Ding dong merrily on high
In early November in Cupids, just before schoolchildren were let out for the holidays, they would begin to practice for the Christmas concert. Songs were sung; poems were read and recited. Refreshments were served, soup costing 10 cents a bowl. An admission charge helped the school.
As exciting as the concert was, Christmas holidays were much more thrilling.
“The Christmas holidays were a wonderful time for visiting neighbours and friends,” writes the late Raymond A. (Ray) Troke.
“The janneys (mummers) would come by and there were many kitchen parties with fiddle, accordion and guitar. Delicious cakes and puddings baked in the oven, while the scents of cinnamon and ginger wafted from kitchens all around. The carols in the churches and on the radio at Christmas time were another special memory.”
All this and so much more is told in an attractive book entitled: “Present, Miss! Memories of School Days in Cupids.”
Linda Kane, curator emeritus of the Cupids museum, had the original concept for such a publication. Ray Troke took it upon himself to develop the story line and text for this lighthearted look at school days in Cupids during the first half of the 20th century. He compiled memories collected from older members of the town. Hilary Cass created a book which is stunning for its detail, as well as the colourful illustrations and photographs scattered throughout the pages.
“This book,” says Linda Kane, “can be read by adults who love to reminisce about their old school days. It could be read by a child for entertainment or as a pleasant learning experience; it would increase a child’s appreciation of their present school system. (It) would be an excellent ‘read aloud’ for teachers, parents, grandparents and children.”
Back to Troke’s memories of Christmas past: “many of our gifts were homemade. Even quite young children were encouraged to ‘ make a pot holder for Grandma or place mats for Mom.’ We expected homemade gifts from family members, perhaps a slide or doll house. It wasn’t hard for parents to guess what was on our wish lists and they would try their best to make Christmas special for us. Money was often scarce, and families were bigger then, so children didn’t receive many expensive gifts.
“Christmas morning was magical, as we first checked stockings, which for us usually contained an orange and some candy, perhaps some pencils and small handheld games. Then we opened the Christmas gifts. Sliding down the hill on a new sled, playing with a top car or a box of paints are still happy memories. Of course our mothers, grandmothers and aunts kept us well supplied with mittens, hats, sweaters and scarves all beautifully hand knitted. We spent most of our free time outdoors, or indoors if the weather was bad, with our friends and our new toys.”
The memories chronicled in the book cover more than just Christmas. There are chapters devoted to schools and shops; the care and feeding of the pot-belly stove; Ione, the hurricane of September 21-23, 1955; readin’, ritin’ and ’rithmetic; geography and history; recess; toys and games with unusual names; and lifelong learning beyond school.
The Cocomalt chorus may be unfamiliar to contemporary readers, but it too has a story: “Cocomalt! Cocomalt! / That’s what we all say; / Oh, what fun it is to drink a glass or more each day. / Cocomalt! Cocomalt! / We like to drink our fill. / Mixed with water it tastes grand; / With milk it’s better still!” As you may have suspected, the lyrics are to be sung to the tune of “Jingle Bells.”
Cocomault, as Troke indicates, “was really a medicine to prevent us becoming ill and help us recover after we had been ‘under the weather.’ “
Not surprisingly, humour makes its way into this book. The account of “mitten soup” is a classic. Let Ray Troke give the details.
“Different women in town would each prepare a boiler of soup and we older boys would carry the boilers to the hall. Our pay was a bowl of soup for every boiler delivered. I remember on one occasion a boy couldn’t wait for his payment. He stopped on the way, took off his mitten, and fished some meat out of the hot soup, dropping his mitten as he did. Towards the end of the evening the mitten reappeared, staring up out of the bottom of the boiler. Mitten soup, I suppose you might say! One very red face and a few green ones perhaps.”
Copies of “Present, Miss!” can be obtained by contacting the Cupids Historical Society.