| Dec 21, 2006


Feature Article - December 21

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Christmas content 2006

Christmas in 1885

by Elaine Clarke----------------------------------------------------------------

Harrowsmith December 22,1885

Dear Folks:

Hope this finds you as well as we are here. We're looking forward to the holidays and just now are in a great state of anticipation. We expect Rose tonight and the boys home tomorrow afternoon on the train from Sydenham. Because Christmas is on Monday this year, the boys will have their half day tomorrow and then Sunday and Monday off so we will have a special time together. The boys are each enjoying their apprenticeship and Rose her second year at the High School, She, of course, gets the full week off between Christmas and New Year’s. Tom is so excited he's being saintly. I wonder how long that will last. Being 7, the holidays seem like they'll never arrive.

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Last weekend when Rose was home, the girls and Tom went to the bush and collected a sleigh full of greens and decorated both inside and outside the house. They have a wreath on the door and swags over the windows. There's an arrangement of pine, spruce, sumac, dogwood, cones and some of those bright red berries that grow on bushes along the water in an old milk pail by the door. Inside, there's a similar arrangement in a hollow birch block of wood by the fireplace. On the mantle, they arranged a number of old Christmas cards we've received over the years with pinecones interspersed. It's nice to read the messages of other times from dear friends although some from those who've passed on bring a tear to the eye. Bert and Jack, our dear hired man, found a lovely little spruce to put up in the comer of the parlour. We spent an evening popping and stringing corn to put on it. The girls and Tom save all their candy wrappers and have rewrapped acoms in them over the years and hang them from the branches. You can imagine the howling this year when they went to get the box from the attic and found the mice had discovered it and ate every last acom. So those ornaments are a little scimpy this year.

But every year Bert, bless his heart, gives me a new ornament for Christmas. He startedthat the year he proposed to me. We had had a very special day together in Kingston. Hepicked me up in the morning and took me to the train station and we caught the train tothe city on Christmas Eve. We walked around downtown and admired all the Holidaydisplays in the store windows. I remember drooling over all the Christmas ornaments onthe tree in S & R. Later, after a delicious supper in a restaurant, we walked to the harbour and he proposed. When I accepted he gave me an ornament and said he couldn't afford aring but he hoped this was the start of a large collection of ornaments. I never did figure out how he got that ornament without me knowing about it. So every year he has given me an ornament on Christmas Eve on the anniversary of his proposal. Some years he's been so apologetic because he couldn't afford a store bought one but he's carved one, woven one from rope and one year he took three cones tied them together with red ribbon and brushed them with gold paint (that he's hoarded from his single days). I treasure the homemade ones just as much because I know they were made with love. They bring back memories of the leaner years and that we made it through. We never put candles on the tree. I'm too afraid of fire. But the candlelight and firelight reflect on the candy wrappers and ornaments and give it its own soft twinkle. A few gifts have started to appear under it with much shaking and speculating from Tom. Ithink there will be more gifts under it than ever before because even Tom has something for everyone. There was much lamenting this fall about what he could get us for Christmas. (It was so nice to see him starting to think of Christmas as more than just a 'getting' time.) He is showing a real talent for drawing, so I suggested he make each of us a bookmark for our bibles with a little picture on it. We found some heavy paper at the general store and some very thin ribbon and he has been working studiously at them in the evenings.

This will be our last Christmas with Jim at home as 'one of the boys'. He is finishing his apprenticeship as a blacksmith in March and plans to marry in June. His bride to be is a sweet girl, very industrious, whom I think will make him a good wife.

She has come home with him for the occasional Sunday when he's been able to arrange a ride. He can't really afford a train ticket so tries to get a ride when he can. He has secured a position already in Verona as an assistant to the blacksmith there. As well as the regular locals needs, there is always work to be done for the railway,—repairs etc. so he will be kept busy. It's such a blessing to have the railroad so close and going both east/ west and north/south. The blacksmith has a little cottage on his land that they will be able to use for now. Although he doesn't get any wages as an apprentice, since this is his lastyear, Mr. Wilson, his master, has given him a bar of metal each month to do with as he pleases. He's able to work in the forge at his own work on his half day off. He's shown me some of the things he's made for gifts. I'm impressed. It's very fine work. He's made each of the girls a long bar, like a towel rack, for their hope chests. From it hang many hooks that they will be able to hang kitchen utensils on. His work is quite elaborate on it. He's made Tom a funny little puzzle out of metal. Peter is to receive three chisels, Bert—a new ax head and Jack a clever little vise. Imagine him making all these things for us when he'll be in need of so many things himself.Peter is enjoying his apprenticeship as a cabinet maker as well. He's shown me some of the things he's made. He's been working on mortise joints so has made the girls each a lovely box for papers or letters with even a clever little lock on each one. He has made a lovely chair for Jim's new home and a checker board for Tom so he won't be always trying to hog the game! The girls have been busy too. Jane made each of the boys and Bert a new shirt. They do go through them at their work. Rose is to get a set of tea towels from her with some huck-a-back embroidery on them (for her hope chest) and Tom is to get new mittens. She made Jack a clever scarf that buttons snuggly down so me ends don't trail in stuff when he's working.Rose has knit all the men a pair of socks and embroidered Jane some handkerchiefs. It's work she can do in the evenings while she is boarding at school. She does miss the family evenings together. Next year I hope she and Jane will have a place where they can board together and be company for each other. Then we'll be down to only one at home.I've made each of the men new trousers. Some of them have patches ontheir patches. The girls each are to have a new hood. Jack caught some rabbits last year and tanned their hides. So I've lined the hoods with fur and rolled it out around the edge so a little can be seen. I think they'll like them. They'll be nice and warm to wear outside in the winter storms and will fit right down inside their coat collars.I don't know what Jack has been up to this year. That fellow can sit right in the same room with you on an evening and you'll never catch on what he's doing. All you know is that at the end of the evening there's a pile ofwoodchips all around his chair.Last year he made the girls and me each a butter mold with a beautiful carving for the top. He is so clever with a knife. Bert is no slouch either, with a piece of wood. He's made the girls each a sweet little shelf to mount on the wall beside their bed. Their initial is carved in the base of it.He's made the boys each a new tool box and Tom is to get a new sleigh. The old one isjust worn out from all the use the others made of it. He got Jim to make runners for it at work. As well, in the children's stockings, he's got a brand new silver dollar to put in with their orange and bag of candy. We've had a very good year. He was able to sell a couple steers at a good price and the crops were plentiful. Now with the new cheese factory, there's a steady demand for milk. When I think of those first years, I'm ever so grateful for where we're at now.I know the girls will be cooking up a storm tomorrow, preparing. Bert shot two turkeys yesterday, big fellows. We'd seen the flock around quite a bit this fall and hoped they'd be still here at Christmas. We have lots of veggies from the garden, turnips, potatoes, carrots, cabbage for slaw and canned peas and corn. We'll have buns and pickles and cranberry relish. Our neighbours always go cranberry picking back north for a couple days and give us a basket to thank us for doing their chores while they're away.Of course there'll be apple, pumpkin and mincemeat pies. Aunt Denise always sends a fruit cake. She's so generous. She always sends everyone a 'store-bought' gift as well as some special treats like chocolates. We just send her things from the farm, some maple syrup, butter, walnuts, some vegetables and a ham. She seems to appreciate it and says there's nothing like home produced goods.Brother Dan and his family will be here tomorrow for the day and well as Dad and his new wife. All are doing well and have had a good year too. After the meal our good friends the Mathews will come over in the afternoon for games and songs. Their company always has to leave early to get home in time for chores. The girls look forward to their visit because they always exchange squares for quilt patches then with their girls.

At supper time, the men will divide up and do chores at the two places while the women prepare a light meal of turkey, cheese, rolls, coffee and cake. Then there'll be more games and parlour tricks until everyone has to leave. I'm going to have to keep an eye on Peter. I think he'staking notice of Amelia Mathews lately. She's turning into quite the little lady and suddenly in Peter's eyes she's not just his sister's bratty friend.

Well the night grows late and there's much to do tomorrow. Hope yourChristmas is bright and cheerful and our love and best wishes for the New Year.

The Clarkes

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