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There is No Place Like Home

By Belinda

After sharing the story of my "One Perfect Day," a friend who read it shared the fact that she is a descendant of the family who once owned the land on which we lived for almost ten years, and which Brenda and I visited on my perfect day, Saturday.

She was interested in any information I had about the Stephens family and also curious about our history on the farm, so I thought that I would share again this blog post that I wrote in July of 2009.  I may post some more of the posts I have written about that place where we were very happy.

This is the house on Second Street; now Bayview Avenue, between Newmarket and Aurora, to which we moved on July 31, 1974, when I was just 24. 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, a name chosen by the men with developmental disabilities who lived there.

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, is seen from the front in Al's drawing, and 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 Stephens family who were the original owners. The Stephens family were descendants of the 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 Stephens family who lay in the pioneer burial ground in the orchard, although then there was just one complete headstone, for Shadrach and Elizabeth Stephens. 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 Prior and Lydia Stephens. 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.

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