THE HORSE AND OXEN YEARS (October 31/97)

“My mind will go back to the many different horses I drove and the different quirks some of them had. Like the black mare Dolly, who every time we stopped at a (watering hole) managed to pull her bridle off, no matter how securely it was buckled on. Also old Harry who we had to stop watering on the road because he insisted on trying to roll in the water. Another common sight at the time was to see whole sets of wagons wheels soaking in the brooks; hot weather would dry (the wheels) out, so they would be dropped in the water for a few days.”

These observations about horses and wagons are among the many glimpses of farm life Alex Middleton offers in a recently completed autobiography. Middleton’s book, Down Through The Years, is filled with homey revelations such as these, which while seemingly trivial, let us glimpse times that are gone forever. Beginning with his arrival in Sheffield Mills with his family in 1929 when he was 13, Middleton takes us through the rough and tumble life of a farm lad growing up in Kings County between the two world wars. Besides telling us about life on the farm when there were few machines and work was done by man and beast, Middleton also writes about bootlegging, rum running, horses and oxen, rafting lumber on the Bay of Fundy, the hoboes and drifters of that period, the men who turned farming into big business.

These were the horse and oxen years in Kings County and one day people will value the account Alex Middleton has written about those times. It is a wry, rough account, written humorously with no pretensions or preaching. But what a wonderful, detailed account it is! Straightforward, a dash of saltiness, a story straight from the heart and the farm that touches on all aspects of rural life.

A few of us will easily identify with the times Alex Middleton writes about. But like me, most people who read this account will be amazed that there was so much work and little time for recreation. In the winter there was skating, the occasional card party and through winter the weekly dance. “They were held at a different house in the village every Friday night,” Alex writes. “The ladies brought a plate for the lunch and the men paid for the music. This was usually a fiddler and a young man or two accompanying him with a guitar or mouth organ.”

When Alex was a lad the temperance movement was still strong; this and prohibition in the U.S. made rum-running and bootlegging not only profitable but common. In one amusing anecdote Alex writes about a successful attempt to bring a shipload of liquor into Kings County. The police were tipped that on a certain high tide a cargo of alcohol would be brought ashore in Scots Bay. “There was a boat out there all right but it didn’t come in,” Alex writes. “It just stayed offshore long enough to hold the cops while the real (shipment) was being unloaded in Canning.”

Then there’s the prominent Aldershot bootlegger who avoided the police for years by hiding rum in the hollow legs of a table. And the bootlegger who hid booze in his vegetable garden. “When his customers wanted a pint they had to buy (vegetables) for camouflage whether they wanted them or not.”

As I mentioned, Alex’ book is full of such anecdotes and funny asides. Unfortunately, his book isn’t for sale. Only 10 copies were printed. However, if you wish to read about the trials, tribulations and good times of farm life as Alex Middleton lived them, visit the Kings Courthouse Museum. A copy of his book has been deposited there.

 

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