Remembrance Day

July 11, 1945- Mr. and Mrs. Aleck Trefiak

It’s Remembrance Day tomorrow and always a time to reflect about WW11 and the huge part it played in the lives of my parents. Even their planned wedding date of May 8th, had to be postponed due to VE Day.

How did they meet? My mother, Ethel Hooper, lived in Harrow in the Greater London area and my dad, Aleck, was the son of Ukrainian immigrants to Hope Valley, Alberta. Hope Valley is no metropolitan Mecca. My mother’s mum died of scarlet fever when she was born and there were older siblings. Her grandmother Curtis raised her until she was nine. My Uncle Henry was “farmed out” to relatives (Chestermans) in Hope Valley. When he heard Dad was going overseas, he said, “Here look my sister up.” Henry served in the Canadian Navy.

Introductions were by letter and I have forgotten (or didn’t properly listen) but they did meet, at a crowded London train station. My mother remembered Dad’s letter saying, “I’ll be the one with the bright red face.” He was shy and quiet. One thing led to another.

The picture above was, of course, in black and white but my mum loved colour. At one point in the 50’s “colourizing” these pictures was popular and mum had this one done. You can see the beautiful bouquets. It’s no wonder she always tried to grow roses on the prairies. Her dress was borrowed.

Dad said, when he saw the picture, “Why didn’t you tell me my hair was standing on end.”

Mum’s reply, “I didn’t know you that well.” And yet she married him and shipped out to the Canadian prairies, arriving in the middle of winter. Dad, in his winter attire of parka, felt boots, and hat with ear flaps, was not nearly so dashing as he’d been in uniform.

Life as a farm wife was totally foreign but the neighbours were kind. Mum and Dad raised me and my brother. It wasn’t easy but they made a life together.

Now Remembrance Day commemorates WW1, WW11, Korean, Afghanistan and other veterans. Those who made the ultimate sacrifice and those that returned, changed forever.

I don’t know if I’ll attend a formal ceremony tomorrow. For sure, I’ll be thinking of my Dad, who like many others, seldom talked about his experiences overseas. I’m not sure what our town is doing. The recognition at the Cenotaph had been moved indoors before the pandemic so I think I’ll just have some quiet times and think of all veterans.

Covid Fatigue

I was sworn to never write about the pandemic again. My posts were so maudlin that friends wondered if I was okay. So…I gave it a rest. But I’m back for today for a more light-hearted look at what it is I think I’m missing. I don’t make light of those who have to work in unsafe conditions, have lost incomes, or most dreaded, lost loved ones. Recovering from COVID isn’t always a romp on the beach.

But- the light side. Alberta is headed back to phase one restrictions. I have until Friday to “dine in” with members of my household. O, so I could risk getting the virus for the chance to glare at my husband across the restaurant table rather than ours in the kitchen. Take out, it is.

Enjoy coffee at home.

I can go to a store and buy more stuff I don’t really need. Suppose I find the perfect outfit for a woman of a certain age? I can wear it to parade through the front room. With no others to admire it, or feel jealous that I look so good, it’s wasted money.

Coffee with friends is out. No sitting around in the local old lady meeting place and looking to see who else is there. No more gossip. We can meet outside, we can gossip via devices. Old-fashioned phone visits. Almost the same and I can appear in pjs, ugly sweats, or god forbid, nude.

A year ago, a friend confessed to me that, “I don’t do much anyway but now someone tells me I can’t go out, I want to.” Pretty much how the pandemic hits us to different degrees. The number of “freedom-loving” activists who don’t mask up, don’t social distance, don’t like their rights infringed on is gob-smacking. They don’t even know what the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is about.

So, yeah. I’m tired of a lot of things, stupid things that I can actually wait to do. Buckle friends, it’s gonna be a while.

Then and Now…

Yesterday we drove 11/2 hours so my husband could get a COVID vaccination. Everything went well and we were on the way home about noon. With certain restrictions, restaurants and fast food outlets are open. Since we have been erring on the side of caution, Gary chose Subway and we ordered at the counter but took our food to the car.

Eating in the car is a challenge. The cup holder already held hand sanitizer and water so those items had to be moved to make room for the drinks. Then we unwrapped the subs, barked elbows against the doors, and lamented forgetting napkins.

I was about to complain about how much I disliked eating in the car when it occurred to me that in the sixties and seventies, it was an exciting thing. We lived in the sticks so there weren’t a lot of choices BUT even our pokey little town had carhops at the “Dairy Bar.” They brought your food right to the car on a tray they attached to the partially open window. Burgers, fries and drinks were distributed and it seemed so decadent. Normally honest people stole mugs from A and W. The one I took was a favourite of my Dad’s.

“We used to think it was a treat to eat in the car,” I said.

Hubbie looked at me and confessed, “On a Sunday after playing a Saturday fastball tournament, the ‘boys’ would be bored and wondering what to do. Someone would suggest driving an hour get A and W.” Good times.

Once we got home, it was time for the dog walk. Guilt at leaving them alone played on me so I took them on a more novel route. A few days earlier, the open field had been fine. It was good until we had to cross bare ground to access the sidewalk. The bare ground had turned to mud, and I sank in, loading each shoe with about 5 pounds of muck.

Ugh. I did manage to get most of it off by stamping in remaining snow and rubbing the sides of the sneakers against one another. I should know better. When my brother and I were kids growing up on the farm, the spring runoff used to divert into a ditch alongside the road. It would recede leaving the most inviting yellow, sticky clay. Yes, we’d test our rubber boots in it. After getting stuck once, we were warned sternly to “stay out of the mud.” Still we played along side the ditch and my brother went in, sank past his ankles and couldn’t move. He was the younger sibling so I should have been in charge. I tried to pull him out. Several times. He stepped out of the rubbers and I tried to pull them out. No luck. We had to leave his boots, sticking up out of the clay, and go and confess. Mud. Good times.

Then, an adventures. Now, an inconveniences. Even with the annoyances, it was a pretty good day. Old boy vaccinated and I didn’t have to call him to rescue me and the dogs from my own folly. Good times.

The Deep Freeze Ends; an Outdoor Coffee

It’s happened! The Polar Vortex lasted too long and the temperatures were in the minus thirties for daytime highs. People hunkered down and only those brave souls who had to leave the house for work, did. The pandemic added to the “hardship” because even though outdoor gatherings were allowed, no one wanted to freeze or die of hypothermia.

Then yesterday, the high was -4 Celsius or 25 F. My friend texted and our outdoor coffee was a go! Even though it was overcast and there was a bit of wind, we were deprived of laughs and conversation for too long. “Our table” at the park was available and when it started to snow big fluffy flakes, we just laughed. Now veterans of the outside meet-up, we had thick towels for the bench seat and just cleared snow away for our thermoses. It was as good as I anticipated. Laughs, stories, and settling world problems. In the bushes behind chickadees, chirped, English song sparrows called and a downy woodpecker went about “pecking”, oblivious to us. An hour and half that went by too quickly but added so much to the day. We are social beings and a little snow didn’t matter. When I got home, my husband asked ‘what the gossip was.’ I honestly drew a blank. That’s not what we do on our visits; the talk is wide ranging.

Haha- and here we are socially distanced and very representational. The poor woodpecker turned into a blob.

The other great thing about the break in the weather is that the dog walks are without boots and their “coats” are more to keep their bellies warm. Spring is around the corner and I honestly can’t wait.

Stay safe. The days are longer and warmer.

And it’s 99 below

That’s not true. But it is cold, old fashioned high pressure, prairie winter cold. The sun is bright and through the window everything looks inviting; blue shadows on the snow, dark conifers against a pale sky, and car exhaust trailing away like escaping phantoms

.

It looks inviting but the truth of cliche is proven again. Looks are deceiving; step outside and your nose freezes shut, the chill captures your breath as frosted filigree in your eyelashes, and embellishes the fake fur of your hood. Your cheeks tingle and burn. It’s too cold.

Yet outside the window, chickadees flit and feed, a nuthatch sits on the step, and a blue jay balances on the feeder. Once in a while, a bird finds a perch in the sun and tries to catch some of its illusory warmth. A cat skulks by hoping to find shelter.

In the day, the temperature made no difference to my Dad. The chores had to be done, the cattle fed and watered, and the miscellany of other creatures cared for. He’d hitch the team of horses to the rack and load on the feed. Harness jangling, hooves crunching the snow, the horses would pull him out to the waiting herd. The pink nostrils of the cattle leaked steam into the clear air and their bawls welcomed him. There was no missing a day because of weather.

I’m glad to settle in and watch the polar vortex from my window. If I want to hunker down and read a book, snack a bit of comfort food, or even sip a glass of wine, I can. I’m retired. I don’t have to put my nose out of the door so I won’t complain and I’ll enjoy my indoor activity. It’s February and when this cold breaks, spring won’t be far off. There’ll wiener roasts, outdoor visits, and gardening. The cold won’t last.

They’ve got this…

Dog Boot Dilemma Solved

With a little help from my friend. Thank you.

Winter arrives with a vengeance, thanks to the Polar Vortex and the dogs are in a funk. Minus 21 degrees C (-6 F) is just too cold for for them and so we missed a couple of walks. Today it’s still -15 with a wind and some snow flurries but I couldn’t stand their soulful stares so it was time to try the new system. A friend told me her little guy (with cracked, sore feet) loved his baby socks held up by vet wrap. I purchased the wrap and the socks so now that the warm spell is over, it’s time to try them.

Scruffy’s socks after his walk.

First I put Scruffy’s socks on. He’s 10 lbs and has always let me put on his coat and boots. I pulled one sock up at a time and secured it with the vet wrap. It wraps around and sticks so it isn’t difficult. Taz, our Jack Russell, has never had anything on her feet although she’s good about getting her jacket on. When it was her turn, she sat on my knee and let me tighten the socks up. She didn’t like them but she was good.

Taz isn’t impressed by footwear but she totally enjoyed her walk.

With their feet protected, we were able to take a 20 minute walk. The dogs went from depression to delight in that short time. Now they are relaxed, Scruffy sleeping and Taz laying quietly. This is the best way I’ve found to prevent iced up toes and freezing feet. Neither dog could have walked without the socks. Persistence and a doggie discussion paid off for me. I’ve tried for years to find something that works. I guess my friend (a great dog person has, as well.) Thanks to her discovery, our dogs can enjoy walks in the snow and cold.

Scruff and his boots. He’s tired of having his picture taken.

Through the Miasma of Time

And the filtered mist of memory, I recall the one-room country school I attended. Today, a Sunday drive took us back to the area where I grew up. Dad farmed and for the first 12 years of my life and the first six of school, this was home.

Some landmarks are recognizable but the farmhouse and buildings were bull-dozed and cleared. The land was broken and cropped to the edge of the road. It’s impossible for me to identify the location of our yard; it’s somewhere in a stubbled, snow-covered field. North down the road, then east, and around the ‘deviation’ and there it is. The original Giles school. It’s white paint is fading but a sign still identifies it. This was the site of the annual Christmas concert. By the time I was in school, a different building had been pulled just to the east, in the same yard. The white school was now the hall and because it had a stage, was ‘perfect’ for our performances. That’s where I began and ended by singing career. In some years, community talent was thin.

The Original 1911 Giles School- the outhouses to the right.

“Everything is so small.” A cliched observation but cliches exist because they are so apt. The hall is so close to the road, the trees which seemed like a magical copse are small, and the school is gone. So is the barn for students’ horses. The outhouses are still standing. The school I attended was purchased by my Uncle to convert to a house. All that remains is a plaque that identifies the original school, now the hall.

The Plaque- a bit of a tramp through snow to get to it.

I looked forward to school each and every day. I couldn’t wait to get there in the morning; first in was first to get the swings. There were just two, the girls’ and the boys’. The backstop and ball diamond are gone. Perhaps I should stick with the bright memories, the recalled excitement, and the good times.

Sunday Quest

During the last few months, the bar for fun has been drastically lowered. Today was a good day and passed the mark. The dog walk is routine and the route seldom varies but today, this cheeky little guy caught my eye. Not the dogs, though. Good thing they don’t have to hunt for food.

Cheeky squirrel.

Then there was the weather. It got to maybe -8 today and when we started out, it was pretty dull. Halfway home the sun came out. And so did the sun dogs.

It’s not the greatest photo but you can see that there’s a whole circle around the sun…And then we were home.

But the fun didn’t stop there. Gary wanted to look for the first school he attended in Ribstone (now practically a ghost town.) It’s about an hour drive and with the sun out, it was beautiful. The pictures don’t do the hoar frost justice and the driver didn’t plan to stop for photo ops so this is the best I could do.

Winter can be beautiful.

And lastly, we did have success and found the rather humble building where Gary started his education. It’s boarded up, weather beaten, and abandoned. It suffered the fate of many such schools on the prairie. This one was moved to a nearby town, Chauvin, and may have served as a meeting centre or residence. If you look at the front, you can see the address, 320 Main Street.

By the time we got home, the sun was starting to set. It was a simple day of “fun” but the quest was a success. And simple outings make a welcome winter break. Happy Sunday.

2021- More of the same and worse…

This morning I noticed that the 2020 calendar was still hanging on my wall. I am old, and old school. I still mark appointments, coffee dates, and meetings on the wall calendar. That way, I keep reminded of what’s coming up every time I glance at it.

I didn’t celebrate the debut of the New Year because my dogs got too tired to stay awake until midnight to ring it in. COVID rules meant no gatherings. Provincial members of Parliament, even one minister, thought a Hawaiian vacation, or a trip to Mexico was a fine idea. It is- except for the new COVID mutations which they could bring back. We, the little people, had been advised not to travel. Hell, we weren’t even to gather with family. Many of us followed the rules because we’d like to see the end of the pandemic.

All this means I have no “events” to mark on the calendar and I forgot to hang it. I wish I could say the same for the United States. Home grown terrorists stormed the Capitol and made it right into the Senate Chamber where they interrupted the vote to certify Joe Biden as the 46th president. To date, 5 people have died, two from gunshots and three from “medical events.”

I celebrated the advent of 2020 and it didn’t turn out so well. Here’s hoping this very rocky start to 2021 means we’ll end on a high note. Everyone will have been vaccinated and it’ll be safe to see family and friends, to gather, to have public entertainments. Time will tell. Hang in and stay safe.

And in 2021- resolutions

As the new year looms, and 2020 has been a tough one for many people, it’s time to make resolutions. Early records suggest that the first to promise improvements in the new year were the Babylonians 4,000 years ago. When Julius Caesar in 46 BC altered the calendar, January 1st was designated the beginning of the New Year. The God Janus is associated with doorways and aches and has two faces, one looking back and one to the future. Early Christians held special services to consider past sins and make promises to do better in the new year. Clergy wanted to provide a spiritual alternative to raucous celebrations.

The roots of the New Year’s resolution are in religion but in modern times the tradition has become secular. It’s just a convenient time to mark one’s determined vow to do better. Success at making actual progress is spotty. Deciding to improve and stick with it, is harder than making the resolution and it’s easy to backslide. Ask the gyms (pre-COVID) why they have such great deals for annual memberships in January.

Most resolutions are made in good faith but new routines don’t “take.” Personally, I have thought of, and even made promises to myself for the new year. Like the majority of people, I’ve been an abject failure. My house is not cleaner, I haven’t written every day, I haven’t conquered my habit of procrastinating.

That isn’t to say one shouldn’t make resolutions. The one time that I kept mine, was New Year’s Eve 46 years ago. I quit smoking. Quit and haven’t looked back. It wasn’t easy and my dearest beloved, walked by as I was writhing in the throes of withdrawal and blew Cigarello smoke in my face. Fortunately, for me, once I became a non-smoker, I soon didn’t feel the craving. I know that’s not true for everyone but I haven’t thought of cigarettes for years. Now the smoke bothers me; my eyes itch and redden.

As luck would have it, smoking has made some people pariahs, relegated to dingy corners outside to indulge their habit. The health concerns associated with the tars, nicotine, and other chemicals are much better researched. I quit before my children were born. I am very grateful for that; retroactive guilt is a nasty thing.

New Year’s resolutions? Sometimes, they do invoke change. 2020 has taught us all a bit about hardship, induced odd behaviour in others. Here’s to 2021. Happy New Year, Everyone.