Not a Proud Christmas Moment But A Memorable One

Wrote this for my Writers’ Group Christmas Party tonight–an unusual memory perhaps, but a memory nonetheless:

71 Chevrolet Monte Carlo

71 Chevrolet Monte Carlo (Photo credit: DVS1mn)

What was I thinking? My conscious has been niggling at me lately and it is about an adventure I had in fourth year at university. I have not always been the lovely person you are accustomed to, and every now and then a flash of that earlier feisty, perhaps a little selfish and superficial personality shows its rather unlovely self…. but not too often.

I remember the days when life was about me, me, me. And many of my friends were the same. It was not like we were horrible people—we were just single kids in our early twenties who had to find an outlet for our energy after studying our brains out for mid-terms.

We lived in residence but since we were seniors we got to live in the residence that had apartments—with four room-mates sharing accommodations. And it was boys and girls living down the hall from each other—which was a real change from separate residences, where the boys had to be “signed in” at the front desk before being allowed upstairs.

In real life, we were no longer boys and girls, we were men and women—but being at school we were not challenged by the responsibilities of mortgages, and keeping our homes respectable, and paying bills other than our tuition, books and housing. Many of us were still supported somewhat by parents, loans, and summer jobs. So maybe we can be forgiven for our dastardly deed.

It was Christmas and we were in the midst of finishing up final papers and studying for finals. The guys down the hall had a Christmas tree, and I and my roommates thought that having one would brighten up our spirits and apartment. So we asked them where they got their tree. They told us they had swiped it from a mall a couple of miles away. Someone had set up a tree kiosk and was selling the trees in the parking lot. They had all piled into an old 71 Chevy and secured a tree—but really what they had done was stalk the lot after midnight and stolen the tree when no one was there to see them.

There was a process to the whole adventure. They had driven to the lot, turned their lights off, run to the where trees were kept and taken a tree as opposed to choosing a tree with deliberation and thought. They then peeled out of the lot with four wheels barely on the pavement and raced home. Well, this sounded like quite an adventure to my roommates and me. The guys offered to take us to the lot and procure a tree for us—but we had to come along. So eight of us piled into the big brown Chevy and we nonchalantly made our way to the lot.

We entered the lot, turned off the car’s headlights, and three guys piled out of the car to get us our tree while the driver waited in anticipation of taking off like a wild man. They got the tree—stuffed it in the trunk and got back in the car. The car doors were barely closed when we were peeling out of the driveway, tossed around in the back seat of the car like rag dolls. And of course we were laughing and having a merry old time. There may have been some grain or grape beverages involved—I am not sure.

A grower in Waterloo, Nova Scotia prunes Balsa...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We got back to residence—jubilant in our success. We did not think about the fact that we were stealing. We did not think about the fact that the trees we had stolen were the basis for someone’s livelihood—we just basked in the glory of our escapade. We took the tree into our apartment and decorated with strings of popcorn and paper snowflakes. Such a lovely centrepiece to our Christmas celebrations—untainted by any feelings of regret.

Today I wonder what we were thinking.  We probably knew it was wrong but were too high on the adventure to let that bother us. This Christmas memory is not one that I regret, as it makes me think about the fact that good people sometimes do questionable things. We learn from those things and it becomes part and parcel of who we are. Despite the fact that it still niggles at me—I still remember the rush of excitement, the camaraderie in the devilish deed, and the fun we had.

Have you ever done something that you regret or should regret?

Published in: on December 6, 2013 at 9:14 pm  Comments (30)  
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Something New

My column for this week’s paper incorporates a couple of blog posts I wrote in the last week or so but in a new way–so thank you for persevering through some repeated “wisdom” slanted a new way:

September

September (Photo credit: Helgi Halldórsson/Freddi)

   The nostalgia that September and the new school year brings is so palatable, you can almost taste it. It is something that probably 98% of us share. Yet we tend to remember school in idealized terms—the new clothes for the first day, the new books and pencils, the sharpened pencil crayons and shiny new math set all meant that we had a new chance to begin again. And beginnings are exciting. Every September during our school age years was another chance to be the brightest and best. I had a spotty academic career—I lost a few years in teenage angst, but I came back, brought my grades up and spent what I look back on now as wonderful years at university.

            I was perhaps an odd duck when it came to school. In grade school I was always in the top 10, usually the top five in my class. But high school changed that and it took me a few years to adapt, to realize that I had to study. I still got by because I could write a mean essay—but that did not bode well for French class, math, science, or an ill-fated attempt to learn shorthand (I thought that would be easier than Latin—but it wasn’t for me). I still regret not putting a little more effort into those classes—but it was history and English, political science and sociology that caught my interest and by grades 12 and 13, I was back to getting good grades, once I got to leave behind those pesky subjects that did not come “naturally”.

                I am again excited come this September—but this time for my youngest son, who will be taking a “graduate” course at college in communications and public relations. He has a business marketing college diploma under his belt, but he was not all that enamoured with the course. His new program looks exciting in the syllabus and I think it is right up his alley—and I am playing the encouraging parent to the hilt—or at least as much as I think he can put up with. He too, though, is pretty happy about the new courses.

            We all need a challenge. When we went to school, each year was a new challenge, but as adults we have to set our own course, find new things to conquer, new things to learn. The latest challenge I have set for myself is to learn to “Let It Be”—those wonderful words of wisdom from the Beatles. And in doing so I am going to put this little exercise to work. It comes from the book, “One Minute Mindfulness” by Donald Altman. His subtitle: “50 simple ways to find peace, clarity, and new possibilities in a stressed-out world,” caught my attention, because let’s face it, who doesn’t want peace and clarity?

            Anyway, the exercise is this: “For one minute during the day, let go of one belief or behaviour that you typically cling to. If you always eat all the food on your plate, leave some and learn how to let it be. If you normally expect your partner to do something in a certain way, try to take on the task yourself or surrender to the way it is even if you don’t feel it’s as it should be. Let it be. Every day, let one more thing be, just for the fun of it.”I do not always eat everything on my plate so it is the second half of his exercise I have to concentrate on: Let it be. Not as simple as it sounds. At all.

            I have come to the realization that just because something purports to be simple, it does not mean it is easy. Simple and easy are not synonyms even if my thesaurus disagrees with me.  Simple and wise concepts are sometimes the hardest things to apply. They seem straightforward. How much more straightforward could something be than to “Let it be”? But how many of us can actually incorporate this into our lives?

            While I will not be returning to a school of mortar and bricks this September, I will be continuing my education in an ongoing effort to improve myself, my situation in life, and my endeavour to do what Oscar Wilde calls the rarest thing in life: to live. Here he says it in his own inimitable way: “To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.”

            I don’t think Wilde was having a good day when he said this, although I do not think he was known for his sunny disposition as he had challenges of his own. So I will take his words and combine it with the Beatles’ sage advice, and learn to: “Live and let it be”, rather than take the James Bond attitude, “Live and let die.”

Published in: on August 26, 2013 at 12:35 pm  Comments (14)  
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When One Door Closes

As many of you know, I am a municipal reporter and columnist. For the newspaper this week I combined the two elements in my column, and though this may seem a local story, it is one that is played out across the years and across the miles:

Stone One-room School (c.1820)

Stone One-room School (c.1820) (Photo credit: origamidon)

INTRO

            “At the Board meeting of November 20, 2012, the Greater Essex County District School Board (GECDSB) approved the closure of the Ruthven Public School effective June 30, 2013 and declared the school surplus to the needs of the Board.”

            The above paragraph was included in a notice to the Town of Kingsville in April along with the announcement that the GECDSB was issuing a proposal to offer the property for sale at a fair market value to a number of organizations. Yes, that is a door you hear closing.

WHEN ONE DOOR CLOSES

            School closings are hard. They are hard on the children who called the Ruthven Public School their school. They are hard on the teachers and staff who taught and worked at the school. They are hard on the community. And they are hard as they close a door never to be opened again.

            The saying “when one door closes another one opens” is trite but true. The students from Ruthven will be transferred to other schools, the majority to Jack Miner, and I am here to say that the transition will work. How do I know? Because many many years ago my school was closed and I was transferred to Jack Miner Public School (at the time it was Gosfield South Public School). The difference was I went from a one room school house to what we referred to as the “big school”. The transition for the Ruthven students should not be as daunting.

            At the time I was transferred a lot of the one room school houses in the area were closed so I was not the only deer caught in the headlights of a big change. At my school, six grades were taught in one room, while the grades ones and twos were taught in the boys’ and girls’ rooms—the rooms that housed our coats and bathrooms. We were civilized though—the bathrooms were closed off from the main part of the boys’ and girls’ rooms—so the six and seven year olds were not being taught how to read with Dick and Jane, Puff and Spot in the presence of the toilets.

            I remember my first day at the “big school”. I had to take a bus to get to the school which was a scary adventure in itself. Then when I arrived at the school there was some confusion as to where to go. The newbies had not been introduced to the new school beforehand (which on reflection would have been a really really good idea). When things were sorted out, I found myself sitting in a classroom of about 30 kids all the same age. We were pretty well all ten years old, and in my class many of us were like fish out of water—joining kids whose home school was Gosfield South. I guess we were somewhat of a foreign entity, and I heard rumours later that our intelligence was in question as no one was certain if the kids coming from the one room schools were up to speed.  Speaking on behalf of my cohorts— we were.

            I do not remember the transition taking long. I liked my new school, and my teacher went to my church so that was comforting. There were quite a few of us in the same boat so it seemed to go pretty smoothly. There were a lot of advantages to going to a bigger school though I missed some of the community feel of my little school. To this day I do not regret the opportunity afforded us.

            Kids are resilient. They cope because they have to—and what is at first strange and weird becomes normal. I feel badly for the students who may no longer be able to walk to school, and be “hugged” by their tightknit community, but speaking from experience, adopting a new school is not insurmountable. Economics govern and we may see some other closures and adaptations in the future. I know if my kids were affected I would be concerned—but moms and dads, students and teachers: consider this a new and exciting adventure. It is the only way to at first, muddle through; second: assimilate; and, third: enjoy the ride.

CONCLUSION

            I leave you with these words from Anna Quindlen, from her book, “A Short Guide to a Happy Life”: “I learned to love the journey, not the destination. I learned that this is not a dress rehearsal, and today is the only guarantee you get.” Enjoy your summer vacation knowing a new “today” is awaiting you.

Do you have a similar story?

Or Not

Carl Sanburg's house where he lived while he w...

Carl Sandburg’s house. Now a Chicago landmark. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“It is necessary ….for a man to go away by himself …to sit on a rock…and ask, ‘Who am I, where have I been, and where am I going?’”* So said Carl Sandburg. My answer: “Or not.” Admittedly a succinct, even superficial response, nonetheless I sometimes wonder if we should really be so navel gazing. I have noticed in my numerous decades on this earth, that too much introspection can be harmful, and that those who do not put in the time to ask the questions that Sandburg put forth are perhaps happier than those of us who delve into these depths.

According to Wikipedia (that repository of somewhat questionable knowledge for the lazy), Carl Sandburg was born in 1878 and was the recipient of not one, not two, but three Pulitzer prizes. He was a much celebrated writer and editor–so, he can be forgiven for being a deep thinker—it obviously paid off for him. But I am still wondering about his choice of a rock to sit on to contemplate his wherewithal.  Why not a couch before a roaring fire, or a comfortable bench overlooking the park, or even a sandy beach? It seems we need to contemplate life from a hard place, or the proverbial spot between it and a rock.

Of course I am not a great philosopher (or even a poor one), but if I take my cues from my cat, strangely named Kitty Bob (try shouting that out your front door when you want your cat to come home), I note that he takes no comfort from hard places, nor do I think that he contemplates life much beyond eating, sleeping, partying hardy all night away from the house, and getting all the attention in the world from three of the four members of this household (yes, I am the holdout—but in my defence I feed him and clean out his litter box, and on occasion at the urging of those who love him, pet him).

Now, I am not saying we should all act like cats (or maybe I am), but a house cat with a good home and people who love him, has it made in the shade. (What would this post be without its clichés—I am single-handedly bringing them back into vogue).  My cat thinks he owns the place, and in essence he does. Pretty well anything Kitty Bob wants, KB gets. Here is an excerpt from some of the conversations that go on around this house all concerning the cat:

1. “Oh, let the Kitty Bob sit in your chair. You don’t need to work at your desk right now, do you?” (For some reason Kitty Bob has taken to sitting in my desk chair of late, and is quite put out when I have to move him.) He is very indignant when I unceremoniously dump him out of my chair and he must sit somewhere else, and it seems the members of this family think he should be able to sit where he pleases too. (For those of you taken aback at my dumping him out of my chair—really, I just gently lift him out and put him in another chair—I don’t want the Pet Police after me.)

2. “Kitty Bob likes sitting on my suitcase—I’ll get him another one to sit on, so he will be happy.” It seems that Kitty Bob’s happiness is a priority at my house. No rock for this guy. The back story: When my youngest son Tyler was home for Thanksgiving, he left his suitcase laying out flat in the hallway upstairs and Kitty Bob started to use it as his comfortable place to nest, so that when Ty needed to gather it up to go back to school, he went and found another suitcase (mine!) for the cat to lie on. And the cat is still using it as his upstairs “getaway” every day—taking his leisurely naps on it. He does leave it to eat and do his duty, but he spends hours on this suitcase. Who knew?

3. “Pet the Kitty Bob, mom, he wants you to pet him.” I do not think the cat cares if I pet him, but I give him attention to make the other humans at this house happy. And their response always is: “See, he is starting to purr, he doesn’t purr when I hold him.” The secret here is that I feed the cat; the cat knows that I am the purveyor of all things “meow mix” so of course he purrs–he wants to be fed, and he recognizes me as the giver of food.

Anyway, my whole point in this is–why go sit on a rock, question life, ruminate over your failures, and make plans to make your life more worthy if you are a cat? It is just us foolish humans who have not yet found the meaning of life: eating, sleeping, and getting a lot of love, who need to make ourselves uncomfortable in order to ask life’s questions.

*Thanks to grosenberg.wordpress.com for the quote.

“I” ~ Or the Luxury of Using I

self-esteem, groups and hate

self-esteem, groups and hate (Photo credit: Will Lion)

“I” seemed to be the most banned pronoun in the English language when I went to school. We were never allowed to insert ourselves into our essays or papers—but we were always supposed to show original thought. So many times I was stymied at how to show original thought in a way that did not use “I”.

Except for that first day back at school assignment I received from grade two to grade eight: “Write about what you did on your summer vacation”—we were not given much opportunity to express ourselves using the word “I”. No wonder we had self-esteem issues, though when I was in school self-esteem was not a subject of concern. And today it seems to be a catch-all that is used for a myriad of problems that probably have nothing to do with self-esteem at all.

I think one of the reasons I enjoy writing a weekly newspaper column is that I get to use “I” whenever the heck I want to. In fact, I have noticed that it is the more personal columns and posts on this blog that I write that get the most comments.  I like to read about other people and their experiences and how they handled something—and like everyone else, I like to relate to the writer.

Here are a few famous “I”s:

“I see myself as an intelligent, sensitive human, with the soul of a clown which forces me to blow it at the most important moments.”
Jim Morrison

“I have feelings too. I am still human. All I want is to be loved, for myself and for my talent.”
Marilyn Monroe

“I trust no one, not even myself.”
Joseph Stalin

“I’m OK with myself, with history, my work, who I am and who I was.”
Sidney Poitier

“Without ‘I’, we would neither know ourselves or others.” ~ Me

Hazy Days of Summer

Union Jack Tent from Decathlon by Quecha

Union Jack Tent from Decathlon by Quecha (Photo credit: dullhunk)

The words “a white tent pitched by a glassy lake, well under a shady tree”…. were haunting me recently, so I Googled them and found the rest of the words to the song. It brings me back to the days when I attended a one room school (when the dinosaurs were still roaming the earth, according to my youngest son), and part of our day included not only readin’, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic , but singing.

In the morning we sang God Save the Queen (in the years before O Canada replaced it) facing the Canadian version of the Union Jack (before 1965 when our maple leafed flag was born)  then recited the Lord’s prayer (when this was still allowed in public school).  At the end of the day we sang songs for fun before we were out the door and on our way home. I remember one of our favourites was Puff the Magic Dragon as well as the aforementioned  song that would not leave me in peace until I found all the words to it.

The enigmatic song that was playing an endless loop in my head is called  “A Canadian Camping Song”, and in my cursory search I found that it seemed to be part of the government of the day’s approved curriculum. While my research was only glancing, I could not come up with a song writer.

The words to the song evoke June days when exams were done and we were putting in time before the summer holidays. So for those of you curious about the words to the rest of the song, here they are:

A Canadian Camping Song

A white tent pitched by a glassy lake,

Well under a shady tree.

Or by rippling rills from the grand old hills

Is the summer home for me.

I fear no blaze of the noontide rays,

For the woodland glades are mine,

The fragrant air, and that perfume rare,

The odour of forest pine.

Chorus:

The wild woods, the wild woods

The wild woods give me;

The wild woods of Canada.

The boundless and free.

The song epitomizes summer for me—and in this, our first real week of official summer, it reminds me of the last days of June, sitting at my desk, just waiting for the summer holidays to begin. The days of summer stretched out seemingly forever—full of baseball in the back yard, chores around the house, riding my bike, reading in my favourite tree, and walking with my sister to the local corner store for a pop and chocolate bar.

If anyone knows who wrote this little ditty, let me know.

Fall By Any Other Name

September

September (Photo credit: Helgi Halldórsson/Freddi)

This  just as easily describes October as September, at least in my neck of the woods:

 It is now or never. Actually, it is now, or wait for a year. It is the last week in September and if I am to use the poem, aptly called “September Poem” by Helen Hunt Jackson, I had better get to it. Hard to believe it is the end of September, with October banging on the door. This is my favourite time of year, though spoiled for many as the harbinger to winter, it is a time those of us not prone to look beyond our noses, enjoy.

 Many of the things mentioned in Ms. Jackson’s poetic tribute to September are felt in October. So for your reading pleasure, and without much further ado, I present “September Poem”:

The golden rod is yellow; the corn is turning brown
The trees in apple orchards–with fruit are bending down;
The gentian’s bluest fringes are curling in the sun;
In dusty pods the milkweed–its hidden silk has spun;
The sedges flaunt their harvest in every meadow nook,
And asters by the brookside make asters in the brook;
From dewy lanes at morning the grapes’ sweet odour rise;
At noon the roads all flutter with yellow butterflies—
By all these lovely tokens, September days are here,
With summer’s best of weather, and autumn’s best of cheer.

Helen Hunt Jackson

Helen Hunt Jackson (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 Admit it, does this poem, (if you are of a certain age) not take you back to the days of grammar school when we were forced to learn a certain number of lines of poetry in order to pass our language course. I remember sitting in at recess and noon hours when I was in grade four learning line upon line of poetry, to be recited to the teacher before being allowed to go outside. I hated memorizing poetry—but things that rhymed were much easier than prose poems. If I had been acquainted with Ms. Jackson, this would have been a poem I would have chosen to memorize—although for the life of me, I do not know what a gentian is, or what sedges are, but that can be remedied by a quick Google.

 Okay, I am back—gentians are a pretty flower-like plant, and sedges are a kind of grass (no, landscaping is obviously not my calling). I guess from the context of the poem, you get that idea, but I just wanted to make sure. I like the feeling the poem conjures, whether it is about September or not does not matter, it “feels” like a fall or “sweater weather” poem.

 Born in 1831 in Massachusetts, Helen Hunt Jackson lived until 1885 and was described as “the most brilliant, impetuous and thoroughly individual woman of her time”. If even one of those little descriptions were allotted to me, I would be happy.

 I did take a little licence with her poem, as it is really a five stanza, four line poem, but somehow I do not think this thoroughly individual woman would mind. Friends with Emily Dickinson, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Oliver Wendell Holmes, she had bigger fish to contend  with in her lifetime than this wretched but admiring columnist.

 We still have at least six weeks of “autumn cheer” ahead of us (keep your fingers crossed), and though late fall does not boast all the “lovely tokens” of September days, we can keep them vividly in mind during November’s greyness and December’s snow.

Published in: on October 2, 2011 at 6:38 pm  Leave a Comment  
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