Last evening, I had the privilege of sharing my story “A 1960s West Head Christmas” at Lockeport’s Lillian Benham Library. I cannot say enough about the wonderful reception I received. The people of Lockeport and the surrounding area have showered me with their support. There really is no place like home. Between now and Christmas I would like to share it with you in sections for your enjoyment. So choose a comfy chair, grab a hot drink and bask in the warmth, coziness and comfort of the moment, or as my Dutch friends would say, “gezellig.”
I have been reflecting on the West Head of yesteryear — vastly different from the West Head of 2016. The tiny community was home to about 20 families and more than 60 children. Every family except one depended on the fishery to support their family. 14 men were fisherman who either owned a boat or fished with someone else. 5 men worked at the National Sea Company, Swim Brothers or Pierce Fisheries processing plants. One gentleman preferred gardening and animal husbandry over fishing. Men worked long hours in rugged conditions to feed and clothe their children.
No women worked outside the home. Families scrimped by on one income. There were no rich families. It was a simpler time, not necessarily a better time. When the school bus dropped off the children, at least one adult was home. Children ran to the house, dropped their schoolbags and headed outside to play until supper. For a child, West Head was the place to be.
What picture comes to mind when you hear the term “Christmas Cake?” For many, it is fruit cake — the dark, hard to chew stuff, filled with dried fruit and nuts. You know, kind of like putting a plug of chewing tobacco in your mouth. If possible, I tried to slip mine to an innocent dog or to poke in a flower pot. One could also claim a nut allergy. Sometimes, however, there is no choice but to eat a slice……just to be polite. I find fruitcake becomes significantly more palatable if it has been wrapped in cheesecloth soaked with rum or brandy for a few weeks or months. I must make it crystal clear that Mom’s fruit cake contained no alcohol ― heavens no!
Mom had a collection of cakes she made exclusively for Christmas. For five decades, Mom baked her Christmas cakes in her oven blackened tube pan or loaf pan. Each person in the family had a favourite cake: Mom and Dad-Gumdrop Cake, Myers-Marble Cake, Edsel-Applesauce Cake, Francis- Marble and me, I loved coconut pound cake.
Christmas cakes were extra special and only the finest ingredients would do. All year long, Mom used the cheapest margarine in her baking, but Christmas cakes demanded butter. Mom insisted on using pure vanilla extract not the artificial stuff. Many of the rich cakes called for up to six eggs. That was another story. Mom and Dad raised hens and sold the perfect-looking eggs. We had to settle for the rejects — with blotches, knobs, discolourations, funny shapes and even blood spots in the yolks. Mom used store bought brown eggs in her Christmas cakes.
One year, Mom experienced the ultimate Christmas cake disaster. Mom had a routine. Most days, she and Ceinwen, our sister-in-law, went on town, as we said in West Head, to get the mail and to run errands at the drug store, bank, at Laings’ General Store and MacKenzies’ Store. During one of their trips, Mom left several Christmas cakes to cool on the table.
With errands complete, Ceinwen came back from town and let Mom off at the driveway. She walked in the house and could not believe her eyes. EVERY cake had disappeared. There wasn’t a crumb in sight, but Sookie the dog was sleeping like a log in the corner of the kitchen. He was dead to the world. Barring an invasion of aliens, there was only one conclusion to draw: Sookie had eaten not one, but ALL the cakes. Bad doggie!
Mom cried about it for a few days and then started all over again. Dad said something incredibly unhelpful like, “How many times have I told you not to leave anything out because that lousy dog will eat every last crumb. He doesn’t know when to stop.” I can assure you that didn’t go over very well.
Now getting back to fruitcake. In a few weeks, you may receive the gift of fruit cake. If nobody in your family likes it, whatever will you do with it? I conducted some quick research and found some unconventional uses that may help you: use it as a doorstop, give it to the cat for a scratching post, stand on it to change a light bulb, use it as a Christmas tree stand, put it in the backyard to feed the birds and squirrels, and my favourite, take it camping with you…use it to weigh down the tent. (To be continued.)
More about “A 1960s West Head Christmas” next week.