The Farm

RR#1 Vespra was where many of these stories took place. It was where the “poor dirt farmer tried to scratch out a living in the sand”, per se.

The Maple Syrup Operation: It Was One Sweet Story

(Thanks to my brother, Jamie, for this contribution)

After buying 80 acres of pasture and bush, getting us to move into a dirt floored cabin until the house could be built, dad seceded that he wanted to make maple syrup. He knew next to nothing about the process, but as always, the library had a wealth of information. After scouring a number of books, Dad he was ready to take on the maple bush. If it was in a book – Dad could do it.

First, he ordered an attachment for his chainsaw and a special bit (The saw rotates opposite of a drill, so the bit had to cut backwards) Then, he ordered 200 spigots along with the pill you have to put in behind to stop the tree from “healing” itself. He went out and bought an old fuel oil tank and had a local shop in Craighurst cut the side out, weld a pipe and tap onto the now bottom, and steam clean the inside of the tank. They also welded a stand to sit the tank up to allow the fire to be built underneath.

He set up his first attempt at this beside the old cabin deep in the woods…. the one we slept in for 4 months whille the house was being build.  He tapped trees on the other side of the stream. His original intention was to bring the sap back by wagon, but we’d had lots of snow that winter, so that idea was out. His next idea was to take a plastic garbage can and use the snowmobile to collect the sap. This worked well at the start, but as the snow started to melt and the packed snow wasn’t as solid, a number of cans full of sap were lost to tip-overs, as my brother Jamie and his friend David Clark can attest.  The sap was not only “wet” but it was sticky.  What a mess.

The tank didn’t allow for accuracy of any kind when it came to temperature control, so there were a few batches that were lost due to burning. It was a tricky process getting the sap to a really light syrup, then drawing that off to finish on a Coleman stove. Even with a hygrometer to measure density, it was seconds sometimes between the “perfect draw’ and a burnt glob. Dad persevered though and got it down to a reasonably fine art, even with a fuel oil tank for an evaporator.

He used old wine bottles for his first syrup containers, and considered the year a rousing success. He managed to make 12 bottles of syrup that year, and had collected about 2000 gallons of sap to accomplish that.

Dad was hooked, and for the remainder of our time on the property, March was Maple Syrup time. He moved up from the tank to a professional evaporator manufactured in Quebec, with a “sugar shanty” to keep the elements out and allow for a better product. His best year was 200 litres of syrup produced … at a ratio of 60 gallons of sap to produce 1 gallon of syrup, we collected 12,000 litres of sap that year.


The maple syrup was “liquid gold” to most folks, especially Mom and Dad.  For us, my brother and I, it created golden memories and sweet tales.

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If Hats Could Talk: An Ode to The Straw Wonder

The Hat

It sat for many years upon a lightly “haired” head.

It heard the brum-brum-brum of Dad’s chainsaw deep in the woods.

It drank the sweat that ran from Dad’s brow as he planted potatoes in the blaring sun.

It shielded Dad from blow after blow from anxious and frustrated deer-flies that knew they were close to a fresh meal but just couldn’t figure out how to get it.  The powerful blow from a raised hat that swiped the air was never enough to deter the voracious winged predators.

It bore witness to the  screams the acres of raspberries directed towards Dad,  “Prune me, feed me, till me, pick me!”.

It smelled the maple that curled up and around Dad’s head as he smoked a batch of Billy Burgers for week-end guests.

It yielded to the grasp of Dad’s hand as he ventured out the back door of the house on the farm, hell-bent on beating those, “damned potato – bugs”.

It rested quietly on the shelf of the cedar closet Dad built for mom on the farm. 

It pines for Dad now on my sofa.

It beckons to Dad to be worn.

It pleads with me to not leave the family.

It sits.

It waits.

It sleeps – maybe even dreams.

It hats could talk… I know it would have tales to tell.


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Helen’s Mountain

Never climb mountains alone.

The flowers remain on the dining room table, as fresh as the day they arrived. The table, however, is empty where there was, only days ago, a cornucopia of never-ending goodies.

The best part about the Malloff reunion (Mom’s side of the family) is the arrival of the clan and everything afterwards.  The worst part is when they leave.  I get the sense of what it feels like to be “empty-nesters”.  Yuck.

Leaving Auntie Helen, Mom’s sister, at Toronto International today was like losing Mom again.  The two could not be more different – nor could they be more alike.  Nonetheless, it was our clan’s matriarch, Auntie Helen, who brought everyone from across Canada and the US to celebrate our family.  This reunion happens once a year but this year was the first when neither my Mom nor Dad were in attendance.  Well, at least they weren’t here physically.  The were certainly here in spirit and we never once forgot that.

The day before she left I took Auntie Helen to visit Mom and Dad’s final resting spot.  It was then when Auntie Helen said good-bye to her sister and life-long friend.  She gave a kiss to each name mounted on the outside of the niche housing their remains.  Time stood still.  She asked for some time alone and I could hear her talking once again to Mom and Dad.  It was her time for closure.  Each person has to have closure and each in his/her own time.  My son David and I sat on the bench by the main path and an older gentlemen must have caught us wiping away each others’ tears as he kindly offered us some flowers to give to whoever it was we were visiting.  He didn’t know.  Our tears were not for our loss – but for Auntie Helen’s loss.  I remember how difficult it was to see Dad grieve the loss of his bride of 61 years.  And that was tougher to take than it was for me to even lose Mom.  This was no different.  I can only imagine how painful it must be to lose a sister that you have know for 84 years.  Actually, I can’t.  But I do know that Auntie Helen mourned in peace and with grace and dignity.  She placed a carnation for Dad and a white rose for Mom.  Dignity.  She wished them, “good-bye”.  Dignity.

We then went to visit the old property where the owner graciously invited us in to tour the home.  There had been many renovations completed and in spite of the changes, the spirit of the old place still seemed to be there.  Tina, the new owner, invited us to go back into the woods if we liked.  So we did.

Slowly, we moved through the bush and reminisced about each nook and cranny.  Auntie Helen had been there so often, she knew it just as well as I did.

Through the woods and around the corner – there it was… her names-sake, “Helen’s Mountain”.  It really was a very tiny incline no more than 2 metres – and very gradual.  But this mountain had been a challenge for Auntie Helen years ago during her virgin voyage on cross-country skis.  She was terrified of the incline – which was a decline from her original approach.  She took off her skis and walked down the slope.  Well, the story was told so often about this scary spot that it eventually had to be re-named, “Helen’s Mountain.”.

I asked Auntie Helen if she wanted to tackle that mountain one more time.  She jumped at the opportunity – and so, with cane in hand on one side, and my son David on the other, she approached the mountain, walked half-way up, turned and posed for a photo.  She did it.  One fear conquered.

We climbed back into the car and made our way home after a stop at Brown’s Farm and once more to Mom and Dad’s condo.

I guess each of us has a mountain to climb and Helen, during this family reunion not only tackled one, but she tackled yet another – the loss of her sister and brother-in-law who were my Mom and Dad.  How did she do it?  Well, it certainly was not tackled while she was on her own.  The mountains Auntie Helen climbed this past week were climbed hand-in-hand with family – family of both past and present.

Categories: Family and Friends, Life After Dad, Life's Lessons, The Farm | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

Corn is for Pigs

“You know we used to feed corn to the pigs to fatten then up, eh, Stace?”


“Sure. It is full of sugar.”  

“Oh”, I said in dismay.  “But it is so good.”  

“It is good for you – just don’t eat as much as the pigs do.”

“Thanks, Dad”, I would respond.  

This is the conversation that played over in my head as I shucked the corn my husband and I had just purchased from Farmer Brown.  The trip out to the farm itself was rather nostalgic.  I had made this trip at least once a day when I was growing up – as we lived past Farmer Brown’s farm and my school was in Barrie.  Nothing really seemed to have changed – other than there were new street lights about to line the exit for Dalston – the exit leading off Highway 400 to Farmer Brown’s farm.  

“Are you Connie?” I asked of the pleasant looking woman waiting to assist us at the corn stand beside her home. 

“Yes.”, she answered. 

“I’m Stacey.  Paula Duff’s daughter.”

“Oh, Stacey. I’m so sorry I’ve never connected with you since your Mom passed away.  She was a wonderful woman.”

“Connie,” I began, “Mom used to freeze your corn and it tasted absolutely wonderful.  I never watched her freeze it as a young person and now I absolutely regret it.  Her corn was the best in the world.  You don’t happen to know how she did it, do you?”

“I gave her the recipe.  Would you like it?” 

My heart leaped as though that recipe was going to lead me back to Mom.  “Yes! I’d love it, thank-you. And I’ll take two dozen corn while we are at it.”

“Yellow corn, or peaches and cream?” Connie inquired. 

My answer was obvious.  Dad was one of the first farmers in Simcoe County to grow peaches and cream corn.  He was always so proud of it – he had planted it in the front yard of our country home.  Corn brought nutrients to the soil that would eventually allow grass to grow in the sandy soil that existed throughout the farm.  I remember he had a staff party at the farm once, and he had promised his staff a corn roast.  He and I went out to pick the corn the afternoon of his party.  We’d examine a cob on the stalk and if it was “perfect” we’d pluck it off and holler out a count.  He would take the first cob, “one”.  I’d take the next, “two”.  That way we’d know how many we had both picked to keep track of our harvest.  Almost at the count of 20 it began to rain.  We didn’t care. We kept on plucking the corn.

 “25”, I shouted through the rain.  

Dad responded, “26, 27”. 

And on we went until we counted nearly 200 cobs.  He wanted to make sure everyone was able to feast on this very unique, very special corn.  

That afternoon, the rain cleared, the guests arrived.  The driveway looked like a parking lot.  There must have been 50 people or more all feasting on the corn that Dad grew in our front yard.  It was fantastic corn – Dad received rave reviews.  It was not too long before the body builder came out and songs were sung – adults slid down my very own little kids slide (the one that used to usher us into the pond that Dad built). Fun was had by all.  I think at least until the next morning when a few of Dad’s staff experienced the body – builder head-ache.  

And then my thoughts caught up with my hands.  I finished shucking eight cobs and put the water on the stove to boil.  Mom always said, “Don’t cook the corn too long – only five minutes.”  She religiously put on her egg timer so that the corn was sure to cook for ONLY as much time as necessary to cook to perfection.  “Don’t overcook the corn. You’ll spoil it.”, Mom said.  

“I know Mom.” I remember saying while rolling my eyes as a kid.  

I don’t have an egg timer – but I will use the electronic timer.  And the corn will not go in the pot until everyone is ready to eat.  

Ben arrived home from life-guarding moments ago.  “Ben”, I announced.  “I have fresh corn from Farmer Brown’s.”, expecting him to understand the significance of my statement.  

“Oh, I’m not hungry, Mom.”  Sigh.  Oh, well. And Ben continued, “.. and don’t they feed corn to pigs to fatten them up?”  

Oh good grief.  

Categories: Family and Friends, Life After Dad, Life's Lessons, The Farm | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Who Has Seen The Wind?

"Sunrise, sunset"My favorite quote, written by W.O. Mitchell: “Who has seen the wind?  Neither you nor I.  But when the trees bow down their heads, the wind is passing by.”

Every morning, when Paula and I lived on the farm, we would be given breath.  We sat at our breakfast table and looked out through the sliding glass door to a most magnificent landscape.  The cedar trees were gracious.  They must have been nearly my age today – even then.  Two of them sat side by side in some random act of kindness.  These cedars hosted a variety of birds and species of critters that one could not imagine nor capture merely by eye.  The morning gross-beaks were the most frequent flyers in these trees.  They would arrive en masse in the winter – disappear into the cedar trees and then emerge as though in an ambush – for the sunflowers seeds Paula insisted I put out for our guests each morning.

One morning we were watching our outdoor program, when a hawk flew right into the window.  God he was magnificent!  He hit the window with such a powerful force that Paula and I thought for sure he was dead. Paula was in a dither.  “Bill, what are you going to do?”.  Funny how these types of wild-life incidents became an automatic personal responsibility.

“Nothing.”, I replied.  “What can I do?”

“Save him”.  Paula insisted.

Well, I don’t know anyone who has given mouth to mouth to an hawk before but I think Paula would have been grateful if that “hawk-man” exchange could have been me.

Needless to say, I didn’t give the hawk beak-to-mouth, but I did go outside to check on the thing.  It was still breathing – the talons were HUGE.  I knew that whenever those things must have hooked a mouse there was nothing that that wee mousie could have done but give a squeal.

I came inside and Paula immediately said, “Is it okay?”

“I think it just stunned itself, Paula.” I replied.  It will be okay.

My words seem to ease her tension for a while.  “Besides, there is really nothing we can do.  It’s had a wonderful life here on the farm – it was free to soar in the air and take its pick of fine food – it was free to nest in the back 40 and to have a family.  What a life.”  Oh, how I always wished I could soar like that hawk.

But, it was not this hawk’s time to go.  Almost in an instant, the bird “snapped to it”.  There was the initial wobble, and then – it was gone.  I don’t know if it was the wind – but the cedars shuddered – I think the hawk took full advantage of those cedar trees for some necessary R and R.

What a spectacular view Paula and I had.  We never did see the hawk again – but our morning breakfast at that table by the window were never the same after our magnificent visitor had graced us with a view from our own chairs.

Who has seen the wind?  Neither you nor I.  But when the cedars bow down their heads, the wind is passing by.


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The Dam

As much as I love animals, there is one that has stymied me for years.  This creature is hard-working, tenacious, and capable.  In most circles, if this animal were a corporate employee, it would be fast-tracked up the corporate ladder.

I first encountered “the beaver” in 1967 when Paula and I purchased an 82-acre tract of land just west of Craighurst.  Yes, this is the place I’ve written out in previous posts (On Duff’s Pond, The Night Bandit to name two).  It was the boonies in 1967 – nothing near by.  No humans to slow the growth of the beautiful maple forests or the old oaks.  Nothing to obstuct Mother Nature except God himself – God…. and the beavers.

There was a beautiful stream that ran through the property – it was spring fed.  Those waters were crystal clear and mighty cold.  This stream was a perfect habitat for minnows, frogs, and the summer supply of water cress.  The beavers loved this stream too and when Paula and I explored into the back 40, we found that they loved the stream so much, they had build and established quite an extensive dam.  The dam must have been more than 40 feet long with two overflow channels.  It incorporated several trees and flooded an area that was navigitable (and we did build a raft for the kids to ride on) by vessel.

At first blush, anyone would have thought, “Gee, this pond is beautiful.”  The kids would often sit in the shade of the wild cherry tree that stretched its branches over the waters of the pond and do their best at fishing.  I have to admit, it seemed like a real oasis.  The sound of the water trickling over the spillway of the dam was quite calming.

When one walked upstream, however, one could observe quite quickly that this beautiful little oasis came at a price.

I guess the beavers had a good life there with all the nice soft trees so close at hand – and no humans around.  They propegated and their family grew.  With a growing family comes a growing appetite and the beavers needed to make the dam bigger to host the larger family.  They knew the current dam was at its limits so, instead, they went upstream and began the construction of the “granny suite”.  Of course, the second dam flooded a great deal of land where beautiful trees were growing.  If the trees remained flooded for too long they too would die.

I knew I was in for a fight.

I recruited some help from my cousins and early one morning we headed upstream to dam # 2.  To deconstruct a beaver dam by hand takes a great deal of strength and time.  The branches are so interwoven into the structure and glued together by mud!  It was tough work.  Eventually we were able to get a hole large enough to create a slip-stream for the backed up water and we let the water pressure behind the dam take care of the rest.  The water gushed through the dam.  Soon, well, in about an hour or two, the water was back to normal and I could hear the trees saying, “thanks”.

We headed home – tired and quite pleased with our work.  We had left the branches and twigs and such beside the dam with the intention of taking them away to clean up the next day.  I had a great sleep that night and was anxious to get back to cleaning up the next morning.

After a fantastic farmer’s breakfast, my cousins and I headed back to the dam.

Well, the beavers had not slept that night – they had been, in fact, very busy.  The water level of the pond was right back where it had been the day before!  I must admit I was a little stunned.  How on earth they had managed to stop the water and re-build I’ll never know – beavers are quite the engineers.  My cousins and I decided that the only thing to do was to rip the dam apart a second time.  “Surely that will discourage them”, I said.  So – away we went to work again.  This time we removed the wood at once.

Tired, and dirty and mosquito bit, we headed back for Paula’s culinary delights.  Once again, we anxiously awaited the next morning to see what would happen.

I saw it in the distance this time – I knew this meant war.  I had under-estimated my opponent.  The dam was re-built – this time better and stronger than ever.

From that time on, I had a new respect for this wonder of nature.  I always imagined the beavers watching us struggle to dis-assemble their engineered interlocking wood – and laughing.

The fight was won… but the battle was far from over!

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Billy Burgers and Polly Dogs

This was a post that my Dad and I created a year ago. Actually – I created it on behalf of my Dad as he was “out of stories” at this point in his life. I remember, though, how wonderful it was that I could pull stories out of a hat – based on what I knew so well about my Dad and how he felt about life – in this matter – Billy Burgers and Polly Dogs. I think this was one of the last posts that I read to Dad that he actually “edited”. How lucky I was to be able to share these days with him – and time with both Mom and Dad to know these stories intimately. Anyhow – I re-blogged this one in memory of Mom and Dad – Hope you enjoy! – Stacey (the ghost writer)

Most people would agree that there are some pretty “beefy” BBQs on the market these days.  What would life be like without these super models?  Well, my friends, I have a confession to make.  I have never been a fan of these new tools of the trade. I am a pioneer and to this history I have remained true. Especially when it comes to barbequing.

Paula, my beautiful wife, loved to shop.  She also loved to cook.  But I, however, was the master of the outdoor grill. Paula and I entertained a lot when we lived on the farm.  Every week-end there would be at least 4 or 5 people who would come to experience the “country life”.  This would include a swim in the pool, some of Paula’s famous veggies with sour cream and onion dip, some “body builder” (home-made wine) and for dinner…Billy Burgers and Polly Dogs.

The secret to a great burger was the way it was cooked, although I must admit that Paula did mix the burgers from scratch with her secret recipe!  Early in the afternoon, I would gather some twigs from the bush – I’d recruit the company to help to add to their “country experience” – and some larger kindling.  I would pile these strategically on my little, round, BBQ and set a match to the whole works.  While everyone else was cooking with charcoal and gas – I cooked with wood.

My favorite type of wood to use was maple.  Boy, that would give the burgers a good flavour.  The trick was to get the fire going nicely so that you could get some good coals.  After about an hour or so, I’d set the grill down – cover the lid and let the heat build. The coal had to glow. No flames were allowed.

I never got over how surprised our guests from the city were that you could use wood to cook food.  Imagine! I guess they were just too spoiled from having indoor cooking surfaces.  Really.  Wood stoves were a part of my life.

In any case, in a ceremonious way, the burgers were presented by Paula to the BBQ and on they would go.  I’d get them seared on both sides and then – lower the lid to get them smoked over the maple.  Sometimes the wood would be wet and we could hear the sap sizzle as it evaporated out of the wood in the heat.

The Polly dogs were our guests other “smoked meat” option.  Truthfully, they were just hot dogs, but boy did they taste good when they were cooked over wood!

A little cheese and a few condiments made this meal complete.  Paula’s caesar salad was always a hit – her dressing she made from scratch.  And, yes, it was made in a different blender than the one I used to make “Beetle Juice” from.

We all had a great time on the farm.  It was so different too eating in the great outdoors.  The bug zapper took care of the dusk mosquito attacks – or at least until they got so thick that we all had to rush inside for a reprive.

While everyone else hid indoors, I’d start another fire in the bonfire pit.  It was a good way to get rid of all the scrub brush that I had hauled out of the back 80 acres during the day.  We’d tell our guests that the mosquitoes knew there was fresh city blood coming that week-end and that’s why there were so many of them around.  City blood was always sweeter. (grin)

One of the best memories I have of those bonfires was the singing and dancing that we did with the help of a couple glasses of body builder.  My wine was a little stronger than the average wine and sometimes it was a little challenging to restrain our enthusiastic guests.  With the help of my collection of hill-billy band instruments including a mouth organ, string – bucket, and washboard, everyone had a good time.  Remember, “Oh, Susanna’s the funny old man..?”

The next morning – all that was left of the celebrations were a few groggy heads, tipped chairs, and good laughs.

The billy burgers and polly dogs were indeed a hit – but without our good friends to share these tastes and times – no one would have been quite so  “fired up”.

Cheers to the memories!

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Negotiating My Faith

I have never been a religious person.  I have always had a faith, but I guess I was raised that faith is something you practice, not get when you go to church.

The farm was my church.  God was with us in the trees, the birds, the deer.  I respected nature and admired the creations.

Paula and I raised our children to have a faith – we always said grace and reminded our kids that we need to be grateful and appreciate the things we had.

Paula always wanted to join a church, though.  Her Dukabor heritage had introduced her to a different world than I was used to.  He father, Michael Malloff, did not approve of the way the Russian community would cater to their spiritual leader – Peter Verigan (sorry about the spelling!) Michael was a hard worker and to him, it didn’t seem right that a man could become wealthy without doing the hard work.  Michael withdrew his support for the Russian leader and although he remained a man of faith, he did not attend church.

Don’t get me wrong.  Paula and I did spend some time at church – the first church we attended in Barrie was Burton Avenue Presbyterian.  Paula taught Sunday school and Stacey was baptized there. But, when we left Barrie to move out to the farm at RR#1 we just seemed to be living in faith and didn’t feel the need for church.

Several months before she passed away, and I almost wonder if she knew it was coming, Paula joined Collier Street United Church with Stacey and her family.  I wasn’t interested.  I didn’t feel the need to advertise my faith or to be a church member.  I didn’t see the benefit.

Paula would often attend church services to hear Dennis Posno preach.  She’d come home feeling better – lighter – and sometimes Stacey would read Dennis’ sermons to me that had been posted on-line.  I have to admit he was good.  I enjoyed his sense of humour.  He didn’t seem to take himself too seriously – and that was good enough for me.

It was November of 2010 when my world collapsed and I watched as paramedics took Paula away from me.  I thought Paula was coming home – she always had come home before.  She was strong.  She had been a nurse.  I was worried, but I felt that it was best for Paula.  Stacey tried to bring her home where she had wanted to be – but on the morning she was to come back to me – she passed away.  She made a journey that no one had really anticipated.

Not a day goes by that I don’t think of Paula – I see her in my dreams and I see her in my wake.  I know I need to be with her – but for some reason the good Lord has decided that it is not my time.

I still have faith – and I am confident that I will be with Paula again one day in the House of the Good Lord.

For some time, I was able to go to church with Stacey and I really enjoyed hearing Dennis.  He always made a point of coming over to me and asking me how I was doing.  There were many others that did the same thing.  I felt welcomed there at Collier.  It made my road a little less “lonely” to walk down.  I still missed Paula terribly but it gave me some comfort to know that the Minister had known Paula and had been the one to preside over her funeral.  I joked that he was now presiding over my life – but not too much.

I feel grateful to Dennis for the gift he gave to my family and I.  He must have sensed to “lay off” the preachy stuff and stick with the essence of Paula.  He represented her life beautifully.

I think what I appreciated most about him was when he came to my home to gather stories about Paula – he sat with us and listened with an open heart for almost two hours.  Okay – what I liked about him even more was that he joined us for a glass of wine.  Wine, in my world, represents celebration.  And I guess that night – we were celebrating and rejoicing in Paula’s life.

Between Ruth – who looked after Paula during her final moments and Ruth and Dennis  – who continue to look after my family after Paula’s final moments – I have enough faith.

One day I will join Paula if I’m lucky enough – I know my family will be okay while they continue to accept the hand of our Good Lord.  They will never walk alone.

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Cabin Fever

Time passes quickly when you are having fun – at least that’s what they say.

My family and I lived in the little cabin in the woods with the stream in the back well into the month of November when the frost came.

It got cold at night.  But we were very hearty folk – and early in the morning – Paula and I would get up before the kids, break the ice in the wash basin and light the fire to warm the cabin. It was cold!

Okay – the kids were not as hearty as Paula and I.  They complained that it was “freezing” at night – I guess the ice on the wash basin was a good indicator that it indeed was freezing.

There was another cabin in the woods that was more of a luxury model than ours.  It belonged to my cousins Doris and Russ Speers from Toronto.  Well, to be exact, the cabin was built by Russ, but I owned the land and I’d often remind him that if he didn’t behave we’d have the cabin towed to the road.  It was a luxury model as there was a propane-fired stove, fridge, and heater in the cabin. The kids insisted that we “move up” to this model – and so we did.

I think the kids thought they were in Heaven as there was heat.  I think Paula thought she was in the big leagues too as she had a “real” stove that did not require wood!  We actually had a fridge.

Remember that we only lived in the cabin(s) while our own house was being built.  I couldn’t wish that date would come fast enough. It was difficult to shuffle working full time at Canada Manpower (now the Employment Centre on Owen Street), raising two children, and trying to keep the home-fires literally burning.  I guess I didn’t check in on the home construction often enough.

One Saturday morning I awoke in the frigid cold to see my breath in the crisp autumn/ soon to be winter air.  I decided to check in on the house.

Well – as I approached the house I saw the vent from the furnace spewing vapours – the furnace was on – there was a furnace!   I walked into the house and saw, much to my chagrin – the workers asleep on the floor of MY NEW HOME snug in their heated residence.

I hit the roof – kicked them all out – moved my family in – and that was the end of that.

I always insisted to the kids that they would look back on their “Duff’s Pond” experience fondly and to this day we do all share a few chuckles at the experience.

Stacey and I return to the scene of the crime – the cabin of frost – every once in a while and remember why we appreciate modern conveniences so much.  Still – there is no place like Duff’s Pond!

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Night Bandits Strike Again

I guess I should have known that the racoons would eventually figure things out, but who knew they could be so clever?

Life in the cabin in the woods, as I had mentioned previously was quite rustic.  Since we had no electricity (which also meant there were no utilities bills to pay) we also had no refrigeration.  This gave us quite a challenge to overcome as we lived in the cabin during the summer months of July and August and the nearest store was a 15 minute ride to Barrie.

I rigged up a big “ice-box” kind of contraption just outside the cabin and kept it full of ice.  It was here where we stored our fresh produce, meats, and any other perishables.

Paula used a wood-oven stove to cook our meals on.  It was Jamie’s job to gather and split the wood to fill the wood-box so Paula could literally keep the home fires burning.  She boiled water on the stove to wash the dishes and was even able to bake fresh bread in the oven.  I’ll admit it got a little hot in the summer, so we ended up moving the stove outside.  I made sure it was well enough under the trees so that if it rained, Paula wouldn’t get too wet.  She really didn’t like this idea too much – but it worked and it brought both of us back to our childhood.  Paula even used “flat irons” that she heated on the stove to iron my shirts.  We were really living in the lap of luxury then.

Anyhow, back to the cooler.  One night I awoke to a terrible clatter.  There were loud screams and banging that sounded like the clash of pots and pans.  I threw on my house coat, got the flashlight and headed out the door to see what was the matter.  There – on the cooler – were a set of raccoons staring right at me.  I’m not sure who was more stunned – the raccoons or I.  I guess they must have figured I was some sort of menace since they eventually took off into the woods.

I told Paula the next day that we would have to pay special attention to that cooler as raccoons were clever and could usually figure out how to get into things.  She told me not to worry – just put a heavy rock on the top.

The next night – once again – I awoke to loud clatter.  The raccoons had knocked off that heavy rock and were working on the locks of the cooler.  I shooed them away once again.

“I’ll fix them, ” I said to myself and I went and bought a lock.

The lock did fix them  – after all it is a pretty fool-proof security system for even the best of thieves.  They tried to get it open.  They tried, and they tried, and they tried.  They pounded on the lid, they cried, they jumped all around that tin box until I couldn’t stand the noise anymore.  The lock worked, but the noise kept me up all night.

My colleagues were a little worried about me the next morning when I crawled into work looking a little haggered.

“What happened to you?”, they asked.

Wearily I replied,  “I was up all night listening to a pair of raccoons trying to break into my cold – storage box.”

They looked at me at little stunned.  “What do you mean your cold-storage box?”.

“Where we keep our food.”

I think to this day some of them believe that we must have been flat broke and out of luck – and that must be why we had no refrigeration.

I ended up exchanging the tin cold-storage box for a plastic cold-storage box and that ended the night escapades with those raccoons.  They eventually gave up  trying to break in to the food.  But then, I heard them on the roof trying to get down the stove pipe which was connected to the wonderful smells radiating from the oven.

We never did serve up raccoon soup, but we all appreciated the episodes brought to us courtesy of the night bandits.

The Luxury Cabin in the Woods

Categories: The Farm | Tags: , , | 12 Comments

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