Archive for September, 2008

C. and her Father
September 28, 2008

I’ve known C. for several years now but have almost lost touch since she moved away to the prairies.  I e-mailed her recently to let her know a mutual friend was getting married.

She had been a camp counsellor as a teen and once showed me a popular camp trick.  If you hold a broom in your arms, stare up at the tip and turn around fast several times, then you can drop the broom, careen dizzily around and fall to the floor in a fun way.   If you are in your fourties, the ground comes up fast.

C.’s father was a US Marine and had fought in the Korean War, where he had seen hand-to-hand fighting.  When American troops advanced over the 38th parallel in Korea, the Chinese army, which had amassed there, attacked and fought them in brutal winter conditions.

C. studied Japanese and Chinese in university, became fluent and, for a while, worked leading tours of China.  She once met the father of a Chinese friend.  The man had been in the Chinese army and fought against American troops in Korea.  “Please greet your father for me.”  he told her.

C’s father died of cancer when she was about thirty.  Her father was a mechanic and owned a garage in their small town.  He was also a member of the volunteer fire department and in this capacity he was asked, or volunteered,  to drive up into the hills behind their town and recover the body of a young man who had committed suicide.    C. went with him.  It was wintertime and they found the body in the snow – it was frozen.  The young man had shot himself with a gun.  She helped her father load the corpse into the back seat of their vehicle and they drove back into town.  I was taken aback by this story and asked C. if she wasn’t traumatized by the experience.

 “No.” she said, “My father had always done the hard jobs – and I knew I could do them too.”


Boredom Bingo
September 24, 2008

Yesterday night, I was talking to my brother, who had been in meetings all day.  That reminded me of a way to make attending business and committee meetings more interesting.  Can’t remember where I first heard this suggestion.

Make a bingo card and in each space write a phrase that often comes up in your meetings.  Things like “cost-effective” , “target-market”,  “paradigm shift”,  “Anyone want to volunteer?” and so on.  As the meeting progresses, circle each phrase as it is mentioned.  When you get a row circled, jump up and shout “Bingo!”

The Magic Carpets
September 18, 2008

I  chatted once with some British antique dealers – a married couple – who come out to Vancouver every year to see family.  They have apartments in London and Paris and are very successful at their business.  They made a lot of their money dealing in estates.  They would be called in to value the full contents of a house or apartment, then sell off what the heirs didn’t want and dispose of the rest.

One time they were going through the house of an elderly woman who had recently died.  Together with her son, they looked over her household furniture.  The son pointed out some carpets on the floor of one room.  When one carpet got worn,  the woman simply put another one on top – there were four of them.  The dealers lifted the edges and saw the carpets were both unremarkable and well-worn.   They said, sorry – not worth anything.  The carpets were rolled up together, bound with twine and put out in the front yard with other goods to be discarded.

Later, there was a knock at the door.  A woman walking by had seen the carpets, saw they were being disposed of and wondered if she could buy one.  That was fine.  The dealers went out with her, unbound the carpets and pulled them apart so she could get a good look at all of them.

There was over $10,000 in British pound notes in between two of the carpets.

Ideally, it’ll take about an hour to clear out my place after I give up my ghost.  Any money will be clearly visible in the penny jar.  I own very little intentionally.  I admire Diogenes, the Greek philosopher who lived the life of an impoverished beggar as he roamed from town to town in his famous search for “one honest man”.   One day he tripped in the street while begging and broke his begging bowl.  He got up, looked at the shards of the broken bowl and shouted “Free at last!”.

Up and at ’em
September 15, 2008

When we were kids, my father used to wake us up by clapping his hands and calling out, “Up and at ’em!  Up and at ’em!”.  Later, I wondered why he expected us to jump out of bed and attack.  It seemed funny.

I have an on-and-off interest in miltary history.  I’m currently re-reading The Fall of Berlin,1945 by Anthony Beevor.  It’s about the Russian army’s advance through Germany to take the capital.

I once read a few books about the Battle of Waterloo.  The weather was against Napoleon.  The British had the advantage of a fairly new and terrifying weapon, the shrapnel shell, named after its inventor, the British artillery officer, Henry Shrapnel.  Napoleon used battle strategies he had successfully employed before.  The Duke of Wellington had studied them closely and prepared to counter them.  Napoleon directed his army from a command post with a view of the battle.  Wellington courageously rode through the smoke and artillery fire, re-directing troops in the field.

1,500 British Foot Guards were positioned behind a crest, lying on the ground to avoid artillery fire.  They were waiting for their signal to attack.  As the French Imperial Guard advanced towards them, Wellington rode up and gave the command that later became famous among the British public.

“Up, Guards and at ’em!  Up and at ’em!”

Scrying, anyone?
September 12, 2008

Next week is a meeting of a fundraising committee I am on.   I volunteer for a small arts organization and we are planning our next dinner/auction event.  The theme is “The Gypsy Life”.  The music will be great and I can wear the same costume as I did for the last fundraiser, “The Groovy 60’s”.  Just need to add some large hooped earrings and bandana.

My usual role is to call companies and ask for donations for the silent auction.  I also co-ordinate the cake auction.  And this time, I’ve volunteered to read Tarot cards for donations.  I learned years ago to read the cards.  I knew one day someone would cross my palm with silver.  I just hope it’s not too exhausting to divine the destinies of a large line-up of complete strangers.

Actually, I always wanted to learn to read the crystal ball, but instructions were always vague.  One must have the gift.  Interestingly, that type of divination is called “scrying”.  That is a word I’d like to work into a conversation.

A:   What do you do for a living?

B:    Oh, I do a little scrying to make ends meet.

September 9, 2008

In the newspaper this past week, I read that addicts in the Downtown Eastside are being given the opportunity to visit horses at a farm in the Fraser Valley.  As part of a theraputic treatment, they can spend the day with horses – feeding and visiting with them.

My sister-in-law’s father was a high school principal in Nova Scotia.  He told me he had grown up in a small town that was near a mine.  At one point, the mine was shut down.  In those days, there were still horses working underground in the mine, pulling the coal cars along tracks.  The animals were stabled underground and had spent most of their lives down there.  When the mine closed down, the horses were brought up and put in a field.  Everyone thought they would be blind from living in darkness.  At first the horses just stood there and blinked hard against the light.  They took a few steps forward in the field – and then they started to run.

“You think you’ve seen dogs run…” he said, “…you’ve never seen anything run like those horses.”

September 6, 2008

For a short while, I taught English at school in a small village in Estonia.  There wasn’t much to do in the off-hours, so I often took walks through the surrounding countryside, which I enjoyed.  One day I passed a small store on a back road.  I went inside to take a look. There wasn’t much merchandise in the store.  A woman sat silently behind a counter – I had learned that the locals never felt the need to make small talk.  To justify my presence in there, I chose a few small stationery items to purchase and put them on the counter.  Suddenly I heard a soft clicking and whizzing.  To my amazement, the woman was using an abacus to total the bill.  I felt a small thrill watching one being used in a commercial transaction. 

I thought the abacus was a museum-piece, but M. who is Japanese, has told me she has seen them used in Japan.

Government for the People
September 3, 2008

I am reading  CANADA – A PORTRAIT IN LETTERS.  It’s a series of selected letters over the last 200 years from the National Archives and other collections.  I found it misfiled in the Biography section of the library and it looked interesting.

On page 347,  Mrs Thomas Perkins writes to the Prime Minister R.B Bennett in Ottawa.  She and her husband are impoverished prairie farmers in their 60’s.  Ailing, isolated and working desperately through freezing conditions on their failing farm, she asks the Prime Minister to send her husband a pair of new Eatons’ ‘underware’.  Her husband’s long johns are finally  unmendable and they can’t afford new ones.  Her man spends his days out in the cold  and if he can just get a new pair, they can somehow carry on. 

The Prime Minister’s office replied that, despite being inundated with such requests – and in view of Mr. Perkin’s health- an order had been forwarded to the T. Eaton Co. for a pair of high grade, heavyweight, Wolsey underwear which “I trust you will receive in due course.”

Yin and Yang at Nat Bailey Stadium
September 1, 2008

A non-profit organization I volunteer with was giving away free tickets to the last home game of the Vancouver Canadians – the local baseball team who play at Nat Bailey Stadium.  I didn’t think of accepting the offer – I haven’t watched a baseball game for decades.  But I do remember going to a lot of games when I was younger, when the team was called the Vancouver Mounties.

My mother was a sports fan and used to pack us in the car with the dog and drive down to the game.  We went to Queen Elizabeth Park which had a hill that overlooked the stadium.  Along with a lot of other people, we sat on the hill and watched the game for free.  My mother brought her transistor radio to listen to the play-by-play.  The hill was nicknamed Cheapskate Hill.  The announcer at the stadium would call out sometimes “And hello to all the folks up on Cheapskate Hill!”  And we would wave. 

 A friend of my parents, a man in his fifties, went to a Mounties game by himself one evening.  At some point, he must have felt ill and returned to his car.  He got inside, closed the door and died of a heart attack there.  The game ended and everyone got in their cars and left.  When his family came looking for him, his was the only car in the stadium lot.