Wednesday, 15 May 2013


At the Memoir Writing Group we have a system in place for obtaining subjects on which to write.

We have a bundle of small cards and a coffee can. If anybody thinks of a subject which could be fun to write about, she or he writes the title on one of those cards and tosses it into the can. When it is time to select a topic, one of us will put her or his hand into the can and draw out one of the cards. Sometimes it is tempting to throw the chosen card back in and draw another one but that is not allowed. Naturally some of the titles are similar to ones about which we had written previously. However, our agreed upon rule is  that the chosen topic is the topic.

Towards the end of our session this past Monday the card chosen had one word printed upon it - 'Outhouses' - only I completely misunderstood what was read and wrote on a subject that was completely irrelevant. I am writing this blog as an attempt at atoning for my error.

Most of the houses in which my family lived until I was about 15 years old had no indoor plumbing (except for the kitchen sink) so outhouses were a necessity.

If you have been reading my blogs as I go along you will know that our first two homes were pretty primitive and there were no bathrooms.  I have no recollection whatsoever of the outhouses at my grandparents' homestead nor at the cabin in the forest but I do remember the facility at the third house.

Our next door neighbors - and good friends - were Mr and Mrs Bartlett and they had some dairy cows as well as an ample garden. Therefore the area around the house where we lived and up the hillside in back was denuded of trees and left as grazing land - except for one giant Douglas fir which stood near the top of the hill. The outhouse was a number of yards out behind the house. It was a 'two-hole' affair (why some had two holes while the majority seemed to have only one I have no idea!).

This incident happened when Alda was about three or four years old. She went out to use the facility and came running back into the house sobbing her heart out. She never went anywhere without a beloved pillow and that had fallen down the hole beside the one upon which she had been sitting. Mom had no choice but to go out there, fish out the truant pillow, and then wash and dry it before handing it back to Alda.  That is the only memory that I have of that pillow - it seems to have disappeared not very long after that incident.

In conversations within our family we always refer to the houses in which we have lived by the names of the landlords. The incident recorded above happened while we were living at the Williams house. From there we moved to the Black house which was situated across the road from the school that I attended during  Grade 1. There must have been an outhouse but I have no recollection of it.

A photo of the 'Black House'. The black Cocker Spaniel is 'Nigger' (I mentioned him in the 'Dawes Hill - Part 1' blog).

Next was the move to Dawes Hill in Coquitlam. I have no idea as to who was the landlord so we have always referred to that place as 'the House on the Hill'. That house had an indoor toilet  but baths had to be taken in a galvanized tub with water carried from the kitchen stove.  Each of us had a bath on the same evening and in the water used by the sibling or parent who had preceded. Fun and games!

The next move was to the Picton house down beside the highway. Out the back door and over beside the creek (a road ditch overflow from a byway up above us) was the woodshed and, next to it, was the privy. I do remember ribald comments being made by the person who was chopping and piling wood to or about the person using the privy! Also, the water for the house came from a well which was in a field up above the house. The well was not all that deep so it contained mostly surface water. There was one summer that had very hot and dry conditions. Dad had vacation time and the family went to Bowen Island. When we returned home and Dad went up to the well he saw the carcass of a dead rat floating in it. No - we did not drink from the well until the corpse had been removed and the water purified.

From the Picton house we moved back up the hill to the Finnegan house which Dad and Mom eventually bought. When we moved in, there were a bathroom and a toilet - only they were entirely different rooms. The bathtub was in a small room on the second floor and at the top of the stairs. The toilet and hand basin, on the other hand, were in what had originally been the pantry so immediately off of the kitchen. The kitchen was huge and, while there were a dining and a living room as well, that is where people tended to gather in order to visit. Therefore the odor emanating from what had been a pantry led to many a ribald comment!

The kitchen sink was against the east wall of the kitchen while the stove was against the south wall and there was a doorway in between which led to a spare bedroom. Not long after we moved in there Dad made the move which he had been contemplating for years - converting  the stove from a wood burning affair to oil. We  were situated at the end of Kaptey Avenue and that road made a loop beside the back (kitchen) door. The storage tank for the oil was beside the kitchen window and - unfortunately - to the far side of the septic tank. The driver of the oil tank truck was informed where the septic tank was located so he would not drive over it. However, there was one occasion when he erred and broke the top of the tank. On the following Saturday afternoon Dad bailed out the broken tank while I had the wheelbarrow and wheeled the odoriferous sludge down a trail into the forest to a spot where I could safely tip the wheelbarrow. Now that pathway is a street lined by lovely houses. I wonder if one of those homeowners ever wonders why their flower gardens do better than those of the neighbors?

Thursday, 9 May 2013


For a person living on a low income I must confess that I eat out more than my budget allows. I have two problems - I really do not like to eat alone (does that come from growing up in a family of six persons where we almost always ate together?) - nor do I enjoy cooking.

A couple of weeks ago I went to a Food Court which is in a mall beneath a department store. There are at least two dozen eateries there which serve up all sorts of different types of food. One of my favorites is 'Soup-It-Up' where there are ten or so tureens each containing a different soup. Also available is a slice of white or multi-grain buttered bread. I had a bowl of clam chowder along with the buttered chunk of the 'brown' bread.

In the center of the court are a few dozen tables and chairs and - during the noon hour - seats at these tables are hard to come by. Rarely does a person sit alone but shares a table with others who, often, are complete strangers. The other people who were already seated at the table that I chose soon left as did the party who were seated at the next table. They were replaced by a group of men who - by the looks and complexions of each of them - were of different ethnic backgrounds. Also, a fifth member of that group came along later and sat at the table where I was. We passed some amusing comments with each other but did not enter into actual conversations. What intrigued me was the different ethnicities of the food in front of each of us.

Each of them had a different ethnic food in front of him and - by the looks of each of them - not any of the foods consumed was of the ethnicity of the diner. One had souvlaki, another sushi, another spring rolls, and so on. 

My mother was a good - but not exceptional - cook. Her background was British while Dad's was French Canadian. Mom had a few of her own recipes and, as time went by, these were added to with recipes from friends.  There was the odd dish that Mom served which I did not care for but most of them I really enjoyed. For instance - Mom often cooked a roast of beef or pork on the weekend. The beef was always juicy, well done on the outside and pink in the middle. The pork was well done - as pork should be.

Both of these roasted meats - as did cooked fowl - left a lot of juice in the pan. The juice from roast beef was turned into a wonderful gravy while the juices from the roast pork were left to gel and became a wonderful spread called 'pork dripping' which, when cooled, became a spread to put on a piece of bread with a little salt and pepper on top. Probably these two foodstuffs lead to clogged arteries but they certainly were good!

Later in the week - after the roast beef dinner on the Sunday evening -  Mom would cut up the cold beef into cubed chunks, brown them in the skillet and put them in a pot. To that was added sliced carrots which were also browned, browned onion slices, the left over gravy and some water. The pot was left to simmer on the back burner and then served with boiled potatoes for supper. I liked that recipe so much that I made the same dish with the left overs from a roast beef dinner. I have taken that dish to potluck suppers to the appreciative comments of other diners.

When it came to Christmas, Mom always made her own Christmas cakes as well as both shortbread and 'overnight' cookies and they - along with cold turkey and cranberry sauce - were the staples throughout the week between Christmas and New Year.

My partner, Ric Reed, is an exceptional cook and I have enjoyed a number of dinners which he has created.  The most memorable of these was a dinner party at his apartment in Oakland, California on New Years Day, 2009. He cooked a leg of ham as his Mom cooks it back in Arkansas and, with that, he served vegetable dishes which are commonly found on tables in that State. There were eight or ten of us at that dinner - it was a buffet -  and Ric received a number of compliments. What did I contribute to that dinner? I washed all of the dishes after the guests had left.

There were a number of other enjoyable meals which we shared in Oakland. For a year or two there was a restaurant not far away which was owned by a black man from Louisiana. His kitchen cooked food in a Louisiana style and the dinners were oh so good! I became friends with a black woman who - while she lives in the San Francisco suburb of Richmond - is originally from the mid-west. She recognized  the recipes offered in that restaurant and had quite a lengthy and amusing conversation with the owner/chef.

Being a Canadian and growing up in a culture of British food - with a little French/Canadian thrown in - it is wonderful to see all of the people from different ethnic backgrounds who now live here and have the opportunity to taste all of the different ethnic dishes.

A block from where I live is located one of a chain of Vietnamese restaurants called 'Ginger'. They are 'fast food' restaurants and, among the staples served there is 'Pho' (a beef soup served with rice noodles and bean sprouts) as well as spring rolls and a bowl of food stuffs which is a melange of salad, barbecued beef and topped off with the usual spring rolls. A good healthy fast food.

Along the block between here and Ginger is Sushi Club where I often eat. Usually I order the menu item which includes sushi, beef teriyaki and tempura (tempura is deep fried vegetables which have been covered by a batter before being cooked).

Both Ginger and Sushi Club are east of here and there is another ethnic restaurant - the New Yorker which is a Jewish deli - up the block form here towards Bloor Street.  More food to die for - and the slices of dill pickle served with the main menu items are absolutely delicious! 

I cannot leave this topic with out mentioning souvlaki - a Greek dish consisting of a skewer or two of braised pork which is served with a white yogurt-based sauce.

Now I am hungry so I think that I will close and go to get something to eat.