Wednesday, November 26, 2008

I still miss you

June 1, 1919 -- November 25, 2003

This is the ulogy I wrote for my grandmother's funeral, 5 years ago. The sentiments expressed then hold exactly the same currency today.

If ever there were a person I thought of as the embodiment of Love, it was June. She taught us many things about the world in which we live. I would like to share a few of them with you.

Some of my oldest and fondest memories are of times spent at Gramma’s house. Sleepovers were always a treat. Every supper we shared was by candle light and no matter how much she’d stuffed into me there would always be a last bit of toast and peanut butter just before bed. (She was always afraid that we’d go home and tell our parents that she hadn’t fed us enough—fat chance.)

I learned to shuffle cards before I could properly hold the deck, but that was alright. There was a box of tissues handy to hide the cards behind when there were too many to fan out. She taught me Go Fish, Rummy, Poker, Euchre and in doing so I learned counting, addition, fair play and that it was having fun that mattered, not who won or lost the game.

Even better were the times when all three granddaughters were there to play. So many hands of cards…the box of tissues passed to the smallest of us in turn. Picnics under the willow tree, climbing up the apple trees, and the pear. Exploring in the attic of the garage, where untold the treasures lay hidden. Grandma’s house was a place to imagine, to dream, to draw. There was always a piece of scrap paper and a pencil or a pen to add another piece of art to her gallery proudly displayed at the back door of the house where everyone came in. There was nothing we couldn’t do in her eyes. She taught us to believe in ourselves.

I remember the day that grandpa died. I was seven. I remember that it too was fast; too fast to say goodbye. So fast that we had to hold on tight to the sure knowledge that he loved us. It was very hard on all of us. Especially Gramma. In those first years, while she continued to live alone in their house out at the farm, she taught us about perseverance. She spent 10 years out there. She taught us that even when we are alone, we are never alone. She taught us that the love we carry in our hearts, the memories of those we love, sustain us. She drew deeply from that well-spring and soldiered on. Over 20 years apart never diminished her love of him. Not one bit. She often spoke of Lloyd as if he were still with her and in her heart, he was. Now they are together again. A lifetime of devotion has taught us all how to live as loving couples. To cherish the time we have together on this Earth. And we do.

When we found out she had breast cancer, she continued to teach us hard lessons. I remember seeing her in that hospital room, calm as ever. You see, June had Faith. She had faith in her doctors; better yet, she had faith in God. The prognosis was dire and a radical combination of surgery, kemo and radiation was necessary. To me, it seemed it was all the same to her. It was understood that whatever the doctor wanted of her, she would do. Whatever she had to endure, God would give her the strength to endure. While she practiced faith, we all learned to pray. We prayed as we had never prayed before. Her success got her a mention in the New England Journal of Medicine. The doctors deserved a medal.

10 years after she beat Cancer, she sat in Dr. Holiday’s office as he told her quite plainly, “June, ten years ago, you never should have gotten off that table.” Always one to know just what to say, she leveled that blue gaze at him and replied, “Well I guess that means I still had work to do.”

And work she did. June’s life was built on a firm foundation of service and duty. Joyfully done, I might add, but you all already know that. Whenever there was a need, she was a heartbeat away. She greeted me many a morning when both my parents had to go into work early. She greeted Wannetta and Glenda many days at lunch and after school too. She held the fort at the Christian Science Reading Room for almost 50 years. She also visited the sick in hospital, and the “poor old souls” at the Deerness nursing home. She delivered magazines for the inmates at the detention centre: I know, we went with her, although we waited in the car. And she never called it jail.

She took care of my grandfather’s father, nursing him in their home until he died. Then, she took care of Aunt Hatie until it was time for her to go on too. It was hard work; she never complained. She sat with each of us when we got the chicken pox. She must have been immune; she never got a spot. We always fell asleep with a warm back rub. When we had bad dreams, she told us to roll over so we wouldn’t have another one. We never did. It still works today.

Born at the end of the First World War, June saw the Roaring 20’s complete with Vaudevillian theatre and speak-easies. She saw the first talkie movies, while eating penny candies. She came to a new country and a new family during the Depression. She worked making candies and biscuits for McCormicks. She helped out at Aunt Evelyn’s rooming house during the Second World War. She was a Sunday School Teacher. She could bait a hook and bring in big trout. She and Grandpa had a garden that kept fresh food on their table, as well as the tables of their closest friends too. She was no stranger to the CNE and the Royal Winter Fair after so many years of going to show the goats that Evelyn raised. When they needed extra income to make ends meet, she worked, serving tables at Tilly’s Truck Stop out on Hwy 2. That was before the days of the 401. She attended every school play, every Christmas pageant and every piano recital. She was there for every choir concert. She was our greatest fan. She was everything to everyone. She loved and was loved.

And here she lies, peacefully and restful. After a life of caring for others, she has been rewarded with a death each of us wishes for ourselves. Its quickness cuts us all, but it is the way she wanted to go. And she had time to say good-bye. She wanted us all to know she loved us very much.

I know that the crowd assembled here today to see her off will be equal to the crowd who are waiting to receive her in Heaven. She is reunited with her friends. It would seem that her work has come to an end. We who are left behind…our work here is not finished. It is we who must go on, living in this world without her.

But…each of us carries with us a piece of June in our hearts. We carry the lessons she taught us by living so well. We are here to care for one another as she cared in her own way for each of us. We are here to carry on, to play our part and always to remember, it matters not who wins or loses, but only that we enjoy the game. Love never ends.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

I Will Remember

LOOK down, fair moon, and bathe this scene;
Pour softly down night’s nimbus floods, on faces ghastly, swollen, purple;
On the dead, on their backs, with their arms toss’d wide,

Pour down your unstinted nimbus, sacred moon.

Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass
For many years now, I have marked this day with the memories of Jung’s Collective Unconscious. I was not alive to wave goodbye to loved ones as they took the train off to war. I have not visited the battlefields of the First and Second World Wars.
I have been offered other people’s interpretations of what happened and when and to whom. History served to high school and university students: the text books full of dates; the literature full of pain; the propaganda full of euphamisms; the paintings that broke the hearts and minds of the Group of Seven Painters who went to the Front Lines in France and Belguim to document the ugly Truth of War; the poems of the men who served; and the photographs in the National Archives Of Canada.

These are the fractured lenses I have used to create in my mind an image of Sacrifice. These are the tools I have to recognize the efforts of more than 100,000,000 men and the untold number of women who left our land, a land that had not seen the face of war since the days of Napoleon and Waterloo, fed on the stories of valour and chvalry and victory.
They left a place of safe haven and entered into a world of hell. Bombs screaming from the heavens. Sirens whining day and night and no where to hide. Mud holes and trenches and frozen toes and fingers. Living on smoke and rum and hope. Praying when they could. Wandering lost when they could not.

Moments of stolen happiness. A weekend off duty in a city unbombed. A hot meal. A card game won. Letters from home. A sense that everyone was doing what they could.
Who am I to sit in this time and place of relative safety and write of things I have not seen? What shall I do to mark this day, this perennial moment of Remembrance?
I am a storyteller and a singer. I do what I can. I keep what I have learned from all the different faces of war I have seen and I pass it along. And I stand in front of my peers in my workplace and take part in the ceremonies of the day. I raise my voice and proudly sing our National Anthem and Amazing Grace. And every time I sing Danny Boy, I remember.
The Theatre of War may change: the country, the people, the agressors, the Fallen. But the face of War never changes. The struggle of man against man is inevitable, as the rising of the sun in the morning. That I wish we did not have to fight matters not. War does not care what I think. And its dehumanizing face will never turn from us.
We must remember.
I chose the verse above, not because of the conflict that spawned it, but because it represents the face of War I know. And having sung its haunting setting by Ned Rorem, I have been altered by the experience and I will always remember.
Will you?

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

That Time the Falls Ran Dry

You know, I really marvel at what man can do. In an astounding feat of engineering, the Mississippi River Power Corporation has stopped the flow of the Mississippi River over the main falls in Almonte so that they can build a new, more powerful hydro-electric station at the base of the falls reusing the refurbished turbines. My friend Andrew is working for the company that is working on the turbines. Sometimes life just feels so interconnected.

This is the view of the falls from the bridge looking "up river" if there was a river to look up, that is! (The water is being diverted down the other set of falls near the Millfall Condos.)

This is the Power House where the old turbines used to whirl and hum. The movement of the river and a slight drop is what used to power the generators. But this power house is at the top of the falls and the power was only that of the river moving along.

This is the old tailrace where the water came out of the power house.This is the gorge where that leads to the lake. They've blasted it deeply now, adding probably another 20 feet to the depth. Now the water will race over the falls, building up more speed and force so that it creates more than 19 million Kilowatt hours (versus the 11 million it used to produce). Those stats come from the Mississippi River Power Corp's website.

This view is no more either. Since the day I took these photos, they've blasted a lot more out of the groud to make a chute leading to the new site of power generation.

More photos of the continuing progress are available here.

My link to the past

Anyone who's been to Almonte has likely gone past this formidable building, Rosamond's Wollen Mill. I have a link not to this building but to the man, Rosamond.

Before he settled in Almonte and built a thriving textile industry, he lived on the banks of another set of falls, in Carleton Place just up the river. And he had my house built in 1849.

And in the early Spring, when the ice is breaking up, I too can feel the power of the river as rushes over my falls on its way to generating power once again.