Monday, December 07, 2009

There is No Place Like Home

By Belinda

This is the house on Second Street; now Bayview Avenue, between Newmarket and Aurora, to which we moved on July 31, 1974. The drawing was done by Al Calverly, a social worker at Pine Ridge, for an article I wrote about the home in 1981 for the Pine Ridge News. By then it was known as Maplewood Lodge.

I spent the month before we moved, preparing to cook for 15 on a daily basis. I visited the ministry of agriculture office and picked up wads of booklets full of recipes. I still have some of them. I loved cooking, but this would be COOKING! A family at our church ran a Home for Special Care (a boarding home associated with the ministry of health) in Newmarket, and they offered to help with the meals for the first day. They gave me useful tips like where to shop in bulk.

We also met the couple we would be replacing as "house parents" for the group of ten men with developmental disabilities. They were an older couple, although I am sure they were no older than we are now. They were moving to another town to run a Home for Special Care.

They told us the routines and said about the men, "You'll find that they will be quite compliant for the most part. They were used to doing what they were told in the institution." I shuddered at those words, which I never forgot, but said nothing, I was learning, and would retain what was useful and right, discarding what was not.

The couple had a two dogs. One, named Brandy, was a big old white bulldog; slow, blind and used to the place, so they said they would like to leave him behind. We said, "Okay."

Brandy didn't stay long because he jumped through the screen door during a thunderstorm the first week we were there and his old owners thought better of leaving him behind.

The house was really two houses. The old farm house, which was probably over a hundred years old, which is seen from the front in Al's drawing, faced the road. Another house built on the back, faced the fields.

We rented the house from the York Regional Police Association who had bought it and a large acreage as an investment, from the Stevens family who were the original owners. The Stevens family were descended from United Empire Loyalists who had been granted the land two hundred years previously, having moved to Canada from the United States after the American Revolution.

It was the Stevens family who lay in the pioneer burial ground in the orchard, although then there was just one complete headstone, for Shadrach and Elizabeth Stevens. Far out in the field, at the back of the house, by the curving bank of the creek that ran through it, was another memorial stone, with the names: Daniel and Lydia Stevens. Why the stone was there is a mystery. I always wondered whether they were buried out there in a place that was special to them. In any case, in later years, when the land was filled with huge houses and the fields and creek were no more, the headstone joined the rest of the family in the orchard. The cemetery is still there, but now surrounded by a black wrought iron fence.

One day, after we had been there for several years, on a gray, misty day, there was a knock at the door and a sombre looking man stood at the door in a raincoat, carrying a briefcase. He handed me a card which identified him as a government cemetery inspector. I was surprised that such a person existed, but he told me that his job was to inspect pioneer burial grounds and make sure that they were being properly maintained. He also told me that there were 32 people buried in ours!

The ten men: Sam, John,, Ivan, Gerald, Jack, Bill, Joe, Stan, Abe and Jim, lived in the original farm house, and we lived in the house at the back. Both houses were connected by a dark stained wooden french door with frosted glass panes.

Neither house was well insulated and they were heated by an oil furnace in the cellar of the farmhouse. A big truck would come and fill up the oil tank that stood outside the house. Because the houses were surrounded by tall, shady trees, and because there were windows facing in all directions that could be opened, we all felt reasonably comfortable in summer, but in the winter it was chilly and we would hear loud bangs and cracks as the house responded to the deep cold. The pipes would frequently freeze and the plumbing to the septic system was primitive and ineffective. Paul spent many hours down below the floor boards, heating pipes, or outside digging and dealing with the septic system blockages. Now, the house would never pass a safety inspection as it was most definitely a fire hazard, but in those days it passed the regulations that were required. We just had to have fire extinguishers strategically placed.

The house stood on two acres of land dotted with trees and flowering shrubs. . There were lilac bushes that surrounded a big vegetable garden close to the apple orchard. Each May I would pick the rhubarb and inhale the fragrance of the lilac. Pink, creamy white and deep burgundy peonies were planted along the south east side of the house and bloomed every June.When we eventually moved, we dug up a couple of the peonies to take with us to our new home; a reminder of such happy years there.

The men we had moved in with were quite independent, and several of them later moved on to live in their own apartments as the home was meant to be a stepping stone. As John, Sam, Jim, Gerald, Ivan and Jack eventually moved, they were replaced by Wesley, Fred, Percy, Rodney, another John, and Tom. Then George and Mervin came to stay on an emergency basis and didn't leave, so the number of men grew to 12.

Our first night there, at about 8.30, we heard a rustling sound in the kitchen. We investigated and found several mice busily running over the countertops as though they owned the kitchen! Over the next few days we waged war on the mice and caught 25 of the critters in traps. We hated to do it, but had no choice. Thereafter we managed to keep them at bay with the help of Buffy the cat.

On my first morning as Mother of Many, I found that I had ten tutors to help me with what I didn't know, which was a lot. I had only to ask and they showed me the ropes. We were off and running...

This photograph is of Paul (with his back to the camera) writing out cheques with the men, which he did weekly, based on what they wanted to take out of their bank accounts.


Marilyn said...

(Love the 'reaction' line at the end of your posts.)

This was very interesting - the part about the land originally belonging to those who left America, the cemetery inspector, your attempts to 'gear up' for mass cooking on a daily basis, the description of the yard and your moniker "Mother of Many." :-)

The drawing is wonderful.

Are you enjoying writing these?

I LOVE when people tell the stories that only THEY can tell.

Belinda said...

I am LOVING telling the story Marilyn. It is pushing me to remember details, dig out things like the drawing and photos and piece it all together. It is SUCH a story really, and I have only told it in snippets here and there. I am so glad that I am doing this and grateful too, for those who read and encourage by doing so....:)

Julie said...

What amazing details that you have tucked away. Keep them coming

Dave Hingsburger said...

I remember our first meeting at the house, sitting at the table together. You had managed to create a real sense of home, warmth and family there. I loved dropping by for meetings and visits. Gosh were we ever that young.

Suz said...

AS always, I am loving your story. Thank you for sharing your life with all who visit your blog.