Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Growing up, I was one of the kids who always got picked last for whatever games were played in our schoolyard. On top of that, I attended a three-room school from grade 1 to grade 5. In one room were grades 1 to 4, in another, grades 5 to 8. The third room was used for music class (read dancing, mostly), and our country-school version of phys-ed—until the last year I was there, when it became the “special education” class.

Four grades, one teacher, it’s no wonder, then, that I learned how to get by on my own at an early age. There wasn’t a lot of structure to my early life at any rate. My dad died when I was 8, so again, I was left to my own devices a lot. I had school and I had home, and because we lived out in the sticks, that was about it. If I complained about being bored, I got put to work. I made my own fun, and wasn’t allowed to stay inside on a Saturday or Sunday if the weather was decent.

Of course, it was a different world, and really, I don’t think I would like to see us return to the way things were back then, fifty or so years ago. I’m intelligent enough to understand that while those times seem “better” to me on occasion, I’m peering at them through the prism of what I’ll call “filtered” memory.

No human rights, no medical coverage, and certainly even less sense of world security then than now (duck and cover, remember?) They weren’t really kinder, gentler times at all.

I never really wanted to turn into one of those older people who lamented that “back in my day things were so much better”. But I’ve discovered that I have from time to time, and mostly only when I seem confounded by the pace and the mores of life today.

Every generation takes its turn at the wheel, with the generation that preceded it becoming back seat drivers—and the one coming up whining for the keys to the car.

I do my best to keep up with modern technology. But I have to tell you, there are times when I find it a real challenge.

There are some things that I think are wonderful, and a few things I think are lacking.

Sometimes I think I spend far too much time at my computer. It’s easy to do. I try to write at least 1,000 words a day, but really would be happier to triple that figure. That takes effort, and how much depends on the fickle moods of my muse—and my degree of discipline.

I would be lying to you if I were to tell you that I keep a sharp focus throughout the day. Sadly, I’m weak, and get distracted easily. I like to look around on Face Book, and I like to play a few games here and there.

I think there is a danger in spending too much time with online friends and not enough with face-to-face friends. I think parents need to monitor not only what their kids are doing online, but how long they are doing it each day.

I worry not just about the fact these children aren’t getting exercise; I worry that they get their heads too far into the ‘virtual’ world, at the detriment of their ability to learn to cope with the real one.

However, were it not for this modern technology, I seriously don’t have a clue what my life would be like now.

Long before I began to make a living with my writing – and through this modern technology, I might add – I thought the internet a Godsend for those people who were mobility-challenged. My first experiences on line were in “free game rooms”. I’d go and play bingo, and chat, and there were so many elderly people in those game rooms who were thrilled to be communicating with others. For them, their computers represented their entire social life, especially those who were “shut-ins”.

For the most part, I believe that, despite “text speak” and the various and sundry short forms we see like LOL and IMO, using a computer does help the cause of literacy. As far as I’ve seen, this is well and good, with this one exception—and this is a pet peeve of mine.

My grandchildren can’t read what the schools these days call “cursive” communication—what we referred to back in my day as “writing” , which was as opposed to “printing”. And I’m wondering if that sort of writing will become a lost art.


Wednesday, May 23, 2012

This past weekend was our first long weekend of the summer here in Ontario. On the Monday before the 24th of May each year, we commemorate the official birthday of Queen Victoria, who reigned Great Britain and the Commonwealth (of which Canada is still a part) from 1837 to 1901.

When I was a kid, “Victoria Day” was the only time when we got to enjoy large firework displays. I guess because we had yet to embrace our own unique nationalism, this was our big national holiday. Our National Flag at the time was the Canadian Red Ensign with the Union Jack, the flag of Great Britain, very prominent in the upper right corner, and one of our two national anthems was God Save the Queen.

Years later, when I became a young married woman, after the great flag debate and the adoption of our current flag and the repatriation of our Constitution, a shift in attitudes began. Some communities decided to move the date of their fireworks from May 24th to July 1, which is Canada Day. Also at that time, we began to refer to the weekend as May 2/4. Yes, you’d be right if you guessed that moniker refers to what we call a case of 24 bottles of beer up here.

Victoria Day is similar to your Memorial Day in the U.S., in that we consider it the unofficial beginning of our summer. Although our Elementary and High Schools here don’t let out until about the 25th of June, this weekend marks the beginning of a new season—more than spring, less than full on summer.

Mostly, in my neck of the woods and in my experience, this weekend was considered the beginning of planting season. I can recall that many Victoria Day weekends found us out planting the veggie and flower gardens.

My mother had a large vegetable garden, easily a quarter of a block long and 30 feet wide. We lived in a rural area, and the farmer from down the road would bring his tractor each spring and plough, and then disc it for her. She also had a large square flower bed at the front of the house, and round ones that surrounded the flowering crab apple trees we’d given her one Mother’s Day.

Then, when my children were young, this weekend became remarkable in that we always took them to the park, where there were carnival games and rides, and fireworks. Many a time, we had to bring blankets to snuggle them under, because sometimes Mother Nature liked to make the temperature dip close to freezing. I shivered through many an evening but counted it as good, because the kids always had such a great time.

I’m older now, and not necessarily missing either those shivery pyrotechnics or those half-inebriated get-togethers. This year, once again, I’m content to just enjoy the weather and the activities of others from a distance.

Just a couple weeks ago, the woman who owned the house across from us on the north-east corner of our intersection (we live on the north-west corner) moved across the side street to the south-east corner, leaving her grown son and his girlfriend in her former residence.

On Saturday, the younger ones began make the place their own as they set out to take down the 40 foot tall pine tree next to their house. My husband and I watched, wondering if this was one of those moments when we should have our video camera in hand, while simultaneously looking up the submission instructions for America’s Funniest Videos. Fortunately, the young men managed to bring the tree down in stages without any injuries or accidents.

We left the house about the time they were breaking out another 24, on our way to the grocery store. It was then I noticed the truck they used to pile some of the tree limbs in, a truck that bore the logo of a local tree service. I made a note of the name. Since the young men went about their task without any PPE – not a hard hat, work boot or pair of safety glasses had been in sight – I decided these were not the people to call in the future, should the need arise.

My DH and I just looked at each other, shaking our heads. We didn’t have to voice the opinion which I knew we both shared. Once more we’d been given proof that God does indeed look after drunks and fools.


Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Sunday was Mother’s Day and I wonder if you took time to let your mother know how much you appreciate her?
My mother passed away in 1976 at the very young age of 57. Last May 1st was the first day I lived to be older than her. Since then, I’ve thought of my mother often.

The truth is, although she wasn’t what anyone could term affectionate, I miss her. I wish I had paid more attention as she spoke about our heritage, as she told me tales of her mother and father and growing up during the Great Depression and what it was like to be a young woman in love during World War II.

She met my father while she was a nurse in training, during the war. He was the sole support of his own mother, and he didn’t pass the medical for enlistment—although I have no idea why. He worked as an orderly at the hospital where she took that training. They married in secret on May 29th, before her graduation, as in those days only unmarried women could attend nursing school.

I wish I knew more of her and my father’s love story, and more details of their lives, their growing up years and just starting out years.

My father died 13 years before my mother. They’d barely had 20 years together, and after he passed, my mother rarely spoke of him. Neither did she ever even look at another man.

Because I was so young when my father died, my mother became the center of my young life. She once told me, years later, that one of the reasons she never considered dating or the possibility of marrying again was that she didn’t want to turn her life over to a man to run. She had become used to doing things herself and for herself. That statement had shocked me, because I never imagined she looked at marriage that way.

My mother cooked and sewed; she was a registered nurse, working full time; she could cut the grass, fix a toaster, and made wooden valances for over the windows in our living room.

I grew up believing that women could do whatever they set their minds to because of the example my mother set, and I understand now it was an example she set only because of the vagaries of fate.

My mother had a wry sense of humor, and a very agile mind. She didn’t often say a negative thing about a person. One time, when I heard her make such a comment about a woman who was the wife of my late father’s best friend, I chided her by saying, “everyone has a bad side.” My mother’s retort? “All the way around?”

My mother was a wise woman, one who had good people skills, and a good insight into human behavior. She also gave me the best advice I ever received when I was only 17 years old.

She came to my high school for a meeting with the guidance counsellor and my teachers. The reason was that my marks had suffered as a result of my having been off for a few weeks—I’d had a fractured ankle that had been surgically set with a pin, and the doctor felt I needed to stay home.

One of my teachers was a sarcastic fellow, one with whom I didn’t get along. After the meeting, when it was just me, my mom, and the counsellor, my mom sat quietly as she stared at the chair where this man had sat. Finally, she pointed to the chair and said, “The minute he opened his mouth, I knew he was an asshole.”

Strong language from mom, a woman who rarely swore. Then she said, “Unfortunately, Morgan, the world is full of assholes, and nine times out of ten when they come into your life, they are going to have some authority over you. So you need to learn how to deal with them.”

Wise words indeed, and advice that I have never forgotten, and ever found useful.


Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Did I mention that my daughter is a PSW? That stands for Personal Support Worker, or, in the lingo of my younger days, and what I believe they are call in the States, a ‘nurse’s aide’.

During the fifteen months that she lived with us after the dissolution of her marriage, she attended college to train for this career. I think it’s one of the best decisions she’s ever made, as she truly enjoys her work.


She’s been a blessing to me, she really has, but now that she’s a professional, she tends to see the world—including her mother—through a work-related lens.

My daughter works primarily in the community, calling on the ill, the palliative, but mostly the elderly. She performs myriad tasks to help these people. She bathes them, dresses them, and even does some minor housekeeping for them. She takes good care of her clients, the bulk of who are female, even to the point that she gets them small gifts at Christmas. She refers to them, en masse as her “old ladies”.

Do you have a clue about my ‘but’ yet?

I’m 57 years old. All right, 57 and 9/12th years old. I suppose in some ways, I remind my daughter of some of her clients. I walk with a cane. Because I do have arthritis, some days are definitely worse than others, and I move very slowly on those days.

But...I am not an old lady.

Middle age is a time of flux. Things do begin to change, as our bodies age and our minds try to adjust to the next level of volume, to accommodate all the accumulated knowledge we have amassed over our lifetimes (do you like that explanation for intermittent forgetfulness? Feel free to use it, no charge, my gift to you!)

But...I am not an old lady.

My daughter really has been a blessing to me, especially lately as she chauffeurs her father in the morning so I don’t have to endure interrupted sleep. She comes once a week to lend a hand with my housework, and just this past Sunday, she came over and set up my new computer, and made the transition seamless for me.

But...I am not an old lady.

We spend a fair amount of time together, and she goes with me sometimes when I head to the mall, or just out and about. And she is ever helpful. She is proactive! There are dozens of small ways she wants to help me, because, “this is what my old ladies like,” or, “this is how my old ladies do things.”

I’m learning not to mention any small complaint or change in the way things are for me, because my daughter’s eyes light up and she nods, and proclaims that I am...just like her old ladies.

I recall a television show a few decades ago, “The Golden Girls”. The oldest of them, “Sophia” used to get away with totally outrageous behaviour, explained by the fact that she’d had a mini stroke which destroyed that part of her brain wherein discretion lives.

Now, I’m not wishing for anything like that, but I am waiting for the day when my daughter comes by and tells me about her new feisty, cane-wielding client, and how she has to be ever so sweet to her, and careful of what she says or else....

Because on that day, I plan to become just like one of her old ladies.


Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Spring 2012 is turning out to be Mother Nature’s worst problem child, if you ask me. Cold, wet weather makes me think of comforting things: warm blankets, coffee, good books—and pain meds. Somehow, after the mild winter we had, I thought we might just slide right into the warm weather of spring.

So far, it’s not happening. I can deal with the weather, because really, the cold and rain and such are just inconvenient. Many other folks, just south of us, have to cope with violent weather and dangerous storms. I’ve made a lot of friends in the States over the last few years, and every time I hear about lines of dangerous thunderstorms and spawning tornadoes, I do a lot of praying.

I hate to wish my days away, but I keep thinking if we can all just get through this spring, unharmed and intact, then life will be good and peaceful once again.

I seriously don’t know how those of you who live in tornado prone areas do it, I really don’t. How do you face each spring knowing that there are going to be storms and that you could lose not only your homes, but that you or your loved ones could be injured, or lost?

I know that normal is just what you’re used to, and I suppose we can, and do, get used to a lot of things and call them normal. Yet I can’t help but shake my head in awe of you.

I feel so fortunate because we don’t seem to have those kinds of challenges here, at least not as a matter of course. Snow and ice and extreme temperatures seem to be our specialty here. It did snow in some areas last week, but I was very lucky, and my newly blooming and soon to be blooming tulips and daffodils were able to avoid getting dumped on or damaged.

A week ago I didn’t think that would necessarily be possible, as Environment Canada issued a weather warning –according to them we were supposed to get a huge amount of snow. It didn’t happen, and although the temperatures did dip below freezing for a few hours, it wasn’t enough to set off a killing frost.

We’re all recovered from our week in the Chicago area, and once more happily pursuing our daily routines. My daughter continues to drive her father to work each morning, and I continue to be able to enjoy the phenomenon of uninterrupted sleep, which results in my getting more work done each day.

Our second daughter is on a more permanent schedule now of two weeks of day shifts, followed by two weeks of nights. Most are just three day weeks for her, but some are longer. That means we have the kids sleeping overnight on a fairly regular basis.

It’s nearly time to open the upstairs again. We close it off in the winter because it never got completely finished after our son died; in the winter it gets quite cold up there, and costs a fortune to heat. But in the spring and summer, we have the upstairs open. We’ve had two very old beds up there for the kids, but this year we’re going to buy some new ones. We’re going to see if we can’t maybe finish the insulating and the dry-walling so we can keep it open during the winter—without causing our heating bills to triple.

The rhythm of life is different for everyone, but a definite presence for us all. It’s a pattern that brings us each the most comfort and security, and maybe that’s the answer to my question about how people manage to get through their own particular reality.

It’s their rhythm and they’re used to it. Love,