Home for Christmas

Report from the North

GEORGEVILLE, Que., Dec. 18--The lake is still free of ice, and the village bettors say that Georgeville will have another splashy blue Christmas.

The lake--called Lake Memphramagog, or "Beautiful Waters" in Abenaki Indian--runs from Newport, Vt. north 32 miles through Georgeville to Magog, Que. It probably provides the main booster to the village economy, during the fishing season, when most of Hartford, Albany, and New York itself seem to invade with their dollars, low-slung cars, and fancy spinning reels. But these gents have long since retired to their Budwieser and television, leaving the village in an indolent euphoria which, every winter, seems to convince the 100 permanent inhabitants that the country life, even considering all the rigours of Quebec snow and cold, is best.

In recent years, the more prosperous of the villagers have taken to Florida as a comfortable spot in which to hide out for a few weeks during February, but they never really feel right about leaving, and none admits that the harsh weather is really intolerable to him.

Georgeville is unique in southern Quebec because its inhabitants never see much of the French-speaking Canadians, who surround them on every side. Georgeville looks much like a Vermont village because its original settlers came from New England, bringing with them their traditions of conservatism, content with slow and steady progress, and scorn for over-indulgence. Their descendents generally have upheld these affections, leaning not toward Vermont, a scant ten or so miles across rocky, easy, moulded hills, but toward English-speaking Canada. In architecture, the village has preserved the colonial tradition introduced by its founder, Moses Copp, in 1797; in attitude, Georgeville looks to the slowly maturing Victorian values of rural Ontario, strong in its desire to develop a "Canadian culture," or way of looking at things, sentimental in its regard for the Commonwealth and Queen.

Our house, "Dun's Law" (which betrays the family's Highlands origin), will be warm enough during Christmas, despite certain draughty cracks between the kitchen part (about 130 years old) and the living room part (about 75 years old). Like most of the village houses, it has had additions, interpolations and subtractions through the years, and like many of the dwellings, it once served as a boarding house itself. Oil furnaces have made the constant struggle to keep warm only a memory, though most housewives insist that their kitchens have at least a token woodstove for toast and rice-pudding making.

Neighbors around were faced with a serious crisis last summer when the village's major employer, a contractor who built summer homes and did repairs for city people both up and down the lake, decided to retire. He had employed seven or eight men, each with large families and homes to support. Some have found work by dividing up the business which the contractor once co-ordinated, and some have gone to Magog, ten miles to the north, to seek jobs at the textile mill there. One or two are uncertain of the future, and there has been some talk of moving away.

One of the men, who lives next door to "Dun's Law," has a remarkable family, headed by his wife, a gay, knowing, articulate lady who, through her radio and the books people bring her, keeps quite abreast of what's happening outside--in Montreal, New York and Cambridge. Though she has stopped writing for the Stanstead Journal, the county's weekly newspaper, she has completed a lyric poem and is blocking out in her mind a kindly and truthful book about the village, The Devil is in Us All! Considering the best-selling success of a recent, sensationalistic attempt by a young American marm, it would probably enjoy acclaim. When she isn't baking do-nuts or rolls for the rest of the village, she reads such writers as Dylan Thomas, Saroyan or Maugham, and is willing to take on all comers concerning their relative merits.

One of her favorite pastimes is verbal fencing with the village postmaster and storekeeper, a quick wit and warm-souled man who longs during baking July noons for crisp October dawns at the remote Lake St. John, where he makes his annual duck-hunting excursion. His work seems like play to most people because he has a good time with almost everyone, gently ribbing arrogant, hurried visitors, facetiously stalling intent and flashy wholesalers' "drummers." His laugh sounds more like a caw of a crow than anything else, and there's usually something--whether it's the Red Sox, the "Com'unists," or lazy college students--to caw about around the store.

Snugly sheltered by steep hills on three sides and the lake on the fourth, Georgeville looks to the future casually and without excitement. Much of the village youth seems to be leaving, jobs are scarce, and the rocky, wooded land is producing just about the same meagre wealth as it always has. The outlook seems now just about the same as it was in 1941, when some city folk bought "Dun's Law" for $1,100. They're not city folk, really, anymore, and prices have risen some, but all else seems just about the same.