History really is about his story

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Remembrance Day has always been a day when I truly do honor the men and women who have served, and continue to serve, for our freedom.  Every year, I watch the ceremony in Ottawa and, every year, I am moved to tears watching the emotion on the faces of the people in the crowd.

My latest interview for the library project I am helping with was nothing short of eye-opening and made the emotions I feel on Remembrance Day seem insignificant.  Charlie was born in 1925.   After graduating high school, his career focus was on the Navy.  It wasn’t until he talked with his teacher that he decided to become a soldier in the army.  After going through basic training, being sent for further training in Nova Scotia and finally turning 19, Charlie found himself being sent to Europe in November of 1944.

Now, at the age of 92, he skillfully walked me through his journey from Canada to England and then to Italy.  He joined the 48th Highlanders and they moved on to Pisa, where he remembered the leaning tower.  From there they were transferred to Marseilles and then took a truck to Belgium.  They crossed the Rhine into Germany into an area that had already been cleared and his troop eventually ended up in Apeldoorn, Holland.

By mid-morning on April 17th, 1945, the Highlanders had secured the north-western section, the Hastings were on the grounds of Het Loo Palace and the Royal Canadian Regiment was in the town square. The West Nova Scotia Regiment of the 3rd Brigade took over the south-western perimeter of the town before noon.  Charlie was on the front lines when Holland was liberated.

It was remarkable watching him become so emotional when he told me how his unit was given the news on September 2nd, 1945 that the war was finally over.   It was 72 years later and, if I could describe the look in his eye, he was right back on that street when he first heard the news, standing in his uniform pants and a t-shirt.

History really is about his story and so many other stories.  And next year on Remembrance Day, I will remember Charlie and the countless others who sacrificed their freedom to defend others.

 

May I please go to the bathroom?

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When I was a child, doing dishes was the worst form of torture I could ever imagine.  We didn’t have a dishwasher so dishes were all done by hand and we all took turns washing and drying to make the arduous chore seem more fair.  But it was my least favorite thing to do.  I would have much preferred vacuuming, dusting, cleaning the bathroom, dry-walling, rotating and balancing tires or removing my own spleen….anything but washing those bloody dishes.

I don’t recall if the genius idea came to me in a dream or if I had a sudden flash of brilliance after one particular dinner but, once the meal had been consumed, I asked if I could go to go to the bathroom.  No parent can effectually deny a child the right to heed the call of nature, so off I went.

Once that bathroom door had closed and I had engaged the lock, I became a teenage version of a forensic pathologist.  I carefully opened each cupboard and slowly examined and took stock of its contents.   In essence, I took so much time doing absolutely nothing that by the time I unlocked the door and went back to the kitchen, the dishes were done and nobody had seemed to notice the length of my absence.  The plan was brilliant….until eventually my brother caught on to my shrewd strategy.

After his realization of my great scheme, my trips to the bathroom after dinner were much less regular (pun intended).  The guy that I looked up to, that I thought would battle to the death for me, had thrown me under the bus.  I could only try to tune out the sound of his laughter as he closed the bathroom door before I even got close to that portal of escape that would separate me from the dishes.  Perhaps I should have changed my strategy and just gone to the bathroom right in my chair.  That surely would have resulted in a swift and heady dismissal from the dinner table and a one-way ticket straight to my room!

As fate would have it, I don’t hate doing the dishes anymore.  I learned a very valuable lesson about cleaning as I cook so the pile of dishes at the end of the process is not larger than the house itself.  It is a rare day you will find dirty dishes in a pile in or near my sink but rest assured, they don’t stay there for long.

I hope I’m that witty in my 80th year

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I have been volunteering my time to help our local library with a project they created.  In honor of Canada’s 150th birthday this year, the library is creating a book dedicated to telling the stories of our senior residents and I have the good fortune of interviewing some of the seniors to help tell their stories.  A few of the seniors on the list have chosen to write their Muskoka memories with their own flair and one of our local professional photographers is also volunteering his time to take pictures to capture the faces of our history.

The age of my interviewees ranges from early 70’s to a remarkable 94 years old.  Each interview is notably different.  Some people don’t let me get a word in edgewise and others have to be coaxed along with many questions to tell the story of their journey.  But each one of these interviews is compelling.  I knew the project would be interesting but I never realized how much I would really enjoy hearing each Muskoka tale from beginning to end.

I have never been a history buff but hearing the tales of how our fellow residents came to spend their lives in Muskoka is fascinating and my interview last night was nothing short of amusing.  Our banter was infused, not only with historic bits of his past but, with moments of his life that were told from a whimsical perspective.

I have at least two dozen more interviews to go and I am looking forward to each and every one of them.  I can only hope that, if I am able to participate in something like this in my later years, I can bring as much fun to my life story as I have heard from the people I have had the pleasure of getting to know through this project.

 

Remembering a post about Remembrance

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This was written two years ago and I could not think of a better post for today, so I am putting this out there for those who read it to read it again and for those who missed it to read it for the first time.

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Undoubtedly, you’ve seen them.  The men and the women of the Royal Canadian Legion Branches have been doing their duty, standing at local businesses with their trays of poppies, collecting donations.  I see them every year.  I donate several times every year and I am proud to don my poppy to show my support.

But Friday morning, November 6th, 2015, will stand out in my memory as the day I was truly humbled and I knew precisely what I would be thinking during my moment of silence on Remembrance Day.

My friend Karen was enveloped by her navy blazer, her hair neatly braided, and a bright red poppy radiated from the lapel on her jacket. But that bright poppy was no match for her vibrant smile as she stood in the rain with her tray of poppies strung proudly around her neck.  When I asked her why she was standing in the rain as opposed to being under the shelter of the covered entrance to the store, she paused briefly, looking into the sky while summoning her response.  When she replied, it stopped me in my tracks and hit me right in the heart.   She said, “I don’t know.  They stood out there for us so the least I can do is stand out here for them.”.

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For a few seconds, I was frozen in my spot.   I smiled at her and continued into the store to buy my morning paper.  I reflected on what she had said to me and, once out of the store, I stopped and chatted with her in the rain some more while I donated the rest of my change.

The thought of what she said still brings a tear to my eye every time I recall her voice saying that brief but overwhelmingly gracious line.  That sentence was profound.  One simple line put Remembrance Day back into perspective for me.

So easily at 11:00 am on the 11th day of the 11th month, we all take a moment to share silence to remember the fallen, praise the heroes and thank those still serving to protect our basic rights and our freedom.  But how much do we think about what those soldiers really endured to fight for us?  How deeply will we let our brain delve into those dark places to be able to scratch the surface of the atrocities the fighters of those World Wars, and the many conflicts since, have been made to bear?

As the previous generations fall into the past and subsequently we skip quickly ahead to the next epoch of humanity, how many stories of our fallen ancestors will continue to be shared?  My maternal grandfather died of a heart attack long before I was born.  He served and I know so little about his sacrifices for our family and our country.   His stories of bravery seem to be tucked away with his photographs and his absence.

Hearing Karen’s thoughtful reasoning behind standing in the rain with her tray of poppies made me want to research the time my grandfather spent serving his country.  I want to feel that connection on Remembrance Day and I want to share that legacy with my nephews so their generation will understand what it means to show courage in the face of adversity, so they will appreciate what it means to sacrifice yourself for the greater good and how bravery is defined by doing something you believe in, no matter what the outcome.

To all of the men and women who are currently serving, to all of those who have served in the past and to those who are finally enjoying the peace they fought so diligently to preserve, I salute you and I thank you.  And at 11:00 am on the 11th day of the 11th month, I shall bow my head and take a moment to truly appreciate everything I have because all of you made it possible for me to have those things.

 

Some trips down Memory Lane

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I don’t profess to know much about history.  I spent more time trying to avert my eyes from my high school History teacher’s unpleasant gestures and I unfortunately did not absorb any of the assumed knowledge he had bestowed upon us.  Instead, I doodled, wrote poems and passed notes to my friends.  I narrowly escaped with a passing percentage from my tenth grade scholastic year because of the embarrassing grade I received from that History class but my outlook on the past has recently changed.

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I have been asked to help with a project for our local library.  They would like to create a book that details the photos and the memories of our senior residents, learn what brought them to Muskoka and what the area was like when they first arrived.  I knew I would enjoy the journey but I didn’t know how much I would love it until I did my first interview on Wednesday.

This area has been home to my family for many generations.  I have been fortunate to live here for most of my life and have many photos and stories of family members who walked these paths long before my grandparents were born.  It has been a part of  my soul for longer than I have been on this Earth and I now get to hear stories of how Muskoka has been the love of many other people’s lives.

My first interview was with a delightful 82-year-old woman who was born in Cork, Ireland.  She moved to England with her family after the war and bravely left the safety of her home to move to Canada with a friend when she was 23 years old.  As I listened to her detail the moments of her life, I became absorbed in her words as she described her passion for her early days as a cottager and subsequently as a summer resident.  Her words moved me.  I felt the same strong emotion she did as she described how she felt more than fifty years ago when she first came to the area.

Perhaps history is subjective.   The stories of our past may be told in different ways but they will always hold a special place in our heart.  I am looking forward to joining a few more of our long-time residents on their journey down memory lane.

The road already travelled

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“Time moves in one direction, memory in another.” ~ William Gibson

Nostalgia is a funny thing.  When you least expect it, what began as a glimpse into your subconscious suddenly floods your senses and overwhelms you with thoughts of the past.  It could be a song lyric, a smell or an old picture that triggers the trip down memory lane but, regardless of how the journey begins, the open road to your past looms behind and begs for you to follow it.

 

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On occasion that journey can feel like you have stepped through a portal into the time-space continuum and have completely ensconced yourself in that moment so many years ago.  You can visualize the wallpaper on the walls that no longer exist in reality but feel like they are an arm’s length away if you reached out to touch them.  You can inhale fragrant scents and feel the presence of the person who used to wear that particular perfume or cologne.  That one song can play and transport you back to the time and place you have associated so strongly with those lyrics.

That road that stretches behind us still waits for us whenever we feel the beckoning pull of sentimentality.  Venturing down that protected surface serves to remind us where we’ve been but will always afford us the opportunity to turn around and forge ahead into the future.

Understanding and embracing those things from our past can only motivate us to continue.  We carve the paths of our progressive journey knowing that the moments that have shaped us will always be there to remind us of where we have been and where we have since chosen to go.

The Wooden Spoon

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There are a million wooden spoons.  I’m sure I could go to any store from a Walmart to the highest-end Kitchen gadget store to replace the one I have.  But the one I have has a special function that none of those other spoons would have.  The spoon that I have is able to transport me back in time.

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This wooden spoon is the spoon my mother used to stir her brownie batter with and, when I was being good, I would be allowed to lick the leftover batter from that spoon.  When I become old enough to help in the kitchen, I was entrusted with the spoon and left on my own to make the brownies without my mom’s help and, as a teen is wont to do, I still licked the spoon.

This wooden spoon has had an epic journey and has lived in many kitchens but it now finds its place in my home.  It was one of the only kitchen items I chose to keep from my mom’s vast collection of kitchen gadgets after she passed away. It shares its space with the shiny stainless steel utensils, in just as shiny a container, on the counter in my kitchen.  It looks like a misfit toy lost in the pristine surroundings of Santa’s workshop but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

There are times when I am afraid to use the spoon for fear that it will break and I will lose that tangible part of the past that I shared with my mother.  It feels like the last piece of her that I can physically hold on to and be six years old again in our kitchen.

This inanimate object is far from lifeless and its spirit will continue to fill my kitchen, and my heart.