Combermere Diary

by Paulette Curran

The weather has certainly been acting strangely in the recent three months or so. July, with the exception of a few days, felt more like September. And now in mid-September, as the leaves are beginning to turn, it feels like July. Someone said, “Summer is repenting and sending us her heat now!”

So how are our crops doing after our cool, rainy summer?

Well, the summer ones, the ones you mainly eat in summer—the cucumbers, tomatoes, corn, and zucchini—did poorly, as did apples, our main source of fruit. But the winter storage ones, the main vegetables we depend on to feed us through the winter—potatoes, cabbage, carrots, turnips, beets, etc.—did all right.

God in his goodness takes care of us.

The major work of autumn, of course, are harvesting and processing our food for the winter. But in other ways as well, September is a full month, and three of the four biggest events—the reception of applicants, Heritage Fest, and the chicken bee—took place the same week.

Heritage Fest which we put on every year, is in some ways like a small county fair—minus the glitz.

It is a glorious expression and celebration of one aspect of Madonna House life: crafts and farming and our reverence for the simpler ways of doing them.

Anne Marie Murphy, head of the handicraft department, and Carolyn Desch, head of the gift shop, led the event, and much work, time, love, and effort were put into it by a lot of people. And at the event itself, staff, with some exceptions, presented what they have been doing.

Some of this is their regular job, such as Andorra Howard’s display of bees and honey. Some exhibit a past job—such as the ice cream making, led by Paul Moore, a former cheese-maker.

And some of the exhibits present hobbies: Raandi King who does pottery, timed it so that people could watch her take her pots out of the kiln during Heritage Fest. And a very special kiln it is: It is wood-fired and was built by Darrin Prowse.

Bonnie displayed ebru, Turkish paper marbling, and Mary Davis sat in the museum spinning.

There were a few new features this year. One popular one was an ongoing demonstration of doing the laundry with an old-fashioned machine—one with a hand-worked agitator and wringer. Teresa Reilander and Veronica Ferri, in pioneer dress, demonstrated.

One thing that made the event especially enjoyable was that almost everything was interactive. Adults and children both could card wool, learn iris paper-folding, crank the ice cream maker, work the washing machine, make rope by twisting a simple device, churn butter, and even “help” Patrick Stewart with his oil painting. Etc., etc., etc.

They could play “goofy golf”, which Augustine Tardiff and others designed and built using the roughness of our terrain and such easily available materials as bales of hay.

A puppet show presenting a Russian folk tale, put on by Carol Ann Gieske, Helen Porthouse, and Joo Eun Lee was well-attended—even in Sunday’s rain when people either huddled under umbrellas or let themselves get wet.

Everything was free, a craft you made, a taste of Andorra’s honey, even a small sample of the freshly-made ice cream.

Would you believe that what you just read is only some of what went on during our two-day Heritage Fest? (Room for this column is limited.)

Not surprisingly, the turnout was good—even on the rainy Sunday. Many of those who came were local families we know (including lots of children), and it was a good opportunity for us to visit with them.

Then less than a week after Heritage Fest, was September 8th, Our Lady’s birthday and the day we receive the new applicants. This is a day of quiet joy, for it is the day that young people enter into formation, the first step in the process of becoming members of our community.

This year, on the morning of the reception, we received a lovely surprise. We had thought there would be five new applicants and suddenly, at lunchtime, we were told that there were six. One of our men working guests had just that morning asked to join the group, and he was told yes.

The reception ceremony, which occurs immediately after supper, is a simple one. The directors general officially present each of the applicants with a “brown folder,” containing the essential writings about the spirituality of Catherine Doherty.

And the director general of women, Elizabeth Bassarear, presents a cake topped with a black cross on white icing, a symbol of the sweetness of the cross, which, the new applicants are told and the rest of us are reminded, is the Madonna House vocation.

The directors of training this year are Christina Milan, Peter Gravelle, and Fr. Michael Weitl. Christina is brand-new at the job.

And now, a little over a week later, the applicants have begun their new life. They are in their new dormitories and work departments. They have begun their classes and the reading of the history of the apostolate, and they have had a day of recollection.

The third event that happened that first week in September was the chicken bee—one of those work bees in which anyone who is able-bodied and does work that can be let go for a day, takes part.

In this well-organized operation, each person is given a particular job. The men kill and pluck the chickens, keep the fire going under the large cast-iron pot of boiling water, and carry pails of chickens between the various “stations”. The women do the fine plucking (the small feathers), gut, wash, and wrap the chickens for the freezer.

Some people understandably find this work difficult, and others enjoy it—mastering the gutting, working together, and enjoying the scenery and atmosphere of the farm. (The farm is several miles from where most of us live and work.)

This year we processed 180 chickens, which will be made into chicken soup for the sick.

And what’s been happening the rest of the month? Well, among other things, it seems like we’ve been having a number of work bees lately—bees to sort out our donations—clothing, shoes, and miscellaneous—food processing bees, bees to harvest potatoes and to mail out the October Restoration.

In three days we will be having a bee to mail out the twice-yearly begging letter, which many of you will be receiving.

A group from Ottawa called, “The Friends of Madonna House” spent a day here. Paul Mitchell and Meaghan Boyd manned a booth at a vocation fair in nearby Peterborough.

Finally, one lovely small event was the party Karen Van De Loop gave on the occasion of her fortieth anniversary of running the Madonna House Bookshop. Everyone who had ever worked in this hidden apostolate was invited. Karen told some wonderful stories and the décor was a great—just the shop itself with its tremendously varied secondhand books everywhere.

May God bless each of you abundantly with all the graces you need to become a saint—a saint with a small “s”.

P.S. Oh yes, the fourth event of September? The meetings of our associate priests, deacons, and deacon wives. It will take place during the last week of September. We’ll tell you about it next time.