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- Life in Canada Fifty Years Ago - 4/31 -
sir, I would. To my mind, Mr. President, a smoky chimney is no more to be compared to a scolding wife than a little nigger is to a dark night." These meetings were generally well attended, and conducted with considerable spirit. If the discussions were not brilliant, and the young debater often lost the thread of his argument--in other words, got things "mixed"--he gained confidence, learned to talk in public, and to take higher flights. Many of our leading public men learned their first lessons in the art of public speaking in the country debating school.
Apple trees were planted early by the bay settlers, and there were now numerous large orchards of excellent fruit. Pears, plums, cherries, currants and gooseberries were also common. The apple crop was gathered in October, the best fruit being sent to the cellar for family use during winter, and the rest to the cider mill.
The cider mills of those days were somewhat rude contrivances. The mill proper consisted of two cogged wooden cylinders about fourteen inches in diameter and perhaps twenty-six inches in length, placed in an upright position in a frame. The pivot of one of these extended upward about six feet, and at its top was secured the long shaft to which the horse was attached, and as it was driven round and round, the mill crunched the apples, with many a creak and groan, and shot them out on the opposite side. The press which waited to receive the bruised mass was about eight feet square, round the floor of which, near the edge, ran a deep groove to carry off the juice. In making what is known as the cheese, the first process was to spread a thick layer of long rye or wheat straw round the outer edge, on the floor of the press. Upon this the pulp was placed to the depth of a foot or more. The first layer of straw was then turned in carefully, and another layer of straw put down as in the first place, upon which more pulp was placed, and so on from layer to layer, until the cheese was complete. Planks were then placed on the top, and the pressure of the powerful wooden screw brought to bear on the mass. At once a copious stream of cider began to flow into the casks or vat, and here the fun began with the boys, who, well armed with long straws, sucked their fill.
By the roadside stands the cider mill, Where a lowland slumber waits the rill:
A great brown building, two stories high, On the western hill face warm and dry;
And odorous piles of apples there Fill with incense the golden air;
And masses of pomace, mixed with straw, To their amber sweets the late flies draw.
The carts back up to the upper door, And spill their treasures in on the floor;
Down through the toothed wheels they go To the wide, deep cider press below.
And the screws are turned by slow degrees Down on the straw-laid cider cheese;
And with each turn a fuller stream Bursts from beneath the graning beam,
An amber stream the gods might sip, And fear no morrow's parched lip.
But therefore, gods? Those idle toys Were soulless to real _Canadian_ boys!
What classic goblet ever felt Such thrilling touches through it melt,
As throb electric along a straw, When the boyish lips the cider draw?
The years are heavy with weary sounds, And their discords life's sweet music drowns
But yet I hear, oh, sweet! oh, sweet! The rill that bathed my bare, brown feet;
And yet the cider drips and falls On my inward ear at intervals
And I lead at times in a sad, sweet dream To the bubbling of that little stream;
And I sit in a visioned autumn still, In the sunny door of the cider mill.
It was a universal custom to set a dish of apples and a pitcher of cider before everyone who came to the house. Any departure from this would have been thought disrespectful. The sweet cider was generally boiled down into a syrup, and, with apples quartered and cooked in it, was equal to a preserve, and made splendid pies. It was called apple sauce, and found its way to the table thrice a day.
Then came the potatoes and roots, which had to be dug and brought to the cellar. It was not very nice work, particularly if the ground was damp and cold, to pick them out and throw them into the basket, but it had to be done, and I was compelled to do my share. One good thing about it was that it was never a long job. There was much more fun in gathering the pumpkins and corn into the barn. The corn was husked, generally at night, the bright golden ears finding their way into the old crib, from whence it was to come again to fatten the turkeys, the geese, and the ducks for Christmas. It was a very common thing to have husking bees. A few neighbours would be invited, the barn lit with candles.
Strung o'er the heaped-up harvest, from pitchforks in the mow, Shone dimly down the lanterns on the pleasant scenes below; The growing pile of husks behind, the golden ears before, And laughing eyes, and busy hand, and brown cheeks glimmering o'er.
Half hidden in a quiet nook, serene of look and heart, Talking their old times o'er, the old men sat apart; While up and down the unhusked pile, or nestling in its shade, At hide-and-seek, with laugh and shout, the happy children played.
Amid jokes and laughter the husks and ears would fly, until the work was done, when all hands would repair to the house, and, after partaking of a hearty supper, leave for home in high spirits.
Then came hog-killing time, a very heavy and disagreeable task, but the farmer has many of these, and learns to take them pleasantly. My father, with two or three expert hands dressed for the occasion, would slaughter and dress ten or a dozen large hogs in the course of a day. There were other actors besides in the play. It would be curious, indeed, if all hands were not employed when work was going on. My part in the performance was to attend to the fire under the great kettle in which the hogs were scalded, and to keep the water boiling, varied at intervals by blowing up bladders with a quill for my own amusement. In the house the fat had to be looked to, and after being washed and tried (the term used for melting), was poured into dishes and set aside to cool and become lard, afterwards finding its way into cakes and piecrust. The out-door task does not end with the first day either, for the hogs have to be carried in and cut up; the large meat tubs, in which the family supplies are kept, have to be filled; the hams and shoulders to be nicely cut and cured, and the rest packed into barrels for sale.
Close on the heels of hog-killing came sausage-making, when meat had to be chopped and flavoured, and stuffed into cotton bags or prepared gut. Then the heads and feet had to be soaked and scraped over and over again, and when ready were boiled, the one being converted into head- cheese, the other into souse. All these matters, when conducted under the eye of a good housewife, contributed largely to the comfort and good living of the family. Who is there, with such an experience as mine, that receives these things at the hands of his city butcher and meets them on his table, who does not wish for the moment that he was a boy, and seated at his mother's board, that he might shake off the phantom canine and feline that rise on his plate, and call in one of mother's sausages.
As the fall crept on, the preparations for winter increased. The large roll of full cloth, which had been lately brought from the mill, was carried down, and father and I set out for a tailor, who took our measurements and cut our clothes, which we brought home, and some woman, or perhaps a wandering tailor, was employed to make them up. There was no discussion as to style, and if the fit did not happen to be perfect, there was no one to criticise either the material or the make, nor were there any arbitrary rules of fashion to be respected. We had new clothes, which were warm and comfortable. What more did we want? A cobbler, too, was brought in to make our boots. My father was quite an expert at shoemaking, but he had so many irons in the fire now that he could not do more than mend or make a light pair of shoes for mother at odd spells. The work then turned out by the sons of St. Crispin was not highly finished. It was coarse, but, what was of greater consequence, it was strong, and wore well. While all this was going on for the benefit of the male portion of the house, mother and the girls were busy turning the white flannels into shirts and drawers, and the plaid roll that came with it into dresses for themselves. As in the case of our clothes, there was no consulting of fashion-books, for a very good reason, perhaps--there was none to consult. No talk about Miss Brown or Miss Smith having her dress made this way or that; and I am sure they were far happier and contented than the girls of to-day, with all their show and glitter.
The roads at that time, more particularly in the fall, were almost impassable until frozen up. In the spring, until the frost was out of the ground, and they had settled and dried, they were no better. The bridges were rough, wooden affairs, covered with logs, usually flattened on one side with an axe. The swamps and marshes were made passable by laying down logs, of nearly equal size, close together in the worst places. These were known as corduroy roads, and were no pleasant highways to ride over for any distance, as all who have tried them know. But in the winter the frost and snow made good traveling everywhere, and hence the winter was the time for the farmer to do his teaming.
One of the first things that claimed attention when the sleighing began, and before the snow got deep in the woods, was to get out the year's supply of fuel. The men set out for the bush before it was fairly daylight, and commenced chopping. The trees were cut in lengths of about ten feet, and the brush piled in heaps. Then my father, or myself, when I got old enough, followed with the sleigh, and began drawing it, until the wood yard was filled with sound beech and maple, with a few loads of dry pine for kindling. These huge wood-piles always bore a thrifty appearance, and spoke of comfort and good cheer within.
Just before Christmas there was always one or two beef cattle to kill. Sheep had also to be slaughtered, with the turkeys, geese and ducks,
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