-nose confrontations. But, there was one area where he let me be in charge and that was the yearly interview with the parents on the achievements of the year, and goals for the next. I believe we both came from home that were short of money and I think he tried to act rather stiff and formal to hide it, and in no way wanted the community to know his roots. As those of you who know me will confirm, I couldn’t act stiff and formal if my life depended on it. I had lots of family and friends who still had problems, and I just talked to the parents as if I was their next door neighbour. I didn’t think anything of it! The principal said in all the years he had been there, he had never heard them talk so much, and really listen. This was one of the few times he told me in person he approved!

I had paid into a self-funded leave. I took 80%pay each year, and the fifth year I received the 80% that had been invested by the Board and had a year’s leave. This was the year they decided to close many of the spec.ed contained classes, and since I was leaving my class got the axe. I was furious, and when the consultant came to tell me, I asked him how he could make that decision without ever visiting my class. He said not all classes were like mine. I was not particularly polite when I retorted, “Then get rid of the teachers, not the classes”  Oh they loved me!

I could not have stayed there too long anyway, or I’d have burned out. It was just too all consuming. I think I  cared too much, and didn’t have the ability to hold back some of me for my sanity as many of the others could.

So. June of 1985 was the end of my years in special education….. on to my last ten years.

 

 

 

ALL THE KIDS I’VE TAUGHT (PART THREE)

In 1965,  I began a new phase in my teaching career. I went from one (or two) room schools with multi grades in each to one room with just two grades – a 2/3 class, although I had the top grade twos, plus five who were quite slow and it was their second year at this grade, the grade threes were all good workers and fun to work with – so I actually had three grades.

There was another change in our life. We had finally decided we just couldn’t make it with only half the income from the farm, so we bought a house on #32 highway, and Lloyd got a job at the Cow and Gate plant. His first job was to help make cheese, and butter, and then at the end Enfalac, which was a baby formula. The first year was a little tough as Lloyd was laid off before he had worked enough for employment insurance, so we survived on my salary. My monthly cheque was just over $300 a month. With that we paid a mortgage, car payment, insurance ,the groceries, etc., as well as baby food! We were sure when he got called back to work, and worked through the winter the next year. We lived there for five years, then bought the farm from Lloyd’s parents, using our house as a down payment on the farm.

I really enjoyed my experience teaching at Wm. Hiscocks School near Gananoque. When I went to school at Long Point School, Mr. Hiscocks was the inspector. I am not sure how it came about, but he told me when I became a teacher, I could teach in his school. In a way I did, since it was named after him. The only real challenge was that the principal was a boy who had gone to high school with me, and he had become a real stick-in-the-mud! One thing I found strange was during an inspection visit, he was very pleased at the visual aids I had made to teach the math lesson. I thought all teachers did that sort of thing. Perhaps I was ahead of my time!

That winter, things were happening back in Pittsburgh Township where I had taught before. That was the year all the rural schools had been closed, and the children were sorted by grades. Because the addition to Joyceville School wasn’t complete, the one room schools were reopened, only this time only one grade per school. The group that this had had the most negative affect on were the seven year olds, going from grade one ( probably only 2 or 3 in their grade) in a one room school to a room full of kids all the same age. The school board realized that those having the most problems would have to spend the next year in a smaller group, so they were going to open another school for this group.

I am not sure who mentioned me, perhaps the inspector, but one of the trustees approached my mother to see if she thought I would be interested, at quite a hefty salary increase. Always ready for a new venture, I accepted, and the next year I was in Woodburn School which was one of the newer one room schools. It had a teacher’s office and indoor washrooms!(the other one room schools did not!) It was the school built to replace the one Lloyd had attended.

So, September , 1966 I started my career as a special education teacher. I had thirteen eight year old boys, most of them unable to read very much. I had no idea what I was doing. My first challenge was that the train tracks ran right behind the school, and every time a train would go by, they would stand up to look at it. So I decided a unit on trains would be a good idea. By the time the boys spent two week tracking every train , as to east, or west, passenger or freight, type of cars, etc., they didn’t stop working to look at them.

The next challenge was behaviour. So I started bribing them (oh, right – using behaviour modification . They could earn so many points a day – as a group, not individually,- and after so many points we could have a party! It worked, except that one of the boys was of the Jehovah Witness faith, and if it was Hallowe’en, Christmas or Valentines, he could not celebrate . I also learned that when they were working, if I played classical music on the record player, they seemed more contented!. One day in the spring, they went to a pond, caught a frog and we had a frog jumping contest!- a lesson on frogs, and measuring.

While I loved it, it was very taxing. A supply teacher told her father-in-law , who was on the school board, that I should have at least one day off a week! I got a bad cold, went to the doctor and got medication, but apparently not soon enough. I became concerned when my legs and hands started to swell. As soon as the doctor saw me,he said to go to the emergency and take a suitcase because he suspected I would be staying. It turns out that I had had strep throat, and I am allergic to the streptococcus germ and it had affected my kidneys and I had nephritis. I hadn’t even realized that my kidneys had almost completely stopped functioning. It was very scary. I lost over twenty pounds of fluid in two weeks. After two weeks, I went home for the remaining six weeks of school. After a pretty quiet summer, I passed a health check, and returned to teaching in September – with a few changes.

It had been decided that not only was being isolated hard on the teacher, it was not the right solution for the boys. The boys from the one side of the township went to the school in their area, and they put me with the rest of the boys, plus a few girls in the teachers’ room at Joyceville. We spent several years there before the next addition was put on the school and we had our own room. I also had to spend as much time as possible sitting down. Lloyd bought an old metal stool with a back, at a sale. He sprayed it gold, and I spent much of that year on my “throne”.

I will talk more about my twenty years as a special education teacher in the Part Four. Part Five will be my last – kindergarten.

 

 

 

ALL THE KIDS I’VE TAUGHT (PART TWO)

After we were married for one year, an opportunity came to teach at the two-room school at Joyceville which was two miles away from home. I applied and was accepted. This was the first of two times I was interviewed , and hired, by the trustees (all three of them) in my living room!

Because I was teaching the senior room, I was the principal! It is a bit embarrassing when you are 21 and have to point out to the primary teacher, who not only has taught for twenty years, but is also a neighbour, that she made a mistake in her attendance register. Because it is so important that the primary teacher is not overwhelmed by numbers when starting the students on their educational path, I took the grade fours. I had 42 students, grades four to eight! There were eight grade eights. This was an extra stress, because there was a pressure that your students did well when they went to high school in grade nine.

There is an advantage to having attended a one-room school, because you understand how they work. I was taking over from a teacher from the year before, who .while was an excellent teacher, had had a few problems. However with so many students, it was quite a job, and I soon realized (with threats from the doctor) that this would probably be my one and only experience of being principal of a two room school! Of course I did it to myself by accepting the ten grade four students which actually should have been in the other room. The inspector told my mom, who also taught in that township, that I was trying to teach each grade as if it were the only grade and was doing too much. I never have been able to take the easier way!

It was an interesting year. I had two great, big grade 8 boys who got on each other’s nerves. One day they got into  physical fisticuffs  outside at recess. In those days teachers did not do yard duty. Someone ran in to tell me.  I rushed out and got between them to stop them. Thankfully John was able to stop his fist about 2″ from my face – I know, how stupid can you be! I brought them in and reamed them out (at which I am very good !) Then I told them if they ever did it again they would get the strap, but I wouldn’t be doing it. They would strap each other. Now of course, I couldn’t have let that happen, but they didn’t know that! It worked. They sized each other up – both six feet tall – and never fought again!

I also had a girl with severe behaviour problems. Some times she had to go into the office to cool down. To this day, if you know where to look , there is my name- now faint- written in Magic Marker in the office of Joyceville P.S..

I solved the question about whether to resign, or tough it out another year by becoming pregnant! Then I HAD to resign. At that time, you could not teach if you were pregnant, and there was no such thing as maternity leave. Thankfully, as often happens with a first pregnancy, there was no telling bump for the remaining four months and I resigned. My mom applied for, and was accepted as the new principal. She kept this position until she retired twelve years later. By that time the school had been added to two times and had twelve classrooms.

I thought my teaching career was over for a while. My mother-in-law certainly assumed that! However it wasn’t long before Lloyd and I realized we needed another income, as he and his father farmed 150 acres, and there just was not enough money for two people starting out. I interviewed and was hired for a teaching position the following year in a grade two-three class. Christopher would be ten months by then, and I knew a woman who only took one child at a time to baby sit.  I didn’t have the nerve to tell Lloyd’s parents right away. They were so annoyed at my next move, I decided not to rock the boat any more! Everyone knew, once she had children, the mother stayed home to look after them.

On the next road there was another one room school. Up until that year there had been a wonderful teacher. She had left to teach grade six at the school where I would be the next year. They had hired a young man who wanted to be near Queen’s University to he could work toward his degree. What a disaster! By March, everyone realized he had to go, and they needed an experienced teacher, and fixed their eyes on me! (I was 22!) Again, the trustees came to me to talk to me – in my living room! They wanted me to teach at their school. I pointed out there was no way I could talk to them, since they already had a teacher under contract. They said, well if in a week’s time we find ourselves without a teacher, would you come and finish the year?

This was the beginning of big changes in the school system. The one-room schools were being closed, and they already had a salary contract.They bribed me with the next year’s salary! I said if I could find someone who would come and live at our house, as a nanny, I would. I put an ad in the paper, and immediately got a call from a young woman who had just arrived from Holland to visit her pen pal, and she needed a job. We went up to Kingston and interviewed her, and hired her. We brought her home, and set her up in her room. It turned out her pen pal lived about five miles from our house! It was meant to be! A neat add-on is she and her pen pall became engaged, and married the next year!

The young man was reassigned to another rural school that had even more students and assisted the teacher with the senior grades.

The following three months were some of the most challenging, and most satisfying, of my teaching career. They were in such bad shape. There were two grade one girls. One had learned to read because her family taught her at home, the other one had spent most of the time walking around hitting anyone talking with a pointer! The grade eights were in almost as bad shape. I have a degree in Canadian history and that is the only time I read The British North America Act !! He actually made them copy it! They were so far behind that they willingly came an hour early every morning for extra classes. By the end I only had to fail one boy. He has since told me it was the best thing that happened to him as he had started school a year early. This gave him a chance to mature. He went on to do well in school. He also was the one who told people (when I was around) that Mr. **** did a lot of PT (physical training – in other words let them play outside a lot) but Mrs. Chase didn’t seem to like it! In fact there were very few extras. They worked all day. As young as they were they knew they were in trouble. Added to that was the knowledge that the next year they would be in a room full of children the same age, and they didn’t want to be behind.

At the end of June, the school was closed. This was the end of my multi-grade teaching. I went home to my baby, the nanny moved to the home of her fiance and got ready for a new teaching experience.

 

FATHER AND SON

In appearance and personality you could not find any two men who are more different than Lloyd and Christopher. Lloyd is fairly tall with a slim build, and fairly quiet, keeping his thoughts to himself (of course many people say he doesn’t get much chance to talk!) Christopher is fairly short and stocky. Many think he takes after me. Actually he is a typical Chase – short of stature, but a stocky build.  My family, on the other hand, except for me,  tends to be taller. It was his misfortune to take after the Chase men in height and Cindy took after my family! Christopher is also quite verbal- OK, I agree part of him is certainly me

However different they are, they have such love and respect for each other. Before Christopher was born, I read something about men sometimes are a bit jealous of their first born because they are no longer the single focus of the mother. When we got home from the hospital, Lloyd took Christopher and carried him to show him off to his parents in their part of the house, leaving me in the car. I thought, “Well that’s one problem I obviously don’t have to worry about!”

Christopher was with Lloyd wherever he was allowed – at the barn, where he would sleep nestled up to a cow, as she chewed her cud after being milked; riding on the tractor with him; taking oats to the Co-op to be ground; just anywhere he could go. He started working in the barn at a young age as all farm kids do. The first job was usually feeding the calves from pails of milk, or milk replacer –  at times a messy and totally disgusting task. You always wore a coat ready for the rag bag. You’ve never felt anything worse than a coat sucked on by a calf after it has had its meal!

As Christopher grew older, his responsibilities grew as well. By the time he was 18 we felt comfortable leaving him looking after the farm as we went on a two week cruise.

Of course – in our family at least – there are funny father-son stories – the dead chicken, the bat, the snowmobile, the CB, the turkey vultures  and the skunk are some.

The first happened when Christopher was really young – about 3 or 4. He thinks he has blocked it from his memory. Lloyd was killing a chicken for Sunday dinner. Any of you familiar with this action know the nerves keep the muscles moving after they are killed, so they flop around a bit after. Christopher was standing there watching (to farm kids, this was just a part of life) Lloyd chopped off its head and dropped it to ground. The chicken started flopping around – right at Christopher! For a few seconds, wherever he went, the chicken seemed to go too! He sure welcomed his dad picking him up, even though he didn’t appreciate Lloyd having a good laugh!

Another time, evening this time, they were walking in from the barn after milking. As they went under the big yard light, Lloyd saw this bat swooping. He yelled, “Duck, Christoper!”.. and he did, and the bat continued on and flew right into the gas tank. There it was on the ground. Lloyd thought it would be funny to throw the ‘dead’ bat at Christopher,  which he did. However the ‘dead’ , stunned, not dead,  bat spread out full width, stuck to Christopher’s shirt until , after screaming and yelling, he shook it off! I am not sure Christopher has quite forgiven him, but does see the funny part.

The snowmobile incident, I am almost positive, Christopher still has trouble seeing the funny part, but the rest of us have no difficulty! We owned two farms, one right behind the other. In the winter it was faster to go to the barn at the other farm by driving the snowmobile there. One time the snow was so deep that they got stuck. Christopher got off and was pushing at the back, as Lloyd at the front, was pushing and gunning the snowmobile. All at once it started to move and he jumped on and got moving…… with Christopher hanging on, being dragged behind. Now , later, Lloyd told Christopher he had had to keep going, or they would have been stuck again. To this day Christopher does not believe him. As they were coming to the house, I could hear Christopher yelling at his father, using words I didn’t know he knew. He kept yelling at his dad as he went upstairs to change his snow filled clothes – everything, and I mean everything was snowpacked! After I heard the story, I couldn’t reprimand Christopher for swearing – besides it’s hard to bawl someone out when you are roaring with laughter.

The CB incident was more about me. We bought a CB to use to communicate between farms. Christopher and Lloyd were trying it out as they went to the other farm (in the truck on the road this time). We wanted to see if it would work that far. Part way there, they tried it out. All I can remember is Lloyd’s sign off ” OK Big Mama!” Apparently Christopher said, “Oh, you’re going to pay for that” When they came in the door, Lloyd had a smirk on his face, and Christopher’s eyes were big in wonder. I started for Lloyd, finger pointed, then poking him in the chest, saying with emphasis, ” BIG MOMMA? BIG MOMMA!” Christopher, said, “I told you so, Dad !”

One mid-summer day they were fixing fence. It was one of those very humid, extremely hot days. Christopher was really suffering from the heat when Lloyd said,”Look Christopher!” There on every fence post was a turkey vulture, with its wings out trying to be cooler. Christopher swears to this day that they were eyeing him up for a feast. Now Lloyd disputes Christopher’s insistence they were also on the ground surrounding them! Being a fan of horror stories, and having my sense of imagination, I suspect these vultures made it into his dreams!

The last story is probably the funniest of all. I wish Christopher could tell it, because when he told it at our 40th anniversary, he had everyone howling with laughter. In fact, our minister said he could never look at Lloyd the same again!

We had a Scottish Terrier, Kirsty. At night, she would sleep under a little bush at the side of the house, tied to a long rope. In the middle of the night we heard Kirsty barking. While a Scotty is small, it has the bark of a mastiff! We jumped up and ran downstairs, and Lloyd pulled Kirsty inside . We saw a skunk hightailing it to the barn. Lloyd grabbed his gun, put on his rubber boots and headed toward the barn with Christopher,  who had grabbed his machete (don’t ask) from the tent where he was sleeping. Did I mention Lloyd doesn’t wear PJs? Actually he wears nothing. I stood on the corner of the front step watching them go toward the barn. All I could see in the mist under the yard light, was this long white shape, and hear the ‘flip flop’ of rubber boots. Not long after,  Christopher came back into the house. I asked if they had had any luck. Christopher said, “No, we separated and I didn’t have a light (pause) but then I did have clothes” We started laughing and by the time Lloyd came back we were actually leaning against each other howling, making up slogans, like “All the protection you need – rubber boots and a gun” Lloyd, wearing nothing but a sheepish grin, looked at us,  shook his head and went to bed! The next night, the skunk came back. Lloyd got him. He was wearing clothes this time!

I have a friend who loves to come to dinner when Christopher and Carolyn are here. Christopher and I get telling stories of events that have happened – we sort of feed off one another! Lloyd sits there with a grin, adding a few words. We love to laugh!

What a wonderful friendship they have!

 

ALL THE KIDS I’VE TAUGHT (PART ONE)

Two days ago I heard Willie Nelson singing “All the Girls I’ve Loved Before” I could not get the tune out of my head. However I found myself sing “ To all the kids I’ve taught before”!

So I decided if I wrote about them I might get that out of my head.

First of all, I didn’t want to be a teacher. I wanted to do something with mathematics – I wasn’t sure what. At that time girls could choose between being a nurse, a teacher or a secretary if they planned on working. I was raised on a farm in a house full of love, but very little money! Mom said she couldn’t afford to send me to university. She could afford the one year of teachers’ college, and I could teach, save my money, and get whatever additional schooling I wanted. So she gave me $100 a month – $60 for room and board, and the other $40 for bus fare, transportation home on the weekends, and anything else I needed. I didn’t know until many years later how hard on the family that $100 a month was. (The next year I paid Mom back the $900)

I remember the first day I went into a classroom as a student teacher. As I stood up there, delivering my carefully prepared lesson, all of a sudden it hit me. This is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life! I had found where I was meant to be.

First I want to explain why I call them “Kids” I remember a student teacher, whose father taught at that school, saying her dad never called them ‘kids’, he always called them ‘students’ because it was more respectful. That took me back for a bit. Then I decided that just pointed out the difference in our teaching style. He was an excellent teacher, but a bit remote. I, on the other hand, was more ‘hands on’. The time came that we were told we were not to touch the students in our class.  I said I might as well quit right then, because if I couldn’t touch , I couldn’t teach.  I wasn’t to pat someone on the shoulder for good work, or give them a hug when standing by them. But I just kept on as I always had. When you are a kindergarten teacher and a little four or five year old comes crying to you because you are the closest thing to a parent he/she has right then, you have to be able to pick them up, hug them and let them sit in your lap until all was well.  I’d like to get my hands on the disgraceful teachers who abused their position and make it difficult for the rest of us. In a round about way I am trying to explain why I say kids…. because they’re MY kids. Once you were in my class, you remained “my kid”  forever.

As I mentioned in my introductory blog, I began teaching six weeks before my eighteenth birthday at Maple Hill P.S. near Sunbury. I will never forget the first day, standing on the platform (about six inches high) at the front of the room, with twenty six pair of curious eyes staring at me. They were wondering about a teenage teacher, after having had one for several years who was close to retirement. I wasn’t afraid ( I didn’t know that I knew nothing!) I was just so excited! I used bribery as a behaviour modification. If everything was done, and they had behaved well all week, part, or all of Friday afternoon, was spent having fun – baseball, soccer, sliding down hill in the winter (followed by hot chocolate), Red Cross meetings, whatever we decided.

There were three in grade one, four in grade eight (the two most important grades in a one-room school). The other fourteen were scattered in the other grades. As well there were four children from one family who were severely developmentally delayed. No one told me I couldn’t teach them, so I did. I had no idea what I was doing. I gave them very simple tasks, and if they didn’t disturb the other children in the morning, in the afternoon  they could cut out pictures from magazines, and paste them into scrapbooks that I bought.  At our Christmas concert the primary children held up letters for an acrostic, and the youngest boy of that family, who was non verbal, held up an exclamation point! The community was not particularly happy having the family in the area, nor with the neighbour who rented them the house. They credited me with getting them out of the area. One of the girls had taken her reader home. I had stressed over and over  that it must be brought back every day. After they had left for school, their father realized the book was still at the house and he walked all the way to school to return it. By the time he got back home he was so cold he put too much wood in the stove, the chimney caught fire, and then house burned down. I was teased a lot for a while!  Another incident with those parents , this time the mother, happened  the first day of school.  I could see that the children had impetigo on their faces, and I knew they couldn’t be there, so I sent them home with a letter. About half an hour later this woman stormed in, neither her hair, face or hands had seen soap or water in a long time. She was screaming and using words not in the school curriculum! The other children just sat at their desks terrified. I don’t know how I managed it, but I got her calmed down and she went home and took them to the doctor and got salve. I think after that, the parents decided their children would be safe with the teenage teacher!

Of the four grade eights in the first year, three of them received their B.A.’s before I did. I don’t know how far most of the others went, but I did attend a teachers’ conference with one of them!

Every once in a while something would happen to take me down a peg or two. One of the funniest is onr day the oil was delivered for the stove which heated the room. There was a knock at the door and I went to it. The delivery man asked to see the teacher. I said, “I AM the teacher” He started laughing and said, “You’ve got to be kidding!” He was still laughing after I signed the bill and went back to his truck. In his defence, I had my hair in a pony tail and always looked even younger than I was.

The teenage girls were so excited about the fact that their teacher had a boyfriend, then an engagement ring, and at the end of the second year they served at our wedding reception.

My three years there were so wonderful. I was treated with respect, even though I was younger than many of their older brothers and sisters. I always assumed part of their behaviour was because it was a farming community and they had had to learn responsibility. One day Mom (who drove me to my school before going to hers) had trouble getting me there because of the snow. When I walked into the school, the older kids were hearing the younger children read!

I am so proud of those kids. They went on to farm, teach, nurse, and many other occupations. One, Mike Mundell, is well known because of his business, as well as being a lay minister. Imagine how I felt the day I introduced him to our church congregation as the guest minister! The funny thing is, every time he sees me he apologizes for his behaviour those three years.  He was a tad mischievious!

Since I taught for thirthy-six years, and this is just the first three, you can see why this will be more than a one day topic!

THE MATRIARCH

One of my brothers-in-law once commented we were a family of matriarchs! This does not mean we are bossy (well maybe a little)  It definitely doesn’t mean we married men who are wimps! All it means is that in each generation, there are one or two women who assumes the responsibility for keeping our extended family together.

My Collins Canadian dictionary describes a matriarch as ‘the female head of a tribe or family’. 

My Grandmother Blackman (Ma) was the first I remember. While we seldom got together in her smallish house, she still held the reins. It was really funny to see her two daughters (Mom and Aunt Ruby) scurrying around doing what she wanted. Ma was under five feet  (of all her grandchildren, just hazard a guess who was the only one who took after her in height),  Mom 5’7, Aunt Ruby a little shorter, but there was no question about who was in charge.

When I was small, my mom sort of took over the task. I can remember Christmas Day. One side of the family (I think it was the Jones side) came at noon, and the other came for the evening – turkey one meal, goose the other. But Aunt Ruby did most of the hostessing  once she had a bigger house.  Mom by then was a school principal, and didn’t have as much time. Aunt Ruby continued even after Uncle Ted died and she lived in a double wide park model in the trailer park in Elgin  We were rather packed in. At that time my title was “Matriarch-in-training”

One Christmas day, she took my hand and said,”I think the time has come for you to take over.” The time had come, now I would be in charge of the family!  Oh yeah, right.

Now, by looking at my picture you can tell I am matriarch material – dignified,poised, graceful, genteel. I should instill a desire by all my subjects to obey my every command! I don’t know what happened! They don’t do it. They just look at me and smirk, or smile in a very patronizing manner.

My siblings and as many of their family as can come, plus our two children and their families, get together four times a year, but at different houses -determined by size of house, and distance. Christmas is at our house, Easter at Dorothy and Ron’s in Morrisburg, Jones Family Reunion at our place –third Sunday in July  and Thanksgiving at Cindy and Casey’s farm – what better place to give thanks for our bounty! Everyone brings what they are told by the hostess, but usually it’s the same thing each time. Of course there are usually other times during the year we find an excuse to be together.

Cindy now seems to be the matriarch in training! She is a great organizer. Even though she is a mother of four, farm wife, veterinarian, one of the owners of a business, and involved in church activities and an avid scrapbooker, she still manages Thanksgiving dinner like the pro she is!

All joking aside, we are blessed as a family to be so close, and we give thanks to those wonderful women who started the tradition.