Tag Archiv: heroes

On the way to school

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Girl #1 is rambling about the King of England. Something or other she learned at school from Mrs. V. who, it is repeated with reverence, absolutely loves history.

Girl #2:  I’m getting the idea that Mrs. V. really knows a lot. Like even more than mom

Girl #1 concerned: I don’t know. I think might both know a lot but they know a lot about different things

Girl #2: Yeah, like about God and stuff

Girl #1: No, everybody knows about God. It’s like they both know a lot about some things. Like Mrs. V. knows a lot about history and social studies, and . . .

Girl #2: So maybe they know the same as each other but more than Miss Sipple.

Girl #1 (a little taken aback): Oh no, she says with emphasis, Miss Sipple knows a  lot. She knows all kinds of things. But she teaches very small children. Sooooo, she has to take everything she knows and take down to really tiny little details so the little kids can get it. See what I mean.

Girl #2 Yeah, so she’s really smart but she has to make it so they can understand it

Girl #1 Exactly

 

I tune out while the conversation turns back to the King in England, and all that has been learned thus far from the beloved and admired Mrs. V. Somewhere I tune in again . . .

Girl #1  So anyway, the King and England wanted to fight New York.

Girl #2 Is that like called World War I or something?

Girl #1 Actually, it might have just been New York fighting New York

Boy #2 from the far back:  It’s called the War of 1812

Girl #1  Actually, I’m pretty sure it was New York trying to keep New York, maybe from England.

Boy #3 Then that’s the United States becoming a country. It’s called the Civil War.

Girl #1 Anyway, the point is that there were people in New York who wanted to be loyal to the King and that made other people really mad. They wanted to like lock them up in jail and be mean to them and stuff, but they weren’t bad people. They were good people and they loved the King.

 

Well, Dorothy, I say to myself. You aren’t in Kansas anymore. The traitors of your childhood are the heroes of your children’s. Your book loving son who spews facts about the quiet needed for beer brewing and all manner of odd things learned from his books doesn’t differentiate accurately between American wars, revolutionary, civil, or otherwise.

But that’s ok. My nine year old says that even though Mrs. V. knows some things I don’t, there are some things I know that she doesn’t. This bodes well for both of us.

Thanksgiving, thanks and more thanks

Growing up we never lived close to my grandparents, but I felt their love all the same. Especially from my grandmother. As a small child, I sometimes wondered if my grandfather even knew my name, but somewhere in there, he started talking. He’s never really stopped since. I know entire extended families rather well through the stories of my grandmother. My grandfather and I share a love of silly rhymes.

I wasn’t sure how things would work after my mother died.  Usually it had been my mother that kept us together.

My grandma called me on the phone.  “I call my kids in order. All their numbers are on the wall. I’m too old to change from four to three. I’m putting you in at your mother’s spot,” she said.

She travelled up to meet my first baby. I travelled down with the other three when they arrived.  She bought me diapers and tucked twenty dollar bills in my coat for gas. I sent pictures and letters I had never taken the time to write before. We weren’t  forgetting my mother. We were loving somebody else who loved her. Along the way, we found a lot of love and joy between us. My mother would like that.

My grandfather doesn’t remember things now. He has cancer that he isn’t treating. Many conversations, he can’t follow. He joins in by telling jokes he thinks of.

This year we had an early Thanksgiving dinner together. My grandparents, my girls, and me. I brought one of our chickens. The girls drew turkey pictures and made place cards. We ate brownies for dessert and saved the pumpkin pie for the next day so we could properly enjoy it.

I went to bed afterwards thinking about books. How every chapter should be the best you can make it. Every sentence matters. But as good as it all is, if it’s done right, the last chapter is the best. Everything comes together. The beautiful intensifies to a level you had no idea was even possible back when you were reading in the middle and enjoying every page.

I am struck with my grandfather’s gentleness amidst confusion. His quiet trust in my grandmother is not a tenderness I could have imagined in him twenty years ago.  He needs a lot of help navigating daily life. My grandmother learns what she needs to do, and does it.  She does not spend her days grieving who my grandfather is not. She looks at the man who is present, figures out how to give him what he needs, and loves him as he is.

I have been reading the book of their lives for a long time now. So many different chapters. So much for me to learn. But this last chapter. It takes my words away and sits me down quiet with wonder. About love. And it never, ever being too late to become like the Velveteen rabbit. More real. More beautiful.

Night sky

I like the idea of reaching for something beautiful like the stars, but it takes work to keep my eye on something so far away. When not overcome with passionate optimism, I am a person given to weary sadness. Sometimes it translates as hopelessness, sometimes as an inability to forgive the inordinate number of trespasses from those who surround me, and sometimes as  kind of general malaise. During the impassioned phase, it is not difficult to look up.

I am not in that phase at the moment. I am in the phase where my Pollyanna self would be shot on sight. It is called highly critical, general malaise mode. Inside that place, it is very difficult to look up. Ironically, when I could most use a steady gaze on something higher, my neck prefers to stretch sideways to inspect the shortcomings of my fellow travellers.

In nature, my children, unexpected things, I am sometimes given the needed adjustment for my view finder. When those fail, I flounder. More often than you would think, Mrs. Auchter comes to mind. When I knew her, she was in her eighties, blind and living alone. She had three people in her weekly life, Alice, who did her hair, Marion Fisher who got her groceries, and me.

I thought she had good reasons to be depressed, bitter, and resentful. But if she was these things, I couldn’t see them through her delight at seeing me every Sunday afternoon. She saved up all kinds of things to tell and show my high school self. A piece from Mozart played properly. Warnings from the radio about drugs. The state of her toenails. The good work of prunes. I picture her curly white head with marks from where she slept, her hunched up shoulders, the thick glasses she couldn’t see out of, covered in finger prints.

Recently I read about Josephine Bakhita. She was a very poorly treated slave for many years. Her enslavement was eventually pronounced illegal by the French courts of the day. No longer a slave, Josephine chose to live at a convent. She was assigned as doorkeeper and subsequently was familiar with the local people. She became beloved and very well known for her kindness and generosity of spirit. Literally thousands came to her funeral.

I need to know how this woman was dealt such an ugly hand and ended up a dealer in tender humanity. I have never been a slave, and I think what I do is at least as pleasant an occupation as doorkeeper. I notice the cupboard doors left open, the shoes kicked across the floor, and the dirty Tupperware from the lunches not returned and I am not a happy camper. Josephine Bakhita puts a serious wrench in my ideas about payback for such indignities.

But maybe she is giving me something better to aim for. Something to keep my head up looking at the stars.

 

 

Trying to Remember

When my daughter told me to write about Ivan, my son added without looking up, “Write about Remembrance Day.”

Remembrance Day brings out my split personality. It’s the day I came to Canada. It’s boy two’s birthday. Maybe if I lived in the States and called it Veterans Day I would always remember that it isn’t about me. Coming to Canada was a big deal for my then twenty year old self. I remember it like an Israelite remembers leaving Egypt. Scary at first like you wouldn’t believe in the desert. Wanting to go back. Then wandering in circles for a few years while the promised land waited patiently for lights to dawn on marble head.

Mid gratitude reflecting on what the day has meant for me, I inevitably pass a veteran and am filled with shame. NOTE TO SELF: This day is about THEM! My brain believes in gratitude and remembrance but knowing what to do about that seems hard, so I let it get lost in the details.  Besides, it’s boy two’s birthday. There’s celebrating to be done.

Boy two does not mind sharing his birthday. He thinks it’s special to be born on Remembrance Day, the same way he thinks it’s special to be short and bow legged. (He claims this puts his legs at a better angle for tree climbing.) He was not impressed that I did not take him out of school to go to a Remembrance Day service.

Writing a letter two days after the day doesn’t fix it. Mine is an imperfect attempt to do what I tell my kids: you can’t undo the wrong thing, but you try to make it right.

Dear Veterans,

I am not wearing a poppy because they always fall off and poke me. Seeing you overwhelms me with the size of what you did. I have read many more books on events during WWII than I am years old. For some reason I just listened to six hours of an American History Channel WWII series while driving. I don’t see an old man, or whatever age you are, when I walk by you, I see some mother’s son risking his life for other people. I imagine shaking your hand, looking you in the eye, saying thank you. Instead, I fumble in my purse for change and send the kids to buy a poppy sticker for themselves. I nod at you. Say something inane to the kids about staying with me in the parking lot and move on.

I don’t like the way I do it either. I have no idea how to properly say thank you for the United States that I grew up in or for the Canada where I found home. I promise to let the kids skip school next year to stand in front of the flag with you even if it is cold and raining. Everything I get to remember on November 11, says thanks to you.

Sincere admiration and thanks,

From a woman who ought to have said something sooner