Thursday, November 28, 2013

Storms, Kids and Wisdom

Storm Surge in November-we're not in charge of this.

The winds are howling outside and the second storm of the year rages. It's not a snowstorm but rather winds and rain.  Gusts of up to 160km/h are expected on the west coast but here we've a mere breeze of gusts to 100.  Somehow though, it's consoling to be inside and warm as the weather raps on the windows and the lights flicker off and on, the electrical power defying the natural power of the storm.  I dropped the kids off at school this morning to avoid them blowing to Gander. The poor little things can barely stand upright when they're in this kind of wind.  I can barely stand up right and I've got some, er, extra gravity myself.

I may have dropped the ball in my commitment to write here weekly but I had a great excuse.  In addition to being caught up in a massive story on a province-wide issue, weathering the first winter storm of the year, my daughter was visiting from Ontario. When a kid comes for just seven days, the world stops and she is my focus.  But she has returned to her life in Ontario now and life returns to the normal I'm used to.

The book is coming along.  The first draft is almost complete.  I had thought to put it away until after Christmas but I see no reason for that as I still have time and the Christmas frenzy hasn't yet started.

There are no great excerpts to share, just little poignant drips of sentiment that seem to be filling the pages.

Things like this.  "He reached his hand out and touched her shoulder, a gesture of comfort that came automatically to him and a fondness for her brushed his heart then, painting it with her picture."

I will read this in the new year and frantically delete it as drivel but today, I kind of like it. I'm in a Hallmark Card-Harlequin Romance kind of mood I guess.

Meanwhile I came across this online and thought it was cute.  It's kids weighing in on some questions about marriage.  

I personally think we could take many lessons from kids. After reading this though I'm not sure relationship advice is one of them.  It does make for some entertaining reading however.

How Do You Decide Who To Marry?.

You got to find somebody who likes the same stuff. Like, if you like sports, she should like it that you like sports, and she should keep the chips and dip coming.
- Alan, age 10

No person really decides before they grow up who they're going to marry. God decides it all way before, and you get to find out later who you're stuck with.
- Kirsten, age 10
What is the Right Age To Get Married?
Twenty-three is the best age because you know the person FOREVER by then.
- Camille, age 10
No age is good to get married at. You got to be a fool to get married.
- Freddie, age 6
How Can A Stranger Tell If Two People Are Married?
You might have to guess, based on whether they seem to be yelling at the same kids.
- Derrick, age 8
What Do Your Think Your Mom and Dad Have In Common?
Both don't want any more kids.
- Lori, age 8
What Do Most People Do On A Date?
Dates are for having fun, and people should use them to get to know each other. Even boys have something to say if you listen long enough.
- Lynnette, age 8
On the first date, they just tell each other lies, and that usually gets them interested enough to go for a second date.
- Martin, age 10
What Would You Do On A First Date That Was Turning Sour?
I'd run home and play dead. The next day I would call all the newspapers and make sure they wrote about me in all the dead columns.
- Craig, age 9
When Is It Okay To Kiss Someone?
When they're rich.
- Pam, age 7
The law says you have to be eighteen, so I wouldn't want to mess with that.
- Curt, age 7
The rule goes like this: If you kiss someone, then you should marry them & have kids with them. It's the right thing to do.
- Howard, age 8
Is It Better To Be Single or Married?
It's better for girls to be single but not for boys. Boys need someone to clean up after them.
- Anita, age 9
How Would The World Be Different If People Didn't Get Married?
There sure would be a lot of kids to explain, wouldn't there?
- Kelvin, age 8
How Would You Make a Marriage Work?
Tell your wife that she looks pretty even if she looks like a truck.
- Ricky, age 10

Sound advice.   As to the last one--think I'll go shine up my headlights a little!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Five Dollar Moments

It's a Friday night.  I'm alone here in the house and the evening spreads before me like a buffet.  I can do whatever I want.  You know,  I've craved for a night like this for a while, with zero responsibilities, nothing on the agenda and nothing to do but whatever I want.

I have a pile of books that have been gathering dust as I buckle down to write this latest novel.  But I've spent the week huddled over a screen both with a heavy and important story and the book, and well, that's work.  This is my night to not work.

So should I read? Maybe..but first....

A glass of wine!

Yes certainly.  A nice dinner, check.  Television?  Unless there's a movie on, nah....Just not my thing.

So what to do, what to do...

And then I see the five dollar bill.

And I contemplate it.

And I remember the other five dollar bill.

I remember a five dollar moment.

I'm weak.  I decide I will write after all..for just a while..because I have to call in my favours.

Isn't that an appropriate thing to do on a "me" night?  Of course.  I want you to do something for me.  Perfect.

You see today somebody brought me a donation.  For a homeless man I know.  She was apologetic that it wasn't more.  I assured it was more than enough.  And it is.

It is sitting there on my side table.

And it reminded me of another five dollar bill., one I handed to a girl who asked for change. It was found money.  I always save found money and give it away.  Usually to a donation box at a bank or in Christmas perhaps the Salvation Army Kettle.

But that day in Toronto, it was different.  I remember that five dollar bill.  That day, in Toronto, in a city I love, a girl in a corner store, downtown, asked for loose change.

She was charging her phone at the store.  I am guessing she had no home in which to do this.   She held out her hand, eyes averted, in a nonchalant, almost automatic motion.

She was not expecting anything.

But I remembered the crumpled blue bill in my pocket, pulled it out and handed it to her.  I will never, to my dying day, forget the look on her face.  I know it may have been the idea of the next drug fix for her and that was part of it.  But there was more. The obviously strung out girl had been the beneficiary of a kindness--perhaps the only one she had received that day.  Perhaps the only one she had received in a long period of time. And whether she realized it or not, she had also been the recipient of respect.

Because she got there through some tragic circumstance and the only way she would ever be inspired to get up from there would be through respect, not disdain, through kindness, not disgust, through understanding, not judgement.  And I hold only respect, kindness and understanding towards all people.

She may have forgotten that moment but I have not.  It affected me.  And I determined that I would do more of that sort of thing.

So, here I am...tada!

Because now I know another person who needs help.  Less a stranger than that girl but not much.  He's a man who lives in the cold dark basement of an abandoned house. He is the friend of a friend and he's cold at night.  He walks the streets during the day under the stigma of homelessness.

Yet he isn't negative, mostly he's hopeful and he spends a lot of his time helping those less fortunate than he is.  Yes..there are many who are.

Thanksgiving is coming.  Christmas is coming.  These holidays should be an oasis. Something to look forward to.  Instead they're a reminder of all he doesn't have.  All that thousands upon thousands do not have through whatever circumstance led them there.  I can't help them all.  But I can help him.  And he will help them. He's that kind of man.

A home will lead to a job.  There are jobs, but without a permanent address, not one for him.

And as the thermometer dips despair rises.  The sleeping bag on the cement floor of the dingy six by six room of an abandoned house, slated for demolition isn't good enough.  The dark closes in early these days leaving little occupation.  There is no light by which to read, no television, no microwave to make a bag of popcorn and kickback for the night.  Tonight I am warm but he is cold.

When my friend reached out for his friend, I answered.  I will donate. Of course I will.  But my own gift isn't enough, so I asked around. Today another five dollar bill came.

One dollar at a time.  That's what my cousin said.  I think with inflation five dollars at a time is more appropriate.  But anything at all helps.

So I'm calling in my favours now.  I'm asking for you to help me.  It is a me night after all!

So here it is!  Payback time.

If I have done you a kindness, help this man.  If I've said a word to you to make you feel better, help this man.  If I have inspired you, motivated you, entertained you, pissed you off, made you laugh, made you cry, made you food, got naked for you(keep things anonymous please)(It's a JOKE mom), gotten dressed for you(I love pajama days), made you hate me, argued politics with me(I'm right, you're wrong but whatevs.) help this man.

If my hockey team has beaten your hockey team, help this man. (My team is The Bruins, the opposite is not possible).

Even if you're a stranger on the internet and don't know me whatsoever, help this man.

I want more five dollar moments.

I want to see that look in another person's eyes. The one I saw that day in Toronto.

I want you to see it.

I want you to have a five dollar moment also.

email me. and I'll hook you up.

And I'll report back at a later date with an update.


Sunday, November 10, 2013

A Pilgrimage to Beaumont Hamel; One Man's Trip to his History.

This piece was published in the newspaper last week.  This however is the unedited version.  I thought I would share it here now in honour of Remembrance Day.

Journey to Remembrance;  A Pilgrimage to Beaumont-Hamel.

On his drive through the countryside toward Beaumont-Hamel it rained.   But by the time Tony Roberts arrived the sun was shining and illuminated the green knolls and brightened the entire field.  He had no idea what to expect but immediately recognized the monument that is like the one in Bowring Park and he called home to his parents and sisters in Joe Batt’s Arm.  It was an emotional call for all parties particularly since his family wasn’t aware that he was going there.    He spent hours and hours there, by himself, sitting back, watching the rabbits on the field.  There was no noise. It was quiet.  It was peaceful.

And he took pictures. In one of them the crimson path weaves serpentine-like through the green banks. They give the illusion that they are streams of blood.  Perhaps it’s a trick of light in the photograph or perhaps it’s by design that the walkways through the trenches on the field at Beaumont Hamel appear as veins traversing what is known to Newfoundlanders as a place of the most horrific violence. 

Mr. Roberts is fully aware that there on  July 1, 1916  the newly formed Newfoundland regiment was all but completely annihilated in their bloodiest engagement of the first World War.  These young men were ordered to go only to be picked off like wooden ducks in a carnival game.  After a mere thirty minutes it was all over and on that fateful day the blood in those trenches was owing to no optical illusion.

It changed the course of history for the entire island, driving it further into poverty at the loss of so many breadwinners.  Gone were fishermen, teachers, lawyers, businessmen from every community around the coast.  Gone was a generation and all their heirs.  Gone were the future leaders of the country and this one single event, half an hour long, led to a different Newfoundland and it exacerbated the existing conditions of economic decline that already plagued the small island nation.

Tony Roberts sat alone for many hours at Beaumont Hamel contemplating just those sorts of thoughts.  Born at Change Islands, raised in Joe Batt’s Arm and now living in Halifax, Nova Scotia, he made the pilgrimage to the place that had determined that yes, unlike so many others,  he, his siblings, and his father would exist after all.

He had been to Europe previously with others in his family but for some reason they had never gone to the place that had so impacted them before even his father was born.  Fred Roberts, his grandfather, had fought at Beaumont Hamel and survived. He watched his comrade Fred Waterman shot in the back and another Change Islander lose his life.  The impact of that event trickled down through the entire family and all were always acutely aware that World War One played a large part in their lives through the generations.

“I went to all the concentration camps in Germany before but it’s only this year that it really became apparent to me that I have to go there,” says Mr. Roberts of the Canadian Historic Site in France.
Between work engagements—Mr. Roberts is head of Sales and Marketing of the medical Division of Toshiba Canada-- he drove from Holland to Paris with the intention of doing just that. His first visit was to Flanders and the museum there.  The museum had displays from countries all over the world and he spent two hours there first.

“They had rebuilt the tower which was destroyed,” he says.  He viewed some of the grave sites in the area also. 

But it was Beaumont-Hamel that was his real goal so he drove towards the site and arrived just an hour before the office closed.  After touring the museum he walked outside to the meadow where nearly a century prior his grandfather fought his final battle of the war.

 “The surprising thing for me, as I started to enter Beaumont Hamel was why the heck were they fighting out in the country.  It’s not near anything.  If there isn’t anything there now, what was there then.” He says of his first impression of the historical site.

“It did not seem to be a typical place like a city to fight a battle,” he adds.

According to historical records the Advance at Beaumont Hamel was the beginning of the Battle of the Somme.  The point to the advance was to move forward and take the Valley of the Somme and move the German Western Front back as part of the ultimate goal to defeat them.  Like a foot ball game takes yards and moves towards the opposing end of the field, so the armies were battling for territory.

The first wave of soldiers over the parapet were taken down by German gunfire before they got over the top.  Many of these men fell back into the trenches injured, dying or dead to such a degree that the Newfoundlanders that went after them had to go across the field because the trenches were blocked by the casualties. This added 250 additional feet of unprotected area through which they had to advance  before even arriving at the area between the German and Allied front that was known as No Man’s Land.
It was there that Mr. Robert’s grandfather, Private Fred Roberts,  was felled by artillery fire.

The story that ninety year old Dan Roberts tells of his father’s experience is gruesome.  It is relayed by his daughter Carolyn Freake, older sister to Tony who knew the grandfather who had passed away before her younger brother was born.

“My grandfather didn't fall in the trenches, he was shot when they were ordered up to advance toward the German line.  He was shot and lay on the ground called no man's land for three days, being passed over for dead.  On the third day he woke from being unconscious and saw two Red Cross men standing nearby.  He called out to them.  They went over to him and they told him they left him because they thought he was dead.  They picked him up to bring him back to the trenches when the Germans opened fire again,  He told the men to drop him and run to save their own lives. They told the sergeant when they arrived at the trenches that they had left a wounded man outside.  He himself (the Seargeant) ran out ,picked him and brought him back to the trenches.  (In the original battle) When they were advancing toward the Germans he saw his friend Fred Waterman fall......”

And as the younger Mr. Roberts sat there on that monument, looking out of the fields for several hours he couldn’t help but contemplated how things could have been different.
If the bullets had been just a few inches in another direction—Fred Roberts lost his left arm in the battle perhaps because of his forging into the hail of bullets “with their arms above their helmets as though going into a winter blizzard instead of a storm of German bullets and grenades” as it’s described by eyewitnesses from that time in historical writings —or if those Red Cross men or that anonymous Seargant hadn’t saved him, he would surely, like most of the other men, perished on that field.

 His grandfather’s name would have been listed on the wall of the dead or missing and the bench where he sat would be empty because he would not have even been born.  If Fred Roberts had not survived, there would not have been a love story between him and the new Change Islands post mistress, Caroline Sceviour of Exploits a few short years later nor the children Ruth, Suzanne, Elizabeth and the father of Tony Roberts, Dan, would have been born. 

“It was not just those men lost.  It was all of their descendents.” He says.
It was this thought that filled his mind, the idea of all of the potential that was wiped out due to what he refers to as “some foolish war.”

And as he sat there his thoughts were “Gee Whiz, what would I do if I was on that field for three days. The longer I sat there What would I do, what was going through my Grandfather’s mind as he lay on this field?  I think the biggest thing for me was what a blessing it is that I’m here.  How many people?  When I look at the walls of people that died, how many descendents are not here today because of that war.”

“It’s all a fine thread, we’re all here by a fine thread,” he muses and his visit to Newfoundland Memorial Park such a prominent place in the province’s history made that sentiment very personal and real.
Private Frederick George Roberts, was much more than #440 a war veteran and survivor of Beaumont Hamel.  Granddaughter Carolyn remembers her grandfather well and to her he was simply Bappy.

“When I look at the photos of myself and Bappy I think how well he managed without his left arm and it amazes me. He used to put me in a blanket and pull me up and down the stairs all over the house.  He took me on the harbour when he used to skate, and he would pull me on my sleigh,  We still have his skates,  I remember going to church with him, ,eating at the table and kneeling down to say Grace.”
They all lived on Change Islands still then and she has memories of his kindness to the children of the town.
“He would fill his pockets with candy from the shop and we would walk up to the school hand in hand and when the kids came out we would throw them in on the playground. Would laugh so hard watching them all running to get what they could. He was so kind to everyone”

After strolling through the gravesites, the monument, the fields, and experiencing the emotions of being on that ground where a nation was altered forever by the loss of so many of their future businessmen and politicians and teachers and fishermen Mr. Roberts feels compelled to learn more about the events and particularly his grandfather.

The grandfather he never knew survived something most he shared that experience with—The Advance of Beaumont-Hamel-- did not.  And this year on November 11 the remembering will be more poignant, the poppy have more meaning, the gratitude for all that was sacrificed carry more weight. 

This profoundly moving experience is a pilgrimage more should make.  It is something that should be impressed upon generation after generation to make them understand all that was lost and all that was gained when young Newfoundlanders go to war, then and now. 

We need to make a connection to the humanity of those men who lived and died a century ago, to understand how very real that battle they fought was, how, as Mr. Roberts said, war is indeed quite “foolish” though there is no doubt that the first world war was for the greater benefit, to defend the freedom we enjoy today in our country.  We need to do these things and we also need to attend the memorial services and share the  history with our children so they can pass it along to theirs. 
We all also need to wear that poppy on November 11.  Lest we Forget.

When one was lost

It was not a single man was took
when bullet hit the bone
it was not one pair of eyes that closed
when shrapnel piece was flown

It was not one man who died out there
in mud and mire and flies
It was not the loss of just one soul
when on a battlefield he lies

It's not the lone man's life that goes
when he does breath too soon his last
and not merely his that is gone for good
when the bayonet is passed

It's not just one soul that travels on
his work on earth all through
but promise that is lost as well
and the things he didn't do

For lost is all the sons to come
that share the name he bears
and daughters too are lost for good
and all his potential heirs

Forsaken is the right to live
to plow his own great fields
when a teen life rests in bloodied soil
upon foreign battle fields

Forever gone are words he'd write
and those he would have read
and songs he would have sung
are silenced by the bullet in his head

Gone was the promise of a life
it was gone and at such cost
tis not one man who died that day
whenever one was lost


Sunday, November 3, 2013

Bits and Pieces;

It's Sunday morning and the ocean is lapping blue against the rocks and the sky is still undecided as to whether the sun shall shine today.

I write this morning to bring your attention to a new button over in the right hand corner of the for the Newfoundland Ponies.  Please do so.  Register and vote daily for this very special breed of pony.

I suppose since I'm here I could say a few more things.  I could ramble on about my boring life.  I wish this platform was more interactive and we all could just have a good chat on a quiet Sunday.  I'd cook brunch even.

I'm tired.  I thought I would work on a chapter or two of the book but it seems my brain isn't awake quite yet even after much coffee.

I was walking yesterday and thinking of some photos I've taken lately.  I've been drawn to take photos of houses that are boarded up and falling into some kind of disarray.  I've shot the entire house but at the same time started with just bits of the house.

The first one I shot was of Mr. Stanley Peckford's house on Change Islands of just the windows of the three top floors.  I saw that in one window there was an earthen ware jar.

It's gone from there to a bit of a hobby of mine.  I am sharing a few here just so you can see what I mean.  Bits and pieces of bits and pieces crumbling into the earth.  Yet somehow, in their decline, there's beauty and something mesmerizing.

And some..have been granted reprieve...because some of these homes are under renovations and will be restored with love and care.

It's sad but I suppose, yet part of life that all that comes forth will go forth, both house and person.  The house sees its share of joy and sorrow as does each one of us.  I love these pictures.