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

27 February, 2010

ANNOUNCEMENT: I AM NOT PERFECT, NEVER HAVE BEEN...NEVER WILL BE

Speaking of "figures of speech", as in my previous post (see below), I was recently called "Mr. Perfect" by someone quite close to me.  It was not the first time I had been labelled as such, in all previous cases by members of the opposite sex in disputes of some sort.  You know, the "Oh you think you're so perfect!" treatment.

Males of my acquaintance may very well be of the same opinion but, typical of the species, choose only to think it and not express it.  I have no way of knowing, but I can't help but wonder.

There was an instance many years ago when I was standing on a matter of principle as a newspaper editor when my immediate superior mustered up all his nobility in pronouncing:  "Salt of the earth will get you nowhere, Dick."  I had no idea of what he was getting at and he died shortly after.  I have wished a thousand times that I could ask him for clarification.

Knowing that in reality I am anything but perfect, I am left drawing the conclusion that my accusers are/were trying to make a point with me -- that I am perfect only in my own mind. 

What really concerns me is that I speak often and openly about my weaknesses and shortcomings and even go so far as to write about them in the hope that others may relate and even learn from my experiences.  Truthfully, I am so imperfect that I have a complex about it and try very hard to compensate by the way in which I live my life.  Time and again, I have failed myself...All part of being imperfectly human I guess.

I think that I run into trouble sometimes because I am an "idealist" by nature.  Idealists make people feel uncomfortable, particularly when they hit close to home, the tendancy being to ask in deflection: "Who does he think he is anyway?...When did he become so perfect?" 

As an "idealist", first and foremost,  I have high expectations of myself and die a thousand deaths every time I do not meet those expectations.  In a way, that can be very much a handicap, but I accept it now simply as the way I am.  It saddens me though that I am seen as "Mr. Perfect" because of a commitment and passion to walking a path in life that ties everything harmoniously together.  An idealist who looks for rationalizations and solutions and expresses himself in writing, is vulnerable to verbal opposition and borderline mean-spirited attacks, all of which I have experienced and expect.

That being said, I am of the opinion that the world needs idealistic thinking in order to bring about balance.  There are more than enough people willing to listen with open minds, thank goodness.  

There must be something else in my demeanor, however, that prompts people who otherwise appear to care for me to resort to the use of the "perfect" label in cynically victimizing me -- to hit me where it hurts.  I will not rest until I find an answer.  I hate to think that I am creating the wrong impression or elevating myself by drawing attention to certain situations in life that in my mind could be corrected or improved upon.

It would be so easy for me to retreat into a state of depression and cynicism of my own because I am accused of, or seen as, being something that I will never be capable of being.  I am idealistic enough to know that I am not perfect.   Never have been.  Never will be!

As idealistic and pragmatic as I try to be,  there are times when I ask myself:  "Why do I bother?"
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A perfect human being:  Man in search of the ideal of perfection.  --Pir Vilayat Khan
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Hey, wait a minute!?...

24 February, 2010

BE CAREFUL WITH FIGURES OF SPEECH


I am becoming increasingly troubled by the careless use of "figures of speech" in our daily communications.  Not that "figures of speech" are anything new, the Christian Bible itself being sprinkled throughout with early examples of such imaginative turns of phrase.

More and more today when people say or write "a figure of speech", they are speaking in general terms of something that is not true to fact and, as such, risk the danger of appearing to be belittling or demeaning -- even rude.  However, genuine "figures of speech" are legitimate grammatical and lexical forms that add emphasis and feeling to what we say and write.  I like nothing better than to use "figures of speech" in my writing as means of self-expression -- sometimes colorful, sometimes with tongue-in-cheek, sometimes with humor, and always to give emphasis.

My problem has its roots in forms of "figures of speech" known as tapeinosis and  dysphemism that often lead to misinterpretation and have potential to be quite offensive.  Generally we are talking here about the substitution of a harsh, disparaging, or unpleasant expression for a more neutral one.  We have examples in our  history of racial, gender and religious relations where insulting references are made out of ignorance.  I am often bothered by forced political correctness, but one thing the movement has done is make society aware of "figures of speech" that are offensive and hurtful to certain people and groups.

Current breeding grounds for troublesome "figures of speech" are Internet chat rooms and Facebook site exchanges between teenagers, in particular.  Each generation has its own form of "Teenspeak", harmless and innocent for the most part; but I have noticed a disturbing trend lately to the use of the aforementioned terms of tapeinosis and dysphemism with associated damaging ramifications.

Two young sports fanatics in the 18-year age bracket, engaged in a Facebook exchange over the much-publicized Canada/USA Olympics hockey game a few days ago.  The one, obviously a Team Canada fan, lamented the outcome of the game.  In response, the other who was strongly pro-USA and gloating over his prediction of an American upset, replied:  "I told you so, m----r f----r."  I detest those two (blank) words, used in association, so much that I would never repeat them in print let alone any place else, but I trust the picture is clear enough.

I could not resist the temptation to take the young Team USA supporter to task for the "insensitive" name he had called his friend, stating that it offended me and I was sure that it would offend everyone who read the comment, including his own mother.  I suggested that in the future he think twice about making rude comments that have potential to offend and in turn reflect poorly on his character.  In a followup note to me he explained that he had in fact talked to his mother about the issue and she understood that he was "only using a figure of speech" and that he did not intend disrespect for anyone's mother.  While he played the "figure of speech" card in downplaying his perhaps innocent lack of discretion, I hope that he did learn a lesson and that he will think twice in the future.  If the compulsion to good-naturedly dis his friend is that great, perhaps next time he might choose at least to drop the parental half of the distasteful expression.  

Meantime, God bless the young man's supportive, overly-tolerant mother.  Even now, I hate to think of what my mother's reaction would have been under such circumstances.  Big athlete aside, my mother brought me into the world and she was fully capable of taking me out, trust me.  No figure of speech, intended, simply a statement of fact for which I was frequently reminded.

I am privy to a number of other Facebook sites administered by teenagers, and in general I enjoy their banter.  Quite honestly, it helps me understand what they are thinking and feeling in an ever-changing, complex society.  I am the first to subscribe to the theory that "boys will be boys" and "girls will be girls", but I sense a degree of tolerance that did not exist in my formative years.  Young people have to understand that it is not okay to say certain things, that words can be harmful and that "figures of speech" can be extremely offensive and easily misinterpreted.  The old adage: "Think before you speak!" would not at all be out of place here. 

The odd reminder, too, will never go amiss. 

22 February, 2010

TA DA! INTRODUCING...

...My all-time favorite peanut, raisin cookies fresh out of the oven.  Talk about "rationing", I was delayed in making them today because I could not find puffed wheat cereal anywhere.  What's this world coming to?  I had to settle for Compliments Classic Sugar Puffs at the risk of the batch turning out too sweet.  Oh well, I guess I'll be able to dispense with them in my usual fashion.  See story below.

21 February, 2010

RATIONING STORY BEHIND MY FAVORITE PEANUT, RAISIN COOKIES OF THE 1940s

I have a craving today for some good old "peanut, raisin cookies".  I've had the same craving on and off for 70 years.

The recipe for my all-time favorite cookie came originally from my Grandmother Louise Wright but it was my mother Grace who introduced me to it, probably for the first time in 1938 or '39.  The chewy little delight was always part of our annual Christmas dessert fare and rarely made any other time of year.  I, however, make them whenever the craving strikes me -- like today.  The recipe, in my mother's handwriting, is shown above but I will repeat it for clarity at the conclusion of this post.  First, a little background.

Peanut, raisin cookies and my number two childhood favorite, Apple Brown Betty, were popular in the 1940s because the ingredients were readily available during the World War II rationing period.  The cookies called for sweetened condensed milk, peanut butter, raisins, shredded coconut and puffed wheat while Apple Brown Betty consisted primarily of apples and bread crumbs.  There was no sugar in these recipes, the condensed milk providing all the sweetener necessary.  Sadly, even condensed milk was eventually rationed.

It will be difficult for the current generation to grasp the severity of shortages of food and fuel leading to rationing of some very basic needs in our country at the outbreak of World War II.  Priority was given to the importance of essential nutrition and other supplies of battle for our troops overseas.  Compounding the problem for Canada was the fact that many merchant ships that would normally bring food (sugar, coffee, tea, meat) to our shores, were being torpedoed and destroyed by enemy submarines.  It is said that more than 500,000 tons of food were lost in the Atlantic alone.

Canada instituted the food rationing program in January of 1942.  Applications were filled out and war ration  books were mailed to householders with stamps and coupons for specific allotments. Trading, sharing or selling the stamps was illegal.

Rationing was also a method of assuring that no one person would have more on their plate than their neighbor or the soldier at the front.  Sugar was the first item on the ration list introduced in 1942, each person allowed 12 ounces per week and later eight ounces.  Sugar of course, was used in the manufacture of shells and bombs, making it vital to the war effort.  

Butter was soon added to the list of rationed foods with a limit of a mere 1/2 pound per person.  Molasses, apple and honey butters, maple syrup and canned fruit and vegetables followed.  In 1944 goodies such as cheese and pie fillings were also rationed.  Beer coupons were added to the rations roster and alcohol in general was scarce and highly-priced.

Gasoline was the first non-food item to be rationed.  A limit of five gallons a week was imposed on Canadian motorists.  My father's business was located in Chatham at that time and we lived in Dresden, 18 miles away, meaning that he could come home only once a week on Saturdays after work.  He slept on a couch in his shop during the week, as did a number of other business people and factory workers.  Tires could not be purchased unless there was proof that driving was an essential activity.

Seamed silk stockings for women of fashion were very popular in the 20s and 30s.  Parachutes were also made of silk and when supplies ran out, resourceful women created the illusion of seamed stockings by lining the back of their bare legs with eyebrow pencil.

There was also a great requirement for tin in war production.  Canning factories were the first to feel the pinch as their supply of cans was severely rationed.  As a result, canned fruit and vegetables were in short supply.

Canadians were urged to grow Victory Gardens as a source of food for families.  We were fortunate to have a variety of fruit trees on our Sydenham Street property in Dresden (apple, peach, quince, plum, mulberry) and a large garden plot where we grew enough corn, potatoes, beans, carrots and tomatoes to last through the winter.  We even had rhubarb, raspberries and walnut and butternut trees.  Fruits and vegetables were preserved or "canned" in mason jars and shelves in our cold cellar lined the walls top to bottom.  Potatoes and carrots were stored in large bins. Many families were not so lucky.

The government urged consumers to "use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without" and Canadians did all four.  Housewives were very resourceful and creative in providing for their families and in managing ration coupons with their weekly limits. Rationing rules were strict and prices were fixed, making it extremely difficult for small merchants to remain in business.

It should be stressed that Canada was a small nation at the time with a population of only 11.5 million in 1942, more like a very large family.  Eleven million copies of the coupons books were printed in three phases and rationing continued for a period after the war in order to provide for the emergency needs of war-torn countries overseas.  

So there  is a lot of history, emotion and memories associated with the little peanut, raisin cookies of my youth, all of which come flooding back with each bite that I take today -- memories of family Christmases and friends dropping in for tea, of air raid drills and sending loved ones off to war, perhaps never to see them again.  Memories too, of Canadians doing their best to contribute to their country's war effort, learning to make do with less. 

Now that you know my story, why not whip up a batch of my favorite cookies in honor of a period in history that is fast-fading from public memory.  You'll be pleasantly surprised at how wonderful they really are, maybe even just a little bit unusual by today's standards.

Here's the recipe:

1 1/3 cups of sweetened condensed milk (I use Eagle Brand)
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/2 cups seedless raisins
1/2 cup shredded coconut
2 1/2 cups puffed wheat.
(Makes 24 medium-sized cookies)

Blend condensed milk and peanut butter well.  Add raisins and coconut, then puffed wheat. (Don't be alarmed at the stiffness, or stickiness of the mix).  Drop from a wet spoon and bake on a cookie tray in a moderate 350-degree oven for approximately 12 minutes.  Keep a close eye on the cookies and remove from oven as soon as they begin to turn brown.  Do not overcook.  Store in a cookie tin for a few days before eating.  They get better with age.

Bet you won't be able to eat just one!
Page of coupon stamps from Canadian war time ration book, 1942, and user responsibilities agreement guidelines attached.  The stamps were redeemed for food and other rationed supplies.

19 February, 2010

GOD HELP ME, I AM A COMPUTERLIC!


MY NAME IS DICK WRIGHT, ALIAS DICKTHEBLOGSTER, AND  I HAVE AN ADDICTION.

...I AM A COMPUTERLIC!

THIS IS MY TESTIMONY:

It all started a couple years ago when I found an outlet for my compulsion to express myself by means of the written word.  I was easy prey for the intriguing world of Internet communications and a very appealing pimp-like concept known as Google. I was lured into the parlour of Lady Blogster who recognized me for the easy mark that I was and quickly sank her fangs into my unsuspecting soul.

Lady Blogster introduced me to the mysteries of web site creation made easy.  "You've always wanted to be a publisher?" she asked, adding..."No problem.  I'll make that happen for you."  And she did.  I was hooked, line and sinker.

Now don't get me wrong, I wasn't exactly led down the garden path by the conniving Lady.  It was more like being presented with an opportunity to indulge myself on a path of my own creation -- Wrights Lane.  Before long, my compulsion became a fixation gobbling up hundreds of hours of my my life and countless sleepless nights.  I felt helpless as I fell deeper and deeper into the blogging abyss.  My need to post on Wrights Lane was insatiable.  The urge to be prolific was overwhelming.  If I missed a day or two, I felt guilty.

I actually tried to get the monkey off my back by quitting at one point and was clean for 18 days, two hours and 47 seconds, before hopelessly tumbling off the wagon.

It became a question of who would crash first, me or my computer.  As it turned out, it was the computer that screamed an excruciating "tilt" a couple of days ago, too contaminated to carry out the demands that I was placing on it.  Internet Explorer, the very heart of my system, was in desperate need of a transplant and there was nothing I could do in the form of resuscitation but to rush it to the emergency ward at a local computer hospital.

"We'll fix her up for you," stated the friendly young technician as he cradled my disabled Dell tower in his arms.  "We'll observe it overnight and perform necessary surgery  first thing tomorrow.  I'll call you when it is ready...You should know up front, however, that we charge $75.00 an hour labour."

Seventy-five dollars an hour?  Are you kidding?  In all of my working days I was lucky to have made a third of that in an hour.  But I had no choice.  It was the life or death of an extension of myself that we were talking about.  "No problem.  Go ahead!" I responded, trying to regain composure.

The next difficult 24 hours were a revelation to me.  I immediately began to experience withdrawal symptoms.  I was lost.  I would go into my office/den and stare at my computer desk.  The anxiety of seeing a monitor, a printer, speakers and an idle mouse, just sitting there with no main frame tower to power them at my time of great need, was simply devestating. I would periodically wander back into the room and just sit there thinking about what used to be and how much I needed a blogging fix.  My body shook.  Strange muffled utterances came uncontrolled from deep within my heaving chest.
"Viranda", "dashboard", "settings", "layout", "edit", "view".
I was out of control.  It was cold-turkey at its worst.

Sitting there, staring off into space, the realization dawned:  I had unwittingly become an addict.  I threw my hands in the air and declared for the very first time, "God help me.  I am a computerlic!"

Relief came in the form of a telephone call.  The patient was ready for pick up.  I rushed out of the house without even putting on my coat, returning in seconds to retrieve car keys from the coat hanging in the front door closet.

Long story made short (?), my computer (shown in the above photo after emergency surgery), is now free of a multitude of contaminated programs and has been restored to health,  purring like a new-born kitten.  Finally, release!  How sweet it is!

I am not yet a "recovering" computerlic, although I am working on tempering the addiction.  I may never fully recover.  It is a day-to-day thing.

Meantime, I am forming a new support group -- CA (Computerlics Annonymous).  As we speak, I know there are fellow addicts struggling with the same decision long after midnight: "Should I continue pounding the keyboard, or should I turn this damn thing off and go to bed."  At times like this we need to be there for each other.  

15 February, 2010

A GLORIOUS GIFT OF MUSICAL HERITAGE

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I just spent one of the most inspirational, relaxing, enjoyable 60 minutes in a long time.  With my dog pal Lucy tucked close beside me in my easy chair, I watched the Amazing Grace television presentation by Bill and Gloria Gaither.  Rosanne actually taped it a couple of days ago and saved it for me as a special Valentine's Day gift.

I have written about gospel music, and the Gaithers in particular, numerous times before and I'm writing about it again because I have a very real fear that our current generation may never enjoy and understand the significance of listening to this type of music with their hearts rather than their minds; of realizing its value as an aid to meditation and elevated consciousness.

To hear contemporary gospel music and age-old hymns with ears of faith, is indeed very powerful.  I honestly believe, however, that to fully appreciate it one has to have been born into it because it is all about stirring up old memories and deeply embedded convictions of our forefathers.  It is warm.  It is familiar.  It is comfortable.  It is inspiring.  I worry that music of faith is a gift that we are neglecting to give to the younger generation and, sadly, one more example of how we may be failing them.  

Just think about it for a minute...From early chants to sung Scriptures, from versified Psalms to original words and music written in our own time, our musical heritage is as varied as it is long.  Most of our great theology has been carried in the hymns of our churches. Different musical styles have spoken eternal truths.  The great advantage we have over our forefathers is being able to enjoy the richness of the past together with the creativity of the present as so beautifully expressed by people like the Gaithers.  Hymns and contemporary gospel stand as a symbol of the legacy we ideally leave to future generations.

I wanted to include a sample of some of my recent favorite gospel songs but regretfully I am having difficulty linking with my downloads.  Instead, I leave you with the words of Martin Luther:

"I wish to see all arts, principally music, in the service of Him who gave and created them.  Music is a fair and glorious gift of God.  I would not for the world forgo my humble share of music.  Singers are never sorrowful, but are merry, and smile through their troubles in song.  Music makes people kinder, gentler, more staid and reasonable.  I am strongly persuaded that after theology there is no art than can be placed on a level with music; for besides theology, music is the only art capable of affording peace and joy of the heart..." 

I don't think that the same will ever be said about the screaming acid rock and repetitive rap delivered by macho, gyrating crotch-grabbers that so attracts the youth of today.  Somewhere along the line we have gone wrong and that makes me very sad -- and helpless.

A wonderful gift of musical heritage awaits our youth and many may never receive it; never experiencing ultimate emotional exhilaration.

I pray that my grandchildren, and yours, will some day understand whereof I speak.  May they too be moved to tears of joy that only deep spiritual emotion can bring as they listen to the moving strains of Amazing Grace, Love Lifted Me, How Great Thou Art, Go, Tell It on the Mountains and Through It All.

12 February, 2010

AGING? IT REALLY DOES NOT MATTER

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I've had it with "You know you are getting old when" jokes. For a while I good naturedly accepted such attempts at humor, but lately they are hitting just a little to close to home.  Which, I guess, means only one thing.

I think it is only natural to let certain things bother us as we get older. It is part of the process.  This morning, for instance, I was feeling kind of blue and really didn't know why.  After a bit of soul-searching, I came to the conclusion that I was concerning myself with age-related matters and water-under-the-bridge issues and that if I wasn't careful I could very easily make myself sick.

I realized that I had a choice.  I could stay in my current frame of mind and drift further into isolation, bitterness and a sense of meaningless, or I could do something to snap myself out of the depressive state. I decided I had a number of chores that needed doing and I'd better get busy doing them, right now.

It was not really a big deal.  I just got in my car and took off with my honey-do list in hand.  It was a beautiful fresh day outside, crisp and bright, and in no time at all I had depleted my list of things to do.  Ninety minutes later I pulled back into my driveway felling pretty good about myself and what I had accomplished.  "Hey, I feel much better, refreshed almost," I thought as I unloaded a couple of bags of shopping from the trunk of my car.

I tried to think about what had been bothering me a few hours earlier and, know what, I could not come up with one single thing.  Lesson learned?...Keep busy, mentally and physically!  When you are feeling down in the dumps, come up swinging!  Get out, do something!

We really do have to learn to understand the fact that as we age, our bodies and minds are doing things in a different way and to accept and adapt -- even enjoy -- the changes.  In reflection we can continue to learn about what is important to us and to proceed as gracefully as possible.  We cannot undo the past, but we can do something with our future.

And maybe, just maybe, I can learn to enjoy the "You know you are getting old when..." jokes again.  After all, ya gotta have a sense of humor.

As Mark Twain once put it:  "Age is an issue of mind over matter.  If you do not mind, it does not matter."

09 February, 2010

MY "BEST" SPORTS MEMORIES

The Russan scoreboard said it all.
My friend Larry S. Balkwill in Chatham has asked me to list  my "10 best sporting memories and the five best involving me".  That was quite a challenge, but here goes. 

1. Team Canada's 6-5 defeat of the Russians in the final game of the world hockey summit classic in 1972.  The Canadian side staged a remarkable come-from-behind victory on the strength of Paul Henderson's goal with 34 seconds remaining in the championship game played on Russian ice.  The jubilation that erupted coast-to-coast in Canada was unprecedented and has never been equalled.

2. New York Yankee's Don Larsen pitching a perfect game (27 up, 27 down) in the World Series of 1956.  Larsen, never a standout, bested mound opponent Sal Maglie of the New York Giants by a score of 2-0. I will never forget seeing the game in black and white on TV and sitting spell-bound as catcher Yogi Berra lept into Larsen's arms at the conclusion of the game.  A once-in-a-liftetime experience, for sure.

3. Bobby Thompson's "shot that was heard around the world".  Thompson homered off Brooklyn Dodgers' Ralph Branca in a game played at the old Polo Grounds in 1951 to give the New York Giants the National League pennant, two games to one.  The blast is still thought of as the most dramatic in the history of major league baseball.  The Giants went on to face the New York Yankees in the World Series and I am the proud possessor of an official scorebook from  that "subway" series, a collector's item if there ever was one.

4. England's Roger Bannister running the world's first four-minute mile, May 6, 1954, on a track at Oxford University.  Roger's time of three minutes, 54.4 seconds was soon eclipsed by Aussie John Landry but nothing could exceed the excitement of that first four-minute mile that for generations was thought to be humanly impossible.

5. "Broadway" Joe Namath quarterbacking the New York Jets to a stunning 16-7 upset of the heavily favored Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III in 1968.  Even more remarkable was the fact that against all odds Namath "guaranteed" the victory in an interview the day before the big game.  I always enjoy underdog upset stories and this is one of the best for me.

6. Following close behind the story of Namath and his Giants is the tale of the "Miracle" New York Mets of 1969 who prevailed over the Baltimore Orioles in five games to accomplish one of the greatest upsets in World Series history.  The Orioles that year were considered to be one of the finest baseball teams ever while the Gil Hodges-managed Mets had risen from the depth of mediocrity to finish with the team's first-ever winning season.  They still talk about them Mets.

7.  The Dave Dravecki Story, simply because it epitomizes bravery and sheer will in the face of personal hardship.  The story of this promising San Francisco Giants pitcher stands out as one of the great sports comebacks of all time.  When his doctors removed a cancerous tumor from his pitching arm in October of 1988, they removed muscle as well and gave him zero chances of pitching again.  On August 10, 1989, he pitched again and won  -- a shutout against the Cincinnati Reds.  Five days later, he pitched again and won, but in the process broke the understandably weakened arm.  I remember watching the game on television and hearing the sickening "pop" of Dave's arm as he delivered a fastball in the sixth inning of a game against the Montreal Expos.  He was determined to stay in baseball but after two subsequent surgeries his left pitching arm continued to deteriorate and was eventually amputated along with a portion of his shoulder. 

Through all of the hardship, Dave was as determined to talk about his Christian faith as he was to overcome his injuries.  "It's been such an exciting experience -- being able to tell what God has done in my life through this ordeal," he has been quoted as saying.  Never has there been a story of such determination and faith in the face of diversity.  Dave Dravecky has become a rallying symbol for cancer patients as well as young and old alike, baseball fans or not.
Sorry Larry, I just can't come up with any other memories to equal those.  Everything else seems to pale by comparison.

As for sports memories involving me, I guess I could say that (1) winning Ontario Baseball Association championships in 1953, 1967 and 1969 would rank very high on the list as would (2) interviewing Detroit Tigers manager Billy Martin and pitcher Mickey Lolich in the span of a half hour during a media day in 1969.  Also had a memorable interview with Punch Imlach of the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1964 just after he had lifted one of his frequent press bans and another with Andy Bathgate following the Leafs' Stanley Cup victory that same year. (Andy had just invested in an apartment building in Brampton, soon to be named "Maple Leaf Towers".) 

I remember too, (3) hitting a two-run home run in Tiger Stadium during a prospects game in 1957 and (4) pitching to Mickey Mantle in a 1956 spring training exhibition game between Washington Senators  and New York Yankees "B" teams.  Mickey was recovering from a shoulder injury that spring and came in to pinch-hit in the fifth inning.  He hit a towering foul ball that was eventually caught by my catcher.  In the vernacular of the day, his popup "would have been a homerun in an elevator shaft".  Certainly qualifies as one of my claims to fame. 

Then there was the time (5) in 1966 when I drank orange juice with Bobby Orr, then 19, in the lounge of the Holiday Inn, Brantford, while other dignitaries downed cocktails prior to a Sports Celebrity Banquet.  Bobby talked about how awkward he felt as a minor in the many social events he was required to attend but alluded to his ease in the dressing room of the Boston Bruins with such established teammate veterans as Johnny Bucyk, Glen Sather, Ted Green, Ed Westfall and Ron Stewart, all of whom went out of their way to make him feel comfortable in his first season in the NHL.  

One of my "best" sports memories (6) is somewhat bittersweet.  In 1962 Jackie Gordon, then general manager of the Cleveland Barons of the American Hockey League, asked me to cover his fall training camp in St. Thomas for the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper.  My special memory came when I accompanied Jackie and Barons Coach Fred Glover on a trip to Windsor for an exhibition game.  Enroute, we picked up a young player prospect at the London Airport by the name of Bill Mastertson.

Mastertson, as it turned out, had led the University of Denver Pioneers to NCAA titles in 1960 and '61 and the game in Windsor would be his first as a professional.  He immediately impressed me as down-to-earth, clean-cut and very articulate. 

Bill turned in an impressive 62-63 season with the Barons in the AHL but applied for amateur status the following year in order to join the American Olympic hockey team.  An up-and-coming business executive with a masters degree, he returned to pro ranks after NHL expansion and as a 29-year-old rookie centre with Minnesota North Stars on January 15, 1968, he fell backward after a check in a game against the Oakland Seals, striking his head on the ice. He died of his injury in hospital the next day.  The hockey world was in total shock. Bill's untimely death however, gave impetus to the hockey helmet lobby.

In recognition of his impeccable character, the NHL was quick to introduce the Bill Mastertson Trophy.  It is awarded annually to the NHL player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverence, sportsmanship and dedication and is often given to a player who has made a comeback from a serious illness or injury. 

It was an honor for me to have met Bill Mastertson and to have chatted with him for a couple of hours in the back seat of Jackie Gordon's car on the way to a hockey game in Windsor almost 50 years ago.

So there you have it Larry, for what it's worth.

07 February, 2010

MESSAGE FROM ENGLAND IS TOUCHING

*(Click photo to enlarge)
I never cease to be amazed when I receive responses to my various blog sites.  I am doubly amazed and touched when comments come from out of country, like last night when the following email came from Egham, England.  I'll let the message speak for itself before offering some background.

Dick:

I stumbled across your blog accidentally this evening and wanted to drop you a quick email.  I was especially moved by the photo of the young man Roy Dusten who was holding you as a baby next to the photo of the crosses at the entrance to the cemetery.

As a new parent myself, it saddens me to think of Roy being killed in action just a few years after the photo was taken.  He seems to be quite at ease holding a small baby and may have made a good father himself at some time had he made it back from the war.  Who knows?

I live in a town called Egham, in the UK and a short walk from our home is a memorial for Air Force personnel killed during World War II.  We sometimes take the children there and it is a very peaceful place.  Next time I am up there I will see if Roy's name is one of the many listed on the walls.

Best wishes, 
Martin

The photo that Martin refers to (shown above) is included in my "Father and Son Turn Back the Clock" web site.  It shows a young Dresden neighbour, 18-year-old Roy Dusten, holding me as a baby just a few months old.  The touching photo is superimposed on another photo of crosses commemorating war dead in the Dresden Cemetery.  Not long after the photo was taken, Roy joined the Canadian Air Force and was shot down over Germany in World War II, losing his life.  The gentle way Roy was holding me and the look on his face, said  a lot about the kind of young man he was and the kind of father he could have been.  I totally agree with Martin, obviously a sensitive young father himself.

It is disheartening to think of the countless other promising young lives similar to Roy's that have been cut short due to world conflict...But don't get me started.

After receiving the email I immediately did some Internet research on Egham and found it to be a historic small town in the Runnymede Borough of Surrey in the south-east of England.  The memorial park that Martin refers to is a picturesque acreage known as Englefield Green, which  commemorates all Commonwealth air force personnel killed in World War II and is administered by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.  More than 20,000 names of airmen who lost their lives during flying operations from bases in the United Kingdom and North and Western Europe and who have no known graves are listed on the memorial walls referenced by Martin. 

The Memorial itself  overlooks the Thames River and is a beautiful white building (pictured below) in the art deco style, standing high above Runnymede.

I am indeed grateful to Martin for getting in touch with me and I look forward to hearing from him again in the future.

Aren't there some wonderful people in the world?

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04 February, 2010

THE PACIFIC IS SIDETRACKED IN AJAX

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I have been following with interest the story in The Toronto Star about The Pacific, a private rail car used by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth during their historic 1939 cross-country tour of Canada (see photos). Right off the top, I was surprised that the car still existed and was immediately compelled to go digging through a collection of old family photos and news clippings.

The Royal tour of '39 was of particular significance because it was the first time that a reigning monarch had visited Canada. It was so important that Prime Minister MacKenzie King himself accompanied the Royal couple for the duration of the month-long, cross-country trip. The Pacific was one of two vice-regal cars in the 10-car train.  Several decades later a future prime minister, John Diefenbaker, commissioned the car for his whistle-stop cross-Canada election campaign tour in 1957.


The opulent Pullman style car was built in 1924 by CN for wealthy customers and executives.

I was only a tiny tyke back in May of 1939 when my parents took me, wrapped in a blanket, to the train station in Chatham to catch a glimpse of doll-like George and Elizabeth as they waved at a distance of several hundred yards from a special platform that had been installed for them at the rear of the car. I especially remember the excitement of large crowd that had gathered for the Chatham stop that lasted no more than five minutes and the white suit worn by the Queen Mother. I was too young to really understand what was taking place, but I was starting to hear about storybook kings and queens and I knew this was a special occasion. It had a kind of magic about it.

Well, it seems that The Pacific was purchased from CN in 1972 by Paul Higgins, owner of the Mother Parker coffee and tea conglomerate. Higgins kept the car in immaculate condition and used it for personal travel and to entertain guests for a number of years. He died in 2004 and good old Pacific was passed on to his sons, Michael and Paul Jr., who continue to operate the family business and store the private car at one of their plants in Ajax.

The story came to light in The Star's "The Fixer" column in response to several readers who had complained about a bumpy (un)level crossing that exists to allow the historic rail car to be shunted to and from CN Rail tracks. One city bus driver objected to being required to stop at the level crossing "for a train that never comes".  The Higgins are currently negotiating with CN to take measures to repair and level the crossing.

Meantime, I just have to see The Pacific again.  This time up close. My next trip to Toronto, maybe. I'll pretend my folks are with me, and I'll be wrapped in a blanket hoisted on my dad's shoulders. In my mind I will wave to the King and Queen, and they will smile and wave back.
The Pacific as it stands today on a spur line in Ajax.

MY GRANDSON THE PHILOSOPHER

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I get a kick out of my 16-year-old grandson Josh.  Lately, he has become a bit of a philosopher.  He posted the following comments on his Facebook site over the course of the past week.

-- "Being bored with friends is better than being bored alone."

-- "Anybody else hate Valentine's Day?  It makes couples stressed to do things for each other and single people distressed."

-- "I hope my kid turns out like her (his 4 1/2-year-old sister Madison) and never grows up."

Hey Josh, I'm not sure there's room for two of us in this family!

03 February, 2010

THERE'S NO TODAY WITHOUT YESTERDAY

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I have just spent the better part of the past 96 hours thinking about little other than my last post and the creation of a new bog site, The Kewley Story.  It is only a yarn about hockey, nothing earth-shattering, but nonetheless a little-known, small slice of Canadian sports history.

The Kewley Story is a personal recollection of people and events, all in the past; and it has required extensive research along with digging deep into my memory bank and going back to the drawing board countless times as my mind released long forgotten, singularly trivial, tidbits that collectively made up the whole of the story.  In the end it was a satisfying experience but, truthfully, it exhausted me.  A small price to pay I guess...Kind of the story of my life!

The whole exercise has led me to the rational conclusion that by-and-large the only people interested in the past are those who have lived it.  Nevertheless, as a memoirist, I soldier on because I am compelled to do so, ever hopeful that there are enough of us left who can enjoy nostalgic journeys and enough of the current generation who are interested in learning from the past.  The selfish payoff for me sometimes is that my efforts are not too late to give credit where credit is due and that in some small way I have brought the past back to life for someone.  Maybe even filled a gap or two, along the way.

Out of necessity, the past should be documented with responsibility and understanding and never for self-engrandment.

In order to do justice to some of my writing I find myself listening to (believe it or not) those who have gone before, trying to understand them; assessing documents and letters, hearing music of bygone days, reading news reports past and present; staring time and again at photographs to find details and specificity that will bring life to my humble efforts.  There are roadblocks and dead-ends in researching the past but every once in a while there are breakthroughs that are equivalent to striking gold.

When you are an odd sort nostalgia buff like me, however, there is very definitely a downside to living in the past as frequently as I do.  It can consume you at the expense of the present and you have to know when to draw a line, when to realize that you really do have other things to do by means of facilitating the present.  You have to be careful.  A healthy dose of reality goes a long way.

"The past is a foreign country.  They do things differently there," wrote novelist L. P. Hartley.  History leaves a lot of questions and gaps.  It is silent where you need words and information.  If only the dead could speak...If only people had the foresight to leave better records.  Even our own memories play tricks on us and are full of flaws causing us no end of frustration.

In the end, people are certain to critique, complain, relate and praise the work of a memoirist.  But if we have done our best to be honest and accurate about the past, we are able to sleep at night and to live with ourselves satisfied that we have filled a strange need within us.

For the most part, I have stayed away from futuristic prose because of a belief that I am not sufficiently enlightened.  Not long ago I deemed it wise to leave writing about the future to those who have a future.  But, in retrospect, writing about the future does not have much to do with informed predictions or prophecy.  It has more to do with questioning both the past and the present.  So I conclude that there is a very fine line between the work of a memoirist and that of a futurist.  We come from different ends of the spectrum and meet somewhere in the middle.

And, something else:  The present is not worth much without the past! 

That's why we should try to blend the two as much as possible as we head into the future.