Category Archives: Nostalgia
On the weekend of our Canadian Thanksgiving, my mother, my family and I went for a hike at the Shaw Woods Outdoor Education Centre. Before we left I downloaded their excellent information sheets about the trail we planned to take. (Ever the dutiful mother, I wanted our walk to be educational as well as healthful and fun.)
We had to drive for an hour and a bit from our home in Ottawa to get there, and my daughter fell asleep in the car. When we arrived, she was in a groggy, just-woke-up place. “Hiking,” she grumbled. “Why do we have to go hiking?”
We set out on our path, and I began to read aloud about John Shaw, a miller from Inverness, Scotland. “John arrived here in 1847 by canoe from Bytown [now Ottawa] with his wife Barbara Thompson . . .”
I stopped reading. “They came here from Ottawa by canoe,” I said. I pictured the two of them paddling through rain into strong winds. I imagined them straining under the burden of heavy loads as they portaged all their worldly goods around rapids.
What a hardship.
I read on. “. . . and their two-year-old son, John.” “They did all that and they had a two-year-old with them.” I said.
Toddlers in warm, safe homes are challenging enough. Imagine travelling by canoe for weeks with one. Were there even life jackets in 1847?
I turned to my daughter, “That sure makes our little hike in the woods seem pretty easy by comparison, doesn’t it?”
Forages into the past that dig up reminders of the hardships our ancestors faced help to put all our petty little problems into perspective. Whatever comes at me today, at least I’m not in a canoe in the rain with all my worldly goods and a two-year-old.
Since my return from our London vacation, I have mined the experience for blog post material. Until today I hadn’t touched on the number one highlight of our trip: Liverpool.
We took an early train and arrived in Liverpool mid-morning. We promptly hired a Fab Four cab and spent two hours with a personal guide who took us to Beatles’ haunts: the house where Ringo was born, Penny Lane, the barber shop, Strawberry Field, and the church hall where John and Paul first met at a church fête. (The British pronounce this word like “fate,” for some strange reason.)
This all served as a fun warm-up for our afternoon activity: the National Trust tours of the childhood homes of Paul McCartney and John Lennon. The National Trust maintains these properties with love and respect and allows wary access to others prepared to give the homes the same love and respect.
The custodians share heartfelt personal stories of John and Paul, and they walk guests through the rooms where some of the most famous music in the world was born. We sang “Hey Jude” in Paul McCartney’s living room. We stood at his bedroom window and looked at what his view would have been like. We sang “Please, Please Me” in the front porch of John Lennon’s house, the same place he and John went for good acoustics. The doorknobs and light switches were original, so I think every person on our tour reached out to touch the doorknob and light switch of John Lennon’s bedroom. (Wouldn’t you?)
The evening found us at the Cavern Club, the music venue where the Beatles (and many others) got their start. We sang and danced under the ancient arches of the historic club—until we had to tear ourselves away to catch our London train.
We happened to be in Liverpool on my birthday, so I can proudly say that for my birthday dinner, I enjoyed pints of ale at the Cavern Club and crisps on the train. (That’s potato chips in North America.)
Do I know how to celebrate 52, or what?
I was born in 1962, so I was too young to be a Beatles fan when their popularity first skyrocketed in the early 1960s. My interest in them came later. But my husband is a few years older than I am, and he had an older brother who was a teenager when the Beatles were prime time, so he is an avid fan and a trivia master of all things Beatles. Even though my passion for them should not even be measured on the same scale as his, I still visited these sacred sites with a sense of awe. I still reached out and touched the doorknobs and light switches. I slipped off my sandals and walked barefoot on the floors that Beatles’ feet touched.
They were simple human beings—not famous people—when they lived there, and tragic things happened. Both Paul and John were just teenagers when they lost their mothers when they were living in those homes. Paul’s stories had a before-and-after, “after Mom died,” theme. Paul’s father did his best, but “after Mom died” the meals weren’t as good, the cleaning not as thorough, and the furniture got a little shabby. Meanwhile, John’s mother was struck by a car—sent flying through they air—and killed instantly on the street where he lived.
Standing in the places where they lived when the world considered them ordinary and where they lived through those tragedies, I felt a “vibe,” a sense of the little pieces of them that still linger there. I felt it in the homes, I felt it when I danced and drank ale at the Cavern Club, I carried it with me to the train, and I remember it now.
A friend sent me a link to the photographic work of Tom Hussey. Among his series is one entitled Reflections. (Please take a moment to look at the work. I respect (a) copyright, and (b) his professionalism too much to copy the pictures. Here is the link: http://www.tomhussey.com/#/SERIES%20%20/Reflections/1 )
Each photograph features an older person looking in the mirror and seeing a reflection of the person as they see themselves: a young efficient nurse, a physically fit firefighter, a university graduate, a stunning young artist. The photographs give us a voyeuristic view of both sides.
When my mother-in-law lived in her long-term care facility, we put pictures of her as a young, fit woman in her room. The pictures weren’t there just for her; they were there for her care staff. We wanted everyone who walked into her room to see more than a wheelchair-bound old woman, no longer able to speak. The woman in that room once played in the Canadian Open tennis championships. (Early rounds, but still.) At the age of 80, the woman in that room could outpace me on cross-country skis. When the woman in that room looked in the mirror, she saw this:
Now that I’m, ahem, getting on years, I relate to this far more than I would like. I look in a mirror and wonder, “When did those wrinkles get there?” I think, “I’m too young for such a thing to be happening to me.”
Alas, time is changing my outer self, but rest assured, when I look in a mirror, I see this . . .
or this . . .
or even this . . .
If the rest of you see a middle-aged woman, sorry about that.
A Charlie Brown Christmas debuted 48 years ago in December 1965. Do you remember that?
Do you remember how the television network scheduled the show to run once during the Christmas season?
Do you remember how there weren’t any VCRs or PVRs then, so if you missed it, you missed it?
Do you remember how families gathered together around the one 13″ TV (black and white, maybe) in the household to watch it together?
Do you remember that it was an event that you planned around and looked forward to?
Do you remember how special that was?
I had a conversation recently with two 20-somethings. They grew up in the age of VCRs and internet. They have smart phones and laptops or tablets. They call up A Charlie Brown Christmas any time they want and watch it as many times as they want. They might even watch it by themselves. They might even (gasp) fast-forward through parts.
No event. Not so special. It makes me sad.
When I told these young people about the one-time, see-it-or-miss-it showing of Charlie Brown during my 1960s childhood, I could see myself as Methuselah in their eyes. In this case, I celebrate the greater number of my years because they allowed me to experience that time, and they allow me to cherish the memory now.
A Charlie Brown Christmas, because of its nature, will be appreciated by people for years to come, but the technology that robs it of its singularity also robs it of that elusive specialness it once held.
When anything becomes ubiquitous it also becomes ho-hum, and that makes me sad.
10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
I remember watching my grandmother make pies.
To my recollection, she didn’t measure anything. She put the ingredients for the pastry in the bowl and just knew when it “felt right.” She rolled out the pastry and flipped it around effortlessly. No sticking. No crumbling. Picture-perfect every time.
Pie crust at my house doesn’t come so easily.
I read the directions. I measure with care. Then I curse wet pastry that sticks to the rolling surface, or I find even more colourful words if dry pastry crumbles into bits. Argh. So frustrating.
My grandmother was like any traditional farm wife of her time. One of her main tasks was to come up with meals for her husband when he came in from the barns or fields every day: Meat, potatoes and—without question—dessert. By the time I came along, my grandmother had probably made thousands of pies in her lifetime. She had fulfilled Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule. She was a pie-making expert.
My mother learned the pie crust craft as well. As soon as she was old enough, like any traditional farm girl of her time, she had to pitch in to help take care of the family. She learned the “feels right” texture of pastry that rolled out to just the right size and just the right thickness and flipped it into the pie plate with ease.
I’m a product of a different time. Dessert at my house is an exception, not a rule. I didn’t need, or choose, to spend the time developing pastry skill. But every once in a while—like this week leading up to our church bazaar—I make pies. Every time, I think of my grandmother’s and mother’s pastry skill. Every time, I wish I had it. And then, every time, I ask myself, “Do I really want to invest 10,000 of my hours into developing pie crust skill?”
My grandmother and mother had no choice. I do.
If I have 10,000 hours to allot to honing a skill, sorry dessert lovers, but it won’t be pie. Thanks to my feminist fore-sisters, an endless number of life choices stretch out on a path before me. I choose to write, make mistakes, and then become a better writer. (A misplaced modifier is the writer equivalent of sticky pie pastry.) I choose to keep searching for ways to make people think differently about what’s going on in the world. I choose to volunteer in my community and around the world and with each effort and new relationship make the world a better place. I’ll keep doing it until it just “feels right.” No sticking, no crumbling and picture-perfect every time.
How are you spending your 10,000 hours?