Even then, if you had the money, life was not bad! A medieval village!
Writing about Easter in the Middle Ages has got me thinking about village life back then. It’s harder to pin down the lives of ordinary medieval people because they left little of themselves behind. I’ve walked over a fair few settlement earthworks in my time, those spectral lumps and bumps in the land, but the other day I got to wander around a very special place: a living medieval village. So come with me on a wander around the enchanting homes and buildings of a real community from the Middle Ages.
Cosmeston Medieval Village
Welcome to Cosmeston Medieval Village in South Wales, the remains of which were discovered in the late 1970s during the construction of the country park in which it now stands. Named after the Costentin family from northern France, this was part of the Anglo-Welsh border lands partitioned out after the Norman Conquest to keep the unruly…
I live in a small town. Just under 13,000 people call Uxbridge home. The village, or as we say around here, “downtown,” has a classic brick town hall, circa 1879, an elegant old library, and several other historic buildings.
Our neighboring town, Millville, makes Uxbridge look like Metropolis.
Their town hall is a unit in an old condo building. The center of town is a sub shop. There’s no sign to indicate you are in Millville, so it’s easy to miss. When you get there, it will be closed anyway. The following notice is posted on Millville’s website:
Due to budget constraints, effective immediately the Town Clerk’s office will only be open on Mondays from 9am-1pm and Wednesday evenings from 6pm-8pm for public assistance. If you cannot be at the Municipal Center during these scheduled hours, please call the Town Clerk’s Office to schedule an appointment.m
There are approximately 3100 people living in Millville.
Perhaps 9 or 10 years ago, the town of Millville decided they needed a Deputy Animal Control Officer. I don’t remember how I heard about the job. It may have been a tip from our local animal control officer who knew I liked animals and needed part-time work.
This was about as part-time as a job could be. The pay was $1200 per year, payable semi-annually. Before taxes.
Millville already had a Senior Animal Control Officer who was theoretically in charge, but passionately fond of golf. I suspect he also had a full-time job elsewhere. So, in exchange for $600 every 6 months, I would have the official title of Deputy Animal Control Officer. I would be on call 7 days a week, 24 hours a day.
I’m basically an optimist. I figured Millville is tiny. How many calls could there be? I took the job. I was sworn in, just like in the movies, hand on the Bible. I promised to protect and serve.
A mere couple of hours later, I got my first call. A homeowner had found an almost dead skunk by their trash bin and wanted it taken away. It was my first call — a Sunday morning — so my “senior officer” thought he should come along, show me the ropes as it were.
Luckily, the skunk did the right thing and went from nearly dead to absolutely dead while I was trying to figure out what I was supposed to do. I was informed by my erstwhile boss that the skunk had probably been rabid and I should not touch it. If the skunk had not died on his own, I would have been obliged to shoot it.
Me: “Shoot it?”
Boss: “Yes, shoot it. With the rifle.”
Me: “Rifle? What rifle?”
Boss: “Oh, didn’t I mention that? We have a couple of rifles in the office. When an animal is behaving suspiciously, you have to shoot it.”
Me: “Behaving suspiciously?”
Boss: “You know, approaching people rather than running away. Acting weird. Most of the animals you’ll get calls about are rabid. There’s a lot of rabies around here so you don’t want to get close. Just shoot’em.”
Rabies. Shoot the animals. $100 a month. I was getting that creepy feeling I get when I think maybe I’ve signed up for something, the implications of which I had failed to fully grasp.
After we bagged the skunk to send to the county animal medical examiner, I promised to go to city hall as soon as they reopened to discuss guns and the other equipment I would need. Like shovels, leather gloves, heavy-duty plastic trash bags (the non-human version of body bags), tags for the medical examiner. Forms to fill out. Oh, and where to put the corpses. Turns out, you can’t just stack them up in city hall.
My boss was not upset that I’d never handled a real weapon. I’d never shot anything currently or previously alive. I was puzzled about what I was supposed to do if I got a call, actually needed a rifle, but it was locked up at city hall which was pretty much always closed.
Would the offending animal make an appointment for a more convenient time? Or wait for me to call someone, get them to unlock the gun cabinet, then hang around while I drove over to get it, then drove back to shoot him? Are the rabid animals of Millville that cooperative? Was I supposed to keep the big hunting rifle in my house in case I needed it? The rabies thing had me spooked, too.
When I was finally able to get to city hall, I demanded a rabies vaccination. No way was I going to handle rabid animals without a vaccination. They pointed out rabies vaccinations are expensive and I was only the deputy. They suggested I pay for it myself.
Me: “How much will it cost?”
Clerk: “Around $450.”
Me: “That’s four and a half months pay.”
Clerk: “Well, we don’t normally pay for it.”
Me: “I’m not doing this unless I’m vaccinated.”
It turned out that the animal medical examiner could provide me with the appropriate vaccination, so Garry — who had begun to look alarmed — drove me to the doctor. While the doctor prepared the inoculation, we got a rundown of exactly how common rabies is in our neck of the woods.
“Why,” he said, “Just last week they found a deer with rabies. Chipmunks, skunk, fox, coyotes, squirrels, deer … even possums get rabies.” The only exceptions are rabbits who are naturally immune. Go figure.
The following day, I got another call. A really big snapping turtle had wandered into the road and was blocking traffic. It didn’t sound too threatening, so armed with my shoulder-high heavy leather gauntlets (no rifle), I drove to the site and met the snapping turtle from Hell.
Keep in mind that there is water everywhere in the valley. Not only the Blackstone, but all its tributaries, feeder creeks, lakes, brooks, ponds, pools, and swamps. Snapping turtles are called common for good reason. They live just about everywhere you find water. Undoubtedly, the big snapper had wandered into the road, lost his bearings. Someone needed to grab the turtle and carry him back on the river side of the road.
The someone was me.
This turtle was not in the water, not docile. His beak was sharp. His neck was extremely flexible. Not my kind of nature pal.
So there I was, by the side of the road, trying to figure out how I could grab him. He was approximately 30 pounds of pissed-off turtle. He seemed pretty agile to me. He could move. Okay, maybe he’d lose a footrace to a rabbit, but he could trundle along at a nice pace. And he had that snaky neck and was determined to bite me.
Meanwhile, an entire construction crew — big brawny guys who were supposed to be repairing the bridge — were watching. They didn’t seem eager to help. In fact, they were the ones who called in the first place.
I eventually herded him across the road. I looked at those jaws, looked at my leather gloves, did a quick mental calculation about the strength of the gloves versus the power of the turtle’s jaws. I decided the gloves weren’t nearly strong enough.
Have you ever tried herding a turtle? Of course not. You can’t herd a turtle, but I did. I don’t know exactly how I got him across the road. I know there was a big shovel involved, but otherwise, it’s a blur. The next thing I remember doing after getting the turtle over to the river side of the road was calling the clerk and resigning.
The turtle was enough for me. I figured if I didn’t get out quick, they’d have me hunting rabid coyotes with a large gun and I’d shoot my foot off.
They tried to bill me for the rabies shot. We settled for not paying me. I think I got the better part of the deal.
If you could interview anyone from your life living or dead, but not a celebrity, who would it be and why?
My Aunt Kate. She was the one who had lived in the old country and had memories of the trip from Poland to New York. By the time I realized I needed to ask her questions, she was in her 80s and had forgotten a lot of the things I wanted to know. I’m so sorry I waited so long.
As a child, did you have a nickname? Did you carry that with you throughout life or was it only in childhood that you used it?
I’ve never had a nickname. I always wanted one, but it never happened.
Give us three words that describe you:
Aging, a bit broken but alive, and still engaged with life.
Sneaking into a second movie at the theater (if you go to a movie house)? Is that wrong or just harmless ‘fun’?
When I was a kid, if the movie wasn’t crowded, you could stay for as many showings as you could sit for. Most of the movies in those golden olden days were two movies and one or two cartoons. That was usually more than enough for me, but there were others who could spend a whole day and just watch over and over.
I got tired of sitting for that long. Back then, you got a lot of “freebies.” If you rode the Cyclone and wanted to ride again as long as there was no line you could keep riding. It wasn’t theft. There was a generosity of spirit that we seem to have lost over the years.
If you had a time machine would you go back to the past or forward into the future? Why?
I’d like to take a quick look at medieval Europe, but I don’t think I’d want to stay very long. I like hot showers and flush toilets … and not getting the plague.
What were you thankful for during April?
Birds and squirrels. It has been such a gray and wet month, the bright birds and crazy squirrels kept me interested and alive.
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