Chapter 1; Intro
Sherwin’s Falls was a typical community for that part of the country, a small white clapboard Presbyterian church with a presbytery next door, two dozen or so houses bounding the intersection of two country roads, ranging from one or two manor-houses typical of a well-to-do lawyer or notary to a couple of ... well, ‘shacks’ would be the polite term; one-room houses in beat-up clapboard, with mismatched windows and a small door just barely high enough for the average person to enter without stooping, a general store and a beat-up hotel that had been boarded up for at least forty years when its owner, Old Man O’Shaughnessy, was killed in a bar fight ... a visiting American had disagreed with O’Shaughnessy’s political opinions and had tried to argue the point with a tire iron.
The town had sprung up out of nowhere some two hundred and thirty years ago, when George Washington, Ben Franklin and a few of their pals decided that tea should not be a taxable luxury. Not everybody agreed with them or, at least, they felt that it wasn’t worthwhile kicking the red-coats in the swallowtails just because they disliked how their tax dollars were being spent (the red-coats had a habit of shooting back, for some weird reason). As the rowdiness spread north from Massachusetts into New York and Vermont, those who happened to like the idea of having a king (the fact he was a Hapsburg was beside the point) decided to move north as well.
Sherwin’s Falls got its name because one these people who had gone north (in the history books, they were called the United Empire Loyalists, not that they were at all united or even that they gave a hoot about the British Empire), was named Sherwin and was a brewer by trade. When he spotted that hundred foot cliff with the falls pouring into a crystal-clear pond below, he decided it would be a great place to open a brewery and public house and let’s face it, as soon as you have a good pub going, you also have customers who are willing to settle down nearby to consume your wares.
The land thereabout was ideal for growing apples but he convinced some of his neighbours that barley and hops were also useful crops and proved it by buying most of the yearly yield (he sold it back to them in the form of beer, hard cider, and maybe a little whisky, as well, so everybody was happy, especially in the wintertime when there was only so much you could do).
Sherwin eventually sold the place and over the centuries, succeeding owners transformed the brewery into a hotel. The stable was turned unto a carriage house and the malting kiln was turned into a storage shed. Somehow, the place fell into O’Shaughnessy’s hands (rumour had it he played a mean hand of poker). He had kept the original brewing kettles stashed in the old malting kiln, thinking he might get around replicating Sherwin’s recipe (he was a bit of an antique buff with a passion for the ‘traditional’ arts) but unfortunately, the tire iron had put an end to that ambition.
The sixties were a period of unbelievable progress ... previously, the province’s Liquor Board sold hard liquor already wrapped in brown paper bags; the client had to choose his lubricant by name at the counter and a surly government employee would go get the bottle from the back of the store, and corner grocery stores would sell beer for home consumption. Pubs were unheard of; the nearest thing to that were ‘Taverns’, grimy, smoke-filled hole-in-the-wall places with tile floors, small tables, rickety chairs for men only.
Now, women were finally recognised as human beings and allowed to vote (and to drink), the province’s repressive liquor laws were modernised, the Pill became the prime weapon in the revolt against the Catholic Church and ... well, whatever. In Sherwin’s Falls, all that passed by the wayside. Oh, they knew what was happening ... they did have TV sets, after all, and ‘Hockey night in Canada’ was a national pass-time, especially as The Montreal Canadien with Maurice ‘Rocket’ Richard, Jean Béliveau and Bernie ‘Boom-boom’ Geoffrion were more or less claiming permanent ownership of the Stanley Cup.
Sherwin’s Falls did see a bit of an economic boom for a while ... With this new freedom, hard cider saw a rise in popularity and Sherwin’s Falls finally found a market for all those apples. For a while, Sherwin’s Falls Sparkling Cider was to be found pretty well everywhere and the tourist trade saw a major upsurge because of the quality and the variety of apples that were grown in the area. But then, the provincial Liquor Board started hiring customer-friendly wine ‘experts’ to staff their revamped boutique style emporia and the upscale snobs dropped their Sherwin’s Falls Cider bottles for Philippe de Rothschild’s Bordeaux and the latest batch of ‘vin nouveau’ out of Bourgogne. It was about that time, as well, that O’Shaughnessy had had his scull reformatted so the local citizenry didn’t even have a place nearby so they could talk about ‘the good old days’, anymore.
These days, the apple growers around Sherwin’s Falls still had the occasional commercial buyer, especially for the more exotic kinds of apples, and there were still the occasional apple connoisseur who preferred driving down narrow back roads for an hour or more from Montreal for apples straight off the tree than buying week-old apples from British Columbia in a plastic bag. But it wasn’t the same; most of the crop now went to apple sauce manufacturers. To sell their apples, they had to price them so low they barely broke even, kids left home as soon as they could for the lights and the challenge of the big city and all what was left were a bunch of old fogeys in ‘lamb-chop’ whiskers reminiscent of the sahibs of India during the height of the British Empire and their heavy-set wives in aprons and calloused hands. Things were grim, to say the least.
Chapter 2; Background
The remaining residents of Sherwin’s Falls were gathered at in the town hall across the street from the church. Most of those present were in their late sixties and early seventies; Bill and Brenda Matheson, who owned the orchard ‘next door’ to the O’Shaughnessy property, were still in their fifties with one teen-aged daughter still at home ... their two elder children, Little Bill and Elisabeth, had both left the roost to go to university several years ago and the parents were unsure whether they would come back to take over the family spread, especially as they were both married now with kids of their own. ‘Bertie’ Hinckley was there. Bertie did fairly well ... he owned some one thousand acres of woods that consisted of mostly maple trees. Every spring around March, he would ride all over his forest in a snowmobile and string plastic tubing to all his maples, and with a small vacuum pump, he would siphon off some of the sap, which he would boil down to produce maple syrup. On average, he produced some 200 000 liters of syrup every year for three to four weeks’ work. The O’Donnell’s were there, as was ‘Skinflint’ MacGruder. Even Farley Gee was there. Technically, Farley belonged in the next county but that was a political decision with which Farley had never agreed; he himself had always considered himself a resident of Sherwin’s Falls. In his younger days, Farley had been quite the rake-hell ... One never saw him without a Macgregor kilt. At one time, when he was being interviewed on national television for some political rally or other, he offered his opinion of the local government of the time by turning around and showing the southern end of his fundament to the camera. Jeffrey Hennessey was there as well with his wife, Ilene, and their six year old twins; daughter, Heather, and son, Kevin. Both of the Hennessey’s were still in their twenties but they didn’t really count as residents because Jeffrey was an agronomist with the Ministry of Agriculture and had settled in the town to help the local farmers raise production and help them switch over to the newer, ‘greener’ pest control methods while Ilene was a kindergarten teacher.
The main subject of that night’s discussion was “Wither Goest Sherwin’s Falls?” Two weeks before, on a Monday, a couple of trucks from Valleyfield had driven into town and, before anybody even knew what was happening, a crew had set up a ten-foot plywood fence all around the entire O’Shaughnessy property, including the pond, the falls themselves and all the land around the spring that fed the falls. Since then, every day, trucks with earth-moving equipment, vans and cars had been driving up to the property every weekday morning, where a security guard would let them in through the gate which he locked again after they entered and, every evening, the guard would again unlock the gate and these same trucks, vans and cars would leave again. Several of the nosier residents have tried, without success, to peak into the property while the gate was open. So far, no one had dared crawl over the fence. Tonight, every one was milling around and talking to one and to another, each guess being wilder than the previous one.
Finally, the pastor, James Athelstone, called the meeting to order. The Reverend Athelstone had come over from England some twenty-five years ago with his wife Sarah after ten years as a missionary in Brazil when their old pastor had died of old age. They were quiet, unassuming couple with a serene outlook to life that suited the community perfectly.
.... There is more of this story ...