Sharing with you things that are on my mind...Maybe yours too. Come back to Wrights Lane for a visit anytime!

25 September, 2008


Ordering: A trilogy sandwich
I am introducing a new periodic feature for this site today: The "Word" According to Rosanne. I may end up paying a heavy price, but I simply cannot resist sharing with readers what I have come to call "Rosanneisms".

My wife Rosanne is a female Bill Crosby (King of comedic malaprop), only she does not intentionally try to be funny with her word twists. She is extremely self expressive, spontaneous and serious about what she says. It's just that the words do not always come out right and even she is at a loss sometimes to know why, i.e. she loves "custody" (custard) tarts.

She keeps me in stitches and I tread a very fine line in offering corrections because she is priceless and I do not want to make her self-conscious, and in the process spoil her.
I should have had the foresight to make a list of some of the hilarious things she has said over the years and it was only yesterday that I finally started to document some of them. Here are a few Rosanneisms in the last 24 hours.

"We never open our moon roof." A reference to the fact that we never open the sun roof on our car. In correcting her I pointed out that "it's a sun roof and that's as different as night and day." Sometimes my responses are pretty good too.

"He's an excellent sneaker." Commenting on a baseball player who is a good base stealer.

"I'd like a mad cow." A request for her favorite drink -- a mudslide.

"I've got a perpendicular problem." A self diagnosis of some stomach discomfort she was experiencing.

"OK, I want the whole trilogy." Her enthusiastic response to my suggestion that I might make her a club sandwich for lunch. "Whole trilogy," I asked? "Yes, you know -- bacon, turkey and cheddar cheese" was the matter-of-fact explanation. It took a moment, but that one actually made sense.

Come to think about it, with trilogy sandwiches, custody tarts and mad cows, it is no wonder that she has a perpendicular problem.

Anyway, stay tuned. There'll be lots more.

23 September, 2008


Mothers, daughters carried the tradition for 100 years

The Catherine McVean Chapter of the Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire has played a prominent role in the life of my hometown, Dresden, for the past 100 years. In the photo to the left, IODE members are front and centre for the Remembrance Day service, November 11, 1956. My mother Grace can be seen standing to the left of the kilted honor guard in the centre of the photo. The pin in the photo below belonged to my grandmother Harriet Perry who was a member of the organization from 1914 to 1940. At right, Catherine McVean Chapter President Sandra Thompson signs a Certificate of Appreciation in Recognition of Outstanding Support which was presented to my mother, January 28, 1993, along with a special pin signifying her 60 years of membership. My cousin Norma Johnston served as Municipal Regent of the IODE in the 1970s and her mother Harriet Sharp (my Aunt) was also a lifetime member.


A new entry to my Dresden: Father and Son Turn Back the Clock site references the IODE placing crosses at the entrance to the Dresden Cemetery in 1925 and again in 1946 in memory of local boys who paid the supreme sacrifice in two world wars. The feature includes photos, one of which shows a neighbor lad, Roy Dusten, holding me as an infant a year or two before he was killed over Germany as a member of the Royal Canadian Air Force.

I mention "war" a lot in my reflections because it was the era in which I grew up and, regardless of our generation, we should not "forget" the reason we enjoy freedom in our society today.

But, back to the IODE which was founded in 1900 by a Margaret Polson Murray of Montreal, who envisioned an organization of women devoted to encouraging imperialism. Beginning with an educational mandate promoting Britain and British institutions through schools, it became actively involved in both world wars by supporting Canada's effort on behalf of Britain and its allies. IODE chapters are now made up of women from many walks of life with a common interest in volunteering their time to improve the quality of life for children, youth and those in need, through educational, social service and citizenship programs.

Although membership has declined, IODE still has 8,000 members in 400 chapters, raising $2 million in 2007 for equipment, furnishings, hospitals, nursing homes, crisis centres, women's shelters and homes for youth. Close to another $million went to scholarships and bursaries across Canada last year.

Long live members of the IODE and the wonderful work that they do. I am honored to have had firsthand exposure to these benevolent, strong women of action.

20 September, 2008


...Don't get me started on the subject!

Some wise guy once said: "You're only as old as you feel". I mean, duuuuuuh. Thanks a lot!
For some unknown reason Leonard Cohen's "My friends are gone my hair is grey, I ache in places where I used to play..." resonates deep within me as I start this piece. It is no doubt one of my mood flavors of the day. Hopefully, this too shall pass, but let's have some fun with it while it lasts.
--I was recently reminded of a girl, one year older than me, on whom I had a major crush when I was about 15 or 16. Of course when you are a teenager, one year can make a big difference. Conventional wisdom told me that she was "too old" to be interested in me. Funny thing, now I would be "too old" for her, if you know what I mean. The reality of that cruel life reversal bugs the heck out of me.

--They say that, like old wine, you only improve with age. Tell that to my wife.

--I feel pretty much as good as I used to...It only hurts when I attempt to do something.

--Why is it that I can remember things that happened 60 years ago but I can't remember things that happened six minutes ago?

--I used to get by on two or three hours of sleep a night, now that's a nap.

--"What, me go there and have some old fogey come up and ask me to dance?" A terse comment by my then 85-year-old mother when encouraged to attend some social dances put on by the local Senior Citizens Club. I should have bottled some of that Dresden water she was drinking back then. I could sure use some about now.

--Why is it that I can't stop thinking about old friends as they used to be, rather than the way they are now?

--Why is it that most of my friends are looking old when I have hardly changed a bit?
--Why is it that when I think of my parents they are always about 30 years younger than my current age?

--Why is it that my arms seem to be getting shorter.

--Why is it that I'll walk a mile to avoid going up stairs.

--Why is it they don't make men's sizes in belts and trousers any more.

--Why is it that everybody on the road seems to be driving faster than me, yet a certain passenger seat driver constantly reminds me to "slow down"?

--Why is it that in the world of antiques, things that are worn, tattered and faded are sought out and coveted yet in the world of human beings, nursing homes have so few visitors?

--I used to pride myself in being the second coming of Sir Walter Raleigh. Why is it that young women now insist on opening doors for me and carrying my parcels? Why is it that I gladly let them do it?

--I empathize with the television commercial for a well-known bank that features two old codgers sitting on a downtown bench. Looking at people coming in and out of a bank branch, one complains to the other: "What's wrong with the way it used to be? You'd get to the bank -- and it was closed!"

You're only as old as you feel? Give me a break. Why try to kid anyone? I'll settle for feeling as old as I am. When I woke up this morning I was still breathing. I was surrounded by love. My dog gave me a lick and then rolled over for her customary belly rub. The sun was shining. I had several exciting projects to complete, one of them was called "life".

My cup runneth over. Any more and it would be a waste. I enjoy what I have (left).

Anyway, gotta go now. Geritol and a nap await, which ever comes first.

18 September, 2008

KEN'S TESTIMONY LIVES ON a letter that spoke volumes

I think I know just about everyone who reads Wrights Lane and for that reason I have not hesitated to bare my soul on several occasions since launching the site. It is good for a writer to feel comfortable in that way.

Today is a different story, however. I have been weighing the wisdom of sharing some very personal, heartfelt and intimate thoughts expressed by my father in a letter to my mother on the eve of their 10th wedding anniversary, May 6, 1943. The letter runs the gamut of emotions -- loneliness, love, sadness, satisfaction, faithfulness, commitment and, in the end, living testimony. It is a reflection of a 43-year-old man of deep faith and conviction. It is not often that you get this type of inside look at a person.

I teased readers of my "Dresden site" with a very superficial reference to the letter and my dad's wishes for the type of life he hoped I would lead. I also explained that the letter was framed in a time of war (World War Two) and that, due to gasoline rationing, he was only able to make the 18-mile commute from Dresden to his place of business in Chatham once a week, generally on weekends. The week-long absences from home weighed heavily on him, but it was just one of a number of sacrifices Canadians had to make in those difficult post Depression times when resources of the country went almost entirely to the war effort.

As I write this introduction, I am still not sure about reproducing the letter in detail. Is this what my father would have wanted? What is to be gained? Does anyone really care? In all likelihood I will never know the answers to those questions, not even after I click the site's "publish" button.

For now, here goes! If nothing else, through this fascinating read, you will get to know my dad a little better and maybe even understand a bit more about his son. With any luck, after all is said and done, it will make your heart feel good, as it does mine.

Chatham, Ont.
Monday, May 3rd/43

My Dear Grace:

The nearness of May 6th possibly justifies this letter.

You see, a person is at times apt to feel just a bit lonely under these circumstances and yet, too, there are a number of things I find very comforting. The fact that you and Dick are well and fairly comfortable is a source of downright pleasure to me.

I often think back to the time we were on the *"Terrace". I can see myself working on a customer and hearing you sick in the back. I could hardly get the customer out quick enough to get back there, even though I did no good. I also well remember the night you went to the hospital and the night we brought old Dick back to the "Terrace" for the first time. I remember his cowlick, how pale he was when we finally moved out of the dark, dingy apartment, and how unaccustomed he was to so much light for a while.

I remember too the renovating we had to do to our house in evenings when no one was around. Of course there was unpleasantness along the way at various intervals and the memory of how close we came to going under financially still lingers. I could do very little to turn things around and was getting no where. I was afraid.

Grace, I prayed hard for God to make our little business a success and to show me the way. I have continued to do so ever since. We are not millionaires but God did hear my prayers. We did not go under.

I also prayed to have you when I was 18 years old. And I prayed that my mother would live long at that time. She was so sick. I prayed that in the end I would be with her. She was spared to me a few years longer and I was with her when she passed away.

I prayed for you and Dick and for our home and family life. In spite of rather unique circumstances, we hang on and keep together. All my prayers have been answered so far but I still need the help that only God can give. Help me to continue to pray Grace.

Your mother called me into her room just before she passed away and hung on to my hand and asked me to pray for her release. She was a Christian and knew what she wanted, and I did as she requested. Return the favor Grace. Pray that I might be allowed to keep our home together and never bring shame or sorrow on you and Dick. Pray also for my faithful workers at the shop, that we may render the best of service and continue to give good value for people's money...Only through the grace of God can any of this happen.

"Without me ye can do nothing."**

I prefer staying here at nights because I am among so many familiar things -- your davenport and chair and mirrors, Dick's picture, etc. I have been blessed with some good help too, so you see my prayers have been answered. God gave me you and all these wonderful people to help me.

I realize that this is a small business compared to many but it is paying now only through the mercy of God. Quietly and when you are alone, thank Him for that, Grace.

Keep this letter for Dick. Actually it is a testimony of my life from the time I was 18 years of age. Every word is the truth and as I have actually lived from that date. Positive proof that God does answer our prayers. "Ask and it shall be given unto you, seek and ye shall find."**

I am going to ask that you do not refer to this letter when you see me. Some times I am not quite up to much, shall I say "sentiment"...You know, such times as one is sort of full inside and apt to break down. Just let's live on together and pray for me and teach Dick to pray for us both, and himself, as he goes through life. This letter, when he reaches an age to understand, shall serve as my testimony that that is the way to live.

You know all too well the facts and events that I mention here and can verify what I have said.

All my love to you both this tenth year, our anniversary, May 6th coming.

* Terrace-- the small second-floor aparment, adjacent to their business, that Ken and Grace lived in at the time.
** Biblical references.
FOOTNOTE: Ken sold (gave away?) his business in Chatham two years later and returned to barbering in Dresden where it all started. He went to join his mother in his 53rd year. He continued praying to the end.

14 September, 2008


Becky tops her class
"It's my blog and I'll gloat if I want to. You would too if it happened to you!"
It's not often that a grandfather gets to boast about a granddaughter making top marks in her "shop" class at school. So I'm taking full advantage of bragging rights.

This past school year my 16-year-old granddaughter Becky scored a mark of 98 for the pine cabinet she made in her construction technology class. The almost perfect grade topped the class of primarily boys even though she had two marks deducted on a technicality -- she forgot to sand her name off the bottom of the cabinet, of all things.

She said that her biggest challenge in making the cabinet was "having everything fit together properly." Now that she has had a taste of wood working, she did not hesitate to return to the course again this fall. Last year she was one of four girls in the class, this year she is the lone female and she doesn't seem to mind a bit, according to her mom.

The "best of class" cabinet was a gift this summer to her grandfather Koch, himself an Austrian trained master wood craftsman. Her dad, too, is gifted in the craft so it would seem that Becky comes by her new-found talent naturally. During the summer holidays, she tried her hand at restoration work, the porch bench she is shown sitting on (above photograph) was one of her projects.

Keep up the good work Beck. Always follow your heart and your instincts. There is no limit to what women can accomplish today.

I'm serving notice, however, to my two grandsons Ryan and Josh. Don't you guys dare come home from school with top marks in home economics. There's a limit to what makes a Poppa proud.


"Run" the plays, don't "call" them

It is not my intention to sit at the computer keyboard and attempt to ram anything down people's throats. My motivation is merely to offer food for thought...Something to ponder in our hectic lives as we struggle to move ahead, or simply try to maintain a foothold in the ground that we have already managed to gain over the years.

I am of the firm belief that a uniquely designed "game plan" was in place for each one of us before we were born. I do not think that we are just dumped into this world and expected to sink or swim all on our own. How cruel would that be?

A fellow by the name of Steve May has an interesting slant on the point I am trying to make when he says: "The problem is that sometimes we think we're Peyton Manning." Peyton was unusual among football quarterbacks because he was one of the few allowed to call his own plays. Most quarterbacks in the NFL and CFL get their plays from the sidelines, their job being not to call the plays but to run them.
Really, it's the same way with us. The key to a successful life is not figuring out what we do best and maximizing our talents. The key to success is also not in finding out what we enjoy doing the most and learning how to make a living at it, although that is a popular misconception. The real key to success and ultimate satisfaction is discovering God's game plan for our lives and following it.
Our decisions should not be the result of weighing options as we would when visiting various booths on career day. We need to learn to see ourselves as players on a team, with our Heavenly Creator calling the plays. The crucial difference for us in following God's game plan is that His plan is something we discover, not something we decide.
Whether we are just starting out in life or entering the twilight, when we make decisions about our future, we should let those decisions be driven by the question: "God, what do you want me to do? What is your plan for me? If you call the plays, I will run them."
If we listen, we will always be given as much direction as we need to turn our life into one long championship season. It takes the pressure off the quarterback when his plays are called for him.

12 September, 2008

Reflections of a small town character

Every town has its collection of characters, colorful and otherwise. See my Reflections of Dresden site today where I have included an insert piece on one of those characters. Dave McCracken had one of the most vivid and creative imaginations of anyone I have ever known. "Dresden's greatest foul ball chaser" is an item written with respect and fondness about a fellow who lived in a very happy fantasy world where, more often than not, he was a hero in his own mind. Just another in an ongoing series of interesting people I have known. F.Y.I.

09 September, 2008


...but in the end it is worth the effort

I have not done many things in life warranting an outward display of satisfaction and pride. But after some serious reflection and consideration, I can truly say that I am extremely proud of myself for overcoming a debilitating affliction -- shyness. In fact, I have really come a long, long way. And you know what, it only took me about 60 years of conscious effort, and a lot of maturity to bring about this emotional change. Nature may have played a role too as it took its course through various awkward periods in my life.

I mention this now, particularly for the benefit of young people, because I know there is potential for shyness at a certain stage of personal development. I learned from firsthand experience that the danger of shyness is that it can often be mistaken for standoffishness or simply seen as unfriendliness, and this is indeed unfortunate. In my experience, shy people are very sensitive because of their listening skills and they are especially caring toward others.

An interesting Kidshealth article accurately describes shyness as "an emotion that affects how a person feels and behaves around others." Take it from me, shyness can mean feeling uncomfortable, self-conscious, nervous, bashful, timid or insecure. When a person feels shy, they might hesitate to say or do something because they feel unsure of themselves and they are not prepared to be noticed.

Experts have said that shyness is partly the result of genes and partly influenced by behaviors learned -- the way people have reacted to their shyness and the experiences they have had in life. In my case, I think that I was born shy. When I was about four years of age, I used to play outside waiting for morning milk and bread deliveries. One day the milk man hesitatingly said to my mother as he made his weekly collection: "It's too bad about your son, Mrs. Wright!" Taken aback, my mother asked why he would say such a thing. "Well, isn't he deaf and dumb?" was the shocking response.

It seems the milk man would always stop to speak to me but I never answered...Never even gave indication that I had heard him. So he just assumed that I could neither hear nor speak.

As I grew older my shyness grew more painful. I would avoid eye contact, even pretend to not see people rather than have to speak to them. I felt bad about this. I wanted to be outgoing and friendly, but I just did not know how. Saying hello seemed excruciatingly difficult for me and I would even go so far as to practice saying things like "hello", "hi", "how are you?" with different expression and emphasis, but nothing seemed to come naturally.

There were times during social occasions when I would feel alone in a crowd. I would hesitate to try new things, preferring instead to watch others before joining in on a group activity. The world's greatest wall flower, it took me for ever to ask a girl to dance, even longer to go out on dates. My shyness, or backwardness, was so upsetting and frustrating for me as a teenager that many times I would just close myself in my bedroom and cry.

And on that note, a word of caution here for those who are close to a shy young person. If you push, tease or bully that person into a situation they are not prepared for, you can make them even more shy. Likewise, if parents are overly cautious or overprotective, it can teach the child to back away from situations that might be uncomfortable or unfamiliar. Understanding, love and support are what a shy youngster needs most. Confidence boosting and the occasional pat on the back will also work wonders.

In sports I was confident, aggressive and competitive but it took years for me to realize I could carry all of that into other areas of my life, if I wanted to.

One of the best things for me was getting a job in a retail store where I was forced to approach customers and to wait on them. Even then, for the better part of eight years, I died a thousand deaths with each customer that came in the store. Eventually, I became a newspaper reporter and there I was again having to take my communications to another level -- digging for information, asking probing questions, gaining the confidence of others.

Strangely enough, I always enjoyed theatre and public speaking and through these interests I developed an ability to step outside of myself, to become someone else when I had to. The natural next step was to gain the internal confidence necessary to step out of my comfort zone when the opportunity presented itself. Like a lot of things in life, the more "stepping out" you do the more comfortable you become and before long you do not give it a second thought.
. .
But as I have said before, I'm a slow learner. It took me until mid life to understand that practice truly does make perfect. Some of us, sad to say, have to practice social skills like assertiveness, conversation and friendly, confident body language, so that we can get the enjoyment from everyday experiences that we so longingly seek.

By the time I answered a call to take on church lay preaching assignments a few years ago, I did so with utmost confidence, free of self doubts and full of commitment. Stomach butterflies aside, I looked forward to each Sunday engagement and derived a great deal of satisfaction from the experience. So I am living proof that you can overcome shyness. It takes time, patience, courage and practice, but it is worth the hard work.

I am even going out of my way to talk to strangers now (the topic of a previous post), and if that isn't coming a long way, I don't know what is. Proud? Damn right I am!

The only pain I feel today is of a physical nature and I'm doing my best to deal with that too.

07 September, 2008


Bruce Huff (left) as a member of the Dresden Legionnaires, 1953 Ontario Juvenile champions, and (right) as he is today, about to be inducted into the London, Ont. Sports Hall of Fame.

My old friend and one-time baseball battery mate, Bruce Huff, is about to be honored for his lifelong dedication to sports. In November he will be inducted into the prestigious London Sports Hall of Fame in recognition of his contribution as a modern era sports "builder and founder" in the Forest City.

"It just goes to show you that if you stick around long enough, eventually you'll get recognized," joked Bruce in discussing his upcoming induction. And stick around he has, 55 years of involvement in sports to be exact. He has not only written about sports all his life, he has played them and at 74 years young he continues to be active as a player and organizer of old timers slow pitch softball and hockey in the City of London.

I've said it before and I'll say it again, They just don't make 'em like Bruce Huff any more!

But let's back up a bit to get to know the real "Huffer" that I grew up with. We came from the very grass roots of sports in the 1940s, playing baseball in back yards and hockey on a patch of ice in a corn field adjacent to his home on the outskirts of Dresden. We would train for high school track and field competition on the horse racing track at the Dresden Fair Grounds and experiment with boxing in a friend's barn. I am convinced that it is from these humble beginnings that Bruce developed his special interest in small town sports and the unheralded athletes and coaches behind the scenes.

Bruce was my catcher all through midget, juvenile and junior baseball in Dresden and I credit him, four years my senior, for his steadying influence on me. We had little in the way of coaching in those days and Bruce was a true student of the game. At about 16 or 17 years of age, he began reporting on local sports for the hometown newspaper, the Dresden Times, and that was enough introduction to launch a career in sports writing.

The thing that has impressed me most about Bruce over the years is that generally he left big name sports to other writers, opting instead to direct his "Off the Cuff" newspaper column to lesser known local athletes, teams and leagues. He was "the guy on the desk" at the Chatham News, the London Free Press and the Toronto Sun through five decades and to this day he has not stopped writing -- and playing.

Since retirement in April of 1994 he has continued as a freelance writer and has amassed an almost super human record of playing and coaching in more than 1,500 oldtimer hockey games including winning gold with London Huff' N Puff in the Snoopy World tournament in Santa Rosa, CA, being player-coach of a successful tour of Scotland, and being captain of his team in the recent World Cup in Quebec City. His hockey team will be playing an 80-game schedule this season, plus a number of tournaments. He is also player-manager of an elite senior slo-pitch softball team that plays across North America each summer. He has also been cited in the Who's Who of Canadian Sport.
Bear in mind that I'm writing here about someone who has lived three quarters of a century. Most guys half his age couldn't keep up with his pace, I know I couldn't.

Away from the computer keyboard, the ice rink and ball diamond, Bruce is the founding chairman of the London Sports Hall of Fame committee, the first chairman of the London Oldtimers Sports Association, a charter member of the London Sports Council, co-ordinator of the Grandstand Display project at Labatt Park, director of the Intercounty Baseball League hall of fame committee and the person responsible for bringing the hall to London as a permanent site.

He is a member of the Canadian Oldtimers Hockey Hall of Fame, the Dresden Sports Hall of Fame, the Ontario Legends of Fastball and has been honored as a London Hockey Man of Distinction as well as being London's Sportsperson of the year in 2003.

The most amazing part of all this is the fact that Bruce's wife Carolyn (nee Deline of Dresden) has hung in with him all the way. Now there's a 55-year endurance record worthy of its own hall of fame. I often tease Bruce by saying "give my sympathy to Carolyn"...I don't know if he appreciates my sense of humor.

Any way Bruce, sincerest congratulations to you -- and Carolyn -- on a wonderful career and life. I don't know how either one of you has done it. You're made out of special stuff, Huff!

Now here's a kicker for you. The Huff's oldest son, Kelly, recently ended a long tenure with Loblaws to join the Staples Business Depot chain as Vice-President of Real Estate and Construction. My oldest daughter, Debbie, also works at Staples head office in Richmond Hill and the two of them met a couple of weeks ago to discuss their dads. Even more coincidental, my son-in-law Joe Rocha is in the construction, design business and one of his major clients is the Staples corporation and a guy named Kelly Huff. Small world!

05 September, 2008


Good writers not likely born

At least two of my five grandchildren are showing signs of becoming very good writers. One has a journalists' accurate recall and the ability to organize thoughts on paper while the other has displayed an active imagination and creativity that lends itself to short story writing. Whether or not they eventually pursue writing as a profession is entirely up to them. The ability to "write", however, will stand them in good stead in whatever career they choose for themselves.
HUGH GARNER, won the Governor General's Award for Fiction writing in 1963.
The word "writer" has become a generic term that includes poets, journalists, playwrights, advertising copy writers, historians, biographers and novelists. The reasons for any person becoming a writer are probably as varied as the number of writers since the advent of the hammer and chisel. Personally, writing initially provided me with an opportunity to express myself and eventually the realization dawned that through journalism I could make a living doing something that I enjoyed.

Before I applied for a job as a cub reporter with the St. Thomas Times-Journal back in 1961, I sought the advice of two individuals who were as different as night and day in their backgrounds and personal lives. One was a former journalist turned fiction writer and the other was a sound newsman and copy editor.

Hugh Garner was a maverick working class writer in Toronto who had a tremendous respect for his craft and I knew he would steer me in the right direction. I met him several years earlier while working in a clothing store in Toronto and I became a fan of his work. Coincidentally, he was also a haberdashery clerk at one time, so we had something more than writing in common. It was Hugh's contention that there is no such thing as a "born writer". "There are, however, people who from an ingrained love of literature, a childhood conditioning to reading, and a driving unexplainable urge to express themselves through the written word, sometimes become writers," he explained. "If this applies to you, as it did to me, then go for it!"

Pausing to throw back a glass of his favorite brew at the old Toronto Press Club, the hard-drinking Hugh said that he was often asked how he learned to write. "My answer has always been that I learned to write by cultivating an ability to absorb what I had read, seen or experienced; by noting, perhaps subconsciously, how good writers wrote; and finally by living many of the things I later wrote about."

Winner of many awards for his writing, Hugh avoided pretension as assiduously as he shunned literary coteries or fashion. He insisted that the only formal education a writer needed was a grade school ability to spell, the skill to place words in a sentence one after the other, the sentences into paragraphs, and in the case of a novel, the paragraphs into chapters and the chapters into a book.

He was always cynical towards the suggestion, particularly in Canada at the time, that writing belonged to those who were well educated. In fact he was of the opinion that the exact opposite was true. His skill with dialogue was learned from listening and absorbing what he saw and heard.

Unlike Hugh, Doug Waite was a laid back tea totter, a rarity in the newspaper business in those days. He was not a published writer, but he knew his way around a news room and had keen editing instincts. His advice to me was to give news writing a try and to take on every assignment as if it had potential to be the top story of the day. "Be observant, ask questions, never make assumptions, take accurate notes, check and double check your facts," he repeated more than once.

"The key to writing, is to write as if you are talking to a friend. Give the most important information right off the top. Let the words flow naturally. Don't struggle trying to come up with clever leads and references -- that will come with experience. The more you write, the better you will get, take my word for it," added Doug who 10 years later would be influential in recommending me for my first managing editor job.
He too advocated studying the top news writers of the day, paying particular attention to how they handled certain story situations. "Borrow from them as you develop your own writing style," was a hint that really worked for me.

All of which was pretty helpful advice for a kid whose only experience in the working world up to then came from behind the counter in a clothing store. Needless to say, I acted on that advice and the rest is proverbial history or, as I like to put it, type in the melting pot.

It is learned from my newspaper archive service that Mother Teresa, a Catholic nun who devoted her life to the poor, died 11 years ago today at the age of 87. After suffering a heart attack in 1983, her health began deteriorating, but she remained active in the Missionaries of Charity, a religious order she established to care for "the poorest of the poor." Bowed almost double by age and afflictions, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning nun's labors were reflected in her beautific face. "Mother Teresa died when her heart simply stopped," Dr. Vincenzo Bilotta said from Rome.
It is interesting to note that Diana, Princess of Wales, died just six days earlier. "It is one of those great ironies of life that these two women who so deeply respected each other -- and who, each in her own way, represented the ideals of virtue to millions -- would be gone in the same week," commented the Syracuse Herald Journal on September 6, 1997.

03 September, 2008


...Being John Diefenbaker's wife

From time to time I am moved to write about individuals who have impressed me as I've journeyed life's pathway. For no particular reason other than the fact that the following is a story that deserves to be told, this is one of those times.
Most Canadians who were witness to the Diefenbaker era in Canadian politics will share a tableau of Rt. Hon. John and Olive Diefenbaker, inseparable. Wherever Mr. Diefenbaker's lengthy political life (Prime Minister 1957-'63) and duties took him, Mrs. Diefenbaker was usually alongside.

No outsider can put into adequate words the deep bonds of affection and understanding that make a close marital relationship. The strength of the Diefenbaker's marriage was evident, however, in their public life together. There remains a lasting image of Olive on public platforms, travelling, mingling with crowds, always self-composed, an unobtrusive influence, her presence and personal warmth an obvious source of pride and support for her husband. Theirs was a touching public companionship. "Dief the Chief", as he was affectionately called, could certainly be difficult and testy at times, but in Olive's presence he was as soft as warm butter.

"The whole direction of my life is that I am John's wife," Mrs. Diefenbaker said in an interview in 1975. She attributed the strength of their relationship partly to the fact that they married in maturity, both in their 50s as widow and widower. In total they had 23 years together.

Then Managing Editor of The Herald in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan (Dief's home riding), I undertook a special edition of the newspaper honoring the former prime minister on his 80th birthday, September 18, 1975. In conjunction with the tribute edition, I was granted a rare interview with Mrs. Diefenbaker that resulted in one of my longest conversations with her -- but virtually no story.

I envisioned a feature piece based on Olive's impressions and opinions. The "My Life With John Diefenbaker as told by Oliver Diefenbaker" theme, I thought, would be a natural. We talked openly and casually for the better part of 90 minutes and she volunteered for the first time several personal details that would have been journalistic scoops in the day and fodder for some stimulating reading.

As the interview drew to a close, however, she interjected in her quiet, yet persuasive manner: "Of course, you will not be printing any of this, will you?" Talk about a letdown. I hardly knew how to respond.

She went on to explain that it was her policy to stay in the background and never become involved in publicity of any kind. "The minute he (John) became prime minister in 1957 I never opened my peeper again," she said convincingly. "I would prefer that if you write anything, that you put into your own words the love that John has for his fellow man. That's it -- love, and they love him too! He has done so much for people. No one will ever know how much. I hope you understand," she added.

I was trying very hard to understand, and at least I felt honored that she confided in me as much as she did. At that point I did not have the heart to negotiate with her. I later tore up my notes and manufactured a rather nebulous piece for the special edition which, I was told later, met with the Diefenbakers' approval. In fact, Dief was "deeply touched" by the edition as a whole. Needless to say he held nothing back when it came time for his interview.

Olive suffered the first in a series of strokes several months later and Mr. Diefenbaker had tears in his eyes as he sat in my office at The Herald and sadly reported: "My dear wife is slipping badly but she remains in good spirits. She puts up a good front for my sake, I know. She is just an amazing woman."

As Olive was forced to share John will all of Canada, he shared her with his "fellow Canadians". Throughout the last year of her life, in and out of hospital, Mrs. Diefenbaker received a steady flow of mail from people across Canada expressing concern and affection. Until shortly before her last illness, she was still handwriting replies to her mail at a daily rate that reached in excess of 50 personal messages.
John did not last long after Olive passed away. His heart was broken and I know he could not live without her.
She may never have "opened her peeper", but many aging Canadians like me remember the charm that warmed hundreds of encounters on the political campaign trail and countless social functions across the country. Olive Diefenbaker was always there, at John's side. Attentive, serene.

Her mold has apparently been broken.
Here endeth recent dissertations on marriage and mothers and fathers, none too soon in Rosanne's mind. "People don't want to read that sort of thing and if they do they can go to Dr. Spock or somebody like that," she says with earnest expression. Wives really know how to make a good point, don't they?

02 September, 2008

Through J. D. baseball exploits come back to life

Thanks to J. D. Mah for including another piece and an action photo of yours truly (circa 1956) in his August entry on the Western Canada Baseball web site (News and Notes page)
I was more than a little concerned about the state of Jay's health when he was "sidelined" for a couple of months but it is good to see that he is back in action once again. Nothing can compare to his site which features baseball on the Canadian prairies in the 1940s, 50s and 60s. He is also currently welcoming any information, game reports, statistics, etc., on the Senior Intercounty Baseball League in Ontario. While old sandlot players like me made only a "scratch in the sand" of ball diamonds in Canada, it is fun to see our records and exploits displayed on Jay's site.

01 September, 2008

Dresden site just keeps growing

For those who are interested, there have been significant additions to the "Dresden: Father and Son Turn Back the Clock" site in recent days. We've even had a reader from Dresden send along a wonderful photograph of her great great grandfather at the anvil in his turn of the 20th century blacksmith shop. Very encouraging!