Forgotten treasures

Sometimes, looking into my journals for one reason or another, I come across bits of my life I’ve completely forgotten. In truth, a great deal of my life is completely forgotten, but you may know what I mean when I speak of bits we encounter again, how they’re like pretty stones or shells children pick up and tuck as treasures into drawers or the bottoms of backpacks, how they’re delightful all over again.

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stones in a story nest

In a recent example, in my 2003 journal I saw mention of the first session of a “Writing Your Memories” class I taught at a local seniors centre. Six participants. I noted their names. (I’ve changed them here.) “It went well,” I wrote, saying further that I was drawn to the person and accent of Katharine, who had lived in India, England, and now Canada. And that Florence was rough, always ready to talk, and said she’d had polio in high school. Perry, the oldest at 84, had related his earliest memory of seeking his mother’s breast only to find she’d turned her blouse around; hence, his weaning. This reminded Alice, who complained she couldn’t hear and didn’t want to write and hadn’t realized the class was two hours long, of her own drawn-out breastfeeding as a child, and her weaning, and her refusal, ever since, to drink milk! The suggestion of breastfeeding as birth control reminded Delores of what a women who stuttered had said, that by the time she’d managed to say “t-t-t-that’s enough,” she had five children!

I paged forward a week in my journal. I’d mentioned the second class. “I felt sort of panicky, because I feel like I’m out of my league. The class itself went well–but …I’m leading people forward not knowing where I’m going myself.” Florence, I noted, told me I was a good teacher, which encouraged me, but I wasn’t sure I believed her, for to be honest, I hadn’t done much memory writing myself at that point. I also didn’t tell her I wasn’t sorry she wouldn’t be able to attend the last two classes. She was talkative, in a dominating way, and I didn’t know how to manage that.

I’d had the class make a timeline of major events in their lives, as a way of breaking personal chronology into manageable sections they could write about. Alice’s #3 on her list said “period.” She explained that she let a boy kiss her. When her period didn’t come the next month she figured she was pregnant and was so scared, she looked for a rope in the shed to hang herself. Her period came, but after that she didn’t let anyone kiss her until her wedding, when she heard the minister say “you may kiss the bride.”

“I like these people,” I told my journal. “I like people generally, I’d say!” Shy Delores. Alice who didn’t write but came anyway, talking. (“Look at them write,” she said to me. “I’d have two words.”) Perry with his long and amazingly detailed memories of a northern town in Alberta where he’d lived. Katherine with lovely memories of her Ayah in India.

I looked ahead in my journal to the next Monday and the next, but there was nothing further about the class or any of these people. My husband and I were busy building a new house at the time and I talked about that instead. Looking at these brief notations now, I remember a little — very little — but am given pleasure in what’s there, and in a fresh awareness of the vast number of human stories that exist, and I wonder if those six people got further with their memories than what they wrote and related in the class. I wonder if anyone else jotted down some of Alice’s life so she would have more than two words left behind.

A week in Winnipeg

I spent a week in Winnipeg this June, for two main reasons. One was the burial of my mother’s ashes, in the plot next to my father’s in Glen Eden Cemetery. All but one of my seven siblings attended, from the various provinces where we live, as well as a sister-in-law, niece, nephew, and several cousins. Standing in a circle, we had a short service of remembrance with a tribute prepared by sister Viola, spontaneously added remarks by the rest of us, and songs. After the burial we went to Kildonan Park for picnic snacks prepared by our cousins. That was a good day.

My three sisters and I spent four nights in an AirBnB — a whole house for ourselves. We walked the area, also drove to various spots to re-visit memories. For example, as in the photo above, my sisters having mini-donuts at The Forks. In the photo of three brothers, you may notice they are holding their knees, and it may be because two are having knee surgery soon; knee problems seem to run in our family. What I also notice is that somewhere along the way we all got a lot older.

A second reason for being in Winnipeg was the launch of Return Stroke: Essays & Memoir. I was nervous the day of, mainly wondering if I would have an audience. I did and it went well and I’m grateful. As a writer, I treasure people’s interest and support and do not take it for granted.. Besides reading, I was privileged to engage in conversation with Mary Ann Loewen, editor of two anthologies with U of Regina Press

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Photo capture by Al Doerksen during my reading.

3551E22F-0ADB-4CDE-8B53-75AB5A6A64FCI took advantage of being in Manitoba for a private ceremony as well. I dug a small portion of Helmut’s ashes into the earth between a clump of trees inĀ  Birds Hill Park, a favourite place for both of us over the decades we lived there. Simply a gesture, a tiny remnant, I know, but it gives me great happiness to know that “he” is also there, in that beautiful park.

I was tired after those days, those significant events, and when my siblings left for home, I wondered why I had decided to stay an additional four days and fill my schedule with visits with friends. Every one of those visits turned out to be refreshing and rich in connection, however, even surprising, in that introverts aren’t usually invigorated by a lot of “peopling.” But I was. And the sun shone brilliantly, the trees wore new green, lilacs bloomed abundantly, and there was rhubarb dessert at nearly every meal (and not a single time too many)!

Church in a Barn

Yesterday I went to church in a barn — a big old empty red barn. Light came in through the open door, the windows at one end, and cracks in the walls and ceiling. We sat in circles of lawn chairs. The weather was chilly and rainy, but there were lap blankets to share. It was all quite wonderful — the singing, kids’ story, homily, prayers — and the joy of being together was palpable. Some 90 or so people of the faith community Helmut and I became a part of when we moved to B.C. six years ago, and here we were, meeting in a barn, and I couldn’t help thinking of the early Anabaptists who also met to worship in houses, caves, and barns.

This wasn’t some gimmick to take us back to the sixteenth century, however, because we’re actually kind of homeless at the moment. It’s been a rough couple of months; our former congregation has had a calamitous collapse and the majority of us have left. I don’t want to recount the whole sad story here, except to say that it happened, and since my weblog concerns my life, I need to mention it. (For those interested, journalist John Longhurst documented it at Anabaptist World as well as at his blog. And let me be clear, I stand with our pastors and for LGBTQ inclusion.) There’s plenty of hurt, anger, grief, but community means everything in situations like this, and as I said, yesterday morning the joy lifted into the rafters. The barn belongs to a couple in the group and may be our “cathedral” for a few months, as we continue to process the circumstances and journey into something new, into clarity and forgiveness. 

One thing I did last week to “process” for myself was to sit in my car at the former place and do a quick loose sketch of that beloved building. I’m a person who’s strongly affected by places and spaces. What I mean is, I often have as vivid a memory of the location as the details of what occurred in it. The surround of the environment becomes inseparable from, or even stands in for, what it hosts and contains. Following the lines of the building with my eye and hand, though only approximately for sure, felt like a caress I had to give it in gratitude and farewell. The right side ended up squished into the coils of the sketchbook, but never mind that, it was just a little exercise to help myself on the way!IMG_0860