Monday, January 3, 2011

The Good Ladies of Mortlach


While it is impossible to get lost taking the Ring Road around Regina , what with construction zones and detours, I managed the feat. Using my superior powers of guesswork and instinct, I jagged west and south and west on dirt roads, then south again until, in the distance, I could see big rigs floating along the blacktop of the TransCanada Highway . It was early morning and I had been driving three hours. I was on my way home. I reached the highway and eased in between a couple of cattle trucks. By the time the exit to Mortlach appeared, my stomach felt like “breakfast”.

I turned off the highway onto another dirt road, but this time I knew where I was going. A huge billboard announced to one and all that this was the home of the Mortlach Old-Time Fiddlers. On the lane leading into town was a plantation of trees, a rural forest poking out of the prairie. The humped dome of the hockey rink loomed prominently on my left.

The village of Mortlach is about the size of Gildford. I passed a library, installed in a converted house. An ice-cream shop shared a building with a small grocery. As I passed the Country Garden Teahouse and CafĂ©, a sign in the window caught my eye: “A Little Taste of Britain”. A brick pathway led back of the Teahouse through a garden to an art gallery housed in a former coach house. I caught a glimpse of the town park and a small school house. At the end of Main Street a two-story brick building housed the museum, the side wall splashed with murals of farm scenes. In a smaller building with a large front window, painted in gold lettering were the words, magical to me, Books and Music. I felt like I was driving through a set from a movie and wanted to savor the experience. I wished I didn’t have to hurry to make the border crossing. But breakfast was all I could take time for.

The Teahouse was the only place to eat. I love nothing better than high tea, but at nine in the morning I craved breakfast. There was no place to park near the Teahouse. Cars lined both sides of the street. So I pulled around the corner and found a space across from the Volunteer Fire Department. Two young men were hosing down an already sparkling red fire truck. I climbed from my van and locked the door. Took two steps, turned back, unlocked the door and grabbed a book to read while I waited for breakfast. I glanced around at the pastoral scene, shrugged and left my door unlocked.

“This must be a popular place,” I thought as I walked back to the small eatery tucked into the front of a white-painted cottage, ruffled chintz at the windows and red roses climbing the front. I could hear a buzz of voices as I reached to open the door. The room was filled with women. My first thought was “Oops!” I felt like I had walked into somebody’s party. Before I could retrieve it, the “Oops! came out my mouth. I started to back up. “No, no, no, come on in.” “We’re having a meeting. You are welcome to join in if you wish.” “Here is an empty table. Or you can sit with us” “Please, make yourself comfortable.”

So I stayed, a quiet mouse in the corner, my book forgotten. Over steaming strong coffee, just the way I like it, and fresh strawberry jam slathered on toast, I eavesdropped on the meeting of the ladies of the United Church . Actually, the meeting was organized by the United Church ladies, but fully half of the women were not church members. This ecumenical gathering of women, church and non-church, some from town, some from the surrounding farmlands, were all working together on projects to enhance and enliven the community. Over the course of their meeting I learned that this group had built public restrooms and a playground in the park. They had planted a community orchard. They are actively involved in the town’s choir. They organized the new recycling program. The hockey and curling rink needed a new roof. The ladies were on the case.

They spoke freely. Ideas flew from all parts of the room. I sat fascinated as the women discussed their plans, assigned tasks and volunteered for duties. They made their decisions by group consensus. I thought, “This is how it works. This is the way to get things done. Way to go, Ladies of Mortlach!” And do not think for one minute that the men are left out of the picture. Woman proposes, Man disposes. So, “Way to go, Women and Men of Mortlach!”

I finished eating and lingered over another cup of coffee. As I prepared to leave, several women approached me. “Why don’t you come to our Berry Festival next year.” “It will be the first weekend in July.” “This year we had over three thousand people.” Sounds like a lot of fun to me. Want to come along?

Sondra Ashton

HDN: Looking out my back door

December 2, 2010

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