The Birthday Lunch

The Birthday Lunch by Joan Clark on
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Maybe it’s because Sussex NB is now my hometown. Or maybe it’s because Joan Clark wrote an amazing book about family and place. Whatever, I read her 2015 The Birthday Lunch with only grudging stops for my own lunch.

It’s about a death, sudden and unexpected, and how the woman’s husband, kids and sister cope. It mostly takes place over the following week, summer of 1981 in Sussex. The shock, the whys and hows, the obituary, what would she want done, the funeral. In the course of that week, we learn about the lives of these people and their friends, neighbours and family members present and past.

Downtown_Sussex-2006-Rangeley-wikipediaThe son having believed he may have fathered a child with a local girl seemed a pointless tangent, according to a reader’s review I read. But keep following that string. It will give you the skein that is life in a small town. Your history is not yours alone, everyone in town shares in it. Ms Clark isn’t slapping you in the face with this, but the intertwining of lives is there on almost every page.

Neighbours and friends aren’t slapping it in anyone’s face either. They are just there, like the streets, worn hills and creeks. A woman who watches passersby on Main Street with binoculars sees a lot more than who’s walking where. A neighbour, knowing from the loss of her husband how painful words of condolence can be, silently leaves meals for the family on their doorstep. These are good, but not cloyingly good, people. They simply have learned from their own hardships.

The person who has learned lessons from her problems, but maybe not the most useful ones, is the dead woman’s sister. Laverne is probably the least likeable character in the whole story but one who lives the most interesting life inside herself, inside her walls. She has done something that I’ve never thought of, yet once you read it, you think well, why not?

Woman with a Child in a Pantry

Pieter_de_Hooch_007-woman-with-a-child-in-a-pantry-ca-1658-rijksmuseum-wikicommonsLaverne lives inside a 17th century painting. (The book, of course, explains this.) Noted in passing is that she doesn’t care that the woman and child are missing in her rendition. They’re central to the artist. But to Laverne, I think, what’s central is the artist and maybe the sense of love or belonging. Conveyed in a painting, there is no reciprocal obligation. In her small time capsule, she is central. She does not share any of this with anyone else, not even really with her sister.

Another peripheral, but important, character, is fascinated by Laverne’s creation and thinks of how he can use it. Does he wonder about who this woman is that she could, and did, do it? No. But he’s mightily impressed by her ability to adapt architecture and real light to perspective and painted light.

A beautiful book about Sussex. A beautiful book about anywhere where an accident causes a family and a town to grieve. Regret and remember. Come together in some places and pull apart in others.

Laverne made asparagus and Stilton soup and  scallops for the birthday lunch. Here’s how I make any cream soup.

Sam Anger, Fiddler

Sam Anger was “the best durn fiddle player in seventeen counties.” That’s what an ad for Winger’s Crescent Park Entertainers called him. He worked as a blacksmith in Ridgeway, just outside Fort Erie in Ontario. He also was my 3rd cousin, thrice removed.

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Sam Anger and wife Jennie in doorway, band members in the Tin Lizzie (tap to enlarge)

Samuel Anger was born 10 December 1862 in Brantford Ontario. He moved to Welland where he ran the Arlington Hotel, later Hotel Reeta. Then he moved to Ridgeway, his father’s hometown, and worked as a blacksmith. He died in Ridgeway on 18 January 1933.

His parents were Lorenzo Anger and Catherine Buck. Loren was the great-grandson of Georg Frederick Anger who had come from Pennsylvania to Bertie Township as a United Empire Loyalist after the American Revolution.

Sam Anger married his second cousin Jeanette Mathews. Her parents were Charles Mathews and Louisa Anger. Louisa’s parents were William Anger and Margaret Ellsworth. Sam’s father Loren was the son of Henry Frederick Anger and Sarah Ellsworth. Sarah and Margaret were sisters and Frederick and William were brothers. Louisa and Loren, therefore, were double first cousins.

Sam Anger family chart

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Sam Anger line on right side, my grandfather’s on left (tap to enlarge)

Sam and Jeanette had two sons, Charles Sherman and Gordon. Gordon Anger was born and died in the Niagara region. Sherman was born in Buffalo, New York and died in Pennsylvania, thereby completing the circle started by his UEL 3x great grandfather a century and a half earlier.


Sam Anger also closed that circle, not geographically but musically. The Winger’s Crescent Park Entertainers played “hillbilly music,” which originated in the Appalachian Mountains. Georg Frederick Anger, after his arrival from Germany, settled in Pennsylvania’s Wyoming Valley in the Appalachians. It is coal-mining country, the same area and industry that produced hillbilly music. It, in turn, produced country music.

village-blacksmith-shop-c-1930-fb-ridgeway-histWinger’s Crescent Park Entertainers were Red Tubbs, Howard Brandel, Ernie Clare (or Clue), George Marshall, Millie Downs and Garnet Jansen in addition to Sam Anger and, to some extent, his wife Jennie. Their name came from Ward A. Winger, a local real estate developer, and a housing subdivision he built in the 1920s. Crescent Park extends from Highway 3 to Lake Erie east of Ridgeway. It had been the farm of George Krafft, father of Kraft Foods founder J. L. Kraft.

Newspaper ad for Ward A. Winger real estate developments (tap to enlarge)

Winger’s Crescent Park Entertainers crossed the bridge to Buffalo, New York, every Friday to play on the radio station WGR. Their show was called The Village Blacksmith Shop. It always opened with the ringing of Sam Anger’s anvil.

sam anger fb-ridgeway-3oct19They played fiddle, guitar, dulcimer and piano. In addition to the music, their shows included square dance calling and comedy skits. This was the stuff of radio broadcasts across the United States in the first half of the 1900s.

The most famous of these shows is the Grand Ole Opry, which started on WSM in Nashville. It is both a business empire and musical dynasty. “Hillbilly music” as played by Sam Anger’s “orchestry” and so many others, may not exist today but it is the foundation stone of country music.

Country Music by Ken Burns

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The Rub, first episode of Country Music by Ken Burns, is about the popularization of “hillbilly music” through bands playing live on radio stations. It’s airing again on PBS and also streaming (or DVD at right). It’s worth watching, and recording. There’s a lot of information in there and you’ll want to keep up. Subsequent episodes show the musical building on that foundation and how the circle remained unbroken.

Thanks to Ridgeway, Ontario, History on Facebook for the photos and for introducing me to my cousin Sam.

Bosco’s New Year

From my St. Thomas Dog Blog, Jan. 31, 2011, about a dog named Bosco.

Bosco in Jan 2011, from ABCR websiteI was in Beaver Creek Animal Hospital about a week ago. A beautiful young black Lab was waiting to see the doctor. His tail swished every time anyone walked past him. He licked my hand when I patted him, then he licked my face when I got down to play with him. He was like any young healthy Lab – friendly, ready to play and very, very nice.

His woman said “he’s Bosco.” I said “what did you say?” She repeated his name, and I asked “THE Bosco?” “Well…” “Bosco from the St. Thomas Pound?” She said yes, that was him. I could not believe it.

Bosco in October 2010

I had only seen a picture of him before that – the one below. It was taken in October 2010 after he’d been found in the morning tied on the fence at the pound. He had some horrible skin problem, and he looked like a very old dog.

Bosco in Oct 2010The dog in front of me, a couple months later, had glossy thick hair and he was definitely young. The woman, his foster person,  said “oh yes, we couldn’t believe the change in him when he started getting better.” She said he’s extremely well behaved and appears to have had training. Under the scabs and rheumy eyes was a dog the vet estimated to be between 2 and 4 years old. How he ended up in the shape he was in, and left abandoned at the pound is still a mystery.

Her young kids came back to see what we were talking about. One draped herself around Bosco, and he thumped his tail. According to her mother, the girl had been afraid of dogs before. Bosco taught her not to be. He was in the vet clinic just for a check up before a prospective adopter met him. I don’t know if he’s been adopted or not. If you are interested in the nicest Lab I’ve seen in a long time, contact All Breed Canine Rescue.

Bosco, I hope, has spent these past nine years in a forever home. (Maybe in Minnesota, according to a 2012 comment below.) But ABCR still has lots of dogs looking for theirs. Also in 2010, Bosco and another abandoned dog named Bear were instrumental in improving St. Thomas City Council and Shelter policies and practices for animal care. So thank you, Bear and Bosco.