BURNT LAND, LOCKSHOES AND SHIVAREES (June 2/00)

Ask any youngster if they know what a shivaree is and you’ll either get a blank stare or a guess that it is some kind of frozen treat.

In his book My White Rock Bert Young mentions shivarees and the senior generations know precisely what he’s talking about. Chances are that anyone in their 70s or 80s who grew up in the Annapolis Valley participated one way or another in a shivaree; which for the benefit of younger readers was a noisy boisterous serenading of the bride and groom on their wedding eve, just when they’ve settled down on the first night of nuptial bliss.

This is what’s special about Bert Young’s reminiscing. Bert recalls the old days when instead of a honeymoon, the bride and groom took a horse and wagon ride as far as a parent’s home to spend the first night there. This, of course, made it convenient for anyone with a shivaree in mind.

Burt writes about the turn-of-the-century period in the Valley; a period when cars and telephones were relatively new, the choice of transportation was either the horse or shank’s mare, and the pleasures of life were simple and down-to-earth. If you wonder how our grandparents and great-grandparents lived, what they did for work and recreation, some of the answers are in this book.

I enjoy reading personal accounts of the early days because they often introduce fascinating new words and phrases – words and phrases that often have vanished or are no longer used in the old sense. Take “burnt land,” for example. Far from being self-explanatory, this phrase rings of a time when the clearing of wooded land was a laborious process that sometimes took years.

When woodland was clear cut in Bert’s boyhood period, the work was done with axes, handsaws, horses and oxen. Bert writes that the “brush was burned where it lay and the charred stumps left to rot.” For a year or two, the stumps stood like black sentinels on what was called “burnt land.” The soil between the stumps was tilled and planted, a practice that harkens back to pioneer days.

I learned two new words when reading Bert’s book – lockshoes and lockchains. These are wonderful old words of another era, the era of horses and oxen. Lockshoes were used on wagon wheels to slow them on a downhill grade. Bert describes it as a “little wooden sled” made of “a piece of hardwood about eight or ten inches wide, eighteen inches long by four or five inches thick … (with) a seat in the middle for the wheel.” They were, Bert said, “works of art.”

Lockchains performed the same function as lockshoes, except that they were used in winter on the runners of sleighs. Bert describes the lockchains as “eighteen inches long, made of large iron links with the two end links being larger.” The lockchain was wrapped around rear runners and held in place with a wooden key that was inserted through the end links.

Bert mentions Hank Snow twice in his book and, yep, there’s a White Rock connection. Hank Snowophiles (is that a word?) will find glimpses in the book of the great country and western singer in his younger days.

As you probably read in this paper, the second edition of Bert’s book just came out. The first issue was a sell-out, so if you missed it, I suggest you check with a local bookstore right away; the second issue won’t be around long.

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