Sunday, 17 March 2013

One for the Irish: Her name was Mary Devine

This one too is recycled from Multiply, but did not make it over here yet. 

One of the joys of being a Home Support Worker ( from 1987-2000) was getting to know a generation whose parents had been the first European settlers in this area. History is shallow here, apart from the First Nations which is a whole other story. The European history of Eastern North America is a bit older.

One of my most memorable clients was a gentleman from Quebec, who told me the story of his grandmother. 

Her name was Mary Devine. 

She was born somewhere in Ireland in 1834. At age 14 she and her family set sail for Canada, like so many fleeing the potato famine.

This is a small part of her story, as I heard it from a son of her youngest son.  It may not be completely accurate, since the narrator was old when he told it, and besides he enjoyed a good story and may have embellished a bit. But then, that is part of the Irish tradition too, isn't it?  I am certain of the last sentence.

Mary met a young Frenchman on the ship. Other than both being good Catholics and nubile they did not have a language in common.  But the times were desperate, her parents only too willing to have one less mouth to feed. The young couple were wed either on the ship or shortly after landing.  Mary lived the rest of her long life in Quebec, but never became entirely fluent in French.

They homesteaded a 200 acre island in the Ottawa River.  We are talking ultimate pioneering here. Think of it this way: if you want a sweater, you have to start by cutting the trees to clear the land to make room for sheep. 

Mary bore 24 children,  4 girls and 20 boys.  On Sundays the family crossed the river to go to church in 2 large rowboats. World War 1, that great insanity, claimed 18 sons. Her youngest 2 were too young to go. 

The wife of her youngest son died young, leaving behind five children, one a six months old baby. Mary was 80 by this time, but she raised her grandson from babyhood till he was 6 and his father remarried.
That is a juicy tragi-comic story too, but not mine to tell.

The grandson resented being torn away from his grandmother, to go live with a stepmother who was bitter for good reasons and took some of her resentment out on the young boy. I knew him as an old man, when he was a Home Support client.  He is long gone now and I am long retired, but let's respect the rules of confidentiality.
I won't say more about him other than that he was a colourful character, it was a privilege to know him and I loved his stories. 

Mary lived to be a hundred. Her grandson said that even in extreme old age, her back was ramrod straight and seen from the back she looked like a young girl. He mentioned her often. This sentence stuck in my mind: 

"Everything worthwhile I learned in life, I learned from my grandmother."

Her name was Mary Devine.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

A day between the Ides and Saint Patrick's day.

Note on The Day 2016. 

This was first posted on Multiply in 2012, then again a year later. It is now four years later and we are maintaining the pattern. Since this was written the big 50 passed without any recognition whatsoever. Yes, I was a bit teary and miffed in spite of knowing better. Spouse's loss of hearing has made celebrations with people not fun, so I did not organize anything. But rather than pining I ended up having a wonderful day with a new friend. So it goes. 

One more note. On May 5 2016 Spouse was diagnosed with a horrid disease that is a close cousin of Parkinson's, with some Alzheimer's characteristics as well. Progessive Supranuclear Palsy. We are doing the "in sickness and health, till death do us part" thing now.
Forty-seven years ago this day, on March 16 1966, I was crossing a bridge over the ancient canal that at that time was home to Amsterdam City Hall. 

It was a cold, blustery day with some sideways rain. A just-married couple, she in full white regalia,  emerged from the hall into the lousy weather. And I thought: "Poor bride. But then who plans a wedding at this time of year?" At which point a little bell went off in my brain, and I remembered that this day marked our own first wedding anniversary in the same location.

Look at how tall he was! I am wearing the highest heels I ever had. These days we see eye to eye with me in flats.

This set the tone for future years. I take full responsibility for my own part in the lack of celebratory rituals.
We were in our bohemian phase and had lived together for two years before marrying, a daring thing in those times. We considered ourselves beyond bourgeois concerns like wedding anniversaries.
Alas, by the time I got over that and would have liked some recognition the pattern had been set. Mother's Day ditto. 

Many subsequent anniversaries passed without being marked in any fashion.
By the time we hit 20, our circle of friends was just recovering from one of those waves of  splits and reconfiguration that seem to mark modern life. I was so grateful to have been spared that whole scene that I did not mind that this historic day was overlooked.
Note me looking up at man  adoringly and handsome man smiling over my head into the distance.

The suit had been tailor made by the fiancee of a friend who was a professional. The fabric was this colour. Yes, I kept the little hat.
I did shed a few private tears when 25 passed in the same fashion. It was not one of our better years anyway, and no, I will not go into details. Anyone who has been married a long time knows that "for better or worse" includes the ups and downs of the relationship itself. I sincerely believe this society would be healthier if fairy tales ended with "And they had some very good times, as well as some bad ones, and lived tolerably ever after."

At 30 things had improved. I did not really expect much but still harboured a small hope. The day was marked by our daughter calling at night. "Hi Dad, congratulations". "Congratulations on what?" "Your 30th anniversary." "Anniversary of what?" 

At 35 I took matters in my own hands and organized a dinner with our daughter's in-laws. They owned a store at the time and handed us a nice basket, with the words "Happy Anniversary". Bewilderment on the part of spouse. "I thought your anniversary was in July?" An ESL moment. "No, that's my birthday." We laughed it off as the mature people we were by now and enjoyed the outing.

By now, I am resigned to living with a man who just does not do dates. It's nothing personal. He would walk through fire for his children, but I am not sure he knows their birthdays.

40 and 45 coincided with visits to the kids. We often go to the coast in March, which is a miserable month of melting snow here and full spring in Vancouver.

Today marks the 48th, so help us Goddess. Needless to say, it passed  unmarked. I will organize something in two years, if we are still around. 

Meanwhile I appreciate my Old Dutch for constancy, loyalty, a shared history and sense of humor, a compatible view of the world, and many small kindnesses that make daily life more pleasant.

Happy Anniversary.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

How to waste a morning

I am 90% retired, it is not quite garden season yet, and I do not consider a morning contentedly browsing the web time wasted. But this was not like that.

All I wanted to do was finish some chores while being suitably entertained by a good podcast. Move laptop to kitchen table. Find the latest Bill Moyers. But first, let's quickly check the email. And there was a new blog post by a person I just started following. Quick, read it and leave a comment. In the comment I wanted to leave a link to a post I had done on the same topic: preparations for extreme weather and power outages. 

Our most dramatic one  had happened in August 2007, as the result of a forest fire. I couldn't find it on Blogger. Had it been left behind on Multiply? Indeed, it had. What do you know, all Multiply content was still there. I ended up not only searching but re-reading old posts, complete with comments. This is rather like leafing through old picture albums. Not without pleasure, but not what I planned to do today.

An hour and a half passed in the blink of an eye. Snap out of it. Leave comment. Get asked for WordPress password. Oh boy. I am in the process of changing over my usual password for a more secure one, but keep forgetting which sites have changed yet and which not. Guessed wrong. Start over. Go through  process of inserting  new, secure password. "You can't use that, it was used recently". ARRRRRGGGGH!!!

I will have to come up with a 100% new, secure password and change all sites over to it, keeping records as I go. Meanwhile, the day is shot. At least I had chicken soup in the freezer to feed lunch to a friend who dropped by unexpectedly. 

Friday, 8 March 2013

Woot woot, we're all mobile again!

This is too funny. Efforts to get the computer and printer on speaking terms have not yet succeeded, which is why I spent about an hour at the library today booking our Greyhound tickets for the Easter trip to the coast. 

This involved agonizing decisions about which terminal to use, choices between an easier departure time vs not having to transfer, and most of all: do I opt for the cheap book-ahead version or pay $77 extra for refundable tickets. After much waffling I took the safe way, picked refundable and printed the tickets right then and there.

Good thing: I came home to the news that Old Dutch got his driver's license back! He should never have lost it in the first place, but that is a whole story that does not belong here. I am learning a modicum of discretion in my dotage. It took 7 months of jumping through medical hoops, but here we are. We may still end up taking the bus, but at least we have the choice. 

Thursday, 7 March 2013

I touched a man who had a beer with Stomping Tom!

Stomping Tom Connors died yesterday, followed today by radio legend Max Ferguson. Like so many Canadian institutions, we got to know country legend Stomping Tom through  CBC radio. 

We can sing along to the hockey song, and know what the boys and girls are up to on a Sudbury Saturday night. This morning the radio played a song I had never heard before: "Fire in the mine." It was about a fire in the mine in the Northern Ontario town Timmins, back in 1964. 

We have a family connection to  Timmins. Our co-grandparents hail from there, so I gave them a call to ask if they knew their home town had been sung about on radio. 

Guess what: our co-gramps had been working in that mine at the time, though not underground. It turns out Stomping Tom had started his career as a musician in Timmins. 

My grandson has a grandfather who once had a beer with Stomping Tom Connors. Wow. A plugged-into-Canada moment. I love it.

P.S. My new blogger buddy Tossing Pebbles did a great post on Stomping Tom, complete with videos. Go see.

And more on this much-loved Canadian: