The Cove Journal
by JoDee Samuelson
On this frozen winter morning with the north wind urging me to stay indoors, I decide to step out and visit some elder residents of the Cove, Charles and Myrtle MacNevin.
Charles MacNevin was born here, in the house where he has lived out his 84 years. I meet him coming out the door on his way to fetch firewood. “That’s okay, I can do it later,” he insists as he ushers me into the back porch. Myrtle is in the kitchen at the McClary kitchen range, deftly poking in foot-long chunks of split hardwood. “This stove is as old as I am,” she says. “I couldn’t do without it.” The oven door is open, a kettle hisses quietly, various clocks tick gently in the background. I step into the past.
So, I ask, what was winter like in days gone by?
Myrtle: “Snow, deep snow!”
Charles: “The roads weren’t open, everyone traveled on the fields and rivers. You had to be careful on the ice because of all the springs. Mostly you knew where they were, and of course the ice was bushed [marked with small trees frozen into the ice], but even so the ice could get thin. Maybe we went to town once a week, over the fields and down the river. We’d haul in a load of potatoes, or hay for the livery stables—there were quite a few in town those days. While you did your errands you’d leave your horse at the stable and they’d feed it a bite of hay, so those places always needed hay.”
Myrtle: “Charles could get a hot dinner at the livery stable, in the house. The wife cooked the meals and the husband looked after the horses.”
What about your daily routines?
Charles: “In the morning the water in the kettle might be frozen. First thing was to get the stove going, then feed the animals. Breakfast was after that. Oatmeal porridge, bread and molasses, tea and milk. We only milked one cow in winter, the others were dried up till they calved in spring.”
Myrtle: “We always had plenty of milk. And meat and potatoes, carrots and pickles and everything. See these carrots? I’m making copper pennies with them. They’re still good, but in the spring when carrots started to sprout, most people used to throw them out. Charles’s mother lived with us until she died at 98, and she showed me how to make copper pennies with old carrots. You slice them in rounds, boil them and put them in vinegar and spices. They’re some good! My own mother died when I was eight so I didn’t learn much cooking. Charles’s mother taught me everything.”
Charles: “And of course there was threshing that went on all winter, barley and oats. Everyone helped each other, one farm one week, another the next. No one kept track.”
Our conversation rolls on and on. The clocks ticks, time passes, but we do not keep track.