Category Archives: family

It’s Father’s Day again!

For some people, Father’s Day can be an emotional minefield. Some grew up without fathers. Others had the misfortune to have abusive or, at best, neglectful ones.

I was fortunate. My Dad was a loving man who did everything he possibly could for me, and for my mother.

My memory bank if full – full of love, full of laughter, full of life – thanks to the man I so admire.

Born without sight

He was born with congenital infantile glaucoma – in other words, really bad sight. He was virtually blind in one eye, and could barely see out of the other. When he was a young boy, he was playing with a stick and injured his ‘good’ eye. In the early 1900s surgical techniques were both primitive and dangerous and, with both optic nerves damaged, the doctors and my grandparents decided that he would lose both of his eyes.

He was one tough and determined little boy, My Uncle Hubert told me tales of the trouble they got into around the little farm in Albert County where they grew up. He also told me of the amazing skills my Dad had, even as a teenager.

Haying season on a farm is a critical time of the year. As a blind child, there were some chores Dad wasn’t able to do. He did, however, learn to drive the team of horses that pulled the hay wagon down from the fields to the barn.

“It was something to see your father turn that team and wagon around and then back them up the ramp into the hay loft,” Uncle Hubert said.

I’ve seen that ramp and I don’t think I could have done it!

Dad went to the School for the Blind in Halifax, NS. There he learned to be both an accomplished pianist and a piano tuner. In his final year of study he was sent out around the city to tune pianos in people’s homes.

Forty-five years later I was studying at Dalhousie University in Halifax. Dad came to the city, by bus, to visit me. The part of the city where I had my minuscule apartment hadn’t existed when he was living there.

I borrowed my boyfriend’s car and took Dad on a tour of the city. Once we got into the centre of the city and I told him we were on Spring Garden Road, he knew exactly where he was. We set off to visit an old friend of his who still lived in the same home as he had when they’d been students together. I followed Dad’s directions, “Turn left here, two more blocks, turn right. It should be the third house on the right, number 23 – it used to be blue I think.” Sure enough, we were right in front of our destination – and it was blue.

Humour makes life worth living

Dad’s sense of humour was legendary.

A new piano tuning client called one day and sounded quite upset. “I have an appointment to have my piano tuned tomorrow,” she said, “and I’ve just learned that you are blind. We live on the second floor. How will we get you upstairs?”

Not missing a beat, Dad replied, “Madam, I can not see, but my legs function perfectly well.”

He was always a busy man. He couldn’t just sit and do nothing. When my son was a little boy I asked Dad to babysit one night so I could go out on a date. David was bathed and tucked in bed and I got ready to leave.

My guest arrived and met Dad. After a few moments of chit chat, we headed out to go to a movie. As I closed the door behind me, I switched off the lights in the apartment. My date was appalled! “That’s the rudest thing I’ve ever seen,” he said.

It took me a minute to realize what he was talking about and then I started to laugh. I said, “He’s blind. He doesn’t need the lights on.” When I was growing up, the last sighted person to leave the room turned the lights out, whether Dad was there or not. I laughed all the way to the car.

When we got home from the movie, since Dad was sleeping in the living room on the hide-a-bed couch, we tiptoed into the kitchen for a cup of coffee. While the machine dripped its elixir into the pot, I grabbed the utensil drawer that was always stuck and gave it a mighty yank. It flew across the room, spewing silverware everywhere clanging and banging enough to wake the dead.

Looking for something to do to pass the time, Dad had gone through the kitchen and had soaped all of the sticky drawers so they’d slide better and then, in the lower cupboards, had hung hooks for all of my pots and pans to give me more room. Good thing I made enough coffee for three of us!

Growing up with a blind father

I grew up with a blind man in the house and it was a good thing. I learned that a disability isn’t necessarily a handicap to life. I learned that a disability doesn’t mean you can’t have joy in your life and give joy to others. My Dad belonged to various organizations, could beat most people at cribbage and definitely humiliated me in the bowling alley. Then again, I not good at a lot of sports and never have been.

He enjoyed a good laugh, often at his own expense. He loved his family and the varied and many pets I dragged home over the years. He cried when each of our cats died, although I’m not so sure he was distressed when Hammy the hamster kicked the bucket. The little bugger bit him many times.

My mother spent the last three years of her life in the extended care ward at the Regional hospital. She had Alzheimers, Parkinsons and she suffered several strokes. Through all that time Dad would take the bus across town to visit her almost every day. In her mind, she thought that, when he left to go home at night, he was, in fact, heading out ‘on the town’ with other women, living the high life. This is my Dad – the man who never drank. The thought was ludicrous.

Then she decided that not only was he living the high life, but that he’d had an affair with one of the nurses on her ward. Not only that, but they’d had ten kids! When she told me that story I decided I’d best speak to the nurse quickly because, in her demented state, you never knew what Mum might say.

The nurses on that ward were wonderful people. They personified kindness and patience. When I told her about my mother’s fantasy, she said, “Your Dad’s a great guy and we all really like him a lot. But, I think he might be a bit old for me.” We had a good giggle over that. Then she asked, “How many kids did we have?”

“Ten,” I said.

“Oh my,” she replied. “There must have been a lot of twins and triplets! I’m only twenty-three years old.”

Yes, it’s Father’s Day, again, and I’m glad to have this annual reminder. I think of him often, but this is the day I focus on those memories. That is his immortality.

 

 

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The ups and downs of Mothers’ Day week-end

I wandered down the card aisle in my local store last week and suddenly realized that, for the first time in 67 years, I have no mother to buy a card for. That realization hit me like a sledgehammer.

The woman who chose to be my mother when I was just four months old passed away in 1988.

She chose to be a mother – my mother.

The woman who gave birth to me and stepped back into the role of mother for me in 1992 passed away last November.

She gave birth to me – and became my mother, again, in 1992 – giving me the sisters and brothers I’d always wanted.

Instead of two mothers, now I have none.

I became a mother in 1973 and learned what an overwhelming, but totally fulfilling, role that was and remains until the day you die. Your baby remains your baby no matter how old they are, how grown up, married or even parents themselves, you still hold that tiny infant in your heart.

I was so young!

It feels strange to be the oldest generation in my family. I did find a lovely Mothers’ Day card for my daughter-in-law. She’s the mother of my two grandchildren and deserves recognition for that role for sure.

Mothers’ Day carries a lot of emotional baggage – not just for me but for many women out there who are affected by the constant reminders: those who’ve lost children; those who, for whatever reason, didn’t have children; those who are pregnant but not by choice; those whose children have abandoned them; those who were abused by their mothers who should have protected them; and so many more.

Perhaps we should celebrate the day for the concept of motherhood alone – for we wouldn’t be here at all if we hadn’t had mothers, would we?

 

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Why celebrate? Why not celebrate!

Last Sunday was our friend’s birthday. Chester McMackin turned a youthful 84. So, Judi and I (and Lola in spirit!) decided to celebrate the occasion with our Facebook buddy – face to face rather than keyboard to keyboard. We got together at his favourite coffee spot in Hampton and shared stories, laughter and, of course, cake!

With twinkling eyes and the lilt of laughter in his voice, Chester regaled us with tales of his childhood and more. In other words, life in general.

His dramatic reading of the cleverly written (and dictated by Murphy the horse) tribute from Judi, accompanying the lovely framed portrait, had us and everyone else in the establishment in stitches!

And then the cake appeared – chocolate upon chocolate – causing the recipients (us) to ooohhh and aaahhhh appropriately in anticipation of the sweet delight – such are our peccadilloes.

Armed with a potentially lethal weapon, Chester divided the booty among us – and the party continued!

Not to be outdone by the ladies’ gifts to mark the occasion (framed photo from Judi, fresh homemade shortbread cookies from yours truly!), Chester presented each of us a treasure trove of fudge to take home. Who could resist?

Yep, it was a very good day. We wish our buddy “Chesterkins” a very Happy Birthday and hope we can all celebrate many, many more!

 

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’tis the Season for Sharing

It is the season for sharing – every television program and advertisement says so. And by their definition, sharing also means caring – or showing that, in fact, you do care one way or another.

There’s a story going around on Facebook right now and it says:

“My child, each year ask me the same question. After thinking about it, I decided I’d give you my real answer:

What do I want for Christmas? I want you.

I want you to keep coming around, I want you to ask me questions, ask my advice, tell me your problems, ask for my opinion, ask for my help.

I want you to come over and rant about your problems, rant about life, whatever. Tell me about your job, your worries.

I want you to continue sharing your life with me.

Come over and laugh with me, or laugh at me, I don’t care. Hearing you laugh is music to me.

I spent the better part of my life raising you the best way I knew how, and I’m not bragging, but I did a pretty darn good job.

Now, give me time to sit back and admire my work; I’m pretty proud of it.

Raid my refrigerator, help yourself, I really don’t mind. In fact, I wouldn’t want it any other way.
I want you to spend your money making a better life for you, I have the things I need.
I want to see you happy and healthy.
When you ask me what I want for Christmas, I say “nothing” because you’ve already been giving me my gift all year. I want you !!! I love you dearly xoxo

When your all-grown-up children and their families live far, far away, some of these things just aren’t possible. No small hands raid my cookie jar. No little people sit on the couch to watch Christmas movies on TV with me. That is life in the world as we know it. Sad, but reality.

The media builds the hype of the season – blissful families sharing tender moments of joy and peace together around a festive dinner table. While I wish that for one and all, the reality is often quite different. Whether it is due to distance, finances, loss of loved ones or just the inherent ‘busyness’ of life, many people are lonely at this most festive time of year. Despite access to amazing technology like Skype, FaceTime, or even a simple telephone call for keeping in touch, far too often time goes by with no connections made.

Since it is the season for sharing we all have choices to be made. Do we wallow in self pity and loneliness? Or get up and out and join the festivities?

We are, indeed, responsible for our own happiness. If we depend on others to make us happy we are doomed to disappointment. Instead, enjoy the myriad of wee things that happen every day, those little moments of joy that are too easy to overlook. Be kind to others. Surprisingly when you go out of your way to make someone else’s day joyful, your own improves too.

So, my wish for those who read my words is that you do, indeed, share and have a happy and joyful holiday season – whatever it is that you celebrate. Enjoy the little things that give you pleasure – bright coloured lights in shop and house windows, sweet treats on a pretty plate, a good meal – whether alone or with friends and family. Give hugs and receive them with pleasure. Pat the dog, stroke the cat, nuzzle the horse. Inhale the wonderful scents that make life sweet.

Merry Christmas to one and all and as the New Year rolls in, lift a glass and give the toast favoured by my Jewish friends, “l’chaim – to life!”.

 

Also posted in BLOG, caring, Christmas, emotions

Coping

Everyone has his or her own way of coping with loss or drastic change. For me it means grabbing a camera, putting a leash on the dog, and going for a walk on a country road just to stretch and breathe slowly, letting the stress out with each deep breath.

Last vestiges of fall foliage

Last vestiges of fall foliage

Sometimes if you take the time to peek into the ditches you’ll find remnants of the amazing fall foliage colours the Maritimes are famous for – and it will make you smile in spite of yourself.

Not letting go

Not letting go

And at the edge of the road a loan leaf clings to the naked branch of a bush, its comrades blown away by the last strong wind.

After two weeks of travelling in to the hospital to sit with my mother, brothers and sisters while her life ebbed away, and another week of frantic activity after the not-unexpected 6:a.m. call, the hubbub has slowed and the exhaustion has set in. When you are sad it is hard to get motivated to bundle up against the cold and go outside, but Mother Nature offers solace, encouragement and the rejuvenation needed to keep coping and moving on.

 

Supermoon (Beaver moon) Rising

Supermoon (Beaver moon) Rising

Last night I had intended to go out and set up my gear to capture the rising of the Supermoon over the local hills. One of the side effects of grief and attempting to cope is the inability to remember things properly and motivate yourself in a timely way. Instead of preparing, I sat down and ate dinner with my husband, only realizing after the fact that I’d missed that moment of the moon appearing over the crest of the hill. The best I could manage was a quick snap of it rising rapidly through the naked tree branches across the road.

Supermoon setting

Supermoon setting

My alternate plan, since I’m an early riser anyway, was to get out this morning and capture the giant orb setting over the Town of Sussex to the west of us. Mother Nature played a cruel joke on my plan and hid most of the moon behind cloud cover, showing just enough to taunt me!

Look closely and you'll see the lights of Sussex at the bottom of the photo.

Look closely and you’ll see the lights of Sussex at the bottom of the photo.

Everyone has different coping strategies. For me it will be more walks with Harley and perhaps a camera over my shoulder too. It’s been a long several months and no matter how prepared for someone’s death you think you are, you aren’t. A death brings out the best in some people, and the worst in others. Hopefully those who cope by striking out against others will find their way back to those who support each other in coping with the loss of the linchpin that held it all together.

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Farewell to a brave soul

Marjorie (Butland) Snow 1933-2016 RIP

Marjorie (Butland) Snow
1933-2016
RIP

My mother passed away this morning taking her brave soul to wherever such souls go. Like the rest of us, she wasn’t perfect. But she tried her best to be a good person, especially in the face of tragedy after tragedy throughout her life including the loss of a baby to SIDS, an adult daughter to an accident, her first husband to an accident, a beautiful grand daughter to illness, her second husband to cancer, her own mother and two sisters, friends and relatives, and repeated battles with her own cancer. Through it all and much more she just kept going, doing her best. And what more can one ask of anyone?

She left a legacy of family members across the country – four generations at last count.

There were many moments of joy too. The thrill of finding a daughter given up for adoption 42 years previously. The delight in the marriages of her grandchildren. And later on the birth of her great, and great great, grandchildren – populating the country from coast to coast! In the 24 years that I’ve been a part of this family I’ve collected a few photos at various event. Many are just snapshots grabbed with a point and shoot camera or a cell phone, but they are just a few of the tangible memories of laughter and smiles I will carry in my heart. Rest in peace, Mum.

https://youtu.be/Z7KBvXSY0bc

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It’s all about relationships

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Relationships exist between people and between people and their critters. If we are lucky, good ones exist among family members.

Yesterday afternoon I had the pleasure of photographing the Smyth family. We’ve been friends for many years and it’s always a pleasure to capture their special moments, memories and milestones.

Our photo session yesterday included two adults, 3 kids, 5 horses, a dog and a bunny. Wrangling a group that size is always a challenge, especially when you want to highlight the relationships among the group members – human and otherwise. But, with lots of cooperation from everyone – even the bunny – we had a good hour+ together and I came away with over 200 shots to choose from. For now, here are a few of my favourites!

 

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98 Years Young!

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Annie Mary Wright was born in 1917 in Shepody, Albert County, New Brunswick – a rural area overlooking the Bay of Fundy near Moncton, NB. She passed away last December – still alert, intelligent, young at heart and as outspoken as she’d always been.

My Aunt Annie has been a character in the story of my life for as long as I can remember. When I was little and my parents would take me to Albert County to visit my Grammie, Grampie, uncles, aunts and cousins, I remember her simply being there. She would often show us things around the farm, the flowers, the animals, always subtly teaching us things she thought we children should know. She did it well because I don’t remember being taught – just learning.

She and my Dad, Hillman, were very close, being only six years apart in age and the first two children in the family. When Dad was 11 years old, he set off to go to the School for the Blind in Halifax. My grandmother and a no doubt wide-eyed 5-year-old Annie accompanied him on the journey. I can only imagine Annie’s excitement as she embarked on her first train ride followed by what I’m sure was a tearful goodbye to her older brother. They stayed close until the day my Dad died, frequently talking on the phone.

A Crazy Cat Lady?

I found an old love letter that my Dad wrote to my mother back in the 1940s, and in it he talked about Annie and a litter of kittens she was nurturing. Her love of cats obviously began at a young age! I distinctly remember the house and barn  at the farm being overrun with them any time I came up to visit, despite Grammie’s efforts to get them out of her house! It was a family trait, not doubt, as Dad also had a life-long fondness for cats! She kept herds of them until she was 96 and moved into Forest Dale Nursing Home in Riverside-Albert. Leaving them behind was no doubt one of the most difficult things she ever had to do. She had a sign in her room that said “Cats are like potato chips, you can’t have just one.”  A crazy cat lady? Cat lady for sure; crazy? Not likely!

Annie and her 'cat' pillow

Annie and her ‘cat’ pillow at her 97th birthday party

A woman ahead of her time!

I always admired my amazing and somewhat eccentric Aunt Annie. She was brilliant, fearless and confident, a woman ahead of her time. Extremely intelligent, she was also very well educated at a time when that was remarkable for a woman. She received the Lieutenant-Governor’s Medal for achieving the highest marks in the county in her high school entrance exams. At the age of 15 she graduated from Riverside Consolidated School as valedictorian and received both the Birk’s Medal and the Governor General’s Award for her academic achievements. She also had the highest marks in the Province in the 1933 Matriculation exams and received the Lord Beaverbrook Scholarship that allowed her to attend the University of New Brunswick. She graduated with a BA in mathematics and biology in 1937.

She received a National Research Council Grant and went to Montreal to attend McGill University for graduate studies in genetics, receiving her Masters of Science degree in 1941.

A born teacher, she taught school in Montreal and after ten years, returned to Albert County to teach in various local schools. After retirement she continued to tutor students in math and sciences, helping them to unravel complicated concepts.

98th birthday celebrations September, 2015

98th birthday celebrations September, 2015

Interested in Everything – and Opinionated too!

She was intrigued by the world around her and at the same time devoted to the minutiae of her families’ lives. My husband and I brought our son David to Albert Co. for a family visit when he was about 1 1/2 years old. Annie was enthralled and never forgot to mark his birthday with a card or call.

Some say she had an acerbic wit and sharp tongue. I just think she didn’t suffer fools gladly and promptly made that clear! She wasn’t shy about expressing her opinions. When my professional career path took me away from the music I’d been raised with,  I made the mistake of telling her that I rarely played the violin or piano any more. She let me know in no uncertain terms that I was wasting a god-given talent! When I had my long, thick, very curly hair cut short, she was similarly displeased! She was alternately imperious and hilarious but her laugh was infectious.

When she was a young sixty-years-old she went to Nairobi as a delegate to the Associated Country Women of the World Conference. Her favourite memory was of the strong, mellow black coffee she enjoyed while she was there.

Times Transcript article by Joyce Hudson

Times Transcript article               by Joyce Hudson

Family meant a great deal to Aunt Annie. I’m glad she had a chance to meet my husband, Joel. He was quite taken with her and has often remarked how much he’d enjoyed meeting her. He felt she was quite an amazing individual.

Joel, Aunt Annie and Me September 2015

Joel, Aunt Annie and Me
September 2015

As she marked David’s birthdays and later followed his globe trotting adventures with glee, she also remembered my birthdays. She called every year and I will miss those calls as the final link with my Dad’s generation has been broken.

This quote from Linda Hogan’s moving book, Solar Storms, seems fitting:

“Walking, I am listening to a deeper way.

Suddenly, all my ancestors are behind me.

Be still, they say. Watch and listen.

You are the result of the love of thousands.”

Thank you for your love, Aunt Annie. Rest in peace.

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Courage comes in all forms

Hillman W. Wright

Hillman W. Wright

That’s my Dad, one of the most courageous people I’ve ever known. He would have been 105 years old today. When he was born he had a severe vision problem. Today we know it was infantile glaucoma; then he was just ‘blind’. At the age of ten he was playing with a stick and injured his ‘good’ eye. The resulting infection left him totally blind and he was given glass eyes to replace the orbs surgically removed.

I can’t imagine what it was like for him then – living on a farm in rural Albert County, New Brunswick. But from stories I’ve heard, and from what I know of the man he became, he faced the challenges head on. At 11 years old he travelled to Nova Scotia to attend the Halifax School for the Blind. There he became a certified piano teacher as well as learning the trade of piano tuning. His innate musical talent and hearing attuned to pitch ensured success at both, although he didn’t pursue his teaching.

Upon his graduation, one of his instructors wrote to my grandmother and said Dad’s “remarkable reserve and gentleness, combined with a keen desire to be helpful, will win Hillman a first place among his friends and associates wherever he goes.”

He went on to say that “Hillman is no ordinary young man… beyond being a skillful tuner and mechanic, he is a gentleman worthy of the trust and confidence of any family. He never talks to no purpose, and is slow about expressing an opinion until he has weighed the matter well. This is a remarkable asset to a young man.”

From there he moved to Saint John, New Brunswick, where he eventually tuned the piano of a young music teacher in the city. Romance blossomed and they eventually got married – a courageous act for both of them. It was unheard of for a blind man and a sighted woman to marry at that time, but they did.

As a couple they continued down that courageous path by adopting me! Dad was 39 and Mum 40 when I came into their lives. Parenthood is difficult enough, even for a young couple. But for a then-middle-aged couple to adopt a four-month-old infant must have taken great fortitude.

Dad’s life is a testament to courage – from exploring the city alone, often traveling by bus to find his way to clients’ homes, to traveling alone by to a conference in Chicago. On his way home from that trip the airline staff left him alone in a room to wait for his connecting flight. When he heard the flight called and no one came to get him, he found his way to a wall, and then to a telephone, to call and ask what was going on. They’d forgotten him. To get him to Toronto, his next stop on the trip, they put him on a bus and wished him farewell. That would be frightening for any of us, but for Dad it was just something to be dealt with.

I had polio when I was three and had to learn to walk all over again. Dad was the soul of patience helping me to stand and learn to take those tentative steps again.

No matter what challenges he faced he remained undaunted. His quiet courage seeing him through all adversities. When my mother was spending her final days in the hospital, he traveled by bus across town to visit her daily. When it was his turn, he accepted the inevitable with grace and dignity as only the most courageous can do.

He has no medals in testament to his bravery; but he will live on in my memory as an example of the ultimate in selfless courage, a model that today’s young people would do well to follow.

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Victoria Day

Long Beach, Fundy Trail

Long Beach, Fundy Trail

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The weather forecast for Victoria Day indicated warmth and sunshine; perfect weather for a family trip on a long week-end. It was wrong. But, the cool breeze and overcast skies actually made for pleasant travelling, especially with a big black dog for company.

If you haven’t visited the Fundy Trail just outside St. Martins, New Brunswick, you’ve missed an amazing experience! Many years in the making, it currently extends 19km into the wilderness and will, in a couple of years, connect with Fundy National Park. There’s a roadway and numerous walking and hiking trails of varying difficulty. For those stout of heart and fleet of foot, the 42 km Fundy Footpath (for experienced outdoors people/hikers only) takes you well past where the driving parkway currently ends.

Part of the UNESCO world biosphere/ Stonehammer Geopark, it is part of one of only two geoparks in North America. Carved along the shore of the world famous Bay of Fundy, home to the highest tides in the world, the trail passes through 251 million year old rock.

We  set out early and were waiting at the gates for the 9:a.m. opening. Once inside, we drove straight to the end of the trail to visit the newly accessible Long Beach – 2.5 km of sandy beach that, at low tide, extends 500 metres onto the ocean floor of the Bay of Fundy.  Harley has never seen a beach or salt water or sea weed so this was quite an adventure for a young dog.

Joel and Harley exploring Long Beach

Joel and Harley exploring Long Beach

It’s a magnificent addition to the whole park – a great place to stop for a rest, a picnic or to explore. For me, it was a great spot to experiment with various photographs.

Long Beach at low tide

Driftwood left by the tides of the Bay of Fundy

Driftwood left by the tides of the Bay of Fundy

Picnic and parking area at Long Beach

Picnic and parking area at Long Beach

 

Looking down onto Long Beach

Looking down onto Long Beach

We stopped at some of the lookout spots along the way and spent several hours enjoying the experience. We will, without doubt, be back!

One pooped puppy at the end of our explorations!

One pooped puppy at the end of our explorations!

Our Victoria Day outing at the Fundy Trail was definitely a success.

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