read. Outdoor activities notwithstanding, winter offers long evening hours and more time to read. This year there’s more opportunities than ever to seek out and enjoy books you haven’t had time for earlier. Perhaps because the media is inundated with stories of COVID hardship or maybe because I’ve been thinking about my mum and dad in World War 11, I have been watching documentaries and movies that feature Churchill.
The Splendid and the Vile recounts Churchill and his family’s experience during the Blitz. Larson has consulted many diary entries, official documents, and letters. Some of the sources haven’t been used in other accounts of Churchill’s first year in power. The story of the Blitz is well known but this book not only looks into the dramatic events, but as also explores the lives and feelings of the people directly involved, either in making decisions or as family supporting Churchill.
Diary entries of Goering, WW1 ace, and then Commander-in-Chief of the Luftwaffe look at how the Blitz was conducted from the German viewpoint. Similarly, we are shown how Goebbels, Reich Minister of Propaganda, spun the story for the German public and how he attempted to mislead the British.
Churchill had to maintain a fine balance between revealing Britain’s desperate situation and gaining real help from the United States. During that first year (1940-41), American support in any form was unpredictable. Roosevelt did manage to have the Lend Lease Bill approved and some relief was afforded Great Britain which was nearing the limit of its resources. Churchill knew that although this aid was welcome, defeat was inevitable unless America joined the war.
Since it is nonfiction, The Splendid and the Vile is not a fast read but for me, it made the Blitz very real and carried me back to a time when the future of Europe and Great Britain was very much at stake. The People of Great Britain suffered huge casualties, saw cities destroyed, and yet they did not give in. The December 7th attack on Pearl Harbour forced American entry to the war. After that, victory was likely although it took four more years of “blood, toil, tears, and sweat.” Churchill inspired the British people to keep fighting when it seemed hopeless. He was an amazing personality, just the man for the time.
Cross-country skiing is a fine exercise and can be a lot of fun. At one time, we’d get together with friends for an afternoon of the great outdoors on skies. I confess to buying (and wearing because it was expensive) a blazing yellow outfit. Chances are I would never be lost; like a winter dandelion, I stood out.
Once at the “creek”, we started off with one of the gentlemen in the lead. After a bit of what I considered bossy competition, I decided to venture out on my own. How can you get lost in a small area where the choices of trails are limited? You can’t because you can see into the valley to your destination but there was no route down. Trees, shrubs, and bush blocked my descent. By the time I determined that I was going to have to make my way through this uncharted territory, the other skiers had already gathered by the bonfire.
I pushed off and sank into the snow past my knees. Still it had to be faster to continue on skis. Undergrowth tangled around my feet and interrupted my downward progress. A couple of times I fell but by this time I was committed and climbing back up the steep slope wasn’t an option. I more or less tumbled and stumbled my way back to the others. And I was right about my visibility. Everyone watched my awkward descent and on arrival at the bonfire, I was greeted by unsympathetic laughter.
I paid for my stubbornness but those who followed the leader encountered their own challenges. They skied along the top of the hills before heading into the valley. Then they skimmed along the smooth snow-covered surface of the frozen creek until their route was interrupted by fallen trees. Once they managed to navigate those obstacles, a beaver dam blocked their way. The creek continued 10 feet below the pond created and everyone had to clamour down.
By the time we gathered around the bonfire, the fresh air and exercise had stoked appetites. Anecdotes were exchanged while smokies and wieners cooked over the fire. That simple fare never tasted so good. Winter can be fun.
It’s been too easy for me to denigrate our winter weather, finding fault, complaining, and dreading it. How fickle memory is. Some of our best times have been outdoors in winter. Not every day is good for sledding or skiing but it’s not every summer day that you want to dive into the lake or lie on the beach taking in the rays.
Every Canadian kid can narrate a tale of misadventure sledding, tobogganing, or sliding headlong on some other device to the bottom of a snow-covered slope. Near-death experiences aren’t uncommon but it isn’t every time that a parent witnesses the close call.
Friends used to invite us out to the “creek” to sled and cross-country ski on the hills. The country is quite rugged and the route the kids were to slide down provided a long, fast ride. My son was 8 years old and his vehicle of choice was the “Sno Nut.” It was similar in shape to the tube from a tire but the material it was made from meant it was a racer.
I was standing on my skis, halfway down the hill on a natural plateau before the final run. C—- left from the top and gaining admirable speed hit a bump as he approached me and was airborne. He flew past at eye level and careened down the hill, at an incredible rate. All I could do (all anyone could do) was watch in horror. I thought I was going to see my son race to a horrible end. Just before he hit the willows at the edge of the creek, C—- bailed. The “Sno Nut” carried on into the bushes and my son wasn’t even bruised.
There was no more riding the “Sno Nut” from the crest of the hill. It was the only sled that went so fast so the other sliders were safer. The adults cross-country skied and at the end of the day of winter fun, there was the bonfire. Flames leaped into the darkness as we consumed the food we’d brought. When is was time to go, everyone pitched in. A great winter day.
Hollywood winter which is depicted in movies as gentle snow with no need to wear gloves, toques, and winter boots is over. Even blizzards have bare-headed heroes in film and that’s the kind of weather we’ve had for the last couple of weeks. Today was different. Old Man Winter crept in with fog and painted the landscape with hoar frost. It was chillier and it’s going to get cold. Real winter is on the way.
Alberta has entered a period of new COVID restrictions that coincide with the change in weather. No more indoor visitors; only the people you reside with. No outdoor visitors. Outdoor activities are permitted if you do them with the people of your household. You can skate, toboggan, sled, walk, skate. But you aren’t supposed to meet family or friends to do it. There are rules for retail outlets as well. Christmas gatherings are limited to, you guessed it, your household. this means me, Gary and the dogs. I guess it’ll be a little quieter. Am I happy about not seeing my grandkids and kids? NO. But I understand the reasons. Alberta has high infections levels and unless we isolate, they will continue to rise so Christmas is different.
A friend and I were bemoaning via text message the fact that we wouldn’t be seeing anyone this holiday. She said, “This year it will be just me and N___. But we’re going to have Christmas in July. We’ll meet our son and his girlfriend at a campsite and celebrate then.” What a revelation! The family part of Christmas can be postponed and the spiritual part can be observed by reading scriptures, meditating, praying by yourself or attending online services. Christmas get-togethers are postponed until summer. Retailers have been observing Christmas in July for a long time. Now we’ll be doing that, too. Barbecued steak, potato salad, and beverages around the campfire. I can hardly wait.
Ha! I missed my birthday but I’m still a year older. I missed my grandson’s and granddaughter’s but today we got together for the first time since March. We golfed and ordered pizza and visited. The kids play with the Jack Russell and now she’s pooped.
My birthday surprises? Two, one from each of my grandkids and each one a unique creation. First, my bouquet of pastel tulips in a silver and green vase. My ten-year-old granddaughter made it for me and has kept it until now. It will be displayed in a place of honour.
My grandson, who turned 13 in April, created a model of our house and yard. It is to scale and includes every detail. He measured angles and figured out how to replicate our ‘cottage’ roof. The trees, shrubs and flowers are all there. The dog house and basketball hoop are in the right place. There’s even a truck parked between the house and garage.
Sasha used materials at hand and adapted them for his model. The only purchased things are a couple of the deciduous trees. The fir trees are made from cones and sponges became the hedge. Our backyard swing and table are all there.
These are gifts I will always treasure. Hours and hours of thought and work went into the model of our home. My pictures don’t do it justice; it is so true to life.
The bouquet is set in a vase decorated by my granddaughter.
I was disappointed not to celebrate birthdays in April, and then in July but this visit and my gifts make up for it. Both have found spots in my front room. Take that COVID. Thank you, grands and my son.