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.

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