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View from the West Hill

View from the West Hill

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View from the West Hill

220 pagine
3 ore
Nov 17, 2013


Mary Cook has published almost a dozen books, all of which have become Canadian best sellers! These are books compiled of memories of a more gentle time in our era called the Dirty Thirties. Cook transports us back to that time with humour and sometimes pathos, but always with a warmth unmatched by writings of that genre. She introduces us to characters, who turn out to be real people from her past, and who appear time and again, so that we, the reader, become so familiar with them, we can actually picture them romping through the pages. Mary Cook was a well-known broadcaster with CBC for 48 years, bringing her warm and delightful stories to an appreciative audience, and earning her seven ACTRA awards! She has written for Canada’s major newspapers and magazines, and is in constant demand as a guest speaker both here and in other countries.

Nov 17, 2013

Informazioni sull'autore

Mary Cook is a retired police detective that lives in a small town right outside a ring of fire, just on the other side wait, that’s a different character.Actually retired, with hours and hours to write the next great novel, oh wait...nope that’s me. Yes, totally retired. Worlds come alive in my head, characters stand over my shoulder, and sometimes they wake me up at night. All of them want to come alive, to have their stories written. No matter how I think the story should go, it goes according to how the character decides it should. An evil character finds redemption. A beloved character is massacred for no good reason. They all write their own stories.The ideas come to me, the character develops a personality, and the result is a book. I sincerely hope that everyone will love my books, but what I write isn’t for everyone, and that’s okay. (Is it Mary? You sure you don’t want me to take care of it?) (Get back in the book, Ann!) I love to write stories that make you think, maybe make you a little uncomfortable. I am actually a pretty boring person. Retired, live in a dungeon (my office), two birds and a dog. Every now and then my husband expects me to come out and interact with the world, and I do (begrudgingly). Writing is my hobby, I used to do other things with my hands, crochet, knit...but then I got old(er), and they just don’t work as good as they used to.On a more personal note, I do have children. I have three grown children, and lots and lots of grandchildren, with a few great-grandchildren. It’s like they’re in a competition on who can produce the most. If any of you read the back of the book, you’ll know that there’s more. But, outside of that, nothing. Boring. So, I bring life and color into the world through the pages of my books. Every time someone buys a book, or gives a review, I’m delightfully surprised. My eternal gratitude to all of you, for reading what I have written, and allowing me to become a small part of your life.

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View from the West Hill - Mary Cook


The west hill. It was always a favourite spot of mine when we lived on a Renfrew County farm in the Ottawa Valley in the thirties. The hill, which sat like a large lump on the landscape, was uniquely formed in that a person could approach it from one side without having to climb a steep slope. It was called the west hill, of course, because it was west of our house. We could see it plainly by looking out our back kitchen window.

In the winter it was a wonderful slide hill where we took our home-made sleighs and an old, battered toboggan that Father managed to talk someone out of in exchange for a couple of bags of grain. When we went to the west hill to slide down it, we always circled it first in order to avoid the steep side. But, once poised at the top, we aimed our sleighs towards the Bonnechere River at the bottom and proceeded down the steep slope. Then, when the slide was over, we walked to the other side, and there we were at the top again. I was never able to figure this out as I thought at the time that a hill should be exactly the same on all sides.

The very top of the west hill was covered with tall pine trees and several sprawling maples. The maples stood out against the sky like big, protective soldiers, and it was under these trees our cows liked to rest on a hot summer’s day. I often watched them from the kitchen window and saw that they, too, took advantage of the easy climb by going around to the other side to get to the top.

During a terrible electric storm one day we watched in horror as lightning hit a maple, killing most of our cows under it. It was a long time before I would go back to the west hill. I can still see Father and my brothers dragging those cows off the hill to bury them — and I remember so well the anguish and the worry that came from that accident. There was a concern that we would never recuperate from the loss.

But my fear of the west hill and the threat of bankruptcy subsided. Before the summer was gone I was back, sitting under the pine trees and eating the lunch I had brought in a little honey pail. I was a timid child back then, and the hill was the perfect place for me to be off on my own. Yet, I could still see our old log house, where I knew I could be in minutes if the need for escape arose in a hurry.

Sometimes my sister, Audrey, and I would go to the west hill to do our embroidery. I think I loved those times on the hill the best of all. We would pack all our coloured threads and the bleached flour bags we were working on into a sewing basket, and with a little lunch (I never liked to go anywhere without a little lunch) we would head for the hill. Audrey would have a quilt over her arm, and we’d spread it out under a tree. From the top of that hill we could see for miles. There would be Father and the brothers moving around in the barnyard below or Mother going to the clothes-line or the smoke house. Up there on the hill Audrey and I would talk about things that only two sisters could talk about. Even though I was much younger, those wonderful west hill talks always made me feel that I was equal to Audrey.

A patch or two of wild flowers grew on the west hill, and lots of buttercups. Audrey would pick a buttercup and hold it to my throat. If it cast a golden shadow, then I was going to marry a wonderful prince and ride off into the sunset and my life would be filled with joy and happiness forever. Wise as she was, Audrey always told me she could see a golden shadow.

Now, so many years after we left the farm, I still miss most the west hill and all it meant to us as children. When I returned to see it after being away for so many years, the hill looked exactly the same. And, as always, I still walked around to the other side to get to the top. So many things change but stay the same.

It’s difficult to recall those years of growing up on the farm in the thirties without marvelling at the ingenuity of the people whose everyday survival was an exercise in perseverance. Very little money changed hands among the farmers we knew because very little money was in circulation. Most people didn’t even have bank accounts. It’s hard to say if this was because there was no money to put into the bank or because of the abiding fear that the few dollars a farmer managed to deposit could be lost if the bank went out of business. Phrases like cash flow had yet to be coined. But words like barter, trade, and bargain were commonplace, with barter being the most common.

If there was any extra cash floating around, it was more likely to be squirreled away in the flour bin or under the corner of the braided rug in the parlour. Of course, everyone knew where the money would be stashed. How well I remember our parent’s instructions that if there was ever a fire, grab the few dollars and run!

A very poor farmer was one who could not keep food on the table. This was because there was always plenty of meat, loads of vegetables in the garden, and fruit on the trees. The truth of the matter was our family ate well.

Over and above the everyday needs of our stomachs were other needs as well. School-books, boots, medicine, coal oil . . . staples not grown or produced on the farm had to be got somehow. To pay for these necessities almost every farmer we knew bartered.

As with most farmers, we raised chickens, turkeys, geese, beef, pork, and lamb. Amazingly, every scrap of every fowl and animal was used. Killed fowl was taken to the grocery stores in Renfrew, and in return for our staples our mother would negotiate with the merchant the amount of the bill. In those days, we were very lucky indeed if even the plumpest of chickens fetched seventy-five cents. But we counted on not only the meat of the fowl: the feathers would be carefully plucked and sorted as best we could into bags of down or coarser feathers. When we had a goodly amount, the bags were sold to a dealer for pillows and mattresses. As well, our mother took a long, hard look at every bird before it met its maker. If the chicken was still a laying hen she had a reprieve as we had several Renfrew customers who counted on fresh eggs from us every Saturday. We certainly couldn’t afford to put an end to an easy few extra pennies. Good, large, brown eggs could bring up to fifteen cents a dozen — an amount that certainly wasn’t to be sneezed at. Beef was commonplace at our dinner table. In addition, the hide was cleaned and dried, and it too was sold to the peddler who called at the farm regularly.

We often traded farm items with our neighbours. For instance, our old Model T Ford came to us when our father traded nine loads of gravel from our pit to a farmer who desperately needed it to build up his lane. It was simple: he needed the gravel and we needed the car. I have seen my father trade cows for a horse, a cutter for a wagon, and a few bags of oats for sheep.

And it wasn’t above any of the people we knew in the farm community to bargain for a good deal either. Often we watched our mother spar with the grocery man for a better deal on her turkeys, or argue for more cash for the blocks of ice we drove to the creamery — ice that had been taken from the frozen Bon-nechere River in the winter.

There were always a few things for which a farmer needed cold, hard cash. A store that sold drygoods or boots, for instance, had little need for a load of chickens. But if there was a good crop of potatoes, or the hens layed well that week, or several of the regular egg customers also wanted some fresh churned butter, there would be a bit of cash to buy a few yards of print or a badly needed pair of rubber boots. And if the returns were especially fine on a Saturday, we five children would each be given a few pennies to buy cent candy at Briscoe’s store on the way home.

The thirties was a time when the phrase hand to mouth had real meaning. We grew, we cropped, we raised, we prepared for market, we bought the barest of necessities that the returns would allow. And then the whole survival process would start all over again. But, as youngsters, we children realized little of the financial hardships that surrounded us. Our bellies were full; we were ecstatic over a simple thing like a new, wooden pencil box; we laughed a lot (usually crying only if we felt physical pain); we believed with all our hearts that a higher being would take care of our every need. And we firmly believed that the gloomy stories of poverty and hardship, written in bold, black headlines in the Ottawa Farm Journal, were about another country far, far away from Renfrew County.

Not too long ago a friend brought me a delightful, little magazine from Prince Edward County. In it was an article that, for me, turned the clock back almost forty-five years. The story was about string. As I read it, I realized that I, too, shared the same memories of that commodity and its importance to all who lived during the thirties.

Everything bought at the general store was tied with string — from the half-pound of black pepper in the small, brown paper bag, to the five pounds of sugar, also in a brown paper bag, to the loaves of store-bought bread. The storekeeper was certainly not stingy with the string as he sometimes wrapped it around a package several times. Cooked meat, which came wrapped in a lighter grade of brown paper that almost resembled tissue paper, was also tied securely with white string.

The string holder in the store sat under the counter. The string was taken to the ceiling and put through a closed end nail, from which it hung limply over the counter at the ready. Once the storekeeper had all the supplies gathered at one end of the long, oak counter top, he would pack them into a cardboard box, lifting the flaps to make the box higher and tying them securely with string. There was no such thing as a staple gun to do the job.

Once we arrived home with our groceries, the string was handled with the utmost respect. As the job of looking after it usually fell to the youngest in the household, it became my task to take the string off all the packages that were in the grocery box. It was very strong, I remember, but I was not allowed to cut the knots open with the scissors. So instead I used a large darning needle, or sometimes the tines of a fork, to poke away at the knot until it was freed.

Another of my jobs was to make sure the string was ready for its next function. Into a corner spot in a drawer of the wall cupboard I would put all the loose string. Here it would stay until, at my leisure, I had time to do with it what was always my chore. On the kitchen wall was a tin box, which was usually a replica of a little boy fishing, or a little fat pig, or some other caricature. This box held a ball of string, which I had rolled. I don’t recall that anyone else in our family ever had to do the job: my older brothers and sister looked on the task with scorn, as if they were too old and mature to do something as menial as roll string.

When the ball was as fat as a hardball, I would take the string box down off the wall, put the ball into it, and feed the end out the little boy’s fishing rod. It was up to me to make sure an end was sticking out at all times. Since the ball was made up of hundreds of pieces of all different lengths, and I was not allowed to knot it as the string then wouldn’t go through the little fishing rod, I was constantly on the alert to make sure there was a new end hanging out, ready for use.

Any string left over from the ball was rolled into other fat balls. These could have tiny knots that were hardly visible, but the ends had to be cut off close to the knot. It was quite a laborious task to make the string ball appear to be one long, continuous piece. But this was necessary because the string from this roll was used for knitting dishcloths. Heaven forbid that the finished cloth would have masses of loose ends. These dishcloths were used by all the farmwives I knew in Renfrew County. After many wearings and washings they bleached out to a snowy white and were very absorbent. I had to make sure there were always a few balls of string ready for what my mother called idle fingers, which she wouldn’t tolerate.

My old, maiden aunt, who spent the winters with us, had a unique use for string. She knit little caps from it, and these odd apparitions she wore to bed to keep a chill off her forehead, so she would say.

String played a very important role in our life on the farm.

Today, when I look around for a piece of string, I usually have a hard time finding one. Nothing comes tied with string anymore. Some country stores that are still trying to retain a general store atmosphere keep a roll on hand just in case a customer asks for some string. But most stores have switched to scotch tape in the name of progress.

When I think of all the uses we had for that simplest of commodities, and how it is slowly fading from use, I realize more than ever that, like the Model T, white porcelain hand-basins, huck towels, and home-made lye soap, string is fast becoming a cherished memory of life as it was lived in the thirties.

When time permitted, Father would help with the planting of the vegetable garden. But to a great extent the task fell on Mother’s shoulders. It was a job she accepted as something that had to be done, and the sooner she got on with it, the sooner it would be out of the way.

Planting time, as I remember, was a time for aching backs and long foot baths in the washtub at night; it was also a time for mounds of muddy overalls and the smell of freshly turned earth.

When the land had sufficiently dried out after the spring rains, Father would hitch up the horse and make long, even furrows in the field that accommodated our garden behind the house. He was the best plower

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