"Cowardice asks the question...is it safe? Expediency asks the question...is it politic? Vanity asks the question...is it popular? But conscience asks the question...is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular but one must take it because it is right." ~Dr. Martin Luther King

Sunday, March 16, 2008

A Highly Improbable City

The last time I was in Sudbury, it was a grim place. What remained of the trees were black pointy sticks protruding from vast expanses of rock. The province created a Regional Municipality up there thirty years ago.

John Pianosi, a member of the Social Assistance Review Board was from the company town of Coppercliff a close neighbour of Sudbury. He had lots to tell about his childhood. Board members spent many hours driving around the province with plenty of time for talk about themselves and anything and everything else. His parents emigrated from Italy to Sudbury. Like the Caruso's came to Aurora and the Bondi's to Newmarket.

I was in Sudbury to see my granddaughter perform in the musical Grease. She was in the chorus. I have not missed a performances since she was at Dennison Secondary School. We went to Guelph and Fergus when she was at University. She had never done a musical. She wasn't sure she had singing and dancing skills.

I went with her mother, (my daughter Theresa) and Heather Sisman. It was a fun trip. We re- discovered how easy it is to laugh at ourselves and each other. Theresa loves to drive but she works in Toronto and commutes every day on public transit. I rented a Toyota Matrix for the trip.

The sky was blue all the way and the road was clear and dry. We saw very little traffic but when we pulled into Tim Horton's at Nobel (close to Parry Sound) it was packed.

We had to drive around quite a bit in the city to find the theatre. It's an awesome place.,literally chiselled out of rock. Old road allowances have just enough level area on either side to accommodate a sidewalk, a small house, a thin slice of backyard. Flat rock rises straight up at the rear lot line.

Gabion baskets in some places are piled thirty or forty feet high, presumably to hold the earth back. What earth I wondered? Looks like solid rock to me. How are sewer and water mains installed in a place like that? Obviously they've done it. but it's not obvious how. February is hardly the time to check curb appeal but it sure is a happening place. Flags from every country in the world are flying. on both side of a long bridge. The government must have poured billions into the economy to make the city what it is.

They have two universities, several hospitals and at least one other theatre. Eric, Stephanie's partner is doing his Master's degree. He is a marine biologist and gets paid to mess about with plants and fish and trails and the like. He is a happy man. Stephanie is sewing canvas boat covers with hands that would look right on a ten year old.

The play had been performed for six night in each of two weeks with matinees and full houses in a high school theatre. They rehearsed four nights a week beforehand. She played the lead in a couple of rehearsals and the director told her he wished he had cast her for the part. It is community theatre so there is no pay. But it beats doing nothing. Talent needs to be honed.

For days after, my head was filled with the music of the show. For some reason, I thought of my grandparents. A particular scene came into focus.

As a teenager, I worked in a war-time residential nursery. Mothers worked round the clock in munition plants. Fathers were at war. Pre-school children came in to the nursery on Sunday night and went home Friday.

At one time, three infants came to us from another nursery. They were the survivors of an episode of gastroenteritis that killed twenty babies. One tiny girl named Morag never went home. Her mother visited most weekends.

On afternoons, when I was off-duty I would take her in a battered old pram to my grandparents. Grampa would struggle out of his rocking chair to bend down and put his gnarled and shaking finger into her tiny grasping little fist.

Charlie Rose had an Irish actor, Gabriel Byrne, as a guest the week after I was in Sudbury. He talked about his "silent culture". I had never thought about my people being silent. They seemed to be always telling stories. They loved to laugh at themselves and each other. But it was true, they rarely expressed their feelings. I gained a fresh understanding from Gabriel Byrne's reference. They never talked about loving. I think it was supposed to be taken for granted. Children don't presume. If nobody ever tells you they love you, it's because they don't.

There was no theatre in our town but movies were in their heyday. Grannie was addicted. Two or three times a week, rain or shine, she and my mother went to" the pictures". She would read every night until the small hours of the morning. She had a sweet singing voice and an endless repertoire of ballads. The wireless was always tuned to Family Favourites at ten in the morning.

As each person came in from work, my grandparents would hear every detail of the day's conversation. Decades before there was T.V., we had daily soap operas in our house. There was some drama but mostly it was comedy.

Grampa was a coal miner who worked six days a week for fifty-one years. His fingers were blunted and gnarled and shaking. His body full of rheumatism from working in water much of the time. My mother told once of how he would have to stand in front of the fire to thaw his frozen clothes before they could be removed. That was after he had walked the several miles home from work.

It may have been Sudbury, it may have been the laughter, it may have been my singing, dancing granddaughter or it may have been driving for miles in a brand new Matrix to a mining city that would have been familiar but amazing to my grandfather that made me think of them both and how great it would have been to share my story about the week-end with them.