08 Nov Combermere Diary
by Paulette Curran
Autumn in Combermere is, of course, harvest and food processing time. Both are hard work, and both make us so aware of God’s providence and so thankful to him for giving us the food we need.
This year, that includes a bumper crop of apples. Since in a climate in which most fruits cannot grow, apples are our main fruit, this is a wonderful gift indeed.
The autumn farm work is mainly done, of course, by the fulltime farmers, gardeners, and food processors, and the working guests who help them.
But some of the harvest-related work is also done in work bees, in which everyone who is physically able to and whose regular work can be skipped for a day or less, takes part.
Every autumn, for example, we have a chicken bee. Some of us (men) kill the chickens, some pluck (by machine), some fine pluck, some gut, some wash the chickens, and some package them for the freezer.
For some, especially those who have never done it before, it is quite an act of love to do this work in spite of their squeamishness. But, especially for those of us who usually work indoors, it can be an enjoyable day of working together surrounded by the beauty of the farm.
We also had a potato harvesting bee. For people who have never done this work, let me explain that the potatoes are hidden and you have to dig for them in the soft sand. One guest said it reminded her of a scavenger hunt.
However, what is arguably the most important event of the harvest season is about fruit of another kind, a fruit of God’s call. At supper, on September 8th, the birthday of Our Lady, we officially received our new applicants (our word for what religious communities call “postulants”).
The ceremony is short and simple and quietly beautiful. Each new applicant is presented with what is called “the brown folder,” in which is contained the basic writings about the spirituality of our foundress, Catherine Doherty.
She called it her legacy to “staff members yet unborn.” (Yes, it’s hard for us older members to believe, but some of our applicants these days were born after Catherine died.)
The directors general give a few words of explanation and welcome, and we all eat the traditional chocolate cake with white icing on which sits a plain black cross. This cake is a symbol of the sweetness of the cross, a symbol of the life into which the applicants are entering.
This year God has blessed us with four new applicants—two men and two women: Morgen Grigg (Canada) and Alec Bonacci (U.S.A.), Ana Sofia Corona Gaxiola (Mexico), and Caroline Middleton (U.S.A.).
Since we already have six applicants in the second year of their formation, we now have a total of ten.. Need I add that September 8th was a day of great joy for us?
The other event of this autumn time was Heritage Fest, a family-friendly event which we offered over Labor Day Weekend to local people and vacationers.
How to describe it? A bit like a fair (but without the glitz and commercialism), it is essentially a presentation of the artefacts and ways of the area’s pioneer past and of the crafts that individual staff do either as part of their work or as hobbies. And a few other things as well.
There were an amazing number and variety of crafts displayed and demonstrated, including pottery, weaving, spinning, carding, folk painting, card-making, wool dyeing, rope-making, felting, metal work, iris paper folding, ebru (Turkish paper marbling), and rosary-making. I don’t think I got them all.
You could try your hand at some of these crafts, and the children especially loved doing this.
Quilling earrings with Gudrun Schulz was particularly popular with the girls, while for the boys, one of the most popular things was miniature golf with Chris Hanlon, Fr. Zach Romanowsky, and applicant Augustine Tardiff.
There was a bee and honey display, an opportunity to help make butter and ice cream, and live music for a couple of hours.
A balloon man, Terry Newcombe, joined us for one afternoon, making balloon animals for the children, and three of the staff—Margarita Guerrero, Veronica Ferri, and Eliana Das Chagas—did face painting.
Possibly the most popular thing were the puppet shows—three performances by Helen Porthouse and Carol Ann Gieske.
Our pioneer museum was another attraction, and people especially loved the player piano (the kind where you play the piano by pumping the pedals) and watching Mary Davis spin.
One little boy, age six, spotted the spinning and got no further into the museum. He spent a long time with Mary Davis.
His mother told me that he loves old-fashioned things and that he asked her, “Can we stay here?”
The atmosphere was wonderful—peaceful and light-hearted. It was a great opportunity to visit with friends and neighbours and “friends we haven’t met,” and all three of the shops did a roaring trade.
Why does Madonna House put on Heritage Day?
As our foundress, Catherine Doherty told us when she had the pioneer museum built, “It is so important that we touch the past.” She also stressed how essential to life creativity and crafts and beauty are.
There were so many good and beautiful things in the past, and it is vital that current and future generations know about them. It is vital that they know ways of living other than those of this secularized, electronic culture.
One of Catherine’s sayings was, “Pass it on.” And passing on beauty and love is something we are trying to do through living our Madonna House life.
And what is next in our lives? Well, this evening will begin the annual meetings of our associates—bishops, priests, and deacons and their wives. But news of those meetings will have to wait until next month.
During the grayness of November, may God give you beauty and love and many moments of joy.