Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

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In memory of Julia

Julia was 18 years old when I was born. We were cousins, but she seemed more like an aunt to me. She started teaching in a one room country school in the fall of that year, taught for two years, then married Ed. Their first child, Doreen, was born a year later.

Ed & Julia lived a few miles from us and we often got together. As a young lad I was painfully shy of girls, with the exception of Doreen. I guess we saw each other often enough that I felt no need to run and hide from her. Ed and Julia had four more children, incluidng another girl, Edith, born on my eighth birthday.

I suppose it was Julia’s teacher instincts that led her to encourage my early interest in reading. Most of my little books for beginning readers were gifts from her.

When I was nine, we moved a couple of hours away, but our contact with continued through frequent letters. We eagerly looked forward to the times that we could get together again.

Time went on, I grew up, got married and moved to Eastern Canada. My parents retired and moved into Moose Jaw. My father died, leaving Mom a widow. Ed and Julia retired and moved into Moose Jaw. As Mom grew older, Ed and Julia kept tabs on her and helped her in many ways. They were often the ones who took Mom to the train station or airport for her annual trips to visit us, then picked her up and took her home on her return.

Mom had always had difficulty walking and the time came that she used an electric scooter outside of her home. When Mom was almost 90, Julia phoned to say that she was concerned about Mom living alone. Mom’s eyesight wasn’t very good anymore either, and Julia had seen her crossing the busy street at full throttle on her scooter, and sometimes cars had to stop quickly to let her pass.

Chris and I began to talk about returning to Saskatchewan. We came back for Mom’s 90th birthday and Julia repeated her concerns and we could see for ourselves that the time had come that we would need to take a more active part in caring for my mother. Ed and Julia weren’t able to be as much involved with Mom anymore, as Ed had been diagnosed with cancer.

Five months after Mom’s birthday we were back living in Saskatchewan. We settled in Saskatoon and Mom lived with us for some time, then spent her last year in a nursing home. She was almost 99 when she died.

We saw Ed and Julia occasionally on visits to Moose Jaw. Several times Ed was declared free of cancer, but soon they would find another spot. He had numerous surgeries and treatments and bore it all patiently. We felt in him a readiness for it all to be over and to go and meet his Lord. That happened in 2004, shortly after Julia’s 80th birthday.

Our contacts with Julia since then have not been as frequent as they should have been. She continued living in her own home for a few years, then moved to a suite in a senior’s residence, then to a nursing home and then to another. We have visited her in all those places and often joined the family for birthday celebrations. The last time we saw her was on her birthday in February of 2017. I believe she knew who we were, but doubt that she remembered after we left.

Julia died yesterday at the age of 94. I was going to say that another piece of my life is gone, but that’s not at all true. All the contributions she made to my life in my growing up years and after are still there. Her warmth, her kindness, her care, are part of what shaped me.

Dennis to the rescue

During the time I had been away in Toronto my folks had sold the little farm at Craik and bought an older two storey house in Moose Jaw. It wasn’t hard getting used to living in Moose Jaw, it was where I was born, we had family in the city and had made frequent trips there all during my growing up years. Uncle Art and Aunt Katherine, Dad’s brother and Mom’s sister, had moved into the city years ago already. Dad turned 72 in the summer of 1963, his eyesight was getting worse and he could no longer drive, so the move was a sensible one for them.

To get to the nearest Anglican church all my parents had to do was walk out to the back alley, go half a block east and half a block north. It was a distance my mother could easily walk. I never accompanied them to church.

Dad might not have seen well enough to drive, but he could still walk. He got up early in the morning and went for a walk, then took another walk or two later in the day, doing about six miles a day. He couldn’t see to read much anymore; Mom would gladly have read to him, but he could not bring himself to let her do it. That would have been to admit that he was handicapped.

But what was I to do? I was a walker like my Dad and walked all over the city with that question spinning around in my mind. I had lost all my excess weight in Toronto and was down to 60 kilos. I hadn’t done any physical work during those years that would have bulked me up, but I wasn’t weak or malnourished. I think it was just the unending questions about my future that made my head spin. One afternoon I came home from a walk, walked into the living room, blacked out for a moment and fell.

I got right back up on my feet, but Mom was scared. She got me in to see her doctor and he prescribed some little white pills for me. I got the impression that there was some malfunction in my heart and these pills would regulate it.

My cousin Dennis came to my rescue. He needed help on the farm and I was available. The farm was only a few miles out of Moose Jaw; I spent Monday to Saturday with Dennis and Harlene at the farm and Sunday at home with Mom and Dad in Moose Jaw. I helped with the field work and whatever else needed doing around the farm. Occasionally I would babysit Wendy, Jana and Jeffrey, their three young children.

Dennis had a few head of cattle, Harlene kept a few ducks and geese. It was getting dark one evening during harvest when I pulled into the yard with a load of grain to unload into the granary. The geese were not yet shut up for the night and here comes the gander running towards the truck, neck stretched out, wings flapping, honking for all he was worth to save the other geese from this monster. A fully loaded truck does not stop on a dime. Mom was out to visit Harlene and the two of them spent the rest of the evening plucking and eviscerating the would-be hero.

I helped at the farm on occasion during the winter and in spring began putting in long hours in the fields again. Then in late summer I landed a temporary job at the United Grain Growers grain elevator in Moose Jaw.

Another use for a station wagon

640px-Ford_LTD_Country_Squire_--_05-23-2012_front.JPGWhy is this style of car called a station wagon? And what’s with the faux wood trim? Well, the original station wagons were horse drawn conveyances for hauling passengers and baggage between hotels and railway stations. When motor cars started to become common, some people had the bright idea of putting such a wagon box on top of a motor car chassis.

The first station wagons coming off the automobile companies’ assembly lines still had mostly wood bodies behind the engine compartment. Eventually they switched to steel but maintained the wood look as a tribute to their heritage.

In its heyday the station wagon was the ultimate family vehicle. There was seating for eight people, but the seats were bench seats and there were no seat belts, so large families were able to stuff all their little ones into the wagon. This involved a good deal of squirming and squabbling, but it could be done, as most folks my age can testify.

A year ago we attended the funeral of the wife of one of my cousins and heard of a different use for a station wagon. Back in the 1950’s this lady and her siblings were young girls living a couple miles out of town along a busy highway and they walked to and from school along the shoulder of the highway. Those were simpler days, that was a totally normal thing to do.

After school they were often able to catch a ride home with a passing motorist. One day a station wagon pulled over to offer them a ride. The three girls piled in, noticing another man seated in the rear seat. They chattered with the driver, telling him who they were and where they lived, commenting on the heat of the day.

Then the oldest girl said to the driver “Your friend doesn’t have much to say.”

“No,” said the driver, “he’s done all the talking he’s ever going to do.”

She considered this odd statement, then took a good look at the driver. She had seen this man somewhere before. Slowly it came back to her. He’d looked different then because he’d been wearing a suit and tie. It had been at a funeral. Then she knew. This was the undertaker from the big town up the road. That meant the man in the back seat was . . .

Despite the heat and the lack of air conditioning, she began to shiver. Right about then the station wagon pulled up at their driveway and they piled out, thanking the driver for the ride. They ran to the house, happy to let the undertaker and his forevermore silent passenger continue on to their destination.

A Teenage Failure

It was good to be home again, to eat my mother’s cooking, to sleep in my own bed in my own room, to help out around the farm and to visit the old buffalo rubbing stone, my rock of refuge. I was sure that the people in town thought of me as already a failure at the age of eighteen, so I avoided contact with them as much as I could.

After a few weeks of this my father exploded into my room one Sunday morning to angrily demand that I get dressed for church and come with them. He was right, I needed to get out among other people, but his way of forcing the issue did nothing to make me feel any less a failure. However, the rejection I dreaded at church never happened and I slipped back into the familiar rhythm of Anglican worship services.

There was perhaps some solace to my soul in the magnificent words of the Scriptures, prayers and hymns, but I don’t recall much spiritual sustenance in the sermons. The preacher at that time was a young man from England who never really got acclimatized to the prairie way of life. One sermon that I remember was about what an evil game hockey was and how cricket was the proper sport for Christians. He was that much disconnected from reality in rural Saskatchewan. I don’t think anyone ever tried to set him straight, they just politely ignored him.

Gradually I dared to peek out from my protective covering a little bit at a time and found that I suffered no painful consequences. I still went to find the peace and quiet of the old rock, but perhaps the long walks along the ravines did as much for my mental state.

This is long ago, I have repressed these memories for years and many things are no longer clear to me. I believe it was at this time that I worked for a few days helping to pour the foundation for a new high school. It has come back to me that the incident of my father burning himself and me taking over his farm duties and janitorial duties at the hospital occurred during this period.

I must have been home at Craik for almost two years. In the summer of 1962 I was off to Toronto again, this time to attend DeVry Technical Institute to learn electronics. Not that I was terribly interested in learning electronics, but it was a field that offered many job opportunities and once again my parents were ready to pay my way, so off I went.

A Vagrant Without a Clue

I didn’t report the theft of the money to anyone. I never considered asking anyone for help or advice. To admit the theft would be to admit how stupid I was and face the humiliation of being publicly denounced for my stupidity. That was my state of mind at least.

I don’t remember many details from so long ago, but I packed all my stuff into a trunk and sent it by rail to Toronto. For all I know it’s still sitting in the baggage storage there. And I bought myself a ticket to Ottawa. I didn’t have any purpose or goal in mind; I didn’t have a clue. I just wanted to get away. What did I want to get away from? I didn’t have a clue.

I still had some money and I spent a couple months in a seedy hotel. I walked the city, the paths along the Rideau Canal, around Parliament Hill and the ByWard Market. I did a lot of reading. People I avoided. I was still wrapped in my protective wadding, seeing, watching, but not a part of anything that was happening around me.

When the money had about run out I spent a night or two at a men’s shelter. Then I decided to hitchhike to Toronto. I didn’t have a clue where I would go in Toronto or what I would do. Maybe something would work out.

I must have gotten a ride that took me almost to Smith’s Falls. I don’t remember; all I remember is walking down the highway near Smith’s Falls and getting a ride from there that took me right into Toronto. The man who picked me up was disappointed. Driving up from behind I must have looked like a girl as I hadn’t had a hair cut for several months. Before he dropped me off he gave me money for a haircut.

Here I was in downtown Toronto, still with no money and still without a clue. I was hanging around one of the big stores to keep warm when a young police officer asked to see my identification. He was startled when he saw my name and showed me his identification. His last name was Goodenough! He kindly advised me to move on and try to find a proper place to sleep and keep warm. I had no clue how to find such a place.

A night or two later a couple of homeless men led me to an abandoned house where we could at least have a little shelter for the night. In the middle of the night men with flashlights discovered us. They were police officers and they hauled us off to jail.

The next morning we were summoned to appear in court on charges of vagrancy. When my turn came a Salvation Army officer intervened and said he would take responsibility for me. The judge discharged me into his care. I was taken to the Salivation Army men’s shelter and led to curtained off space with a proper bed.

I don’t know how long I stayed there. It was warm, the food was decent and I dimly remember hearing a gospel message or two in their chapel. Not that the gospel registered on me in my state of mind. People sometimes came to the Salvation Army looking for workers for a day. I remember going out with a few other guys to distribute flyers in a prosperous looking part of the city. I was intrigued bythe houses; remember – I had wanted to be an architect. I wondered what they looked like inside and what kind of people lived in them. The guys I was with had no patience for that kind of dreamy talk. The more flyers they could distribute, the more money they would make. This was my first time doing something like this and I didn’t do all that great a job of keeping up with them.

A few days later the officer in charge of the shelter asked me to come into his office. He told me that the Salvation Army operates a missing persons service and through that service my parents had found out where I was. He dialed their number and let me talk to my mother. A few days later I was on the train again, going home to Saskatchewan.

I wasn’t grown up yet

In the fall of 1959 I left home to go to university. The question of what I wanted to be when I grew up seemed to be settled – I would be an architect. During the last years of high school I began to pore over magazines with house floor plans and to draw my own. I dreamed of creating wonderful structures like those of Frank Lloyd Wright and le Corbusier. On the other hand, the cold glass and steel of Mies van der Rohe’s buildings left me cold.

I was accepted by the School of Architecture at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg. My Grade 12 marks were good enough to win a $500.00 scholarship. Mom, as always, was supportive and encouraging. Dad didn’t say much but seemed satisfied that I was going to make something of myself.

It should have worked. I was grown up on the outside, maybe even reasonably close to intellectual maturity, but inside I was still the little boy who was afraid of the shadows on the walls. My wounded emotions were so thoroughly swathed with layer upon layer of protective bandages that I was walking through life like a living mummy, aware of what was going on around me, but never able to participate.

I had lost all interest in church and Christianity, yet had no interest in partying either. Girls were strange and frightening, unless their name was Joan. At each stage of  my years of schooling there was a girl named Joan whom I could talk to without stammering or breaking out in a cold sweat. There were four of them altogether, at different times.

I saw Coke machines dropped down the stairwells of the residence and various other shenanigans on campus. But I was a watcher, not a participant. I read or watched TV until late at night, then could barely stay awake through the lectures.

Two classes brought me to life. One was mechanical drawing, or drafting. That I enjoyed and did well at. The other was English. We spent that first semester studying three utopian novels: Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell; Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley and Erewhon by  Samuel Butler. Nowadays they would be called dystopian, but the word didn’t exist in 1959. I was intrigued and was able to analyze and comment on them to the professor’s satisfaction.

I failed the other courses because I drowsed through the lectures and didn’t study the textbooks. By the time I realized how far behind I was it was too late to make up lost time in that semester. Surely there would be some way to catch up during the next semester, but I had no plan on how to do it and was afraid to ask for help.

I obtained a student loan of $300.00 to cover my living expenses for the next semester. I cashed the cheque and put the money in my back pocket, intending to pay my residence fees the next day. Then I went down to the lounge in the residence and fell asleep watching TV. When I woke up the money in my back pocket was gone.

Bean counters – part 2

André was a big man, six feet tall and weighing over 300 pounds. He had had a painful childhood, much of it spent in an orphanage, but in the orphanage he learned how to cook. This was the one marketable skill that he carried into adult life and he discovered that there were mining camps and radar stations in Canada’s north that would pay very well for that skill.

When the first oil sands plant was being built near Fort McMurray, Alberta, André was the head chef, in charge of a large crew of cooks preparing meals for the 5,000 workmen. He told of how they had to learn to crack an egg with each hand to prepare breakfast for that huge crew.

Not all camps were that busy and André developed a taste for alcoholic beverages to make it through the isolation. One place was so isolated that booze was simply unobtainable, so when André ordered cooking supplies he would order vanilla by the case. The company accountant in Vancouver discovered repeated orders for cases of vanilla and questioned why they were needed. An investigation was made and André was fired and given transportation out to Vancouver.

He had enough money left for one good drunk, but the future looked bleak. Staggering down the streets of Vancouver, he saw a neon sign saying “Jesus Saves.” It was above a Pentecostal mission and there appeared to be living quarters above the mission. André made it up the steps and knocked on the door.

The young pastor opened the door to find a big, rough-looking and very drunk French Canadian standing there. He thought of his young family, did he dare invite this man to come in? André said “I need help,” and he was welcomed in. That pastor introduced André to Jesus, the one who was able to help.

André never took another drink. When he returned to working in the north he spent his non-working hours copying out the Bible. He had very neat handwriting and he wrote out the complete Bible at least twice, once in French and once in English. I think he may have written it out twice in French, but he isn’t around to ask anymore.

It was entirely unforeseen and unintended, but that bean counter who got André fired was indirectly the cause of his conversion.

Precious memories

My cousin Dennis was born September 9, 1937, the first of six children born to Art and Katherine Goodnough. His wife called last week to tell us that his children were planning a surprise birthday party for him for his 80th birthday, last Saturday. Could we come?

I thought about it briefly, maybe half a second, and said “Of course, we’ll be there.” I had been thinking of this momentous occasion coming up, had bought a card and was wondering how or when to deliver it. Saturday we made the two and a half hour drive to Moose Jaw and joined 50 others, family and friends, to celebrate Dennis’s 80 years.

All of Dennis’s brothers came, from Ontario, Saskatchewan, Alberta and BC. His sister lives in Portugal and didn’t make it. Four of his five children were there, two live in Moose Jaw, one in Alberta, one in BC and the one missing was out of the country on a business trip.

Uncle Art was my father’s brother, Aunt Katherine my mother’s sister. Our two families have always been close. Everything his brothers said about Dennis was completely familiar. None of us has ever seen him get angry, nor have we ever seen him violate a traffic law. Richard told how Dennis would always use his signal lights before making a turn, even if he was out in the middle of a 100 acre field or a thousand acre pasture.

He was always interested in others. Whenever you talked to him, his first questions were about your family. He never wanted to hurt anyone’s feelings. Stan, 15 years younger, told of encountering a kangaroo on his big brother’s farm when he was just a little lad. He told Dennis about the kangaroo and Dennis said, “Well, it might have been something else that looked a lot like a kangaroo.” Some time later Stan figured out that it had been a jackrabbit.

His patience was his great strength, but at times it looked like a weakness. Jason, his youngest son, told of how his Dad taught them the importance of cleanliness and also modelled it for them. One time the family was ready to get in the car to go somewhere, they were already 20 minutes late, but Dad decided he had to have a shower first.

Jason also told of how his Dad had been a good teacher. He didn’t get angry when they didn’t do as they had been taught, but relations could get rather cool for a while. Ted, the brother next after Dennis in the family, picked up on that and said that had come from their mother. When he did something wrong his mother wouldn’t speak to him for days. Finally he would get so desperate that he would do anything, wash dishes, scrub floors, to get her to talk to him. Thinking of that later, it seems that Ted would be the one in the family who would have most often incurred this treatment from his mother. He was also the one for whom it was most apt to produce a favourable result.

Joel, Dennis’s oldest grandson and a Pentecostal preacher, was MC for the afternoon. Jeff, Dennis’s oldest son and also a Pentecostal preacher (but of a different denomination), had the prayer for the supper. The Goodnough family is a mixture of Christians of differing persuasions and others who are not Christians. We don’t get together as often as we did when we were younger and lived closer to each other, but there is still something that binds us together. I believe the tie that binds us together, at least for those of us of the older generation, is the influence of our mothers. I am not alone in thinking that, the thought was expressed a number of times on Saturday.

If you are a writer . . .

If you are a writer . . .man-29749_640.png

– you love words, you study words, their origins and all the nuances of their meanings. You don’t aim to dazzle readers with the knowledge you acquire, you want to be able to select the best words to make your readers see what you are seeing.

– you know that words are inadequate for what needs to be said. So you spend time searching for the words that come closest to saying what you want to say and avoid words and expressions that make no contribution to what you are trying to describe..

– you know that the reader can only see what you show him. A reader in Saskatchewan doesn’t know what a trillium looks like, or that many people in Ontario say youse when speaking to more than one person. A reader in Ontario doesn’t know what a slough is or what a chokecherry tastes like.

– you know that inspiration is not enough. Writing is the craft that brings the inspiration to life for your readers, by using just the right words and removing all the useless words that distract readers from perceiving what it was that inspired you.

– everything you see, and hear, and dream, becomes grist for your mill. You notice the little wildflower that is invisible to others, you hear the song of a toad at dusk, you see and hear the way people do and say things. These all become part of your storehouse and sooner or later they appear somewhere in your writing.

– you are a writer all the time. You have a full time job, you are a student, a busy mother, a caregiver to an aged relative. In all you do you find insights, nuggets of truth, startling images, moments of tenderness, moments of hilarity, and you tuck the memories away to be brought out when you sit down with a pen or at a keyboard.

– you are delighted to hear a reader repeat something you wrote that gave him new light on a subject, even if he can’t remember who wrote it.

Precious memories

My mother died seven years ago today, December 31, 2006 at 9:00 p.m.  If she had lived another 18 days, she would have been 99.

Not that I would have wished another 18 days for her just so she could reach that landmark.  She began to show signs of dementia in her early nineties and her last couple of years were difficult.  Then she caught a norovirus that was going round the nursing home where she lived.  She recovered from that, but it left her so weakened that she only lived a few more days.

She lived with us until she needed more care than we could provide at home.  Then we placed her in the Mennonite Nursing Home at Rosthern, Saskatchewan.  This was a wonderful place.  It helped Mom that in her confused state she decided this was the house her Uncle Pete had built.  Uncle Pete’s house must have been much smaller than this sprawling nursing home complex, and it was hundreds of miles away.  Never mind, it made Mom feel like she was not in a totally unfamiliar place.

Mom did not want to get dressed in the morning, because the clothes the staff wanted here to put on were not her clothes.  The trouble was that the only clothes she would have recognized by this time were the clothes that she had worn 75 years ago.  The staff people were patient with her and eventually coaxed her to let them help her get dressed anyway.

She fought when they tried to give her a bath and the staff asked for permission to sedate her at those times.  We gave our permission, but they never did use a sedative, finding ways to get her bathed without too much stress.

When our daughter was expecting her first child, almost five years earlier, Grandma was the first person she told and Grandma rejoiced with her.  Later, Grandma had a dim understanding that Michelle had a second child.  Now, in Grandma’s very last days, Michelle brought her third child, four months old, and showed her to Grandma.  The smile that Grandma gave was a little glimmer of light in that dark time.  We weren’t sure by then if Mom even knew who we were anymore, but the sight of the baby must have brought some happy thoughts.

The funeral was in Moose Jaw, where Mom had lived for many years.  We were touched by all the family and friends who came to show that they cared.  There were a few more details to look after and then we were left with our memories.

The memories of the difficult lady my mother became in her last years have faded and I am left with sixty years of memories of the wonderful, sweet lady that my mother really was.  She was born with congenital hip dysplasia and in later years told me that she had never walked without pain.  Yet she went on walks with me when I was little, even ran foot races with me.  She was a hard-working farm wife, cooking, baking, canning, and all the other tasks of making a home.  I remember her singing hymns in the vehicle whenever we drove any distance.  She loved to read and was my first and best teacher.

When I married, she accepted my wife as a daughter and they became very close.  She was delighted when a new generation began with the birth of our daughter.  When we moved to Eastern Canada she came and spent a couple of weeks with us each year.  We tried to get back to Moose Jaw every second year.  When Michelle was nine years old and my wife was going through weekly chemotherapy after cancer surgery, Mom came and spent several months with us, keeping the home running smoothly while Chris sometimes felt so tired.  Just having Mom there made this time easier for us all.

It doesn’t lessen the pain of parting to know a loved one is near death.  When the earthly ties that bind us together are cut, there will be pain.  Healing comes from in facing that pain and going through a proper funeral, sharing memories with friends and family, and accepting that this person who has been part of one’s life forever is not here anymore.  When the pain of parting has healed, the good memories come flooding back.

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