Now and Then

Mary and Joe 2015

Mary and Joe Middleton

The home of Mary and Joe Middleton rings with music, warmth and laughter, echoes of jovial family and friends’ get-togethers. “I start each day reading the bible, citing two special sections, Romans 1:16 and 10:9. We are so blessed. Music has also been a part of my life since I was a baby. I grew up with my father’s fiddle and family ‘sing-a-longs’ and we have carried on this tradition. We love to share our music.” Mary’s love of cooking parallels her love of song. Tasty recipes, Mary is proud of, have landed in a cookbook fashioned by her granddaughter. It is aptly titled ‘You are Doing it Wrong’ highlighting Mary’s aim for perfection in her offspring’s culinary attempts.

Mary Elizabeth was born to Alice (nee Lane) and Archie Rowe on February 3, 1943 in Gore Bay during a storm. “I was the first girl after three boys, Wilmer, Harold and Tim. Nancy was born later. My mother and I had to spend three weeks at my paternal aunt Violet Panton’s house until we could safely return home.”

Helping Dad at home circa 1947
Helping Dad at home circa 1947

Brother Harold has compiled a history of the Rowe family from 1842 to 2006. Referring to Mary, he states, “she was spoiled early but recovered to grow up and take after her mother in a lot of ways.” Maternal grandparents are Elizabeth (nee Greenman) and Charles Lane. The Lane name was well-known on Barrie Island and Gore Bay. John and his brother Lawrence Lane were mayors in Gore Bay, in the 1960s and early 1970s (for John) and through the 1980s and early 1990s (for Larry). John’s son Ron is mayor today.

Harold’s book explained that the Rowe family, notably William Alfred, Mary’s great-great-grandfather, emigrated from England to Peterborough, Ontario, in 1842 at age 51. His son, great-grandfather William John, was 12 when they left England. He married Harriet Ackley and lived on a farm on McLean’s Mountain just outside Little Current. He transported mail to Manitowaning. Their son Timothy became a baker in Little Current and Gore Bay and grandfather to Mary. Timothy’s first wife died in childbirth and his second wife Mary Magdalene McColeman gave birth to six children including Archie, Mary’s dad.

Mary’s family moved to Gore Bay when she was just three-years-old. Her dad provided janitorial services for the local school. This included keeping the school’s fire fueled with coal or wood. He would return home blackened by the coal.  During the holidays, the whole family was conscripted to help. Parents and siblings would arrive at the school to do a major cleaning. In his spare time, Archie also built homes in town and did carpentry work. Alice worked full time at the local turkey eviscerating plant and she took in foster children. “The foster children were a blessing but it was hard to say goodbye when they left.”

Mary shares some early memories. “On Friday afternoons at school, my favourite teacher Mrs. Long, who also gave me piano lessons, would play the piano and we would sing with her. That was a lot of fun. Afterwards, coming home from school, my friends and I would be enchanted by the delicious aroma of freshly baked bread. My mother Alice would make 10 to 15 loaves at a time. She and her sister would compete at the local fairs, taking turns bringing home first or second place ribbons for their breads. Alice did a lot of knitting too.”

Mary at home in 1951
Mary at home in 1951

Picnics with the family in the old Model ‘A’ included transporting a big pot to make fresh corn-on-the-cob over the open fire. “We all looked forward to that. One time, we were packed into the car, heading for our picnic site when rain began to pour down in buckets. Jerusalem Hill was far from our Perivale farm. The roof of the Model A started to leak badly. The corn pot did double duty and caught the rain but excess water contributed to our lack of braking power. We came down the very steep hill to the highway at an unsettling pace, and shot out on Hwy 540. Luckily, the road was clear but we decided to avoid further calamities and limped back home to boil our corn on the stove.”

As a teen, Mary worked for the Northernaire Lodge at Evansville for $50 a month and at Treasure Island Resort at Mindemoya. “I was sitting in the girls’ cabin after work at the Northernaire Lodge when the dock boy came in and asked if somebody could help him. He was trying to put an engine into a Model A car he was restoring.” Mary was the only girl who agreed to help. That was how she met her future husband, Joe Middleton. “Joe was a hard worker. He couldn’t cook but he could play his guitar well and he often entertained the guests in the evenings with his music.”

Joseph Watts Middleton was born on June 25, 1942. His family had originated in England. He did not particularly like school; preferring to look out the window rather than watch the teacher, but he completed Grade 8. After school, Joe went to Sheridan College where he got his Class ‘A’ Mechanic’s License. He got work at the old White Rose station in Gore Bay, owned by Harry Witty and later Stu Burns. Manitoulin Livestock trucks needed a lot of fixing. He was making a handsome $43 a week.

After Grade 12, Mary worked in North Bay, helping her older brother Wilmer, a pharmacist, but she missed Gore Bay and she missed Joe. After two years, she moved back home to finish Grade 13, and see Joe. After she graduated, she became a telephone operator running the Gore Bay Telephone Company switchboard for $28 a week. “We just had to work day shifts which entailed a full day of ‘number please’ and switching the cords to link callers. Sometimes it could get very hectic when too many calls came in close together. The night shift was handled by a man who tried to sleep there despite the potential of a lot of interrupted sleep.”

Joe and Mary were wed on December 4, 1965 at the Gordon United Church, across from where Pat Noble Lumber is located. That church has been torn down now. The reception was in the United Church Hall in Gore Bay. “For our honeymoon, we headed north in falling snow, to Wawa. We checked into a local motel. When we woke, our car was gone.”

“We hadn’t noticed the winter ‘no parking’ signs that allowed clear access for the snowplows. Our vehicle had been towed. The motel owner sent us to the police station where it took $20 to get our car back. That was a hefty price for newlyweds in 1965. We continued our honeymoon, travelled to see my brother Wilmer in North Bay and then returned home.”

Mr. and Mrs. Middleton signing the register.
Mr. and Mrs. Middleton signing the register.

Mary continued her work as a telephone operator and Joe went back to the garage. “Our combined income of $71 a week allowed us to eat out once a week at Marv’s Restaurant in Gore Bay where the Island Pantry was located until recently. “We were living high on the hog” Mary claims, smiling. “These days, our money doesn’t seem to go as far.”

The couple had five children, Bruce, Tim, Christie, Mary-Jo and Jamie. They all lived in Gore Bay until 1988 when they bought the 200-acre farm where Mary and Joe live now. A beautiful small, stone house sat to the right. Two bedrooms and a wood stove made the stone abode cozy. It offered extra space for visitors, but it’s mostly used for storage now. In the year 2000, a new home was built near the old one.

When the kids were younger, the family enjoyed going camping with them. Janet Head, near Gore Bay was a favourite destination, as was Santa’s Village in Bracebridge. “Every spring, we make maple syrup with them at the sugar shack in the bush. We make enough to gift to family and friends.”

When her youngest was in school, Mary took on some babysitting for Dr. McRae and Dr. Hamilton. “I like to help them. Two days a week, I cook and iron shirts and blouses. I make extra meals so they have something to eat when they come home after a long day at the clinic on days I am not there. Apple pies and rolls are popular and can be easily frozen. Sometimes they serve meals to guests also.”  One can only assume they like Mary’s cooking.

Cooking remained a mainstay for the Gore Bay resident. ‘You’re Doing It Wrong’ was fittingly named by author, granddaughter Damaris. It boasts many popular recipes established by Mary and her predecessors. The candid title is Mary’s favourite comment when her grandchildren attempt to create one of the recipes. The grandchildren all know their grandmother loves them and this is just her way of ensuring traditional cooking methods are carried on.

“We had cows, sheep, chicken, turkeys, and pigs on the farm. Joe liked pigs. He felt they were the smartest animals of all, pooping only in one corner of their stall. We always had a big sow so we could raise pigs to sell. We stopped raising sheep. The wolves would kill them. They didn’t eat them, just killed them and they didn’t take the lame animals, they preferred the strongest. We had 12 at one point but too often we found another sheep dead when we got up in the morning so we had to sell our sheep.”

Portrait as a young girl.
Portrait as a young girl.

Mary has always liked telling stories, from her school years through her adult years. English was a favourite subject and she loved to write detailed letters to family members who lived away. The letters were often written in rhyme, or thoughts expressed with poems. “Raising the kids was very rewarding. They all turned out well and they all love music. Tim is a structural engineer who inspects and repairs paper mills and dams. He has his own consulting firm, ‘Acts’. Bruce is a heavy equipment operator for Randy Noble. Christie is an office administrator for the Sudbury District Health Unit. Mary-Jo Harper is a nurse in Mindemoya and Jamie drives heavy equipment in the oil fields out west.”

Joe spent his last 20 working years as a mechanic for La Farge until his retirement in 2007, at age 65. These days, at Christmas, Mary and Joe assemble food trays and they deliver them to friends and people who can’t get out and might appreciate a little help. “Many people look forward to them but my list is growing shorter, and that is sad. Arthritis is making it all more difficult. When I told one friend that I was delivering fewer trays, he took a full-sized photo of his tray and made it a screen saver, so he could appreciate the gift for a long time. That was really nice.”

Joe and Mary live with three cats. “We inherited Garfield from Damaris after she developed hives from cat dander. Two more $500 cats joined the family after the grand-kids found a nest of three in the barn. One died, the other two, females, had to be fixed. We keep them in the basement in the winter and they are outside much of the summer. All three cats will follow Joe down the laneway. It is quite comical to see them marching after him, like faithful puppies.”

The ‘Kids’ Bible Club’ was one association Mary and a friend ran in the mid 1980s in Gore Bay. She enjoyed familiarizing youngsters with the bible. “In my spare time, I also collected plates, and salt and pepper shakers. Twelve decorative plates adorn the top of the kitchen cabinets. Four of them are ‘sister’ plates and the rest are gifts from the kids,” Mary continues. Over another doorway more plates are displayed, each one depicting a unique church. “We were married here; my daughter was married in this one. Each one has special significance.”

Joe at 12 in 1954
Joe at 12 in 1954

“My favourite television show? It was ‘MacGyver.’ I have the boxed set of all the shows, but music is our mainstay. ‘Sing-songs’ at various homes are popular, especially after church. Both the Lanes and the Rowes have a natural musical talent. In the early years, dad would play his violin. Joe and family friend Dale Wood would play guitar and Christie has the violin she inherited from her dad. It becomes a ‘food and fun’ night with everyone singing to accompany the small impromptu band. Christie often hosts ‘musical’ nights at her home.”

“Our grandchildren feel the same. Sarah is taking music at the college level. Son Jamie plays guitar and he has sent two to family here: one to his dad and one to my grandson Sam, his nephew. Sam has also bought his first Les Paul guitar with his tip money and he ‘peer’ teaches, one-on-one, with MSS students. Daughter Christie teaches piano to grandchildren living here. Grandson Eric plays several instruments including the bagpipes, and he does very well with all of them. We have two ‘foster’ grandchildren, Robert Maxwell and his wife, Edyta who hails from Poland. Robert liked the idea of being ‘adopted’ because his own grandparents were far away. They visit often and lend their excellent voices to our musical evenings.”

“I believe in the power of prayer,” Mary affirms. “Three weeks ago, my son was riding his motorcycle in North Carolina, where he lives.  He has been riding motorcycles since he was 16 and he’s pretty good at it. A truck pulled out in front of him. He swerved to avoid hitting it but lost control. His cycle hit the road sliding and he slid along behind it. Thankfully, he was wearing his helmet and that likely saved his life.”

“He sustained a broken shoulder, eight broken ribs, and a punctured lung. They had to cut a hole in his side to blow the lung back up. He is recovering at home now and I know my prayers reached out to him. His family knows that I am a ‘worry wart’ so they regularly put him on Skype so I can see how he is doing.”

“Another miracle happened when Bruce’s son, Christopher, was two. They lived on the back line and the tot was sitting on the ground near the tractor when the gearshift was accidentally touched. The tractor rolled right over the back of the little boy, from his feet to his neck. “We heard about the accident and rushed to the hospital, not sure of what to expect when we got to Sudbury. We ran up to his room, opened the door and I went in first. We were surprised by a hearty ‘Hi grandma’ followed by ‘take me to McDonald’s’. He was sitting up, happy to see us, and seemed none the worse considering his recent adventure. You could see the tread marks along his spine, but he was fine. The soft ground was a factor, but I believe prayer made a bigger difference.”

The couple has done some travelling, to Alberta by train, and road trips to North Carolina to visit son Tim’s family. On one excursion to North Carolina with her brother, Mary surprised her grandchildren. For the last leg of the journey, she was smuggled in under a blanket. When the children came out to get the luggage, they found their grandmother under the blanket. They were overjoyed, bestowing her with multiple hugs.

Mary has no regrets. “I have a happy life with my husband and my family. At one time, I wanted to be a nurse, but there was only enough money for my brothers to go to university and they were lucky that they all could go. I don’t really fear much but if I don’t know or understand something then I might be afraid. Right now, I hear a chirping under my deck and I am not afraid, just frustrated because I can’t find the source of that chirping which never seems to stop.”

The stone house may have housed turkeys originally, then guests, and now stored items.
The stone house may have housed turkeys originally, then guests, and now stored items.

“Do I admire anyone?  I always admired Jean Croft of Gore Bay, a member of our church and a wonderful woman. It was almost like hearing angels when you were around her. She was kind, gentle and had a charming way of talking. She was a super woman in my eyes,” Mary adds. “When I finally reach the end, I would like to have lots of music and celebration at my funeral. I want people to cherish the relationship they had with me and not be focussed on sadness. We all have to die, it is a part of life.”

“My recipe for happiness is being content with what you have, being thankful and helping others as much as able.” In addition to compassion, Mary’s strengths, as previously noted, are cooking, poetry, and music. “I am learning to play the autoharp,” she adds smiling. “Mother used to have one. I usually take it for music nights.”

This family shares love and music.
This family shares love and music.

The fact that Joe and Mary hardly ever eat alone is a testimonial to their warm and friendly home. They get many visitors, both family and friends. Christmas, New Year’s and Easter are special occasions for about 20 relatives living on the Island. “Joe has very strong ties to the Island. He would never leave here. People are so friendly on Manitoulin; you can talk to anybody. We have a trailer in North Carolina but Joe is happy if we just go for short visits. He wants to spend most of his time here. Neither Joe or I are city persons.  This Island is just so much more peaceful. When you cross the bridge, doesn’t that make you feel good? There’s really no place like it.”

Isaiah 41:10  “Fear not for I am with you. Be not dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen you. Yes, I will help you. I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

All the grandchildren.
All the grandchildren.