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Saturday, February 23, 2019

Just a girl from South Porcupine, Ontario.

Mabel was born in 1923. In the year of her birth, a number of newsworthy events took place. Insulin was introduced, changing the world for diabetics. The first issue of Time Magazine was published in March, and Warner Brothers’ film studio opened. Yankee Stadium hosted its first ball game later that spring, and someone in Sweden got the first home refrigerator. The Civil War ended in Ireland, where Mabel’s family history originates. In a foreshadowing of things to come, Adolf Hitler led the Nazi party in a failed coup attempt in Germany.
On the home front, folks were crowding movie theatres to watch “The Ten Commandments” with Theodore Roberts and “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” with Lon Chaney. Women were wearing drop-waist dresses with straight lines and they rarely left the house without a tilted hat on their heads. For a night on the town, men wore something called a Broadway hat with a three-piece suit under a moleskin coat.
The first portable radio was released in 1923 but in South Porcupine, Ontario, where Mabel was born, her parents likely first heard the musical magic of jazz great Louis Armstrong on the family Victrola. The community was home to a gold mine, and most families in the area were very familiar with the mining way of life. It was hard work, in a climate that was hard living. People from this northern town are known to have character, and a sense of humour.
At the age of 18, Mabel met a young railway worker by the name of Garnet. They were a handsome couple, and far more mature than the teens of today. They got married and moved to Ottawa, where they settled down to raise two sons.
An administrator with a skill for numbers, Mabel worked her way up the corporate ladder in finance. Her strong will and belief in herself enabled her to thrive in a male-dominated environment that was not exactly supportive of women. A natural leader and problem solver, she thought carefully before speaking with confidence. The men who might otherwise try to take credit for her work had no choice but to get the heck out of Mabel’s way. At the peak of her career, she was head of Finance for the Federal Court of Canada.
Mabel is my grandmother. I always thought of her as slightly intimidating, the matriarch of the Leeson family. You certainly didn’t want to let her down. But as the years went on, I realized what my Dad said was true: “do not underestimate your Grandmother.”
Full disclosure: I had no idea what he meant by this, at first. But as I went through a number of dramatic and difficult stages in my own life, I always found Grandma to be that constant, reassuring presence that I could turn to. And believe it or not, she never passed judgement. She was never shocked or disappointed, much to my surprise.
When I was having trouble in my first marriage, Grandma showed up at the door to remind me that we Leesons don’t just give up when times get tough. But a few months later when I had to admit all the counselling in the world couldn’t solve my prolems and I called it quits, she simply said, “Meh. I’m surprised you stayed as long as you did. You certainly tried.”
It also amazes me that Grandma knows exactly what is going on in the world. She has always been a traveller, so she has been exposed to other cultures and races her whole life. She has a very practical and fair world view, unlike many of her generation. And I think it helps that she does not get her updates on world events from Fox News. Mabel sees the world through the eyes of her 7 grandchildren, and 15 grandchildren. She is up to date on the popular culture of today, but she can also easily tell us about the way things were because, unlike many people at the age of 96, she has not lost her ability to bring forth her memories.
I’m looking forward to spending an afternoon with Grandma someday soon. We will have a lunch of peameal bacon and tomatoes on toast with mustard, potato chips and gingerale. We will get out the box of photos and I will listen to the stories that each one brings forward from Mabel’s memory bank. I have my favourites. Maybe this time she will tell me some of hers.
Happy Birthday, Mabel. May your 97th year be happy, healthy and full of beautiful surprises.

Mabel with Paulina at her wedding - photo by Elenora Luberto

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Valentine, be mine...

“…And I will make thee beds of roses and a thousand fragrant posies.” ~ from The Passionate Shepherd to his Love. Christopher Marlowe (1564 – 1593).
My Shepherd is just as romantic, in his own way. He buys me flowers on our anniversary, although I prefer the wildflowers he picks for me when he’s out patrolling the property on his ATV. He writes me poetry, but his compositions are closer to a dirty limerick than a soulful sonnet. My Shepherd knows what I like and what I don’t like, and he takes both categories into consideration when trying to show me that he cares.
I don’t like paying way too much money to sit in a restaurant on Valentine’s Day, crowded with too many other people who have been likewise pressured into practicing this silly tradition. I don’t like being rushed through a meal, no matter how delicious, so that the next sitting of couples can have our table. My Shepherd knows this, so we normally take off to the sunny south during the week of February 14th. We usually celebrate Valentine’s Day, coincidentally, with a glass of wine on a beach somewhere. But not this year.
This year we are home for Valentine’s Day, so we are doing something a little different. This year we are taking note of this romantic occasion by ordering food from our favourite caterer and enjoying it at home, with our own selection of music and candles, followed by a sappy movie of my choosing. But we don’t really feel pressured to do the whole commercialized Valentine’s Day thing. I don’t want him spending money on gifts and flowers. Lucky for me, he is my Valentine all year long.
Take a lesson from my Shepherd. Here’s how you show your sweetheart that you care, when you live on a farm:
-          Take your boots off outside - and your clothes too, if they are smelling of manure or carry half the soil of the garden on them.
-          You might have to hose yourself off before coming in the house too, or jump in the pool. You work in the barn; you don’t want to live in one.
-          Fend for yourself at times. You don’t have to do all your own cooking but everyone appreciates someone who can make their own meals instead of marching into the house and announcing that they are starving to death, therefore making it the other person’s problem.
-          Entertain yourself! There’s nothing more exhausting than being made to feel responsible for another person’s quality of life. Get yourself a healthy hobby.
-          When your mate is going to be late, start dinner without being asked. They’re late. Chances are they will also be hungry.
-          Start the laundry, pick up the (grand)kids’ toys, run the vacuum and do the dishes once in a while. Every person in the household has their own set of responsibilities but if you turn the tables occasionally and do more than your usual share, you will get noticed.
-          Listen to your partner. We don’t need you to fix all our problems, but we do need you to hear them. You would be surprised how much money we save on therapy – and alcohol – if you learn to practice active listening.
-          Surprise your mate. It doesn’t have to be a cruise or a new car – unless she needs one. It could be tickets to a rock concert, or a day at the spa. Think of what she really likes and do it. For no reason except that you want to see her smile.
-          Did she wake you up early again with her crashing around in the dark, trying to get ready for work? Pull a robe and some boots on and go out to start her car for her. Brush the snow off it while you’re out there. You’re up anyway.
-          Try something new, just because your partner wants to do it. This doesn’t have to be bungee jumping or skydiving. It might be ballroom dancing though. Love means moving outside your comfort zone for the other person.
-          Make concessions, break your own rules, look the other way when others are breaking them, and pick your battles wisely. Put up with her annoying friends and family members (not that she has any!) and go along to that event that would not be your first choice, just because she asked you. These are all ways to show your partner that you love them.
Happy Valentine’s Day to you and yours – all year long.
Image result for valentines couple