Cold Water, Mud and the Heroic March of the Shower

Long Lake - Red House, photos by Bernard Safran

Long Lake – Red House, photos by Bernard Safran

We had a real problem in our old red farmhouse – a true lack of hot water. When we moved in there was a big old, cast iron, oil burning kitchen stove hooked up – attached to which was a hot water tank that was supposed to heat up when the stove was being used. However, no matter how hot or how long we had the stove/oven on, there was no hot water – some mildly warm water if you were being optimistic.

iron stove

This looks much like the awful stove we had when we moved in, but ours was black. It was powered with oil that came in through the wall from the big oil tank outside that also powered our furnace.

The stove just didn’t work – it was hot enough that I could rest my butt on the edge of it and keep myself warm (my jeans all became polished on the butt from this over the course of the winter), but for cooking or baking it just never excelled. In fact one time we had a fruit pie in the oven to bake for more than 6 hours and it still didn’t finish cooking.

Also, when we first moved in there was no shower and the tub was just big enough to sit in, in an inch of warm water and freeze. Eventually we started heating pots of water on the stove and pouring them into the tub to bathe in – but that wasn’t too satisfying. We finally ordered a shower to install in the tub from the Sears catalog and it arrived at some point mid spring thaw.

Imagine this fixture (see below) stuck onto the end of a tub with no wall behind it for support – it was truly free standing and wobbly and was probably the cheapest one available.

shower

This is not a photo of our old shower – this one is in a barn.

And since our water was pumped up from a well located down the hill and had low water pressure, and we had no hot water, it really wasn’t all that.

The spring thaw in Jolicure was a serious situation for which we city folk were very under prepared. All the dirt roads in the area got slick with mud and treacherous with deep holes.

Our road in particular was impassible for weeks at a time every year. We didn’t just have deep pot holes – we had oozing, bubbling volcanic eruptions of mud, and vast bottomless pits of mud – the kind of mud holes that suck a rubber boot right off your foot and leave you squishing helplessly on one foot to retrieve your lost boot or worse –  takes both boots and leaves you in your socks.

The kind of mud that cars slowly sludged into and couldn’t get out of – that even tractors got stuck in. The kind of mud that you ended up covered in by the time you got home and there was no hot water…

Mud road JolicureWhen the thaw started that first year we lived there, my father would drive our poor blue Maverick down the road, gunning it to swerve around the obvious holes and careening around eruptions when possible –  to ultimately slide somewhere unpleasant… we got ditched and stuck in holes constantly. You cannot imagine how horrible it is to get behind the spinning wheels of a car stuck in a deep mud hole (well maybe you can imagine), all the mud just sprays all over you and into your mouth while you piteously try to push the car out of the hole, only succeeding enough for the car to swoosh into the next one. It was humiliating having to get a local farmer to come and pull the car out repeatedly – this even became impossible when the tractor could no longer get out and a second tractor had to be called.

The Coming of Spring to Jolicure by Bernard Safran, oil on masonite, 24" x 30" March 1981

This is a painting by my Dad, of my Uncle Lorne working on the mud holes on his road which was considerably better than our road.
The Coming of Spring to Jolicure by Bernard Safran, oil on masonite, 24″ x 30″ March 1981

We eventually had to park our car at the crossroads of Jolicure proper and walk in the 2 miles to our house carrying our food and anything else we needed for at least 6 weeks till the surface improved enough that a vehicle could get in. On foot, we learned how to spot most of the bottomless pits before helplessly pitching in, but sometimes the surface of the road was like a sheer membrane that when you put any pressure on it, the entire surface wobbled and moved and if it cracked while you were still on it you had to somehow get onto something solid or end up sucked into the road crying for help.

And so when our shower arrived from Sears, we had to carry it in for two miles through foot sucking, wiggly wobbly, erupting mud. The thing was at least 5 feet long and required a person on each end to carry it; we had to coordinate where we were going and try to avoid falling… which we could not. Some of the time we walked along the edge of the forest on the uneven ground that was covered with moss, scrub and lumpy outcrops of grass and small trees.

We did eventually haul that damn shower in to the house, and we did get it hooked up so we could have showers – but it wasn’t worth it –  there was still no hot water.

Tractor and wagon spring 1973

When the school bus could no longer drive down our road our friendly neighbor would pick us up in his big pickup with 4 wheel drive to take us out to the corner to get the bus. Then when the pickup couldn’t make it through we went on a hay cart – sitting on a bale of straw- behind his tractor. (I got chilblains on my ears and outer toes one spring during a snow storm sitting exposed on the back of the wagon). When the hay cart couldn’t make it we stood on the back of the tractor behind the huge wheels and hung on. When the tractor could no longer make it I got to stay home from school. Here my sister is coming home with some groceries thanks to our neighbor – Spring 1973.

By the next spring we got rid of that old oil stove and put in an electric range in the pantry and a Franklyn wood burning stove (just for heating) where the old stove had stood in the main kitchen (still the only source of heat for the hot water tank). And we sold the Maverick and bought a Toyota Land Cruiser 4 x 4 – that looked like it was game for anything, and guess what? It got stuck too.

Note: you may find me sounding whiny about the hot water situation – but understand this: a year and a half after moving to Jolicure, my girl friends at school (in grade 8) started fingering through my hair and scalp and remarked on how filthy I was – it was embarrassing – but worse than that my body was scaly with filth too. And, with the road impassable for weeks and no hot water – clothes didn’t get washed either. So hygiene became a serious issue for me. My parents were quite oblivious.

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Becoming Canadian

When we moved to Canada in January of 1973 my parents kept me home for a couple of months to adjust to the move and to help with the renovation of the old farmhouse.

When it came time for me to go to school I was offered the choice of two schools because we were pretty much equidistant from them both – a junior high in the university town of Sackville, or the junior high in Port Elgin, a small rural town northeast of us.

Port Elgin Regional Memorial Junior High School

This is Port Elgin Regional Memorial Junior High School looking worse for wear. When I went to this school (1973-1976) all the classrooms had glass brick windows with panels at the top that could be opened for air. It was just down Main Street from the pool hall and the variety store – places that the kids spent time at at lunch.

The school board let me make the decision which was very nice of them. So my parents arranged to take me to both schools for a look about. We went to the school in Sackville first and though it was a bright happy looking place it made me anxious the way the kids stared at me.(little did I know that these kids were the Townies and were ever after Townies through High School and college too.)

Port Elgin, New Brunswick, Canada

This is a view of the Village of Port Elgin from the Gaspereau River that its situated on. In the days of ship building Port Elgin was a going concern but is now a quiet little hamlet.

When we went to visit the school in Port Elgin the kids stood up from their seats to see me and they waved and smiled – some even came out in the halls to say hello… so I choose to go to the friendly school in Port Elgin. It was a great choice in retrospect. I met kids from all over the area and the school had a very relaxed and open atmosphere. Many of the kids were from farming or fishing families (and many of the fishing families were lobster fishermen).

I was seated in a class next to a rambunctious and fun loving boy named David. What I remember most from these first few months was that David was always getting into trouble for talking or goofing around and the teacher would send anything at hand flying at his head – chalkboard erasures, rubber erasers, pens, whatever, so I had to learn to duck fast.

Pig breeds

I loved that my assignment was about pigs – I was so happy to be going to this school.

I thought it wonderful that our school trip that semester was to the local agricultural station. We went by bus to see the pigs and cows and chickens and grains and things that they were working with to develop better methods of agriculture for the region. My assignment after the trip was to write about different kinds of swine and draw pictures of all the breeds.

The principle took me out of class for a couple of days to test my education levels. So I spent some hours writing standardized tests – which I actually found quite fun. He was astonished at how high I scored but really I think it was just a matter of curriculum differences between New York and New Brunswick, Canada.

I also got to learn French for the first time, which was a great thing for me. But to the local kids it was a source of political scorn. They drove every French teacher insane with their disobedience – no amount of throwing erasures would have made a difference. I was shocked at how much animosity there was towards the French people in English Canada.

Hockey Night in Canada

Hockey Night in Canada – (da da da da da de da… da da da de de dum da da, de de dum de dum dum dum… you have to be Canadian to know the theme song…)

Darryl Sittler

Darryl Sittler before losing his teeth

The first thing I learned to say in French was “le baton de hockey” (hockey stick) – very important to learn about hockey when living in Canada. We had only two TV stations that we could get at our house so my mother and I would watch Hockey Night in Canada every week (we had our favorite players – mine was Darryl Sittler until he lost all his teeth).

My mother and I also watched wrestling – remember the Cuban Assasin?cuban assasin

Everyone was nice to me in Port Elgin with the exception of one kid who kept saying to me “Yankee Go Home”. It annoyed me that it went on for years – even into High School – but I knew it was just meant teasingly – at least I hope it was meant in a friendly way.