Posted by: lmcg1 | July 11, 2019

Family stories

This is a transcription of notes I found that my mother had written, likely in the mid 1970s. She wrote that she was writing this family history in memory of her brother, who was killed in a training crash during the Second World War. The words are hers.

I was born in New Westminster in 1920, the third daughter in a family of four. My oldest sister was born in 1916, my second sister in 1918, and then my only brother in 1921.

All the children in the family went to Central School, with the 3 girls going on to Duke of Connaught High School. Our brother went to TJ Trapp Technical School. After school he worked for a short time as an usher in the Columbian Theatre in New Westminster and then in 1940 joined the RCAF training in Saskatchewan and Sea Island BC. He received his commission as a Pilot Officer and was then transferred to Patricia Bay Air Force Base, and during a training flight was lost when his plane lost power. He held the plane on course while the crew member practicing bomb aiming parachuted to safety but was unable to escape the plane in time. He was the last male member of this branch of the family.

The family was very comfortable in their three story 7 room home at on 2nd St in New Westminster. (Note: this house is now a designated heritage house and still stands in 2019). Upstairs were 2 big airy bedrooms with dormers, diamond paned windows and a play area upstairs. Then down the stairs to a central hallway leading to the master bedroom, separate bath and lavatory, the kitchen and the dining room.

The main floor had a good sized kitchen. Off it was a back porch and a room with pantry and cupboards in the English manner. Swinging doors lead into the dining room where we always had the evening meal. Through a wooden archway was the small comfortable den with fireplace, library, table and chairs. This was closed off by sliding doors from the parlour which contained the piano and more formal sitting chairs used only for visits and Christmas, and piano lessons of course. From the front door into the parlour and dining room there was a wide hallway and a coat closet and the door, of course has a cut glass prism window which cast rainbows on the dining room floor if the setting sun hit it right.

Outside the front door was a porch about 12 feet wide, with partly built up sides so the family could gather there and entertain or play in summer and about 10 wide steps leading down to the cement walkway. On these steps we spent a lot of tine. Sliding down the wide railing, playing dolls, jacks etc and even holding May Day celebrations.

The basement stairs led down from the kitchen to a big area with smooth concrete where there was the laundry area, good storage, a workshop, coal and wood slabs for the furnace. This still left room for tool storage and a clear area around the furnace where we roller skated and had wagon and scooter races in the winter. It was nice and dry being only about 3 feet underground The laundry area was very efficient for the day as the laundry was thrown down a chute beside the bathroom to a wooden bin in the basement. There was hot and cold water, tubs and one of the first electric Beatty wringer washers with the copper tubes. All laundry was hung outside in summer and in the basement in winter. One of the really daredevil stunts was to fall down the laundry chute as long as there were lots of clothes at the bottom.

The kitchen, with its large windows facing south and a large wooden kitchen table and chairs and the focus on the black iron and nickel wood and coal range, was the most comfortable place in the house in the morning as the furnace was only lit in cold weather. However it was very efficient then as it could be banked with heavy slabs of fir and coal lumps and kept the house warm all night. The slabs of wood and bark could be 12 x 18 inches and the coal came in 5 – 10 pound lumps which we broke up as needed. The slab wood was very cheap as it was really scrap wood from the many lumber mills on the Fraser River.

The pantry, with its glass cupboard doors, bins for flour etc and glass jars of staples on one side, and sink and drainboard under the window, was between the kitchen and dining room. It was a very convenient way to keep the cooking and dishwashing areas out of sight. Not like our houses with small kitchen and large family room today.

The dining room was fairly large with an oval dining table, a sideboard for good silver and china, and dining chairs. It had a large bay window facing south with plants which made it a pleasant room. My favourite however was the cozy den, off the dining room. It had a red tile and varnished wood fireplace and on each side, bookcases below small lead paned windows. There were wicker chairs with cushions, a library table and a carpet. No chesterfields then, only a small sofa in the parlour, with a couple of small wood and upholstery chairs and the small piano which was seldom used except under duress.

We lived in this house until my grandmother died when I was 8, in 1928. She had lived next door in a big house at the corner of 2nd St and Queens Ave. We moved into that house since my uncle and her housekeeper were still there, and rented our house for the grand sum of $27 a month that same year.

My father had had a real misfortune two years before, when he had lost thumb and fingers of his left hand when a timber fell on him from a ship loading on the Fraser River. He was in St Mary’s Hospital for a long time and could not go back to his job as Master Mariner and Pilot on the Fraser River. To exaggerate the misfortune into a financial disaster, the tug he owned (The Clutha) with another person was sunk under the New Westminster Railway Bridge while he was in hospital. It was proved that the crew running her was drinking but there was no insurance. After that our family had lots of land and houses but very little cash.

When my grandmother died in 1928 she left $25,000 in trust ($380,000 in 2019 dollars!) to look after my uncle who had been crippled by polio and was not able to support himself. She left my mother their property at Queen’s and 2nd which consisted of a large house on 3 city lots, our house and lot next door, 2 houses rented out on Dufferin Street New Westminster, and several lots in New Westminster Heights. She also left our summer house on Marine Drive in White Rock .

Most of the property was rented out or sold at depression prices until in 1942 the Queens Ave property finally went for taxes and my parents moved to the summer home at White Rock where they lived until her death in 1954. During the Depression in the thirties my Father was not able to really get reorganized although he tried a paint and wallpaper shop with a friend on Columbia St in New Westminster, worked temporarily at the Pilot Office on the Docks, and at a Gasoline Supply Office where the Seafood Restaurant now stands on the New West Docks.

In these years of ‘hard times’ we were not too badly off, although change to go to a show or buy a chocolate bar was very scarce. A big treat was ice cream and bakery cake. All the family had to work pretty hard to keep the house going. With the big garden all vegetables were grown except potatoes and the extensive fruit garden was worked on from spring to fall. All summer, canning went on, with the four of us picking and preparing fruit, and Mother, Dad and the housekeeper putting fruit and pickles up in bottles and crocks. My uncle and father did the heavy garden work, lawn mowing and rolling, digging, fresh manure by the truck load every spring wheelbarrowed onto the garden, the pruning, raking and fall cleanup just as big a job as spring preparations. Also in the spring the cellar was restocked with load after load of fir slabs which were wheelbarrowed in from the lane, although the coal men carried in their sacks of lump coal. Several cords of wood were split by my uncle and stacked near the back door for the kitchen range. This was packed into house by the armload every day and stacked in a big woodbox behind the stove.

The garden produced:

Queen Ann cherries for jam and preserves, Bing cherries for eating and Black cherries for jam.

Walnuts

Raspberries, strawberries, loganberries, blackberries

Peaches and pears – Bartlet for preserves and eating

Russet apples for cooking and Gravenstein apples for eating

Greengages, plums and Italian prunes for jam

Red and black currants, quinces

Rhubarb

Peas, carrots, beans, cucumbers, lettuce, parsnips, horseradish, dill, onions, parsley

My grandmother left a nice stock of wine, glasses and decanters in her pantry which were enjoyed for years.

Walnuts were pickled when young, vinegar and wine made, dill pickles and beets in crocks, eggs were kept in crocks in water glass, orange and lemon rinds made into peel for cakes, pancake syrup made, bread and all cakes and cookies baked, soup made from bones, chickens killed and plucked, feathers made into pillows, milk separated and butter made.

When we first moved into the big house, Granny’s cow ‘Bossie’ was still there in a small barn with hayloft above opening into the back lane. My uncle would stake her out to graze on the long grass in the lane, which was really only used by the horse drawn baker’s wagon and the garbage trucks and 3 or 4 cars a day.

We didn’t keep her long, though I remember the raw milk and cream being great, and none of us liked home made butter. At the bottom of the garden was a chicken house and 2 runs, and we gradually thinned out the flock of Rhode Island Reds for Sunday dinner. The little barn made a fantastic fort for the neighbourhood gang but years after the chickens were gone we’d still get fleas if we went in there to poke around.

Between the house and henhouse there were 2 huge cherry trees about 40 ft high and great for climbing. My brother and I staked out one each. Climbing up and comfortably perching there any time except winter was a wonderful private place looking out over the rooftops in all directions.

The garden of course wasn’t confined to just useful vegetables and fruit. Grannie  had hired a Chinese gardener who also helped her with the flowers, many spring bulbs under the large walnut tree, hyacinth, bluebells and daffodils, lily of the valley, tulips by a large magnolia tree, and rock garden nearby. Near the front door were rose gardens, Virginia creeper over the front porch, and pink tea roses, and a large snowball tree in the corner by the cement gate posts.

Along the side of the house on Queen Ave was a huge locust tree, whose perfume from the blooms in spring was almost overwhelming.

We had a wonderful time in this old house. My brother and I were the right age just to enjoy and explore every nook and cranny, though I imagine to the older members of the family it was a tremendously hard job and a lot of worry.

My eldest sister, after finishing high school took a dressmaking course, and then worked for Madam Runge in Vancouver. She was our family femme fatale and put on some great fancy dress parties at home and had very interesting boyfriends, including a large red-headed Irish fellow with an infectious grin. They were married and lived in Vancouver with their 2 boys. My second sister married soon after, a dark good looking New West boy. They lived in a little house on 7th Ave in New West then moved to Burquitlam until they retired to Mayne Island.

Growing up in the big house suited me fine, all of us walked by various routes about 4 blocks to school in our early teens with friends, never each other. After school there was roller skate hockey on Queens Ave, or roller skate tours all over the town on nice evenings. There was a pond we dug out near a garden tap, about 12 ft square, which we turned into a model lake, making wharves and boats out of scrap lumber. There was hide and seek, run sheep run played with the street lamp as goal, and the whole neighbourhood and College Park to get lost in. In winter we would sleigh ride 2 blocks down the hill, because the few cars couldn’t make 2nd St hill anyhow, and the roads were like glass from the bobsleighs.

Sundays were Sunday school at 11 at the Baptist Church at Queens and 7th St then home to a huge Sunday dinner and weather permitting, out for long walks or a drive in ‘Dorothy Dodge’, the 1920 Touring model car with the black leather seats, glass windows in the convertible canvas top, and wooden spoke wheels.

The best part of the year was the summer, of course, when we loaded summer clothes, food and blankets in canvas gunny sacks and Indian Blankets, strapped everything to the running boards with the collapsible iron grill and took off for the house at White Rock.

There we enjoyed freedom, pure and undiluted. We had to be home for meals and at dark for bed, otherwise we were on our own. The beach was safe, and there were no obnoxious people it seemed then. Dad would go back to New West to help with the canning and keep an eye on the house, then he’d arrive again with the car laden down with fruit and other food. We’d descend like locusts on the car with cries of ‘Food! Food!’ as if we hadn’t stuffed ourselves recently.

We caught crabs and boiled them on the beach, and cockles which were steamed and then made into chowder. (Note: there is a hand written recipe card with the chowder recipe, which I still have). Blackberry and huckleberry hunts helped the ever hungry kids as well as Mother baking every day.

We all taught ourselves to swim and dive off the float that an old retired resident built from beach logs every year for the kids, just east of the White Rock. We’d put a tent up on the beach and spend most of the day and evening there, building sand castles and cars etc and soaking up the sun and sea water, bonfires and marshmallow roasts and first romances when the sun went down. Around 9 everyone walked down the board walk onto the pier to watch the Great Northern with its great steam engine come in, then home for a last cup of cocoa and bed.

Posted by: lmcg1 | July 6, 2017

Summers of sixty-nine

I recently came across this essay, How to Narrate Your Life Story, on one of my favourite sites, The Book of Life, which has a large collection of essays reflecting all aspects of life and living. It was timely as I have been reflecting, as we always do, but I guess more so these days because of ongoing transitions and approaching a big rollover of the life odometer. (This has just been put out as a short video too).

I like this quote from the essay, which sums up how I am beginning to come to terms with my own story:

“Good – by which is meant fair-minded and judicious – narrators know that lives can be meaningful even when they involve a lot of failure and humiliation. Mistakes do not have to be absurd; they can be signs of how little information we have on which to base the most consequential decisions. Messing up isn’t a sign of evil; it’s evidence of what we’re up against.”  

This summer marks my last year of the sixties. I turned 69 last mid-summer and will leave it behind soon. It is funny how numbers seem to come up and reverberate.

1969 was when I graduated from university and got my first real job. I worked in a Botany research lab at UBC. That was the start of many years working as a research tech in various places. The first is a photo my Mum took of me around that time. Those were the days of mini skirts, so she only took the photo to the edge of my dress. She always warned me to be careful getting on and off the bus.  The other is of me in the lab about the same time. I look at these photos in a state of wonder sometimes, because I don’t really recognize me. I guess most of us have an image of ourselves, and it either does or doesn’t match what one actually sees. The third one is from last fall, at 69.

me 1968 sm

1969

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Lab tech UBC

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at 69

1969 was the ending of a decade that had seen so many changes. I came across an old newspaper special section that I had kept, from the Vancouver Sun of December 1969. The front page was all illustrations from the decade. And what a decade:

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Music – the Beatles, British invasion, summer of 69, Trudeau (the elder), the Kennedy’s, Martin Luther King, Churchill, Vietnam, computers, moon landing, Bay of Pigs, ‘turn on, tune in, drop out’, San Francisco. Exhilarating and confusing times.

Looking to those days, which seem now pretty innocent compared to current times, I think of choices made or not made and wonder. The old quote probably all of us can identify with – if I only knew then what I know now. I’d also modify that a bit – if we only knew then, what we know now about how our brains work, about mental health, about human development, about brain plasticity. But from the quote above, “Mistakes do not have to be absurd; they can be signs of how little information we have on which to base the most consequential decisions.”

I read in the paper this morning that Richard Ford, a Pulitzer Prize winning author, has written a book called “Between Them: Remembering my Parents”. In the interview about the book he said that even at 74, he still misses his parents. This struck a chord, as I also miss my parents. Interestingly, another one of those number reverberations became apparent when I read about this. I was about 35 years old when they died, about 35 years ago.

I have been thinking about them quite a lot over the past couple of years because of a number of personal and mental health reasons. I have often thought how I would like to have been able to talk to them now.

One of the most important discoveries I have come across about human development and relations has been the work around Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). This began as a study in the mid 1990s, and has only fairly recently come into general public knowledge and use. A couple of years ago, a book by Donna Jackson Nakazawa called ‘Childhood Disrupted: How Your Biography Becomes Your Biology and How You Can Heal”, was recommended to me. You know when you have one of those ‘aha’ moments? Well, it was more than that. After spending decades trying to find answers to questions I had about myself, this book finally provided the most relatable and significant ones. It has been like a key finally unlocking a black box.

Over the past while, I have had the opportunity to do more reading, to talk with family members, to think and reflect, and to begin to do meditation (Headspace – it is excellent and has helped a great deal), to start to sort out my mind and put things in perspective. I have come to realize how difficult the lives of my parents and grandparents were, affected by the wars and all the upheaval of the times. Wounded as they were, both physically and mentally, they did the best they knew how to live their lives and work hard for their families.

I am grateful now that I have lived to the point where I am. Both my parents died in their early 60s, so I have outlived them both. One never knows how many days one will get, so I have come to appreciate each one that I have.

So ~ “It does not need to be a tale told by an idiot signifying nothing. It can be a tale told by a kind, intelligent soul signifying rather a lot: like almost every life story, it is in truth a tale of a well-intentioned, flawed, partially blind, self-deceived but ultimately dignified and good human struggling against enormous odds and, sometimes, on a good day, succeeding just a little in a few areas.” (Book of Life)

 

A.W. Poster April 2017

Posted by: lmcg1 | January 29, 2016

Reunions and revisiting

It has been a while since I last wrote on the blog, over a year actually. When I wrote about some family history that I had discovered back in November 2014, it was part of the process of digging deeper about how I got to where I am now, to understand better, and to put some things to rest.

2015 wasn’t an easy year on the whole, family illness, my favourite aunt passing away, friends ill and passing away, taking a hard look at myself, coming out of depression. By years’ end, I started to feel cautiously optimistic that things will be better.

When I found out more information about my family history, it opened up a lot of avenues to explore. With a lot of further research and reading I finally felt that I was getting somewhere in my search for underlying elements that had affected my family and me. It has been such a relief. I will go into more detail about this in another post.

A part of this was a positive experience that I had during the summer – going to my 50th high school reunion. I have had mixed feelings all my life about the place where I grew up, a small coastal town in southern BC. I had always wanted to escape from it when I was young, which I did. I came to realize though, that it wasn’t the place I had wanted to escape from but from the life that I had there growing up. There were good parts, but in finally looking back with a new perspective, there were quite a few not so good parts. I also came to understand and acknowledge the root of these things so that I can finally let them go after all this time.

I decided I would go, to put some things to rest. I figured that if it was awful, I could always just leave. Instead, I had a lovely time, reconnected with the people I had known all those decades ago, was so pleased to see what they had done, all of us really. I had a good wander around over the few days there, and found that all but one of the places I had lived was gone, rebuilt, as were all of the schools, but for one. I walked all over, walked and drove my old routes to school, and put it into a good place of remembrance. One of my school mates I met reminded me that back in grade 9, we had shared the proficiency award. I had totally forgotten that. Someone found the photo that was taken to put into the local paper. Here it is, pretty blurry as it is from a scan of a 45 year old newspaper, but good to have nonetheless. Unfortunately, she wasn’t in the photo.

July 19 1962, me WR Sun photo

house on zero ave peace arch 1953

My Dad, my brother and I, at the house on Zero Ave, 1953.

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The house on Zero Ave. July 2015. Apparently it is to be sold, so that will be the last of the houses I lived in gone.

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The only school left that I attended, this one for grade one. It is a heritage site. The other elementary, junior high and high schools I attended are no more.

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One of the walks to school that I took in grades 2 and 3. Lots of hills!

Dad and Grandpa Wooster

My Dad and Grandpa in front of the house on Washington Ave, 1944.

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The white balcony house, rather tatty looking, sits on the site of my grandparents’ house now.

me 65 grad dress

Me dressed to go to grade 12 grad. This house is also gone now, just a pile of dirt when I went by.

I also found this in the local paper archives our class photos after seeing it at the reunion:

June 10 1965 WR Sun grad photos

Reading the article, I found out I had received the PTA Bursary, one of the 25 Service Crests, and one of the three A Student crests. I really managed to bury my accomplishments.

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Drama club, many of whom came to the reunion. We had a good time looking at the old programs and reminiscing about our drama teacher, Miss Watts, who is still living in England.

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Me 50 years later. I got to have a ride in this lovely red motorbike with side car, that belongs to one of my high school friends. Such fun, but I don’t know that I could go on an extended tour!

I thank all those who worked so hard to put on our reunion. They did a wonderful job finding all of us scattered here and there, finding photos and mementoes, organizing great food and music, putting together the memorial, including the piper’s accompaniment, to those no longer with us, and allowing us to visit with each other once again. Good memories made.

 

 

Posted by: lmcg1 | January 10, 2016

A new site for textile artists – Textillia

To start the new year, I’d like to write about a new textile arts site called Textillia.

To quote the ‘About’ page,

‘Textillia is an online database and community for all manner of sewing and fabric enthusiasts! We welcome quilters, garment, accessory, and home decor sewists, and textile artists such as embroiderers, dyers, and people who print fabric.’ I recommend that you go to the ‘About’ page as it has a great description of the site and its aims.

I must admit to having a connection to the creators of the site, Ariane and Bruno, my daughter and son-in-law. These two very creative people have taken their multiplicity of talents to develop a great site for anyone who has anything to do with textiles.

To access the site, it is necessary to register, which is free at the moment. Take a look at all the projects people are posting, as well as patterns and fabrics. There are also a large number of forums (or fora for the grammatically precise) covering topics like quilting, patterns, projects, fabrics, workshops, locating things, problem solving etc. And there is also a blog. So lots to see, work with and participate in.

I used to sew a lot, starting when I was in junior high, in the dim mists of time. Then we learned basic sewing in home ec. I remember we made our apron (bibbed, pleated, ties), a box pleated skirt, and a top. I actually first learned to sew on an old Singer treadle machine when I was about 6, ‘making clothes’ for my dolls. I wish I had that machine still. It was much like this one.

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By the time home ec came along we had a basic electric machine. Although I didn’t continue with home ec, it started me on many years of sewing, because it was an inexpensive way to get clothes for me. I went on to make all kinds of things over the years, including clothes for my daughter.

Which brings me back to Textillia. I don’t have a lot of what I made any more, but I did keep a few of the things I made for my daughter, and it has been fun to revisit them and put them up on the ‘Projects’ page. Other people looking at them actually helped me to find a company I had used 30 years ago, from England, for clothing kits. And it is still in business!

Also, back in 1992 I had taken a hand quilting class, and got 12 squares made. Then put it away. I got it back out again last month, and decided that I need to finish it. So after quite a few years having left sewing behind, and actually getting rid of most of my ‘stash’ – sewists will know what I mean – and most of my patterns, I just ordered some patterns and am working on the quilt. All thanks to Textillia!

So get inspired and join the new online sewing community. See you there!

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flying geese sq

 

 

Posted by: lmcg1 | November 11, 2014

Remembrance, Legacies, Reflections

2014 marks a couple of historical milestones: first, the beginning of the First World War; second, 70 years since my parents married, and my Dad was in France during the Second World War. I also had two uncles who participated in WWII, both in the Air Force. My mother’s brother was killed, aged 22, in 1942 in a training crash. My Dad’s brother made it through, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross. So when November 11 comes around each year, I always find myself thinking about them. However, I never knew very much about what actually happened during my Dad and my Grandfather’s involvement.

My paternal grandfather, who had emigrated to Canada in 1910, signed up and fought as a Canadian soldier. I recently went back through old family papers, and found that he served with the Canadian Expeditionary Force, signing up in 1916, and serving with the 102 Battalion Comox Atlin. That bit of information lead me, because of old records being made accessible on the net, to find out something about what he may have done. He started as a Private, and ended his service in 1919 as a Sergeant and served in France and Belgium. From the ‘Canadian Expeditionary Force Study Group’ page:

“The 102nd Canadian Infantry Battalion was organized in November 1915 under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel J. W. Warden under authorization published in General Order 151 of 22 December 1915. The battalion was mobilized in Comox and recruited in northern British Columbia.

The battalion embarked at Halifax 20 June 1916 aboard EMPRESS OF BRITAIN, disembarking in England on 28 June 1916. Its strength was 37 officers and 968 other ranks. The battalion arrived in France on 11 August 1916, becoming part of the 4th Canadian Division, 11th Canadian Infantry Brigade. It was later reinforced by the 16th Canadian Reserve Battalion. The battalion returned to England on 4 May 1919, disembarked in Canada on 6 June 1919, was demobilized on 14 June 1919, and was disbanded by General Order 149 of 15 September 1920.”

This battalion fought in France and Flanders: SOMME, 1916″, “Ancre Heights”, “Ancre, 1916”, “ARRAS, 1917, 18”, “VIMY, 1917”, “Hill 70”, “YPRES, 1917”, “PASSCHENDAELE”, “AMIENS”, “Scrape, 1918”, “Drocourt-Quéant”, “HINDENBURG LINE”, “CANAL du NORD”, “VALENCIENNES”, “France and Flanders, 1916-18”.

I also found a fascinating account of the 102 Battalion, written in 1919, right after the war, by L. McLeod Gould, called ‘From B.C. to Baisieux; being the narrative history of the 102nd Canadian Infantry Battalion’. I have read parts of it, and it is very direct. How the men survived is amazing. When they began to train in Comox, they had no rifles, so all they did was march. They only received arms training, for a few weeks, once in England. There is a second site about the battalion’s history which also refers to Gould’s book, plus photos and one soldier’s diary.

Knowing from history about these battles, I am amazed that my Grandfather survived. I don’t know any specific details, but with the information I now have, I might be able to find out more with further research. My Grandfather married my Grandmother in 1917 in England, and my Dad was born the following year. They came back to Canada after the end of the war. He was a founding, and lifelong member of the Great War Veterans’ Association which later joined with the Royal Canadian Legion.

 

Fred & Ivy wed 1917

As for my Dad, I really knew nothing at all, until just a few weeks ago. I just knew he was in a tank, in France, and was wounded. Period. He never talked about any of the experiences of actual fighting. He would tell the occasional story about meeting aunts and cousins and his brother, who was in the Air Force. Recently, in talking to my brother about family things, he told me that he did once talk to our Dad about his experiences. Our Dad died over 30 years ago, of cancer, just after his 62nd birthday. I often wondered if it was as a result of his war experience because he was in tanks, which were lined with asbestos. Anyway, my brother told me what battalion he was in, and a little about what Dad told him. I hope to find out more in the future, but from what I learned, and what I have been able to find out, again online in the past few weeks, well, it gave me some sleepless nights and a few tears, and also some resolution to many questions I had.

I didn’t know that he had first tried to enlist in the navy, but was refused because of his poor eyesight. Which was interesting because he was accepted January 1942 in Vancouver into the Infantry. He was assigned to the 4th Canadian Armoured Division and headed off to Borden in Ontario to undergo training as a communications person in the tank division. Again, how underprepared these men were. In January 1942 when this division was set up, from a report called the Flames of War, was the following information:

“The immediate problem was that not a single member of the division knew anything about tanks, nor did they even possess a tank. The only place that had tanks was the Canadian Armoured Fighting Vehicle Centre at CFB Borden. A group of division personnel were sent to Borden to train as instructors in February so that they could begin to train the rest of the division.”

The commander in Borden happened to find out that there were 165 tanks sitting on the docks in Halifax waiting to be shipped to England. He managed to get permission for a few of them to be sent back to Ontario. This is how they ended up training:

“No regiment had more than fifteen tanks, so each squadron took turns operating an actual tank while the remainder did dismounted drills with wooden H’s made of 2” x 2” lumber.” Incredible!

From what I can figure so far, he went to England in March 1944, shortly after he and Mum were married. They took the train to Winnipeg as their honeymoon, and he kept going East. She came back to New Westminster.

mum dad wed

There are several sites that have reports on where his division fought, most notable, right after D-Day, as part of the push to liberate Belgium and France: Flames of War; The Falaise Gap (Canada at War);  The Canadian Army 1939-1945; The Falaise Pocket. So interesting to see that both he and his father fought in the same areas – France and Belgium.

On History Channel, for the past two nights, and continuing tomorrow, has been short programs called War Stories and they have covered this exact period. It has been both awful and enlightening to see the film footage and to hear the quiet stories of the men, from both sides of the war. Horrific doesn’t begin to cover it. From what my brother told me, Dad was in the tanks that participated in this. He told of having to drive over bodies on the road, of seeing the tank next to him blown up, with his childhood friend in it. At one point, their division, along with a Polish division, were caught near the German tank division. Apparently, of the 28 tanks, only about 5 made it out, his being one. Sometime later, I don’t know when or where, his tank was hit. The two men in the lower part of the tank were killed instantly. Dad was sitting higher (that’s him on the right, partway out of the hatch); the sole of his boot was blown off. He and the fourth man, who sat at the top of the turret, escaped before the tank burned up. As they were running for a ditch, Dad was shot in the leg, and the other man dragged him for quite a long way until they were safe. I don’t know any more, other than he eventually was back in England, and what he did until he came back home, is unknown at this point. Watching the film, there were several shots of tanks and I wonder if one of them was his. In the sky, the Air Force was bombing massively. Was that his brother up above him? Quite likely.

Dad tank

When I look at the photo of the two brothers before they went overseas, they looked so relaxed and easy. Coming home later, I know my Dad was affected, and now I have a bit of a better idea why and how. How could anyone even stand that mentally? I don’t think they could, and they returned with something fundamental broken.

Dad Doug steps 40s

For my Mum, her only brother, the youngest in the family, signed on to be a pilot. I have a few letters he wrote to her from Regina, Calgary and Comox. He died when his plane crashed in Patricia Bay, Victoria. They were close, in age, and as brother and sister. His death ended their line of the family, which had been traced back to 1662. Their family was deeply affected.

My Uncle, who was killed.

My Uncle, who was killed.

There has been a lot about the military in the news in the last while, maybe because of the various anniversaries around the two world wars, about the continuing unrest in various parts of the world, about PTSD (a term which only came into official use in the 1980s), about available help or lack thereof, for military personnel who are injured, in body and/or in mind. For these soldiers, they were expected to buck up, shut up, go home, and get on with life, which they did to greater and lesser degrees. This latter issue has been on my mind for a while.

Recently on the CBC radio program The Sunday Edition, there was a feature on PTSD. The interesting thing was the response letters that were sent, most from children of WW II veterans. All I can say is ‘yes’, that’s how it was. There are good memories, and there are not so good ones. Grandparents, parents, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, cousins, children, all affected.

Little by little, more is being written about our generation and the effect of WW II on our families. One that resonated was from the Huffington Post. It is helpful to finally find such information. Maybe someday the chain of the effects of war on families will be broken, so that our families are not. In a peaceful and safe country like ours, Canada, we still see the effects of war 100 years later, on the ordinary people who left their homes, travelled a long way, and experienced the unimaginable. If fighting stopped today in other parts of the world, it would be another 100 years before the effects on those ordinary people would begin to diminish.

I loved my Dad, my Grandfather, and my Uncles, ordinary men, three of whom somehow survived the far from ordinary. So on this Remembrance Day, marking 100 years of the start of WW I, and 70 years after my Dad’s participation in WW II, I remember and reflect, and think about the legacies.

Posted by: lmcg1 | September 28, 2014

Wooster Farm 2014

This past September, I had the privilege to spend a week at Wooster Farm, at the former summer home of American Impressionist Frank Weston Benson. I came across both the place and the workshop by pure luck last winter. I saw a report in the weekly email from Plein Air magazine, about a workshop that had been held at this site last September. What caught my eye was the name of the farm. Wooster is a family name, and the east coast, particularly Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, and New Brunswick are the areas where the family established itself, beginning in the early 1600s. I had not heard of this particular place, so I was intrigued to find out more about it.

Also, I have been interested in learning more about plein air painting, something I had not done much of. I have tried on and off over time, but was never much satisfied with what I did, and so had been keeping an eye out for a workshop. You can read more about the actual workshop over on my art blog, Redberry Art. When I saw the article, I immediately searched out Tom Dunlay, the Boston painter who conducted the workshop, to say I was interested in taking one if he did another at a future date. Fortunately, he decided to do another one this year, so I signed up and started planning. Tom sent me a link to an article that was written about the first workshop in 2013 entitled ‘Following the Light’. That really made me determined to go, both for the place and the workshop.

Wooster Farm is on the island of North Haven, off Rockland, Maine. The farm and Wooster Cove show up on old maps. If you scroll down there are several. The property has water on both sides, Wooster Cove to the south and the strait between North Haven and Vinalhaven Islands to the east. To get there, I ended up flying to New Brunswick, driving to Rockland, and taking the ferry to North Haven. We had a beautiful week of sunny weather, with only a couple of cloudy or rainy afternoons. I did some digging in the family history and on line and found out some interesting things.

The original farm was owned by David Wooster, who, according to the family tree, was the brother of Oliver Wooster, the branch from which our family came. So a very long ago, many-great uncle. There is an on-line copy of a book about farms on North Haven; on pgs 2, 49, 121, and 133 there are references to various Woosters who lived on the island and to the original farm. The reference to Levi Wooster, who raised a barn in 1827 is intriguing. Was this the barn at the farm that Frank Benson turned into his studio? Based on the age of the structure, I wouldn’t be at all surprised. There was music at the barn raising and a song sung:

Fiddle and rum, fiddle and rum,

Mr Wooster and Mrs Wooster

and all hands come.

Wooster Farm, Wooster Cove in background

Wooster Farm, North Haven Island

The hill, where Benson painted many of his famous paintings is directly behind the house (you can see the slope going up). Also, the curved white bench on the front porch of the house is the original bench which appears in several paintings.

 

Barn, at the corner of Wooster Farm and Benson Roads

The Barn which became Benson’s studio, at the corner of Wooster Farm and Benson Roads

Barn, roof structure

I have a collection of photos of the the farm and cove on my photo site, so you can see more details of the buildings and property. There is also Tom Dunlay’s Facebook page from Wooster Farm Workshop 2014 where photos are being posted.

The other interesting thing, when I looked at the family tree my grandfather wrote out by hand, there were several instances of Wooster/Benson marriages, albeit in New Brunswick. So I wonder if there were both Woosters and Bensons who left this area as United Empire Loyalists, who were related to the Woosters and Bensons that ended up on North Haven. In a quirk of history, that is exactly what happened at the workshop. Ellen, who was my roommate at the farm, during the workshop, is the great-great granddaughter of Frank Benson. So the names came together again.

Benson and Wooster descendants

Benson and Wooster descendants

 

The best thing is that the property is being preserved by its current owners. They also have some of Frank Benson’s personal property which can be found in the house and the barn. One of his easels and a palette is there, plus household items. Photos of the Benson family have been enlarged and are placed around the walls of the barn/studio. Also, when Benson painted, he cleaned his brushes and palettes and scraped the paint onto the walls of the studio. So several places around the walls have these great blobs of paint.

Paint scrapings, palette and photo of Frank Benson

Paint scrapings, palette and photo of Frank Benson

Here are a couple more items I found about the place that talk about its history and legacy:

Dreamy Days at Wooster Farm

A Rainy Day: Frank Benson’s Maine Interiors

People who have stayed on North Haven

Artist Frank Benson; Seasons in the Sun

A Ray of Sunlight – this one has a lot of Benson’s paintings, particularly of his family on the hill near the house, where we went and painted as well.

 

Posted by: lmcg1 | August 4, 2014

Always something new to learn

I have come to realize that, although I had thought of myself as a reasonably educated person, there are areas where I am really lacking in knowledge and understanding. Sure, I have a general overview like I imagine most people do, from reading this and that, some articles, watching some programs. For a variety of reasons, the shallowness of my knowledge has become very apparent, and has led me to wonder, if I had had some level of education in these areas, might I have made better decisions and choices over the course of my life. Of course, hindsight is always 20-20, but one can’t help but wonder.

The areas that I want to learn more about now are philosophy, psychology, mindfulness, and something about Buddhism too. My educational background was all in the sciences, and back in the day, there was little space to take electives as every class had a lab. I managed a couple of arts appreciation classes, and that’s about it. I think that missing out on more of the liberal arts ended up being a real deficit.

So I am in the process of trying to remedy this, hoping that it is never to late to learn. To that end, I began this summer to start on a self-education venture. Here are a few of the things I have found so far.

Not too long ago, I came across a site, based in the UK, called The Philosophers’ Mail. It has a great many essays on all kinds of subjects, and I really enjoy the well-written and direct take on these various topics. Many that I have read so far are quite thought provoking and give a different perspective on the usual approach one sees.

A couple of my current favourites:

Why you are (probably) not a good communicator – a real favourite, as it hits very close to the target.

“Good communication means the capacity to give another person an accurate picture of what is happening in your emotional and psychological life – and in particular, the capacity to describe its very darkest, trickiest and most awkward sides in such a way that others can understand, and even sympathise with them.” “But most of us are, of course, appalling communicators – and that is because there is so much inside of us that we can’t face up to, feel ashamed of or can’t quite understand – and we are therefore in no position to present our depths sanely to an observer, whose affections we want to maintain.”

That about nails it.

The Philosophers’ guide to gratitude – gets to the concept of gratitude in a way that makes sense to me, thinking more deeply about what the expression of gratitude.

“It is equally important to know that the advocates of gratitude aren’t merely being naïve when they tell us to stop and appreciate flowers or a pretty sky; they know about suffering and darkness and are speaking up only because they have been to hell and back and concluded that in the end, what makes the journey worth it are a few outwardly humble but deeply significant things.”

Wisdom – something I am often short of. Here, wisdom is shown to be made up of several elements, and I know there a several of these where I need to do some study and work: realism, gratitude, folly, politeness, self-acceptance, forgiveness, resilience, envy, regrets, and calm.

Why you should clean up, not empty your mind – western, or Philosophical Meditation vs eastern meditation. I didn’t know there was a difference. Something else to explore. There is a link in this piece to a guide to Philosophical Meditation, and at the end of that piece, a free pdf. (I keep typing medication, interesting Freudian slip).

There are lots more interesting topics on this site to peruse.

As far as the Buddhism goes, I have so far read one of Pema Chodron’s books, ‘Start Where You Are’. She has a pretty clear way of writing, so I can sort of understand, but I think I will have to reread it again to get a better understanding of all the words and terms and their meaning and implications. It is certainly interesting. I have started on another of her more recent books, ‘When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times.’ It is in the same vein, but more about being kind to oneself when you have made many mistakes so that one can become empathetic and compassionate towards others.

I am trying some mindfulness meditation, just beginning this process, and will see how it goes. I’ll have to try the philosophical version too and see if there are pros and cons, or maybe they will both be useful. Even though I am a real newbie at this, it is noticeably helping when my mind starts to spin down into the negative drain.

One of the things that has struck me, very recently, from the various readings, the above as well as others, is the place of fear in one’s life and how recognizing it, understanding it, and then finding ways to come to terms with it, is very important. I can say with a great deal of certainty that I have not recognized the role of fear in my life. Therefore, I haven’t recognized it in others either. How often do we say “I’m afraid I can’t go out tomorrow” or some such? It is such a superficial,  easily, and commonly used phrase. Maybe this offhand way glosses over what might be the real fear underlying all kinds of actions and behaviours, both my own and others. It is something that bears further examination, for me at least. This is not fear of spiders or heights, but the fear that we might be judged, or dismissed, or discarded among other negative reactions. If I can understand it better for myself, I hope that I can become more empathetic towards others, in recognizing that they also have fears that come out as actions and behaviours that overlay what is really going on underneath.

There is all kind of material about dealing with one’s fears in the various literatures, so it now becomes a matter of getting to work and reading it first, then deciding how to deal with it all. I wish I had known about some of this many years ago. It would have been a different journey.

 

 

 

Posted by: lmcg1 | June 11, 2014

Art Trek 2014

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Art Trek, now in its third year is featuring nine artist studios and collectives, and will take place June 13th and 14th!

Date and HoursFriday, June 13, 5 p.m. – 10 p.m. and Saturday, June 14, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. (Map below)

You are invited to visit The Studio on 20th, a light-filled working and exhibition space for ten Saskatoon painters. Stall Gallery Basement Studio C is the working studio of the co-owners of the Stall Gallery on 20th Street and two doors away, the MIX Artists’ Collective has found a temporary exhibition space at Green Ark Collected Home on 20th. The 330 Design Group is a collective of sculptors located up the street in a delightful grotto of a former church basement. A short distance away in the Exhibition area, Atelier 2302 offers classes and workshops to the public and specializes in classical drawing and painting techniques. Just off Broadway, exciting works can be expected from the Artists’ Workshop at the Grace-Westminster Church and theTextile Arts Group (TAG), a collective of fibre artists, is located in the Church’s basement. Closer to the city core, Studio 5 can be found on the fifth floor of the Charter House building and features the work of painters, printmakers and a fabric artist. Finally, Lauriston Street Studios is a collective of artists who paint, sculpt and create glass art in the beautiful City Park area.

This is going to be THE weekend in Saskatoon for art lovers and city explorers! Take the studio tour at your own pace to discover some of Saskatoon’s finest artists, watch them at work in their spaces, talk to them about their art-making processes and experience a wide variety of demonstrations.

For more information reach us at Facebook:www.facebook.com/ArtTrekSaskatoon

Also, follow us on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/ArtTrekYXE

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Posted by: lmcg1 | May 1, 2014

May Day Musings

After all the years I have lived here on the prairies, one would think that I would learn that spring does not arrive until the beginning of May. I just looked back, and yes, every end of April, beginning of May, I say ‘spring is late this year again’. Well, not really. Interesting how ingrained this thought is.

I grew up on the west coast, and of course spring comes weeks earlier, and by this time of the year, everything is in full flower. Whereas here, there a tiny little hints of growth.

shoots

It is just another indication, that I have come to understand over the past year or so, of how much our growing-up years influence us, in so many subtle and not-so-subtle ways. There is so much one can be unaware of, or vaguely aware. Becoming aware has been a slow process. There has been a lot to learn and that will be an ongoing process. There has been a lot to face, to contemplate, to find out over the winter. With the coming of spring, I am hoping that all metaphorical hibernation that has gone on over the winter will bring forward new growth in me.

Some of the things I have been thinking about have been along the lines of discovering ideas in psychology, behavioural research, philosophy and such. Quite a lot has involved taking as objective a look as possible at myself, not always a pleasant undertaking. However, positive knowledge has come out of it and now I need to take that knowledge and begin to apply it.

For quite a while I wondered if it was too late to learn new ways of thinking. Then I reminded myself that I am always trying to learn new things. This was reinforced when I read an interesting article I saw about mindset, which was describing a new book on the subject by Carol Dweck. The article talks how being of one of two mindsets – fixed or growth – affects a lot about our lives. The article is worth a read, has implications for any age, for personal understanding and for parenting and educating young children as well. A summary statement is intriguing: The key difference between the two mindsets — for those with a growth one, “personal success is when you work your hardest to become your best,” whereas for those with a fixed one, “success is about establishing their superiority, pure and simple. Being that somebody who is worthier than the nobodies.”

Another piece I found interesting came about from one of those lists that turn up on various sites. I think this one was on a Facebook feed. It was a Huffington Post item on ‘23 signs you are secretly an introvert.‘ I read it for fun because I think of myself as an introvert and of course I could identify with several of the points. One of them was more interesting that the usual though, and it was #16 – You have a constantly running inner dialogue. Well, doesn’t everyone? Apparently not. You mean not everyone has this non-stop discussion going on in their heads? That was a revelation. I started looking at several of the links in the article which lead to new-to-me information about introverts, the result of recent research. The old idea I had about being shy and retiring was really quite outdated, and there is some very interesting new information that actually gave me a major ‘aha’. This podcast with another researcher, Marti Olsen Laney, was particularly enlightening.

I didn’t know that one of the main differentiating features between introverts and extraverts was how each type dealt with their energy, introverts recharging by taking quiet time and extraverts by being around others. Introverts expend energy with everything they do and extraverts gain energy from what they are out doing in the world. Nothing to do with shyness. Also that introverts and extraverts use different brain chemicals to process their thoughts and actually have different thought patterns. If you think you might be an introvert, this is worth listening to. So many things that have been said to me about the way I am, as if there is something wrong with the way I think and how I feel and need, are actually based in brain chemistry (acetylcholine for introverts vs dopamine for extraverts). Examples: having to think before talking, writing more easily than talking, having to have quiet alone time, not being able to engage in much conversation after 10 pm, reading too much, being odd for not wanting the radio or tv going all the time, being odd for being able to tune out background noise. Did you know that introverts actually have a lot of advantages, like aging better? This talk was the ‘aha’. There isn’t anything wrong, it is just the way I am wired. Such a simple explanation that simply opened my eyes to me. It took a huge weight off.

Another spin off is the whole noisy brain thing. This has lead to looking into ways to quieten it down, and this has lead to mindfulness (and yoga, which I have been doing and enjoy that quieter time). This is an area I am really not very knowledgeable about, but plan to do a lot more learning. Another interesting article is about how we suffer (this also has to do with Buddhist thought, another area I am not well versed in and intend to explore more as it goes with mindfulness). Two items are ‘Neuroscience of suffering – and its end‘, about how someone was able to get his brain to shut up,  and ‘Mindfulness: more than a fad, less than a revolution‘, about using mindfulness in the UK Government, among other things. I think this will be my spring project. Learning to turn down/off the useless/pointless/negative loops is something I really look forward to.

One other piece that has been very useful to me is a video, by Dr Gabor Mate, about attachment, when one is a child, and how poor attachment has long term effects in life. This had a great deal of resonance for me, having grown up in a family with parents who had mental illness. There is so much good information out there now. Also, there are good people who can be of help too, when you can’t do it by yourself. It is worthwhile, in the end, facing the hard parts. There are still more I have to work through; I am optimistic that I will be able to do it. It is important that I do.

 

 

 

 

 

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