"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, December 26, 2010

A Fire In The Hearth

So, on Christmas Eve I turned out the light, put my feet up, watched the fire burning and listened to the endless rendition of Christmas songs. The wood burned fast, flames licked high up the chimney and every now and then a two pointed poker appeared and re-arranged half burned logs or a hand put another in place.

Flames licked high and burning wood wood sparked loudly.It was very realistic except the pale bricks at the back of the hearth bore no trace of smoke.

I almost imagined my cheeks were hot. Except,I could not of course smell burning wood. Sparks have a way of shooting out from a fire and need to be snatched up fast and bounced in one's hand until thrown back.

It wasn't real of course. My television created the illusion.

It reminded me of a lifelong yearning. A fire had been the heart of every home in my life.

If weather became warm enough to do without ,the empty grate seemed dead and lifeless.The house is not the same without a fire or a mother.

Coal was the fuel. The hearth quite small. Furniture would be  arranged around the fire.

Before television, lights would be put out as we listened to the radio and conjured scenes from the words in our minds that television could never produce.

Before radio, older children told ghost stories and sang camp songs and we played guessing games like "My Grannie had a sweetie shop and in it she sold" Sweetie shops in Scotland were places of wonder. I think sweets were craved to make up for lack of sunshine.

I taught my children and grandchildren Grannie's sweetie shop game for long car rides and the dark and  spooky shapes of the forest around the camp fire.

Coal burns longer than wood. Flames are smaller with more colours. Coal produces gas and a ripping sound as it escapes.

Embers form and hold shapes and pictures, revealed only to the individual seen from a particular angle. Like clouds.

The fire was used  for cooking.The baby's bath would be set up in front of the fire, with blankets hung around to keep out the draft.

A coal mining breadwinner would stand in front of the fire to thaw out the clothes
frozen solid on the three mile walk home from the pit. A tin bath on the floor filled with kettles from the fire, waited to scrub his skin clean of the penetrating coal dust.

A muffler tied around the neck and cord around the trousers under the knee were attempts to keep coal dust out of every pore in their bodies. It didn't.

Brass and copper were arranged around the mantlepiece to augment the light from a gas mantle or an oil lamp and generate the feeling of warmth. Most of the heat went up the chimney.

The fire range would be polished every morning with black lead and the brass and copper kept to an equally high shine.

Houses were cold and damp.The wind off the sea whistled and howled and rain would be driven against the windows. The familiar intermittent sound of the fog horn was part of the element when a dense white mist rolled in and obscured everything.

A heavy curtain would hang inside the door to keep the cold out. When it had to be opened a long sausage pad at the bottom had to be shifted back and forth with the door

When we wrote notes to Santa in the days before Christmas, we threw them upwards. The heat would carry them all the way up the chimney.

It only made sense that Santa would get them.

Monday, December 20, 2010

My House

Is filled this morning with the aroma of crunchy morsels of a bllend of beef,veal and pork seasoned with onions, Worcester sauce, nutmeg,freshly ground pepper,sea salt and blended with soft breadcrumbs, moistened with eggs and milk.

With one pan,the frying continued for hours. The sauce was made the night before. The flavours of savoury,like a soup or stew,meld better from simmering,cooling overnight and simmering again. Ingredients were onions softened in oil and butter,ketchup,lemon juice, vinegar,yellow mustard,Worcester sauce,salt,pepper, brown sugar,chopped celery and green peppers.

I didn't count them but they filled the crock pot and still filled another dish.

Meatballs made with 6 eggs and 3 cups of milk milk are tiny souffles. They're not the same if allowed to cool and be reheated. They must be kept warm until served and a crock-pot is perfect for that happen.

Everything was transported to Heather's house where the Christmas gathering was held. We do it the week-end before. Then everyone is free to decide where to be on Christmas Day.

Great grandchildren twins, Reid and Claire were here from Tacoma, Washington.Their grandfather, my eldest son Stephen was absent for the first time in his life. He had stomach flu which hit him that morning.

Great grand-daughters Cheyanne and Abigail , were with us to contribute to the excitement.

My youngest son Andrew ,seventy miles apart from Stephen , was also laid low with the same complaint so was also absent.

His daughter Hayley was the guest of the parents of her best friend, who hosted an expedition to the Elgin Theatre for Beauty and the Beast. But Megan and Rhonda were there.

Grand-daughter Lizzie didn't make it . Lizzie lives in Oshawa. She has two degrees, a dog, a cat and an apartment. She works as a sales clerk in a health food store and does not own a vehicle.

Oshawa is not far away. But too far to scoop Lizzie, carry her here and transport her home again later. Parents, Martin and Marnie did that regularly when she was a student in Peterborough. They live in Barrie.

So Lizzie was missing and missed. We were together recently for Melissa's memorial service. Grand-daughter Stephanie proferred to collect Lizzie for the get-together. Stephanie lives in Sudbury. She had to get back there for work to-day and could not cram any more into her schedule.

It was a merry throng nevertheless. Heather's house is not large.Except for the little ones, there are no short people in my family. There are more males than females. Men love the kitchen.

Heather cooked turkey the day before.It was sliced and resting in an enormous warming pan purchased for the purpose.

The oven with a big red bow tied to the handle, was filled with vegetable dishes brought to the feast from various kitchens.Rhonda brought a dish of golden buttery scalloped potatoes.

Turkey broth,a new addition and very popular, and turkey gravy were simmering on the stove. A dish of milk with onions and cloves rested by the oven vent absorbing flavours and awaiting the addition of breadcrumbs, butter and cream at almost the last moment before serving.It's an English medieval sauce for turkey which combines well with cranberry.

Heather's freshly baked buns wrapped in napkins filled two enormous baskets.

Our hostess moved congenially between the giants who shifted slightly here and there to allow her to check that all was well. Robyn brought out the gigantic salad bowl on its own stand and tossed the Caesar salad.

Storm brought two rounds of brie wrapped in pastry to pop into the oven for the cheese to melt hot and creamy and be served with red pepper jelly.

Frank and Lorna brought crackers, an enormous variety of cheese and a new buttery crunch confection, freshly baked from a simple but incredibly delicious recipe.

It's been years since I allowed myself to be persuaded against the possibility of setting a nicely appointed table with matching china, fine flatware, crystal and plates warmed before serving

We eat from throw-away plates, plastic cutlery. Wine is served in glasses.

If there's a place at a table,fine,otherwise everyone seems to enjoy the feast and the company notwithstanding.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

A Sad Christmas Story

I remember Ian Agnew at Christmas. Every time I pass his house on Murray Drive I am reminded of unbearable sadness.

Ian and Rena had to wait a long time before they were blessed with a child. One Saturday night, at family skate a the community centre, I saw them skating around and around leisurely and happily. Each holding the hand of the little six year old girl between them. She was dressed like the beloved little doll she obviously was. Her rosy-cheeked little face encircled in white fluffy fur.

At around ten years old, weeks before Christmas, she became ill with a virulent form of measles. They took her down to Sick Kids. Within days she was gone. They came home with empty arms to a dark house, an unlit Christmas tree with presents gathered underneath for a child who would never come home again.

I saw them now and again out walking swinging hands together, engrossed in each other,oblivious to the world.

At the Community Centre one night in the back row,I was watching my son Andrew's hockey game. Ian was there hanging over the railing. He saw me and came over.

For more than an hour he talked to me about the trip he took to Scotland with his wee lassie, the summer before. She was introduced to all her Scottish relatives. He rented a car and together they went to all the places he always wanted to see but never had.

He was so grateful for that time they had, just the two of them.

I heard later he and Rena adopted an older child. I don't know how that worked out.

Ian retired and I saw him going up and down Murray Drive between his house and the house of a couple of elderly neighbour ladies. He cut the grass in the summer and shovelled the driveway in the winter.

Rena died of cancer. Ian eventually took another wife. Then he died too.

Now every time I drive past the house I think of them, especially at Christmas.

A couple of weeks ago I saw a story in the Star with a headline about lifestyle and twins.

A professional couple waited until they were established in their careers before
starting a family. When their first child was a suitable age, they decided it was time for a second.

They learned to their dismay, the second pregnancy was twins.They took the action available to them and had one of the twins destroyed.

I started reading the story because I have twin great-grandchildren and know something of what it's like having twins and remembering our surprise and delight when we learned they were on the way.It was the headline that attracted me

As the Star feature unfolded I realized it was a horror story.

My position on abortion has been ambivalent over the years. I would never do it myself. I would not advise anyone to take that path. But I would not judge anyone for making that decision.

I've changed my mind. The professionals who decided there was no place in their lives for their own child and had it destroyed are not natural humans.

The Star writer learned from the medical professionals who provide the service, the decision to destroy a fetus because a child does not fit into the planned designer lifestyle of its parents is not unusual and is in fact common practice.

Christmas is about celebrating the Birth of a Child.It's about gathering our children around us and doing whatever it takes to show appreciation for the blessings we enjoy.

So this year, gather them closer. Make sure they know they are loved and cherished. Because unnatural forces are around us would have them believe otherwise.

Friday, December 3, 2010

I Have To Go

We are attending a memorial service In Missuassaga. A girl of twenty- seven years has died.

Only a little while ago, we attended her wedding on a beautiful summer day in Ottawa. The setting was a golf course. The reception was outside. The colour theme was soft rose petal pink.

It was the first wedding of the third generation. We are a substantial crowd to-gether.

My grandson Adam started the dancing. He is a dancing fiend when the music starts.

Pretty soon other grandsons were drawn into the competition. Then the uncles' feet started to shuffle and shift.

Melissa and Myles took their vows. They promised to love and to cherish. The wedding was beautiful,no less for its joy and happiness.

Now she's gone. She was off work for a couple of days feeling ill. Other than googling symptoms online,she did not seek medical advice. She was twenty-seven for God's Sake. She was alone when she collapsed. She died before the ambulance reached the hospital.

What is there to say? Young people die every day. Some in accidents. Some in senseless violent crime. As if life has no meaning or value.

But life does have meaning.

Joy and happiness and new life give it meaning.

The finality of death and an empty chair give it measurement.

There is no comfort when it's snatched away before it has earnestly begun.

The grief must simply be endured.