If I were to seek from a psychiatrist some clue as to why during my
adult life I have been constantly making alterations and building cupboards, chiefly in run-down
rectories, he would no doubt tell me that there must have been in my tender years the sight of such
operations in progress. The man of mental science would be correct, for the very earliest
recollections I have of life upon this planet was that of watching some men busy at sawing and
nailing boards. They were making some alterations in a farmhouse which the family had acquired
at Athens, Ontario.
Then after I was married and settled into a prairie Mission house there came along one day an elderly parishioner who asked me what I was doing that day. When I replied, "Building cupboards", he opined, "Yes! and by cracky, you'll be building cupboards as long as you live, if you stay married!" His was the voice of experience. His comment re-acted upon me much as a booster station affects radio power. It intensified my early urge to alter and build as I had seen those men doing. I have stayed married and even since retiring I have built six cupboards. I seem destined to make alterations and put up shelves.
Athens had not long enjoyed the stature of villagehood. For some years it had been the hamlet of Farmersville. But an enterprising citizenry aspired to a more dignified status and a petition was circulated asking for incorporation as a village. The request was granted. Local legend has it that there was fine print on the petition heading, which few signatories troubled to read. Many were surprised and not a few chagrined to discover after the Deed of Incorporation was signed into law that not only had the community become a village but it had also adopted a new name - Athens. This name
was chosen because the village possessed a High School which was gaining a reputation for nurturing
sound education. Henceforth Athens was to be recognized as a seat of learning, a classic village.
Many years later when I entered college to train for the ministry I was heralded as a student who
should have no difficulty with his Greek studies!
My observations and thoughts about those carpenters at work marked the beginning of life in the wonderland of childhood. Beyond the confines of the house we children roamed. There was an old, disused cheese factory standing on the front line of the farm which was full of mystery. It was occupied by a gang of "Eyetalians" who were engaged in building the Brockville, Westport and Sault Saint Marie railroad. We youngsters were intrigued by stories of a marvelous cook who could flip a pan-sized flapjack without dropping it. We longed to see him perform that magic trick but we were warned to keep away from those foreigners who were said to be dangerous characters. We respected this injunction and had to be contented with ogling the cookee who came daily to the farmyard to buy milk.
The railway grade was raised by brawny men toiling with picks and shovels, wheelbarrows and mule drawn scrapers. They crowned the dump with Sheffield steel rails. The road never reached its projected terminus. It halted at Westport, 45 miles from Brockville. It operated from 1888 until it was abandoned in 1952. The Canadian national Railways had absorbed certain sections of it.
There were deep ditches on both sides of the railway grade, and there we opened each swimming season, clad in our birthday suits. Plank ramps over the ditches formed railway
crossing for the farm wagons, and cattle going to and from pasture.
There were cracks between those planks to give the animals toe holds. We
crawled under those gangways, and poked sticks up through the cracks
when the cows were crossing. The surprised animals displayed remarkable
agility. They leapt over the up-shooting sticks with the skill of ballet
dancers. In more serous mood we watched a special train which carried
citizens en route to Kingston to attend the funeral of the late Sir John
A. MacDonald, Canada's first Prime Minister.
When the pollywogs and bloodsuckers became too numerous for comfortable swimming in the railway ditches, we moved to the creek in Mort Wiltse's pasture field. There we dammed the creek which drained the millpond, and created a tolerable swimming hole. For real swimming though, father used to take us in the double buggy, as democrats were then called, to Charleston Lake, where grandfather kept a store and post office. If we got the corn planted by the 24th of May, Queen Victoria's birthday, we were assured of this outing.
Grandfather was Peter Ferris Green, a tall erect man with keen blue eyes, and a fringe of white beard, which grew beneath his chin and sprayed out over his collar. He wore a black skull cap. Grandmother Green was a slight frail woman who wore glasses, and a black lace cap. She sat in a rocker, drawing the while intermittently on her one-cent clay pipe. The grandparents accused each other of spoiling us children, while they both plundered the candy jars, and furtively slipped us the loot. A prize confection was the red striped peppermint bullseye, about the size and shape of a furnace briquette.