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Letters Of Hope From Mom and Bill Gates

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My young playful Mom

I got a bunch of letters from my Mom the other day.

There were, and still are, hours of wonderful reading and digesting.

The artistically sculpted handwriting that wove the stories of my family’s daily goings-on wasn’t a genetic trait passed on to me as it was to my two sisters … I find my words sinking into a steadily deteriorating scribble that’s readable, but just.

Did I mention that my Mom died more than 45 years ago?

Obviously, the letters that I’m talking about weren’t written yesterday. They’re nestled in a box of archived family photos and memorabilia I’ve held onto. A good deal of it has also been passed to me by others, my siblings, aunts and uncles and distant cousins.

My eyes glaze a tiny bit as I hum Jim Croce’s Photographs and Memories.

My night owl Mom would write late at night when she was most awake, the house dark and silent. Sitting at the dining room table, smoking her homemade, unfiltered cigarettes, her words and thoughts glided onto the pages. Sometimes 3, 4, even 10 pages long.

Most of the letters were written in the 1960’s and early 1970’s to my older brother Robert who had moved west to Edmonton for university. These were the years where my siblings and myself were at our most volatile and malleable, the times when most of our life’s major decisions were being formulated and dreamed.

Lots of talk about school exams and boyfriends/girlfriends/weddings, painful ear infections, paper routes and bitter snowstorms.

 

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The “small” stories held in the probably more than 200 pages of handwritten love aren’t the ones that capture newspaper headlines: there are no abbreviations like LOL or UR or WTF, the script lines are written on clean white unlined paper, mostly 8.5 x 11 inch.

The grammar and spelling are excellent (although I would call her out for using real instead of the adverb really!) given they were written by a farm girl from tiny Hillsburg, Ontario, born in an era when education for girls was far less important than striving for their MRS.

Mom’s words were mostly fun and newsy and very optimistic. Nostalgic and warm. Written close to the end of her years – she sadly died before she reached 61 years old – they were filled with the plans and stories that show a woman who found the best in each person and the immense love for the family that she had surrounded herself with.

Yes, my Mom was dedicated to her family … my Mom was optimistic despite any troubles that no doubt existed. Everyone has troubles.

Sure, Mom would have had problems (tell me one woman with 5 kids that doesn’t have troubles) … Bill Gates has troubles too I bet. Yes, THAT Bill Gates.

Bill Gates sees troubles in the world.

I got a bunch of words in a letter from Bill and Melinda Gates the other day.

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Their letter outlines a myriad collection of problems that exist in the world, “we’re highlighting nine more things that have surprised us along this journey. Some worry us. Others inspire us. All of them are prodding us to action. We hope they do the same for you, because that’s how the world gets better.”

I wasn’t a great fan of Bill Gates when he ran Microsoft.

He always seemed to be attempting to take over the technology of the world with inferior products. He shoved and elbowed to crush whatever competition was waiting and was willing to use all the levers at his devious disposal to eliminate them.

But since leaving as head of Microsoft 10 years ago, Gates and his partner Melinda have found a softer side, or at the very least, a very positive use for his drive to dominate.

The Gates Foundation is a huge philanthropic force dedicated to improving the lives of everyone using technology and intelligent processes. Diseases such as AIDS and malaria have been major focuses, as has the education of young women.

Gates is the antithesis of Trump… Gates, like me, believes that improving the lot of the poorest, sickest, and most destitute the world over improves all our lives. He uses real data, real news, real hope, to combat the fake and the transparently false.

Reading my Mom’s and Gates’ letters this week has left a warm glow inside me.

I’m always on the lookout for mentors, near and far… those who inspire with their deeds.

This week has brought me the gift of a positive glow from that most intimate source… my mother, speaking to me from the past… and an external source of wisdom and hope, Bill Gates, holding confidence and promise in the future.

Optimism … I watched Kacey Musgraves singing at the Grammy Awards this week… her simply optimistic song, Rainbow, “ … there’s always been a rainbow hangin’ over your head.”

Or, as Bill and Melinda Gates write: “The more optimists there are working for a better future, the more reasons there are to be optimistic.”

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This Is Us? That’ll Be The Day…

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Guilty Pleasures … Episode 1,012,325.

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… I was watching an episode of THIS IS US last night… and not just because I’ve had a minor crush on winsome girl-next-door Mandy Moore for years which – gulp – even to me seems kind of creepy knowing that I’m easily old enough to be her father.

Hey, there’s a psychotherapy session for another day. Squeeze me in between Norman Bates and Harvey Weinstein.

I watch the show because the stories are so raw, so borderline melodramatically overwrought, so personally intense… but eminently watchable. Every character is flawed and still lovable, so human.

This Is Us.

My only wish is that maybe they find time to shine a few more splashes of sunshine in their scripts. The best cinema and TV have a delicately sculpted balance of carefree and fun blended with sorrow and gloom.

I crave deep emotion and pathos, but I don’t want to plummet down a dark hole having them create a need in me for antidepressant pharmaceuticals where none exists at the moment.

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Last night’s episode titled That’ll Be The Day pierced me, and not only for the obvious reason of at last discovering the root of the family’s pain… you and I know that Buddy Holly’s song ends… that I die… yes, we now know when and how Jack died. I don’t want to seem impatient but OMG… that was more than enough foreplay.

In between distracted bites of carrot/banana/pineapple cupcakes with cream cheese icing I made earlier in the day, I was intimately drawn in when Randall (the adopted black “triplet”) said to his screwed-up white actor-brother Kevin, “… Dad’s already been gone longer than we had him.” 

Randall realizes that he’s lived longer without a father than he did with one.

Yes. This Is Us.

I’m now the age my mother was when she died.

Yes. This Is Us.

Randall reminded me that I’ve lived much longer without a mother and father than I did with parents. Inside, there’s this little nag telling me I’m a “dead man walking.”

The writers of This Is Us know how to turn us inside out, diving and examining the passage and import of our lives. That’s where its power lies.

Of course the writers of the show are skilled story-crafters who weave the past and present in wonderfully evocative ways, always leading us up and down alleys… alleys we know exist and what lies down them, but we desperately want them to show us even so. That’s impressive.

For years after, the triplets Randall and Kevin and Kate all live mournful moments in their lives because of the last interaction they shared with their father. An inner tape recording of their final conversation plays incessantly, shaping the adults they’ve become.

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It’s slightly tragic that we might allow ourselves to be affected by one negative prattle moment with someone we love.

My last conversation with my Mom on a sunny April afternoon didn’t end with a smile and a hug… it was more like me looking up like a little teenage jerk and saying, “God, stop bugging me Mom, I’ll apply at McDonald’s tomorrow or the next day”.

A month later I was a cherubic McBurger Flipper and my mother was lying cold underground.

That vaguely negative moment was our last, and I’ll admit that it lingered unhappily with me for a short while, but it doesn’t affect my tranquil memories or love for my Mom. A moment of crabbiness shouldn’t impinge on our obvious love and closeness.

I have a scrapbook in my head filled with cheerful memories and moments that have crowded out almost every other unfavourable second.

The arts we view and listen to pass through a fine filter between our ears as they reach our brain. A colander lies within us picking out the explanatory snippets telling us about who we are.

As you read these words, you may be delving inside, reliving some portion of your life that I’ve just reminded you of.

This Is Us.

We watch, absorb, connect, and live our lives over again – for better or worse – on-screen.

This is how we watch movies.

This is how we read books.

This is how we listen to music.

This is how we take heed of our neighbour telling us about his new motorcycle, or her sister’s operation.

Right now I’m enjoying the guilty pleasure of sitting here snug in a cozy office chair staring out my window. Random moments with free-ranging thought clouds.

Short fragments of dialogue between Kate, Randall and Kevin ping-pong through my head along with some soft guitar licks that punctuate and reinforce the sentiments of their story.

A luminous white snowline runs halfway down the valley hillside across in Naramata as I absorb delicious harmonies of Foxes and Fossils singing Helplessly Hoping, envisioning myself as the male “Fossil” singer in the middle… listening to my inner voice whispering…

This Is Us.

 

 

 

I’m A Time Traveller …

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You can shoot yourself REGRETTING the things you could have done differently.

Learn and move forward. Just hush the evil inner voices, kiss that fool’s regret goodnight, and go back to sleep.

The only regrets I have are for those things that I have no control over.

For example, I ofttimes regret that I wasn’t ever able to meet, much less know, my grandparents.

Do you ever find your head filled with imagined visions and voices of the people who came before you? If not for them and countless other forebears, you would have never sucked in this absurdly brief breath of time on earth.

It’s a wildly unlikely, miraculous 49 billion to 1 winning lotto ticket that you and I are here.

Occasionally in my daydreams, I transport myself back in time and place. Like a fly on the wall, I find myself in the cozy wood cookstove-heated kitchen of my Mom’s rural childhood farmhouse in the little Ontario town of Hillsburgh.

I see heavy snow drifting onto the outer windowsill above the kitchen sink, split-rail wood fences lining the field in the distance. I listen to the sounds of darned socks excitedly scuffing across wood floors. I feel myself sitting at the oak table fashioned by the hands of my great-grandfather James in the big old barn out back. I inhale some slices of steaming hot bread brought by my Grandma Maggie to the dining room fresh from the oven, slathered with butter. Butter that was hand-churned the day before by my Aunt Mabel in the parlour overlooking the front verandah where the family sits on sultry summer evenings.

Sharing breakfast with my grandmother Maggie, Grandpa Will, my aunts and uncles, and my tomboy Mom-to-be Lila, is magical in this imagined memory.

My grandparents Margaret (Maggie) and William (Will) on their wedding day

My grandparents Margaret (Maggie) and William (Will) on their wedding day June 8, 1898.

For me, it is all imagined because my grandparents were long gone when I arrived on the scene. My grandpa William died unexpectedly after a week long illness in the winter of 1935. In a letter written to my mother 12 days after his death, my grandmother Maggie writes,

Still we can’t help but notice the vacant chair. It seems so quiet.”

Only 8 years later, Maggie was found by my cousin Margie returning from school, resting pale and peaceful on the living room couch, taken by a heart attack.

At that time, I was wandering the streets of Hamilton as a lovelorn sperm and an egg, patiently waiting for a serendipitous meeting years later.

Today, the memories I hold of my grandparents are found only in photographs and in the written letters and stories left behind by my parents and older cousins.

I have questions.

Was my Grandma Maggie able to bake Wellington County’s best apple pie with tart Northern Spy apples growing by the back gate? Did she have a soprano lilt to her voice? Was my Grandpa Will a funny man, a witty story teller, or did he sometimes show a darker side, was he perhaps even a bit curmudgeonly? I don’t think so. His obituary states he:

was held in high esteem by all those with whom he came in contact. His kindly disposition gave him a wide circle of friends and neighbours…”

 

Yes, I’m full of questions that will never be answered, it’s just too late. And this is where I’m going to push you from behind. Before the sun sets on your chance, I want you to capture your dear family memories for your children and children’s children. No regrets, right?

Fourteen years ago, I gathered my clan’s stories into a book for a family reunion.

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My parents 1940 Wedding Photo next to my family stories book …

I collected written memories and stories from my brothers, sisters, and still-living aunts and cousins. Some are humorous, some are bittersweet, some are just fact-based. But they are about real people. Real people that loved others, felt anger, experienced disappointment, people that laughed and cried and worked and played.

Piecing these memories together along with scanned letters, marriage and death certificates, newspaper clippings and photographs, I gave birth to a hardcover book of more than 100 pages.

Inside the front and back covers I lined the pages with what family tree information I had or could find. There’s my Dad’s Green family lineage inside the front cover, my Mom’s Miller family heritage inside the back cover.

The treasure trove of small, personal anecdotes, fond and sorrowful recollections contained between the covers is even more priceless than a Mastercard commercial.

Granted, it took some time to put together. Yet it was worth every minute, especially considering that three key voices – my 96 year-old Aunt Lilian, my sister Marion, and sister-in-law Lois – are now lost forever, their words and memories immortalized.

Their thoughts can be read and shared for generations to come. These are people who will continue to exist because they contributed a few, modest reminiscences of their lives. Look and listen. A misty haze of the ephemeral human soul resides in their words between the covers.

Lacking their tales, their narratives, in a few short years they would remain only as tombstone dates and a photo or two; not real, blood-pumping, personality-rich individuals that meant so much to me and their loved ones and friends.

Genealogy without stories and personality is a pulseless corpse of time passed.

Will your children remember the young lady that was their grandmother when she was out dancing with her girlfriends past curfew and her father drove the streets all night looking for her? Will they know about Uncle John’s miserable night spent in jail after a barfight where he defended your Aunt Judy’s honour?

It’s weirdly fascinating to think that whiffs of my immortal DNA dust will roam the memory halls of the bloodstreams and heads of future generations. We’ll all be someone’s long passed brother, sister, great-aunt or -uncle, grandma or grandpa one day.

Now …

Right now is the time and chance to make your family song immortal, and maybe, just maybe, tell your side of that hilariously misunderstood story before that fateful bus runs, hurtling breathlessly out of control down Main Street like a flash of lightning, sending you into the hallowed halls of history.

No regrets, eh?

Hit by a bus