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Memories Items from 2011:                                                 to enlarge a photo, click on it

Retirement   Childhood diseases   Still alive   The opening of the Open University  Tulips  Family games  Going to the lake    A day in the cellar   A goat named Salome   The psychodelic capital of the world   The teacherage    Tricks of memory    Bare skin freezes     Livng with noise    A close call with anorexia    The man in the little room upstairs   Snow     Eclipse and flowers    Weeding    Panic    A broken knee    A right-handed Janet    
Happy Birthday WWW    Simon    Northern Lights    Being a Toastmaster   Totally alone   Playing alone     


Bare skin freezes
I have frozen my skin twice, both of them close to Christmas/New Year.
The first was when I was about eleven. As part of Christmas in the village of Lang there was a joint carol singing event in the Lutheran church. It was one of the few time I was in that church. It was very different with a high carved wooden pulpit at the top of a staircase. I had not seen such a thing before. The church was lit by candles and many people had brought candlesticks including my Mom who brought her two silver candle holders.
While we were in the church, the temperature dropped. I think it went to close to 40 below but didn't get so low that the wind died. (In that part of Saskatchewan in my young years the temperature only went down to 40-42 below zero, no further, and then it was that cold there was not a whisper of wind. 37 below with a 30 mile/hour wind felt much colder.) It was very cold and very windy. I went home alone after my mother left and I had the candle sticks to carry. Unfortunately I could not find my mitts, so I set off bare handed with a heavy pieces of silver in each hand. Our house was just a few streets away. (Actually Lang was so small that everything was a just few streets away.) The metal got very cold and just sucked the heat out of my hands: they felt cold and then painful and then tingly and finally numb. I got home and I could not set down the candlesticks, my hands were around them and I couldn't move my hands to free them. I kicked at the door and screamed but no one came. However Mom heard me from where she was at Grandma's two doors down the street and came running. I was sat at the table with the two candlesticks resting on it and I waited until my hands would move, after a while they were pried off the candlesticks and warmed in tepid water. I had some spots that looked like bruises and some pains for a couple of days and then I was OK.
The other time I froze my skin was on New Years day in Regina when I was a teenager. I walked over to visit my friend Judy. There was a short cut though a few streets of houses, a park with a bridge over the Wascana creek, some more park and a few streets of houses. It was absolutely quiet and I saw no one on the way there. Again it was a lot colder on the way back. I was well bundled but there was a gap just above my ankles, about half an inch of bare skin. That little band of skin froze on the windward side of my leg. The cold wind and a little drifting snow near the ground did it. This time it was like a sun burn: red, sore and pealing. It was more than a year before I could not longer see the band.

Living with noise
When we first went to BC we lived with a friend's family and our first place was a rented one bedroom flat in New Westminster because I got a temporary summer job at the hospital there. The place was OK except for three things: it was dark, it was noisy and we had no furniture.
I cannot remember where all the wood was, some combination of floor, ceiling, cupboard doors, but a good number of surfaces were dark stained wood. The walls were a darkish colour. We seemed to have the blinds closed a lot and if memory serves me right this was because the flat was terribly hot with the sun on the windows, no air conditioning and being on an upper story where hot air from below accumulated. So we would wear very little clothing and closed the blinds against the sun. We wandered around in our underwear in a very dark place.
Our furniture was a foam mattress and a collection of books. Every once in a while we would take the bus to the library, return a sack of books and then borrow a similar amount. First we would pick a couple that we actually wanted to read and then we would pick out big ones to use as little sitting stools and tables to eat, type etc. on. I think some library staff must have thought we had weird interests. I remember one of our favorite tables was a book on ship design. In the next place we lived we built some furniture but not in this one.
But it was the noise ruled our lives. With the windows closed and the blinds down it was still deafening. Below the apartment block was a busy road (come highway), beyond that was a railway yard, beyond that was a saw mill on the banks of the Frazer River and then there was the wide river. All three - road, railway and saw mill - were themselves extremely noisy. From low drumming noises, through all sorts of roars and bangs, to sirens and incessant squeals. It was 24-7 wall-of-sound type noise (without the music).
Once there was a long holiday weekend. The big trucks stop storming through and the car traffic thinned. The railway shunting almost stopped. The saw mill stopped working for the only time when we were there. There was almost a normal amount of urban noisy. And what could we hear? Out in the Frazer was a bouy with a great bell on it, ringing like a church bell. We had never known there was a bell out in the river but the sound was so very familiar that we knew it had been ringing all the time but we just never identified the sound above the din.

A close call with anorexia
I lived by myself for a while when I was just 16. It started with my cousin Marjorie and I living together in a rented room and starting Grade 10 in Regina. But her parents decided to take her with them when they went to the States. That left me alone in the rented room. I was quite happy there but I ate less and less as time went on. I lived on sunflower seeds which I ate one at a time while studying. Every once in a while, once or twice a week, I would have a hamburger or something like that. (I now know that sunflower seeds can be a appetite suppressant but I didn't notice it then.) Every so often I took the bus to visit Mon in Waverley. I ate when I was there but Mom became worried about how uninterested in food I was. I had earned the nickname 'Lanky' at school. But I was not trying to be thinner.
Once I arrived at Mom's and she looked at me and said, “You look like you have some incurable tropical disease!” I was moved to Aunt Marjorie's. As I remember it, my feet hardly touched the ground. I was feed regularly and I ate. (I now know that had I gone past some point in losing weight I may have got trapped into not wanting to eat.)
None of us (me, Mom, Aunt Marjorie) knew about anorexia – it was not a known condition back in those days. When I encountered it in the press years later, I realized that I was for a short time an anorexic and was extremely lucky to have escaped before it hurt me. It can actually kill people.
I just learned that there are web sites that promote anorexia!! 'It can be a helpless and heartbreaking situation for families as they try to confront a family member with an eating disorder. What they may not know is that there's a society on the Internet that is dedicated to thwarting any recovery from this dangerous and possibly fatal behavior.'
The next year Mom moved to Regina and I was back living with her. Eating problems aside, I think it did me good to have a short spell of living by myself. (I now know that one way people learn complex things is to be exposed to them and then to be exposed to how others handle the complex things. Until you have tried to do something it is hard to learn from watching others.) A short period, short of three months, of having to deal with money, time, safety, housekeeping and the like on my lonesome, made it much easier to learn how I wanted to live from watching others and to grow up.


The man in the little room upstairs
When I was first in England in the early '60s, we lived in Coventry and I asked people we met where I could get a lab job. Most answered Courtalds and so off I went and got a job in the Viscose Rayon Research lab at Courtalds. I worked in the Factory Troubleshooting section. There were 6 chemists and me. When a factory had a problem, a couple of chemists would go to the factory to sort it out. Everyone had a research project that they worked on when they were not dealing with a factory. I didn't go to factories and did have some projects but my main duty was to do experiments for the chemists at factories to test their hypotheses. They would phone and tell me what they needed answers to and we would discuss the experiments that would probably give them answers, then I would do the work and phone them back. Sometimes when there was a run on factories, I would be the only person in our section. I did everything, did it well and all the chemists were very pleased with my work and said so.
It came the time for the annual rises. I got a shilling a week rise; I was livid. My boss went to see the 'man in the little room upstairs' as he was called and got me another sixpence. My boss had been shown the graphs and charts that were used to fix everyones wages and where I fell on all of them. The man had a discretion of sixpence and he had used it. It was the best my boss could get me. So I went to see the man.
He showed me a chart that showed the range of male and female worker's salaries. I asked why the difference. Women get pregnant and leave – but I have no ovaries. Women cannot do heavy work – but I lift the stainless steel buckets of viscose. Women do not go to the pilot plant or through the tunnels – but I get samples from the plant, the tunnels and the spinning sheds. After a while the man ran out of reasons. He brought out another chart for age. I objected to it being the female chart for age and so he agreed to use the male one. Why did my age matter? He could think of no reason except maybe it was how much experience of work I had. So the next day I brought a sheet with the jobs I had had in Canada and what my duties were. We finally agreed on an appropriate age for my experience. Then came my lack of education. The man pointed out that I had no qualifications. I said I had the same amount of education as half the chemists. Some had university degrees but most had tech college diplomas. I had the equivalent of those diplomas. Next day back with my education papers. He agreed to the diploma equivalent. Then it turned out that I was classed as a trainee. I pointed out that I was a trainee for about two months. I had read all the the research reports – many on my own time. I had done almost all the technics the chemists did. I work unsupervised often. Would he like to ask me some questions about the chemistry of viscose. No, just describe the process for me – so I did in great detail.
The man asked how ten shillings sounded and I said fine for this year but I expected a substantial rise next year. The man smiled for the first time and said that he might have a special chart next year just for pushy Canadians.
Before the third rise, I moved to Courtald's Acetate Research lab, a sister lab down the road, for a larger salary then I would have got from the man upstairs.

Snow
Here is a email I sent to a young girl called Kitty who was dealing with the unusual amount of snow in the UK.
Hello Kitty,
One year when I was about your age we had an early Easter and a late winter. On the days, probably 2 or 3, before the holiday there was a blizzard. A blizzard is a strong, strong wind that occurs when it is snowing or when there is lots of snow on the ground. The wind blows the snow around so that you cannot see. For a blizzard to last a long while it has to either have snow falling for a long time or the speed of the wind has to keep rising for a long time (so that it can pick up snow again that it has already blown into hard drifts). When a good long blizzard is over there are deep drifts that are hard enough that you can walk on them and not make foot prints. The drifts also have weird shapes. They are like frozen waves with spectacular overhangs at the edges. Anyway, this was that sort of blizzard and so when the holiday started, the sun shone on a great place to play. The sun was bright (it was into spring time and it glinted off the packed snow. I played out all day and woke up the next morning with a sun burn on my face (the only uncovered part of me when I was out) and with trouble seeing clearly. My face peeled and my sight cleared but I will not forget how surprised I was to have a sun burn from the snow. I learned that I could have been blinded if it had had a lot more of that sun shining off the snow – its called 'snow blindness'.
We used to play out for hours in really cold weather. So we were dressed for it. I had three layers of clothes: normal slacks and sweater and socks, another set of the same, and then a pair of snow pants, parka and snow boots. Also gloves, then mitts, then snow mitts. On the head a wool hat, the hood of the parka and a big scarf wrapped around the head and neck. The layers were overlapped like the first sock going under the pant legs and the next over the pant legs etc. The idea was that there should be no place for the snow to sneak in. Children walked around like people in diving suits or space suits. The joke was that if a kid fell down they could not get up again and had to roll home. There was only once that I remember that the system broke down. I was a bit older than you are now but not much. There had been lots of powdery snow. A bunch of friends decided to make the tobogganing more fun and we got someone to drive us and our toboggans to a local gravel pit with steep long slopes. We tried various slopes and finally we got the courage to take the biggest toboggan with about 6 of us piled on it down the really steep side. We went faster then we were expecting and we failed to slow the toboggan at the bottom. All I remember was that the toboggan broken, we were thrown every which way and buried in the snow so that we had to dig ourselves out. No one was hurt at all but we had to go home immediately because the snow had got through all our clothing layers to skin.
Janet

Eclipse and flowers
When I was 5, in June before my brother was born and I started school, my parents woke me up very early in the morning to get dressed and go to see the eclipse. I was told that the next time there would be a total eclipse over Saskatchewan would be in 2000 and something. I figured I would be very old then, probably dead so I was happy to go.
Dad drove south, almost to the American border, to get right under the path of the eclipse. It took some time. I have no idea where Dad got the information of where to go – maybe from the radio. When we got to the right place we parked by the road and waited.
We got the full show, the shadow coming over the sun, complete darkness, diamond ring, pearls, all through dark glass. I don't know where that came from either. It wasn't in the house before or after our trip.
This is one of the clearest memories of my young years. So exciting, so beautiful, so unique. It is probably as clear as it is because it has been reinforced by photographs of eclipses over many years. Those pictures look very similar. One part that I am sure of (sure as I can be about a memory) is the diamond ring. What I was seeing was a black disk with a red glow around it and Dad said now keep the dark glass up because any minute there will be a very bright diamond. And there was.
Another trip that we took around that time. I don't remember my brother being there but he may have been there and a small baby. We drove to the dirt hills and had a picnic. I don't remember any other picnic of just our own little family (picnics were big family affairs). I entertained myself picking cactus plants and putting them in the truck of the car. When we got home, Dad threw them out of the car into the yard. There were cactus shattered all around and that night it rained. In the morning all the cacti were blooming. Again exciting, beautiful and unique. Such a surprise. 


Weeding
In my memory of childhood, gardens were BIG and important. My mother's garden was a plot between the yard where clothes dried and children played on the east, the railway on the south, a dugout and field on the west, and another dugout and the same field on the north. It was well fenced to keep the chickrens and jack rabbits out. For many years before and after I started school, it was my job to keep the whole space weed-free. The currency for special treats was a cardboard box filled with weeds. I hoed between rows and hand picked the weeds on my knees from amongst the little plants. That patch of ground grew the bulk of the vegetable we ate except for peas which overflowed into a field. Dad had a modified seed drill and took a pass up and down one side of a field sowing 14 rows of peas. Those peas were for canning, the ones in the garden we picked and eaten much younger. A big part of the garden was sweet corn and another big patch was potatoes. The corn was mostly canned and the potatoes where put in a great pit-come-mount in a corner of the garden and in sacks in the cellar. Carrots, turnips, cabbages and the like also when in sacks in the cellar. The cellar was lined floor to celling on all the walls with mason jars. They were mostly vegetables but also fruit (bought in bulk in the fall and canned), saskatoon berries, pickles, jams, root beer and pumpkin pie filling. When I was very young there was also mason jars of canned chicken and hanging ham and bacon in the cellar. Sometime around the end of September, the garden was empty and the cellar was full. I did some of the harvesting and loved it. Clamped potatoes, the perennial rhubarb and asparagus, and the unpicked parsnips were all that was left. But until the snow fell, I was still responsible to make sure no weed dared to grow.
Our garden was open to the prairie winds, but Aunt Elizabeth's garden was just as big and surrounded by trees. It was a lovely place. So was Grandma Wight's garden on section 28. I was not really allowing into Grandma's garden when I was very young and by the time I would have been allowed, it was gone. In Yellowgrass where they had moved, it was Grandpa's not Grandma's garden. He worked in some part of the garden most days in the summer. It had so many plants I had not seen before, planted by the previous owner who was English. And it had a vegetable garden that was big enough but not the size of a farm garden. In the lawn there were patches on clover and one patch often had a sprinkling of four-leafed springs. Any time you looked hard enough, there was a chance that you could find one. There was also a grape vine that sometimes had tiny grapes – that was really weird for Saskatchewan.
I never had a garden of my own until I was back in Sask and living in the White City house. When I started weeding it, I remembered my childhood weeding and felt a nice sort of contentment.


Panic
When I think of being in a panic there are a few times - although I am in the panicky person.
The earliest I remember was on a trip to Regina. We were in a big crowded department store, probably Xmas shopping. I could not see where I was going, being shorter than all the people around. I had a-hold of Mom's fur coat and followed along. At some point I must have changed coats because the lady in the coat looked at me and she was not Mom. Panic. I have no memory of what happened next but I guess I yelled and Mom was not far away and got me attached again to the right coat.
When I was quite young my Grandma Barmby broke her hip. She was confined to bed and so a bed was arrange in our living room at the farm. I don't know how long she was there – I would guess the usual 6 weeks to heal a bone. Mom looked after her as far as washing and toilet and so on was concerned, but I ran errands for her. She would call and I would go and see what she wanted.
One day Mom was out somewhere in the yard and Grandma called. She was sitting on the edge of the bed which alarmed me. She wanted me to bring a chair. I had never disobeyed her so I brought a chair. She had a plan for how to get out of bed and stand which involved using the back of the chair for support and she wanted me to hold the chair down and steady while she did it. The bed was an old hospital type that they had borrow from somewhere so sitting on the edge of the bed her toes just touched the floor and it was not that hard for her to stand holding on to the chair back. It all went well. She had thought it out well.
Then a panic struck me. I thought if Mom comes back and sees Grandma standing, she will blame me, lose her temper and I'll be in very deep trouble. Grandma was in no hurry to get back into bed, she was serene. I was rigid with fright.
What is odd about this memory is that I cannot remember what happened next. Mom can't have come back while Grandma was out of bed – I would definitely have remembered that. I assume that Grandma got back into bed as smoothly as she got out and I recovered from my panic to find her safely back in bed.
Her standing did her no harm. I remember watching carefully to see if there were any signs of trouble for days. Actually she probably had a good idea of what was best for her and it did her good.
Another time I do remember what happened. We had turkeys on the farm and I was frightened of them when I was young. George was very young and I had put him in my little wagon and was pulling him around the yard. Suddenly the turkeys ran towards us and surrounded us. I let go of the wagon and soon I could not see George. I panicked and thought the turkeys would eat George. I ran screaming to the house to tell Mom that the turkeys had George. She came. I could not see George, just a clump of globbling turkeys. Mom went into the group and brought out George and the wagon. What got me was that he was not a bit scared, he was smiling at the turkeys. He was entertained!
Fear is one thing but sheer panic is another. I have been afraid many, many times as an adult but only panicked twice that I remember. Once I had a sort of panic attack with no reason that I could find. I was so panicked that I could not speak to tell Harry. And it disappeared after a short while – again for no reason I could see. Another adult panic happened once when I took some drugs.

A broken knee
When we were in Africa, as the last photographic involvement in the Safara Rally, we were going to take some pictures of the winning car in the Ngong hills. The rally-fitted car fooled Harry and it became airborne in a corner. We had an accident. I got a crack on the head and a broken knee. The surgeon in the Nairobi Hospital decided that he would not put a cast on the leg because that would make the knee freeze and never move again. Instead I was to not put any weight on it at all for 6 weeks and do exercises with it everyday that a physio nurse taught me.
Harry built me a little floor-level scooter that I could get around the house on. We put everything I needed within reach from the floor and got rid of the dog temporarily. We hired a nice African women to look after the house and me while Harry was at work.
It worked, my knee did not freeze but it was not good immediately. When I was told that the break had healed and I could now stand on that leg – I assumed that I could. But my ankle would not take weight. The bones had shrunk and it was like a bag of marbles. I found that if I shook the ankle and then tried to put weight on it, I would eventually shake the bones into their right places and the ankle would work. But the next time I wanted to stand it would be the same need to shake until right. Over time it took less shaking. And even though I had bent the knee a little bit every day while on my back, it turned out that I could not bend it enough to walk. So starting with a crutch and then a cane I got to walk. Sitting in hot baths I got the knee to bend more and more. After about a month or two I was walking normally without a cane or pain. I still had to shake either the ankle or the knee occasionally to get the bones to sitting right. (Years later I got arthritis in both knees.) But at that time it looked like I had got away without any after effects at all.
I was still with Harry too. His apprentices took him aside the pointed out that he did not need to keep me for his wife. I could not have children and I could not walk. What use was such a wife? No one would keep such a useless wife.

A right-handed Janet

I been thinking of something that happened when I was young, about 11. My left hand was hurt and wrapped tightly – not of any use until it healed. I remember my shock when I was told that I would still have to go to school and if I had to write something at school, I would have to do it with my right hand. It was about 2 weeks before I could write with my left hand. That was long enough for me to learn to write with my right hand. My writing was slow (and resentful – why was I going to school anyway?) but it could be read. That was the one and only time in my life that I was effectively right handed.
(An aside: my cousin Hughie was at that time trying to decide which hand to use. He decided to use his left for a while. His mother, Aunt Bea, was ambidextrous so she did different things with different hands. I think that is why Hughie always seemed to be choosing which hand to use. I remember once at our table doing something for school and I using my right while Hughie was using his left; it seemed a bit weird and not necessary for either of us.)
(Another aside: Grandpa Wight called my brother George ambisinister or left handed in both hands. I am glad that George never really got the joke.)
Back to me as a right-hander. It was within a year or so that Dad died and I went to stay with Grandma and Grandma Wight in Yellowgrass. I was soon in Jerry Smith's grade 7 class and actually learning how to sort of read and spell. There was still no word in anyone's vocabulary for my dyslexia but it was on the road to being dealt with.
A couple of years ago it stuck me that the short period of righthandedness might have had something to do with the change of fortune as well as the many hours of coaching from Jerry Smith.
(Final aside: My memory of Jerry Smith has become a little dim – he was young and probably this was his first teaching job; he walked and talked with great energy; he taught us to sing and dance and put on a good Xmas show; he was great with visual art too; he never wore a hat even in the coldest weather; he did not like being called Mr. Smith, I spent an hour with him every day for a year learning to read and spell - such a patient man.)


Happy Birthday WWW
The World Wide Web is 20 years old this month; the first web page was put up at CERN on August 6 1991 by Tim Berners-Lee. The Internet existed before that, way back to the '70 in various forms and names, but very few people know about it.
Some time in the mid 90s, I first became aware of there being something out there when a new employee, Darren, in our lab's computer group started agitating for access to something, that none of us had heard of. He explained about this hook up of NASA, and a bunch of universities etc. He was turned down flat by our bosses. After a couple of years many in the lab including me were asking for an internet connection. We got one via the University of Regina but it was available on only one computer. The 100 or so people in the lab could ask the one person with the computer hookup, the lab's 'librarian', to look things up for them. In a couple of years, the Health Dept. had its own address and a lot of people could access the web.
How fast all this happened. A friend and I would laugh at how we had not taken Darren seriously and how right he was that an internet connection was vital. We felt a bit sheepish about it. Actually I still do.


Simon
When I was 13 or so I first got to know the shy neighbour boys one house down from the Rae St home of my cousins. Later I lived on Rae St, first with my aunt and uncle and then with my parents. I was a little older than Simon and never in the same grade but he was a friend with many shared interests and we both belonged to the CCF Youth. Many hours were spent with Simon and other mutual friends in discussions.
One of the funniest memories of Simon was at a time when he was trying desperately to look and sound older than he was, a 16 year old trying to be taken for 25ish. This lasted for a few months and was amusing, even to Simon. He took to smoking a pipe to look like a serious, intellectual adult. But he really didn't like the pipe and so he would light it, take a few puffs and then hold it as far away from his face as possible. One day a bunch of us were in a cafe having coffee (the old Nova if my memory is right). Simon lit the pipe and because of the crowded table was holding it sort of behind his ear. The owner of the cafe came and asked him to move the pipe because he was burning the plastic plants that separated the booths. I think that was the end of the pipe and we were back to the relaxed and natural Simon.
I remember him with fondness although I had not seen him since about 1960. I don't remember him ever wanting to be anything but a politician.

Globe and Mail report by Alan Hustak
Simon de Jong was the wild card of left-wing politics in Canada, the first member of Parliament to raise the spectre of global warming in the House of Commons 28 years ago. He was also a committed environmentalist who in 1981 exposed the spraying of the toxic defoliant Agent Orange by the U.S. military in New Brunswick.
de JongA radical student activist in Saskatchewan during the 1960s, de Jong went on to be elected an NDP member of Parliament in the 70s and served his Regina-Qu’Appelle constituents for 17 years. In 1989 he sought the NDP leadership, but lost to Audrey McLaughlin.
He was 69 when he died of leukemia in Vancouver on Aug 18.
“Intellectually, Simon was very serious, but sometimes he was politically naive and unpredictable,” said Ed Broadbent, who led the New Democrats between 1975 and 1989. “He took his politics very, very seriously, but he could go off on tangents that left many in the NDP caucus quite frankly befuddled.”
Audrey McLaughlin remembers de Jong as a free spirited MP who fought for what he believed.
“He was always wired for sound, which was funny in some ways, and sad and naive in other ways, but he was never acrimonious,” said McLaughlin, who followed Broadbent as leader. “He expressed his views, but he was never sanctimonious. That wasn’t him at all. He was a good debater. He had a riotous, carefree life in the sixties and he brought that joie de vivre to caucus."
Simon Leendert de Jong was born in Surabaya, Java, one of the Indonesian islands in April, 1942. His father, a Dutch engineer, was with the Java-China-Japan shipping line and had been taken captive by the Japanese.
Shortly before Simon was born, the Japanese occupied Java and for the next three years he and his mother, Dirkje, and his older brother, Hielke, were held as prisoners of war in an abandoned convent. Of 3,000 women and children who were incarcerated by the Japanese during the occupation, only a third survived.
The family were reunited after the war and returned to the Netherlands. They came to Canada in 1951, and Simon spent his formative years in Regina.
As head of the student union at the newly created University of Regina, where he was taking social science, he wrote a constitution in 1964 that empowered students and sparked campus unrest. A key feature of the constitution was to have the union incorporated under the societies act, which gave it independent status within the university and the authority to own property, issue debentures and borrow money.
During de Jong’s tenure, the university became known as the USSR – The University of Southern Saskatchewan, Regina. He served as president of the CCF youth wing, dabbled as a painter and ran an art studio. He also experimented with LSD to raise his consciousness. In 1969 he moved to Vancouver where he became a community organizer with The Greater Vancouver Youth Communications Center Society, better known as Cool Aid.
“He really was taken with Tommy Douglas’s idea of a New Jerusalem, the idea that there was a better, more co-operative society possible, said long-time friend and folk singer, Bob Bossin. “As a refugee he learned from the very beginning to share, to rely on community. He genuinely liked people, pretty much everybody, no matter what their politics.
“In all his different pursuits – artist, street organizer, Member of Parliament and mystic – he was absolutely consistent. He always tried to raise people’s awareness - politically, environmentally, cosmically. He believed in his bones that the more aware we become, the better we become and the better world we can make.”
De Jong went back to Regina in 1975 where he opened Gretta’s, a restaurant, and forged his way back into politics. He was first elected to Parliament in 1979, and won five consecutive elections until he stepped down, undefeated, in 1997.
As Heritage critic he once railed against Canada Post for issuing a stamp to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Disneyland. “We are losing our identity,” he argued. “We as a country are promoting a foreign, privately owned institution, a privately owned theme park, and we are promoting it on our stamps.”
Among his most satisfying moments as an MP, he said, was getting Parliament to send a message of condolence to Yoko Ono when John Lennon was assassinated in 1980 and delivering a speech on disarmament to the United Nations in 1982.
Interim Liberal leader Bob Rae, who will be delivering a eulogy at a memorial in Vancouver on Monday, Sept. 12, said de Jong was “a remarkable guy, very innovative, very free ranging, a very strong parliamentarian, and not the least bit dogmatic.”
De Jong sought the leadership of the NDP in 1989, but finished fourth to McLaughlin. The leadership convention proved to be personally embarrassing because he was caught making unguarded remarks into a live CBC microphone that he forgot he was wearing. During some intense deal-making among the candidates, de Jong was overheard asking his mother: “Mommy, what should I do?”
After he left Parliament he moved to California, spent time in Brazil, then returned to live in British Columbia. Shortly before he died, he was asked what he would do if he was in Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s shoes. “It’s a bit facetious, but take LSD,” he said. “See some bigger pictures.”
His two brief marriages ended in divorce. He leaves his other life partners, Wanda Mang, the mother of his twin sons, Justin and Micah, and Cheryl Anderson.
A memorial service will be held in Regina on Sept. 24 and in Vancouver on Sept 12.


Northern lights

I once saw perfect northern lights. It would have been sometime around 1950. The magnetic pole was about half the distance from southern Saskatchewan compared to where it is now, and starting its run for Siberia. It would have been just on the edge of mainland Canada heading for the arctic islands. Also, the time was probably near a sunspot maximum too but I cannot confirm that because I can't pinpoint the year. I have not seen anything like that display before or since.
There was a large clear spot near the top of the sky but off center. Stars were visible in that circle against a dark sky. From edge of that circle there was something like a curtain of light hanging all the way to the ground. The whitish, blue and green curtain moved like it was in a breeze and it completely surrounded the whole sky in all directions. At the very bottom there was red light like a curtain lining that showed as the curtain moved.
It was so perfect that I got down on the snow, on my back, to look up at it. After a while it started to fade and become just patches of light, bits of moving curtain, coming and going. And pretty soon there was just one patch in the north – it was now ordinary northern lights. There must have been a very strong solar storm that night.
Of course it may be more perfect in my memory that it really was. But on the other hand, it impressed me as perfect at the time, not in hindsight. And I was surprised at the time by the form it took. It was only much later that the form made any sense to me because I was a lot older before I had any idea of how the lights are made. Now we see the lights from above in pictures from satellites. But then I knew nothing of our magnetic shield and particles spiraling down magnetic lines of force into our atmosphere.
 

Being a Toastmaster
In the late 1980s I joined a Toastmasters club and it was one of the best things I have done for myself. It was part of coming out as a dyslexic. I was finally telling people outside my immediate family. Friends and workmates didn't know and especially employers didn't. I decided to tell people and even joke about it. After years of concentrating of written language, it was time to luxuriate in oral language. I didn't expect to find a group I loved so much. I ended up belonging to three clubs and occasionally visiting three others.
The first thing I learned was how welcoming, helpful and supportive Toastmasters were to each other and visitors. I soon noticed that almost everyone had interesting things to say. I was surprised – people who were not particularly interesting to have a coffee with or chat with in passing, turned out to have amazing things to say and stories to tell once they were doing an actual speech. Not only that but most people are really creative. My opinion of mankind rose significantly.
The aim started as just having some fun doing public speaking. I was not afraid of it, as most people are, so I did not need much help overcoming fear. I had (and carefully kept) just enough fear for a mild adrenalin buzz. I had a regular 'fix' on Wednesday noon that divided the week in two halves in a way I valued. After two and a half days, my enthusiasm for work had often dropped a bit. After the hour at the Toastmasters Club, I was filled with energy and enthusiasm, enough for the next two and a half days.
I learned a lot about things I did not expect to be learning. For example, to help other speakers, it is extremely important to give honest appreciations of their speaking, clearly stating what you think they did well and what they did poorly. But at the same time it is also very important to have a positive effect on the speaker and protect their self-esteem. I never stopped learning how to walk that tight rope better – to become ever more encouraging and ever more honest.
Leaving Canada I left Toastmasters. All good things end. Back to writing.

Totally alone
Back in the old days when law-abiding people did drink and drive, Christmas parties at work involved a lot of drinking. Harry and I worked across the road from one another in Coventry. Christmas eve I got a phone call from him to ask if we were drinking yet – just started. And what we were drinking – sherry. He asked me to go easy because their party was underway and full of vodka. I would have to drive home on my learners permit.
And so well after dark and the town full of people going home from their parties, I started out. Everyone was a bit tipsy (it reminded me of Paris at the end of lunch). Harry was beside me making encouraging noises. All went well. We crawled along full streets, stopping and going. Finally we got to a street leading to the road out to our small town. The traffic was a little lighter and Harry was silent, so all was well.
I came up behind a man on a bicycle but could not pass him. He was very drunk, weaving about the whole of our side of the road and a little of the other side too. He was unpredictable. Every time I thought I had a chance to pass him, he moved in front of me. I thought that my turn-off was soon and I would loss him. No, he was going the same way.
By this time we were out in the country and I was still crawling along behind a cyclist. But I assumed that it was OK because Harry was not giving me directions and he would if I was doing something wrong. Then all of a sudden he said with some alarm, “watch out, you're coming up on a cyclist!”. And I thought, “I'm alone, totally alone!”. We got home eventually.


Playing outside
I notice again and again how dependent modern children are. It is not their fault nor their parents or teachers. It is just that there are fewer and fewer places where children can be safely alone. When I was young I played outside much of time, some of the time with cousins but more often alone. I had a range of about three quarters of a mile, more once I had a bike. I played on the railway but not on the highway. I knew I was not to go near dugouts and never did. I could play in the workshop with the tools, on the farm machinery, up in the hay loft and make, built, pretend more or less anywhere. There was a swing, teeter-toter, and sand box close to the house and I played there too, especially after I had a little brother.
There was a lady down the road that I visited many times, she would give me a cookie and talk with me. That house had many crickets and they made quite a loud chorus; they were one of the attractions. I mentioned my visits there to my Mom when I came back and she said that she had never known that I went there. That may be right or she may have forgotten. But in any case, I would not have thought it important to tell her at the time.
A lot of time was spent up in the hay loft. There were often feral cats living there. Dad said that they stayed until they ran out of mice and then they moved on to another barn. They had a circle of farms they visited. When they had kittens I would go up and stay perfectly still sitting in the hay. After a while the cats and kittens came out and went about their business paying no attention to me. It was very entertaining.
There was a little patch of trees, a wind-brake for the house, that was a great place to play. The trees had frozen in their early years and grown up from the roots so they had many trucks and there was thick undergrowth. Mom had made me an Indian dress – an old burlap bag with a head and two arm holes with some beads sewn on and fringe at the bottom. I could put it on over my normal cloths and be an Indian in the trees.
Occasionally a child (my brother once and a cousin or two and some unrelated kids) would take it into their heads to go somewhere (like Grandpa's house or an Uncle's) alone and without telling anyone.  They would set out and get 10 or 12 miles away before anyone noticed. I never did that sort of thing but I do not remember any panic from parents – irritation and amusement depending on the event is what I remember. On the flat prairie, it was not difficult to find a lone walker.
Where can children go today to just play and run and wander to their heart's content?