Posts Tagged ‘family’

Troubles in Paradise

October 21, 2012

I am responding to former Councillor Sandy Macdougall’s reflections on the Salvation Army’s current usefulness in the Maple Ridge. I’m sure we have many common concerns about our community and the welfare of its citizens with our friends and neighbours. We want safe, clean streets. We want to care for our needy neighbours and to protect our seniors. We want a healthy population and we expect that if we need to go to the hospital to get treatment it will be available.

We don’t want homelessness and we don’t want crime. We care about whether people have food in their bellies and a warm dry place to sleep at night.

I never used to worry much about how we did this. It was up to the politicians because we paid our taxes. It was a service our parents fought for to make Canada a more humane country. We have strong social ideals to take care of this sick, the elderly and those with disabilities. That is what a humane Canadian society does, or we would hope so.
But our dreams of a good society are slipping seriously and I am very concerned about it.

Mr. Macdougall’s position is that we need to run the Salvation Army out of town because an unsightly and uncontrolled element of society hangs about the Caring Place doing things no respectable citizen would do. Move the facility out of town, out of sight, out of mind.

In discussing this with a friend, he said, “It’s like saying, let’s get rid of the emergency ward at the hospital, then we won’t have any emergencies. Or, let’s get rid of the police and then we won’t have any crime.”

Normally, I wouldn’t go public with my opinions. But in the last few years, I’ve found that conducting one’s life in this society has become much more precarious. It didn’t affect me until I saw some of my friends teetering on the slippery slope of welfare, homelessness and destitution. It hits home when the people we are talking about are people you know personally. Hardworking people from the middle and upper middle – former teachers, psychologists, information technologists, health care technicians, to name a few whom I will tell you about.

Don’t think that these are bad people who should have saved for their retirement and it’s their own fault. Within my own circle of acquaintance, there was a man with a serious heart condition who lived in his van summer and winter, and could still work occasionally in his computer repair and support business to eke out his meager income. He had been a high earning Information Technologist with a wife and two kids. When the marriage split, he was still supporting his family. It didn’t leave him with much. When he had a heart attack, he was no longer earning,then his savings melted away. Few knew of his circumstances as he appeared like a gentleman when he attended all sorts of free events around town so that he could still feel somewhat normal and intelligent while he kept himself warm. Days were spent in the library. While he was mobile, he could visit Leisure centres for a nominal fee and get a shower and keep clean.

Alice, a close friend, has moved three times in the last three years as her income stays the same but her rent goes up. She has no savings after caring for her husband and his kids during a battle with cancer. She spent her life working full time at a decent job, giving to the community and caring for lost youths and fighting for social justice. She was honoured by Oprah for this. She still volunteers and is an active member of the community.

But this same person was refused treatment in our medical system for what she thought was follow up to elective surgery she hadn’t been able to get in Canada. BC Med wouldn’t cover the treatment she needed and she had to go to the States to get a baric scan. It turned out her problem wasn’t what she thought; it was nothing to do with it. It was far more serious. The delay almost cost her life. What she had to pay to go for the US investigative treatment she had to borrow. She doesn’t have enough income to provide for this herself. Each end of the month, she subsists on cereal.

Another friend is on a disability pension, has been for ten years. A psychologist by profession, his disabling illness has reduced him to a life of subsistence. Two heart attacks followed. He’s completely unable to earn his living. But he lives in dignity, studying and researching each day. Like my first example, he makes use of the library for a place to go for warmth and a semblance of normalcy. Up until last year, he spent time volunteering as much as he could at various charitable places around town. He lives within his meager income, proudly independent, asking nothing of anyone. He’s had to stand in line in the food bank though his energy has completely waned with his medical illness. This spring, one month after his last open heart surgery, his landlord decided to renovate. He was ordered to vacate. It was impossible to find something he could afford and he became homeless for two months. Imagine that, readers. How would you cope? Now, how would you cope, one month after open heart surger? It was only with strong advocacy from a friend that he finally found a stable roof over his head. Otherwise he would have died. But you wouldn’t have heard about it. We don’t report homeless people’s deaths.

My close friend whom I shall call Alice divorced three years ago from a destructive marriage. She was left with a small bank account for emergencies. As a senior, her income is low and is boosted by SAFER which allows her a decent small apartment, but the rent is going up and she won’t be able to afford it much longer. Her income is not going up. She’s not there yet, but she is looking at the edge of the slippery slope and is fearful of the days ahead. There are pitiful few low-cost housing places in Maple Ridge or in the Lower Mainland, for that matter.

Alice was a school teacher for twenty years of her life until she fell ill with cancer and was not able to work after that. She has been head of several volunteer committees in town. She still volunteers regularly. She is a thoughtful and important member of the community, living within subsistence means that you will not notice because she is  proud. Thank goodness for thrift shops like the Salvation Army and several other charities run. Normal stores are, in the main, beyond her means.

The story of Maria is equally frightening. Maria is an immigrant and writer and deeply religious. She came with her family twenty years ago with husband and two boys who just recently reached majority. It was an abusive marriage. Now that the boys have left home,  she has been able to escape, but she has no income but welfare and she sleeps at night at the Salvation Army Caring Place. There is nothing permanent about it. She bought a cell phone and she tries to get any work she can get. It’s mostly cleaning but she is new and has very few people who will trust her since she’s not got a “proper” place to live.

I’m telling you these things because they are just a few of the people whose stories I know. There are so many more in our society, in your acquaintance, who are proudly carrying on as best they can in fear of desolation, trying to keep the shreds of their dignity.

I can tell you that in trying to help my friends I found out that at least one third of the 17,000 people who are homeless in this Province, are there because the social system has pushed them there through indifference and lack of resources. For any of these precarious souls, if they lack concentration as many of the mentally disadvantaged or the sick and elderly do, then they can’t respond to the welfare system that is full of Catch-22 type rules.

The Province has cut back its services dramatically year by year. The homeless don’t complain and they don’t vote. When they do (the Occupy movement) they can be moved on by the police. As individuals, they have no voice. They are brushed aside because they are poor.

When a member of this disenfranchised group loses their housing, they also lose their “shelter” portion. If they have a place to live, usually they will have a place to store food and a place to cook or warm up meals. But when they lose the shelter portion, they are not only out on the streets, but they have no place to make an economical meal nor do they have the means to eat out. They have no place to go to the bathroom. They are chased from stores and malls. I remind you as you start to think “druggies, alcohol, nut cases that want to be independent” that it could be someone with a disability not savvy enough to deal with the system or a senior  making a choice to

to eat rather than pay rent.

We don’t want to see what is happening to our society. We want to push it somewhere where we can’t see it.  We’ve carved out fine lives for ourselves through our own efforts. We don’t see that we could be next. With a society on the brink of debt crisis, yes, it could be you, a friend or a relative.

I agree with Sandy Macdougall that we as a community need to do something about the situation surrounding the Salvation Army, but I disagree that we need to remove them from their location.

We need to tackle the root of the problem, not the symptoms, and we need to tell our governments, both local and Provincial, in no uncertain terms that we need to restore support for our disadvantaged citizens.

I would like to honour the District of Maple Ridge and the Province for the creation of Alouette Heights on 222nd Street. It provides 122 places for people trying to get back into mainstream society. But it’s not enough. It hardly touches the surface of the problem. All the residents have to move out within 18 months, but where will they go? There is little decent, affordable, permanent housing for them to go to. Just try to get independent living accommodation for $450 in this town. You have to wait until someone dies before something comes available.

I say decent, affordable and permanent housing because these low income citizens can’t afford to move when their rent goes up. “Affordable” is necessary because already, they haven’t sufficient to feed themselves properly. “Permanent, because we all know it’s expensive to move and it’s critically so when you have no money for food. “Decent” because a high proportion of the homeless are in fragile health and need clean, mold-free, safe homes.

So if we are to diminish the need for the services (and therefore the number of “customers”) the Salvation Army provides for, what needs to be done?

First, let your government know that dealing with homelessness and low cost housing is a priority. Phone. Write letters. Demonstrate. Our complacency in view of daily newspaper reports concerning the severity of the homelessness problem simply allows governments to ignore the situation.

If people can afford to be lodged, then they don’t need the shelter. If they have sufficient money to feed themselves, they don’t need the food services. So, upping pensions for seniors and those with disabilities to allow decent accommodations plus food is critical.

Thirdly, provide new low rent apartments with basic accommodation. Requiring one or two low rent units in new developments would help diminish the concentration aspect that concerns Macdougall.  The Alouette Heights-model of building with compact, no frills apartments is another good model, but ones that allow you to stay in dignity until you die. Allow more self-contained legal suites in homes that must rent for a third of an individual’s income.

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Flying

November 14, 2011

Six o’clock always comes too early. Kay had set the alarm for it, but she was awake five minutes before, nervous that she would not meet the seven forty-five train, the last morning train into Vancouver. She padded about doing her morning ablutions, brushing her teeth, combing her hair, slipping into the clothing that she had laid out the night before.

It was alway wise for Kay to set everything out the night before because her brain did not start working until ten, and by that time, she would already be in Vancouver.

At The Station in Vancouver, she found a coffee bar and ordered up a large sized misto, then sat watching the commuters stream from the train exit doors towards the street exit. Every few minutes, another train would arrive. Crowded, jostling people would obscure her view until, suddenly, there were only one or two people sauntering by, not concerned with being anywhere on time, not going anywhere special. Like Kay, for the next hour.

She took up an abandoned paper and worked the Sudoku then the crossword. Her camera lay on the table, the shoulder strap curled around her right arm. It was a poor area of town with druggies, not always recognizable. A good camera would give them a few hits in trade. It was wise to hang on to it against such an eventuality.

Just before ten, Kay rose, chucked her cup and newspaper, loaded her overnight bag onto her shoulder, lifted  the hidden handle to her valise and began to roll it towards the direction of the Art Gallery. Her old time friends – Degas, Monet, Manet, Fantin Latour, Val Jean, Pissaro,Toulouse Lautrec and others of their era were showing their drawings. It was a Gallery Blockbuster, borrowed from the Quai d’Orsay Museum in Paris, a rare thing for Vancouver, halfway around the world.

At noon, Kay left the gallery, sated with visions of Parisians and their environs, to head back to The Station and the Canada Line to the airport. At the Main airport terminal, she waited for the Shuttle bus, sitting on the bench beside a thin man smoking a cigarette, engrossed in his newspaper.

When she boarded, the thin man helped her with her valise, lifting the heavy red case with ease onto the back of the Shuttle Bus to the South Terminal. And then at two, the plane to Trail was boarding, for it was in Trail that Lizbet would pick her up.

Lizbet was moving. After thirty seven years in her small community, she was leaving to settle in retirement on the coast near Parksville.  Kay was coming to help her close up the house and to pack.

It was odd, thought Kay, that there was no security for these smaller airports. People lined up just like they used to in the ‘Sixties, walked through the doors and across the tarmac to the airplane, walked up rickety steps to the cabin and bent double going down the aisle to a seat of one’s choice. It felt archaic.

But the thought did not actually take form until, landing in Trail, everyone walked back down the rickety steps to the landing strip asphalt and walked to the exit gate.
It was a bright but cloud-covered day. There, not fifteen feet away behind a three foot chain link fence with no other sign of security, was Lizbet and her dog Heidi. They were  standing in an unmown patch of grass waiting with the others for the passengers to get their baggage and come out to them, ”

There was Heidi dog wriggling her whole body, furiously waving her tail, running in short circles at the end of her leash, emitting a high pitched squeal of delight at the sight of Kay.

“Hello!” said Kay, greeting Lizbet, then nodding to the dog who was trying to leap up to give Kay a dog’s kiss, “She remembers me!

“Ah yes, ” Lizbet replied, “She has a fabulous memory for people.”

And off they went to the car to continue on to Lizbet’s home.

“Do you realize,” said Kay, “how special that is? How unusual now, to have an airport with no need for major security, like this one, in Trail?”

“It gives you an odd feeling, of having found the original sense of security – that everything is right with the world here. Trusting, Safe. Right with the world.

Coming home

July 4, 2011

Where is the beginning?

Was it the e-mail late afternoon, yesterday, telling me that thirty of my paintings had been donated to the thrift store and could I tell them what they were worth? “Please call Edith

Or was it my gentle friend and gallery dealer on Texada Island who notified me that she was dying – her last diagnosis on a recurring cancer having given her only a month to live? “Would I please pick up my paintings?”

Family in Powell River picked up those paintings and kept them for me until next time when I was visiting.  I packed them in my car and traveled back along the Sunshine Coast highway, stopping at Half Moon Bay. To my surprise, there was a very pleasant book store with a strong gallery element in it.

I took the opportunity to introduce myself to the new owner, an enthusiastic young woman, and showed her my paintings. She liked them. I had a list from the previous gallery. We photocopied it and both kept a copy as proof of our transaction. I left all sixty-four paintings with her. They were small – 8×8, 8×10, 11×14,  10×12 . You get the picture – they filled two medium size cardboard boxes.  Great for the tourist traffic wanting to take home a little something from their visit. Coastal scenes, (I had lived in Pender Harbour in my early adult years), spring flowers, a few metaphysical things, nothing too deep.  Sketches, little drawings, postcard-sized watercolors .

It suited us both perfectly. Thus, she had some small stock, hopefully easily movable; and I had a place to “store” these lovely little art works.

I had moved into my mother’s place to help her in her last years and there was precious little space she was willing to allow me for studio and storage. I hadn’t known where I would put this lot,  so it was a timely solution.

Time passed. I was working full time. When I came home daily, I had mother to look after, drive to appointments, feed, get groceries for, buy clothes for, look after her bills. She ached when she walked. Despite all of her fierce independence, and prairie grit, she had become thoroughly and completely dependent. Then my brother and his two boys came to live with us. It was a thriving, busy household of five and I had become the major domo.

I didn’t hear from the gallery nor did I expect to.  In the two or three years these sixty-four paintings had been at the Holtenwood, only  two sold. They sell slowly. Besides, these small tourist galleries only do business in the summer. They only open for the tourist trade. I didn’t worry.  The paintings were safe and dry.

Then my sister Heather and her husband came in for a medical appointment. They had been up to Halfmoon Bay at the grocery and went poking into the new store there.  I don’t remember exactly what it was – a bakery, I think. Or was it a fishing tackle shop?

“Oh? Have they built something new? Is the grocery store gone?”

“No,no. It was in the little building beside the grocery.”

“But that is an art gallery,” I said,

“Oh, the gallery? It’s been gone for a few years now.”
With a sinking feeling, I realized that not only had the gallery gone with no notice to me, but also the paintings along with it. Where were they?

It ate at me. I phoned the number I had for the gallery, but of course it was out of service. I looked up the woman’s name on the Internet – BC telephone directory white pages. Not listed. I spoke about it to friends. Finally I decided I must go up to Halfmoon Bay to see if I couldn’t find out what had happened to her. Surely she would not just chuck my paintings.

It took me a while before I could find someone to mind Mom for the day. She pleaded with me not to go. She was becoming much, much more dependent. But I needed a day for myself and I did not back down. The housekeeper came to stay with her and I left.

The day was rainy, cold and miserable. The windshield wipers slashed insistently like a metronome, sending sheets of water to the pavement. Luckily, Frank had agreed to come with me.

The defogger was not responding well and the car windows had large grey patches of condensation riddled with drippy lines that just would not go away.

Once on the ferry, Frank lifted the hood and tinkered until he was able to send gusts of air through the car to dissolve away the mists, but the air was frigid. The heater was not working.

We arrived in Langdale, disembarked and drove to Half Moon Bay, the windshield wipers still slapping away aggressively at the interminable rain.

At the little cove, the grocery was open but the small companion store was locked up for the season.

“Where has the gallery gone?” I asked the first person I saw in the store.

“Don’t know” was the answer “I moved here two years ago. I never knew the gallery. But the owner will be back in ten minutes. He’s lived here for a while.”

There was nowhere to go. The rain was teeming down. We stood near the cash register and waited more than fifteen minutes.

“She was a nurse’s aide or a nurse, I think,” the owner said. “She might be working at the hospital. That’s where she said she was going at that time. It must have been two years ago. There was some talk,” he said vaguely. “I don’t know if she’s still around.”

Hope dwindled. We drove back to the local hospital discussing my next move. What if she wasn’t there? Then what?

And what if she was there? What could I say? Why hadn’t she tried to contact me or send the paintings back? Had this long uncomfortable trip been for nothing? Was there a possibility that she could tell us where they were and we could just pick them up. Had she sold them and kept the money?
At the hospital, she hadn’t yet arrived for her shift. The receptionist said she would leave a message for her to come to see us on arrival. We could wait.

We sat, feeling numb. We couldn’t talk, with the injured and sick patients sitting morosely around us. Besides, in a small town, everyone knows everyone. It would have been indiscreet.

“I’m going back to the car. It’s your business,” Frank said flatly, suddenly leaving me to wait alone. I wasn’t surprised. He wanted to smoke.

The reading material was dismal – old Health journals – but I flipped through one nevertheless while I searched possibilities of what I could say.

“Are you Kay?”

The woman standing before me was thirty something, dark hair straggling around her face. I had a flash of Mother complaining, “In our day, nurses wore uniforms and crisp clean caps. They were polished and neat. Now you can’t tell the doctor from the nurses from nurses’ aides.”

“I am ,” I said.

I explained my business. I wanted to have my paintings back.

“You didn’t come to pick them up when I closed, ” she said accusingly.

“You never told me your were going out of business,” I defended.

“I notified everyone,” she replied defiantly.

“And how did you do that?”
“I put up posters everywhere in Halfmoon Bay and all the way down to Langdale.

“I live in Vancouver. How could you expect me to see your posters?”

“I phoned you and you  had moved. The answering machine name wasn’t the same.”

“I haven’t moved in eight years,” I said, a note of accusation in my voice. I didn’t believe her. She was making things up as she went along. As for the answering machine, it was possibly true. We had one of the nephews living with us record the message. Had they included my name on it? There was a measure of doubt. The menfolk in the family were not always responsible about phone messages. Had she phoned and I hadn’t gotten back to her?
“Well, that doesn’t really matter now, does it. I’m here now. What did you do with the paintings?”

“I must have sent them by Canada Post,” she said. “I sent them to the address you gave me when you first brought them in.”

“Canada Post?” I knew it was an unlikely way to send parcels, they were so expensive. I was incredulous. “You sent them when you thought I didn’t live there anymore?” I purposely brought the rising anger in me down, down down, until  I could speak normally. “Well, they never arrived. Didn’t you get the parcel back then, undeliverable?”

“I can’t remember. I’ve been so busy. My mother’s been very sick and now she’s died. I’m looking after her estate. Now my father’s sick. My boyfriend left me.”

The litany of woes, of misplaced blame, came out in staccatto form.

“Supposing they came back, what would you have done with them?”
“I don’t know. I don’t remember. It was too long ago. They could be in my mother’s attic. But I’m just going through things now. If I find them, I’ll let you know.

She was defensive and I was trying to keep the conversation on a level. After all, I wanted her cooperation. I didn’t want to shut her down. She was trying to make me go away. I wanted a commitment from her to find the paintings.

“Could you keep an eye out for them? Please take my name and telephone number and give me yours.”

We exchanged information. I returned to the car thinking, “She doesn’t care one whit.” I suspected that my business card would find the nearest waste basket as soon as she turned the corner. The little scrap of paper which I had,  I carefully folded into my wallet.

On the way back to Vancouver, impatiently-waiting Frank was sullen and weary. I repeated the conversation I’d had with her and proceeded to pick it apart. She’d never sent them. Was it possible she had called my  house? Why would she say she would look for them at her mother’s when she said she had sent them by Canada Post. How careless could that woman be?  Had she kept the paintings for herself? Had she sold some and couldn’t pay me for them, so was avoiding me?

Fast forward to last night:

I’ve been busy myself, enough to  forget things. I’ve had a six week pile of documents on my kitchen counter that I haven’t found time to sort.

Last night, I took from the pile all the exhibition data  – price lists, artist statements, resumes, submission cover letters, invitation designs, posters, press releases and sorted them out to be able to put them in a binder. At the end of the pile, I was holding a list of some sixty four works consigned to the Anchor Rock Gallery in Halfmoon Bay.

That confirmed it. The thrift store had my Anchor Rock paintings. No one else I knew had more than five of my works. It was the only answer.   Now how coincidental is that? I hadn’t seen the list in many a year and the list of works/contract finds itself into my hands on the same day as the e-mail arrives.

To be continued.                                    .

Our Heritage – Surrounded by books

January 27, 2011

I think I can put it down to the time when I was looking after Mom. I must have developed a phobia that I would not be able to read books because Time was getting swallowed up Big Time.

In the spare minutes of my busy life – full time job that often spilled into overtime, looking after Mom, major domo for our family of five – I began to pick up books that I would like to read when I was free of it all.  In spare moments on a Saturday at a thrift shop or a church sale, the library book sale or the United Way sale at work, I pored over books and brought home the choice few that I would like to read…. when I had time.

But I never did get much of that commodity.  So the books began to accumulate. They accumulated on my bookshelf. I began a second row of books, the tall ones behind and the pocket books in front. Then I graduated to books under the bed, and books in boxes. It got out of hand. I still can’t pass up a book that I think will be interesting to read.

When Mom passed away, I inherited the books from the family room – a whole wall of them. There were books in the study too – coffee table books, Canadian History, family history, dictionaries in several languages. Books signed by local authors. First edition books. A magnificent series of Colliers Encyclopedia bound in black with lettering and decorative stripes on the spine in gold, filled with burgundy in strategic places.

Father spent ages researching the best Encyclopedia. Of course, everyone uses Wikipedia now and I haven’t opened up the Colliers but once in the last three years, in search of a diagram of the digestive system.

I say, in the study, but there were two studies. Mother had one too. It was an academic family. Her books were chiefly about developmental education and many were specific to her specialty in the teaching of children with mental disabilities.  Here, there were more books about music and theatre, two of her loves in the art world.

They both had belonged to a book club. It was essential to be up to date on current literature to be able to join discussions in the hallowed company of the university crowd. There was a strong representation of Canadian Literature on those shelves.

I had visited my dear aunt, Daisy, who, when she moved to a care home, liquidated the collection of her husbands collectible books  – fine editions of Galsworthy, Shakespeare, Milton, Longfellow and many others.

I hadn’t understood what she was trying to do, when I went to visit her. She needed them all gone because she was moving to a small room. I felt I shouldn’t be greedy and took only two boxes of them. I dearly would have loved to have had more, but I restrained myself. Only to find out that she sent the remainder to the Salvation Army. I regretted that for a long time, repeating one of my mother’s adages over and over, “It’s only material things. Let it go. Let it go.”

But I didn’t let it go, obviously. What if I let that potential good read slip from my fingers next time I was out looking at books? If it was doubtful. I brought it home.

Well, you get the picture. I have a lot of books.

Then came the move.

Frank said, ” Why don’t you get rid of some of these books? They’ll be very expensive to move and just think of packing and moving them. Books are heavy.”

But I was obdurate. I was just coming to a point when I might have time to read.

“I want to keep them all. It’s what I’ve been waiting for. Just when I’m going to have time to read them, you are asking me to throw them out. No way!”

And I pack the books.  He transported them box by heavy box. Bless his heart.

So I now have stacks of books in basement storage. I worry about them. Basements are notorious for mold though I haven’t seen any yet. I’ve had two day-long sessions sorting boxes and sending those I know I won’t read off to the thrift store.  That entailed opening every box and reboxing what I wanted to keep. I lifted every one of those boxes, once to bring it out to the sort area and once packed, back to a new more compact stack of boxes. Boxes. Boxes. Boxes! I didn’t go to the gym those days. I was thankful that I had developed a strong back.

So, fast forward to this morning. I’m never too bright early in the day. It’s a time when  my eyes are not too open and my brain not too active, and it’s ideal for culling and cleaning.

My eyes lit on the over-stacked book case upstairs. Books are stacked two deep. The top has book ends and holds horizontally stacked books that are about to topple. A luminous idea came to me that I might just sit in front of it and find some more books to go to the thrift.

So I sat on the floor and checked out each book. Would I read it? No? Then it had to go. There were a few exceptions. One with Mother’s name in her beautiful MacLean’s writing in front. A few leather bound books from the early 20th Century, gold glittering on the edges; gold lettering on the spine. My Uncle Arnold’s Longfellow, with black rippled pigskin binding. A few first editions. A few hand made art books. I’ll keep those for a while.

This one, though, is going to the thrift shop. Democracy and Education by John Dewey (1859-1952) , an American philosopher, psychologist and educational reformer. Not, in case you are wondering, the inventor of the Dewey decimal system. That was Mervil Dewey.

I thumbed through and wondered if I would read any of it. I found some interesting passages. But I know I’m not in for that kind of academic reading anymore.  It’s going to go. I hope it will find another home with a book collector who will treasure it.

And inside the cover, my mother had pasted this. It’s a poem by John Robert Harris. I looked him up in Wikipedia and found nothing. On The Cornwall Guide website, there is a post that cites a John Harris, but I don’t know if it is the same one.  If anyone can clarify, please do.

http://www.cornwalls.co.uk/history/people/john_harris.htm

Here it is:

Our Heritage

For such as this

Men lie in Flanders’ dust;

That we might live

To glorify their trust.

For such as this

Men, like the Gods of Time;

Rise to new heights

With deeds and thoughts sublime.

For love of this

Our Fathers worked and fought:

Upon these principles

Our heritage was wrought.

For this we live

And thank our God on high;

This is our heritage

For which men fight and die.

For this, we stand,

The Guardians of the Storm;

Our children’s hope

And that of those, unborn.

For such as these,

We pledge our very all

That they may live

And love, at Freedom’s call.

It was most likely written post-WWI. As such, it would be a perfect poem to read during Remembrance Day events. It struck me that these thoughts, though crafted in a style that we use very little now, are nonetheless valid today, and I got rather nostalgic for simpler times. But when I thought that through, those times were no simpler than those of today.

And here it ends.  I offer you a confession of my book collecting sins, a poem and a bit of time for reflection on times gone by.

Where are those keys?

April 14, 2010

My cousin writes a mass mailing to friends:
Hello All!
Once again I’ve put my keys down in a spot where I know I will find them and now I can’t locate them.  I cleaned out the van yesterday, making sure not to lock them in as I closed up.  I have checked the spot where they are to hang in the basement and the pockets of the pants I had on yesterday.  Those should be the only two spots where they should be living.
But voila, like magic they aren’t to be found this a.m.
So get out your spidy eyes…all eight…or is that legs…and watch out for them for me please.
Reward?!  Yes, a drive in the van if you’d like!

I’m miles and kilometers away. I’m not concerned by this loss of keys, but I’m very empathetic. I can have four pen on the desk and have them disappear, one after the other while I have not gone anywhere – not moved whatsoever – and still they are lost to me. Later in the day, I may find them in my jacket pocket.  It’s the desk imp who hides things for wicked fun. And so I reply to my cousin:

Dear Cuz,
Do you not remember the car-key imp? He comes and steals away things  so that you can’t find them when you need them, and then just after it’s too late, he places them before your eyes!
Frank was here for eight days while he did a lot of renos and repairs for me. You should see the outside of my house sparkle! He power washed all the siding!
I kept looking for a stud finder that he gave me – a very expensive one, he was keen to tell me – and I couldn’t find it, so that he could put up some secure hooks for my paintings in these plaster walls of mine.

He went home on Wednesday and then came back again this Sunday to put in some decent and operative taps in the main floor bathroom. I still couldn’t find the stud finder – never opened, still in it’s packaging, yellow and highly visible – even though I opened every drawer and work box where it might have been, even on an off chance.
Then yesterday, not twenty four hours after Frank had gone back home …
I was cleaning up the studio more since this guy is coming to photograph me in the studio and there, in the pile of things I was tidying up (that I had abandoned tidying because I was distracted by R’s many requests for this and that) was the stud finder. Like, five minutes more, staying at my own tasks, I would have had it and he could have pounded some nails into the walls to hold up my heavier paintings. There’s not a chance that he is coming back. He simply lives too far away.
Anyway, Dear Cuz,  I empathize. You know you had your keys at home. They can’t be far.  The car-key imp is playing a trick on you, so they will turn up. Do you have a spare?

Your ever-loving Cousin

K

Advice is what it’s worth

April 3, 2010

Having Nephew Hugh in Europe has given me an opportunity for texting.

Late yesterday afternoon, my computer beeps at me and Skype is flashing at the bottom row of my computer. So I open up the program and see a line of text from Hugh.

“Are you there, Auntie?”

The time stamp is 12:45 my time, and 9:45 his.  But it’s now past two o’clock  my time, and so past eleven o’clock his time.
“Is it too late for a chat?” I ask.

“Everyone has gone to bed, here. I think it might be rude to be chatting away all alone in this entry way where I get a signal, so maybe just a few lines of  text?” he writes back. He’s in a student center for a maximum one month stay.

I find texting a little disjointed and unnerving. This will not be a surprise to anyone in the younger generation, it’s so common, but for me it’s new. I write something and press enter to go into the next paragraph and OOPs, the message has already been sent. So I continue on to say the rest of the thought, being slightly distracted by a little cartoon pencil wavering back and forth over an inch of an imaginary line. I’ve learned that this means that the other person is madly writing something.  But it doesn’t occur at the speed of thought, so I press enter and the remainder of my message goes. At the same moment, up pops another message from Hugh, having foreseen where my thoughts were going and he’s answered what I just sent. Same time stamp on my send and his text message arrival.

Now who gets to go first? Is there an etiquette?

It’s Hugh’s first day free to wander. All the contacts he has been given are away for the Easter four day weekend. He’s alone in a new city, emptied of it’s citizenry, all the stores closed but for a few pizzerias. There’s not even a store clerk to try his nascent language skills upon. He’s lonely and happy for an Auntie who will chat with him; who will tickle the plastic ivories of texting in her cyberspace voice. Auntie thinks, It sounds like something out of The Twilight Zone, but Hugh wont know that reference. And she tucks the idea away.

“What’s new today?” I send back to him as the quavering pencil flickers but no message comes.

Eventually:

“I walked out to the airport and back. I’m surprised how small a city this is. I haven’t talked to anyone.  I’m thrilled with the birds. I’m surprised about that. I spent some time in the laundry room here ironing all my shirts, profiting from the fact that everyone was away and I could have the room to myself.”

“The birds? What do you mean?” I shoot back to him.

“There are all kinds of birds I’ve never seen before and they are singing in European languages. I’m just fascinated by the sounds.”

“Do you know what they are?”

“No. That’s why I think they are so interesting. And they are so pretty.”

The phone rings here, and I answer it. Before I can explain that I am elsewhere engaged, Carol is going on about Easter plans and wanting to see me and I can’t find a wedge to interrupt her with.  As I recover from my fear of multitasking, I manage to write a line to Hugh: “Be back in a minute.”

Carol is coming for tea, at least, on Sunday and maybe dinner. She’ll see. She’s broken her arm and has lost her energy and oomph in the process. If she has enough energy….

And Carol and I sign off.

The beauty of texting is that Hugh has seen none of this. It’s seamless. It could have been a doorbell that rang, a cup of tea put in the microwave, an interruption from Frank who is doing some repairs for me, or time to put off a phone call until later. All he knows is that I’m gone for an undefinable but short time away.

Less than five minutes have passed.

“What else did you do today?” I write. The conversation is back on.

The pencil seems to be furiously writing.

“I walked down to the Canadian Mission” he says. “Here, open this. It’s a long web site, but you will see the Mission.”

I open up the site that he sends and there it is, from Google Earth, the gates of the Mission to which he is attached in full view, in full detail, from outer space, right down to the precise design of the gate, to the precise size and shape of the pillars holding them in place, to the trees that surround and the car that is going through at the time of the shot. It’s fantastic. This program must have put a lot of spies out of business!

In like vein, we text on. Frank comes by to ask a question about the repairs. He’s ninety-nine percent computer illiterate and marvels at my ability to keyboard without looking at the keys.

Then Hugh mentions the things he has not brought with him and he has found but the price is way too high: a beard trimmer, toothbrushes and floss, Tylenol. “Nothing extraordinary, but very expensive here, though the tax is already added in, so that helps a bit. Maybe could you send me a care package for my birthday?” he asks.

“Just buy them there,” I advise. “Once you add postage, they become just as expensive. And get a European beard trimmer. You’ll need it there and you’ve already got one for when you are back here in Canada.”

Once again, he mentioned his alone-ness.
For Pete’s sake, I thought. He’s only been away since Monday. That’s only five days! I thought back on my own travels and the months I was away, without people I knew. I left a record of that time in paper scribblings  that are squirreled away somewhere. Father saved all my letters. Later, when I went back and forth, I saved all of Frank’s letters, which tell half of the story. I may even have the other half, since when we separated, I gathered his important papers and kept them for the day he would want them again.

But all this texting will just disappear into the vapors of the heavens, or will reside on some unthinkably mammoth-sized server until they become outdated and disappear. His first impressions will simply disappear.

The last of my messages to him was a bit of free advice. It’s something I’ve reflected upon that concerns those moments in a person’s life when the change one goes through is so great that one leaves behind the past and embarks on a whole new phase.

Often we don’t recognize it until it has come and gone. But as life evolves for me, I begin to recognize these moments and cherish them. I try to use these moments for self-growth and positive introspection. It’s a time for evaluation and adaptation.

A line of text arrives;

“I went back to that pizzeria for dinner. There was no-one there but the pizza maker. But I was smart enough to ask them to not give me a raw egg on top, like they did the first night.”

And so I said”

“I always found that when I had an excess of time to myself and nothing specific to do that I ended up reflecting on myself and on all the rattle-trap that I didn’t want to focus on. It usually resulted in me coming to terms with certain things.     Your pizza sounds a bit better. I didn’t realize it was a raw egg that you got the other night. I think I would have asked them to put it back in the oven for ten minutes!

Endings and beginnings

March 29, 2010

Hugh is  elated. He has been appointed as an Intern to an International Mission for Canada in Europe. It’s his first job in his own field.

Kay , bursting with excitement for him, has been pointing out potential pitfalls, handing out advice that rarely meets the mark because, really, Hugh is an intelligent guy and has it all in hand. He’s  good at planning what he needs and procuring it, mostly through the Internet. Over the three years of his studies, he has carefully fostered contacts, too, and he’s been briefed before departure by a number of professors, research gurus and friendly field service officers, all of them friends.

He is nervous, anxious and excited all at the same time.  Wouldn’t you know, though, he gets the flu a week before departure and it develops into a secondary infection. He’s out of commission for two days and then struggles to get his affairs in order – emptying his room to storage so someone else can rent it while he is gone; collecting his visa which is supposed to be ready at the Embassy (but isn’t); getting to the bank and arranging his financial facility; completing his taxes because he won’t be here at tax time; ordering two suits and a few good shirts so that he can present himself well; buying two pairs of dress shoes because he’s sure he will not be received well in either hiking boots or running shoes.

The comforting thing, he mollifies her, is that Skype exists now. The only difference to their twice weekly calls is that he’ ll be calling from his new posting and he’s another few thousand kilometers away.
He says, “It’s not like when you  stayed in Europe; and Skype is still for free.”

“No,” she agrees. “When I left, it would be ten months before I got back home.  Long distance phone calls were prohibitive. I wrote letters, but I wasn’t staying in one place.  I was moving around. There was no place for anyone to write me until I got an apartment just before I started school.  I felt dreadfully lonely. No one around me spoke my language except other back-packers like me. I struggled with French. I could barely speak it. My Lord! What ever got into me – going off for a year like that, all alone,  without even being able to speak the language!”

“It was six months before I found anyone to talk to, and those were a pair of Norwegian girls. I thought I would go starkers with loneliness!”

“Darned if I was going to give in, though. I started to take second-language lessons at the University and then things eased up.”

“Your aunt Lizbet was in school in Geneva that year, but there was no phone where she boarded. I couldn’t call her. She wasn’t much of a writer. She spoke the language, at least. She’d taken her Masters in the teaching of French. When finally she wrote, she too was feeling very lonely.  I suggested that she come visit me for her birthday in December and she said she would.”

“Then, in a panic, I didn’t know what to do.”

“She didn’t turn up at the train station at the appointed time when I went to meet her.  She just wasn’t there.  I turned up for every possible train and went back home after midnight, my head spinning. What had happened to her? Had she missed the train? Was the train delayed? Did I have the wrong day? Perhaps she had not been able to get a reservation for the day she said she was coming?”

“On Saturday, I went to the train station from morning to night for every possible connection just in case I had made a mistake and still she was not there; and then I knew that she was not coming.”
“Should I tell the police? Or had I gotten something wrong? She had said Friday, but what if she meant the next Friday. Had she had an accident on the way? Had she been abducted? We had both been warned about the white slave-trade .”

“I waited, each day my stomach churning and my head filled with tragic possibilities. Should I call our parents? But what could they do from there? And what if it were nothing and they came all the way from Canada to find everything was alright? The expense of travel was prohibitive. I decided to wait.”

“A good ten days later, I got a letter. Her classmates had for the very first time invited her to join them for dinner and it turned out to be a surprise birthday celebration for her. She had stayed. But she had no way of getting in touch with me.  She rationalized that I would understand; that I would get her letter of explanation in a day or two and everything would be alright.”

“It was. But I had felt ever so vulnerable, ever so sick about it, all of that time that I didn’t know.”

“Auntie, Auntie,” interrupted Hugh, ” It won’t be like that. I will have a work place. I have a rooming house already, thanks to Cousin Barb. We have Skype and if need be, the telephone. I’ll call you twice a week – maybe more because I won’t know anyone there in the first month or so; and you can always just e-mail me.”

When Kay and Hugh finished their phone call, Kay returned to her chores in the basement where she was sorting out boxes of books to keep or not to keep – boxes that had been stored for two and a half years now as she settled into the new-to-her house. While she was mechanically opening boxes, chucking books into the keeper box or the other, her mind began to dial back to that earlier time.

How thoughtless she had been. Perhaps it wasn’t so much thoughtless as ego-centric. She had never thought how her mother might have felt, her rebellious and rather naive daughter winging off to France for a year without a place to stay nor a relative to depend on, with nothing but her clothing on her back, whatever she could stuff into a backpack and a wad of American Express cheques.

It’s the way of the world for the young to leave the nest, to try their own wings.  A generation later, it was Kay herself who told her nephews that it was their time to find their own paths, to find out who they were and what they wanted from life; that they didn’t have to ask permission to go or have a fight about it. All they had to say was, “I’d like to go live on my own now.” And here was Hugh, doing it.

Not to say that he hadn’t been fending for himself all these years of University; but it was his first job in his own field; and he would be living abroad.

As Kay’s heart twinged at  his leaving, she thought back to her mother. She had been the same age or just-about as Kay was now. And then Kay remembered the last of the three summers she had come back to work to allow herself to return to France to finish her Diplome.

“I’ve met a man,” she said to her mother,” and I’m going to meet his mother this fall.”

“You can’t go with that ragged coat,” Mother had replied, eyeing Kay from head to foot. ‘I’ll buy you a new one. If you are going into a new family, you will need to show you come from a good family.”

So they went shopping and Kay selected a brown and white herring-bone coat that reached to her ankles. It had a rust-coloured leather collar and buttons to match.  With her leather boots and three inch heels, her long blond hippie hair flowing down her back, she looked like a tall, slender Russian poet.

Kay admired her figure in the mirror. She would turn heads, she thought, with smug satisfaction.

Had she said thank you, thought Kay? Not just the words, but a proper thank you? Or had she just thought it was her due – parents buy their offspring clothing – or had Kay had any idea of the the reconciliation that this gesture had been from a mother to her headstrong daughter? It had been such a concession on her mother’s part.  She was letting go, for once, without making a fuss and showed for once, a certain trust in Kay’s judgment.

Kay sighed.

It was odd how life brought these bits of wisdom to her too late. It wasn’t a regret, exactly. Mother had come from a different era. One didn’t express one’s emotions. All her longings and vicarious wishes for Kay lay under the surface, bottled, capped, bundled and wrapped in a tight explosive corner of her heart. Kay’s too, thought Kay.

Kay was grateful that time had taught her to say what she felt. Kay had not wanted to make the same mistakes she felt she had grown up with. She was determined to let the boys, these nephews of hers, know that she loved them and encouraged them.  It had worked with one but not the other. Hugh was close, but not Ron.

Kay felt especially grateful about Hugh. She would not lose him for years at a time as she had been estranged from her mother. Hugh had become a friend – a deep and lasting friend. She would have the pleasure of sharing his adventures, she knew, and wished, far too late for it ever to happen, that she had been able to do the same with her Mom.

How different the world had become in thirty years! How much smaller the world had become because of all these electronic gadgets! And how much more open had become the ways of speaking one’s emotions to the people we loved.

Hanky panky

February 2, 2010

“Have you got your lunch? Have you got a handkerchief? Have you got your bus fare?”

The litany repeated every morning when I left for school, then later, when I went out to work. As if I could forget!

“Yes, Mom.” The reply was  a “stop-nagging” whine.

It changed on Sundays. “Have you got your handkerchief? Do you have some money for collection?”  Always, a nice girl would need a handkerchief. One did not touch one’s face. Or at least, we were not supposed to, but I was always getting chided for this sin of commission. And of course, if you had sniffles….

I brought the shoe box up to my nose. It was full of handkerchiefs and there were a few head scarves as well. It had an old smell, not musty, but of face powder and bath salts that women seldom use these days.

I noticed one day that my friend Geraldine carried cloth hankerchiefs and remarked on it.

“One day, I’ll come across the box of Mom’s handkerchiefs and I’ll give them to you,”  I promised. “I don’t use them, myself. I picked up a lot of them for her at the Lutheran Church at their Christmas and Easter sales. It’s amazing how many brand new handkerchiefs I could pick up there, for less than a quarter a piece. After a few years, the lady who ran the thrift table saved them for me. ”
“People brought them back to Mother, too, as presents – from Switzerland, from Germany, from England.”

“My box runneth over with handkerchiefs, ” I mused.

And here was the box with wrinkled and mussy handkerchiefs still smelling of Mom and her toiletries.

Just as mother was reaching her teenage years,  Kleenex made its debut in 1924, designed as a facial tissue made of  “Cellucotton” to wipe cold cream or make-up from one’s face. But it was The Depression and resources were scare. A cloth hankie could be used over and over again, but a tissue could be used but once.

I left the sixty-plus handkerchiefs to soak in a basin of hot water laced with a delicate-fabric soap and came back to rinse them and dry them a few hours later.  In a futile attempt to save time, I did not take them to the basement and the automatic clothes dryer, but began to stretch them, as Mother used to do, flat on the bathroom counter, but I quickly ran out or space and began to hang them out on the towel racks, along the edge of the laundry basket and all along the bathtub rim, and I was only half way through.

Later in the afternoon, I came back to do the other half and take the dry ones to iron.

As I pressed the first one, a light translucent cotton printed with a gay pattern of red and blue flowers, it came to mind that I must have learned to iron on these practical little squares of cloth, something that a child of seven could not ruin easily in her first domestic ironings.

As I continued on the task, I became conscious that I only had six matching handkerchief. Every other one was different.

Of the older types, there were ones with cut work lace (above) and embroidery (below),

with tatted edges or ones with crochet

The needle work is often hand-done with a finesse that is rarely seen today and the fabrics are so sheer, sometimes, that I marvel at the delicacy of it. How do they spin the cotton so fine so that the fiber is strong enough not to break in the weaving process and yet so small in diameter that  the fabric is almost see-through.
There are plain ones and flocked ones, there are silk ones brought from China by some thankful student;

there are ones with crocheted edges in variegated colour;

There are ones made especially for Christmas,

Some are geometric, or striped – regular horn-blowers for days of groggy flu or sinus numbing colds,

and some have curious, modern calligraphy upon them.

And this nest one was her favorite. It was the kind a flirtatious woman could drop on the floor and her eager swain would stoop to rescue.

Father passed away in 1983.

One day when I was visiting, before I came to live with her, to care for her, we had a cup of tea in the afternoon and she was being coy. Something was on her mind that she wanted to say but she wasn’t sure what my reaction would be, I discovered later.

Finally, she told me she had received a letter from one of Dad’s and her university acquaintances whom they had kept in touch with all their lives. He was an prominent Engineer – a brilliant man, she assured me.

“I can’t read his writing any more,” she said. “Would you read it for me?”

I struggled with the chicken scratchings that marked the page.

“Mom, this isn’t writing. It’s code. It’s unreadable!”

I was teasing her. There were occasional words that were recognizable. With a bit of effort, the entirety could be decoded. I read it to her haltingly as I deciphered it.

“He’ll be here on the twenty-fourth. He’s asking you to have dinner with him.”

I suspected that she already knew, that she had already read the letter and knew its contents.

She had an expression on her face that made me think of a wary animal waiting, not knowing if she were to be caressed or smacked.Timid. Unsure.

“That’s fabulous, Mom!” I said.  “How exciting! You do want to go, don’t you?”

“Yes, but what will you children think. Do you think I am being disloyal to your father?”

“Heavens, no! For Pete’s sake, Mom. Dad would want you to be happy. He would want you to enjoy your long term friendships still. I don’t think he want’s you to be a nun and cloister yourself away.”

Now I knew why she was being shy and coy! She was over eighty, but she was thinking of him as a suitor, a beau, a potential boyfriend.

On the twenty-fourth, I was summoned to get her to the hair dresser, then to help her dress. I brushed her clothes to ensure there was not a hair out of place, nor an escapee dangler left on her shoulders. I polished her favorite necklace – a Haida silver man-in-the-moon pendant.

She sat at her dresser, her sterling brush set sitting before her, as she trimmed her nails and put on polish, then selected a bracelet to go with the pendant. I put it on for her and secured the latch of it. She selected a perfume and dabbed it behind her ears.

She powdered her cheeks and brushed on rouge then wiped it away gently with a paper tissue.  Nervously, she fingered the little cut crystal pots with silver lids that were her pride and joy – her symbols of ladyship – and moved them, reorganized them, tidied them.

She leaned into the mirror, puckered her lips and carefully drew over her lips with a strong red lipstick.

Into her evening bag, she slipped into it  a twenty dollar bill, her lipstick, a compact with rouge, her driver’s license (though she no longer drove), a comb and a nail file.

“Do I look OK?” she asked when she was all done.  She was unsure. Excited. Like for a first date.

“You look wonderful, Mom,” I assured her. “There’s not a thing out of place. You look beautiful!”

“Have you got a handkerchief?” I asked. She hadn’t. It was the last thing to do.

She opened the top drawer beside her, pulled out a wad ironed handkerchiefs and picked out this one, her very best, with hand-made Belgian lace and a ruffle on each corner.  Soft and refined. The kind one could drop, for a suitor to pick up and admire. And she tucked it into her sleeve.

It’s threadbare now, but that doesn’t matter. I think I will keep this one, in memory.

A day trip in the Fraser Valley farmlands

January 24, 2010

I met my  friend Jacki on my first day of teaching. She was a new (but seasoned) secretary for the high school and I was a neophyte teacher.

I was expected to collect art fees and locker fees from each student and give them a receipt, but there were no receipts books to be had.   I parked my self at the counter just in front of her desk and demanded in a most frustrated manner to know, if there were no receipt books, when would they be coming in.

She had been equally frustrated by the beginning of school and, she tells me, muttered under her breath, “Bloody snotty bitch! Who does she think she is,” and then replied in her clipped English accent in a very pointedly, over-polite tone , “We don’t have them and we don’t know when they are coming in. I’ll let you know when we’ve got them.”

I thanked her in equally over-polite words and then turned on my heel saying just loudly enough for her to hear, “Bloody secretaries and janitors! They run the bloody  schools!”

Of course, this last statement is correct. They do. We couldn’t operate without them. Instead of being bitter about it as I was that day, I came to appreciate their services even more so than the principal’s.

At some time in the second year, I moved to Richmond where she, too, lived. Memory is dim, these forty years on. Somehow she offered to drive me home and I accepted. It became a regular thing. We became such good friends that we never stopped being friends.

Sometimes there would be years in between when we no longer saw each other, like when I studied in France for four years. But when we got back together, the conversation began and never ended.

She had my number quite early. I was an innocent dropped into a wicked world. I would walk into situations where no rational person would go and somehow would walk back out unscathed.  Over the years, like any youth, I became more worldly, but always there was this obliviousness to danger, and often I would get into scrapes. So OK, maybe I wasn’t unscathed.

Jacki was always there like a safety net. She was five years older and much like an wise sister.

It has been a while since last we saw each other, maybe six months, and the previous time before was two years. She’s a Realtor and when I bought this house, she was my first visitor. I hadn’t bought the house through her because it was outside of her area of expertise, but she wanted to make sure I had done well with my purchase and she wanted to know what the place looked like so she could imagine me here when she phoned me or sent an e-mail. These latter forms of communication, I must say, are also far and few between.

Last week, we finally set a date and yesterday was it. I left the  house at one o’clock and set out to find her in White Rock. I’ve been there once before but I”m not super on directions. I had them written down but I now find it harder than before. So much has changed.

I won’t bore you with the details.  I had a couple of chores to do en route – the bank, picking up a prepaid order of toner for my laser printer at Staples and then across the river to Langley via the new Golden Ears Bridge.

All that went fairly quickly, except that Staples did not have my order ready and they had “forgotten” to give me my rebate since they guarantee that they will have toner in stock and if they don’t they give you ten dollars off your bill. Thus, it was more like two o’clock when I got down to serious driving and I was twenty dollars plus richer than I had been half an hour before.

The Number Ten Highway is way down around the border – about seventy blocks away, in this grid system of ours, and I simply headed south and knew I would run into it.

Jacki lives between Sixty-fourth and Sixty-second streets way to the west in Surrey. I could simply take a cross street that went right through and get there, it seemed to me. I never did find the Number Ten Highway and so when I came to Sixty-fourth, I took it. It’s a main road in Surrey.

What I didn’t know is that it curves onto the highway. Well, this was good.

I was blithely driving along the highway but our system of marking streets, it seems to me, is not very clear. I had driven a few miles before I saw that the highway I was on was the Fraser Highway. Was it the same thing? There was nowhere to park at the side of the road and look. Traffic was going fast. There was construction going on and the cars were funneled into a single lane with a jolly looking young woman in fluorescent yellow crisscrossed with neon red waving drivers along. I couldn’t stop.

I must have driven about ten miles before I was able to catch a few signs showing that I have arrived at Ninety-eighth Street.  It meant that the Fraser Highway was not the Number Ten and that I had begun to head north on a diagonal. I was driving away from my destination! But finally, I was in territory I knew.  I got on a westward axis and headed for Scott Road then turned due south again. This time I had thirty blocks to go. I was tired and frustrated.

“It is what it is. Jacki will understand.” I muttered to myself. There was nothing I could do about it. I hadn’t brought my cell phone. The battery needs replacement. It won’t hold a charge.

By the time I arrived, I had been driving for an hour and a half. Although I had given myself lots of lead time, I was over an hour late.  To add to my driving misery, I should have turned at Boundary Gate Road, but the  sign for that street said Sunshine Gate Road and I missed it, only recognizing just after it was too late to turn, and I had this fellow behind me tail-gaiting.   Still heading south, not half a block later, I saw Highway Ten. It would have brought me within a block of Jacki’s house, had I found it at the beginning of the trip. I was there now, though,  and past it, going in the wrong direction!

I’m dense but not that dense. I realized that if I turned to “go around the block” to get myself back to Jacki’s I would be on the highway again without means of going back for a couple of miles. Instead, I went south and eventually found a way to do a U-turn.

She lives in a gated community with several monster houses divided up in to town homes. Her door is hidden behind a garage structure. The signage there is dreadful as well.  It was impossible to tell if I had arrived at the  right place. I saw a neighbour and got out of the car.

Fortunately, everyone knows everyone else in this enclave. He walked down to where I could park the car (also super-discreetly marked so as to be virtually unnoticable) and then pointed out Jacki’s home.

I had arrived.

My pent up frustrations would have made me a terrible guest. I was feeling very surly and out of sorts. I grabbed onto a suggestion she had made the day before as we planned our visit and asked if we could start by going for a walk.

There is a little lake nearby.  Really little. A pond, in normal parlance, but since Real Estate complexes laud their best features, this has become known as “the lake” – not even a half a kilometer in circumference.

There are a few ducks and a swan floating serenely on the glassy  surface. Some of the birds gather at the fence-line hoping for hand-outs. I had my camera and shot  a few pictures of them.

Jacki and I walked around twice before going back to her place.  It did me good.  The pent up frustration melted away. We chatted as we walked and shared our news and tribulations. We both have a few at  the moment.

Back at her home, we collected the address for my next destination from the car and, like a mother hen, she found the map, showed me where I would be going, walked me through it step by step.I would be going back by Highway Ten. It goes, after all, in a straight line from West to East.   I now knew where to find it!

“Do you remember, ” I asked, ” that when you came out last time, you came this route and you were so excited by the drive through the farmlands?”
She nodded.

“Well, I’m sure that the Number Ten is much better than the Fraser Highway. I couldn’t believe it! There are developments lining it – strip development – covering over almost every bit of farm land!”

“How did they get away with it?” I continued. “We are supposed to have laws about taking land out of the Agricultural Reserve. I was appalled by the sheer size and extent of it. There is hardly any farm land left! The apartment blocks are massive! What do we need five story apartment blocks here for? It’s all built on spec. I bet they are hoping to sell a lot of it during the Olympics and then the investors will go away and leave the units empty. ”
“But it is so far away from anything – from shops, from services – and to go anywhere, you have to have a car! We’re trying to phase out cars, and here we are spreading out, making people captive to their “rural” setting. And for that matter, as soon as you have a five story  walk up, you no longer have rural!”

I was ranting. Was there no stop to this? Were we going to eventually pave over every bit of earth in Canada. It is so sad!!!!

Jacki joined the kvetching. She agreed. It was so ugly, and we were destroying so much of the environment that we should be leaving as protected nature.

I had to cut a lot out of this picture to bring it to you as if it were natural:

And this next one shows how those monster houses are encroaching on the grasslands. I couldn’t stop to take photos on the highway, but I wouldn’t have wanted to show you the monster apartment blocks. They are simply dehumanizing in scale. I’ve been in ones like these.  There are  miles and miles of new ones being built. The interior corridors are long, long tunnels with fire doors dividing up the length.  No one stays in the hallway, they are so depressing. There is no natural light. And there are doors, one after the other, like prison cells.

After that rant, we  had a lovely visit and talked about everything and anything. Just before I had to go she put together sandwiches so that I could eat before I went to my evening meeting. She had made home made bread, sliced it thin and spread it with a chicken salad mixture she had chopped up herself. There was a Greek salad too, done only as Jacki would, with the ingredients chopped so much finer than what one would find in a restaurant. Hers was done to aesthetic perfection with yellow and red peppers, a crumbly feta cheese and small morsels of tomatoes. It was served up in a fine china bowl.

It was dark when I left. I drove out to the Number Ten and headed back east. If I had any illusions that this other route would be any better, I was disabused of the idea very quickly.  On this route, there are automobile dealerships fit for the princes of Arabia. The buildings are glass-fronted and shinywith catherdral-high ceilings. At night, the kilowatt hours are pumping through there ina  contest of brilliance with each other. One hardly has need of car lights, it’s so illuminated – and the lots are full of shiny new cars. It goes on and on and on for miles. And all for the almighty car! The polluter of the planet. I shake my head.

Can no politician say no to development – this kind of development? Can we not build up instead of out? Do we need to have acres and acres of cars? Do we need to light up the night and make it into day? Isn’t anyone in government getting the message?

I found my evening meeting place without too much difficulty. The meeting went smoothly – my first as a new member of the artists’ cooperative. I only had one glitch in my drive home. I finally made it into my own driveway by ten-thirty and I was rarely so glad to see it. It’s eighty-six years old, sturdily built and still full of charm.

And so, when I tell you that bit by big bit, the developers are covering over the farmlands, they are making themselves rich; but we the residents, we are poorer for all that. Once the outcropping of concrete has been established in the fields, there is no going back. Malls will become obsolete. They will be abandoned, like they are in my town; and then instead of tearing down an old building down to rebuild on the spot, they simply go and build a new one on deaccessioned Agricultural reserve.

Which makes the title of this post quite ironic. Much of the farmland is gone now. And the covering over continues apace. Much of can never be restored.

Bah Humbug!

December 23, 2009

Rant # 358.

Did I count that right? Is that ‘t’was the night before Christmas”? aka Christmas Eve?

I know that is tomorrow, but I will be busy cooking and preparing tomorrow.

I’ve turned down several requests to go Caroling. I refuse to go into the malls. That’s plural because I’m living in Mall City.  In a very short space, in a very small community there must be at least 15 malls. We are the outpost of bedroom communities. Slightly closer to the big city, we adjoin another bedroom community  and they are just about as bad, but they’ve got the Super Malls with the Super Stores; and one step closer in to Hub City, there is the Big Box mall where I do my food shopping. Arghh!

They’ve ruined my pleasure in Christmas Carols completely. One can’t go anywhere without being invaded by soppily orchestrated Carols. They jingle in elevators. They pervade every corner of the big department stores and big supermarket grocery chains. They are piped in beside charitable fund raising boxes attended by benumbed “elves”.

I know they are elves because the newspaper had an advertisement for them in November, looking for people who would ring their bells and chant the name of the organization collecting your dimes, pennies, nickles, loonies and more hopefully, two-nies. Argh! There is again! Tune-ies!

Silent Night, a beautifully felt, sentimental thought in sync with what we are supposed to think is the Christmas Spirit, has been so overplayed that I hate to hear it, especially jazzed and upbeat or mockingly translated into blues – or conversely when it is sung in tempo for a dirge.

Here comes Santa Claus, Dashing through the snow with Jingle Bells ringing.  The little drummer boy, It came upon a midnight clear, Frosty the Snowman. They’ve been done to death.  I can’t listen to them anymore. I can’t sing them. They’ve been ruined, for me, by their mindless repetition.

Maybe I’m just an old crone with memories of when it was different.

We were allowed to listen to the radio one hour after school. There was no television yet. We listened to theatre including The Lone Ranger and The Shadow and we listened intently, because if you missed something, there were no replays, no possibilities of recording it to tape or CD or DVD. It was played through, often live, and then it was gone. Now even your telephone ring can be set to a Christmas melody.

At Christmas, we gathered around the old piano and sang. Mother had learned the tunes and some simple chording. Every year, she bought one more piece of sheet music. Every year, we added one more tune to our repertoire.

We sang lustily and laughed together, all gathered in the living room for this festive day.

If I need to listen to a Christmas Carol now, let it be Christmas in Killarney (with all of the boys at home). This song somehow escaped the muzac elevator tapes and is never thought of for Caroling in old folks homes. Not that I’m in one, you understand, but I suffered the daily afternnon onslaught of them with  Mother while she was a resident. Cloying. Sentimental. Repetitive.  I blessed the one and only day when a group of musicians came from the nearby music school and played a real concert of Fauré, Debussy, Ravel, Rachmaninoff and Elgar quartets. Now that was a treat! And none of them were the overdone favorites – each was fresh and crystal clear.

What is it that brings us to repeat simple songs that were written two hundred years ago? Did creativity die in 1816? *

And now when I turn on the local radio, almost to the last one, there is nothing but watered down, transposed, redecorated, arranged, up-beaten, over-written, undermined songs of Christmas, and all they seem to mean is “It’s time you went shopping at the mall.”

Bah Humbug!

Please give me a Silent night. No, not the song.

Just a pure, clear meditative silence!