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Strawberry Social

The Cove Journal
by JoDee Samuelson

Artwork by JoDee SamuelsonLast year a million or so visitors came to PEI. We assume that a goodly number will come this summer too. They will relax on our beaches, eat at our restaurants, attend concerts, play golf…and some will drive by a small one-room school where a sign posted in the yard announces: STRAWBERRY SOCIAL TONIGHT. If this happens to you, and it’s evening, and you see cars parked up and down the road, stop immediately and join the queue.

A Strawberry Social is just about the nicest event you will ever attend. Of course you have to be willing to sit by perfect strangers and launch into your life story, including where you’re from, who your people are, where you’ve been and where you’re going next, but that’s okay, because as you compare stories, you’re enjoying the most delicious strawberries and ice cream this side of heaven, and you’re thinking, “Can this be true? Why don’t we have strawberry socials where we come from?”

Any community can hold a Strawberry Social, but not every place can produce strawberries as tasty as those grown on PEI. Our rainfall, temperature, and slightly acidic soil are perfect for the culture of Fragaria x ananassa, also known as the garden strawberry. Islanders love strawberries—as do slugs, snails, moths, flies, weevils, thrips, beetles, mites and aphids; and under damp conditions the plants fall prey to mildew, mold, rot, blight, wilt, and nematodes. In spite of pests and diseases, there are usually plenty of berries left for us to scoff down in vast quantities. A July without strawberries for dessert every night is unthinkable. And that batch of strawberry jam bubbling on the stove holds promise of breakfast bliss all year long.

You could make jam from California strawberries, and you could plan a Strawberry Social around berries grown in fumigated soil through holes punched in plastic (although it’s not inconceivable that some small California town does exactly that); but the secret of a Strawberry Social is to have top quality strawberries freshly picked and sliced that very morning. You need rich vanilla ice cream made from the milk of contented cows—like those in the pasture across the road. Ask your best biscuit-makers to whip up delicious fluffy shortcake to be lovingly placed under the ice cream and strawberries, and ask everyone else to make squares and cookies—and not just ordinary sugar cookies, but those whoopee-ding-dong multi-layer choco-minti-crackle supreme-o-deluxe squares that everyone wanted last year.

Clean the hall. Lay the tables with white tablecloths, red napkins, and bouquets of fresh flowers. Turn on the coffee percolator a good hour before doors open. Keep the biggest urn for tea because that’s what people want in the evening. Put plates of sweets on the tables. Aprons on? Everybody ready?

Woman of the Cove

The Cove Journal
by JoDee Samuelson

Florence by JoDee SamuelsonWriting this journal every month has made me acutely aware of the passage of time. This spring we have marveled at the lengthening days, our neighbor’s new lamb, fresh tips on spring seaweed, scent of mayflowers, eagles at the Cove making love—yes, it’s true! Now the days march on to the merry month of June, June of the Rhubarb Social, the Summer Solstice, the first strawberries. We have waited all year for this month, and plan to make full use of every splendid moment.

I can’t think of a better way to use this day than to honour a friend who has lived through a goodly number of summers, and lived them well. Florence MacCannell, a true woman of the Cove, was born at home here in the early 1920s, became a nurse, married a Cove fisherman, raised a fine family, and wrote a history book.  Now she has moved to a lodge in Charlottetown where she is taking it easy with her e-books and jigsaw puzzles. I visited Florence recently, and here is part of her story.

It was an understood thing when I was a child that I would be a teacher. In those days, if you wanted more education after grade ten, you had to go to college of some sort. I went to Prince of Wales, which was high school and more. Boarding cost $10 a month, and tuition was $5 a year for rural students. That was very cheap, but I couldn’t go out for a Coke or anything.

Women could take teacher training or business courses. I took teacher training, and received my teacher class 1 certificate. Then I wanted to help the war effort, so I went to Ottawa to work as a clerk for a squadron leader. When the war ended I was at loose ends. One day I was outside hanging up my wash, thinking about what I should do. I decided then and there to become a nurse. I came back to the Island, and after three years of training I graduated from Prince County Hospital.

In those days, patients were treated like royalty! We washed them all over two or three times a day, gave them back rubs with rubbing alcohol, brushed their hair—you couldn’t do enough for the patient. But today, nurses know so much more. We didn’t know half what they’re taught these days.

Now I’m going to brag!  Dr. MacLeod said, “Florence can handle any situation.”  (Someone else told me that, not him.) I suppose I could keep calm in an emergency. I resuscitated Billy when he fell into the tub of water. It was suppertime, and Jack’s brother had brought home a new television set. We were all sitting around watching it, when Jack’s mother—she lived with us—looked out the window and cried, “Oh, look at the boy in the tub of water!” I tore outside and there was Billy in the rain barrel.  He had turned blue. I lifted him out, put him face down on the cellar hatch, and gave a few gentle pushes until he breathed. My daughter Rosemary, who was three years old and had been playing outside, was coming in to tell me about Billy just as Jack’s mother noticed him; so he was only in the water for a short while.

We didn’t have a phone, but Jack went to a neighbor’s to call Dr. MacLeod.   When he arrived, Billy was still unresponsive, but breathing. Of course, after a bit I had to go out and milk the cows; and I guess the family had supper, but I can’t tell you what they ate. Billy woke up in the evening and he was okay. It’s a miracle his brain wasn’t affected. He was only two years old at the time.

I should say that I taught school before I went to Ottawa, and taught again after I took my nurse’s training. I was married by now, and we had a baby.  It was hard to drive back and forth to the hospital in Charlottetown, so I decided to put my name forward to teach here in the Cove.  Because I was married with a child, the trustees decided that I shouldn’t be teaching: I should be home looking after my child and husband.  So I got a job teaching in the next community, and a girl from that place came to the Cove. I taught there one year, then another school came looking for me. When I became pregnant again, I gave up teaching till the children were old enough to look after one another.

I grew up in the 1930s.  Nobody had money, but don’t ever say they were poor. People had great pride. There was no such thing as borrowing money—you’d be horrified to go in debt. A few hundred dollars in the bank was something! If you went to work for a neighbor, it was “swapping” work. For picking potatoes you’d get paid a dollar day—and you earned it!

In the Cove there was no dancing, card-playing, bingo, or working on Sunday. Jack and I went to an old-time dance once in a while, but not often. From my own point-of-view, there was no time for entertainment. There was barely time to do the things you had to do. I helped with the farm work, and by the time the kids were settled at night, I was pooped. Mind you, there was a lot of visiting back and forth. And you had to have a lunch, no matter if it was morning, afternoon, or evening. When someone came to the door, the first thing you’d do was put on the kettle.

What was the Cove like in the olden days? Very old fashioned. Horse and sleigh in wintertime. No electricity until 1951. We all had outhouses, and if you ran out of toilet paper you might use magazines or catalogues; but smooth shiny paper, “slicky paper,” was no good at all.

In my opinion, school consolidation was the best thing that ever happened to this province. Until then, boys quit school at thirteen to work on the farm. With school consolidation and buses taking them right to the doorstep, there was some incentive to keep studying. Also, family allowance—$6 a month—was paid only if a child stayed in school until sixteen years of age.

Roads, yes, they were important. I had to get to work, and better roads made my job easier. Electricity was important too. But to me personally, education was the key. In our province there were many Scotch people, who brought education out with them. Scotland had the best educational system in the world…or so I read in a book recently. You can’t believe everything you read, but I’m Scottish on both sides so perhaps I’m a little prejudiced.

One thing I’m proud of is giving a talk to the Women’s Institute when Wayne Rostad [On the Road Again] was there, and we had our picture taken together.

You say this is going in the June Buzz? I’ll have to make sure I get a copy.

JoDee Samuelson is…

JoDee SamuelsonBorn in Saskatchewan and raised in Alberta, filmmaker and artist JoDee Samuelson now lives on the beautiful South Shore of Prince Edward Island. She is best known for her animated films, The Bath, The Sandbox, Mabel’s Saga, and Uncle Bob’s Hospital Visit. These films have been shown at festivals around the world and have won numerous awards for the Island filmmaker.

JoDee also paints, writes, and plays violin in the Strathgartney Chamber Orchestra. Last month she received a Masters of Arts in Island Studies degree from UPEI, with a thesis profiling the watermills of Prince Edward Island, and Gotland Island, Sweden.

This is JoDee’s third year of writing “The Cove Journal” for The Buzz, and she says that she has enjoyed every minute of it.

Blue Heron Walk

The Cove Journal
by JoDee Samuelson

Artwork by JoDee SamuelsonWe had coffee down at the Cove this morning, and guess what: the Iceberg’s still there. It never left. I suppose it read The Buzz last month and decided that it would never get this much attention again, so why not stay. I understand that it plans to camp here all summer. My apologies for suggesting otherwise.

Today on our morning walk we observed that, right on time, the Great Blue Herons have returned to grace the Cove with their silent watchful presence. Not long ago, the scenic drive around Queen’s County was named “Blue Heron Drive.” Now it’s called “Central Coastal Route.” (An improvement? You decide.) Fortunately, the name change is not the result of the Great Blue Heron becoming extinct. Although they must feel the pressure of human presence in their nesting and feeding grounds, they are still plentiful, and not just in Queen’s County, but all along our coastline.

Great Blue Herons spend their winters leisurely enjoying the finer things of life in southern USA, the Caribbean, and Central America. When they head back to the Island in April, they cruise night and day at speeds of 32–48 km/h, in private groups of three or four; or there may be as many as one hundred individuals in the Super Deluxe Migration Express, complete with tour guide and running commentary.

Once back on the Island, Great Blue Herons choose an available condo at the heron colony—on Governor’s Island, for example. They take over and repair old nests, or build new ones (one metre in diameter); go through a short but meaningful dating period; and proceed to make babies. The pale blue eggs—a half dozen or so—are incubated for twenty-eight days by both mother and father, Dad sitting on them in the daytime, Mom at night. Once hatched, the chicks voraciously consume all the regurgitated goodies that both parents can stuff down their throats.  After ten weeks this noisy, messy business comes to an end, and the little Great Blue Herons leave the nest for good. Somehow along the way they have learned to spear and gulp down small fish, reptiles, mice, and insects.

We don’t want to talk about how Great Blue Herons leave the Island in early autumn, because we want to think about how they’re here now! And it’s spring! In the Cove we’ve already started planning for our annual Perennial Sale at the park, which is a huge amount of work, but oh, so satisfying, nevertheless. If you need daylilies, dahlias, or daisies, rudbeckia, ranunculus, or rosemary, sweet william, sage, or sassafras: we might have it, or it might be sold out. First come, first served. That goes for the hot cinnamon rolls too.

A bonus of our Perennial Sale is the location: capes, clouds, sand bars, sunshine, gulls, Great Blue Herons…and, possibly even, the You-Know-What. If it’s still there, don’t blame me.

The End of the Ice

The Cove Journal
by JoDee Samuelson

Artwork by JoDee SamuelsonIf you missed seeing the Cove iceberg, well, you missed it. It’s gone.

All through February and March, curious people tried to drive down to the park, found that the road wasn’t plowed past the gate, and—possibly for the first time ever—got out of their cars and walked. At the edge of the cape they stood and stared, took pictures, and felt happy. Some even brought along a few beverages to toast the amazing sight.

Now, our iceberg wasn’t an actual iceberg; that is, it wasn’t a million year old chunk of ice that broke off some Greenland glacier. It was merely a cluster of ice cakes—our ice cakes—that clumped together to make an enormous mound of ice big enough to get snagged on a sandbar. Our sandbar. We thought of holding our first and only Iceberg Festival, with a bonfire, hot chocolate, marshmallows, and Ice Burgers; but it seemed like too much work. Better to stand back and admire the scene in peace, beverage in hand, and watch the ice floes ebb and flow, crackle and groan.

Highlights of the iceberg: One day it looked like an ocean liner proudly facing east. One day it was all lumpy, and the shadows were red. One day a crow perched on one end while a seagull sat on the other. Each day the sun shone or the rain came down, and the iceberg grew smaller; but it was still worth seeing. Then one morning it was gone. Some time in the night, the combination of high tide and wind dislodged our winter visitor.  Away it went, eagerly, hurriedly, to what it hoped were greater adventures. But alas, I fear it soon met its end, alone, and without the support of its adoring public on shore at the Cove. Adieu!

But that was then. Hello spring! Grackles are back, for better or worse. Geese are circling overhead, uncertain about where to relax, or wondering if they can afford to relax, since they still have so far to go. Robins are quietly going about their business as if to say, “So it’s spring, so what?” Any sunny day now the crocuses will be popping out to gladden our hearts.

Right on cue, the roads are breaking up. MLA’s are getting called at home to remind them of the potholes on the _____  ____ Road (fill in your own blanks). In the basement, potatoes are sprouting, carrots have turned into a shapeless mass of white rootlets and green tops and should be pitched, and the beets have shriveled to nothing. The squash needs to be eaten, but everyone is getting a little tired of squash soup. (Make a note: don’t grow so much squash next year.) The onions and garlic are sprouting. It’s time to dig out the garlic chicken recipe that calls for forty cloves of garlic.

Every living thing knows that winter is over. Ice anyone? Only in a gin and tonic, please.

In Those Days

The Cove Journal
by JoDee Samuelson

Artwork by JoDee SamuelsonA late winter morning with time to spare, I walk down the road to the home of one of the Cove’s matriarchs and knock on the door unannounced.

“No need to phone,” she says. “You’re always welcome.” She moves her knitting supplies off the rocking chair to make room for me. “Sit down. That used to be the cat’s chair, but he died last year. I wouldn’t have traded that cat for ten millionaires. He knew more than all the farmers on the South Shore.”

“More than your own father?”

“Maybe not him. Quietest man you ever saw, but when he put his mind to something, look out.”

“Where did he and your mother meet?”

“In the States. A whole bunch of them went to the Boston area around that time.   Mother was from the Island too. She was a seamstress, and what she couldn’t do wasn’t worth talking about. She could turn suits inside out, cut out dresses, reverse collars—five minutes and she’d have it all done. Used Dad’s razor blade to open seams. Opening seams took longest of anything.”

“We don’t make over clothes so much these days.”

“I guess not! Something gets old, you throw it away, buy something new. When I was young we didn’t go to the store from one month to the next. I guess we didn’t know the difference, we thought we were having a grand time. There used to be an old hall down at the corner, the old Orange Hall. Every Friday night a man from Montague brought movies and we’d have a Movie Night. Outside, there was a little building where they kept the generator, and they’d crank ‘er up and away she’d go. The hall was always packed, people lining up to get in. Now that was a lovely building, with a sloping floor and a big stage for concerts. They hauled it here from someplace else. For that matter, the church was hauled here too, up the Strait on the ice. Don’t ask me how they did it. They just did things like that in those days.”

“But you must have felt isolated, living so far from town.”

“Not a bit!”

“How about when you got sick?

“We didn’t get sick that much. And if we did, there was a doctor in the next community who could fix anything. One time, my husband cut off the tip of his finger on a potato escalator. It was just hanging by a thread. That doctor sewed it back together, good as new. The finger even had feeling in it once it was back on.”


My friend picks up her needles and resumes knitting. “I don’t know why I’m knitting these mittens. Winter’s almost over. Habit, I guess. Now you’re not writing all this down, are you?”

“Well, sort of.”

“Don’t quote me!”

“I’ll change things around a bit.”

“All right then.”

We sit companionably together, the click-click-click of the knitting needles playing a comforting rhythm in time with our thoughts.

Content with Winter

The Cove Journal
by JoDee Samuelson

Artwork by JoDee SamuelsonThe day is white on white, with the low sun well hidden behind thick white clouds. No shadows precede me or follow me as I tromp steadily across the crusty snow.

My wide track intersects with fox prints, so neat and clean. What can foxes find to eat in this frozen landscape? They know more about this land than I do. Two crows sit on an apple tree, picking at shrunken brown apples. As I approach, they raise loud voices in brief protest, and fly away. I salute their spirit and energy and their great survival skills. They must be young.

I was young not long ago, born, in fact, in February. My mother was taken to the hospital some miles distant, in a horse-drawn box sleigh. By box, I mean an enclosed box on runners, with a door, a tiny coal-burning stove and a bench inside for my mother to sit on, and a window in front for my father to peer out of while holding the reins. In family photos my father is wearing a black fur hat with flaps. Both my parents wear fur coats, for warmth, not for show. This was Saskatchewan in the 1950s. I find it amazing that my refined mother and my educated father would choose to move to such a remote, cold, part of Canada. Oh, it was cold on the Prairies of my youth. Rubber overshoes never kept our feet warm, and woolen mittens were either soggy, or frozen stiff. Still, we were outside all the time, shrieking and rolling in vast oceans of snow.

That was the way winters were then, and it was the same everywhere. On Prince Edward Island, the old photos show snow so deep that tunnels had to be dug for the trains. Horses found the way home through snowstorms by sixth sense.  Children left for school through upstairs windows because doors were snowed shut. Ice froze in kettles overnight. Mothers sat up by the stove at night until the fire was well and truly out, for fear of flue fires. And what about flue fires, those loud unwelcome snaps in the night, with children rustled out of warm beds, sparks fling out of the chimney, general pandemonium, and a sense of pure and unadulterated fear gripping everyone by the throat. Hard times.

Still, we’re nostalgic for winters “the way they used to be,” now that our winters are so changeable, and snow and cold are sandwiched between wet and warm. But what’s so bad about this winter anyway? It’s been easy on the firewood, and we’ve only had to have our lane cleaned twice. I love these long evenings filled with conversation, cribbage, crokinole, music, jigsaw puzzles, good books, movies, concerts, bookmaking workshops, drawing classes. Oh my word, we’re rich.

Some of the folks in the Cove are off to Jamaica, and Tobago. I’m happy for them, but I’ll stay here, contented. These white winter days suit me just fine.

To the New Year!

The Cove Journal
by JoDee Samuelson

Artwork by JoDee SamuelsonLet’s end one year and begin the next with a walk along the shore. What has changed on this beautiful fragile island in the past twelve months? Is the water higher? Maybe. When we moved to the Cove thirty years ago the tide seldom came in past the bridge. Now it regularly floods all the way to the highway.

Along the capes, trees dangle over the edge and swaths of grass hang loosely like huge flaps of skin. In some places a metre or more of bank has disappeared into the sea this year. There is a cottage with only one cottage-width of lawn between it and… eternity. No one seems to be panicking.

Even the island fortress of England is susceptible to rising oceans. Madeleine Penney writes in the London Times (Eureka, June 2012 p. 31): “The East coast of England is disappearing. Made of silt, clay and sand, it shows little resistance to the waves, with the future of many homes and communities under threat.  Despite revetments, the cliffs in Happisburgh, Norfolk are receding at up to 12 m per year… A new policy of ‘managed retreat’ will see the village left to its watery fate.”

Managed retreat seems small comfort. But we must remember that change is the nature of the universe. “We’re here for a good time, not a long time,” as we used to sing in the ’70s. So in December, while water and wind nibbled away at our fair shores, the people of the Cove set aside their cares and woes, put on costumes, and acted out the Nativity Scene.

I imagine families bundling into the car and heading out in the dark, with the road getting darker and windier every mile—so different from driving to the beach in the summer. “Are we there yet?” ask small voices in the back seat. Suddenly the car comes down the big hill, turns the corner by the school, and there it is, the farm all lit up “like a present” as one child described it. And that’s what it was: a present from the people of the Cove to anyone who cared to drive in. What lovely smiles we saw, and what big eyes there were in the little faces as they saw the donkeys and shepherds and the whole panorama of light. Beautiful. We cling to these warm images as we enter the season of coldness and solitary endeavors.

Thank goodness for Christmas with its eating, drinking, visiting, tinsel and evergreen boughs. And the lights, and even the waving inflatable Santas and Snowmen. When we tell ourselves, “Let’s keep it simpler next year,” we know quite well that we wouldn’t have it any other way.

So the world continues to turn. The tide ebbs and flows, the days lengthen, rabbits stretch out in their burrows, foxes pounce on field mice, grass tumbles over the cape, and here we are. Let’s lift our glasses and toast to another New Year!

We’re Keeping Busy

The Cove Journal
by JoDee Samuelson

Artwork by JoDee SamuelsonThe season of gingerbread houses, eggnog and fruitcake is upon us. And craft fairs. Do we need this many potholders, aprons, wall hangings, scarves, bowls, mugs, earrings, wreaths, wooden potato bins, jams, jellies, pickles, chutneys, squares and sugar cookies? No, we don’t need any of it, but since we want to support our neighbors, and everything looks so nice, we end up buying mittens, Christmas ornaments and potholders. They’ll make nice gifts for friends.

I also pick up a new book of Island history titled Afton: a place in time. Three cheers for the historians of the Rocky Point peninsula! They have put together a grand little book, full of wholesome nutritious facts nicely spiced with anecdotes and photographs. I am now considerably better informed about the lobster cannery on St. Peters Island, the starch factory at Westville, and lives of the Mi’kmak at Rocky Point. These tidbits may come in handy at a Christmas party when I am short of small talk.

Wait. This is not the time for small talk: there’s work to be done. We’re holding a Living Nativity in the Cove, and it takes time to line up all the angels, wise men, shepherds, and Josephs and Marys, plus put up posters, and arrange for choir practice. The donkeys and Tessa the horse were stars of last year’s Nativity and say they don’t need to practice at all. We’ll see. We hope that the goat has been told not to chew on the wise men’s sashes.

The Living Nativity is raising money for the Upper Room Food Bank, and our little one room schoolhouse. After all, what is a community without a place to meet, and where else would we hold our Christmas Concert? For we must have a concert, featuring as many kids as can fit on stage singing off-key. Proud parents will strain to hear a small voice reciting (in a monotone and without a break), “Tomorrow-is-Christmas-I-hope-there-will-be-some-presents-from-mommy-and-daddy-for-me…” There will be the usual step dancing, poems, skits and minor mishaps, Santa will make his appearance, the emcee will draw the winner of the gingerbread house, and we’ll all go home smiling.

This afternoon let’s put all that aside and head to the Cove. The beach belongs to the gulls and ducks, and to us, now that the geese and tourists have flown south. Last week the Cove was churned up by strong winds that washed in huge piles of seaweed and flotsam. Today everything is calm and quiet with the low sun casting long shadows and bathing the landscape in cool soft light. The coastline changes daily, yet remains the same. Like a good friend.

We walk below the cliffs on slippery black rocks where periwinkles and whelks snuggle together in cracks. Ice crystals crunch underfoot, reminding us that winter is just around the corner. We welcome this season too.

Woops! Better scoot home and get those shortbread cookies in the oven. Merry Christmas!

Events Calendar

November 2018
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pei symphony2

Some Upcoming Events

Together Again

Kenny and Dolly Tribute Concert at the Confederation Centre November 29
Homburg Theatre  On No [ ... ]

Wintertide Holiday Festival

November 24 & 25
Charlottetown Wintertide Holiday Festival begins November 23 with a Wintertide  [ ... ]

Light Up the Dark

Confederation Centre holiday show December 14
Homburg Theatre Confederation Centre carries a long t [ ... ]

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