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Thoughts on my 75th birthday   Alice behind the door   Ghostly encounters  Fairies and Bubbles  The Black Board  new




Thoughts on my 75th birthday (3 months ago)
In the last two years I have taken a step change in aging. I have my first lock of noticeable white hair; I have wrinkles for the first time; my joints are stiff; I cannot make it through the night without a toilet visit; my memory is not dependable. I have started to look, act and feel old, not just getting on but actually OLD.
75 years old today - and how do I feel? OK. When I was in my early 20s I had cancer and that was in the days when you were pretty sure to die of cancer with it first appearance or, if you were lucky, not until it reappeared in a few years. And so I had at that early age reconciled to death, happy to be on borrowed time. I was a grasshopper enjoying life NOW, rather than an ant, being cautious and planning for the future. Here I am at 75 with aches and pains but still not facing death again. That feels good – I am alive and have lived more energetically and adventurously then I might have if I was not expecting an early death.
I was a lucky child with good parents and an extended supportive family. I was never abused and never coddled. I enjoyed school although I had severe problems. I enjoyed by cousins and friends but also enjoyed solitude. I spent a lot of my early childhood entertaining myself.
I escaped two very serious loves, that I might have married (probably disastrously). And I found a great love that has been a joy for most of my life. I could not have done better. It is not bad to grow old in his company. I had the luck or good sense to stick with him in the face of pressure from some of my family and the odd rough patch.
I have enough money to live on and it will probably last as long as I do – but it is not so much as to be a burden. I see people with enough money to worry about its care, its use, its future owners and I pity them a bit. There is an enormous freedom in having just enough money do get what you need and occasionally something you just want. For most of my life I have had enough, comfortably enough often and just enough otherwise.
I have worked all my life and usually enjoyed it. What I have worked at has never been 'evil', in fact, most often positively socially useful. Always there have been hobbies to enjoy (drawing, photography, traveling, public speaking, blogging). And I managed to be fairly well educated one way and another. When I look back in my life I will not be sorry that I spent too much time housecleaning, shopping, doing my hair or whatever. That never happened. It is hard to be sorry about time spent learning, working, creating, playing games, socializing and thinking. I have not lived a boring life.
I am proud of having overcome my dyslexia. It was a gigantic, sustained effort over many years but worth it. I was lucky to have the help I got.
I proud of a secret middle aged child, and I feel great relief to know that so many terrible things that I worried about did not happen. There is a nice, well adjusted, sweet person, in a good marriage, and with children of her own, with no tales of cruelty from her adoptive parents. It is good to know that she does not harbor a hatred of me and also good to know that there is not a great unfulfilled need for me either.
So my state at 75 is contentment. I am content. There are very few things I would change if I could. I am not feeling hard-done-by in life, quite the opposite. I am not afraid; the older I get the less I fear. I do not feel any great guilts (just a few tiny ones), no great remorse, no great angers (just a few disappointments in a few people), no prolonged griefs. I have been on the happy side of neutral most of my life.
What am I going to do for the rest of my time? I will do what 'elders' always do – I will spread my knowledge, wisdom and advice around whether anyone pays attention to it or not. I may even go so far as to bore people with it. I will write little pieces and keep writing them as long as I can. I do not care that I am not a skilled writer – I will write anyway. And of course I will continue to enjoy the ordinary things of life like nice food, the dog, conversations, humour, naps.

 
Alice behind the door
When I was born, so the story goes, I was named Alice by my mother and Janet by my father. My father went to Regina to register my birth and was a gentleman so he put my mother's chosen name first. I was registered Alice Janet. But he was not so chivalrous as to call me Alice and so I grew up being called Janet most the time. However, some people knew I was Alice and call me that occasionally.
So it was that there came to be two little girls. A very, very good little girl called Alice lived behind the basement door. A not always so good little girl called Janet was free to roam the world most of the time.
But there were times when Janet was bad and stubborn. She would be caught and in a corner with no way out and too stubborn to give in. This could be very uncomfortable.
The way out was to go behind the cellar door and leave Janet there while Alice came out. Alice would do or say or whatever was required to get things back to normal. And then after all was forgiven, she would sneak back and turn into Janet again.
I don't remember when this started or how long it went on. I remember it from its last days, when it was starting to seem too childish for me. And so one day Janet made her own peace without any help from Alice. Somehow it suddenly felt like a better way to do things. But sometimes, even now, when I have to back down and be nice about it, a little thought goes through my mind of 'being Alice' and stepping out from behind the cellar door to do what has to be done.


Ghostly encounters
My cousin Marjorie and myself were walking home from the village of Lang to our farm in the dusk one evening. The road goes past the cemetery as it leaves the village. We dared one another to go into the cemetery, then we dared one another to stand on a grave, then sit on a grave stone. Eventually it was dark and we were a little afraid (as we had been trying to scare one another with ghost-y stories). It was a long dark walk the rest of the way, about of a mile. But, from the entrance to the cemetery we could see the lights of the farm as the crow flies across the fields. So we decided to run home across the fields. We were running somewhat independently because of the uneven ground – sometimes I would be ahead and sometimes Margie. We were about halfway there when we had to change direction because they could see the dugout (deep pond behind a tall fence) was between us and the house and yard. For a few minutes we could not see the lights because the barn was in the way.
I was ahead and all of a sudden, there was a blood curdling scream from behind me. I turned and ran back to Margie on the ground screaming. She was saying that a ghost had a hold of her foot. When I looked (I did not believe in ghosts but could get scared anyway by talking about them – but when it came to it I was not afraid to look at Margie's foot). It was stuck in a badger hole.
We walked the rest of the way because Margie couldn't run anymore and was almost limping. On the way Margie tried to get me to believe that something had grabbed and held her ankle. And I tried to convince her that she had stepped in a badger hole and fallen on her stomach. By the time we were in the yard we had stopped trying to convince one another and were just holding hands for comfort and support. Once in the yard, in the light, we were safe.
When I was at the funeral of my uncle Frank a few years ago. I was wandering around the cemetery looking at the names on the stones when that night came to mind. I had not remembered it for years. Something I saw in the plots, or the prairie beyond, brought that memory flashing back. As these things go, that remembrance then brought to mind another lot of ghost stories.
When I was about 13, I attended a one room rural school where my mother was teacher. There was in the yard a great swing, high with a chains rather then ropes and a nice big wide seat. (I'm sure it would be considered too dangerous today). Another girl about a year older than me and myself liked to swing together, both standing up and facing one another. With two people standing and putting all they had into it, you could get the swing almost horizontal at the extreme of each arc. And it was fast enough to really feel it in your stomach and the wind in your face. There was also a slight weightlessness when the swing changed direction. It was a great adrenalin fix after lunch. One day a chain broken and sent us flying in a great loop though the air and landing some way off on the hard ground. So Mom put us both to bed in the teacherage for the afternoon. If I remember right, the girl's name was Esther (not sure) but she believed in ghosts. Mom had darked the room with the blinds and curtains so we would sleep. But we didn't sleep and in the darkened room Esther began to tell stories (true stories, mind you, that had happened in her family and to people her family knew) about ghosts. Not exaggerating – by the end of the afternoon, I had heard over 20 unbelievable long detailed ghost stories. Mom came and looked us over for any serious damage and normal life resumed. Esther went home with her siblings in their buggy. I told Mom about all the ghost stories and she was not surprised. I was surprised that she was not surprised. Mom didn't believe in ghosts either but she just said that she knew the family.

Fairies and Bubbles
I don't remember where I slept went I was really small. But I do remember the first room that was mine. I was a tiny room compared to the others upstairs. Our house on the farm had 4 large bedrooms, 1 small one and one used as a bathroom. It was not an ordinary bathroom because there was no running water and no sewage system in the house. There was an outdoor toilet and hot water was carried to the bath but it was run out of the tub by a pipe into the yard. It was a room with a bathtub sitting in the middle of it and a chair, towels and so forth – but it beat the tin tub in the kitchen in front of the range which I only just remember. The bathroom was not a big room and across the hall from it was my new room. I remember it being created. It had a single bed that must have been brand new because I had not see one around our house before. It did not have a built in wardrobe like the four big bedrooms had. My father fitted out the room with a little wardrobe with a curtain rather than a door. There was a small window with three panes of glass and he took out the middle one. It became a mirror with a window on either side. My dad was not a carpenter! With anything he made, the drawers looked the same size but each only fit in its hole. No screws, no glue, everything was held together with nails. On top of this there was no money for good wood. Things it those days were made with old wood and painted. Dad made me a dresser that fit just under the window, with a knee hole below where the mirror was. There was a long drawer cross the top and 3 small drawers down each side. The room was painted blue, the woodwork, door and the dresser were painted white. The bedspread matched the curtain on the wardrobe and on the window. And then my mother made a stencil with fairies and bubbles. She used it to paint that design all around the top of the walls. It was magnificent. It was my very own beautiful little room. I looked at the fairies when I went to sleep. I don't know how old I was but I was just the right age to be really impressed and overjoyed.


The Black Board
When I was quite young (only just old enough to remember this at all), my uncle Ronnie was demolishing an old one room school house. In it was a black board and it was a proper slate board, so he saved it from damage and gave it to my mother. That was at the time when slate boards were starting to get rarer and more expensive. Many boards were just painted wood. Uncle Ronnie mounted it, in its frame on the kitchen wall. Unlike the fake black boards, it was very smooth and cool to the touch. It washed to a beautiful even dark, dark gray, almost absolutely black. It had a ledge at the bottom that was just the right size to carry the black board felt eraser and had groves for chalk to sit in.
I don't know how many hours a week I stood at that board and drew pictures. I thought they were great pictures and they were not erased until I drew another. Flowers and trees and the like were usually on the board. On special occasions like Christmas, Halloween, and birthdays, Mom would draw a big elaborate picture. I remember her showing me how to draw holly and candles for Christmas – it was probably one of hundreds of things she showed me how a draw.
The other activity with the black board was to keep score during the World Series. Mom would make a big grid on the board and label the columns and lines. We would have the radio on for the game and would keep a sort of 'box score'. That was great fun. Yankees and Dodgers it was that featured in those days.
I don't know what happened to the slate but I hope it was not broken up when the old house was torn down.