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Creative Differences

Snow whipped into a frenzy piled up past the ledge of the kitchen window and I still thought we would go to the concert. Even after the telephone chain call originating from the school trustee I thought there would be a chance that we could still go. I had the lead in the school Christmas pageant….as least in my mind I was the lead! My eight year old self suffered terrible disappointment that night. I never got my chance to perform as Mary and have the one goose necked reading lamp “spotlight” rigged up by the teacher shine reverently on my white and silver headscarf illuminating my blonde ringlets. All I had was the one  rehearsal and the approval of the young teacher. Oh, so long ago and the pain goes deeply.

At the one room school, S.S. # 7 Bear Creek we had a stage platform with two side entrances. Those entrances and exits fascinated me when we did community concerts for our parents. The visiting health nurse also used the stage area for eye examinations and giving vaccinations. She would take off her high heeled shoe and pound the eye chart into the wall. With the curtain closed it was made medically official. We carried on with our lessons and waited our turn.

One exit led to the boys cloak room where they kept their coats and lunch pails. It always seemed grubby and smelly in there. The other exit led to a small teacher’s room with another door exiting to the outside.This little room was for the teacher’s stuff and there was a  wall mounted crank telephone. The teacher let the Grade One kids play in there when she was busy with the older kids and I fondly remember wearing her coat, scarf,gloves,boots and going through the contents of her purse.

 

My sister was with me there for two years and then she left me to fend for myself while she went off to high school. Fortunately she was there for the horrible day in Grade Two when I sat on an ant hill under the maple tree to eat my lunch. She was the one to deal with my terror of having big black carpenter ants bite my tender little body in every conceivable spot. To this day I can recall the ants creased into my armpits and in my underpants. Another recess event I recall with some significant dramatics was when my sister diagnosed my raging out break of measles as I erupted  one warm spring day into blotches and  blistering bumps and informed the teacher to call home immediately.

When I was in Grade three with no sister around, Elveretta, a neighbour girl claimed me as her charge.She didn’t suffer fools gladly so I was basically protected from harm. She let me help her keep score for our baseball games and let me sit in her lap. The boys at bat would make it a point of honour to hit the ball over the top of the huge evergreen trees and send the ball into the orchard across the road. There were good girl players too like Elveretta and impressed me big time as they could hit the ball just as well, run like the wind and slide into base while wearing billowing knee length skirts .

I played as little baseball as I could and maybe hit the ball a total of two or three times. I preferred being off in the corner of the school yard telling stories and organizing plays about elves,fairies and trolls and delegating roles to my friends Julie and Irene, who just happened to be sisters and artistic types like me. They were real artists and could draw anything, even horses.Their creative input was invaluable.

I would visit Julie and Irene at their farm and they would visit mine. We had lots of fun together. Their parents were good to me and fed me Ukranian food. I remember turkey suppers, cabbage rolls, borscht, the best ever  dill and garlic pickles and apple pies. There were some special pictures, painted trinkets and darkly coloured floral scarves draped around them in a tiny parlour which we were supposed to stay out of so we wouldn’t damage anything in there. Outside the  barnyard geese would chase us, honk and spit, knock us down and trample us.  That was terrifying and extremely noisy especially when we provoked the geese repeatedly despite being told to stop by both parents in English, Ukrainian and maybe Estonian or Latvian.

Back at school it was the simple little readers and sparse few textbooks that held my parched interest. No extra literature or media was available except for an occasional box of films from the National film Board.When the box of films arrived that is all we did for a couple of days. The classic poems from the readers soothed my poetic  little soul but left me wanting much more. Basic knowledge in print form, limited text material ,barely fed me a starvation diet of information. The only books for extra reading available where a set of old black and yellow atlases , Gideon New Testaments,  battered dictionaries and High Road to Song books.

It was a bit grim creatively. Exceptions were the times when the teacher would plan an art lesson such as painting the school windows with seasonal art or read aloud for a few minutes on a warm afternoon from her own book or request everyone to write an composition based on a a selected picture from her file of clippings. Possibly, I was the only kid who really loved this writing exercise. I recall others groaning when we did this task every Friday afternoon. A calendar clipping of a fall tree or a cute kitten in a basket or a dark and stormy sky set my imagination free. When selected ( without fail) to share my composition with the class I would deliver it with all the impact I could muster.

From Grade Five  until the end of Grade 13 I was always selected to say my “speeches” . Not once did I win a speech competition. However, for thirty two years I taught kindergarten and other primary grades and loved the creative opportunity to play, read,write, tell stories, act things out, laugh, listen, draw,paint,dance around, sing and share what I love about communication. Retired now, I read every darn obscure book that interests me that I can order from the local tiny library and write a little and sometimes I write more. It all depends on me.

 

 

 

 

 

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Gathering

The call sang out in startled notes

I stopped and looked around

The sun was full of light and warmth

Footpath by tree was  sound

 

Darkness fell and the moon shone bright

Others had gone their way

Party over, food wrapped

Carried on a tray

 

 

Almost home nearly there

just steps along the lane

It struck and grabbed a hank of hair

Strangely gentle with it’s pain

 

Now the tree is  watched with care

The cat stays by the door

Village owls reside with us

My scalp’s no longer sore.

 

 

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George and Walter A.

After Alice had made supper for us and Grandpa had a pipe on the porch we would head on down the old unused highway to meet up with George.

Alice was the older lady next door who had another exceedingly ancient old lady boarding with her. Alice made supper for Grandpa, the old soul who lived at her place and for me when I stayed with Grandpa. This went on for several years.

Grandpa passed away when I was about nine years old.

George was another old timer. He lived just at the edge of the old highway, down a lane that is still there. George would start out at his end of the old highway, bent over, both hands behind his back, head somewhat down, watching his feet and walk very slowly towards my Grandpa and I. We would meet up where the new road and the old road joined.

George and Grandpa were known as the two mayors of Poplar Hill. Two old farmers in their eighties walking along the road to find each other and talk over the day.Grandpa referred to this as having a” chaw” with George.

Going along on these civic duties I knew if I was well behaved I’d maybe get an ice cream cone at the corner store sooner or later. The cone wasn’t a sure thing. It was something you could imagine possibly happening and never asked about.

More often than not our return walk home would be completed in the twilight.Robie’s Store was usually closed by then and any hope of an ice cream drumstick was forgotten.

Grandpa had the cook stove fire embers stirred  low for the night. It was at this time of day that Grandpa seemed older. His walk had tired him.His steps were uncertain. His cane became his best friend.

Grandpa told one bedtime story. It was always the same one about poor little kittens  left out in the snow that were finally let in to warm up by the stove.Grandpa would add some special effects when describing how pitiful the poor kittens cried at the door while the snow and wind raged. I will never forget those crying kittens…..never.

Grandpa kept his house neat and tidy.

The parlour was kept sealed off unless there was any interest in looking at the faded green velvet picture albums of relatives or the need to entertain oneself with the stuffed turtle he kept there. He put newspapers on the floor to walk on and burned them in the stove when they were muddied up. You kept your boots on in Grandpa’s house. He kept his small pint of milk cool on the over head ledge going down into the basement root cellar. His bathroom was quite up to date with light green fixtures and kept spotless with a box of Spic and Span on the window ledge and a bar of pumice soap in the soap dish. For the most part, the bathroom was unused as an outdoor privy was preferred by Grandpa when he was on his own.  Backed right up to the large iron cook stove was a narrow cot covered with bed linens from years gone by.He kept a tiny box of generic liver pills ( Dodd’s) on the window ledge beside this cot.

Grandpa wore dark cuffed trousers with a faint pinstripe, grey and red work socks, overshoe boots that zipped up, a green cardigan with a off white pattern on the bottom edge and a black felted fedora. His long white and red striped shirt was also his nightshirt. Long johns were worn in every season as far as I know.

He kept his teeth in a mug of water at night. A handy thunder jug was under his bed. Two small old fashioned glass ornaments were on his handmade dresser. They are now on the same dresser which has been repainted in a soft blue in my guest room.A small blue and gilt top hat dish and a tiny golden pipe attached to a pink leaf. I like to think they were my grandmother’s keepsakes.

Fifty years later, I’m living in the same village not far from Grandpa’s place and just around the corner from the old highway lane.  People walk there, often with their dogs or when showing their visitors around our quaint community. The old highway has an area with a few houses and it is named after George’s ancestors. A street beside the cemetery has been named after my Grandpa’s ancestors. Alice’s house is still there. Grandpa’s house is still there. I never really knew where George lived because we always just met on the road and turned around and went home. I like to think his house is still there. It probably is there beside the old bridge at the end of the lane shaded by maple trees behind the long grass. I must ask Anna about it. Anna will know.

George and Grandpa along with about two dozen of their  male neighbour friends are in a historic picture on my mantle. It was taken the day the fellows were all together to dedicate our park . It is a memorial park. A well used, loved and safe place.

As far as I’m concerned they are still known as the mayors of Poplar Hill.

 

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The Will Must be Stronger

Such along time has passed since my last post. Why has the title appeared so bold faced when typed? I no longer know the features on this blog site so everything is new again.

Hot chocolate, made from a dark chocolate bar and hot milk( don’t try it) at hand and very late at night I settle into the chair ,  aching from an old church parking lot injury ( (don’t ask) and therefore suffering a bit for my art I decide it is now or never. I must write. Fighting off the cat from the laptop and from sticking her nose into the hot chocolate ( I’ll use milk chocolate next time) I make this feeble effort to at least open up the writing part of my quiet existence once more. I know I can do this.

It is the will that has somewhat atrophied almost to the point of disuse.

Folks in general have noticed my absence from writing. Comments, blunt and discreet are often made. The greeter at church one day mentioned it to a visiting minister. The coffeeshop staff have cleared a spot for me and reminded me of their hours of business, gently suggesting I should return to my table of soup, sandwich coffee and journal writing, people watching and listening in on conversations. Family send updates to writing events. Hints drop, suggestions are made, jabs here and there.

 

Even the winter creature that lives somewhere along the exterior wall under the radiator behind my desk has rattled on a bit with encouragement for me to return to my swivel chair, laptop and late hours. Mr. Mole or Miss Mouse or possibly worse nibbles and scratches a bit as I type keeping me alert. Nothing more arouses the will to write than the prospect of having this wee soft creature zip across my foot. It is like having a snake loose in a dark bedroom and being too petrified to confront it so the imagination must cope.

Topics to write about are overwhelming and yet some appeal to me. Reading, writing, poetry, music, theatre, family, cooking, gardening, teaching, pets are my comforting favourites. My own stories are on the surface, bubbling, waiting to be stirred. World issues, problems and general chaos are too much for me, yet provoke thoughts and  disturbing dreams. Am I reluctant to write of these things because of what they are or am I afraid that I will write?

Cat has jumped over the screen once more, the mug of wretched chocolate has been drained, the small creature behind the wall is quiet once more. The will to write has stretched a little ignoring the ache.

 

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The Saddest Part of the Heart

When the people start running through the cornfield and their babies cry and their babies die

on the televised news reports

we

watch

the news feed

but flick to some diy Reno

or the wannabe chefs that find alarming fault with someone else’s chicken livers

you wonder

what to do and how to help

despite the fact that there are so many other things

to pay for

but then it never leaves

your mind

around it goes

into the saddest part of your heart

and you know that

if you were the one pushed and shoved and exhausted, broken in terror and confusion hanging for dear life on to what is left of your children and just sitting down in the dust and crying out

wondering

what to do

where to go

because a threat is

behind you

breathing

down

your

neck

and in front of you is a convict built barbed wire barrier

roads that are too far and paperwork that is bizarre

out of touch

with the insanity of it all

so the only thing to do is to find another and another and another and do something

that will help

a reputable organization offering some aid, some hope

if we can’t do something for the people running, the babies crying, the dying babies on the shores,

the paperwork piles up and some official stamps a section, signs a refusal on the never ending line…

rattling a feeble sabre

in response.

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Summer Supper on Scotchmere Drive

Perhaps the best part of my special Saturday evening was not knowing I was going to the wonderful country church supper and suddenly finding myself there. Invited along by my sister-in-law and her friends I was included at the last minute. Unfortunately another,who held the ticket for the annual event had taken ill. Fortunately for me I was the one generously called as a stand in. With the most perfect late summer weather, a beautiful family farm setting, no mosquitoes, excellent food, great music and friendly company it was an unexpected treat.

The event at the McGugan Farm was a Pork and Corn Roast sponsored by North Caradoc St. Andrews Presbyterian Church. The setting (Strathroy, Ontario) was like something from a picture on a Canadian Country Calendar. Beautiful countryside, country road, huge shady trees, towering cornfields, lovely well kept heritage family farm, wide expanse of lush green lawn and a big drive shed set up for a feast. An estimated gathering of almost three hundred people gathered together to enjoy this home-style supper.  Very good music filled the air. It was the right kind of music, the kind that told a story and made you think back. One or two of the songs really got to me and that is why I think I was inspired to write this post on my blog. However, it was more likely the combination of all the elements I’ve mentioned that just seemed to be special and when I am moved this way, I write.

While thoroughly enjoying the tasty food, people watching, listening to music I constantly had the feeling that this was indeed something to share on my blog. After all, someone had shared with me so I could be there. Just being in the moment. Pies and butter tarts, homemade, ice cream on the side stretched out on a long table. Little kids, adorable, with families gathered. A hay wagon, tempting platform for the little ones to climb on. Lawn chairs in the shade. Tables set up in the drive shed. Food in bowls, platters, some nestled in icy buckets. Hot food, baked potatoes, beans, pork roast and corn on the cob and cold chilled salads.

Help yourself style with many helping their elders and their youngsters. The farm host, mingling and carrying a basket of raffle tickets, listening to my request to write about the supper. Buttertarts, like the wonderful buttertarts I shared with some folks there may have spurred me on as well. A wonderful country church supper all around and it was just what I needed. (Oh, and the peach pie… I can’t forget the peach pie. Yes, I had both.)

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Ever Bearing Berry Seasons

At about 9am yesterday morning I bought some wild black raspberries at our tiny farmer’s market. Gladly I paid three dollars for the large container. I know the young person selling the berries and I know she found them growing wild in this immediate area. As soon as I saw the berries I immediately thought of my mom and her berry picking excursions that usually included me very much against my will. At this point I started telling the group of neighbours gathered at the teeny market about some of the very close to the surface memories of my mom. They suggested I write about these preserved thoughts and as I have had a patch of dried up and fruitless writing lately I turned on the computer .I picked my usual late hours to produce this mixture of plucked recollections, revised a few words here and there and went by my old recipe of writing from the heart.

Throughout her youth, maturity and old age my mom was in tune with the seasons and made the very most of every available harvest. Berry picking was one of the most tedious things I could think of doing as I was not as motivated as she was by the hard work, strain, heat, exhaustion and endless boxes of berries from our own patch or from other commercial sources. I would rather read, act out stories, play with our puppies and daydream.

Despite this attitude I continued as the many years went by to  suggest to mom that if she would like to go berry picking I would go along or drive her to a local “upick” place as I knew it  would be fun for her. Once we were driven  by a farmer to the very back of a huge field and dropped off for the day so she could pick to her heart’s content. She was well over ninety years old, decked out in shorts and long sleeved shirt with a berry pail attached to her waist with a belt and jauntily wearing a sun hat and her favourite white nurse’s shoes and ankle socks. She was pretty impressive and caught the attention of several younger pickers working their way down the enormous patch. When she saw student pickers taking a break and resting she gave them a piece of her mind and told them they better get busy picking berries if they wanted to make any money. My job was to run the boxes of berries she picked to the end of the rows so they could be gathered up at the end of the day’s pickathon.That day my legs ached and I sweltered in the heat  in total sympathy with the  student pickers but she seemed  content and very proud indeed of her huge harvest. We drove around later to show the relatives what she had picked like  it was some kind of athletic achievement  to have the entire car full of  stacked flats of berries !

Another time at another upick farm and she was in awe of the size of the operation. It was almost impossible to get her to leave the place. She seemed to feel it was her responsibility to pick over the already picked rows to glean the berries missed by others. I pointed out that other rows were untouched and just hanging with ripe fruit but she was determined to give these so called picked rows another going over just for the challenge of finding berries other people, unskilled in extreme berrypicking missed entirely. She stood by our car finally with all the berries we picked and was a bit miffed at having to pay the  required full price by the owner.She had a point. These berries were the ones left by others, under the leaves and close to the ground. They had  been picked and salvaged, saved from waste by her expertise. These berries had been given the treatment her own berry patch was used to, a thorough going over, a picked patch, a job well done.

Again I was glad to finally get her out of there and home for supper. After eating a warmed up dinner of leftovers and several cups of strong tea and a soup bowl of fresh berries with sugar and milk we would face the cleaning and snuffing of the berries. I would sometimes help for a short time and then beg off to go home with excuses of lesson planning or childcare responsibilities. Mom would spend hours cleaning, snuffing, preserving and freezing the fruit, well into the night and totally pleased with her product. These berries made their way into pies and jam for the family and anyone else who would drop in for a visit.

The work she loved on the farm was like this every single day. Involved, committed, determined it was like an industrial project yet fuelled by her love of nature, gardening, farming and family. There were many such excursions and many similar experiences with home-grown fruit and vegetables . All of them are ripe memories just bursting forth at the moment, poised and ready to be simply touched, held and admired for what they are worth. They are inspired by the one box of wild black raspberries gleaned in the bushes and brambles by my young neighbour, undaunted by mosquitoes and the heat. I think I got a deal.

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