FAMILY REUNION NEARLY FORGETTABLE

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The Standard, May 26, 1999

            Over the years, my mother’s family has had the distinction of celebrating five golden weddings and one diamond. Not bad out of a family of nine children, one of whom never married. The children of these families emigrated to different lands in search of a better life, hence I have cousins in Australia, U.K., U.S.A and various parts of Canada. Although we are separated by many miles, the bond between us has never been broken. Evidence of this was clearly seen at the various celebrations in Australia, Canada and the U.K. where many of us travelled to attend the festivities. Remarkably the second and third generations bonded as though they had known each other all of their lives. Most of these celebrations were followed by travelling the various countries in a group, listening to stories handed down by our parents, who had incredible memories, and the inevitable singsong at the end of the evening which the Scots love.

There is, however, a slight flaw in the family – if you can call it that. Nearly all of my female cousins are named Margaret Livingston whatever. Back then the first daughter had to be called after the mother’s mother and the first son after the father’s father. To add to the confusion, two of my mother’s brothers and one sister married two sisters and a brother. Not only do several cousins have the same first name, their surname is also the same. For instance, we had a Big Alex Girvin and a Wee Alex Girvin but the Wee Alex outgrew the Big Alex and we had to rename them Young Alex and Old Alex. Whenever there is a family gathering we have to say which Margaret (there are six) we are referring to by using their surnames. My name is actually Margaret too but I am called Rita, although it is not on the birth certificate. My dad wanted to call me Patricia after him (Patrick), especially since I was born on his birthday. That was a no-no back then so he called me Rita. Sadly, there is only one aunt left (Margaret) surprise! surprise! out of the original family and although she is going on 92 years of age, she can still touch her toes without bending her knees and goes to line dancing.

The golden weddings have come to my generation and the first one was celebrated last week here in Canada although the cousin is from Australia. True to form, relatives came from all over the globe and we were once again set for a trip down Memory Lane. Unlike our parents, we couldn’t remember where it was. My daughter-in-law hoped the relatives would wear name tags so she could identify them. I told her not to worry because they were likely Margaret, Alex, John or Andrew.

It was at one of the backyard reunions where we admitted our memories were not so great these days. It wasn’t until we spoke about it openly, that we realized how laughable the situation was.

One cousin, a professional nurse mentioned she used Ginkgo Biloba to improve her memory. All of our ears perked up in interest. When someone asked her how long she had been taking it, she admitted she couldn’t remember. We all roared with laughter. My son added that he had been taking it also. When asked by someone if he thought it was doing any good, he confessed he didn’t know because he kept forgetting to take the pills. Another cousin said he was taking a similar pill. When questioned further, he couldn’t remember the name of it.   Someone else who was on Ginkgo Biloba – I can’t remember who – was also taking a vitamin for ringing in the ear. He couldn’t remember the name of the ear ringing disease. I mentioned that I had to write down the times I put cookies in the oven because I often forgot. Another cousin suggested that I get timers. She told us she has three timers but unfortunately when one goes off, she often forgets which batch of cookies it is for. At this time I interjected that my husband had been taking Ginsana and it didn’t do anything for his memory either. I was immediately told that Ginsana is for energy and not memory. I said that it still didn’t work. My husband piped in and said “Oh it worked alright but I was starting to think about doing some work, so I quit taking it.”

This is typical of some of the lighter moments we shared – and no one was even trying to be funny.

Our visitors are starting to head back home now and soon we will all settle down to the daily routine. We laughed so much as we travelled the scenic Niagara Region, which they loved, but the earlier stories of memory lapses stole the show. However, there is one thing that will never fade from our memories and that is the truly unique bond that this family shares.

Grandma and Grandpa Kemp who would surely be proud of their offspring, probably never imagined that their descendants would span the globe and out of the whole bunch, there is not one black sheep. At least, none that we can remember.

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WHAT WOULD SHOELESS JOE JACKSON SAY?

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I’ve been hard at work polishing my articles in preparation for their release in book form.  I’m getting really excited!  Lauren Murphy-Larsen has also been busy burning through pencils, pencil crayons, markers, paints and, of course, paper sketching and drawing illustrations for my articles.  Here’s her latest sketch and the article to go with it, another preview of my forthcoming collection, tentatively titled Rita Writes

WHAT WOULD SHOELESS JOE JACKSON SAY?

Originally published in the Thorold News March 31, 2001

How many times have you gone to the doctor’s office early, only to sit there for what seems like an eternity? Magazines provided to help pass time are usually not very interesting and often outdated. It’s easy to get frustrated and stressed so I take my mind off the wait by thinking of something else. For instance, as I people watch, I try to guess a person’s origin, what he or she might do for a living and also the reason for the visit.

I notice some people appear self confident, others meekly shuffle their feet as they move towards reception, some nervously tap fingers or feet, while yet others continually cross and uncross their legs. My eyes inevitably go to the shoes and then I imagine what they might be thinking, or saying to each other. It’s a stress reliever while helping to pass time until my name is called. Example: hiking shoes sitting close to patent slingbacks might say ‘how about a stroll outside?’   Slingbacks snippily reply, ‘take a hike.’

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Little girl with black patent shoes, tapping on the floor, is definitely saying ‘I am going to be a tap dancer when I grow up.’

Expensive designer aerobic shoes snobbily look to sneakers as if to say ‘you’re such a lowly sneak.’

Penny loafers. What a perfect pair of shoes to wear to a waiting room because they will be loafing around for a while.

Wedgies also perfect for waiting rooms because very often the owners of the shoes have to wedge themselves into a small space in a crowded room.

Brogues – “Sure and begorrah, I’d much rather be out on the golf course.”

Long sleek boots remind me of Nancy Sinatra’s “These boots are made for walking” and will walk all over someone if they don’t get in to see the doctor tout de suite!

Cowboy boots. “I don’t mind in line dancing, but not in line waiting.”

Since we are in the shoe department, so to speak,

Lou was down and out in Vancouver, his clothes in bad shape and his shoes completely worn and shabby. When he walked along the street, he raised his foot up in order to lift the loose floppy sole so that he wouldn’t trip on it. A business owner standing in his doorway, noticed Lou’s predicament. He felt sorry for the poor man and he motioned Lou to stop while he went into his shop. Moments later, he returned with an expensive pair of Italian leather shoes, which he offered to Lou. Imagine Lou’s delight when the shoes fit perfectly. He had never seen such expensive shoes, let alone own a pair. Lou thanked the owner and asked if he could pay for the shoes by doing odd jobs. The owner said that wouldn’t be necessary because the man who owned the shoes had no further use for them. Lou was surprised but not for long when the owner pointed to a sign on his building – “Funeral Parlour.”

My Uncle Ted was quite a character who kept folks enthralled with stories of public speaking on street corners and defending people who couldn’t afford a lawyer. Uncle Ted was not a lawyer but his name is in the U.K. law books because of a precedent he set with one of his defenses. He was as sharp as a tack right up to the moment he died in his eighties.

Anyway, Uncle Ted suffered a slight stroke which caused one foot to drag behind the other. This bothered him greatly. He put his mind to work and came up with this solution.   He got a cord from a toaster, made a hole in his trousers’ pocket and inserted the cord which ran down his leg to his foot. He then tied the end of it around his shoe, leaving the plug clearly visible. He didn’t want to cut the plug off because he used it on his toaster when he was at home. He operated this contraption by putting his hand in his pocket and pulling on the cord. This action lifted his foot just high enough to get it moving more easily and in pace with the good foot. It was brilliant! However, he did get some very funny looks from people who saw the plug sticking out of his shoe.

These are but a few of the things that run through my mind. It beats staring at walls and it’s amazing how quickly time passes while waiting.

GREAT SUPPORT FOR TWO TEARS!

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My calendar says the holidays are over but it feels like Christmas all over again because I’m receiving such great feedback from wonderful folks who took a chance on me and bought my debut novel, TWO TEARS.

This reader touched my heart with the wonderful things they had to say about my book…

……..a copy of your wonderful book Two Tears.  This card is to tell you how much I enjoyed your book. You say in the flyleaf that it is a fictitious story of love and friendship wrapped up in the personal history of it’s author.  If you are featured personally very strongly or even remotely, then I must say you are a very brave and heart-strong woman.  It must have been difficult to pen some of the emotion and experience that you went through.  Bravo to you and thank you for sharing such a heartbreaking and heartwarming story.

This next bit of praise made me chuckle…

Guess what I got for Christmas? a copy of your [] book.  Just started – so excited.  Finished, cried more than two tears though loved the history surrounding New Year.  My gramma would freak if a blonde tried to enter the house after midnight.  So great!!!

Thank you everyone for reading!

TWO TEARS is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and your favourite book retailer.

FRESH LEGS

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Hello all!  Here’s another preview from my forthcoming collection of columns.  I’m also pleased to preview Lauren Murphy-Larsen’s (@artbylaurenml) rough sketches for the illustrations that will bring some colour to the pages of my collection!

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FRESH LEGS

Originally published in the Toronto Sun, December 14, 1997

When my husband walked through the door that evening with three mannequin legs under his arms, I thought he had finally gone over the edge. He is an avid junk collector, regularly attending auctions and garage sales. He strolls neighbourhoods prior to garbage pickup. It is amazing the type of garbage left for collection but more amazing is how much of it ends up in our basement.

We had so many “collectables” that we needed a backyard shed.   Normal people buy garden sheds at hardware stores. Our shed is the body of a cube van. This monstrosity is not amusing but I have learned over the years that my input in this area is not welcomed. By planting evergreens, climbing roses and clematis around our “shed”, I hoped it would “disappear” but at the growth rate so far, the eyesore will be clearly visible long after I have left this scene.

Over the years unbelievable items have come home, i.e. crates of jaw breakers, hundreds of feet of fire hose, boxes of drapes off a yacht which would not fit in any house, except perhaps a dollhouse, hundreds of used furnace motors and boxes of Demo tape (no printer) to name a few. There have been some worthwhile pieces picked up too such as an old school desk now beautifully refinished, a kitchen stepladder stool also refinished, a bird feeder and many other goodies.

I thought I had seen it all until until the legs arrived. This was the last straw or so I thought. My first thought was of the movie “Christmas Story” wherein the father won a leg lamp. My husband had the same thought when he purchased the legs for $5.00. He was sure our grandchildren would love to have leg lamps.   However, their parents were less enthusiastic so the legs are not yet lamps but we have had more fun with these legs than ever imagined.

Picture a white haired old man looking in the “boutiques” (used clothing stores) for a pair of fashionable high heeled sandals. He bought a pair of burgundy alligator type sling backs. He also put pantyhose on two of them. The third leg has been somewhat left out in all of this but he does alternate them so that no favoritism is shown.

When I came home one night my husband informed me he had put one leg in the window with a light shining on it. I wondered why neighbours looked at me sympathetically.

When we have company the legs just happen to appear. They have been the source of much laughter. My 90 year old aunt suggested putting balloons in the panty part to make it more realistic. Some people put the panty part on their heads and let the legs hang down as earrings. A cousin visiting from Australia wanted to put them in his suitcase, leaving parts hanging outside just to keep the customs officers on their toes, so to speak. We live at Lock 7 on Welland Canal and thought about sticking the three legs out of the embankment but worried that the ships’ crews might get distracted and sail right through the Lock gate.   Pictures of our grandchildren kneeling down, tee shirts pulled over the top of the legs making the legs look like their own, are hilarious. These legs are the life of parties now. Any gathering would not be the same without them. At a party last night, the legs were hung up on the lawn gas lamp which was more effective than any Halloween decorations I have seen. One young guest was really anxious to take the legs for an ornament on his deck but we have become so “attached” to them that we cannot bear to see them leave home.

In the end, it really proves that one person’s junk is another’s treasure or in the case of the legs, pleasure.

WHO WILL REMEMBER THE SACRIFICES OF THE DEAD?

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It’s hard to believe I wrote this fifteen years ago. I don’t think its age has tarnished its message though! This is another preview of my forthcoming collection…

WHO WILL REMEMBER THE SACRIFICES OF THE DEAD?

The Standard, November 10, 1999
Tomorrow, Remembrance Day, I will be at the Cenotaph in Thorold where I am every year.  Other than faithful Legionnaires, there aren’t many who attend nowadays but those who do certainly feel and share the emotion.

I wasn’t around during WWI but I did have the honour and privilege of visiting Vimy Ridge.  Standing on the hill, the importance of that target is immediately seen because of its strategic location.  The memorial is beautiful and sheep graze on the grounds, preserving it.  It’s easy to visualize the fierce battle when you see the trenches, tunnels and mortar indentations.

My memories are those of a child during WWII and although I was too young to truly grasp the enormity of it all, a recent trip to Dieppe, Dunkirk, Caen etc., swiftly brought home the reality of unbelievable sacrifices that were made.

As my husband and I visited the all too many memorials and cemeteries, we were overcome with emotion.  While walking along the rows upon rows upon rows of crosses, the tears fell fast and unashamedly.  So many and so young from 17, 18 and up, dead before they lived.  My thoughts went to the mothers, wives, and other relatives but I can only imagine what they felt when told a loved one was not coming home.  My aunt’s brother excitedly took his first submarine trip but it was also his last.  He was 17, blonde and oh so good-looking.  The family was devastated.

Sad though that is, it is even sadder that younger generations really don’t realize the extent of the sacrifices.  As my generation and the previous one slowly fade away, who will carry the torch?  Does anyone not personally involved in the horrors of war, truly understand what was given for our freedom?

I lived in a Glasgow tenement during the war and I remember the air raid sirens, getting out of bed and going to a safe area.  My dad wouldn’t let us use the shelters which didn’t seem any safer than brick garages.  Instead we gathered in a neighbour’s house on the ground floor.  We huddled in blankets, ear plugs in and gas masks (some looked like Mickey Mouse) around our necks.  Mrs. Nielson always had a soup pot on.  We heard the bombers overhead but we didn’t realize the terror our parents surely felt.

The tenement was fitted with “props” (large wooden beams) and a “baffle wall” at the entrance supposedly to help support the building.

Next day my dad would take us out to see where bombs landed; once dangerously close to British Oxygen down the road, hitting a bungalow instead, and another hitting a church.  Glasgow missed a lot but nearby Clydebank was badly bombed.

Because I believe in humour therapy, I wondered what could possibly lighten up war – nothing, but the people had a determination the likes of which is not seen today.  There were no crisis counsellors then. Lately, while discussing the evacuation of children without parents to parts unknown, I commented that I doubted I could let my children go, but everyone agreed that it was war, it had to be done and the people just got on with it.

Everything was rationed but I remember a schoolmate, whose father was in the Black Market, slowly peeling a banana at recess, while countless drooling children surrounded her.  They weren’t as lucky.

Because I was taller and had bigger feet than most, I qualified for extra clothing coupons.  Measurements were taken in the headmaster’s office.  Can you imagine the uproar if that was done today?

One night, while in the Home Guard my dad, during total blackout, saw a light.  He yelled “Get that light out, get that blankety, blank light out” when to his horror, he realized it was his own window.  He took to the stairs three at a time to cover the window.

After the war, some prisoners came home.  Rationing was still on, but neighbours got together and gave whatever they could for a street party.  Tables lined the street and streamers and flags were hung.  I don’t remember what we ate but you can bet it was the best available.  A banner hung across the street with “Welcome Home …………” and everyone showed their appreciation to the returning heroes, many of whom never really got over the incarceration.

I remember when the lights went back on and families went to town where the whole place was ablaze with colour.  It was breathtaking.

Today in Europe, schoolchildren still attend memorials to lay wreaths showing their appreciation for sacrifices made for them by Canadians and other allies.

Personally, I believe it should be mandatory that children see the devastations and loss of lives caused by war, not because we glorify war, but rather because we glorify those who gave the ultimate gift and because we never want another war.  That’s the very least we can do – “Lest We Forget.”

As for me, as long as I have breath I will attend Remembrance Day services giving thanks for those who paid the supreme price and to their families who lost so much.  We must also remember the survivors of the various wars who gave much; their lives too forever changed.