happiness

Climbing trees and ladders (FGK-3)

I’m back to the interview Dad did with Grandma. Many of you who knew mom likely know the story of the time she climbed the ladder to the roof of the big garage. I’d heard the story told many times by mom, and later my uncle told it at her funeral. Some of the details differed, but both ended the story with the fact that mom climbed the ladder and my uncle got in trouble for that (mom’s version was a bit more gleeful about him getting in trouble than was his).

Here’s grandma’s version of the story, which I assume must have been told to her by my grandpa:

When she started to walk, she never stopped, she ran. And I had quite a time getting her taught not to go down to the creek. She was about two years old going down to the creek, and about then Percy thought he’d build a big two story garage we have out here. Great big thing, the upstairs was for storing lots of things, and they held a lot of tractors and cars and stuff.

He’d come to the time to shingle it, and of course the kids wanted to climb the ladder. Marshall, gosh he was big compared to Margie, he thought he was a big guy, and Margie was about 3 years old then I’d think. So finally Percy had to move in and let him help with the shingling, I forget what job we gave him but he was on the roof, that’s all that mattered to him.

He was up there on the roof, up near his dad, and really up on the peak of the roof. He looked around, and he was a little kid looking over the roof, “dad” he said “look” and Percy did and had 40 fits, it was Margie getting off the top of the ladder and was going to go up on the roof. Percy said “Marshall, don’t say a word you’ll get caught” because every time they got together they fought. Margie would try to do something wrong and Marshall would try to stop her because it was dangerous, and there was a big drop. He <Percy> said, “if you can sneak over close, hang onto some part of her till I get there”, and he had 40 fits getting slowly down casually without a fight without anything happening. But he finally got her It was a long ladder to the top of that roof, to go down the ladder (laughter). She didn’t climb a roof again. That was very dangerous.

When Grandma ways that Marshall was big compared to Margie, let’s remember that if Mom was 3 my uncle was only 6, so “big” is relative.

Remember where Grandma says “She didn’t climb a roof again”? Well, right away we move into more stories of her climbing like she’s Spider-Man.

She was always climbing things. Another time I’d call and she’d answer, and I’d call and she’d answer and I’d call I’d walk towards the sound, and she’d answer right close and I couldn’t’ find her. I was in the trees by the house here and I couldn’t find her – those are really tall trees. How tall would you say John?

Dad: oh 20-30 feet

Grandma: at least that I would say. And she’d answer so close I just automatically looked up, and she was having a great time. She was at the top of the tree hugging it looking down, laughing and talking to me. I couldn’t think of how I was going to get her down the tree. I can’t remember now, it was so long ago, how I gradually got her down, it was awful.

Dad: she was quite content up there

Grandma: Yes

And she was always climbing. The house that Percy’s dad and sister lived in was a two story house and high, that big White House there, and at the bottom of the roof, down under the roof, there was a horse trough that used to collect the rain water and it was usually pretty full. And I couldnt find her another day, she was always running around. She would be three or so then. 3 of 4. And finally I found her on the top on the peak of that roof, not the lean to, but the high house, and the highest part of the house. And at the bottom, she got down to the other roof, the lean to, and that was steep too very steep. If she had slipped she’d have gone into the horse trough full of water

Dad: laughs

Grandma: I’m surprised I didn’t go grey right then you know, it was terrible

Dad: better to fall in a horse tough of water than on the ground

Grandma: well… yes but…

Dad: when we got married, one of the ___ gave a toast to the bride, he had a lot of stories, like you told now, about Margie climbing. I’d never heard those stories before and I havent’ heard then since <and I never heard these stories until I found this precious tape>.

Grandma: well

Dad: I made the comment at the wedding following that that she’s always been climbing through her life (gma laughs). Not physically climbing any longer but she was always climbing.

Grandma: Mentally then that’s right I guess. That’s a nice thing to say.

It seemed as though her life has always been eventful you know. I was lying awake thinking about her the other night. I sure wish I’d have written down a diary, but when would you have had time to? With the gang, the men to cook for and keeping house and raising kid. I had two others besides. Oh well.

And these are just the times she got caught, I’m sure Mom climbed everything in sight out here when she was a kid. Which kind of explains my “Monkey Club” years where my cousin and I spent our days climbing and swinging around trees.

Tomorrow I’ll write about mom and her horse Buck and how she and her brother and sister rode to school. The segue between her climbing and her going to school involved a comical spat between dad and grandma:

Dad: Tell me about her going to school

Grandma: I was starting on that (dad: sorry) you’ll have to be quiet (both laugh). If you think of anything speak up though (dad laughs).

Dad and grandma had such a close relationship. From what I saw he treated her like a mom and she treated him like a son. They respected and loved each other, and each had the other’s back, but that didn’t mean that they didn’t sass each other once in a while.

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happiness

By hook or by crook (FGK-10)

I found mom’s old autograph book. I’d forgotten about these, even when I was a kid I had a little book like this that I’d get friends to sign funny things in. Included are the messages from my Grandma, uncle, and aunt.

Dear Margie, The world is like an onion. Reflecting all you do. And if you face it smiling, it will smile right back at you. Love Sheila. Happy Birthday October 6

My aunt wrote this 2 days before my mom turned 6. my aunt would have been 11.

Jumping Pound, Alberta. November 3rd 1947 . Dearest Margie: If there is righteousness in the heart there will be beauty in the character. If there be beauty in the character, there will be harmony in the home. If there is harmony in the home there will be order in the nation. When there is order in the nation, there will be peace in the world. Love Mother

I love this. I googled it and it gives a few sources, but “Ancient Chinese Proverb” and “Confucius” seem to be the most common. While I was reading this I realized that these words have been woven into the tapestry of our family.

My uncle would have been 10 when he wrote this, mom was 7.

Alberta. November 4, 1947. Dear Margie. By hook or by crook I’m the last in this book. Your brother Marshall. Yours till the cows go home

When I was a kid and was given an autograph book to sign I always went to the back to try and write “by hook or by crook…” and I’m glad to see I come by that honestly. Although my uncle really stepped up this game as this is not only the last page, but it’s glued to the end of the book ensuring that no one else can be “more last”.

Back to the letter tomorrow. Today we head out with the 4H club for highway cleanup.

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happiness

Magic Carpet Ride (FGK-2)

I kind of thought maybe carpet bags were something that only Mary Poppins carried around. But I discovered this bag hidden in a closet, and it’s full of odd assortments of mom’s throughout the 1950s. There were lots of old newspapers, both clippings and full papers stuck in here (as an aside, no wonder Mary Poppins used one of these bags, I was beginning to think it was bottomless – it’s amazing how much stuff fit in there).

A lot of it was about the royal family, and it seems mom had the same kind of obsession with Princess Elizabeth that I had with Lady Diana (who am I kidding, I’m still kind of obsessed with her, she was an amazing woman, but I digress).

The Magic Carpet Bag
I had to add this one in because I thought it was funny they had to mention Queen Mary was still alive.

As I said, it’s the most random bag of goodies. Here’s a photo of my aunt – I believe when she graduated from nursing school. There was also a letter from my uncle to my grandparents who were away on vacation somewhere. The letter was full of how much he’d fed the cows (down to the weight of both the feed and the cows), and how day to day things were going on the ranch.

You know, sometimes I wonder why we keep so much old junk around. But I think maybe it’s for moments like this. So we can go back through our past to figure out who we are.

Mom would have been 16 when this caricature was drawn. The same age my girl is now. It took me a long time to figure out how I felt about this picture. Part of me thinks mom would have hated it, but then she kept it for all of this time, and the tape on the sides tell me she probably even hung it up. I think it represents how she took on life after polio took her body. That brain of hers was amazing, she was a lifetime learner, and who she was… what was inside her… it was so impressive and took up so much space that it was usually what people noticed first before the chair.

Mom took her exercise routine seriously. She knew that the only way to have her body work for her was to work with her body.

I had to add these slippers in, it’s unfortunate that you can’t tell from the photo, but they are the MOST uncomfortable slippers that have ever been invented in the history of forever (maybe not, but they’re super uncomfortable). While the blue fuzz isn’t that bad, the outside is some sort of bristly, cable-like, woven threads of yuck. It makes me appreciate my comfy, warm, UGG slippers.

Mom did high school at a boarding school in Florida, and this menu must have come from there. I had to do a closeup of one of the dish write ups because it’s a story telling menu and I thought it was kind of fun.

But, my friends, I saved the best for last. My parents loved it out on Vancouver Island, they even had a home that was to be their retirement home (best laid plans and all) and we spent a great deal of time enjoying what Vancouver Island has to offer. After they sold the house in the 80s, they continued to vacation there regularly, and before Covid I was taking the kids out every year for Easter- it’s a place that holds a lot of love for me and my family.

Anyway, one year when I was about 10, my cousin came with us. Either Victoria was safe enough, or my parents were naive enough that we were allowed to run the streets by ourselves. We found a joke shop and thought it was the best thing we had ever discovered. Along with a whoopee cushion (that did not go over well at all with my parents but we found it hilarious), we bought several licenses that gave us permission to do things. Among them was a license to burp, which like the whoopee cushion we found hysterical but mom did not.

It is nice to see though, that at some point in her life she also decided she needed a sarcastic and sassy license.

Now, if you’ve ever driven with certain members of my family (I’m not naming names, but you know who you are), you’d understand the necessity of a license like this. So, perhaps it was less of a joke and more of a not so subtle hint 😉.

Along with the magic carpet bag, I found all of the letters and cards that were sent to Mom while she was in the hospital. I spent most of yesterday crying and reading them. There was so much love sent to mom, mixed in with details of ranch life in the 1950s which I’ll talk about later on.

But tomorrow I go back to the tape. I’ve got a few stories about Mom’s love of climbing things to share.

Thanks to everyone for the love and support, I hope you continue to enjoy these stories.

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happiness

From Grandma’s Kitchen (FGK-1)

The kids and I moved into Grandma’s house three years ago, a few months after mom died. This house is full of family treasures of the sentimental kind. There are letters and cards, knickknacks, old kitchen items, even empty boxes of items purchased over 50 years ago (because you just never know).

In fact, years ago when I was a teenager (so late 80s) Grandma found an old tin of butter from the war in the basement. Seriously, you never know what you’re going to find.

Then there are all of mom and dad’s things. 70+ years of all of their treasures. And, because it’s “grandma’s house” and “mom and dad’s house” there are all of our childhood things and those of our children as well.

I guess what I’m saying is I had a full house of things to move into a house that was already full. And to go through things requires time, emotional energy, and my sister. The last 3 years have been busy, forget the past year of not being able to gather together. So my stuff is still in boxes sitting in with all of the treasures from other generations. It can get a bit overwhelming to say the least.

So this summer I have set aside time to deal with the treasures and the trash. I have felt for a while this is a crucial part of what I am supposed to do. Like this is an important part of the puzzle that is MElissa. I need to go back and find where I came from, to learn as an adult about the adults who raised and loved me.

And so, I’ve decided to blog this summer “From Grandma’s Kitchen” as I share some insights about the journey of clearing space in this home that I love so much.

It started yesterday. I walked past the “junk room” and I saw the ribbon of a cassette tape lying across the floor. Damn cats. I went in to grab the tape and throw it out, hoping it wasn’t anything important. I’ve looked through the old tapes many times because I’ve been looking for tapes made by my Grandpa Ramsay to no avail.

I followed the broken ribbon to the tape and grabbed it. It was an old theology tape made by one of our family friends (and probably would have been interesting). But then my eyes went to a tape randomly sitting beside it. As I’ve said, I’ve looked on this dresser many times before and I’m sure I never saw this tape lying there.

It was written in Dad’s handwriting and it said “Edna C….. Margie Bio”

And what it is is Dad interviewing Grandma about Mom’s childhood and her time in the hospital with Polio.

The Forgotten Years.

Or more aptly put: The Never Spoken Of Years.

There was always so much pain and trauma surrounding the time when mom got sick that it was a taboo subject in our home.

And yet, as I get older I find myself wanting to know more about mom and the rest of the family in those years. Because something big happened. Not only did mom almost die, but at some point she and everyone around her decided she was going to live and that she was going to live an important life. And everyone supported her until the day she died.

And that takes a special kind of love, character, strength, and most importantly faith.

I’ve just started listening to the tape, and I’ll share some of what I hear as I go along. But this part has stuck with me since yesterday.

While mom was in isolation, Grandma was told by the specialist who had been flown in from Australia that she needed to say goodbye to mom. Here’s Grandma’s recollection and response to the doctor:

And then the epidemic in Australia subsided and the doctor who was a specialist in Australia on polio was sent for to come to Canada. And she was quite a nice lady. The isolation hospital phoned me and asked if I’d meet her one day. She met me on the doorstep and she said that this is something that isn’t supposed to be done but they are obliging me to come to see my daughter because she is not going to live. And she knows that would comfort you a little to see her. So I walked with her through the rows of sick people and the girl in a bed beside her was in an iron lung. And she was too sick to talk or anything. And she (the doctor) said now I”m going to talk to you and you are not to even expect her to live nor to wish her to live. Believe me I’ve seen enough cases to know what I’m talking about

I said well I’m going to do just the opposite of what you’re telling me, I’m sorry. I’m going to expect her to live I’ll pray that she will and I’m going to get a lot of others to do that. And we have been, my friends and my church. She said well that’s very foolish because you’ll be disappointed and I was trying to ease your pain, so it wouldn’t be such a shock to you.

So I thanked her I just walked on then from one church to another where I could walk to move in Calgary and just spoke to the minister in each one of them. It didn’t matter what the church or the religion was and asked them to pray for her. And of course our church said they would, all of them did in Cochrane.

The power of prayer. And the strength and courage of Grandma to go ask strangers to pray for her daughter. It humbles me. And of course we know that while mom was left with some major physical impairments, never let anyone tell her she couldn’t do something. And it’s easy to see the apple didn’t fall far from the tree – no one was going to tell Grandma no either.

And aside from the power of this amazing story, the gift from God that I am able to hear these stories that I’ve longed to know for so long, I got to hear Dad and Grandma’s voice. From what I’ve gathered from the tape, they did this interview here in Grandma’s kitchen, in the same place where I am sharing it with you.

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happiness

Facing a bully

It should come to no surprise to those who know me that angry men intimidate me. I think as a single woman this would probably be true anyway, but I lived in a war zone with a man who raged at and threatened me on a regular basis, so there’s a lot of trauma that I’ve been working through since I left (thank goodness for therapy).

Yesterday when we were driving home we saw that there were tons of swans on the slough, and that there were tons of people stopped to watch them. It’s a happy sight for the most part, the swans have been missing the last few years, and since we have all been home more I know they bring joy to so many people.

As we drove by, there were a few people climbing the fence to go in the field to get closer to the swans. Trespassing isn’t really a great thing at the best of times, but there were two newborn calves right beside where everyone was climbing and it’s not a good idea to get between a mom and her baby.

So we stopped and asked the people to please stand on the outside of the field. They were super polite and apologetic – and like I said, I get it- seeing the swans is so exciting and we need a pick me up now more than ever.

But, as I was chatting with them, a man who was probably 10 years older than I am walked by us and started climbing the fence. I asked him politely to please not go into the field. He looked at me and kept climbing. I asked him again, and he said well, he was just going to walk along the road (in the field) then. I said no, the road was IN the field which made it trespassing, and pointed to the calves right beside him and explained that it wasn’t safe to be in the field with the calves.

He then asked me if I owned the land. I said yes (I don’t but it’s family land and I live right beside it). He said he didn’t believe me, and started yelling that he could do what he wanted because I was lying. I pointed to my house and said I lived right there and that he was welcome to follow me home if he didn’t believe me (while crapping my pants because who wants a crazy person following them home?). He said the only way he would stay out of the field is if he had proof it was my land. I responded by saying if it wasn’t my land why would I be standing here being an asshole? He stood there glaring at me for several more minutes before taking a quick photo and leaving.

As this was going down I heard the other people standing there laughing, and heard them comment what a rude person he was and how there was clearly a gender issue going on. I have to say, as things got deeper I was pretty glad I wasn’t there alone because that man was going out of his way to intimidate me.

So, here’s the happiness moment in this. First of all, I stood my ground to the man who was trying to intimidate and bully me. Secondly, I had some great conversations with the other people looking at the swans. Thirdly, the people besides “angry man” who were there were really kind and nice people who genuinely seemed to enjoy being out watching the swans. Finally, I got to see swans and calves which really along with crocuses (still haven’t seen this year) is my sure signs of spring.

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happiness

Born on the Fourth of July

Despite being a huge Tom Cruise fan in my younger days, I never watched Born on the Fourth of July. I think at that stage of my life I was much more interested in Cocktails and Risky Business than I was learning the story of a Vietnam Vet.

I chose to write about Ron Kovic for a paper I’m doing on trauma. I figured that since I’ve been fortunate enough to never experience war and the story was one that happened to a man in the 1960s that it would be less traumatic for me to watch.

Well, I was wrong.

After Ron Kovic is shot he gets sent to hospital in New York to recover. There were men lying in rows of beds completely at the mercy of the medical staff, many unable to move or advocate for themselves. It was easy to see that the staff was totally overwhelmed and were being asked to preform way beyond their abilities.

And I thought of my mom at 11 getting polio and being in a ward similar to that. She used to describe hearing the iron lungs and how terrifying that sound was, and how it was even more terrifying when the noise stopped because you soon learned what that meant.

The doctors came and told Ron that he would never be able to walk again, and they then showed him with absolute determination dragging himself on his crutches. They told my mom that she’d never sit up again until she sat up. They told her she’d never walk again and so she learned to walk with her crutches.

Although mom didn’t talk much (like never) about what things were like when she was sick, I grew up with what I thought was an understanding of the basics of what it was like.

After watching Born on the Fourth of July I now see that what I thought I understood wasn’t even the surface of what actually was. It’s given me a whole new appreciation of who mom was and how hard she worked to create a new life after losing so much.

Because at one point while she was in the hospital she had to make choices. She had to decide how she was going to be, what limits she was going to push, and who she was going to become. And she fought every single day of her life to push through and past the limits that were put on her.

Watching the movie was traumatizing for me, I cried the entire time I watched it and then had to just lie on the couch quietly for a few hours longer. I’ve never been that affected by a movie before, and I feel extreme gratitude for the lessons that it gave to me.

Fortunately I didn’t follow up that movie with Inside Out to fully examine my feelings.

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happiness

Crocuses and memories

Yesterday my aunt headed home to be with Jesus. Although I will miss her here, she was a woman who held true to her faith and I know she was welcomed with open arms.

When we were kids, my cousin and I would go spend a week or so in the summer at my aunt and uncle’s farm, splitting our time between VBS and scaring the crap out of ourselves with whatever fun things we could find to get into. Sometimes our cousins would take us to the nearby “haunted house”, once we found a two headed grasshopper, but a lot of our time was spent playing in the yard and generally enjoying ourselves.

When I went away to school, my aunt sent me cards regularly so that I wouldn’t feel too lonely. She even came once and took me out for lunch which meant so much to me (I really was lonely).

After Grandma died, we were all sitting in the kitchen when my aunt returned from a walk in the field. It was early April, but she had found some crocuses growing in the field and brought them into the house. It seemed very fitting to have there for Grandma, but it also seemed fitting that my aunt would have gone out and found something that provided us all with a bit of comfort when we were all sad.

For some reason, after everyone left, I grabbed those crocuses and dried them in one of my books. The crocuses came with me as we moved around, and every once in a while I would open the book and look at that memory of love from home.

I opened the book at Christmas time and again looked at the crocuses with so much gratitude that we were back in the same home where they had sat in their vase (actually, in our home crocuses always go in a small juice glass), steps away from the field that had grown them. Grandma will be gone 17 years this spring, and it’s always amazed me that these crocuses held their shape. This time, though, the crocuses were disintegrating and as soon as I touched them they crumbled into little pieces.

It was like they knew they’d done their job well and were ready to go. Hopefully they’re a centrepiece at a beautiful tea table in heaven.

Love lasts for eternity. Everything else is noise.

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happiness

Love that lasts through time and space

Poor Ella has been quite depressed since Aladdin died. She’s the most cat-like of our cats (don’t touch me, don’t look at me, and whatever you do… don’t touch my fancy tail) and has a harder time getting along with the other animals (and sometimes humans). But she loved Aladdin, and he loved her.

They would lie on my bed for most of the day all cuddled up together, and they slept there at night too with me interrupting their space. He just got her, he loved her no matter how cranky she was and in turn that made her less cranky.

Since he’s been gone, she’s lying on my bed alone a lot of the time. She’s just kind of down and depressed even though we try and shower her with love.

Today the girl suggested we take Aladdin’s ashes and put them on the bed with her to see if they comforted her at all. It’s funny, if it wasn’t for the kids I never would have got ashes back, but it seems they were much needed. I could not believe her reaction.

She lay on the bed for ages loving on that box

I was not prepared for how beautiful or emotional this would be. But she just could not stop hugging on the box that contained the memories and essence of her best friend.

It was a truly beautiful moment.

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Little Abu

We had a health emergency with little Abu yesterday that put us all in a small state of panic (she’s going to be ok). Abu is Aladdin’s sister and littermate, they lived together with their mom in the abandoned house before they were rescued, to say she was bonded to him is an understatement.

Man, it was hard taking her to the same clinic where we let Aladdin go to his happy hunting grounds, I cried during her intake.

But you know, little Abu is a trooper. Besides the emergency, it turns out she’s in great health, and she won over the hearts of the kind people looking after her.

Abu may not have bonded with the other cats quite the way I’d have thought, she didn’t really need to since she had Aladdin. But, she has developed a strong bond with her two giant canine friends. I think they knew something was up because they both spent some extra time with her yesterday. It’s quite cute to see this little round ball of cat fur all curled up beside one of her dog friends.

The power of love is quite incredible. Us humans love Abu to bits, but our animals have these profound relationships with each other that I learn so much from.

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Opportunities for mindfulness

This week I am co-leading a group on mindfulness for my master’s program. Although the intention of mindfulness is to bring peace to your soul, I have been so stressed about leading this group!!!

My partner lives in China which is a challenge because of the 13 hour time difference, and so far I’ve been pretty much flying solo (although we did most of the prep work together).

Here’s what I’m discovering. The last 10 years of working on myself, including developing a (fairly inconsistent lately) meditation practice are really helping me. I know a lot more about mindfulness than I give myself credit for.

Also, I’m much more comfortable in the role of leader than I thought I would be. My years as a substitute teacher help me to be able to change lesson plans on the fly to meet the needs of the participants.

While preparing for these sessions, I’ve recommitted to my meditation practice and I’m noticing a huge decrease in stress over the last couple of weeks.

I feel that meditation and mindfulness helps me kind of reset my soul, which is a game changer when the anxiety or whirling thoughts kicks in.

I do a good job of talking to God, but not so much of listening. Meditation is my time to listen.

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