"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, January 25, 2009

Another Epic Birthday

My first Canadian born child, Martin, became fifty this month. Marnie, the love of his life, held an open house to celebrate. They have lived in Barrie over twenty years. I expected most guests would be from there.

Save one, all of his brothers and sisters came. Mark injured his back and knee and because he wasn't there, neither was his family. They were missed but others were there to mark the epic. New partners and friends join the ever-growing circle.

Friends from his school days were there.Gary Simpson with his wife Linda and Linda's parents.Gary and Martin started kindergarten together, One year they had to be put into different classrooms. Their comedic antics distracted the entire class, including the teacher.

In Grade six , Bob Gibson came to St Joseph's from Our Lady of Grace. He was at the party with his wife Leslie. Brian Horton and Karen, Phil Alcorn and Diane.and their children, friends from Williams High School days were there. Brian and Phil grew up in Vandorf. Brian has two brothers and Phil has six. Martin has four brothers and two sisters.

Martin and Marnie were in high school together. Marnie's parents, May and the late Thompson, were heavily involved in Aurora Soccer, when it was a minority sport. Thompson was responsible for starting soccer for kids in Aurora. He taught Martin how to coach. Thompson was an intense Scot, dedicated to the sport of soccer.

Martin's son Cameron, in his twenties, has left Junior hockey and soccer behind. But his Dad is coaching a Barrie hockey team again this year.

For the party,two rooms in their house were a gallery for photographs of Martin from his Christening, in the Victorian robe I brought from England, to his wedding and breakfast reception at Seneca College. The wedding photos were taken at the Lakeside Pavilion. Seneca was a new public resource in those days.

Martin was born in 1959, two years after our arrival in Canada. We came here after the Suez Crisis in 1957. The Second World War had been and gone. But not really.

Crisis continued to follow crisis.

Germany's restoration benefited from the Marshall Plan but Britain had massive debts to pay to the United States for the lend-lease program. They had supplied us on credit . After several years of heavy corporate profits, they became our allies, when they were attacked at Pearl Harbour.

Austerity was still a national policy in 1957. Many products were manufactured strictly for export to help make the "balance of payments" of debt to the U.S. Because we needed to limit imports, we still had ration books for some items. The war had been over for twelve years. Purchase Tax was 66.66 per cent on certain items considered to be luxuries, like washing machines and vacuum cleaners. Tax on petrol was 100%.

We lived in two rooms on the main floor, with no bathroom and shared a toilet with several other households in a ninety-two year old Victorian house in N.W. London (Abbey Road). New houses were being built outside the city. Monthly cost for commuting to work were higher than a mortgage payment. The rail system was in such poor shape, hardly a week went by that commuters didn't spend hours sitting in broken down trains. In the cold.

I worked in a law office overlooking Trafalgar Square, alongside a young woman who had lived in Calgary for a number of years. She had left her husband for someone else and come home to have the lover's child and wait for him to join her. His name was Terry. He never came. She talked incessantly about Canada and carried photos with her always.

I had read Mazo de la Roche's books about Jalna and White Oaks.I was caught up in the romance. Living in the U.K. gives no sense of the distance that is Canada. In a narrow Victorian Street in London, the sky is not nearly so high or wide. I was here a while before I realized Sibbald House was Jalna.

Anyway, there was a deep and collective sigh of exhaustion in the U.K. and elsewhere in Europe when Britain and France sent their armies to secure private property from Egypt's decision to nationalize the Suez Canal. Thousands of people rose up like flocks of flamingos and emmigrated to Australia, New Zealand, Africa and Canada.

We had two sons; Stephen who was seven and Frank, not quite three. We needed to make a decision about buying a house. A couple we knew with two children also lived in rooms. But they were furnished. With each child, they had received notice to vacate. Landlords could do that if accommodation was furnished. After their second child, they bought a new house in Essex.

Never before or since have I seen such a house . There was an arch over the front door about the depth of a brick and a half. As a porch, it provided no shelter. Waiting there, a body would be half in and half out in the rain. The back door opened onto the door of the only kitchen cupboard. The kitchen was absolute utility. A deep white porcelain sink just hung there on the wall, all by itself. A bedroom opened straight off the sitting room.

They bought the house because they needed a home. A couple of years later they sold it and emigrated to Canada.

A particularly devastating tragedy happened. In Portsmouth, a bus ploughed into a company of marching cadets. I read the Daily Mirror on the bus going to work every morning. It was designed to read standing in a bus or train or waiting at a bus stop. Every day, we read another cadet had died of injuries. The sadness was overwhelming.

Thousands flocked to Toronto at the time we did. I would like to say, it was a well-planned decision. It wasn't. I used the same rationale I did for many life-changing decisions. I didn't know any reason why I shouldn't .

And so, on the occasion of my son's fiftieth birthday, surrounded by his family and friends of a lifetime, in the country of his birth, it occurred to me that a half-assed decison made when I wasn't old enough or wise enough to be afraid, turned out to be not half bad.