Peace, Good Will

 

‘Tis the season of frantic shoppers, aggressive drivers, wild-eyed bargain hunters and parking lot fender benders. The newspapers are full of stories of selfishness and greed and down-right bad manners. As an antidote, I’m collecting stories of generosity, selflessness, and kindness.

For the month of December I’ve got “good deeds” on my radar. Not the seasonal ones like serving dinner in a homeless shelter, or putting a float in a parade, or being a secret Santa to a shut in. Those are certainly good deeds and kudos to everyone to participates in those kinds of activities.

But for the purposes of this blog, I’m collecting  small acts of kindness, the unorganized kind. The kind that spread the Christmas Spirit everywhere and anywhere, even in unexpected places.

  • Story One: While waiting in a line-up outside Tim Hortons I encountered a young dad taking his little hockey players out for hot chocolate after an early morning practice. Reason enough to give him a pat on the back. But, he went further. He talked to a young man sitting on the sidewalk. Asked if he was hungry, exchanged names, then offered to bring him a breakfast sandwich. The young man on the sidewalk opted for a donut instead. The dad obliged, even after trying to talk the young man into a healthier choice. I was so uplifted by that dad’s good deed, I emptied my purse into a collection box when I finally reached the counter.
  • Story Two: I lost a prized jacket. Searched the house top to bottom several times. Looked in the most unlikely of places. Retraced my steps. Finally, in a last ditch effort, I called the airport. I was sure I hadn’t worn the jacket when I went to the coffee shop there, but  I was ready to try anywhere. Lo and behold, I did wear the jacket and left it hanging on a chair. Some honest soul found it and turned it in to lost and found. Two days after the jacket went missing, the commissionaire produced it from a back room and restored it to me. I am so very grateful to the people who enabled me to get my coat back. It would have been so easy just to walk away with it.
  • Story Three: I needed to make a left-hand turn mid-block. An oncoming vehicle stopped, allowing me to turn and freeing the line of traffic jammed up behind me. Thank you lady driver. You are a remedy for all the angry drivers out there who drive down the shoulder, cut in and out of traffic and steal parking spaces. I hope you have a Merry Christmas and that your act of kindness inspires others.

So, that’s my list for this week. Watch for more as I celebrate the Christmas season. Please share your own story of peace and good will in the comments section. Let kindness reign!

Read to Me

I was in contact with two elderly friends last week. Both are the same age, both are underweight, both have a vision problem that means they cannot read.  One misses newspapers more than anything. The other misses reading piano music.

One is quite robust, despite her tiny size. She works out for an hour every morning and insists on walking everywhere, even though she can’t see the pavement under her feet. The other is extremely frail and requires help to move from bed to chair and back again.

Both have found solace in the spoken word. One listens to audio books while doing her workout. She says twenty minutes just flies by when there’s a good story playing through your earpiece. She has just discovered , Wives and Daughters, by Elizabeth Gaskell. The audio version takes about twenty hours, as compared to the usual ten hours for most books, but my friend finds the writing and the reading so engaging she’s happy to keep listening. In fact, she plans to look for more of this author’s books in audio form.

The other has a volunteer who sits with her one afternoon a week and reads aloud from a paper book. They are about to start , The Thorn Birds, by Colleen McCullough, another tome.

What struck me about these two ladies, apart from their similarity in age and vision impairment, is their joy in listening to a story. Note, even the news junkie would rather have a story playing on her device than a newspaper article.

There’s something wonderful about being read to. In my day, a bedtime story was a requirement from every parent to every child. Even when I could read for myself, my brothers and I loved gathering in the living room of an evening and listening to our mother read aloud. We had stories from the Family Herald, books by Thornton W. Burgess, Bible stories, Mother Goose tales, Pollyanna and Anne of Green Gables, and my mother’s voice.

From listening to my two friends, I realize that we never outgrow that “read me a story” stage.

My Mom didn’t do funny voices, but she read at a pleasing pace, in a clear voice and loved the story. Other parents excelled at “voices” when telling bedtime stories. I had a cousin who could “tell” stories as she made them up.

Some authors read their own work for audio books, others hire voice actors. Whatever the method, it seems “read me a story,” is a universal desire that technology has expanded but cannot displace. Three cheers for those who still read aloud to their children – or grandparents – and congratulations to the techies who figured out that we all want to “hear” a story.

What about you? Do you want to listen to a story? Do you prefer live readers or digital versions? Do you ever consider reading your own work aloud to an audience?

Leave a comment and receive a copy of my latest Christmas short story.

Name that Hero

 

I’m working on a new story with an “interesting” hero. He’s a medical doctor in a gold rush town. He is highly skilled but has no bedside manner. He has red hair that sticks up in a halo around his head. His childhood was marked by abandonment – mother died, series of housekeepers, father oblivious to child.

He followed in his father’s footsteps and became a doctor. He and his father lived together in the family home and worked together in the family practice. There were no women in their lives. My hero had been in love once, but she’d walked out on him.

His life seems set on its course and he has given up on feeling lonely. This is just the way it is.

Stuff happens– don’t want to give away the story– and he heads west, ending up in Prospect. He’s the only doctor for miles around so no one argues with his dictates, even though his patients grumble at his high-handed methods.

For some reason, I want to name him Rupert. It’s an odd name, but, in my mind, it suits him.

Here in British Columbia we have a town of Prince Rupert and when the Hudson’s Bay Company sold their holdings to the Dominion of Canada, the area was called Rupert’s Land. Both were named in honour of a cousin of Charles 1, Prince Rupert of the Rhine.

Prince Rupert’s family fled civil unrest when he was a baby. He grew up in exile, then landed at the court of his English royal relatives as an adult,  He was a skilled horseman and soldier, fighting for the Royalist cause against the Roundheads. He was also a businessman who became the first governor of the  Hudson’s Bay Company.

Other Ruperts include

The name seems to have been much more popular in Britain than in North America.

So, what do you think? Could you fall in love with a hero named Rupert?

1918 – 2018

 

Remembrance Day this year is particularly significant as it marks the 100th anniversary of the end of WWI, the War to End All Wars.  With that hopeful thought in mind 620,000 men and women from Canada, with a population of just eight million, enlisted. In 1914 they went off with flags flying and trumpets blaring only to land in a hell none could have imagined. When they died, more took their place.

The impact on the country was incalculable. We lost 66,000 men, while another 127,000 were wounded. At that time, no one counted the mental wounds of returning soldiers. One mother in Winnipeg had seven sons in the army and two were killed. Countless families lost fathers, brothers, sons, husbands and uncles. Losses were staggering. For example, at the Battle of Beaumont-Hamel  800 Newfoundlanders went into battle on the first of July, 1916.  Only 68 could answer roll call the next day. The dead included 14 sets of brothers.

So many leaders of the future were lost, artists, writers, industrialists, politicians, inventors, educators and bread-winners. The loss to the country goes well beyond mere numbers. The heart of Canada had been broken. The memorial at Vimy Ridge, shows the figure of a mother weeping for her sons. It is called Canada Bereft.

My first emotional encounter with the war came in my adolescence when I read Rilla of Ingleside, the last of the “Anne” books by L.M. Montgomery. Rilla, Anne’s youngest child comes of age during the Great War. Her favourite brother, Walter, says, “Before this war is over. . . every man and woman and child in Canada will feel it. . .It will be years before the dance of death is over . . . And in those years millions of hearts will break.” 1

In the end, Walter goes to war to save his own soul for he cannot live with the knowledge that the weak and defenceless are dying. I had an uncle who fought in the first war, he was wounded and the bullet hole in his shoulder made his young nephews stare. But my uncle never spoke of his experiences. Walter Blythe, a character in a book, made the war real for me. That’s the power of fiction, it can speak truth in ways real people cannot.

In later years, I’ve watched old film and been angry and heart-broken by the stupidity of trench warfare – all those young lives squandered for a few meters of mud. I’ve hated the generals and the politicians and armament manufacturers  who created the war. I’ve questioned the history books who spoke of “winning.” I’ve been heart-sore at the images of laughing faces eclipsed by carnage.

But whatever my mood, whatever the weather, whatever my view on conflict,  on November 11, at the eleventh hour, I honour the brave men and women who left home and country and sacrificed their all to do what they thought was right. Duty seems an outmoded concept in our time, but for those who followed the drum, it was the highest calling.

One hundred years since the guns fell silent on that first Armistice Day. Pray God, they fall silent again.

1  L.M. Montgomery, Rilla of Ingleside,  McClelland & Steward, Ltd. Toronto, 1947, p.84

 

 

 

The Look of Love

Just what is the look of love? Artists have tried for centuries to capture it in oils. Poets write verses to it and writers of romance cover pages and pages with words to describe that special quality of expression.

Sara Teasdale wrote: Strephon kissed me in the Spring, /Robin in the fall, /But Colin only looked at me/And never kissed at all.  Sterphon’s kiss was lost in jest,/Robin’s lost in play,/But the kiss in Colin’s eyes/Haunts me night and day.

“. . . take down this book/And slowly read, and dream of the soft look/Your eyes had once. . .” W.B. Yeats

The look of love is that glow in the eye, the softness of the mouth, the unmasked face. It is the longing to gaze endlessly at the beloved. There is a tenderness that moves me to tears — usually.

Last week, at the mall, I saw that look, but this time it made me smile. On a bench sat a very large dude. He looked like a pro football player, maybe a linebacker. In his big hands he cradled a tiny, little baby.  He raised her up so they were nose to nose and the look on his face was pure love. My heart melted, but I had to smile at the incongruous picture they made.

Years from now, when his teenaged daughter is driving him nuts, I hope he remembers that moment.

I hope we all remember such moments when stress, fear, worry, deadlines, and endless demands overwhelm us.

Love is stronger than hate. 

Memories

I’m just back from a trip to my home province.  While there I had the opportunity to check out my alma mater, Queen’s University at Kingston. I’m so glad I did.  The last time I visited I came away feeling disappointed — so much had changed.  This time, I had fewer expectations and came away elated.  So much is still there!

 

The trees are gone from the boulevard but Grant Hall, the symbolic centre of the university still stands sentinel on University Avenue. Lucky me, it was open.  This is the hall where my convocation ceremony took place.

Ontario Hall with its beautiful curving staircase was a favourite place for pictures when I was a student.  There are matching wooden curved staircases inside. At one point there was a move to tear the place down as being too inefficient, but alumni sentiment proved stronger than money and this castle-like building graces the campus.

The student body is four times the number it was in my day, but their faces are still bright and eager and hopeful.  We stopped at the student pub for a sandwich and chatted with the wait-staff, all students.  They made my heart lift when they talked about school spirit and the importance of century old traditions.  In our world that changes so fast — all my computer programs were updated while I was away — it is reassuring that things like duty and honour and public service still matter. This corner stone is dedicated to Sir Sandford Fleming, past chancellor.

Today’s students have chucked textbooks for ipads, and Google has replaced the dictionary, but the desire to seek knowledge is still there. The fresh-faced students taking the first steps toward their future, are still excited and glad to be at this institution.

This is the address where I worked for a few years after graduation.  At that time it was part of the registrar’s office and a green, tin, temporary structure.  Now it looks like this! But it still houses the admissions office.

 

 

 

I came away from my whirlwind tour of the campus with a smile on my face and a lift of the heart.  For a few brief moments I relived the excitement of my first semester. I belonged to something good and grand.  I was part of a tradition. I’m still part of that tradition. Cha Gheill — College of the Queen forever!

 

Doors to History

A visitor to Victoria today is greeted with all the accoutrements of a building boom.  Cranes dot the skyline. Streets are torn up, traffic diverted and sidewalks are barred with portable fencing. On a recent trip into downtown I discovered that most of the antique stores I intended to visit, had closed up shop.  Welcome to the twenty-first century.

 

I guess today’s Victoria is somewhat reminiscent of the days when gold-seekers swarmed the streets. It all began on Sunday, April 25, 1858 when townsfolk were returning from church.  The “Commodore” – a wooden side-wheel American steamer, entered Victoria harbour and 450 men disembarked – typical gold-seekers, complete with blankets, miner’s pans and spades and firearms. Within a few weeks a town of approximately 230, had been invaded by over 20,000 adventurers and gold prospectors.

While the great majority of these people were transients, the rush of gold-seekers transformed the sleepy village of “Fort Victoria,” into a bustling centre for commerce.  A wild land-boom followed.  Lots that had languished on the market for $25.00 were snapped up a week later for $3,000 each.  For most of the nineteenth century, Victoria remained the largest city in British Columbia and was the foremost in trade and commerce.

I’m sure the original residents felt as bewildered as I do at the sudden and drastic change to their home town. Suddenly there was building everywhere. And what building it was!

The Empress Hotel greeted travellers arriving by water. Rattenbury had designed the elegant legislature building to replace the burned down “bird cages.”

Banks created cathedrals of finance, complete with coats of arms. Church spires dominated the skyline.

Victoria looked the part of a jewel in the British Empire.

Subsequent building booms have seen many historic buildings torn down and others altered dramatically. But there are still hints of Victoria’s Imperial past.  You find it in funky doorways. 

Morris Tobacconist

Many of the original rounded entries, with curved windows on the side have been modernized in the interests of economy and efficiency, but a few remain.  Look for them in “old towne” along Government and Wharf Street.

 

 

These are just a few of the treasures I found.  Do you have a favourite doorway in Victoria?  In your hometown?  Why do you like it?

Joy and Thanksgiving

Canadian Thanksgiving occurs this weekend.  It is one of my favourite holidays, celebrating harvest and the abundance of the land. During our stretch of sunshine at the end of September I got into Thanksgiving mode a little early.  

We picked pumpkins, 

                                                              harvested apples,

 

and gathered seed for next year’s flowers.

.  

 

  

                                    We were dazzled by dahlias and 

enchanted with a late blooming rose.

 

My world teemed with abundance.  My soul stretched and soared in gratitude.

Then, to top it all off, we attended a stage production of “Glorious” by Peter Quilter.  This is the story of Florence Foster Jenkins, the world’s worst opera singer.

And she was a terrible singer.  She tackled the most demanding coloratura repertoire and murdered it in spectacular fashion.  I couldn’t stop laughing.  Apparently her real life audience laughed too, but they loved her and she was invited to sing at Carnegie Hall in New York City.  Why?

I believe it was because of her exuberant joy.  She loved music, loved singing.  It brought her unparalleled  happiness and she wanted to share that happiness with the world.  I think she felt the same way on stage as I feel when I gloat over the harvest from my garden.  We are uplifted, exultant and full of joy.

At this time of thanksgiving, I wish all my readers overwhelming joy, the kind that cannot be contained in a safe, conventional life.  I wish you the exuberance of my dahlias and the bursting enthusiasm of Florence Foster Jenkins.

Happy Thanksgiving!

I

The Real Thing

I grew up with the iconic television series, “Perry Mason.” starring Raymond Burr.  It came on an hour past our bedtime, but if we got into our pyjamas and stayed very quiet and unobtrusive, we could usually stay up and watch.  I really wanted to be Della.

So, when I saw a classic movie channel showing a 1930’s film of Perry Mason, I tuned in to watch.  I thought it would be fun to see another actor in the role.

I was astounded.  the Perry Mason in the movie was nothing like the one portrayed by Raymond Burr.  This Perry moonlighted as a chef in a fancy restaurant.  He spent his off hours attending swanky parties and was a bit of a womanizer.  Long-suffering Della wasn’t invited.

What?!!!

I set out to find the real Perry Mason

I confess, I’d never read one of Erle Stanley Gardner’s books, but assumed they’d be easy to come by.  Wrong again.  My library didn’t have one.  My local second hand bookshop said they couldn’t keep them on the shelves and another dealer want $125.00 for a “rare” copy.

Finally, Amazon turned up an electronic copy at a reasonable price and I settled down to discover the character as written by the author. The result? The Raymond Burr version is much truer to the book. In the book version, Perry Mason worked all hours–nary a party or a socialite in view–and he certainly didn’t spend time in a commercial kitchen. He treated Della with great respect and affection, but no romance.  I am relieved.

The entire exercise taught me to not trust Hollywood for my research.

As a writer of historical fiction it is easy to fall into the trap of believing the tropes seen in the movies or on television are accurate portrayals of the era.

In my WIP, I decided it would make a good scene to remove a bullet from a wounded man.  A little research showed that instantly removing a bullet is not only unnecessary but may actually do more harm than good. Hollywood likes the drama of bullet removal from the flesh, usually without anaesthetic, because it makes good theatre. Not because it makes good medicine or is a true account of the practice of medicine at the time.

Lesson learned.  I’m still going to remove the bullet, but I’ll find good medical reasons to do it.

What about you? Have you ever seen favourite book characters mangled in a movie or television series. How did you feel? Shocked? Angry? Disappointed?

Kneading the Generations

I made scones for lunch the other day. I did it the old-fashioned way with a sifter, a pastry cutter and my hands. No machines.  Don’t get me wrong. I love my bread maker, but I miss the experience of working the dough. There is something eminently satisfying about kneading bread. I love how the dough changes from sticky and formless into a smooth, round ball as I work it.  I love the gentle movement of pressing the heel of my palm into the dough, flipping and turning it.  I like the way this timeless activity connects me to my foremothers.  Generations of women have performed this same task, turning flour, fat and yeast into tasty food for a family.

This photo of my grandmother, at an advanced age, baking bread at the kitchen table evokes feelings of warmth, and family, and connection. You can’t see it in the photo, but all around her, her daughters and granddaughters are preparing Christmas dinner. It’s one of my favourite memories.

In my wip, the heroine has devoted herself to making a home for her sister. She succeeds, but her success is hollow when she realizes that she had provided shelter, but not “home.” I think I’ll have her make bread.  The kneading will connect her to the place.  The smell of fresh bread will put heart in her hearth.

Any other fans of kneading out there?

« Older posts

© 2018 Alice Valdal

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑