First things first. Let’s discuss the purpose for this post.
It’s been… well… It’s been a year that soon will end. And with year’s end, my awesome friend and editor, Rhonda Parrish, is once again running her annual fundraiser for the Edmonton Food Bank. The Food Bank’s resources are strained more than ever, as it fulfills its mission of helping those in need. If you right-click the link below, you will be taken to the fundraiser page. This year’s goal is $1,000 (CDN), which will provide 3,000 meals through the magic of really, really hard work by a lot of people determined to feed their neighbors.
This has been one bear of a year, but any amount helps. If you can, please donate. Thank you.
This year’s theme is “Connections.” At first this seemed easy Holidays fluff. I could type up a couple hundred words about chestnuts roasting/Santa/Carols etc. and be good to go. However…
Connections aren’t positive or negative, which is why this is not an easy topic. Sometimes they are both at once. Anyone who has been in the middle of a particularly nasty fight with their spouse and considered – even for a moment – where to hide a body will attest to the complexities of love, which drives the deepest connections.
Now, I have many positive connections in my life: lifetime friends, dear family, close colleagues, good neighbors. Folks I like and admire, who I miss terribly during pandemic isolation, and who I look forward to seeing in person again.
I have negative connections, too. Former friends who chose different paths. Colleagues who focused only on what was good for them. Neighbors who became antagonists over the smallest of irritants.
Family who kept cycles of fear and pain going, instead of putting in the work to break them.
These are the connections of my life, good and bad. They connect me to the “me” I came from, the “me” I am now, and help lead toward a (hopefully) better “me” to come.
I recently wrote up a remembrance for Tabatha Wood’s amazing Memento Vitae Project ( found at Memento Vitae | Tabatha Wood ) about my Grandfather. Where other kids had an imaginary friend they spent time with, I had Grandpa Riley, and as an only child I talked to him all the time. Even though he died before I was born he is a cornerstone – a prime connection – in my life; almost as much as my Nana was, and she lived to 101.
Together they connect me to the “me” that I was, and inspire me to become not only a better person but an unfailingly positive connection for my circle of people, my family and friends. I may not achieve this but thanks to them I try.
I love them both, and I miss them terribly.
GRANDPA RILEY’S WALKING STICK
My grandfather was born in December 1898.
He died a few days before my mother would have found she was pregnant.
She was 21 and unmarried; so we lived with my grandmother in the tidy 2-bedroom house my grandparents built in 1941. It was a household that had just lost a husband and father to a withering cancer at a time when chemotherapy was referred to as “poison” and thought to cause more harm than good.
It was a house my grandfather still inhabited, not only in the memories of my mother and grandmother but also neighbors, family and friends. “You have his eyes”; “he would have loved you”; “you look just like him.”
He permeated my childhood. My favorite plaything when I was a toddler was his basement workbench. I played with hammers and screwdrivers, hand drills and saws. I pounded nails into the heavy bench posts, pulled them out, and hammered them in again. I sawed scraps of lumber into smaller and smaller scraps, learning to steady boards with the heavy bench clamp and barking my knuckles nonstop.
My second-favorite space was the semi-finished attic, where his big steamer trunk was stored. I would open it and rummage through the layers of “stuff”; pieces of his youth that had not been lost over the years or donated after he died. Everything from spats to sepia photos to his Canadian Forces medals from The Great War were in there, and I handled them with a reverence I didn’t hold for my own toys.
But most precious, tucked in my Mom’s closet and not in the basement or attic, was his walking stick. My memory is vague, but I think it was his grandfather’s, a proper shillelagh handed down. For a young man who had traveled extensively as a merchant marine and a soldier, then moved to a different country, his keeping this small stick of wood all along the way meant it was important to him, which made it a treasure to me.
His tools were given away when my grandmother sold the house in the 1980s. My Mom has his medals and a few photos in a bookcase– the rest of his trunk is gone. But the walking stick has pride of place in my living room; and it’s the only non-living thing I would go for if my house was on fire.
It helps me to remember:
- The man I have never seen but whose eyes look out at me from the mirror.
- Who was hit with mustard gas in France serving King and Country.
- Who loved my grandmother and mother so much I could feel it in my own life though he was gone.
- Who kept a walking stick through the changes of his life as memento of his own grandfather.
Thank you, Grandpa.