Monday, January 31, 2011

Great North Arrow Newspaper, January 2011

                                     This is my column in the newspaper!


Monday, January 24, 2011

"The Dragonfly"/ Chapter Two/ 'The House On Ewart St.'/ as published in Great North Arrow Jan 2011

      It was one of those crisp sunny days in fall when the maple leaf trees are in their fullest golden glory, and Cookstown was busy with antique shoppers, sightseers, and tourists.  I had heard that there was a 'spiritual' shop called the Dragonfly recently opened in the quaint little hamlet, and thought I might find some information on what to do to help one deal with well, spirits.  The new house we had just purchased seemed to be, shall we say, a little 'busy'.  There were sounds of babies crying, kettles whistling, boots tramping outside in our bunkhouse, Tall Tales Cabin, where the ice-cutters had once stayed years ago when the Belle Ewart Ice Co. had harvested ice from the lake.  Now we rented it to ice-fishermen from Michigan and Toronto, who were beginning to give reports of some rather odd sounds and experiences also.  The tramping boots had been heard by several men, who said it sounded as if they were all coming in together, a whole bunch of men 'tramping in' as it was repeatedly described.  One could hardly help but imagine the old work crew  coming in from a day out on the lake, their whiskers turned into icicles, their woolen clothing damp from labouring all day hauling huge blocks of ice out of the lake.   The clanging sound of iron keys, the laughter of men's voices...all these were heard by the fishermen out in our bunkhouse, the Tall Tales Cabin.  The old yellow house on Ewart Street, the bunkhouse, even the forest around the property, where the long-forgotten railroad tracks lay covered with vines and was beginning to appear that they were all quite haunted! 

     I found the doorway to the Dragonfly nestled between an art shop and a store that sold old military stuff and tin soldiers on miniature battlefields.  The bell tinkled my entrance, and I arose up a flight of stairs into a shop that smelled like pure nirvana - a mystical combination of exotic scents and sensuous aromas, while soothing music filled the air.  Crystals sparkled in the windows, refracting the autumn sunshine into a thousand tiny prisms when I gazed into them.  There were books and tarot cards, incense cones and gemstones, but nothing that looked like it was for getting rid of ghosts.    The store was busy on this lovely Saturday afternoon, and I browsed surreptitiously while checking out the sale help.  I had to decide which one I could ask about the ghosts removing powder, or hopefully some sort of spirit remedy which they might know of.  My next stop was going to be our Lady of Perpetual Martyrdom for a vial of holy water, at this point.  My eldest son had awoken last night to a bizarre array of hieroglyphics being displayed over his bed, as though shown on a projector on his wall.  He said they were changing and moving at high speeds and it scared him so badly that he couldn't move to come and get me.  This was beginning to get a little alarming, and my Mother had actually been shaken awake by, well, something,  on her last visit.  I had to take action!
     It had become quite apparent that the owner of the shop was the lady with the long brown hair, a petite soft-spoken woman, who was very busy helping customers.  I knew by her nod of acknowledgement that she would be right with me,  but still I was startled when a voice broke my reverie as I stood gazing into a crystal ball.
 It was showing me nothing.
     "Can I help you?" 
Her eyes looked directly into mine.  One eye was brown and the other one was blue.
     "Wow"  I said, "Nice eyes"
     "Thanks"  she smiled,    "How can I help you?"
     "Well..."  I launched into my story.  "I think I have a spirit, maybe afew in my house." I told her,
     "Is there anything you can suggest?"
She looked at me but didn't at the same time, and then she said,
     "Yes, you do...the spirit of a woman."
I nodded.  "Yes I think so too - I checked with the Land Registry Office in Barrie....I think her name is..."
      "Harriet"  she said.
     "Yes Harriet"  I gulped.  "Harriet Stone"
      'Yes it is she who oversees the house." she told me, her one blue eye and one brown eye looking out towards the perfect autumn afternoon. 
      "You do not have to fear her, for she likes it when you and the children are home.  It is the rest of them she can do without."
I thought about the old man who had told me that the house had been a brothel back in the day.  And Harriet must have run it all. No wonder she wanted peace and quiet now.
      "Yes she seems to try and wake up people who are visiting and roust them off." 
She had done the same to Randolph when he came in from a long trip on the road. 
       "Yes, she likes you and the children only in the was hers for a very long time, and still is...and she loves it,  and stays with the house to protect it and to protect the children.  You have nothing to worry about from her."  she said.
  I breathed a huge sigh of relief. 
   "No it's the demon attached to the Indian burial ground behind your house that should concern you."
I gasped.  "I'm kidding" she laughed, "however you do have some negative energies in the be expected in a house that old...take this smudge mix, a combination of sweetgrass, cedar, sage and lavendar, and light it in an abalone shell.  Then use the feather of a bird, preferably an eagle, to 'smudge' the house, while going from room to room.  And firmly tell all negative energies to leave....or you could use holy water if you have any!"

I returned home, armed with smudge mix and stones of jet to put over the doorsills, as well as eagle feathers to waft and incense to burn. And from that day on we lived quite peacefully with Harriet Stone and all the ice-cutters too,

Next edition - the naughty ghost in South Simcoe Theatre plays a prank on me!


Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Tickle Trunk / Column 1 / "The Good Old Days"

      January's bright sunshine is shining through the kitchen window, reminding me of winter days gone by when my eldest son Liam, was a little boy.   This January 8th he turned 21 yrs old, and my thoughts turn back to days when we first moved out of the city and into the rural lakeside community we still reside in, in an effort to return to a simpler lifestyle.  As I watch the shadows of the pine trees lengthen slowly across the back garden, shedding gorgeous purpley-blue pastels across the fresh fallen snow, the afternoon visitors to the backyard include the flash of a bright red cardinal, the swoop of yellow finches and the tat-tat-tat of a persistent woodpecker high up in the birches.  Blue jays and doves come too, and rabbits and squirrels, for whom we leave fresh peanuts in their shells on the porch railings.  My Maggie has a 'way' with them, having befriended a squirrel named Nugget when he fell out of a treetop as an infant and landed in her hair.  She, having saved him, was of course responsible for him now 'for life' as it goes with such things, and so he would henceforth come to see her from that day, whenever she bid him.  Treats were left daily for his enjoyment in the old stump in the backyard, and he would reward us with gifts of nuts on the doorstep.   
     Children are often able to communicate with animals, and vice-versa...can we ever forget the time the Blue Jay sat on Krissi Priestman's head, but that is a story for another day.  However we must all remember that the birds can see us humans scurrying around all day beneath them, and they can see other things also, and that we must remember to listen to them, as they are often-times bringers of news and heralders of great events, but we humans have forgotten how to listen.  The Crows and Ravens are known for this, and I have actually conversed with them upon occasion.  It is not as difficult as one may think - just try it sometime when you see a big black crow up in a tree above you.  I assure you if you ‘caw’ at him he will cock his head, and fix you with a beady eye, and ‘caw’ right back. 
          Birds are falling out of the sky dead all over the world right now, and this is because of the fact that humans have not been listening for a very long time - look at the honey bees being killed with the pesticides and so on....the whole biosphere is hurting, and we are all hurting too because of it.  And yet we all want the same things for the world, and for each other, and it is the simple life and the beauty of nature that I think we all yearn for the most.  It is a terrible Catch-22 we exist in these days, caught in the rushing onslaught of world news, technology, survival,  yet all of us longing for the traditions and the simplicity of 'the good old days'. 
    The Good Old Days belong to every generation, however, and it is important to remember that our own children will one day look back on this time - their childhoods - as 'the good old days'.  It is up to us, as parents, to make sure that it is indeed that - and to do our best to shelter them from some of the horrors our modern world has to offer.
      Playing outside - plenty of fresh air and exercise, playing games other than video games, such as Scrabble, Chess, Charades, any of the old card games and board games, Monopoly, Clue, as long as you are all sitting around facing each other and having a laugh - these are the stuff memories are made of!  Most families are struggling right now, as the recession slowly seems to be coming to an end, and money to 'go out' is scarce.

     Does your town have a toboganning hill?  Ours does, and in fact we held Liam's 6th birthday party on it, a fact I was reminded of as I stood atop it the other day with my little 7 year old son Riley.    His face was glowing as he and his buddies raced up and down the hill, and we shared an amazing moment of bonding together on the one excursion downhill I accompanied him on, as my extra weight carried us almost into the pond!    Hilarity ensued, and we all had a wonderful time - and some exercise - before enjoying our hot chocolate and marshmallows.  And yes I had to take an aspirin afterwards - mature Mom that I am - but it was worth it, for the feeling of gratitude I felt for being alive and blessed with happy healthy children. 
You will find us on the big hill every chance we can get for the rest of the winter - hope to see you there! 

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

'The House On Ewart St' photos

'Madame Butterfly"

"Diaries of A Nostalgic Muse" - 'Rural tales of history and hauntings'' / Column 1 / The House On Ewart St.'

          "Don't bump your head!" warned the real estate lady, as we left the charmingly gabled attic bedroom of the old house in Belle Ewart, Innisfil.  The landing was narrow, and led to a very steep wooden flight of stairs.  Randolph and I were looking for an old Victorian house as we attempted to become a blended family, his daughter and my son had known each other back in Kindergarten, and now we were a couple.   He loved old farmhouses, and I had always dreamt of a big old house with lots of charm to raise my three children in.  This seemed a perfect place for us - close to the lake in the quiet hamlet of Belle Ewart, and it had history! 
 The agent explained to us that in the olden days this had been a hotel where the ice-cutters had stayed.  As we stood at the top of the stairs discussing the house's history,  I suddenly felt a presence on the ceiling above us.  Shaking it off as we started down the narrow flight, the agent led the way.
As I stepped down Randy touched my shoulder from behind. 
"Do you think this place is haunted?" he asked me.  
"Why? Do you?"  I questioned. 
 "I think there was something at the top of the stairs" he replied. 
I gulped "I know - I felt it too".
"Aw...probably our imagination...she was telling us about the old ice-cutters n'all." 
Randy wasn't the type of guy to be fanciful like that.
'Yes, probably...I'm sure you're right!"  I replied, reassured by his masculine practicality.

    Later that day,  the offer was accepted, and the big old yellow house in Ewart Street was ours.  It was an amazing deal, and with a huge property surrounded by forest, and a guest house that was a full apartment, it had great income potential as well.  We soon had the 'bunkhouse', as we called it, outfitted for rental to the ice-fishermen who come to this lake every winter in  droves from the USA.  We called it 'Tall Tales Cabin", and soon had it regularly rented throughout the winter months.  Randy was a long-haul trucker and was gone for weeks at a time, so I was in charge of the bunkhouse.
      My first night alone in the house I was awoken by three very loud knocks on the wall over my bed.  I literally jumped out of bed.  I went down the staircase to the kitchen and  poured myself a glass of milk.   I stood uncertainly at the door to the kitchen,  looking straight up the narrow staircase.  The kitchen lights dimmed three times,  then went out completely.   I turned them back on.  They flickered up and down. 
I glared at the light and said out loud  'Stop that!". 
Three loud knocks suddenly came from, of all places, behind the refrigerator.
 "Rap, rap, rap!" 
Loud and clear. 
Then the lights went out.
     The next day found me down at the Land Registry office in Barrie, looking up the history of the house and the land is sits on.  To my great interest I discovered that we were the 27th owners of this property, the first being James Ewart, the owner of the great Belle Ewart Ice Company.  Old timers in Toronto can still remember the horse-drawn ice trucks with their gold lettering, 'Belle Ewart Ice Company' , coming along city streets, delivering the huge blocks of ice to every door.   Stamped 100% pure, Lake Simcoe ice was shipped in railway cars as far south as Michigan and Detroit. 
    Going back to the 1840's the house changed several times until a Henry Stone purchased it in 1880  Ten years later in 1890 he sold it to one Harriet Stone for one dollar, 'for love'.  I stared at the writing, in fountain ink, written by a long-dead hand of some cleric of Olde Barrie.  The year was it was written 112 years ago.  It was a little unnerving to realise that my house was indeed, very old and full of history!  My eyes scanned down the page - Harriet seemed to have owned the house for the next 50 years!  Not until the 1940's did the house change hands again, strangely every year throughout the war they seemed to have flipped it amongst family members - some kind of tax dodge I figured.  Jewish names.  Now I wanted to know more.  More about the strange old house on Ewart Street, and more about some of the strange sounds and feelings we were getting in the place.  Once we heard a kettle whistling...the old fashioned kind, not like our electric one at all.  Then a baby crying - we heard that more than once.  Footsteps coming down the stairs...a ladies' mules with that 'clip,clap,clip,clap' sound.
"Like a lady of the evening might wear" as my mother described it. 

   Picking up my mail at our local rural post office in Lefroy one blustery fall day, an elderly gentlman in line happened to overhear me mention the house address.  "Oh so you're the ones bought the old Tremblay house?" he smiled. 
"Nice to see it getting fixed up again.  I knew the previous owners.  Fell into terrible disrepair - holes in the ceilings and floors and such.  Man was an alcoholic. "
The gentleman introduced himself and I recognized his name as one of the earliest settlers in the region.  Yes, he remembered the place from when he was a little boy even, he told me.  He had grown up here.  He remembered when the place used to be a brothel.
"A brothel?" I gasped.
"Yes, they used to bring the girls up on the train from the city...for the ice-cutters you know?"
 He gave me a knowing wink. 
Lefroy was in fact an old train station, and the derelict old tracks ran directly behind our house... ON our property!   We had discovered them when walking in the woods behind us - they led straight to the lake.  These would have been the tracks that led directly to the huge ice warehouses for loading.  They packed it in enormous blocks into the railcars lined with straw to stop it from melting, then headed south.  

"So...OK..."  I thought, as I headed home to the big old yellow house on Ewart Street,
"So Harriet was a Madam and I live in a haunted old brothel !  Good grief!  So much for calm quiet country living!  What next?"
I had to learn more...

Next edition:  The Psychic in Cookstown tells me about Harriet.