A Special Name

Me on Muddie's kneeA Special Name

I was named for my grandmother, Mary Morris.  Her father called her Mollie and that is what I was christened.  I was born at the time when the names Barbara, Judy, Janet, Karen, and Kathy were popular as well as Susan and Carol.  There were no other “Mollies” that I knew of and I was the only one in all thirteen of the schools I attended.  Now Celtic names are more popular and so I often hear my name called out by a mom or dad.   However, when I was in school there was never any doubt who was being called.  My name seemed rather unique then and I have always liked it.

“Mollie” Morris was a lovely person, very talented and generous.  She made dresses for my sister and I when we were young, as well as mittens and scarves.  She was an expert cook and a hospitable hostess who never knew how many were coming to dinner, as my grandfather tended to invite strangers without much notice.  During the war years in St. John’s Nfld. where they lived, he was forever inviting young homesick sailors and soldiers home for lunch or supper.  My grandmother was an easy-going sort who would simply add another potato to the pot.  She was dearly loved by her friends and neighbours for her lovely smile and kind deeds.  She wrote volumes of letters to her two daughters, my mom and my Aunt Georgie (Georgiana) full of all her latest baking and stories of their home in Newfoundland.  She made all her own slipcovers for the furniture and drapes for the windows.  She also embroidered, crocheted and knitted.  I only wish I had inherited her energy and talents.

Naming a child is a big responsibility.   You want to give each child a name that is meaningful and pleasant to the ear, and you must be so careful that it is one that he or she will be proud to answer to.  Last names are inherited of course and the pride in last names is something to be carefully guarded in each generation so that no lasting shame is attached to it.  A first name is a gift from the parents and needs to be wisely chosen.  My husband and I named each child before they were born so that we could say “Well, hello little …..” as soon as they were born.  Some people prefer to save the naming until after they have seen their baby.  Initials are very important as well – parents need to ensure that no embarrassing nick names can be made from them.  Nick names will happen anyhow, but better it not be because a parent’s choices.

It is amazing to think that God Himself has a special name chosen for each of us.   According to Revelation 2:17b “To everyone who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give a white stone and on the white stone is written a new name that no one knows except the one who receives it.”  How wonderful to think that we each have a holy celestial name known only to God.

When I was supply teaching I had many little children in my care and getting to know and remember each name was hard.  I was never in one class long enough to know every child.  I doubt that I could recall any one of them now and yet God who has so many people in his care knows and remembers each of us.  Even when our four children were small, I would sometimes have to go through all the names (including the dog) before I got to the one I needed.

How wonderful that God has a special name set aside for us in heaven.  We will truly be a new creation there and yet still be ourselves – the best we can be.  It is humbling to realize that we are so important to our Creator, just as each of our children is important to us.  We know their strengths and flaws and they are all precious to us.  Being a parent has strengthened my faith.

Dogs I Have Known and Loved

Dubbie as a pup
I’m holding Dublin at the cottage.
Dublin in the snow
Dublin at 17 years old.

I was terrified of dogs until I was ten years old. I always wondered why, and one day, several years ago, I asked my elderly mother what she thought the reason might have been. She considered the question for a few moments, and then told me it might have been something that had happened to me when I was about a year old. My parents had taken me to visit some friends of theirs who owned a big German Shepherd. They had left the room for just a few seconds, when they heard me wailing and came into to find me flat on my stomach with the big dog’s paws on my back. The dog was either being playful or (more likely) showing this little “scene-stealer” just who was boss. Naturally, ever after that I gave dogs, big or small a wide berth. Until I was ten years old.

By the time I had my tenth birthday, my father, a naval officer, had been posted to Aklavik in the Northwest Territories. The home we moved into there had a dog and a cat whom we “inherited” from the family who’d just moved out. They were moving to the “outside”, as people up there referred to anywhere south. Just about everywhere was south of Aklavik which is on the Peel channel of the MacKenzie River, about fifty miles south of the Arctic Ocean. Since I had to cohabit with a cat and a dog, I had to get over my fear quickly. “Corky” was a golden haired cocker spaniel with a very gentle disposition. As a matter of fact, the poor fellow was harassed by PussPuss, the cat, into grooming her whenever she wished. If he refused she would swat him with her paw. Occasionally, she would even ride around on his back. I think he was much relieved when PussPuss had to be put down after contracting distemper. I really came to love that dog. He seemed to know how to comfort me when I was upset and he loved chasing a stick. He also joined in the husky howling chorus when the evening curfew horn sounded. Sadly, we had to leave Corky behind when we were posted out of Aklavik. He would never have been able to adjust to traffic after living in the north.

My next close encounter with a dog was when my husband and I lived above a garage north of Toronto. “Shandy” came into our lives accidently. We had been hearing a whining noise outside our apartment. Bud went down to investigate and found a dog, about a year old, that looked a bit like a German Shepherd, but was a slimmer build, blond in colouring with black around her ears, on the tip of her tail and around her mouth. We kept her overnight and then searched the newspaper ads for lost dogs. Finally we took her to the local dog shelter and asked them to call us if anyone claimed her. After a sleepless night, we gave Bud’s father a call and asked him if he would be interested in owning a dog. He’d had a wonderful dog called, Rinty, growing up and so he was very interested. We then returned to the shelter and paid for the dog’s keep. I named her on the way home, not realizing how appropriate her name was until later. “Shandy” evidently refers to a lively, mischievous character as well, of course,to a combination of beer and gingerale.

Shandy had an unfortunate habit of chasing cars, probably because a car had let her out and sped off. It happens often, sadly, because some ignorant and cruel people seem to think that farmers have a continual need for stray pooches and that dropping a dog off on a country road is preferable to leaving them at an animal shelter. Obviously, some people forget that cute puppies eventually grow into adult dogs. Eventually, we broke Shandy of her car chasing and took her home to Bud’s father, who just loved her. She was a good companion for Bud’s parents and lived to the ripe old age of 13.

Bud and I were not in a position to own a dog until we had our own home in the country. Again, we became dog-parents accidently. We had two little boys and another baby on the way. I used to walk our sons down to the local cheese factory to buy treats (and cheese of course). There were apartments above the cheese factory and one of the renters had a lovely border collie dog who had just had a litter of puppies. Boys and puppies have a natural attraction to one another. We were invited to “see” the puppies who were the offspring of “Sparky”, the mother, and the dog that belonged to the owner of the factory. One black puppy, the rascal of the litter, took a particular shine to me and the boys. He began following us down the road when we made the return trip home.
Mama Sparky came right after us, grabbed the pup in her mouth and marched him right back home. It became a game for the pup and each time we went to the factory we would be followed part way by the pup and mama. Finally, with Bud’s agreement, we brought “Jet” home with us.

Jet was a great playmate for the boys, but he was also, as they called him, a “berserker”. Jet would tackle any animal that invaded our property, especially groundhogs. He had one fight that was very violent and I had to ask a neighbour to help me get them separated. Jet had a very badly slashed nose as a battle wound. Another time he chased a groundhog up a tree. He chased squirrels, mice, cats, anything that would run or fight. He even attempted to face down some escaped horses and a few dogs larger than he was. Doing so on our property was one thing, but on someone else’s property was a whole different story. You see, he had inherited one bad trait from his father, he liked chicken. That habit, you see, brought about the death of his father. We didn’t want Jet to expire from a bullet. Once he trotted back home with the carcass of our neighbour’s chicken. Another time Bud went to find him in the neighbour’s feather-covered yard just as Jet rounded the corner of the barn with the chicken in his jaws. It took him awhile to get over the shock of being discovered red-pawed, but Bud persuaded him to break that bad habit. Jet lived to be 15 years old, died of natural causes and was buried in our home pet cemetery.

It took us quite awhile to grieve over Jet, but I was looking up ads for dogs a long time. One day, our daughter, came home with the news that her friend had just got a border collie pup from a farm about thirty miles away and there was still one left of the litter. Of course, we went to see it. The address was a pretty farm that was a few miles west of a kennel that raised black labs.
After we met the small border collie mother, the owner took us to find the last pup. He was sitting under an old car in the garage. Having seen all his sisters and brothers disappear, this one was not about to share their fate. Finally “Rambunctious”, as they had named him, was coaxed out from under the car. He was a cross between border collie and black lab, though the farmer’s wife said she had no idea how that had happened. Obviously mama had gotten under the fence around the kennel down the road or daddy had managed to get over it. However it had happened, Rambunctious was re-named “Dublin” and came home with us.

Dublin was the most intelligent dog I have ever known. He responded to at least one hundred words and learned how to sit, stay and come very quickly. He was not another Jet, however. Dublin was a lover, not a fighter. He had an on-going romance with the neighbour’s dog,Rip, a jack russell, even after he had his operation. She often stopped by for a dog biscuit. Bud called her the “Toll Queen” because every time he went for a walk with Dublin, she was waiting for her dog biscuit at the side of the road. When it came to showdowns with other dogs or animals, Dublin preferred to exercise the greater part of valour. I think he just figured fighting was a losing proposition and avoidance was his best course of action. As Dublin grew, he resembled a small black lab with a head that was smaller in proportion to his body. However, he obviously used all his brain cells. He learned to go and get my slippers and if he only came back with one, all I had to do was point to the foot without a slipper and he would go get it also. We would hide bits of dog biscuit around the living room and he would find each one on command. He played dead when we pointed our finger and said “pow pow”. Sometimes though his tail would be moving so we would say “hey, your tail is moving” and immediately it would stop. He knew which was his right paw and which his left when we asked him to shake one or the other. He was a great companion and lived for 17 years.

While we had Dublin, when he was about six years old, our neighbours jack russell had puppies sired by a border collie down the road. Of course, we went to see them. One of the puppies was a black and white ball of fluff who kept her brothers and sisters in line. Our neighbour called her the “devil’s daughter” because she was so bossy. I fell in love with her and we adopted “Panda”. Panda was a lovely pup who grew up to look like a border collie with very short legs. I think she was convinced we had “dognapped” her because she continued to visit her mother next door even after all her brothers and sisters were gone. Whenever her mother, Rip, came over for her biscuit, Panda’s deep border collie bark would change to the high pitched yip, yip, yip of a puppy. Poor Rip was half the size of Panda, so when she saw Panda charging joyfully towards her, she backed up with an expression of doggie alarm that was truly comical. She didn’t stop coming for that biscuit though.

Panda was a joy. She was very affectionate and although she still ruled the roost, she allowed Dublin to be number one dog in our house. She and Dublin were a great deal of fun to watch. They often argued over the same toy and vied for our affection and attention. Dublin, however, outsmarted her often, by feigning interest in a toy to distract her from us and then while she took over the toy he would cuddle up to one of us. They would often chase the same stick. One time they grabbed the opposite ends and tried to go around a tree trunk, each coming out with half the stick. We had some wonderful laughs at their antics. Panda, unlike Dublin, was a bit of a berserker when it came to squirrels. She would sit on the living room bay window sill and begin to bark whenever the squirrels dared to climb one of the trees in our front yard. They would scatter when she launched from the front step. She loved playing frisbee and could jump to amazing heights after them. Once she even climbed part way up a tree. We loved that little dog. Unfortunately we only had her for four years. She was hit by a car coming back from visiting her mother one winter night and sadly, Bud found her on the way home from work. We were heartbroken.

It took us a long time to get over losing Panda. Now there were two graves in our pet cemetery. The year of the ice storm we found a jack russell wandering the road. We tried to make enquiries, but to no avail, so we took her in. We named her “Belfast” , “Bel” for short. She was very cuddly, but not a traveler. Whenever she was in the car she got very carsick. Other than that she was a good companion for Dublin. We found her around Christmas and had her all during the ice storm. At night, with electricity, we all bundled up in sleeping bags in the warmest room in our house and the two dogs settled down there with us at night. It got very chilly. At one point when the electricity was restored, our oldest son saw a sign at the local gas station/convenience store which indicated that someone was looking for their jack russell. We sadly returned Bel to her owners.

This experience convinced us that it was time for us to get another dog. We read an ad about a border collie/boxer mix female and decided to go and check her out. She was staying at the home of some people who rescued dogs. She was not a rescue dog, but the result of a “mistake”. Evidently, someone had a boxer they wanted to breed for boxer puppies, but a border collie got to her first.
Those border collies are obviously no slouches when it comes to doggy romance (ambitious too). Anyhow, we fell in love with “Ceilidh” right away and adopted her. I think poor Dublin’s nose was out of joint for quite a while, but he and she eventually became buddies. Ceilidh is a lovely girl, very gentle and playful. She is definitely border collie in appearance with her silky long coat, fringes on her legs and white bib but she is taller like a boxer. She is 5 years going on 6 now and loves to play with anything she can. We had some bumpy roads to begin with as she took a long time to house train, but she seemed to learn how to come, stay and sit by observing Dublin. She’s a good watch dog but uses her border collie bark only when she needs too. We are very fond of her and can’t imagine life without her.

I often think gratefully of Corky. If it hadn’t been for that sweet dog, I might never have learned the joy of canine companions. How unfortunate that would have been.

Praise for Trees

 

 

Birches- watercolour
Painted at Johnston Lake, Quebec.

I painted the picture above at the cottage owned by my late mother-in-law. I was sitting on the dock when I painted it. I loved those trees and I am happy to say that they are still there, although we are not. The cottage was sold when my mother-in-law moved into the nursing home. The new owner has changed it a bit, but not so drastically that it is unrecognizable. In fact she even framed some of my father-in-laws fishing flies. She let us go through the cottage one day and I was heartened to see how much of it remained unchanged. Especially the trees.

Whatever caused God to imagine trees? They are so amazing with their beautiful boughs giving us shady places to sit in the summer and giving us shelter from the winter winds. They provide squirrels and birds with homes and food. They start out so small, the size of an acorn or a maple key, and within a few years grow to tower above us. When we look at trees we have to lift our heads and look up. In looking up we see the sky and are reminded of how very immense God’s artistry is and how small we humans are.

The perfume from trees is wonderful. Lilac bushes are sweet smelling, pine trees have a spicy scent and fruit trees have such a variety of aromas, depending on their fruit. Trees come in so many varieties from the ancient old forest giant redwoods to the swaying palms and vivid maples. The sound in the woods is so very musical with the wind moving the branches and leaves.

Most of all, God provided us with a unending supply of oxygen, the breath of life, from trees. Don’t you notice how easy it is to breath deeply in a forest?

In 1998 Eastern Ontario and western Quebec had a terrible ice storm that brought down so many trees. At first the icicle laden trees shone in the sunlight and the landscape took on the appearance of a crystal fantasy land. As the days wore on, the ice became menacing as we could hear the crash of falling branches and tree trunks all around. I remember in particular, one large tree looking like a huge glass chandelier, hanging over our back yard. Our youngest son, took the dog out for a slippery walk and came back in to warn us about the hanging ice. A short time later we heard what sounded like the crash and splintering of crystal, when the tree branch chandelier fell onto the ice covered snow banks in our back yard. So many trees were damaged it brought us to tears.

We must appreciate our natural surroundings and pass on the value of every living thing to our children. Everything on earth has its purpose and part of ours is to be good caretakers of the temporary home we have been given so that when we leave what we bequeath to our children and grandchildren is what God intended.

Late Nights at My Desk

ernes_mano_con_penna_-_hand_and_pen“So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.”     ( John 21:3c)

Sometimes when I sit down to write a sermon I feel a lot like the disciples must have felt after fishing all night and catching nothing.  I get to the point where my weariness overcomes me and I fall asleep on the keyboard only to wake up to zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz… for several lines or a whole page.  At that point, I admit defeat and crawl into bed.  I then pray that the Holy Spirit will inspire me to put my net back into the waters the following day.  The Holy Spirit always comes through.  I think perhaps I sometimes get the process backwards and have neglected to pray before writing.  In any event, Jesus will always prompt me, not for my sake, but for the sake of the people to whom I minister.

It is amazing how I can read the same scripture over and over and something completely new will jump out at me.  Of course, given the same passage, no two ministers will write the same sort of sermon. You just have to believe that whatever you are writing is going to touch someone, to be the message somebody needs that day.

Once in a while I have had to ad-lib a sermon.  Either I have had a revelation on the way to church or I have suddenly felt an overwhelming conviction that what I have prepared just isn’t the right message for that day.  That is when I need prayer the most.  The danger in “flying by the seat of one’s pants” by doing such a thing is that I might be tempted to go overtime and lose the attention of the congregation.  Or I could get hoist by my own petard, so to speak, as I did once when I was asked to do the message for Mothers’ Day for a women’s group in the church.  I struggled with a passage on Martha and Mary and finally went to sleep, promising myself that  I would write it just before leaving for the church.  Needless to say, even on the way there I was not sure what I would say.  Somehow, once in the pulpit, I found the words , although to this moment I cannot remember just what I said.  Whatever it was, everyone seemed pleased.  As a matter of fact, someone from another church asked me if I could possibly come and give that same message for their church women.  Gulp!  Of course, with great chagrin, I accepted the invitation.  I often wonder if what I actually said that day was what that person thought they remembered.

No wonder God wants us to love kindness, seek justice and walk humbly  with Him.

Jesse Tree for Christmas

Symbols made for a Jesse Tree
Symbols made for a Jesse Tree

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We begin decorating our church Christmas tree every year with just white lights and then add decorations that symbolize the advent themes of Hope (star), Peace (dove), Joy (harps, trumpets, angels) and Love (hearts).  The decorations are added by the members of our congregations each Sunday.  This year, instead of the Advent themes, I thought it would be good to make our Christmas tree into a “Jesse Tree” – a tree with symbols of the Old  Testament and New Testament people who led to the birth of Jesus, beginning with Adam and Eve.   I cut out circles of art foam and glued on paper, felt or foam symbols.  It is a good reminder of how the prophets and Kings of the Old Testament contributed to the line of David and eventually to the lineage of Jesus.  I’m hoping that this will start a new tradition in our church as each Sunday of Advent I have the congregation guess the person that each symbol represents and have the children put the symbols on the tree.

Acting Out: A Genetic Legacy?

I don’t know where it all began, our family love for acting, but it certainly seems to run in our genetic code.  The above picture is of my grandmother dressed in buckskin as Pocohontas.  She was one of six daughters, all of whom loved to dress up and act out. It was their form of family entertainment and it has been a trait passed down through the generations.

My mother, was just as quick to get into costume as her mother and aunts.  She is dressed as an operatic diva in the photo above.  She spent her school years dancing and singing.  She took part in many Gilbert and Sullivan operettas and was once offered the chance to go to Julliard, but she turned it down because she knew she would be terribly homesick for Newfoundland.  Mom had a lovely melodic soprano voice and I loved hearing her sing the hymns in church.  She had a great sense of humour and loved to laugh.

My husband and I are hams at heart.  This photo was taken at a friend’s home where we went in costume for a murder mystery dinner.  I’m dressed as a flapper and he is a 1920’s slick con-man. We have always enjoyed going to the theatre and acting up any chance we get.  I took an acting course in high school from OLT director, Joe O’Brien, and enjoyed every minute.  In my senior year of high school, I took part in a play called “Coffee House” where I played a pregnant teenager trying to muster up enough courage to tell her parents. It was well received and I was hooked.   Part of the reason I later liked teaching so much was because I got an opportunity to have an audience every day (children are very appreciative).  My friend, Ivah Malkin and I began a community little theatre group called the Fencepost Players when our children were young.  We did two productions a year and it continued for five years.  Our efforts were rewarded with a certificate of merit awarded to community volunteers by the Canadian government during the torch run for the Olympic Games in 1988.  I still use drama whenever it is appropriate in the church.

When our children were young they spent time making up radio shows on our eight track tape recorder and performing plays with their cousins for the family.

Now our youngest son, Brenhan McKibben, is an actor who has performed on stage both in amateur and professional productions.  He got his college diploma in Theatre Arts from Algonquin College and appeared in four Tara Player plays, a professional GCTC production, and on the Fourth Stage at the National Arts Centre. He also had a part in the Gladstone Theatre production of “The Lieutenant of Innishmore”.  He is a member of  the Red One Theatre Collective in Toronto and has appeared in “Zoo Story” by Edward Albee, “Howie , the Rookie” by O’Rowe,  Tennessee William’s  “The Big Game” and just finished directing George Bernard Shaw’s “The Fatal Gazogene” at the Campbell House Museum.  Brenhan has also directed his adaptation of one of the Japanese Rashamon Tales which he named “In the Pines” as it was set in Ontario in the 1800’s.  Brenhan has acted in several indie films, one of which, “The Agent” appeared  for several weeks on an American television channel.

Our daughter, Alanna McKibbon, would rather be behind the camera than in front of it .  She was in drama classes in high school and took part in a production of “The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man in the Moon Marigolds” among other things, but is more interested in film than theatre.  She graduated from The Film and Television course at Humber College and has been using her craft ever since, most recently as assistant editor on a television series.  

Our other children, Sean and Dan also enjoy theatre and film.  Sean took part in some of the Fencepost Player productions, while Dan helped out behind the scenes.  They are involved now in other art forms but take an avid interest in their brother’s and sister’s careers.

This might be as far as it goes, but I know that our two granddaughters enjoy making up puppet shows and our grandson likes break dancing, so perhaps not.  I don’t know how far back this love for performance goes, but it seems that for this family, our motto should probably be “the show must go on.”

How about your children?  Have you seen certain passions handed down in your family  from generation to generation- perhaps for science or history or sports?  Isn’t it fun to see how certain traits are passed on?  Is it nurture or nature?  When you consider the amazing athletic and artistic feats we have witnessed this past two weeks in gymnastics, track and field and swimming at the Olympic Games, you have to wonder.

Cabin Fever and Other Pastimes

ImageI am a great believer in starting something that I want but can’t find.  That was how Cabin Fever Club began.  I was in need of a distraction, having three children at the time, one of them a toddler.  I had about six other friends who also had toddlers so I decide to invite them all for a lunch date. I told them to feed their children first and then to come over for about 1 pm.  We set the children up with lots of toys in the nearby living room where we could keep our eyes on them.  Then we sat down for a leisurely lunch.  I served a salad, rolls and an omlette for the first course and chocolate cake for dessert.  I put on mood music and set out the Trivial Pursuit board game just in case we ran out of conversation.  After 29 years of Cabin Fever Club we have never needed to open up that game box.  We take turns hosting lunch on the fourth Thursday of each month and come Hell or High Water we are there.  In our younger days we did all three courses ourselves, but now we share the job.  One brings appetizers, one brings dessert and the hostess that month makes the main course.  We all bring our latest grandchildren pictures and an appetite.

Over the twenty-nine years we have been lunching we have been shoulders to cry on and the source of many great belly laughs.  We have experienced some wonderful lunches; some exotic and spicy, others home cooking with flare.  We have gone on shopping excursions, cottage stays, camping outings and skiing trips.  We went to a Gatineau Hills bed and breakfast for our twenty-fifth anniversary which was a lot of fun.  We also spent a few days at a time-share in the Laurentians courtesy of one of our members.  Altogether, over the years we have seen each other through children’s emergencies, teen crises, weddings, and parents moving into nursing homes.  We have vowed to continue our once a month lunches even when we are all in nursing homes ourselves.  Cabin Fever now consists of eleven good friends and we aren’t above shedding a few tears mixed in with the giggles.

A number of the members of Cabin Fever Club have also been involved in community activities together such as school lunches, pancake days and play days.  We have also had a hand in starting a play group which eventually became a nursery school.  The play group came about because there was nothing for three year olds to join.  Some of us met and decided to begin a group.  We got permission to hold it in the basement of a local church and decided that we would all volunteer one month of once- a -week playgroup supervision.  We gathered together some gently used toys, a kitchen play set and tables and chairs.  Once a week two of us would do crafts, read stories and play games with the children.  As time went on we found that more and more mothers were looking for a play group but were unable to volunteer the time because of part time or full time jobs.  At that point we  investigated how to make the group into an official nursery school so that we could hire an early years education teacher.  It took a lot of research and effort but we were able to make it official and for a while the nursery school was in a room of a local public school.  This went well as the children then went quite happily on to kindergarten in the same school.  The nursery school we established went on for about twenty years until junior kindergarten became a standard part of the public school curriculum.

Some of the “Cabinettes” as we fondly call each other, were also involved in an amateur drama group we called the “Fencepost Players”.   A neighbour and I began the group because we both enjoyed acting.  We did mostly one act plays, usually two for one performance.  We had a great deal of enthusiastic help from friends who made costumes, found props, and designed programs or posters.  The group ran for five years, during which time we did about eleven productions.  One of the most successful was our first (and last) three act play, “Let’s Murder Marsha” which was a hilarious comedy.  I discovered, while taking part in the group, that I enjoyed directing even more than acting.  I learned a great deal from those five years and wouldn’t have missed them for anything.

Another venture a few of us took part in was the formation of the Valley Writer’s Guild.  Eight of us came together once a month at each others’ homes ,in the beginning, as a group we called “Closet Writers” but as the numbers dwindled four of us decided it was time for a much larger group.  We put up posters in the local libraries and drew 17 people to our first meeting.  Gradually, over the twenty-two years it has been in existence, our numbers waxed to over a hundred and waned to only five.  We met in a room above the town hall, in a college room, in two different church halls and now we meet in the local library meeting room on Saturday afternoons once a month.  We have held writing festivals, dinner readings and cabaret nights.  We have produced a number of issues of the Grist Mill, a magazine containing award winning prose and poetry and a marvelous newsletter for writers.  We have had generous speakers who really gave out of the goodness of their hearts, especially at first  when we only had computer paper as a payment.

At this time some of the Cabinettes have been involved in “Country Christmas Remembered” which is a winter festival in Spencerville, centred mostly around the local grist mill which is a museum now.  They have also been Friends of the Library and volunteers for the local fall fair.  We are a busy group but we have tried to contribute to the community with our efforts as well as do things we enjoy.

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Categorized as Heart

The Importance of the Dash

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My Great Grandmother, Katherine Robley

The Importance of the Dash


Our daughter loves to do family research.  She has discovered a number of fascinating facts about her ancestors.  On her father’s side, her ancestors are mostly Irish, French and English.  On my side of the family, her ancestors are English, Scots, and German with a smattering of French.  She has discovered connections to some writers, inventors and poets as well as shoemakers, carpenters and shipbuilders.  It is amazing to think that our immediate ancestors lived through the plague, many wars and survived sea voyages in a time when they were very treacherous.  All that information was hidden in the dash between the dates on their tombstones.

It hasn’t been easy for her to discover these facts.  The lives of our ancestors are as much of a mystery to most of us as the future lives of our descendants.  It has required diligent searching through posted family trees, sharing info with other searchers, posting questions on the web, looking through the archives, finding old photos and even calling people with the same last name.  However difficult, she loves doing it.  It is a mystery story slowly unfolding.

The dash between dates is the mystery.  That dash is misleading in its simplicity.  A lot occurred in that space – first steps, first words, the first everything experienced as well as the last steps and the last words.  I look at the photo above, of my great grandmother in the prime of her life, all dressed in the garb of the 1860’s and I wonder what she was thinking as the photographer flashed his picture.  I know at the time she was a widow, living in San Francisco where her first husband worked with my great-grandfather as a ship builder.  His last name was McGee. He and Great-grandma had a daughter.  She and he both caught typhoid and died within days of each other.  My great- grandmother was grief-stricken.  My great-grandfather, Thomas Robley, had promised his friend that he would look after Great-grandma. so he did.  He married her and they had eight children.  The two young boys died, but the six girls thrived.  Eventually, Great Grampa and Great Grandma returned to Thomas Robley’s home in Pictou, Nova Scotia.  It was there in Pictou where the McNabb and Fraser branches of the family had arrived from Scotland on the boat, the Hector.  I know Great-Grandma also looked after my great-grandfather’s two older sisters until they died.  Did she feel resentful, or resigned?  Did she encourage the imaginations of her children?  She must have because they were accomplished story-tellers, letter writers, and amateur actresses.  We have many photos taken of them in costumes.  Did she enjoy being the lady of the house?  Did she have a sense of humour?  She would have needed one with six daughters to rear.  They all had excellent funny bones.  What were her hobbies?  What were her dreams?  You can’t read those things in the dash.  How I wish I had asked my grandmother about her mother, but of course, I was too young to know what questions would be important to me now.

So I keep the old photos and pass on as many of the stories as I remember.  And I keep diaries for my grandchildren and great grandchildren, so they will know (if they care to) about the meaning of the dash between our dates one day.

In the Soup Pot

Peter Rabbit in Farmer MacGregor's Carrots

  • Peter Rabbit Eating Carrots by Beatrix Potter
  • Peter Rabbit almost ended up in the stewing pot at the MacGregor’s farm.  There wasn’t much on our land that missed the soup or stew pot when our children were growing up.  My husband had a huge garden and with four children to feed we certainly needed it.  I was sitting here eating my homemade soup made from chicken, bok choy, cabbage, carrots, onions and orange pepper and reminiscing about the many soups and stews I have concocted over the almost forty-three years we’ve been married.   I loved making them and still do.  Soup and stew are the greatest user -uppers of left-overs there are.  Everything can go into them and they will usually be delicious as well as filling.  I say usually, because we all have had kitchen failures which are evident by the fact that the pot remains full instead of emptying quickly.
  • I see this as an allegory for our lives and therefore the arts.  Everything can go into the pot – love, hate, fear, envy, jealousy, challenge, stress, joy, sorrow, pain and ecstasy.  If we don’t feel, we’re not alive.  The resultant mix of ingredients is the taste of our characters which can be a rich mixture of experience and wisdom or blunder and bitterness.  We find out which by the sort of friends we have made in our lifetime.  True friends who rally round in times of trouble or fair-weather friends who only stay as long as our money or drugs or booze or food holds out.   In the arts, the mix is good when people come back wanting more, patiently wait out our desert periods and cheer on our best efforts.  The audience doesn’t need to be large (although that is more financially rewarding) but appreciative.
  • When I was young I used to go to the library looking for books with happy endings.  Now I certainly want Peter to be saved from the stew, but I don’t mind how near he comes to being caught and I’d rather be in suspense about the ending.   I don’t want the stew or soup to be bland.  There must be spice, and all kinds of ingredients.  What excitement would there have been in “Jane Eyre” if she had simply worked as the tutor and never been visited by the mad woman?  Would there have been as many “Sonnets to the Portuguese” if Elizabeth Barrett Browning had been healthy all her life?  Not that I wish ill-health on anyone, but if it is one of the ingredients in the soup, it should at least be tempered with some great love, passion or high calling.   So I suppose, if we fill our lives with good things, things of substance, then we can look upon the sorrow, mistakes, disappointments and challenges as the spice in our recipe, all culminating in a delicious flavour to be  remembered and savoured in our later years.   It will be a memoir or novel, painting , play or photo album worthy to be handed on to the next generation.  A rich soup or stew worth eating.

The Most Important

The most important aspect of my life is my faith.  I love my family very much, but before my family I had God and because God gave me my family, He knows how much they mean to me.  Yes, I think of God in the masculine gender, which I suppose is the traditional in me, but I am simply echoing the words of Jesus.  In my mind, God seems beyond “gender”, a combination of the very best characteristics of father and mother, but it is easier to choose the masculine pronoun than to quibble over English semantics.  Besides, we are all made in the image of God, so obviously God must embody all those qualities that are most admirable about men and women.

On the other hand, applying human characteristics to a being so incredibly powerful and creative is very simplistic indeed.  The universe is immensely mysterious and seemingly limitless.  It is really beyond human understanding.  Even if it began with a big bang as scientists believe, what was the initial source of all that energy?  Surely the answer is God.

The universe, infinite or not, is not the sole basis of my faith.  I believe in Jesus of Nazareth, and his ministry.  When I was very young I used to wish that I had been born during his life on earth so that I could have heard his teaching for myself and have had seen the miracles he performed.  I am no theologian and I won’t pretend that I don’t have some dark nights of the soul, but in the final accounting I find more to believe than disbelieve.  The Bible is a treasure trove of literature, so even if a person didn’t believe it only makes sense that it should be read by everyone.  The prophesies about the Messiah are plainly  pointing towards Jesus as are many of the beautiful psalms.  I love reading the epistles as well.  They are so very real, full of human emotion and practical advice.  Relevant, I would say, to anyone’s daily struggles.

I do not wish to force my faith upon anyone, but I think that it is well to know what another person finds important in their lives and upon what they base their morality.  “Seek” God says, “and you will find.  Knock and the door will be opened.”  I have found this to be true.  Everyone is seeking, not that they know what they might be looking for, but everyone is looking for meaning in their lives.  I believe that we are here on earth to learn to love one another and that takes a whole lifetime.  We need to progress beyond self-preservation to selfless service.  What a different world that would be!

 

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