Old-Town


[Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of 21 stories submitted to the Mississippi Mills story contest that will be published here in the Millstone.]

by Sarah Robertson

Almonte became home to our family in 1979. House-hunting had suddenly become a new hobby for my Mom and older sister. Why, you ask? I have no idea. That spring an old stone home in Almonte caught my mother’s eye and so we made the trek from downtown Ottawa where we lived to Almonte to view the home. Before I knew it, we were moving from the big city to the small town. It was decided that my older brother and sister would complete their schooling in Ottawa. For my younger brother, then 3, and myself, aged 12, we would attend school in Almonte.

The local paper, The Almonte Gazette, featured an article on the upcoming Fireman’s Pancake Breakfast at the Fire Hall, at that time situated beside the Old Town Hall. The article noted it was a Pyjama Breakfast. My parents thought this was interesting, and a great activity to start meeting the townsfolk. So, on one Saturday morning in July 1979, we awoke to a loud siren signalling the start of the annual Fireman’s pancake breakfast. When you live along the river (and the Fire Hall is also on the river), that siren might just as well have been right on the other side of my bedroom window!

Dressed in our pyjamas and ready to make our way to the Fire Hall, my father suggests that since we are on the river and can see the Fire Hall from the bottom of the garden, it would be fun to take the canoe. This made me uncomfortable.

“It will be fun,” my father said. Clad in pyjamas, Dad in the back of the canoe, Mom in the front paddling in her dressing gown, two kids in the middle with pyjamas (well, for me it was a frilly pink flowered nightgown) and lifejackets, we followed the flow of the Mississippi, under the bridge, and towards the Fire Hall.

As we neared the landing ‘wall’, I was already feeling a bit self-conscious. You see, the many folk already eating outside, and the 50-odd people in line, had turned to watch us as we precariously paddled our way in. My self-consciousness grew as we got closer to that wall, and I realized that WE were the only ones in pyjamas! There was not a night gown, no sets of pyjamas, no woman in curlers, and nary a dressing gown to be seen!

“Mom!” I exclaimed, “no one else is in their pyjamas! We can’t go like this! Turn around, go back!”

“It’s okay,” my Dad reassured me. ” It will be fun.” Fun? I thought. For whom? For a 12-year-old girl, this was not on my list of fun things to do.

“Dad,” I pleaded, “please take me home!”

“No,” he said, “but you can swim home if you like.” Had we not been 20 yards from the first set of falls on the river, I might have taken my chances, but instead I very unceremoniously got out of the canoe, tied it up, and holding my little brother’s hand, we proceeded in our night clothes to join the back of the line.

Up ahead there were the firemen, dressed in red and white pinstriped nightshirts and caps, serving breakfast. So we weren’t the only ones! But that still didn’t make me feel any better. As we made our way through the line, collecting our pancakes and sausage, the firemen serving smiled at us with big grins and said good morning. What they were thinking? I’d take a guess it was something like: “They must be new to town”!

As we finished our breakfast, I was lost in thought as to how I could change my appearance in the next four weeks before I started grade 6 in a new school in a new community. I didn’t want anyone to recognize me as not only the girl in the pink nighty at the Fireman’s pancake breakfast, but also the girl who came by CANOE in the pink nighty to the Fireman’s Pancake Breakfast!

Apparently my fears were unfounded, as I wasn’t ‘recognized’ on the first day of school. But, to be safe, I also chose NOT to paddle up the river in the canoe for the rest of that summer in case it, too, was recognized.

The next summer, 1980, when my grandparents were visiting from England for six weeks over the summer, we saw the same announcement for the Annual Fireman’s Pancake Breakfast. This year would be different I thought, since there was no way that my very British Grandmother would be caught dead in her nightgown leaving the house. Phew, I thought, and better yet, we can’t get six people in the canoe.

That year, however, I think we were one of the first people in line at 6 am for breakfast. We forgot to mention the loud siren that accompanies the “call” to breakfast to our house guests… When the siren sounded, my grandfather shot out of bed like a rocket and tried to usher us down in to the basement! Memories of going through WW2 in England, he thought it was an air raid siren. We all had a good laugh after the initial shock wore off for my Granddad, and now that we were all awake, we headed up the street, on foot, and fully clothed, to enjoy our second Fireman’s Pancake breakfast in our new hometown — the Friendly Town of Almonte.