Category Archives: Poignant Reflections

For My Mom, The Best of Them All

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My Mother has just turned 87 years old, and in honour of that special occasion, I am posting this poem that I read at our family celebration, here on my blog. She is the best German, Hungarian, Schwabian, Austrian, American, Canadian you could ever have the pleasure of meeting. Yes, She’s all that! The verses describe the time both before and after she was born:

To Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in the land of the USA,
Where the Ohio, the Allegheny, and Monongahela wend their way
Through a place once known as “Iron Town”, for the strength of the people there,
And the industry that drew them, they came with a hope and a prayer.
They came for the chance to “make it”, to pull their own weight and more;
In the year of our Lord, 1906, they knocked on America’s door.
The parents of a daughter (as yet, unborn) Gisella and Louis came,
With their feather ticks, and their pots and pans, and barely a cent to their name.*
Their’s was a people in need of a home, in a country filled with strife;
Like all Schwabians* living in Hungary, they hoped for a better life.
These German speaking Marath’s, were Austrians* in their hearts,
But the borders had changed, and fortunes had changed;
What they needed most was new starts.
New countries, it’s said, are built by those hewing wood and hauling water.
Louis hauled that water as blocks of ice, for the sake of his sons and daughters,
Who all were born, with the passing years, as he tried to put money away,
To return again to his shoe-making trade, before his hair turned grey.
Silver dollars could buy his freedom from ice blocks, and cart and horse,
But the best laid plans of mice and men oft come to naught, of course.
A thief broke in, one fateful night, and stole their nest-egg away.
The shoemaker, bent by the weight of his load, must wait for another day.
Then finally it came, that longed for time, when dollars exceeded their need;
So leather was bought, and shoe-making lasts, and in his hand was a deed.
When Gisella was forty-two years old and Louis was forty-five,
And ten other siblings were already born, the eleventh one did arrive!
Her oldest sister had children by then, who came right over to meet her
And hold their aunt, and kiss her, and whoop round the house, just to greet her!
Her parents called her Regina; in Latin her name means Queen.
She was Queen of their hearts from her very first cry, but most people called her Jean.
Which very soon became Jeannie, of course, to those who loved her best;
That was all that she would answer to; she chose to ignore the rest ―
Be it the priest on Holy Communion day, or the nuns at Catholic School,
So her parents enrolled her in public school, breaking a family rule.
All that whacking of pointers on their desks, and other nun-approved habits,
Had been too much for this sensitive child, friend of pink Easter chicks and rabbits.
So the doctor made her eat brewers’ yeast to clear up her itching skin,
(Which was most likely caused by the nervousness of helping do Easter chicks in,
When they had grown tall and gangly− like the one sister Mary had caught.)
She had tried to kill it with a very dull knife, which proved to be all for naught,
For it still had plenty of stamina to chase Jeannie round their yard,
Wings down, and severed head flapping, with total disregard!)
After fleeing from zombie chickens, she was under adrenaline’s spell;
She would spend her leisurely Saturdays jumping over an open well!
She and her girlfriend would bet one another, about who could make “The Leap”.
If nobody fell in the well, to their death, their allowance they got to keep.
Jeannie also rode tandem down “Suicide Hill”, ’til her cousin knocked out her teeth,
And stole ribbons from the graveyard next door, from every funeral wreath!
The gold foiled “Daughter” plaque, over her bed, sure gave her mother a start!
But the one thing that Jeannie never did, she never broke a heart,
Unless there was a secret admirer on that day that Jeannie left
For a brand new home in Canada, where she arrived, completely bereft,
On the day of her sixteenth birthday, at a house near the township dump,
Where the horse was huge, the cow was crazy, and the rats were well-fed and plump.
The winter they spent there they nearly froze, as the house had no insulation.
They had no car, so she rode her bike to the store by the reservation.
When spring arrived they got to move when the farm-buying terms were complete.
Then Jeannie started going out a bit, with neighbour friends she would meet.
One special night, at a town hall dance, she met a man named Bill.
The stars shone bright on that fateful night; and their very first kiss was a thrill!
Soon wedding bells were ringing, as he took her for his bride,
And she lived happily ever after, with William Peter at her side.
They had a lot of children; she was such a wonderful mother,
That as soon as the crib was empty they filled it with another.
(Well, sometimes not exactly the crib, sometimes the bassinet!)
When Marsha was not quite one years old, she needed her’s longer yet,
So they got themselves a second crib, and later two little beds,
For Vonnie’s, and little Keithie’s, and little Jeannie’s sleepy heads.
And soon enough, they bought bigger beds, as the bigger kids grew and grew,
Then there was one for Kathy, one for Janice, and for Jimmy and Donny too.
(Well, sometimes kids got to share a bed— whatever the room size allowed.)
And they all grew up on a farm so neat that it made every one of them proud.
Mom and Dad worked hard to give us all that any family needed.
They both tried hard to teach us right, and Mom, I’d say you succeeded.
We’ve not leapt over any open wells, or caused any missing teeth;
Nor have we ignored any nuns before, or ripped ribbons from funeral wreaths.
We have tried to make you proud of us, and followed your example,
Except for us having lots of kids. (One or two seemed more than ample.)
But we’re glad that you thought differently, and that you took a gamble.
We’re glad that we’re all here because you and Dad chose to take a leap,
And your parents did too, or they wouldn’t have had you,
And moved near that garbage heap,
Where no one else great would have taken you out, for fear of lurking vermin.
And then you met Dad who would love you so much, Hungarian, Austrian, or German,
Or Schwabian, or American. Well, who could ever determine?
In the end, only one thing matters; this one thing I know is true.
You are a part of the people we loved. And we are a part of you.

 

*The Schwabians are the German people who settled in Hungary, at the urging of the Habsburgh monarchy of Austria, during the eighteenth century, after it was wrested from Turkish occupation.  Although these peasant settlers were from places such as Baden, Bavaria, Alsace, Lorraine, and Schwabia, eventually all of them were being referred to as Schwabians. There were two million of  them in Hungary by 1900, a few years before Louis and Gisella emigrated to the USA. in 1906, seeking, as did many of their countrymen, a place of greater opportunity.

*Louis Marath identified himself as Austrian on his draft registration for the U.S. Army in 1917.

*Our grandmother, Gisella, was a member of a poor peasant family in the early 1900’s. She worked in service as part of the kitchen staff at Apponyi Castle in Lengyel, Hungary, which belonged to  Count Apponyi of the Hungarian royal family. The roof of the castle was destroyed by fire in 1905. This likely led to her loss of employment and subsequent emigration in 1906. The castle roof was  later reconstructed, and the site is a tourist attraction today.

The Word Father Is A Verb

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Steven is in the back row on the right.Note how many small cousins there were, and more were on the way!

Steven is in the back row on the right.Note how many small cousins there were, and more were on the way!

The following post is one I have chosen to repeat in honour of my son Steven’s birthday today.

My son Steven loves babies and toddlers and children of all ages. He enjoys engaging infants in interactions that provoke smiles and gurgles of delight, no matter how uncool his behaviour may seem to any macho type guys in his vicinity. Toddlers give him a great deal of joy too, as he plays their games, with the give and take of surprise that most of their fun is based on. Big and small giggles and smiles, and even rolling on the ground silliness often transpire.

For most of his growing up years, until he began high school, there were babies in our house, as we had a home Day Care for many years. With new little ones coming in each year at the same rate as the older ones started school, there was generally a baby in the mix, and a range of ages among the preschool children. Steven was my parents’ first grandchild, followed closely by his sister Carrie, and several years later by a dozen cousins. Because of the age gap, his role was more of a young uncle than a cousin to them. With older kids, he enjoys challenging them, with good humour, to show off what they already know, or even what they don’t. That way he can get on with the task of teaching them to learn those things in fun ways. He would make a great teacher. He is one of the few people I know who has thus far shown himself to be nonjudgemental of other peoples’ mistakes, not their deliberate wrong-doing of course, but their mistakes. In that, he has shown that he has the most necessary qualification for fatherhood.

Steven is a bachelor, but not by choice. If the right woman were to come along, I’m sure he’d be delighted. He does, however, have two girls in his life, two girls that he loves dearly, Amanda, and Samantha. He has loved them both for a very long time. They call him Dad, because that is what he is to them. He has been there for them since they were little, since the very first time they came to sit on his front step to have a visit from their neighbouring house. When things were not going well between these two sisters, and they would argue, as very close siblings often do, he would encourage them to get along, as any good father would. He was a friend to their mother, and he would often take all three of them out shopping, and even help out at times when they struggled to make ends meet.

Their mom was on her own with them, having tragically lost both of their fathers, in turn, when they were very young. So Steven gradually became the father figure that neither girl had and that both of them needed, giving help with homework, taking them fishing, or bringing them to family events. He made himself accessible and available as their protector and counsellor, and even acted as a disciplinarian if behaviour sometimes warranted a withdrawal of  any privileges that he had given them, and therefore was in charge of at the time.

This is a role that is hard to take on in today’s culture. We live in a society that is totally suspicious of even the most honourable of intentions in all interactions between men and girls, particularly when the man is not in a relationship with their mother. Simply caring about their well-being and their futures, justified to Steven his presence in their lives, no matter what anyone else might think or say about it. The first time I ever heard one of the girls call Steven “Dad” I was taken aback, and then I realized that that’s exactly what he had become; in fact in looking back, it was what he had been for a very long time. I mentioned it to Steven, who told me that for quite a while the girls had been giving him the Dad cards normally given for birthdays and Fathers Day too. I was thankful that he had remained steadfast in his determination to be there for them, no matter what, because having a father figure means so much to a girl.

On an early fall day in 2010 the girls, who were by then in their late teens, lost their mother. It was sudden, unanticipated and overwhelmingly tragic. Neither of them has a surviving birth parent now, and we still feel great sadness for them both. We are, however, incredibly thankful that God deemed to put into place for them, long before the tragedy happened, a man who chose to be their father. We know that his own life had prepared him to have the empathy and compassion to help them through.

The Word Father Is A Verb

To father is to care; to father is to share.

To father is to give, and to always just be there.

To father is to listen, to father is to know

Just what will make things better, and then to make it so.

To father isn’t always just what  matching genes support;

To father doesn’t always lead to adoption files in court.

To father is to care enough to love, and just to be

Where you are, and who you are, for the ones who need to see

That they themselves are valuable enough for you to care

To give yourself, to share yourself, and always just be there.

 

Your father and I thank you Steven, from the bottom of our hearts.

We are so proud that you are our son. Love, Mom and Dad

An Unsurpassed Mother’s Day Gift

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Little Carrie, my Mother's Day gift and brother Steven ages 3 and 5

My Mother’s Day gift, Carrie age 3 and Steven age 5

I have decided to repost the following for my daughter Carrie Ann’s birthday today. I hope you all enjoy:

The most beautiful gift that I have ever received was given to me several decades ago for Mothers’ Day. To be honest, I really wasn’t expecting anything beyond that which I had already been given. There was the crayon- scribbled picture from my two-year old son, Steven, taped to the water-glass full of stubby-stemmed dandelions partially submerged in  the cloudy water, displayed proudly on the windowsill over the kitchen sink. There was also the  box of chocolates from my husband Rolly by the bedside, where it had already been opened and indulged in by all three of us before 8:00 AM. (This was well before my anti chocolate “Rah! Rah! Carob!” child-rearing attempts.)

We had decided that we were not going to be excessive in our gift giving to one another because of the tightness of our budget. The fact is, we were in “subsidized housing.” (parent subsidized.) We were living in a little farm-house on a second farm which my parents had recently purchased. It adjoined the home farm and gave them some additional crop-growing acreage.

Later in the morning, I hopefully planted a colourful paper packet of peas and another of string beans in the soft sandy soil out behind the tall red-painted shed. Moving slowly along on my hands and knees I carefully placed each seed into my straight shallow trenches. Meanwhile, Steven gradually moved from in front of me…. to beside me… to behind me, with his small collection of dinky toys. Glancing backwards, I realized that the straight rows were now intersected by other curving ridges and roads. Many of the bean seeds were now loaded on to a tiny truck and, here and there, strewn into newly created ditches! “Growing things sometimes requires a lot of creativity.” I thought, as I sighed loudly. A cascade of pear blossoms fluttered down from the tall tree nearby as if in response.

In mid afternoon we put on our Sunday best. I only had one dress that actually fit me at the time, but it was a pretty one that my Mom had bought for me several months before and I felt great in it. We headed around the corner to Mom and Dad’s where all my siblings pampered me and waited on me hand and foot. Apart from our own mother, who had given birth to all eight of us,  I was the only other Mom present. By five o’clock we were all sitting down to a full course turkey dinner with all the trimmings. It was topped off by my sister Marsha’s specialty–Red Devil’s Food Cake with Boiled Meringue Icing. We all crowned our portions with generous scoops of vanilla or chocolate ice-cream.

At six o’clock, as I was enjoying that last bite of cake, I felt something quite peculiar. Nothing painful, just a ping, a wee bit like a garter had just broken and snapped loose…except it was in entirely the wrong place for that! I was a bit shocked and decided that this would be a good time to bolt from the kitchen table and run up the stairs to check out the situation. As it turned out, that was exactly the right response. By the time I reached the bathroom door I was within arm’s reach of the bath towels needed to mop up the puddle. My water had broken! Because I had not experienced that prior warning “ping” when Steven was born, and I was still a few weeks from my due date, I had not at first realized what was happening. Over the din of dinner hour I was finally able to get someone’s attention with my “Hey! … Hey! … Hey! … Someone! … Please send Rolly up here! … OK? ”

Within two minutes I was en route to hospital and making jokes about how this wasn’t really Mothers’ Day anymore, but Labour Day. I  did insist, though, on a quick stop at home first because I wanted to remove my mascara. “You don’t want me to look like a racoon afterwards, do you?” I pleaded with Rolly. As I wasn’t in  any pain, he indulged me. While it was true that the nurses had brought me my lunch on the day that Steven was born (after they told me that my baby wasn’t going to come along for hours and hours) and then he was born one and a half hours later, I still felt no need to hurry. When we got to the hospital, after the fifteen minute ride,  I was excited, but not stressed. That, however, would soon change.

The walk from the side parking lot of the hospital to the door was no different than any other Sunday stroll until we went through the “Doctors’ Door”.

You can’t come in that way! That’s the Doctors’ Door!” a bossy nurse loudly chided.

My wife is in labour!” my normally quiet husband shouted.

Suddenly the nurse was all sunlight and sweetness, as she gently assisted me into a wheel chair and took me to  a room to change into the blue gown and slippers hospital wear. She sent my husband in the opposite direction, as this event took place in that pre husband-involvement era of child-birth. As I was still experiencing no pain, she left me to disrobe privately. True, there was a little pressure, but no discomfort. Just as I was bending down to take off my sandals, and debating over whether I should sit down on the plastic chair provided (I still had my twenty- one year old farm girl’s strength and flexibility even while pregnant) something unexpected happened!

“Nurse! Nurse! Nurse!” I yelled.

As the door flew open it was not necessary to say more, because clearly visible to her, as it was to me, the umbilical cord had dropped out! More shouting! This time from the nurse to someone in the hall to summon the doctor. She then dropped to her knees and seemed to make an attempt to try too put everything back in place. Unfortunately, she was met with a little protruding foot. More shouting, and a gurney arrived. Then, somehow two nurses helped me to climb up on top of it.

“We need you to stand on your head!” one of them said excitedly.

“She’s kidding!”, I thought. But then they tested out my twenty-one year old  body’s capacity for movement while pregnant as well as extremely stressed. I was certainly not lying down, as in the typical TV hospital scene, as I clattered along the hallway but, rather, in something like a downward dog yoga position!

Rolly was nowhere to be seen, still signing papers to admit me when those requesting consent for an emergency C-section to try to save our baby’s life were suddenly handed to him. Just in front of the operating room doors, the surgeon came jogging up alongside. “Is everything going to be OK?” I asked him plaintively.

“We’ll have to wait and see”, he answered. I remember praying from that point forward, until they put a mask on my face and asked me to count backwards from ten.

“Ten, nine, eight” is all I remember. Then I woke again… immediately… (or so I thought). But by then it was already dark outside and in the middle of a thunderstorm. Rolly was holding my hand, and he had his head resting on the bed next to me. I told him, ” I think I was dreaming. In my dream I was choking , and I was throwing up. Someone was pushing something into my throat and hurting me.”

I wasn’t sure of where I was or why. Then I realized by the terrible taste in my mouth and the unpleasant state of the long locks of hair near my face that what I had at first thought was a bad dream had not been a dream at all.

“We have a baby girl!’ he said reacquainting me with the reason  why I was lying in a hospital bed at all.

“Is she OK?” I asked tremulously, “Because, they said they were afraid the cord might be wrapped around her neck! They tried to get me to stand on my head to keep her safe.”

“She’s perfect. She’s beautiful.” he said …. and we both cried. “Shall we call her Sheri like we planned?” he asked.

I gave it the briefest consideration and then said  “No. Let’s call her “Carrie” after the street she was almost born on, the street in front of the hospital. And let’s give her the second name Ann after my sister Marsha Ann. That’s a really pretty combination.”…. and so we did….. and she is the most beautiful Mothers’ Day gift I was ever given, because our God is so very good.

Ethan’s Gift

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Some of the stone “castles” my grand-nephew Ethan likes to be the “King” of.

There is nothing more precious than the snuggling-in and holding-on kind of hug a three-year-old will sometimes give when it comes unsought for, unrequested, just plain out of the blue.

Sure, we had been playing hard outside all afternoon together, what with racing back and forth in the bright sunshine across the brown lawn as he gleefully stepped on my poor slow shadow’s head numerous times to my once on his— a game he always delights in.

And then, I had willingly taken a seat on the too-small bench at the window of his pretend hamburger joint, a little playhouse under a backyard spruce tree. I “enjoyed” with gusto the takeout fries and burger he prepared— somehow magically transformed from the pieces of cedar mulch and the dried out pine cones he hurriedly gathered for my order.

Later he picked a fist-full of yellow miniature daffodils, and nodding Snowdrops and placed them on a crumb-covered plate on the patio table— a gift for Mummy. Next to it was a scattering of small coloured stones from the driveway— collected for Daddy.

A screeching flock of black grackles dispersed in a flapping rush at the sound of his shouts of “Go! Go! Go!”. This he accompanied with the clatter of two old dented cake tins that he banged together beneath the locust tree each time the birds returned. The bespattered backyard deck, under the tree’s budding branches, revealed their other annoying habit, and he did not want them to mess on the table where his treasures lay. Beside those lay the pile of coloured paper clips and magnets he had abandoned there earlier— all but the red ones, his favourites, which were protruding from the cracks between the deck boards under his chair, next to his yellow bulldozer.

We capped the afternoon with a game of King of the Castle played on every boulder and berm around the three acre yard with me doing all of the boosting up and him doing all of the boasting down: “I’m de King of de castle! You’re de dirty rascal!” I chose not to protest my perpetual “dirty rascal” position, even as he clung tightly to my uplifted hands while teetering four feet off the ground on slippery granite, his chubby little fingers drawn into tight little fists around my own.

Looking up into his laughing eyes, as he looked down at me from his elevated position, I said to him “You know Ethan, you are growing bigger and bigger every day. One day when you are all grown up you will be as big as this all of the time, and then you will have to look down at your old Aunt Vonnie all of the time.” Just then he let go of my fingers and bent down a little to get his arms around me. He snuggled in close and gave me a hug so tight it practically took my breath away. Or perhaps it was not really so very tight at all, but it had the same effect. I realized then, that I had just experienced one of life’s unforgettable moments and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

Ethan’s Gift

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There is nothing more precious than the snuggling in and holding on tight kind of hug a three-year old will sometimes give when it comes unsought for, unrequested, just plain right out of the blue.

Sure, we had been playing hard outside all afternoon together, what with racing back and forth in the bright sunshine across the brown lawn, as he gleefully stepped on my poor slow shadow’s head numerous times to my once on his, a game he always delights in.

And then I had willingly taken a seat on the too small bench at the window of his pretend hamburger joint, a little playhouse under a backyard spruce tree. I “enjoyed” with gusto the takeout fries and burger he prepared, somehow magically transformed from the pieces of cedar mulch and the dried out pine cones he hurriedly gathered for my order.

Later he picked a fist-full of yellow miniature daffodils, and nodding Snowdrops and placed them on a crumb-covered plate on the patio table — a gift for Mummy. Next to it was a scattering of small coloured stones from the driveway, collected for Daddy.

A screeching flock of black grackles dispersed in a flapping rush at the sound of his shouts of “Go! Go! Go!” accompanying the clatter of two old dented cake tins that he banged together underneath the locust tree each time the birds returned. The bespattered backyard deck, under the tree’s budding branches, revealed the noisy grackles other annoying habit, and he did not want them to mess on the table where his treasures lay. Beside those lay the pile of coloured paper clips and magnets he had abandoned there earlier —all but the red ones, his favourites, which were protruding from the cracks between the deck boards under his chair, next to his yellow bulldozer.

We capped the afternoon with a game of King of the Castle played on every boulder and landscaped berm around the three acre yard, with me doing all of the boosting up and him doing all of the boasting down: “I’m de King of de castle! You’re de dirty rascal!” I chose not to protest the unfairness of my perpetual “dirty rascal” position even as he clung tightly to my uplifted hands, while teetering four feet off the ground on a slippery granite rock, his chubby fingers drawn into tight little fists around my own bent ones.

Looking up into his laughing eyes, as he looked down at me from his elevated position, I said to him “You know Ethan, you are growing bigger and bigger every day. One day when you are all grown up you will be as big as this all of the time, and then you will have to look down at your old Aunt Vonnie all of the time.” Just then he let go of my fingers and bent down a little to get his arms around me. He snuggled in close and gave me a hug so tight it practically took my breath away. Or perhaps it was not really so very tight at all; but it had the same effect. I realized then, that I had just experienced one of life’s unforgettable moments. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

 

Love Like A Rose

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45 years together and still smiling!

On November 8, 2014,  just last week, my husband Rolly and I celebrated our 45th wedding anniversary. Our daughter, Carrie the pastry chef, and her helpmate Phil, and our son Steven, the wordsmith, put on an amazing party for us. 100 people enjoyed a delicious dessert buffet,baked entirely by Carrie. There was also a slide show of our family, friends, home-daycare children of long ago, family bakery and other workplaces, homes, gardens and holidays.Our daughter, son, niece Sheri,and sister Marsha all lauded us in speeches that were blush-worthy in their kind evaluation of our lives. After the event we enjoyed all of the evening’s highlights photographed by Marsha and put to music by Steven. It was incredible! Thank you to all who presented us with lovely cards and words of congratulations and to those who defied the best wishes only rule too! Your gifts were very thoughtful.

Rolly, on bended knees

Rolly, on bended knees

So, is it really true? Are Rolly and I truly as happy as our kids say we are? Or is that just a lot of malarkey? Well, I married a natural-born gardener and he has been on his knees all the years of our marriage (to make up for the fact that when he proposed he wasn’t. But that’s just conjecture on my part and another story entirely.)The end result has just been such a work of love.

 

Me by the wishing well  Rolly built me, with some the many roses.

Climbing roses on the wishing well Rolly built.

For all of those years, anything that could be grown in South Western Ontario in clay loam soil, he has planted and cared for— even if it required intensive hand weeding, or pruning.  At one point we had 120 rose bushes in numerous varieties! Roses are one of both Rolly’s and my favourites. I’ve written a number of poems on roses for that reason. The following is one I thought was fitting to post after 45 years together. Perhaps it explains a bit about how  we’ve remained so happy.

 

                     The Gift of a Rose

Love of one’s youth is like a rose—its petals touched with dew,

Beautiful to look upon, fresh and sweet and new,

Perfect in every detail, a joy for all to see,

Lacking not a petal— yet not what it shall be—

For if the rose is cared for, each day it fuller grows,

’Til the hand of our Creator in every petal shows.

And all the splendour present, grows with each day more intense,

’Til even being near it is a gift to every sense.

For those that are around it—and even passers-by,

It leaves a deep impression—on the heart, not just the eye.

So, cherish, nurture, dote upon, this precious growing thing,

That it might fill you full of joy, and joy to others bring.

And ask that God will care for it and shelter it through storms,

That even through adversity it will not suffer harms.

And never let a blemish or a mark be made by spite,

By selfishness, or thoughtlessness, or careless oversight.

But nurse whatever hurts may come through asking for forgiveness,

That as the years go rolling on, both God and man may witness

That perfect budding rose of love, grown to mature completeness,

A gift to every human sense of overwhelming sweetness.

 

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Me, Steven, Carrie, Phil, and Rolly

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Delicious homemade treats by Carrie

 

 

 

 

 

On His Knees

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Rolly, on bended knees

Rolly, on bended knees

“I’m thankful if it hurts. That way I know it must still be there.” This is something that the mother of one of my good friends is fond of saying. Maybe I’m a wimp, but I just can’t imagine adopting that saying as a reflection of my own personal philosophy of pain. “I’m thankful if it doesn’t hurt and I can just forget about it.” is more like it.

My husband Rolly and I are in the renovation years of our lives. On second thought, the word “renovation” might only imply simple things —like changing the configuration of certain areas, or buying paint and a new rug. I get the feeling we’re way past the time for that now. There is more of a need for a little structural engineering at this point. And besides, no matter how thin it is on top, Rolly would be the last to purchase a rug.  And paint? Well let’s just say I never fell for that “Apply a base coat of yellow first to brighten the area up before you put on the top coat.” advice.

Mary Kay…She was likely quite a sweetie but she obviously had way too much time on her hands! Since when is it a good idea to tell a busy mom to put yellow makeup over the dark circles under her eyes and then later apply the skin coloured foundation makeup over top? Didn’t she realize how often the doorbell would ring and a courier would refuse to hand over his pen to someone looking like a victim of Yellow Fever? Obviously her kids never had cry baby friends who would wail like fire engine sirens if ever they got hurt. I’m sure if anyone ever got stung by a bee in her yard they wouldn’t have to be taken home “RIGHT NOW!” just because they might be allergic. “Old Yeller” is not a very flattering nickname under any circumstance; “Big Red” would have been preferable, but the Mary Kay lipstick I was wearing at the time wasn’t red, it was a demure shade of pink.

Oh, did I not mention earlier that the renovation years I was referring to for Rolly and I were  personal renovation years? And the structural engineering requirements are along the same bent—personal. Speaking of bent…that’s unfortunately the temporary state of my back just now. Maybe if I just apply a little heat and moisture I should get it to curve back in the other direction again. Apparently that’s how they shaped all the curves in those solid good old-fashioned church pews that curve around gently for a full twenty feet or more. I suppose it was so that the ladies on both ends of the pew could check out the hats of the ladies on the opposite side discretely, without cranking their necks. Those ancient craftsmen thought of everything!

But I digress. What does a church pew have to do with Rolly and I needing some “structural engineering”? Apparently something, I suppose, judging by the difficulty that Rolly was having at our neighbourhood Baptist church during their community Christmas Eve service. We usually alternate the hosting of services on special holidays between “the Baptists and “the Christians”. The Poplar Hill Baptists are not overly pleased when anyone from the Poplar Hill Christian Church smirkingly uses those one word titles for their members and our members side by side in a sentence. Perhaps it seems to hint at some sort of exclusivity, but such is not the intention. But then, who’s to know what competitive spirit ran through the minds of our church’s Scottish forefathers in naming it so?

The service was a beautiful combination of a very short reading from the nativity story, followed by the congregation singing the first verse of a related Christmas carol; then this format was repeated throughout the one hour service, perhaps twenty times. Each repetition was accompanied by a change from a seated to a standing position.  Even the Catholic church which I attended as a child had never required that much bending of the knees. Rolly was in real pain throughout, due to severe tears in both of his meniscus which had happened in early November.

So two weeks ago it was finally time for the first of his “structural engineering.” The left knee had part of the meniscus removed— simply to relieve the pain, but the tears are not repairable due to their depth. The surgeon says that Rolly will definitely have to have knee replacements when pain becomes an issue due to the advanced state of  osteoarthritis. I suppose that just like in old houses, the parts that get used most get worn out most quickly.

Rolly showing off one of his hibiscus.

Rolly showing off one of his hibiscus.

The three acres of perennial gardens around our property are a gift  that my husband has given to me over our nearly forty-five years of marriage. Although our house has only stood here for 37 of those years, bushels of Darwin tulip bulbs were moved here from an earlier garden as soon as we completed the house. Many of the ever-growing collection of perennials could only be weeded on hands and knees, including 120 different iris varieties which Rolly collected and multiplied over the years.

This dear man’s knees also took the brunt of 30 years of walking both forward and backward on concrete floors, as a relief man on the assembly line at the Ford assembly plant in Talbotville, Ontario. On top of that he roofed dozens of houses for friends and family, as well as a number in exchange for such things as a week in a cottage, a piano for the kids, and other rewards all of us enjoyed. I hope he realizes how much all that he has done has meant to everyone. As he looks ahead toward what will definitely be some complicated “structural engineering” we are both thankful that there are talented surgeons who are able to do such things and who will be there for him when the time comes.

Me by the wishing well  Rolly built me, with some the many roses.

Me by the wishing well Rolly built me, with some of the many roses.

And as for me, well what do you suppose would need some work for someone who has spent most of her life in hands-on pursuits? You guessed it. It’s the hands. As a daycare provider, as a professional baker, as a professional cleaner, and now as a nanny- housekeeper— everything I have done career wise has involved using my hands. Add to that my lifelong pursuit of writing and it shouldn’t be especially surprising that the thing that I need to give attention to now, for the third time, is hand contractures. The ring finger and its opposite on the other hand decide to go into a non –working mode every night and have to be pulled away forcibly from the palms of the hands, snapping like a bow-string when they get bad. But just a little nip and tuck and a short time of recovery afterwards for each of my hands in turn, and I’ll be able to do everything I want to do (except maybe play the violin). But then I suppose I shouldn’t expect that kind of a miracle, now should I? Perhaps if I had ever actually learned to play the violin…