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Sunday, October 17, 2010

Saying Goodbye to Dad

‎"...when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance." - from The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran.
After a few days of cold rain and harsh winds, we were blessed with warm sunshine and a cool breeze on October 16, the day we chose to bury Dad’s ashes. The sun shone through yellow leaves onto the black tombstone that Mom had so carefully chosen to mark Dad’s final resting place. It has been engraved with a waterside scene of two Adirondack chairs on a dock, with two loons floating near the shore. Dad was happiest near the water.
For the past two and a half years, Dad’s resting place has been various locations of prominence in the house where he spent the last 24 years of his life. It became a bit of a game for me, every time I dropped in at the house on Beach Road, to find Dad. Mom liked to move him around once in a while and I couldn’t settle in until I found him. When I discovered the polished mahogany box I always put my hand on it and whispered, “There you are. I love you.”
Dad’s pancreatic cancer revealed itself as more than just a persistent back pain in August of 2007. By September 11, despite surgery, it had spread and he was diagnosed terminal. We lost him just four months later, on January 14, 2008. Maybe we held onto his ashes for another two and a half years because we weren’t ready to say goodbye yet.
Reverend Lynda from the United Church did a wonderful job choosing the perfect verses from the Bible and writings by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. Dad was never much of a church-goer, but he had formed a friendship with Lynda at our farm wedding and during his illness. She knew the type of ceremony he would want: nothing too formal.
Anastasia read the lyrics from a country song, “I’m already there: take a look around, I’m the sunshine in your hair, I’m the shadow on the ground...” and she almost got through it without crying. Wish I could say the same for me. Reverend Lynda helped me out by starting the reading on Death from The Prophet, but I barely made it through my four lines. The last two, “‎"...when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance,” were delivered in a falsetto, I’m afraid. Those words are so perfect for Dad, who loved so much to dance.
Milena read an email in which she detailed a dream she had about her grandfather. A few of us have had really vivid dreams about him, and they have been similar in their tone and very, very comforting.
After the urn was placed into the ground, we each took turns putting a rose on the grave. I touched the velvet bag holding Dad’s remains one last time, and allowed myself one more good cry. I’m sure he would prefer we suck it up, but I’ve never been one to hold back emotions. Must be the Black Irish in me. Anyway, no need to hire professional wailers at our funeral (as is the custom in Asia). We do our own wailing here, thank you.
After the ceremony, Mom explained that when she told Dad she had chosen a spot for them to be buried together in Oxford Mills, his reply was, “Oh. I thought you were going to keep me.” Well, I guess she did both. She couldn’t keep him forever – what if something happened to the ashes? His remains are in a much safer place now, and we all have a place to visit.
I live right around the corner from Dad’s resting place, and although I’m sure I’ll check on it every once in a while, I don’t imagine I will feel closest to Dad there. I feel his presence when I am enjoying the breeze coming off the water, or admiring the fresh beauty of the first snowfall. I can almost hear him when I’m facing a personal challenge or even when something strikes me as incredibly funny. He has instilled in me a love of nature, a sense of humour, a belief in myself and, hopefully, strength of character.
Thanks, Dad, for everything. You will always be remembered.

My Farm Journal

I’m going to start reading the annual Farmer’s Almanac online. They seem to be more accurate than the weekly weather forecast. The Almanac predicted a 30-degree summer and they were right. They said it was going to be a wet fall – with 23 days of rain in September I’d say they were right on the money.
Now the Almanac is calling for a cold, dry winter. Not the winter of choice for a farmer. Actually, I don’t know anyone who would appreciate that kind of winter. Snow insulates and so, much as we complain about it, it’s a good thing. And it gives us something to play in and keeps the snowplow operators happy.
If it’s a dry winter, our water to the barn will freeze. Like it did two years ago. I had to haul buckets of water out to the cows twice a day – have you any idea how much those things drink?? More than once I would stagger out to the barnyard under the weight of two full water buckets only to have an impatient Betty knock me on my butt into the snow.
Many farmers keep a farm journal to keep track of the weather patterns and what they do around the farm each season. Quite often it was the farmwife who did the writing in years past, as she typically spent more time in the house. On the Fisher farm, this Accidental Farmwife column tends to be our farm journal. We look up past issues in my scrapbook to see when we let the rams out, when we medicated the sheep last, etc. I do have another book for writing down important dates and of course we have the lambing journals for marking down who gave birth to whom, etc.
I would love to get my hands on some authentic old farm journals. They must be awe-inspiring reads. Much like my childhood fascination with the Little House on the Prairie book series, detailing the hard life of the pioneers, I think stories about the lives of farmers in Eastern Ontario at the end of the 19th century would be equally impressive.
My Farmer has documented life through a collection of lists. He has a clipboard with the attendance list, menu and details of every family Thanksgiving dinner he has hosted for the past several years. Many times the Farmer will refer to the clipboard before he uses the phonebook. I learned a long time ago not to mess with the clipboard of lists.
As I flip back through the aging sheets of looseleaf, I notice that the list of attendees at the family gatherings has shifted recently so that the younger generation under the “kids” heading shows more names than the “adults”. Soon we will be over-run with young people.
Just last week the Farmer became a great-uncle. That is just one step away from grandfather, as far as I’m concerned. Of course, our kids are still pretty young, with POST-SECONDARY EDUCATION (the emphasis was for their benefit, not that they ever read my column ;) to complete before they consider marriage or parenthood. But when they do eventually (ten years from now!) add a name or two to our “kids” list on the clipboard, we will welcome the little gaffers with real Thanksgiving.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Looking forward to the new library

I wish I could take a good picture. If I were a gifted photographer, I would drive around with a camera in my car so that I would always be ready to grab a snapshot of a scene. For example, on my 15-minute drive into town this glorious autumnal Saturday, I saw the following works of art that I wish I had captured on film: two gleaming black horses standing pushme-pullyou style under glowing yellow leaves on a maple tree; blood-red chrysanthemums in black iron urn planters next to cheeky orange pumpkins on the front steps of a white house; a real-life cowboy in a plaid shirt, boots and jeans leaning on a shiny red truck, talking to a white dog with a brown spot around its eye. It appeared as though a television crew had come through town, setting the stage for visual perfection in every corner before the cameras started rolling. I hope lots of people got married today because it was the perfect day for a wedding. It even rained a bit at the end of the afternoon, for luck.

I drove past the new library construction and thought of how many hours I have spent in libraries over the years. Life is so busy now that my recreational reading has been reduced to a few minutes a day before bed unless I’m on vacation, but there have been times in my life when I positively devoured books.

We only had two channels on the TV when I was growing up, so books were important. I was a regular customer at the public library, where I borrowed as many books as I could carry each week. My favourite authors were Beverly Cleary, Roald Dahl and Carolyn Keene. (I just discovered, after Googling “who wrote the Nancy Drew series?” that it was actually a bunch of people, writing under the collective name of Carolyn Keene. That boggles the mind.)

Books entrusted to my safekeeping were always in some sort of danger, unfortunately. I read while walking home after school. My favourite place to read was up a tree. Many times a book fell out of my shoulder bag during the climb, landing in a pile of damp leaves – or worse. I used to read during my bath too, until that fateful evening when a very large hardcover copy of The Story Girl slipped through the bubbles into the water. When I checked to see if it had dried out the next morning, I was shocked to see its pages had swollen so that the book was forced permanently open. I have a confession: I squeezed that book shut and returned it to the library shelf without telling Mrs. Folkard, the Kemptville Public School librarian at the time. She scared me just a little.

Hangin’ out in the public library was one of my favourite pastimes when I was young. A few decades later, the library was a weekly destination when I was raising young children of my own. It provided much more than books to a young mother desperate to get out of the house. When I lived in Asia, I scooped up the new English bestsellers as soon as they arrived on the display table before they could disappear.

I’m looking forward to checking out (get it? I punned ;) our new library and dusting off my old borrower’s card. I hope we find an appropriate use for the old library building, because it holds a special place in the hearts of many local book lovers.

Last month we lost Mrs. Groskopf, the librarian who held court in the old stone building on Prescott Street when I was a skinny little four-eyed bookworm. She had a smile that crinkled up her eyes, and I know she loved her library because she knew exactly where every book could be found. I once thought I would be a librarian some day. It says so in my kindergarten yearbook (circa 1973, if you must know...). Many things have changed but my love of books remains. Thank you to everyone who donated their money, time and efforts to the Room to Read campaign. I know I’m going to be one of our new library’s first customers.