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Sunday, April 11, 2021

Fergus has a bad case of vernalagnia

 They say a dog understands up to 300 words. When we speak to them, we aren’t supposed to muddle those words up in complicated sentences. We are supposed to speak a maximum of three words at a time: “get the ball;” “time to eat;” “come HERE;” and “Get OUT.”

Apparently our Golden Retriever Fergus seems to think that when the neighbour’s dog comes outside and ventures near the fence line dividing our properties, and I see what Ferg is thinking and I say, “NO,” that actually means, “Go get him, Ferg!” It happens every time. I see the big, muscular full male dog (Ferg hates that Rocky still has his family jewels and he does not) slinking along the trees (Ferg hates slinking), which he is completely entitled to do, as it is his own property. Ferg sees this from his perch on the porch, and starts to shake. I see what’s going on and say quietly, “come here, Ferg…” to no avail. Ferg gives me a slow side eye. He gathers his body up underneath him into a pouncing stance…I say, in what I hope is a firm tone, “NO, Ferg!” and off he goes like a shot.

When that happens, I have either forgotten to put his radar collar on him, or it just isn’t working and needs to be reset. He knows when it is juiced up and when it isn’t.  He’s pretty good at avoiding the zap.

Sometimes while Ferg is marauding next door, he takes the opportunity to chase chickens and ducks. They make delightful sounds and sometimes feathers fly. It’s a fun game. I don’t think he has ever hurt a chicken but I brought the owners one of ours out of the freezer once as compensation for the stress.

When Rocky is put in the house and the birds are back in their coop, Ferg struts home, triumphant. Unfortunately this seems to be happening more frequently, now that the smell of spring is in the air and both dogs are spending more time outside. It’s getting pretty embarrassing. My dog seems to feel the need to assert his dominance, even outside his clear territory. I don’t remember this being a problem in summer – probably because the leaves are on the trees and the dogs can no longer see each other.

This “spring fever” has also started to affect Fergus’ bedtime routine. I used to let him out for one more run around the yard, before retiring for the night. Lately, he just doesn’t want to come back in. I let him out, he bolts through the invisible fence and just keeps trotting up the driveway or into the open field under the moonlight.

It seems silly but I have to take him out for his evening walk around our own yard on a leash. He can’t be trusted and I don’t want him to meet a skunk or porcupine.



Monday, March 1, 2021

Goodbye to Albert's Meat Shop


I went into the butcher shop on a Saturday and saw the sign on the Plexiglas that was protecting the cash during the pandemic. It said that the shop would be closing on January 23rd, forever. I asked the owner if he was planning an early retirement and he said it was just the right decision for him and his wife. The store was sold, but it would not be a meat shop again. As I drove away, I did the math and realized it was the end of a sixty-year business.

After I wrote a story about our life-sized dollhouse, Beverley Buckingham emailed and reminded me that she used to have one at her father’s butcher shop on County Road 18. Beverley was just nine years old when her parents built and opened the little shop that would be Buckingham’s Meats, in 1961. Her father, Hilton, had always been a butcher. He had been in charge of the meat department at Anderson’s on Prescott Street, Kemptville. Now home to a suite of apartments on the top, retail on the bottom, the entire three-story complex used to be a department store with men and women’s clothing and grocery.

When Hilton moved to work at the Creamery (now a condo building on Asa), customers used to rent space in the meat lockers for their own frozen goods. Everyone had a cold storage in their basement but no one had a freezer at home. Hilton’s clients were loyal, and followed him from one business to another. So it only made sense that he should just open up his own.

“It was a family business,” Beverley explained. Buckingham’s started as a custom butchering business, charging just 3 cents a pound. People could bring in their own meat and Hilton would cut it for them. His wife did the wrapping and the kids did the lettering.

After 3 or 4 years, customers started asking to have special orders brought in. Hilton made a deal with Schneider’s, and went into retail. His business grew, and an addition was built on the shop. The customer base grew, and Hilton aimed to please. One of Beverley’s favourite memories is of a woman who came in one Saturday morning, wielding a roasting pan.

“I need you to cut me a piece of meat to fit in this,” she said.


Meanwhile, in Brockville, young Albert Dyks was shuttling back and forth between the various IGA meat departments in the region. He worked all but Wednesday afternoon and Sundays, including a late shift on Friday and an early start on Saturday. He almost fell asleep at the wheel one day, prompting his wife Ina to suggest they move to Kemptville. The B&H offered him a fulltime gig in their meat department, which would become his post for the next 8 years.

In 1972, Albert bought the meat shop and the house from Hilton, who retired from the meat business to become the town building inspector. With three little kids at home, the youngest just 2 years old, Ina had her hands full.

“Albert said, it’s ok - I’ll run the shop myself. You can just help me on weekends,” Ina laughed. “That didn’t last long…”

Soon, everyone in the family was behind the meat counter. Ina started with very little knowledge of the business, and soon became very familiar with the different cuts of meat. She and Albert passed on their business knowledge to their 3 kids, who all worked at the shop part time.

Like many shops in the region, the retail business of Albert’s closed down for a week during hunting season, while they ran a business doing custom cuts for hunters. It was not Ina’s favourite time, and she may have been a bit relieved when new regulations came in restricting butchers from hanging wild game in the same cooler with other meats.

They also did custom cuts of farmed meat on their “day off” Mondays, but that too soon came to an end. Albert focused on supplying the same quality Buckingham’s was known for, and “Albert’s Meat Shop” gained a reputation for excellence that, along with his sparkling personality, had customers arriving from all over the region.

In 1988 the Dyks’ built a new building and expanded with new and used equipment. The shop thrived as a supplier of local and special order meats, and Albert’s developed a regular clientele. The town grew and new grocery stores popped up. It was difficult to compete with the larger chain stores, who could sell their meat at a loss just to get customers in the door. But you didn’t go to Albert’s to get the cheapest cut of meat.

In 2006, Mike and Susan Simpson approached Albert about buying the shop.

“There are no coincidences,” Ina says. “God had a hand in it.”

As they were already considering retirement, Albert and Ina agreed to sell. Once retired from the business that had consumed and enriched so much of their lives, they were able to enjoy their 50th wedding anniversary and a trip to Holland in 2013. Albert passed away suddenly in 2014, and the whole community mourned his loss.

Mike and Susan Simpson carried on the tradition of special orders and quality meats for their customers. It was no doubt a challenge to compete with the bigger grocery stores, especially during a pandemic. A focus on farm-to-table has had a resurgence, however, as even people from the city are starting to show more of an interest in where their food comes from.

From my own perspective, I know our family will really miss the special ham-on-the-bone that the Simpsons would order for us each Easter and Thanksgiving. When we heard they were closing, we ordered one so we could enjoy it one last time before we have to find another local source.

If you are considering opening a butcher shop or something like it, you might take your lead from one of our local long-time business professionals. You have to grow and change with the times, but you also have to know when it is time to step back and let someone else take over.

And to the Buckingham, Dyks and Simpson families, thank you! Your customers will miss you when we sit down to Sunday dinner.






Wednesday, February 3, 2021

In which the mini-house gets a second chance

When I first joined up with the Farmer 14 years ago and moved onto the farm, I was quite taken by the tiny miniature farmhouse in the backyard. The Farmer had built it himself, as a playhouse for his two little girls. By the time I arrived, it had already been sitting idle and unused for a few years.

I pulled the rickety screen door open and pushed the wooden one in. Crouching down, I could just fit myself inside. There was a perfect replica kitchen with upper and lower cupboards and a tiny sink. A child-sized table and chairs sat under a window with floral curtains. There was a set of stairs to a loft, where someone once had a nap or maybe camped out. The blanket was still there.

Under the stairs, a mosquito net hung down over a bassinet, protecting the pretend princess that lay inside, eyes closed. Dreaming.

As the girls became teens and moved out, we watched the tiny playhouse slowly fall apart. Wind blew the shingles off the roof and bricks fell out of the chimney. A groundhog family tunnelled beneath the house, causing the floor to cave in. Raccoons took up residence inside and clawed their way through the screens when the door was closed.

I still thought the house was beautiful, if in a slightly haunted way. It was front and centre in all of my sunset photos for the next several years.

Then, one day, my daughter had a daughter. I asked the Farmer if we could fix up the little playhouse and he said, “No – I’m afraid it is beyond repair.” I stuck my head into the house to survey the damage. It didn’t look that bad to me. But what do I know?

By the time our granddaughter turned 2, she was totally fascinated with the little playhouse. She would stand on the tiny porch and peek in the window. She understood it was unsafe to go inside, with the broken floor. But that didn’t stop her imagining that a witch or a fairy lived inside.

Our granddaughter is now 5. The other day, the Farmer surprised me. “You will have to make sure there are no wasps in there,” he started, “but if you can clean it up, I will put in a new floor.”

The playhouse is getting a second chance to entertain children. And since she is old enough to wield a paintbrush now, our granddaughter will be enlisted to help give the house a new coat of paint.

I told her to choose a colour that her sister will like too.





Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Our handsome guardian angel.

Dear Larry, Dad, Grandpa:

It's been 13 years since you left us but your memory will always live on in our hearts. 

Wish you could see your grown-up grandchildren now and meet your two great granddaughters, who will have to get to know you through the many stories told by your family, friends and students. 

We feel you are with us on so many occasions. You are our handsome guardian angel, always looking over us. 

You are never forgotten and will be forever loved. ~Maureen

Funny how I can still so easily be moved to tears, even after so long. I heard a new one the other day: "Grief is just Love with nowhere to go." That makes sense. We sure had love, even if we didn't say it every day. 

Annie and I took baby Adira to meet your mom the other day. Grandma is turning 98 in February. We are so proud to celebrate our 5 generations. I know you would be proud too. 
Your great granddaughter Leti seems to have your smile - I often see it flash across her face. 

I find myself repeating your silly sayings (many unfit for public consumption) and wondering how you would fare in this pandemic situation. I'm sure you would be ok with the isolation bit - you often said you weren't very fond of most people anyway! Hah. 

I miss you, Dad. I had a visit from a cardinal last week - the first one in about a year. When I posted your photo online, with the anniversary of your passing, someone said, "There's your cardinal." I like to think you are somehow aware of us. We are certainly aware of you. ~ Dee.

I miss you, Dad. But I dream, and I often wake up with the knowledge that I have received a visit from you. I know this is special, because not everyone gets a visit, or remembers the details.
 I treasure these visits. They are little flashes of a life we shared. 

Also, in April we welcomed a new member to our family. He shares your birthday, and your name, I take much pleasure getting calls from the vet about Larry Leeson. ~ Cath.

We love you. We remember you. We celebrate the time we shared and the influence you had on our lives. 

Larry Leeson was here in physical form from September 4, 1941 to January 14, 2008. 
His presence lingers around his loved ones.