Home

Good Ole Days for this Good Ole Boy

2 Comments

Goodnight Jim Bob… goodnight Mary Ellen… goodnight Grandma… goodnight John Boy…..

… and on and on through the list of names called out in the cricket-clamorous darkness of a Virginia depression-era family.

Almost anyone of my vintage (or any of my children whom I forced to watch reruns!) would recognize the closing dialogue of this show…

Probably next to Hockey Night in Canada (Leafs vs Canadiens! GO Habs!!), my most treasured television program of my younger years was a treacly, heartwarming, and often bittersweet show called The Waltons (1972-1981).

I loved the show so much that we even named our eldest daughter after one of the show’s characters, Erin Walton.

The program for me was a bit like like Billy Joel’s lyrics…“it’s sad and it’s sweet and I knew it complete, when I wore a younger man’s clothes.”

WTH? Billy Joel on the road again?

I was perspiring, sweltering, glowing… working like a salt-stained Trojan through a treadmill run this week when I “ran” across a TV station replaying a 1970’s episode of The Waltons.

YES!

And yes again… because like so many things we look back on many years afterwards, it was even more syrupy and corny than I recalled, but still… I felt the heart-pulling pangs of lost innocence, the sweet scenes of family love and respect and order, even good Christian Godliness at its most pious.

The smell of pine trees and fresh-baked apple pies came through my TV screen; I could hear and touch the cool, rippling waters of the nearby fishing river and the hazy cloud of road dust clogging my nostrils as an old Model A Roadster or Ford Pickup rattled by on the 1930’s country roads.

My late father liked to describe his youth as “the good ole days“. As he spoke these words, I could see him playing “episodes” of his life inside his head.

As we age, we find ourselves looking back on the past in various forms of dreamy wonder and filmy carefreeness (I hope this is the case for most). Our minds fill with images and sensory input that meanders in and out while we sleep or as we pass through our daily lives.

Yet as sweet as the idea of “good ole days” is, I’d suggest that everything was rarely as fully idealistic and romantic as we might recall, but… so what… it seems better to try and idealize our past than to suffer through the traumas and dramas that were an inevitable part of those times.

Yesterday, just like today, was a mixture of breathtaking beauty and agonizingly beastly events. It comes to us all in varying degrees.

The Waltons helps me turn to this wondrous, dreamland state where it was always warm and sunny, everyone laughed and got along famously, Mom’s food (Mom’s were always the cooks in those days) was simple but delicious, and a summer day lasted a week.

Like the Waltons, my parents, siblings and I would come together and share Sunday dinners (always Roast Beef… in those times, the only vegetarian at our table was the cow we were consuming) each week as a group around the table.

We would chat and babble and portion out our stories of the day and the week just passed…

… my Mom would tell her tomboy tales of playing baseball on the farm with no gloves and smile as she reminisced of how her hands would ache from catching hard balls with no padding or protection; Dad would shell out his stories of his parents’ floral shop and his sisters playing piano in the parlour….

It was comforting to listen to sentimental remembrances of times I would never experience…

… and as I think back about all of this … I can hear those “Waltons” nostalgic sounds of harmonica and autoharp, the plaintive trumpet and accordion… as I enjoy the romantic memories of my own “good ole days”.

Twenty Years Ago Erstwhile…

Leave a comment

 

IMG_5758 (1).jpg

David Albert Green and Lila Margueretta Miller – my parents July 14, 1940

… we were all wide-eyed and baby-scented Millennials, growing accustomed to this once-in-a-lifetime new year that began with the number 2 – catching our collective breath knowing that we had magically survived Y2K pandemonium… but also…

… 20 years ago this month I coordinated, edited, and collated a family book for a reunion of my Mom and Dad’s children and grandchildren; a reunion that celebrated what would have been my parent’s 60th wedding anniversary, had they lived to see the day themselves.

I’ll tell you more about the book and why you might consider doing something similar yourself in a minute.

My oldest brother Robert and wife Lois organized the family’s gathering at Miette Hot Springs, about 60 k. northeast of Jasper in the majestic and rugged Rocky Mountains.

My 4 siblings, our kids, and I have spread out from our Ontario childhood home of Hamilton, east to Nova Scotia, and westward into Saskatchewan and beyond to Alberta and British Columbia. I guess we were ahead of our time; we practised social distancing on a family basis before it was COVID-fashionable. So prescient!

And so, on July 14, 2000, our Green/Miller family group huddled together and staged a mini-reenactment of the tiny wedding that had taken place – in the midst of World War II’s gathering intensity – in Greenfield Park (Quebec) United Church 60 years earlier with two witnesses only: my Mom’s brother Alvin and his wife Pearl.

Back to the book preps: To put the book together for this reunion I decided to approach it in a two-pronged manner:

1. Gather the raw data of genealogy: birthdates, marriage dates and death dates. This satisfied my “science” mind, the 123’s of how we got to where we were in history. The internet was still relatively fresh to us all in 2000, but I was surprisingly able to gather lots and lots of family intelligence and figures. I unearthed a flock of names and relationships that were blind to me up until then. This was exciting!

Pedigree or ancestry chart template with portraits of men and women in round frames. Visualization of links between ancestors and descendants, family members. Modern colorful vector illustration.

2. As important though – in my thinking, more important – were the stories and details of daily life, the “artistic” or human side of all those names and dates. I wanted to see and read my family history through first hand accounts and stories. I longed to feel the life in my past.

I contacted all my living siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins and newly-discovered relatives I found through my genealogy research. I asked (OK, begged) for stories and anecdotes from the past that gave personality to the basic facts.

It’s no huge secret that history is largely HISstory and HERstory viewed through our own unique and often biased eyes.

In generous spirit, I received lots of input. Yes!

I gathered together the written stories of those who were willing, and also collected those stories I could through letters and accounts that had been recorded by my relatives who were now passed. This was pure gold.

After my Mom’s Dad – my grandfather Will – died in the winter of 1935, my grandmother Maggie wrote to my Mom about her feelings of loneliness:

Mabel washed a big washing Monday with Clarence’s help and went home on Tuesday… Earl and Clarence are in the swamp and Lloyd is choring and in the house quite often. Still we can’t help but notice the vacant chair. It seems so quiet. But when we think of other people have to come through the same thing. We will have to do the best we know how.”

It’s a palpable reminder for me that all those names we sometimes glaze over in genealogy research were REAL people that breathed and pooped just like I do now (except that pooping part happened largely outdoors in outhouses). They had their own scent, their own voices. Personalities, sweet or irascible. Maybe even racist.

Another golden example: in his later years, my father wrote a mini-memoir to pass on to his kids and grandchildren. Writing your own life history is likely the best “advice” that my Dad ever unintentionally passed on to me.

Here’s a small sampling of what he wrote about the first time he and my Mom met, in 1937.

Recently, he had moved back to Ontario from Nova Scotia where he had been working for the Bank of Montreal for the Depression-era annual salary of  $938.61.

After a month or two of looking for work, I started in the office of Supertest Petroleum on Church Street [Toronto]. At first, I lived in the east end not far from Kew Beach as I thought how marvellous it would be to have a beach close by. I was soon to discover that Lake Ontario is mighty cold. I later decided to move to the west end of the city and joined a boarding house on Ostind Ave. I moved in one evening after work. As my landlady showed me to my room, I noticed a rather cute girl talking on the phone in the downstairs hall.  It turned out that she occupied the room next to mine and her name was Lila Miller. I was smitten and as she was unattached I made it my business to take up as much of her time as I could. Her mother, who was a widow, lived on a farm near Hillsburg with her youngest son Lloyd. There were five in the family, namely Alvin, Clarence, Mabel, Lloyd and Lila. Lila often went home on Sundays and the occasional weekend and I eventually got in on one of these trips home where Lila’s mother and Lloyd would look over Lila’s new boyfriend. They must have approved as I got to go again for the odd Sunday or weekend.”

IMG_5789

Since I pulled this information together in book form 20 years ago, I’ve lost a sister and a sister-in-law who were both at the 2000 family reunion. My eldest brother, the “smart” sibling of my family, sits in what appears an Alzheimer’s state of minimal registration of the world.

What I want to lay on you here today is… you, and your descendants will treasure any information and stories that you collect today about your grandparents, parents, siblings and yes, yourself.

Know that we are Kansas’s Dust in the Wind.

Our dust can blow in the free air and be lost like feathers in the morning breeze… that is a choice we can easily allow to happen, no action required…. or….

… we can catch some of that dust in a jar, like fireflies, and place a cap on it so that we and others, can enjoy its blanket of warmth over and over.

One hundred years from now, that dust will sit, undisturbed, unchanged and waiting to be “lived” again after you and I are dust ourselves.

IMG_0472 (1)

 

 

 

 

 

I Feel Pregnant With New Normal Spring

Leave a comment

chest burst

SPLATTER! My belly bursts open and ruby red blood explodes violently over spring’s natural art canvas.

Despite all the negativity associated with this viral pandemic – and there is tragedy in all directions, whether to health or economy or social structures – there’s an immense pressure of delight inside me that wants to burst out like the gooey creature in the movie Alien.

I pry my eyes open and check to see that I’m still intact after this scintilla of daydream imaginings subsides.

Yes! No burst belly. No blood. I’m all here. I smile.

This explosion of non-medicated pleasure must be akin to the feeling that others experience when they talk of being “Reborn”.

It’s spring.

The perennial Louvre that awaits outside my front door is so much more apparent to me this year. Thank you Coronavirus.

More than I can recall in decades. Thank you Coronavirus.

The lilacs and lily-of-the-valley are sweeter, the rhodos are more colourful, the Scarlet Tanagers more orange and chattery. Thank you Coronavirus.

Maybe it’s all a sense of nostalgia. Or … could it be my caffeine consumption has skyrocketed from lack of scheduled activity? Where’s the cause and effect?

Bottom line? I LOVE spring.

Spring blossoms - The Boston Globe

Sure, I like all the seasons, but I love Spring.

Spring and fall are like a pair of fraternal twins… similar in some ways, but definitely not identical.

Spring is Vivaldi’s helium-laced concerto… I listen to the bud-burst of violins and my mustard-stained T-shirt morphs into a tux, my bottle of Corona Lite becomes a delicate flute of champagne, and I speak with refined precision where once I generously littered my sentences with F bombs and ill-spoken slang.

  • Spring is a newborn lamb that frolics and delights in the moment with no thought for the future or worries or negative events that may befall it in months and years to come.
  • Spring is childlike and curious and naive.
  • Spring is young and full of enthusiasm and forward-looking hope and wonder.
  • Spring is full of light.

Fall too shares many of the same beauties as spring; temperatures moderate, chrysanthemums and asters bloom in profusion and crisp autumn scents fill the air from ripening fruits… but…  in those same beauties lie the seeds of a coming demise, a hibernation and creeping darkness.

Now, I wonder if we can compare the trajectory of our lives with the tenor of the seasons.

Are pubescent and teenage years our spring… our elder and retirement years our autumn? Is one superior to the other?

Is this even debate-worthy?

Beats me… but lets look further anyway…

I see teenage and elder times as the fraternal twins of our lifespan. They have their own sets of excitement and vivacity, and also their snags and nuisances.

Our spring and fall seasons.

spring and fall

  • I remember pimples and thick, dark hair… now I see smile lines and male-pattern baldness (you might see grey roots).
  • I remember worrying about the lack of puberty’s male frippery ie. armpit and groin hair growth, voice deepening… now I worry about excess hair growing on the rims of my ears.
  • I remember the boyish excitement of buying my first car at 17 and then worrying about where the hell I’d find the dollars to pay for the repairs needed on the beat-up old Rambler that got me to college… now I think of a lifetime of savings and healthy financial gains while simultaneously worrying about tanking stock markets and will there be sufficient money to maintain a lifestyle into these elder years.
  • I remember studying and working to learn the amazing wonders of human biology, hoping to pass interminable tests that would lead me forward and give me the basis for a life ahead of stability… now I live with the internal desire to learn and progress knowing that it’s out of interminable interest, curiosity, and passion.
  • I remember ridiculing (and being ridiculed by) “others” who were different (I won’t even outline who these “others” were, you make it up according to your own experiences)… now I cringe thinking back, and I understand today that understanding and compassion comes from meeting, interacting and living in the shoes of others – to feel their joys, pains and difficulties as they see them.
  • I remember the giddy elation of fresh love bounded by the heartbreak and loss of unrequited or broken-off love… now I revel in grandparent love and worry about the heartbreak and loss of loved ones that surround me.

The spring and fall of our lives… the children we love (let’s be realistic, and sometimes abhor) equally but perhaps for different reasons.

This year – this spring – has given most of us an opportunity to settle into a unique moment where we see and hear things just a little differently than we have in our past.

There is more fog when we look out the “future window” but more clarity in the present.

While I’ve always enjoyed the pleasures in the awakening of spring…

… with this season’s opening…

… I’ve unlatched my senses a tiny bit more than ever and saturated myself in the extreme charm and elegance of it all.

I’ll stay splatter free for now and contain that cute little alien inside me that wants to burst out… but only barely.

Thank you Coronavirus…

cute alien

 

 

 

Photographs and Memories Are Silly

Leave a comment

family photo 1960.jpg

You know how you enjoy going through old photo albums and reminiscing about your friends and family and your bizarre hairstyle – and OMG those clothes you were wearing?  Why did your mother let you wear THAT skirt? What the hell were you thinking?

So silly.

I’ve been writing this “Fringe” blog for 7+ years now and after 384 posts, I’ve packed up a suitcase load of words and shared mercilessly.

I’ve filled buckets of seriousness and barrels of silliness… it’s a recipe that kind of sums up life, doesn’t it?

And for anyone who thinks that workplace retirement is a time of total relaxation and leisure, there’s another door you might want to look behind in your own Oz-World that contains a few dozen time-consumers…

Which brings me to this blog post… I have a closet-full of items to be attending to this Canadian Thanksgiving weekend (cutting down monster hedges and music practice and tutoring and meal prep for a large gang) … and so I’ve given myself permission (thank you Larry) to recycle and reuse… no, not my favourite old and well-worn Calvin Klein boxers… nope… today I’m recycling/reposting a blog post from this month 5 years ago.

Speaking of Oz-World, I took in the film JUDY this week… Ms. Garland was trapped in a world of sadness mixed with ecstasy and way too much drugs and alcohol. Perhaps a dose of silliness like I’ve described below would have de-stressed her days a tiny bit… maybe silliness would have allowed Judy to spend a bit more time on this planet amongst us… but alas, she’s over the rainbow now…

On this Canuck Thanksgiving weekend, I hope you find a few moments of silliness to tickle your inner self … cuz, Thanksgiving is… In Your Pants!

 

Silly is … In My Pants

October 4, 2015

PEI Autumn

I’m just beginning to see millions of leaves succumb to their slow, colourful deaths as we pass the fall equinox. It makes dying a beautiful thing.

And it got me to thinking about changes, and seasons, and those things that are predictable in our lives and other things that change and surprise us.

Take the moon for example. We all know that full moons contribute to the “surprise” factor.

Full moons make crazy things happen, things we’d never expect. This past week’s Harvest “Blood” Moon – wasn’t it stunning? – probably had more impact than usual.

Something that surprised me? Maybe it was full moon inspired?

Singer/Songwriter James Taylor got really silly on Jimmy Kimmel’s late night show the other night.

Yup, James Taylor. I love his music but he isn’t normally a silly kind of guy.

“You’ve Got A Friend” and “Fire and Rain” are beautiful, deep, hardly silly songs. He croons serious songs that melt into our hearts and our heads.

Silly? Adding the words, “in my pants…” at the end of each line of Taylor’s music definitely qualifies as silly. ” … But I always thought that I’d see you again… in my pants

So it must have been the moon. Right? Must have been.

Thank you James for reminding me that we all need to be silly sometimes.

Silliness can be an important part of our humanity, our ability to cope when times grow tough. Norman Cousins (Anatomy of an Illness) wrote all about finding humour and laughter in life when confronted with serious pain or illness.

Sometimes I find myself slipping into an earnest seriousness. I have to slap myself on the side of the head to remember to be silly, not to take everything so damned humourlessly. Then I feel better.

Fix the mood and everyone dances like feathers …

There’s a guy who is my age that I work with in the Greek restaurant where I’m a bartender … he’s a server/waiter. Let’s call him Fred.

When everything is calm and quiet, he’s sweet and charming. Full of light humour and smiles. Mr. Congeniality.

But once lineups form at the door, tables in the restaurant fill up, and the hum of activity snarls into a roar, Fred turns into a yelling monstrosity of an animal. He becomes a toddler that only knows “ME“!

It’s like he might just throw himself to the floor and begin crying and stamping his feet unless everyone does everything for him … RIGHT NOW!!

Cosby as Dr. Jeykll

I don’t like Fred much at these moments. His blood pressure readings must be reaching into the clouds way above us.

Later, when customers begin shuffling out of the restaurant, sated and satisfied and a teensy bit tipsy from the delicious libations I’ve poured, Fred sloughs off his nasty mask and returns to his “resting pulse” rate of friendly and charming.

He’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde with a serving tray and a menu pad.

I can’t blame the moon for Fred’s tantrums. This is his normal reaction, the way he copes when stress begins to pile on.

I feel badly for him and badly for those around him who have to do their jobs despite his vile behaviour. Fred should try singing, “… in my pants“.

But let me tell you about another server I work with – let’s call him Mark – somewhat younger, who always finds a way to laugh and giggle through the busiest times.

He’s smart and good at his job, just like Fred, but Mark always finds a way to stay calm and goofy.

Mark gets the same work accomplished as Fred but everyone around him is more relaxed and smiley as he does his thing.

Mark works two jobs most days and is on his feet for hours and hours at a time, always with a smile and a goofy laugh. I like working with and being around Mark. He makes me calmer and sillier.

We all have our own unique personalities and ways of coping when things turn tough. It’s hard to smile sometimes.

I know I can stress out and get tense and humourless.

But I’m trying really hard to find the silliness, the humour in every situation. Really good or really bad.

Humour is like air … you can’t always see it with your eyes but it’s blowing and floating around us, helping us survive the tough stuff.

Maybe humour is like a religious tonic for non-believers, soothing us when times get rough, a bridge over troubled waters.

When things get busy in the restaurant this evening … while Fred is flailing disruptively, I figure Mark and I will be hearing “…in my pants” dancing in our heads.

... in my pants ... and I ain't afraid to show it ...

 

Letters Of Hope From Mom and Bill Gates

Leave a comment

IMG_0394.JPG

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.

 

IMG_0410.jpg

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.

Gates Letter 2018

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.”

optimism.jpg