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Friday, January 14, 2022

The gold chain




My dad was a snappy dresser. He was the last generation of public-school teachers to wear a suit to work, every day. He never wore running shoes because he had no intention of running. His sweatpants never made it outside the house. He ironed his jeans. He wasn’t fond of jewellery, except for his thick gold wedding band, and a flat serpentine chain. 


When my dad passed away in January 2008 after just four months of illness, we were all in shock and struggling to face a world without his huge presence in it. I decided to throw myself into a new challenge at work and found the learning curve quite steep. I needed quiet, so I could focus. Mom had gone to Florida with friends, and the house was empty. I packed a lunch and brought my work there. I spread my files out on the coffee table and opened up my laptop. I sat quietly on the couch and closed my eyes. The house hummed with the energy that our family had embedded in its walls over the previous twenty years. I felt a sense of total comfort and support, as if he was still there, sitting in his favourite armchair to my right, answering my questions and encouraging me. My mind was clear and the words came easily as my fingers flew across the keyboard. My focus on that first assignment was laser sharp. The work led me into a whole new path in my career. I doubled my salary overnight and began making what my writing was worth – for the first time in my life. 


A year later I had taken on yet another challenge, as project manager on a documentary film project. It was completely out of my realm of professional experience, but I felt pushed and supported by the trust of the Indigenous group that had requested me on the assignment. As we packed our bags to head up to Northern Quebec, I realized I didn’t have a suitable jacket for the damp chill of springtime in the North. I borrowed one from my Mom. 


As I walked out on the frozen Rupert River to assist our film crew on that chilly April morning, I slid my hand into the pocket of Mom’s coat. My fingers closed around something, and I pulled it out to take a closer look. I recognized it immediately as the gold chain that my father wore continually in summer. It had been polished to a shine by the leather of his tanned neck. I put it around my own, under my scarf. I felt him walking with me as I stepped out confidently onto the ice. 


It took my mother a couple years until she was ready to bury my father’s ashes. His remains are on a soft hillside overlooking the creek in Oxford Mills. We have found deer prints there occasionally, near his headstone. He would like that. But I don’t feel his presence there, so I don’t visit the site often. I can’t visit the old house anymore either, as it has been sold and my mother has moved on. Now, when I want to feel close to my dad, I wear his gold chain. 


I realize it would be unwise to form an attachment to this inanimate token of my father’s memory, because that would just lead to my losing it. I need to find other ways to keep his memory alive, before I forget the sound of his voice, the tilt of his smile, the touch of his hand and the glint in his blue-green eyes.

Remembering Larry / Grandpa / Dad, and keeping him alive in our hearts

 

Larry Andrew Alan Leeson

September 4, 1941 - January 14, 2008


It’s been fourteen years since we said goodbye to a very special person.

He wasn’t a saint. He wasn’t always easy to live with. But he loved teaching, laughing, dancing, and driving. And he lives on in the memory of so many. If we could, we would pass these messages on to him today.


Hi Dad, 

We keep hearing your favourite song "Rasputin" and catch ourselves mimicking your dance moves along to the music. 

We still have dreams of you where you are helping us to be good moms - where you would have been a great grandpa, and Dad. 

Miss you so much. ~Cathy.




Dad,

I keep hearing funny stories about you – so I’m writing them down before I forget them. I hope you don’t mind – I might turn them into a book someday. There are more than a few life lessons in there for all of us. From you, I learned to follow my heart and do my best. I learned to notice that everyone is good at something, so we shouldn’t compare. I learned that if someone gets the courage to ask you for something, you should give it to them, if you can afford to. And if someone asks you to dance, dance.

I love you, Dad. ~Dee.



Dear Larry,

Wow!  Fourteen years since you left us; the years are going by so quickly now.  

Your family of five generations misses you and we talk about you often, your favourite music and crazy sayings, so the younger ones will know you too.

During this pandemic, I have felt so grateful to be living comfortably in my own home and with wonderful memories of our43-plus years together ... raising our two beautiful daughters, building homes, boating, snowmobiling, travelling.  Thanks for spurring me on so often to make those life-changing decisions that make my life what it is today.

You were one of a kind and will always be loved.  

Maureen

 


 

Saturday, January 8, 2022

What is your WOTY for 2022?

 

Many different organizations around the world declare a Word of the Year for different purposes. Usually it’s the word that has had the greatest impact on the population. The Merriam Webster Word of the Year for 2022 is: VACCINE. In 2021, the word was PANDEMIC.

Well, those words may indeed be the stars of the search engines these days, for many different reasons. But I prefer to choose my own personal Word of the Year each January as a positive guidepost of sorts. It’s my form of New Year’s Resolution.

In the past, I have chosen words like: Present (to remind me to stay focused on the here and now, instead of getting caught up in things that have already happened or worrying about what is to come); Less (as a reminder that I already have more than enough, so why eat / drink / buy more? Except where books are concerned, of course – you can never have too many books); and Listen (another way to stay present and grounded, as I work to develop my grandmothering skills). This year, I have chosen a word that will remind me to make time for my favourite lifelong pastime, because it brings me joy and relieves stress.

As a little girl, I kept a daily journal. I had the traditional kind with the tiny lock and key. Each evening I listed things like what I ate, what I wore, who I saw, who hurt my feelings, and what new song I heard on the radio. Into my teen years I secretly listed the names of the boys I liked, while carefully recording the fashion and hairstyle details of the girls I admired. I didn’t write with any particular goal in mind. I certainly wasn’t planning to publish my journals some day. And yet, I wrote. If not every night, then at least every week, without fail.

Journaling helped to keep my brain organized. It was like a data dump of worries and concerns that allowed me to clear my head so I could sleep soundly. I found it especially helpful when I was a young mother. Sometimes at the end of the year I burned my journals, as a symbol of a hopeful change in direction for the year to come.

Over the years as I took on writing professionally, I let my journaling habit fall by the wayside. This year I have been gifted a brand new journal and I plan to use it. Who knows? Someone might find my notes interesting in the future, after I’m gone. My word of the year is WRITE.

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2021: The Farmwife Year in Review

 

Well they say we should never look back but I always like to do a quick review as one year ends and another begins.

As 2021 began we were in the thick of quarantine and isolation from loved ones. The upside to this, if there is one, is that we rediscovered The Great Canadian Winter. My memories of January and February are about meeting family and friends at the toboggan hill, burning Christmas trees in a fragrant bonfire, and skating down a winding forest trail. We bundled up, poured the cocoa, and made the best of it. It looks like I will be dusting off the snowpants again this year.

As the snow melted and the calendar pages flipped we braced ourselves for another wave in the spring. Two of our daughters’ households were hit with Covid and we held our breath until they made it through, virtually unscathed. Our Easter gathering was cancelled and schools closed, but we managed to get out to the dog park often so that we could see each other.

For Mother’s Day, my daughters surprised me with a picnic in the back meadow. We had charcuterie and mimosas on quilts surrounded by dandelions, under a sky of rolling clouds. I might request that again this year – it was more fun than a restaurant reservation.

In May I started a new job that allows me to work from home permanently. Like many others during this pandemic, I have taken stock of my priorities and made changes to reduce the stress that comes from getting up before dawn to commute to the city. I can also shift my working hours to accommodate personal time with grandchildren. This has deeply enriched my quality of life, and I truly believe it has led to improved health and quality of sleep.

We spent the summer at the cottage. My family bought me a kayak for my birthday, and the Ferg and I enjoyed many leisurely paddles around the lake. The cabin was a great retreat from the pandemic, and I became a happy recluse.

In the fall we were able to host our traditional large Thanksgiving gathering at the farm. I am really glad that we were able to do this safely, because I had really missed our extended family over the past 18 months.

Christmas 2021 was once again held outside in the stable but hey – that’s where it all began isn’t it? We might keep at least part of that as our holiday tradition going forward. Everyone seems to enjoy a hot drink beside a campfire in the snow.

Now that we have made it safely through another pandemic year, we are ready to launch ourselves (masked) into 2022.

Wishing you and your family a Very Happy – and Healthy - New Year!

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Friday, December 10, 2021

Answering the call


I often hear, “you’re all over the place!” Especially in the fall and winter, I seem to be busy volunteering as MC at local charity events (pre-Covid, anyway), working in the food bank and manning the kettle for the Salvation Army. I have always enjoyed volunteering in the community. It’s a very rewarding pastime. And I’m not affluent, so instead of writing a cheque, I donate my time and efforts. But to be honest, I volunteer to feel that I am doing something in a sometimes helpless situation.

 

Did you know that the demand on our local food bank has more than tripled since the beginning of the pandemic? There are a variety of reasons for this. Many people were laid off. Some had family members turn to them for help, and their household grew in size. Others are unable to work, due to health concerns and other factors. We have people accessing the food bank for the first time, fully dressed for work. They have jobs – but they can’t pay rising housing, fuel and utility costs while also putting healthy food on the table. It’s a very difficult situation to be in – and it’s happening in large part to frontline workers: those in long term care and customer service.

 

It's frustrating that our government doesn’t have a firm plan in place to stock food bank shelves in order to support the people who keep things operating safely in a pandemic - people who are forced to put their own health at risk so that our seniors will be well cared for and we can access the grocery store. Our local food bank did gratefully receive a hefty grant from the government as emergency funding. That money was to be used during the pandemic, and it helped to stock shelves for the past year. It is spent now, and there is no sign of a renewal of financial support in the near future.

 

While our funding disappears, our numbers remain steady. Many food bank clients are returning to work, but they still need help to feed their families. Costs have gone up. Shifts have been reduced. The world is not the same as it was – and it won’t be changing anytime soon. Our need continues while our support fades away. We are working on sustainable plans for community sponsorship and support, because we know we will have to raise much of the funds ourselves.

 


This is why I ring the bells at the Salvation Army kettle. We hope to raise enough money to stock our shelves for several months after this Christmas campaign. Thank you for your donations. Every dollar helps.

 

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Monday, November 8, 2021

The dining room table tells a story of memories

 

My prized possession is an old drop-side dining room table. It sits at the end of our 16-foot picnic table on the dining porch, ready to serve as backup should we get a sudden boost in numbers. Over the years it has acted as the dessert table at Thanksgiving dinner, a table for all my tropical plants in the sunroom, and it sat at the end of the hall and displayed family photos. I have often said, in case of fire, grab my photo albums and my drop-side table.

I remember my Dad bringing the little round table to me at my apartment on Prescott Street when I was a newly single mom of 3 back in 2000. I said, “That’s it??” In my recollection, that table was HUGE. But inanimate objects do tend to loom large in our childhood memories.

My first memory of the table was my view of it from my seat at a tiny pink child-sized Formica table. If I stood on my toes, I could just barely peer over the edge of it to see what the adults were eating. The table has a drawer at one end where I often hid toys and treats that would be rediscovered months later. Mom can’t remember where she got the table for their first apartment as a married couple, but she does remember painting it 1960s turquoise to match the flowered wallpaper in her new kitchen in their first house on George.

As my sister and I grew up we eventually took our seats at the round table, and then one day our family outgrew it. The table went into storage. Years later, Dad decided to present me with the table that he had recently refinished. The top of the table had been repaired over the years with plastic paint but when he stripped the turquoise off the legs he revealed the original tiger-striped wooden spindles. If you look closely, you can still see tiny flecks of turquoise paint in the curves. My childhood memories are stored there.

In my farmhouse kitchen stands a well-used oval dining table on 2 sturdy pedestal legs. It has suffered a few water stains that I have managed to remove but our Chinese students made a heat mark with their rice cooker one day and that left a permanent scar. Occasionally a cat will get up there to investigate in the night, leaving behind a claw scrape. Every week I polish these imperfections and wonder if my grandchildren are developing their own fond memories of a table that has gathered and fed us food, fellowship and love.

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Thursday, October 21, 2021

The Farmer's favourite shoes are on their way out the door

 

They say you can tell a lot about a person by the state of their shoes. If the shoes are brand new and spotless, it could mean that the person is trying to make a good impression and they care about their appearance. Or, it could mean that they spend too much on material things.

Alternatively, if a man’s shoes are beat up and dirty, it might imply that he doesn’t care much about his appearance or the impression he is making, along with the dirt on your floor.

If a man’s shoes are worn but clean and well-cared for, that might mean he is hardworking and reluctant to waste money. I usually keep a pair of shoes for an average 3 to 5 years. As soon as they start to look worn out, however, I toss them. I tend to buy leather boots so that they last longer. I have a pair of hiking boots that are close to 20 years old. My pink rubber boots are 15.

My husband has a problem with hanging on to shoes long after their expiration date. And I don’t mean running shoes – he doesn’t even own a pair of those. He has golf shoes that look like they belonged to Jack Nicklaus circa 1985. He has a pair of construction boots (likely with sentimental value) that are so stiff you could use them as flower planters (in fact I think I will). I caught him fishing his favourite loafers out of the garbage after I threw them out - And his favourite ‘dress shoes’ embarrassed me recently at a family wedding because I looked down at his feet to see why he had stumbled during the photo session and realized that his shoes had suddenly grown a mouth.

“You put on a nice suit, a beautiful shirt and matching tie, and then you choose these shoes??” I asked, incredulous. The black shoes had broken spines and frayed laces along with the flapping sole.

“I wanted to be comfy,” he explained, smiling sheepishly. “They feel like slippers.”

Then I looked a little closer and realized that he had also swapped out the dress shirt that I had chosen for him, at the last minute. The one he wore to the wedding had a fraying collar and cuffs.

“You look like a hobo,” I muttered. But he was still handsome and the shoe didn’t show in the pictures. The next day he showed me proudly how he had fixed his broken shoe, with bright yellow shoe glue oozing out from under the toe.

“Well that’s just perfect,” I laughed.

I might have to throw them in a bin far from home so he can’t retrieve them.

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