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

29 December, 2011

Saturday, December 31, 2011:  The Saturday Star this morning carried a front page headline:  "My father taught us that it's never too late to change for the better."  I could not help but think that the coincidental statement by a woman reflecting on the life of her late father, would have been a fitting lead for this untitled post on the subject of resolutions written by me several days ago.

Maybe it's still not too late!

One of the strangest things about the holiday season, is the way that it mixes the old with the new.  First we have the traditional celebration full of ritual, habit, convention and faith.  Then we get the great New Year celebration which is supposed to be followed by revelations and resolutions.

Ideally, from the start of January, everything must be new and different.  It is no wonder that we have difficultly with some of it.  Where do we start?  How do we start?

On the 30th of December we are now peeping nervously over the wall that divides us from our future.  We know what changes we would like to see but if you are like me there is always a question.  Can this be possible?  Is it realistic to think about change at this late stage of life?

The answer, of course, is that anything is possible at any time.  It is never too late to entertain change and to make a firm resolve.  The secret is to want something bad enough that you keep your resolutions for as long as necessary.  Be strong and patient, my friends!

24 December, 2011

AND YOU WONDER WHY MY HAIR IS GRAY?

It was 2:30 p.m. when I heard Rosanne dialing the telephone.

"Hello, Merry Christmas," she said pleasantly.  "Can you tell me what time you close today?"  After a pause of several seconds she said "thank you" and hung up the phone. 

"Who was that you were talking to?" I asked.

"Walmart," she replied.  "They're closing at 6 o'clock."

"That's good information, but what does it have to do with you?  You have no reason to be doing any more shopping, particularly at this late date," I simply could not help adding.

"Oh, I know," she said.  "But, now I don't have to worry about it!" 

All I could say, under my breath, was "Why me Lord?" 

23 December, 2011

When people say that Christmas is about helping the poor, the underprivileged, the lonely and the forgotten, they are absolutely correct.  This does not include, however, stressing over buying expensive presents for family and friends and eating far too much of everything in sight.

Just think about it...You can spend as much as you like on presents, yet it will only make you poorer.  You can eat (and drink) as much as you like, yet it will only make you fatter.  But no matter how many times you go out of your way to show kindness, sensitivity and love, you can only grow more fulfilled.

Be as wonderfully "fulfilled" as you know how to be this Christmas.  It'll be like a gift that you give to yourself as well as to others.

22 December, 2011

FROM OUR HOME TO YOURS...

...May the joy of Christmas fill your heart and home with happiness


ABOUT THE ARTIST:  Thomas Kincade is one of the world's most collected living artists, a painter-communicator whose tranquil light-infused paintings bring hope and joy to millions each year.  Each of his paintings is a quiet messenger affirming the basic values of family, health, faith in God, and the luminous beauty of nature.

20 December, 2011

WHEN IS "FLOUR" NOT A "FLOWER"?...WHEN IT'S AN ITEM ON A GROCERY SHOPPING LIST

When you stop to think about it, English is one of the more difficult languages to learn.  There are so many nuances.

Rosanne loves to tell a story about her Ukrainian-born step father who immigrated to Canada in 1950.  John was a trained cook and all-round handyman who spent several years in a German concentration camp during World War II and looked to Canada as an opportunity to start a new life.  After meeting and marrying Rosanne's divorced mother in Toronto, John found employment as a plumber's assistant.
John the Plumber and daughter Rosanne

He saw merit in studying for his Canadian plumbing papers and eventually going into business for himself, but there was one problem -- mastering the English language.  A mere teenager, Rosanne became John's English tutor, sitting with him for hours reading instructional materials, explaining the meaning of technical words and correcting his spelling on written assignments as he made his way through the plumbing course of study.  Eventually, John overcame the language barrier sufficiently enough to earn his plumbing licence and he once told me that he gave a lot of the credit to Rosanne.  "With my limited English, I would never have passed the tests without her help.  I always said that she knew enough to become a plumber herself," he added.

As Rosanne recounts her story, one day her mother sent John out with a grocery shopping list which included "Five Roses Flour".  John, a do-or-die, not-to-reason-why sort of guy, burst into the kitchen an hour later with a wide grin on his face and carrying several bags of groceries and, you guessed it -- five beautiful red roses which he gently placed on the counter.

Trying her best to suppress laughter, Rosanne's mother Micki lovingly gave her dutiful husband a big hug before tactfully explaining the difference between "Red Roses Flour" and the "red rose flower".  After all, it was an innocent and understandable mistake, albeit very comical to everyone but John at the time.

With another lesson in English learned the hard way, John rather sheepishly returned to the grocery store for the much-needed bag of Five Roses Flour.  The five beautiful red roses were prominently displayed in a vase on the kitchen table with a note reading "thank you John".

In time "John the Plumber", as he became known to countless households throughout Etobicoke and Toronto West over the years, learned to appreciate the humor of it all.  He passed away in 2003.

He did pretty well for himself in this country...He'd be the first to tell you that.  In his words: "Thanks God!"

18 December, 2011

A THOUGHT FOR A SUNDAY BEFORE CHRISTMAS

Are you fighting a battle?  Are you taking a stand?  Are you proving a point?  Or are you simply getting too tired, very tired.

It may be the Christmas/New Years season, but it is very easy to find ourselves in a state of turmoil.  With everything that we have on our plates, there is a tendency to feel like we are caught in a drama that we can't control.  It is bigger than us yet somehow we have to play our part as best we can regardless of what it takes out of us.

That may be how we feel, but is it true?  Must we really worry so much, try so hard and dedicate so much energy?

We answer those very personal questions only through an honest to goodness soul-searching.  Despite fears and concerns, however, life does have potential to get a lot lighter. This special time of year has rewards and blessings for those who participate in the spirit of the celebration.

Consider too, that in the end we will all have an eternity to rest.  Much better that we give freely of ourselves, while we can.

17 December, 2011

FORGOTTEN STORY TOO LITTLE REMEMBERED

The reason for the season...
One day about 2,000 years ago an angel named Gabriel appeared to a young Jewish woman named Mary. Gabriel told Mary she would have a son, Jesus, who would be the Son of God! Mary was confused and worried about this sudden news, but she had faith in God and said, "I am the Lord's servant; let it be as you say."


Mary and her husband-to-be, Joseph, lived in a town called Nazareth. But they had to travel to the city of Bethlehem to register for a census ordered by the Roman emperor, Caesar Augustus. Both Nazareth and Bethlehem are in the country now called Israel. It is about 65 miles (105 km) from Nazareth to Bethlehem, and the trip probably took them several days.


When Joseph and Mary got to Bethlehem, there was no place for them to stay because the inn was already full. They ended up spending the night in a stable, a place where animals were kept. There was probably fresh hay on the floor that they used for beds.


That night, Jesus was born. There was no crib, so they laid baby Jesus in a manger, a feeding trough for animals. The manger probably had fresh hay in it and made a nice soft bed for the baby.


Meanwhile, some shepherds were in the fields near Bethlehem, keeping watch over their flocks of sheep when an angel appeared to them and gave them the good news that a Savior, the Messiah, had been born. The angel told the shepherds they could find Jesus lying in a manger. Suddenly a whole group of angels appeared saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!"


The shepherds hurried into Bethlehem and found Jesus in the manger, just as the angel had told them. After they had seen Jesus, they spread the news, and everyone who heard was in awe.


We all know the The Christmas Story but like all stories, the details have a way of fading and losing significance.  Stories as vital as this one, however, warrant revisiting more than just once a year-- lest we forget and lose perspective.  


Question
Was Jesus born on Christmas day? We celebrate Jesus' birth on Christmas, but no one really knows what day Jesus was born, or even exactly what year. In 336 A.D., the Western Church, based in Rome, chose December 25 to celebrate as Christmas, meaning "Christ's Mass." The Eastern Church chose January 6. The day was named Epiphany, meaning "appearance." Eventually the period from December 25 to January 6 became known as the Twelve Days of Christmas.
Lessons
1) The stories of Jesus' birth link to both the past and the future. The circumstances of Jesus' birth show He fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies of a Messiah, i.e. He was born in Bethlehem and He was called out of Egypt.

2) Jesus was born in a stable - the most humble of circumstances. Similarly, Jesus showed us how God's favor rests with the poor and downtrodden. Gentile* wise men also came to worship Jesus along with the shepherds. Later, the Gentiles* would make up most of the Christian world. King Herod's attempt to kill this "newborn king" and savior, foreshadows His crucifixion about 33 years later...and that is another story about how Jesus died for the sins of the world.  
(*) In New Testament times anyone who was not a Jew was considered a Greek, a Barbarian or a Gentile.

Through Jesus, all things can be forgiven.  "Just ask and ye shall receive."  That is THE message, if you want to accept it!

15 December, 2011

PRINCIPAL RESPONDS TO WRIGHTS LANE STORY

I was extremely appreciative of a telephone message this morning from Dan Russell, principal of G. C. Huston Public School in Southampton.

On Wednesday, I informed the school's secretary about my post on Wrights Lane (see "Hope for the Future Comes Across the Lake", below) and subsequently published by the Saugeen Times the same day.  Mr. Russell said that he wanted to thank me for article(s) and to explain that the morning announcements at G. C. Huston are the responsibility of a group of students working under the banner "Hawks Radio".

He said that he met this morning with members of the Hawks Radio Club and read my story to them.  "I wanted them to know that they are not only having an impact on children at the school, but even our neighbors are aware of the good things that they are doing and the kind of messages that they are communicating to our whole school community," he added.

It's a small thing really, but I am pleased to know that I was part of a lesson in communications.  It all begins with communications, doesn't it!  We need more of it in our lives.

13 December, 2011

HOPE FOR THE FUTURE COMES ACROSS THE LAKE



The world is going to hell in a handbasket, you say?

It is so easy for we seniors to be skeptical in this day and age.  It seems to go with the over-70 territory.  Every now and then, however, I have little nudges that draw me out of my advanced cynicism with resultant emotions of hope and faith in the current and future generations.

It has become a regular morning ritual with me, when I am up in time, to listen to the 9:00 a.m. opening exercises at the G. C. Huston Public School, which is directly across Fairy Lake from my home in Southampton.  The school's public address system comes loud and clear across the lake and generally coincides with letting Lucy out the back door for her first you-know-what of the day.

I always find the five minutes that I share across the water with the students and teachers, uplifting and not beyond transporting me back in time some 65 years.  I never cease to be impressed with the quality of the opening exercises -- the appropriately-taped music (Christmas carols at present time) which precedes the announcements, the singing of O' Canada (generally by a musically-gifted student, or group of students) and a theme for the day.

The school's theme for this month is "generosity" and giving freely of one's time and resources.  This morning, for instance, a student spoke about the role of the local food bank and the need for donations in the form of non-perishable items such as canned goods, cereal and macaroni.  From where I stand on my back porch, pretty commendable.

What schools like G. C. Huston in Southampton are doing on a daily basis is not only teaching the ABC's but subtly molding the character and sensitivity of our next generation.  So, don't be so quick with that handbasket my senior friends,  we're going to be in good hands -- a certain public address system gives every indication of that.  

The playground at the back of G. C. Huston Public School, as seen from my back yard.

11 December, 2011

TIS THE "WAITING" SEASON OF ADVENT

"The vision will be fulfilled in its own time.  If it seems slow in coming, wait for it, for it will surely come."
I dare say that the current Season of Advent goes unobserved by the majority in today's society, yet it is as significant and as old as the Christmas day that we celebrate on the 25th of December.


The general topic of Advent in our churches today is the coming of Jesus, both in the manger in Bethlehem and in the clouds of glory.  Roughly speaking, the Western Church celebrating Advent, consists of Protestants, Catholics and Anglicans.

Advent candles symbolize the light of God coming into the world through the birth of Jesus.  The candles are lit in churches every Sunday during the Advent period so that the last week before Christmas all four candles are lit. The remaining central candle, representing Christ, is then lit on Christmas day.


Advent originated as a period during which Christian converts prepared themselves for baptism through instruction, prayer, fasting and, much like Lent.  The length of Advent varied from three days to six weeks, or approximately the 40 days that Jesus Christ spent in the wilderness preparing for His ministry.


In the west during the Middle Ages, Advent became a time to prepare for the Second Coming, because in those days many people were convinced that all signs pointed to the imminent return of Christ.  In time, Advent spread throughout the western world and became fixed at its present length.  Over the last 50 years, Advent has come to anticipate the Nativity as well.  For many people today however, especially those in the commercial world, Advent is simply a ramp-up to Christmas.


I think is is fair to say that almost everyone in our society experiences the weeks leading up to Christmas as a time of waiting.  Waiting for a parking space.  Waiting for a bargain. Waiting for a visiting relative.  Waiting for a treasured Christmas greeting.  Waiting for a quiet evening.  Waiting for the holidays.  Waiting for social gatherings. It is little wonder that waiting for the birth of Jesus has lost its impact.  It has been lost in the hustle and bustle of the shuffle.  After the turkey has been cleared away and gifts exchanged on Christmas day, most experience a letdown feeling like "after all  that preparation and it is over in a flash!"


A minister shares a recent experience when she gathered with the young folk of her congregation for the children's time a the front of the church.  She asked the intent little ones:  "Who here likes to wait?"  One innovative and confident young fellow put up his hand, and, when acknowledged, replied: "I like to wait when I am facing something I don't like."


How profound.  Out of the mouths of youngsters often come the most insightful truths we will ever learn.


If you are not eager to experience the "waiting season' of Advent, maybe there is something in your life that you simply do not want to face.  Is it the end of a school semester and the uncertainty about what comes next?  Is it the struggles around  health, or the interminable wait for results from recent medical tests?  Do you fear a performance evaluation at work, or a retirement that looms on the horizon?  Do you fear getting a job at all?  Do you fear the future with a partner who has been abusive and mean, or the future of your child who seems too timid and shy to make it in the world?


Often, how we act in the face of our fears determines how we can cope with the challenges of life. It is no wonder that the angel's message whispered in Mary's ear was a simple one: "Don't be afraid." Even our joys are made more real when we know what it is like to face and conquer adversity without fear and loathing.

Advent, the waiting and hoping time leading up to Christmas, is a time when various stories of the birth of Jesus get retold and relived. Jesus' birth was hardly an easy one. The experience of the main characters within that story, whichever biblical verses are deemed closest to the reality of the times, understandably was filled with anxiety and fear. Through it all, however, Mary, Joseph, Jesus, and the other main characters managed to find their way through it. They often waited -- waited for a clear message that would remove their doubts and fears.


As a culture, we seek instant answers. We might be better off waiting every now and then: looking for new insights, prepared to listen to wise counsel from mentors and elders, eager to accept the fact that there may be, indeed, a new and better way to proceed.


Can we wait for those peace-filled, quiet moments where truth will be revealed, and a still, small voice will speak to us in profound ways? If we can, then we have figured out at least part of the message of Advent. At the very least, the journey to Christmas should be more hopeful and less stressful when we can find moments for renewal and rest within this time of year.

10 December, 2011

OVERHEARD IN PASSING...

A group of seniors discussing ailments over their morning coffee:
"My arms have gotten so weak I can hardly lift this cup of coffee," said one.
"Yes, I know," said another. "My cataracts are so bad; I can't even see my coffee."
"I couldn't even mark an "X" at election time, my hands are so crippled," volunteered a third.
"What? Speak up! What? I can't hear you!" interjected a man cupping his ear with one hand.
"I can't turn my head because of the arthritis in my neck," said a fourth, to which several nodded weakly in agreement.
"My blood pressure pills make me so dizzy!" exclaimed another.
"I forget where I am, and where I'm going," said another.
"I guess that's the price we pay for getting old," winced an old man as he slowly shook his head.
The others again nodded in agreement.
"Well, count your blessings," added a woman cheerfully - - "thank God we can all still drive a car."

09 December, 2011

BE LEARY OF EXPECTATIONS AND ASSUMPTIONS

I heard an interesting comment the other day to the effect 
that you can't live your life on the expectations of others.  
That had a certain resonance for me.

From the moment we are born, we are shaped by the expectations of others.  It is a fact of life that our parents, bless their hearts, are the first to want nothing but the very best for us and it manifests in the form of expectations.  This is only natural, but again, expectations are expectations and as such not always in keeping with our true interests and abilities, who and what we really are as an individual about to find a comfortable fit in the world.

The expectations, or assumptions, of others can weigh a young person down and sit like a backpack, heavy on their shoulders -- sometimes invisible to them.

As we progress in life, expectations of others threaten to influence us even more -- other family members, our teachers, our friends and last but not least, our sweethearts.  Unfortunately, in cases similar to mine, we spend a large portion of our time half apologizing for the direction our lives have taken.  Those ideas about us are not ours, but we tend to hold on to them as though they are.

To young people today, I say "be conscious of what others ask of you, but follow your instincts (your heart) and your dreams."  Others' lack of approval can condition passion and impede ultimate accomplishment.

We must understand too, that those who celebrate only fractions of us do not really have our best interests at heart.  Those who ask us to take on their needs are not our allies and in meeting their demands and repressing our own, we are misplacing our own values.

With life and human nature structured the way they are, we are bound to make mistakes and to have disappointments along the way.  The key is the ability to rationalize and to learn from experiences and to minimize regrets.

In the end, we are alone to answer to and for ourselves.  Leave no dream unfulfilled, face challenges head on, give freely when you see a need and never give up on yourself. When all is said and done, take pride in having done it in the way that was best for you.

08 December, 2011

TRUE FAITH COMES ONLY FROM THE HEART

Jonathan Cainer reminded me yesterday of a quote attributed to the great poet Kahil Gibran:  "Faith is an oasis in the heart which will never be reached by the caravan of thinking."


Explain yourself Jonathan.  How can this be true?

"Our minds can take us anywhere, can't they?  Our thoughts can invent and imagine any situation.  They can even lead us into a convincing deep experience.  The fact is though, that Gibran is right -- thoughts cannot conjure true faith that only ever comes from the heart.  And the heart can only ever be heard when the head is silent."

Good old Jonathan was absolutely correct in his explanation.  We can learn a lot by listening to our hearts.

It works for me. I have detoured a lot of trouble in my life by listening to the vital organ that beats within my chest.

Maybe it's been a while, but listen to yours today!

07 December, 2011

FLIP A COIN: REALITY OF EMOTIONAL EXTREMES

There's a familiar refrain from George and Ira Gershwin's Porgy and Bess, "Summertime and the livin' is easy".  Leave it to someone, however, to ask if the living is really that much harder in the middle of the winter.  Personally, I do think that summertime living is a lot easier, because I am not all that fond of winter and all that the season entails, but I do understand the question.

What are these great seasonal extremes if not opposite sides of the same coin?  Much like joy and depression being more closely linked than many people think.  Success and failure have a similarly symbiotic relationship.

When you are down, the only place you can go is up.  And when you are up...Well, let's worry about that when you are up.

I don't know about you, but I am subject to short periods of sadness and melancholy always followed by a burst of happiness and optimism.  I do not know how to attribute either one of those feelings that come over me.  Maybe it is just the way that I am wired, but I have come to accept sad times with the rationalization that "this too shall pass".  Looking at it from a positive standpoint, sadness has often resulted in some of my most serious and creative moments.

Health specialists often refer to these opposite sides of the emotional spectrum as a mood disorder, but I think that it amounts to a matter of degree and how we learn to control or balance all of our emotions.  The reality of either a heads or a tails coming up when we flip the coin of life, has to be realized, accepted and dealt with from a rational perspective.  

We should grasp the fact that sadness has the unexplained potential to make us very happy.  Strange, isn't it?  But we would do well to always remember that.  

Without fail, winter turns into summer when the livin' is a lot easier.

05 December, 2011

YOU'VE GOT TO HAVE A SENSE OF HUMOR WHEN YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND WHAT WIFEY IS SAYING

First, Rosanne is not going to do anything for the unforeseen future, now she's going on a speaking strike.

"O  come on Dick, don't you know what I'm saying to you?" she commented out of frustration during a husband and wife discourse last night.

"Not half the time," was my brutally honest replay.

"That does it," she shot back at me.  "I'm not speaking to you anymore!"

"That'll be the day," I said with tongue in cheek as I hurried into the kitchen to turn down the heat under a boiling pot of perogies.  "Promises, promises!"

Silence!  End of conversation -- for the time being at least.

TIME OFF FOR ROSANNE MAY "`RENDER"

Rosanne this morning after an hour's wait in hospital for a blood test:

"That's it!  I'm not going to do anything else for the rest of the day.  In fact the rest of the week is going to be my day off.  It may even render(?) into the rest of the month."

(Latest in a continuing series of Rosanneisms.)

04 December, 2011

OVERHEARD IN PASSING...

Two men meeting on a street corner.

Man #1:  How're you doing?  Say, do you hear that voice in the wilderness?

Man #2:  What voice is that?  All I hear are cars passing by and Christmas carols playing in all of the stores that I've been in today.

Man #1:  The voice I'm talking about is coming from the prophet in the Bible and it calls on us to start preparing for the ultimate.

Man #2:  Oh, I see!  But how can we prepare for anything that serious this time of year when we are so busy getting ready for Christmas?

Man #1:  The prophet is not telling us to frantically go shopping, wrap presents, bake cookies and Christmas cake or attend parties.  He is calling us to peace; the peace that faith can bring to our hearts, to our lives and to our world.

Man #2:  Well, that kind of peace is a good thing, but how do we come by it?

Man #1:  When you get home, sit down quietly.  Stay there in stillness and silence for a few moments and give the spirit of God and His peace a chance to enter in.  The message will come to you, loud and clear.

Man #2:  I hear you, friend!  Have a good one!

02 December, 2011

I'VE HAD FIRST-HAND EXPERIENCE WITH BULLYING AND ITS INSENSITIVE UGLY SISTER -- TEASING

The subject of "bullying" is currently a very hot news item.  As if this unthinking act of adolescent meanness is something new.  Bullying is an age-old act of insecurity compounded by the need to impose power over others who are not in a position to defend themselves, and unfortunately it does not necessarily end with childhood.

I was particularly interested in a story by Catherine Porter in this morning's Toronto Star.  It was a revealing piece about how Catherine, as a grade-schooler, was taunted and made to feel ugly and unwanted by a group of her peers, one of which apologized to her after a chance meeting 30 years later.

School bullying was once considered a character-building rite of passage for children, but now it is seen for what it is -- a form of victimization and abuse.  The results of bullying can be devastating, frequently leaving lasting psychological scars, even resulting in recent cases of "bullycides" (suicide).

Back in the day, I experienced bullying of the worst kind  -- physical abuse by a group of "toughs" in my hometown.  These guys were two or three years older than me and a couple of grades ahead in school.  I really do not know why I was singled out, but they just seemed to get a kick out of intimidating me and seeing me quake and cower in their presence.  I do not recall words ever being spoken, just blows to my torso, torn clothing, and me running from their gauntlet.  For several years, between Grades 3 and 6,  I had eyes on the back of my head while walking home from school and sought cover whenever I saw them approaching.  I became quite adept at finding hiding places on the spur of the moment.

The great bullying equalizer came with a spurt of growth and some self-defense training by my father.  After a few incidents of responding in kind, the bullies suddenly lost interest in me.  Life took on new perspective...I was free!  No more fear as I walked home from school.  I survived the rite-of-passage, 1940s style.

If they were still alive today (they are not), I doubt that those bullies would remember giving Dick Wright a hard time all those years ago. In fact they probably would not remember me at all.  But believe me, they left a lasting impression on me and it was not necessarily a positive one.

I have often wondered too, if I myself may have been guilty of a type of bullying.  Oddly enough, I tease people that I like but through one incident about 60 years ago, I learned to curb the impulse because it is not always appreciated.  Most people have been teased about something -- wearing glasses, or the style of their clothing, but in all honesty I think that is is a form of bullying too, albeit more subtle.  I have come to understand that, like bullying, teasing can undermine a young person's self-confidence and cause feelings of sadness or embarrassment.

There was a point in high school where I fear that I allowed myself to be carried away with the impulse to tease.   I teased one classmate in particular, often without knowing it.  I just thought it was funny and that he knew that I did not mean anything bad by it because, as I say, I really liked him and felt sorry that he was being raised by a single mother of limited resources during a difficult time in our history.  I don't recall him having many close friends and I was under the mistaken impression that he appreciated my paying attention to him, as ignorantly mean-spirited as it may have been.

My last memory of (we'll call him) Donald, was struggling to control him in a shop class after I had "poked fun" at him for some unknown reason.  He just snapped and lunged at me, wielding a drafting compass in one hand.  Being considerably bigger, I was able to fend off his attack by wrapping my arms around him as he kicked and flayed his arms wildly.  I released him at one point and he came back at me again, even more frenzied.  It took a good five minutes in a bear hug for Donald to cool down sufficiently for me to finally let go of him.

I remember the encounter like it was yesterday, and still feel badly that I had incensed Donald to such a degree.  After reflecting on the incident for a few days, I did not have an opportunity to apologize for my insensitive teasing and the hurt that it had obviously caused him.  In several weeks the school term of 1954-55 was over and we went our separate ways in life.

In a perfect world, I would hope that Donald forgot all about that shop class incident soon after it happened, but reality suggests to me that he did not.  He no doubt thinks unkindly of me for my incessant teasing and that is a shame because as I said before, I always liked him.  That's why I naively teased him.

I pray that by some strange quirk of fate, Donald will ultimately be able to read this post and accept my apology.  I'm sure he will know who the real Donald was and is. I hope he has had a good life!

Like most bullies, I had no idea...

30 November, 2011

A BLOCK THAT IS THE CURSE OF ALL WRITERS

Writers march to the beat of a different drummer.  They think with their fingers on a keyboard.  They are driven by ideas and a compulsion to express themselves by means of the written word.  When inspired, they shut themselves off from the world around them -- sounds, food, mother nature, people and the clock.  No writer ever left a subject half finished or partially developed.  Thoughts are too fleeting and too precious to waste or to put on hold while dealing with other matters.

As long as human scribes have conjured up ideas and committed them to the written page, they have struggled against the inevitability of periods of writer's block, however. The condition can be trivial, temporary or something that plagues a writer for a long period of time. Regardless of how it manifests itself, the infliction is never welcome and can be quite personally devastating.

Writer's block is similar to a water well running dry.  The mind is exhausted of ideas and any attempt to push through the dry spell generally falls short and results in further frustration for the writer.  It can be the external manifestation of issues you harbor internally and feelings, anxieties or vague notions that are best explored sooner than later.  The only remedy generally, is to take a break.  Get away from it all.  Do something different.  Catch up on chores that have been neglected.  Give the mind a rest, putting it in neutral if possible.

I have had any number of periods in my life where writer's instinct has completely abandoned me -- no ideas, no inspiration, no inclination to even sit down at a typewriter or keyboard.  Some of my worst episodes of writer's block came during the six years that I was required to produce daily newspaper editorials.  Pressure to create timely, provocative prose on a regular daily basis has been the undoing of many editorialists and I still do not think that small town newspaper management fully understands that fact.

In the almost four years that I have been publishing online, I have had bouts of writer's block, but I am now in the enviable position of not having to write if I am not moved to do so.  That feels kind of good too.  After a few days, I can come back and resume my musing self until circumstance again dictate otherwise.

I never really plan to write on a particular subject or sit down with the prevailing thought that I must write something.  More often than not, ideas just come to me out of the blue or are prompted by something that has transpired in my day. I may also be inspired by any number of emotions and I cannot rest until I allow those thoughts and feelings to flow forth.  I derive great gratification from telling a story by writing about it.  For me, embellishment comes naturally; as it does for most writers.  It is an instrument of the craft.

I am writing about writer's block at this time, not necessarily because I am desperate for a subject, but because I have been thinking about writing in general for the past couple of days -- where I have come from and where I should be going in the future.  Maybe I am trying to justify in my own mind the reasons why I continue to be motivated to write.  Why do I feel a need to toss written puff balls into the air when there is a very real possibility of them floating off into space and never landing?

Bottom line?  There is simply something about writing that fulfills creatures like me.  We know that we are not going to hit the ball out of the park every time we come up to bat.  But we stay in there, swinging.

I guess it all boils down to the reality that old writers never die, they just eventually succumb to a case of  terminal writer's block. If I get my wish, when I am called up yonder I'll be sitting in the chair that I currently occupy in front of a trusty, well-used computer.

Hopefully I get to complete my last story though. It would kill me not to finish it!

TODAY'S CONVERSATION: SORT OF...

THIS MORNING, 8:30
So this fellow says to me:  "Hey man, how about this weather?  Ain't it pretty?"


I says to him:  "You know what you can do with your 'pretty' -- man.  It ain't pretty when you got to shovel it -- man!"

29 November, 2011

TOUCH MY DOG, TOUCH ME!

Something has come between Rosanne and I.  It is our little doggy Lucy.

Contrary to the advice of so-called animal experts, Lucy allows us to sleep in bed with her.  It's that kind of arrangement.

It is amazing how a little 15-pound bundle of joy can become the focus of your life.  We love her and she gives every indication that the feeling is mutual.  We are a unit in every aspect of the word.

This morning I found myself stroking her (Lucy's) head as we were waking up.  Rosanne was still asleep.

Suddenly, Rosanne's body gave a slight jerk.  "What!  Were you touching me?" she asked.

"No, I was touching Lucy though," I replied.

"Oh," came her sleepy response.  "I thought this was a package deal!  zzzzzzzzzz"

27 November, 2011

ON A DAY WHEN CONVERSATION WAS LIMITED

I didn't talk to anyone today apart from Rosanne when she wasn't sleeping and Lucy, when she wasn't sleeping.  No one talked much to me either, when I wasn't sleeping. It was just that kind of a dark, dreary, damp, late November Sunday in our neck of the woods -- perhaps yours too.

Come to think of it, I did speak to someone else -- a rather diminutive pharmacist at our local Rexall Drug Store where I went to pick up a prescription for Rosanne.  She was a pleasant enough Filipino young lady, but not overly conversational.

This is all by way of an excuse for why I do not have a "Today's Conversation" to relate.

I do not think that there is anything wrong with a quiet, lazy, sleepy day now and then.  Bodies and minds need a break to slow down and, yes, even to heal.  When you stop to think about it, we really do work ourselves pretty hard without even realizing it.  We are under the mistaken assumption that we are machine-like, requiring little or no maintenance.

Perhaps this all gives credence to why God himself rested on the Seventh Day and blessed and sanctified it.  It is kind of too bad in a way, that we wait for this type of unfavorable weather to force our times of rest, as though we need an excuse.

Anyway, tomorrow's another day.  Maybe I'll be more conversational then...If not, I'll just continue to rest.  I seem to require more of it these days!

26 November, 2011

TAKE EXPECTATIONS OF OTHERS WITH GRAIN OF SALT

I heard an interesting comment the other day to the effect that you can't live your life on the expectations of others.  That had a certain resonance for me.

From the moment we are born, we are shaped by the expectations of others.  It is a fact of life that our parents, bless their hearts, are the first to want nothing but the very best for us and it manifests in the form of expectations.  This is only natural, but again, expectations are expectations and as such not always in keeping with our true interests and abilities, who and what we really are as an individual about to find a comfortable fit in the world.

The expectations, or assumptions, of others can weigh a young person down and sit like a backpack, heavy on their shoulders -- sometimes invisible to them.

As we progress in life, expectations of others threaten to influence us even more -- other family members, our teachers, our friends and last but not least, our sweethearts.  Unfortunately, in cases similar to mine, we spend a large portion of our time half apologizing for the direction our lives have taken.  Those ideas about us are not ours, but we tend to hold on to them as though they are.

To young people today, I say "be conscious of what others ask of you, but follow your instincts (your heart) and your dreams."  Others' lack of approval can condition passion and impede ultimate accomplishment.

We must understand too, that those who celebrate only fractions of us do not really have our best interests at heart.  Those who ask us to take on their needs are not our allies and in meeting their demands and repressing our own, we are misplacing our own values.

In the end, we are alone to answer to and for ourselves.  Be proud of having done it your way!

Reinforcement through the horoscope

My conversation with "an old friend" (yesterday's post, below) was, of course, a figment of my imagination, exercising creative writer's licence as a means of conveying a message -- the need for compassion and kindness in our lives.

I do not place stock in horoscopes, but for sheer entertainment value I do include one in particular with my regular morning reading over coffee.  In view of yesterday's "conversation" and other things running through my mind lately, I was especially amused by the timeliness of this morning's horoscope reading for me.

"...rise above it with a smile.  Be nice to whoever is being nice to you.  Be nicer still to anyone who is not being so nice to you.  Be kind but not a pushover, a victim or a martyr.  Give yourself permission to be happy.  All else you need, you have..."

First my old friend, and now the horoscope.  It doesn't take much for me to enjoy coincidence.

25 November, 2011

TODAY'S CONVERSATION...

I have a very special old friend who I do not talk to as often as I should.  This morning, I called on him for a few minutes.

"Sorry," I said, "I've really been busy, but I think about you a lot.  You've always been like a father to me"

Old friend:  "That's okay, son.  You know where to find me when you feel like having a chat."

Me:  "Yes, I know, and I've always appreciated that fact.  But please forgive me just the same.  You have given me so much over the years and I never seem to be able to thank you adequately enough."

Old friend:  "You know what?  I haven't done any more for you than I would have for anyone else.  But, if you want to repay me in some way, you can be a little more sensitive to the needs of others.  Show compassion and forgive those who may have harmed you in one way or another.  I've always had a fondness for those who radiate mercy and love in their lives."

Me:  "Well, rest assured, I will take that reminder to heart...I promise.  Everything that I do from here on in, I will do in your name."

Old friend:  "Good deal, then!  Bless you for that...And next time, don't take so long to check in with me.  I'm not going anywhere, you know that."

Me:  "Amen to that!"

*NOTE:  I've known my old friend all my life.  My parents originally introduced me to Him.  I sometimes refer to Him as "God".  He has a down-to-earth son by the name of "Jesus".  Perhaps you know Him too.

23 November, 2011

TODAY'S CONVERSATION....

What follows is not the result of a conversation.  It is, however, the result of appreciating the words of Rev. Keith Reynolds, a periodic contributor to The Saugeen Times.  I have had differences of opinion and philosophy with this young minister of the Word and Sacrament, but on this occasion I felt that his comments were worthy of Wrights Lane inclusion.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"I believe in kindness,” June Callwood said in her last interview before she died.  This woman often referred to as “Canada’s conscience” gave a great deal in her lifetime.  Kindness was the benchmark for her.  It summoned her and summed up how she oriented herself toward others.
The late June Callwood:
Canadian author, social
justice activist.  A moral
universe founded on small
acts of kindness, inspired
her.
"In this age of Internet news, e-mail, texting, Facebook, Twitter, blogs and other forms of instant communication, kindness can get lost in cyberspace.  The typed word can be detached, distant and disembodied from an encounter with another person.  We can write something, and write someone off at the same time, even whole groups of people.  It’s just an article, only a tweet or simply an e-mail, we might say.  That is true.  And yet the impact of what we communicate has a potentially larger audience than ever before.  Words matter.

"June Callwood was someone who had her fair share of criticism and confrontation come her way.  She was also someone who did not back away from an opportunity to stand her ground.   Beneath it all, and through it all, she believed in kindness.

"What we believe matters.  What we do not believe matters too.  The growing challenge in a time which can polarize us is to allow kindness to be our compass and guide. I am reading Mary Jo Leddy’s new book called, The Other Face of God.  She has spent the last 20 years living with a number of people in a place called Romero House.  She lives in a house in the west end of Toronto with people who come to Canada as refugees.  Mary Jo writes beautifully about the names and faces of people who began as strangers and then summoned her to a new way of seeing and living in the world.  The subtitle to her book is 'when the stranger calls us home.'

"These people were not just refugees from Somalia, Eritrea, Sri Lanka, Colombia, Guatemala and elsewhere.  They have a name, a history, a story and a face.  It is difficult to stereotype when you listen to the complex story of someone’s life.

"Mary Jo Leddy and June Callwood were friends.  It doesn’t surprise me.  Kindness toward others and a summons from someone who is different from us, both offer a hopeful ground to stand on.  The ground may be rocky and uneven at times.  But take a look around at the landscape of your area – what makes it beautiful is that it doesn’t all look the same."


TODAY'S CONVERSATION...

I talked to a chap yesterday who has been out of work for more than a year due to a back injury.  He has recovered sufficiently to go back to work, but heavy lifting is now out of the question and he is looking to business management as a possible new career direction.

"I took a 12-month re-training course and hope that will eventually leads to something," he explained.  "Things are pretty slow right now and I'm working on a plan that may, or may not, bring results."

"What do you mean by 'may or may not'?" I asked.

"Well, it's a bit risky," he answered.  Without knowing the details of his plan and the risk involved, I suggested that he had nothing to lose in going ahead with his ideas.  Give it a good effort!

"You're absolutely right.  I've come this far and I owe it to myself and my family to give it a try, I guess," he added.

We ended our conversation with my wishing him good luck, but I should have given him a little more encouragement by way of reminding him that effort is never wasted,  Even if his plan does not work out, he will come away with the satisfaction of knowing that he is capable of trying.  Often the result we think we desire is not quite the one that we truly need.  He may have to go back to the plan drawing board another time or two before a good job fit comes along for him...He just has to keep on trying.

Hopefully, I won't have to tell him that next time I see him.

22 November, 2011

TODAY'S CONVERSATION (continued)

I was talking to a neighbor about the difficulty of maintaining diets and all the advice we are exposed to in the media (television, newspapers, magazines).  "Moderation is a much easier thing to preach than to practice," she allowed and I wholeheartedly agreed.

In retrospect, isn't it true however that moderation is the quality that we all should aspire to if we are to avoid making mistakes in life?  Think of how well-advised we would have been in the past if only we had settled for a little less.

21 November, 2011

TODAY'S CONVERSATION...

As a matter of routine, I do not always have the necessary time, energy or inspiration to write (in my mind) entertaining, thought-provoking items for this site.  I think, however, that I am capable of committing to a fairly regular and new "Today's Conversation"  lead into Wrights Lane.  I'll give it a try for a while.

I talk to strangers in strange places and I converse with some pretty interesting people on a variety of subjects.  Sometimes people are controversial, sometimes they are profound, other times they espouse personal convictions or pass on tidbits of wisdom; and best of all, a sense of humor that can make your day.  I always appreciate conversations that leave me thinking for a while.  Certainly, if any readers want to share "conversations" that they have had, by all means pass them on to me for posting in this new slot.

Today's introductory "conversation" is not earth-shattering by any means, but it left me replaying it in my mind for some time after -- and with an inclination to read between the lines.  My mind tends to work that way.


I was exiting the local Foodland store this evening when I noticed a man, perhaps in his early 50s, reading a text message in the illumination of his car's headlights.  As he closed his phone, I asked:  "A message from home adding to your shopping list?" 


"No!" he exclaimed with a satisfied smile on his face.  "As a matter of fact, it was a message from the Philippines thanking me for a gift I had sent."


"When you stop to think about it, it really is a small world today, especially when it comes to communications," I offered.


"You are exactly right," he replied.  "It is great!  I could go on and on about that, but I won't." 


As I loaded groceries into the back seat of my car, I thought:  "I'll bet he could!"  Something just seemed to tell me...

19 November, 2011

REFLECTIONS: ANOTHER "DOOR" TO THE PAST

MY FAMILY HOME in Dresden from a water colour painting collection.  Note the two front door entrances.  Also one of the original front door keys, inserted. 
I have been looking at some old photos of homes built in the 18th and 19th centuries.  Many of them bear remarkable similarity to the Dresden, ON home that I grew up in (built by my grandfather Wesley Wright in 1879).

The homes had one particular, striking thing in common -- two front entrances.  I have always wondered about the practicality of dual entrances, but given the formality and conditions of the era, it does make some sense.

The one front door, usually slightly recessed, opened into the "keeping room", where the family kept house.  The area usually contained a large fireplace or wood-burning stove for cooking, a pantry, and of course table and chairs for regular family meals and relaxing.  At the turn of the century, fire-burning fixtures were slowly replaced by gas-burning stoves in pantry areas that were expanded into full-fledged kitchens, completed by the advent of electrical refrigerators to replace the former ice boxes.

Family members and close friends were generally the only ones to use the keeping entrance.  The other front door would lead into the living room or front parlor, which were generally used for special occasions.  Our formal front entrance in Dresden opened into a small vestibule which led to a second floor stairway and the front parlor.  Special guests and strangers just naturally gravitated to this door.

It was not uncommon too in those days that deceased family members would lay at rest in front parlors for visitors to pay their respects before removal for the actual funeral service itself and interment.  The formal front entrance allowed for easy casket negotiation and placement with minimal disturbance for the family.  In my case, two sets of grandparents and my father lay at rest in what we called our "front room".  I always had an uncomfortable feeling about that and one of the reasons that I eventually sold the home -- too many memories, adolescent impressions, and ghosts from the past.

There was normally a wall between the two front doors which could, if necessary, be converted into two separate family living quarters.  In our case, after my father passed away, the formal front door conveniently served as a natural private entrance for second-floor apartment renters.

It is interesting to note, too, that some churches of the era also had two front entrances, one for men and the other for women.  It may just be my imagination, but it seems to me that a lot of the older Presbyterian churches were built that way (i.e. churches that I have belonged to in St. Thomas, Simcoe, Prince Albert (Sask.), Brampton and Southampton).  Men and women even sat on opposite sides of the sanctuary in earlier days.  Schools were also built with separate front entrances, one for boys and one for girls.  In the old Dresden Continuation School that I attended, separate entrances and playgrounds for grade school kids were at the back of the building.  The one front main entrance was for high school students with the other for the exclusive use of teachers.

At one time. even hotels and so-called beverage rooms had separate entrances and accommodations for male and female patrons, but I am straying a bit off topic.

During and following the Great Depression, the location of our home on Sydenham Street seemed to attract the attention of transients (tamps, hobos, beggars) of the day.  I remember in particular, one handout solicitation at our "keeping" door.  It just happened to be at supper time on a hot summer evening and my mother, who always prepared more than enough food for one sitting, invited the bedraggled stranger to have a seat on our front porch.  Within a few minutes she returned with a plate of roast beef, mashed potatoes, carrots and gravy with a slice of apple pie on the side and a glass of lemon aid with which to wash it all down.

In no time at all, our unexpected visitor was knocking on the door with the empty plates and utensils in hand.  "Thank you very much Misses," he said.  "That was as good as if I'd had a full course meal!"

From that time on, I never finished one of my mother's meals without repeating the hobo's left handed compliment.

Awe me -- the past...the thing of which memories are made.


18 November, 2011

STAY MARRIED, SAVE THE ENVIRONMENT

I actually learned something yesterday in the 50 minutes that I spent in a car dealership waiting to have winter snow tires installed on my new Hyundai.  Hidden away on an inside page of a women's magazine (in lieu of Playboy or Esquire) that I happened to pick up, was a story suggesting that if today's society truly cares about preserving the environment, it should wholeheartedly embrace conservative social values.
Thanks for conserving,
you married guys!

What really grabbed my attention was the fact that stable and traditional marriages can, and do, go along way toward conserving this threatened environment of ours. 
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 96.6 million Americans over age 18 are unmarried and 31.7 million Americans (27% of the all households) live alone. Canadian statistics are no doubt similar. This trend towards North Americans living alone or out of wedlock is rapidly accelerating — and it is destroying the environment.
A stable married couple lives in a single home, has only one set of utilities, illuminates the home with a single lighting system, and economizes on overhead in many other ways. Adults who live alone or in unstable relationships dramatically increase the need for dwelling space, electrical power, heating and cooling systems, streets and city maintenance systems, and also cars on those city streets.
Moreover, in traditional marriages which reach a level of economic affluence, it is more likely that at some stage only one member of the family needs to work, reducing traffic congestion and a myriad of  environmental problems of a large and commuting metropolitan population. If Americans and Canadians married and stayed married, the impact on all those problems would dramatically diminish, the article suggested.
By the same logic then, society would do well to embrace gay marriage-- due to this new-found potential  for vast environmental benefits.  There you go, guys and gals of same-sex preference.  More ammo for you!  Together we conserve, divided we, well...continue to sleep in the same bed any way.


Let conscience be the guide for all of us!

17 November, 2011

ROSANNE, THE "FASHIONISTA", STRIKES AGAIN

We were laying in bed the other morning, groggily discussing what we were going to have for breakfast.

"O no," I interjected.  "We are out of cream!"

"Isn't that wonderful," Rosanne responded sarcastically.  "I'm a fashionista (?) and I absolutely have to have cream in my coffee."

"Fashionista?  What do you mean?  I hastened to ask.

"I have no idea," came the reply.

Chalk up another Rosanneism!

15 November, 2011

WHAT THE SAM HILL? HE'S PECK'S BAD BOY AND HE HAS MORE NERVE THAN A CANAL HORSE, BEFORE LONG HE WILL GO TO THE DOGS

What is the significance of this photo?  Just read on and you'll see! 
I often think that I would be unable to express myself, were it not for expressions.  Unfortunately, however, when I work expressions into conversations today, young people in particular look at me as if I was from outer space.

Many of  the expressions I use come from a Perry side of my family that never heard an expression it did not like.  I am privy to the origination of many of the expressions that come from within the family circle, others are pretty much self-explanatory, but still others have remained a mystery to me over the years, i.e.:

  • What the Sam Hill?
  • More nerve than a canal horse.
  • It's the wreck of the Hesperus.
  • By the skin of my teeth.
  • Dead as a door nail.
  • Peck's bad boy.
  • Going to the dogs. 
  • Scarce as hens' teeth.
  • ...to list but a few.

A little research recently cleared up some of the mystery for me and it turned out to be a rather interesting and surprising exercise.

"He's Peck's bad boy!" always means that some poor young fellow behaves poorly, or frequently gets into trouble.  But where does that expression come from?

My Grandmother Perry's maiden name was "Peck" and I always thought that  "bad boy" was possibly a reference to one of her male relatives.  Come to find out, "Peck's Bad Boy" was the fictional star of newspaper stories and books created by George W. Peck in the late 1800s. (Peck wrote the stories, hence the naughty character became known as Peck's Bad Boy.) In the stories, Hennery (or Henry) Peck was a mischievous lad who loved to play sneaky pranks on others, especially his father, for the sheer pleasure of creating mayhem. The stories were a huge hit in their era, and the name Peck's Bad Boy became a popular term for any incorrigible rule-breaker. George Peck collected his stories into several books, most notably Peck's Bad Boy and His Pa (1883).  Peck's Bad Boy was played by George M. Cohan in an 1891 stage adaptation of the stories. He was played in a 1921 silent film by Jackie Coogan (who the same year co-starred with Charlie Chaplin in The Kid and later was Uncle Fester on the TV sitcom The Addams Family) and in a 1934 'talkie' by a later child star, Jackie Cooper.

The expressions "Sam Hill " or "What the Sam Hill?" was born in the early 19th Century at a time when it was considered vulgar and improper to use profanity in civilized conversation.  This included the word "hell".

One theory is that the expression was the result of altering the word "hell", using "hill" instead.  Use of the name "Sam" is believed to have been derived from Samuel, the devil in Von Weber's opera Der Frieshuatz, first performed in New York in 1825.  Putting those two words together, listeners were able to realize that the speaker was referring to hell.

There is another twist to this expression that has possibility.  Col. Sam Hill was a real life character who ran for political office in New England many times in the 1800s, but never succeeded.  The term "run like Sam Hill" came from this.  It was synonymous to "hell", as in "Give 'em Sam Hill!" = "Give 'em hell!"


"Nerve of a canal horse":  I've heard of quarter horses, race horses, farm horses, light horses, paint horses, gaited horses, draft horses and standard bred horses but what is a "canal horse"?  Well, the noble horse, as so often seen throughout history, was an integral part and a key player in the inland canal system built to criss-cross England in 1760 and lasting well into the 1960s.  Horses would be harnessed up to long "narrowboats" and barges (see photo above) to transport tonnes of coal, steel and cloth along the canals and rivers, often working up to 16 hours a day.  Many of the pathways that the horses followed were dangerously close to the water's edge.  Donkeys and mules had difficulty and often balked on the narrow paths, but horses dutifully and steadily plodded their way along, hence "the nerve of a  canal horse".

"The skin of my teeth":  I can't count the number of times that I have used this one, never realizing it had its roots in the Hebrew language, first appearing in the Geneva Bible (1560).  In Job 19:20 it reads:  "My bone cleaveth to my skin and to my flesh, and I am escaped with the skin of my teeth."   This was a change from an earlier translation by Miles Coverdale (1535) reading: "My bone hangeth to my skin, and the flesh is away, only there is left me the skin about my teeth."

Obviously we have no skin on our teeth, but Job is actually referring to his gums, the "skin" around his teeth.  That expression has evolved in meaning and has come to mean narrowly escaping a situation by the thinnest margin.  What can be thinner than the non-existent "skin of our teeth"?


"Dead as a door nail", meaning devoid of life, has it roots in literature and is one of the oldest of the expressions.  The earliest recorded use of the phrase was a 1350  reference in print:  "For but ich haue bote mi bale I am ded as a dorenail."   William Shakespeare also used the expression in his King Henry VI, written in 1592.

"Wreck of the Hesperus" is a prototypical, pure 19th century poem written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow where a sailor takes his little daughter out for a boat ride and they wind up in a hurricane.  The poem was not by any means Longfellow's best work and is mostly forgotten now, but lives on as a widely used phrase representing a disastrous wreckage i.e. "I feel like the wreck of the Hesperus!" or "That looks like the wreck of the Hesperus!"

"Going to the dogs" is a class oriented expression meaning someone who is down on their luck or hopelessly slipping from  social graces, i.e. "He is going to the dogs!"  The phrase is also often used to describe deterioration.  For example:  "I used to enjoy shopping in that store, but now it is "going to the dogs".  The literal meaning is of giving food that was not fit for human consumption to dogs.  In the 18th and 19th century England, as now, horse meat fell into the unacceptable category and it was the old and worn out horses that were most likely to be sent "to the dogs".

"Scarce as hens' teeth":  Did you ever see a hen with teeth?  No explanation necessary, but I throw this one in with the others because it always tickles my imagination.

14 November, 2011

A LAMENT FOR WOOD-BURNING COOK STOVES

In a recent Wrights Lane post I talked about the old ceiling and floor grates that used to allow heat to circulate from one level of a home to another.  Then in a virtual history group exchange this weekend, I talked about an old stove pipe damper factory that I used to visit as a young lad in my home town.


This all got me thinking fondly about the cast iron wood burning cooking stoves of yesteryear.  Only a handful of my readers will have had experience with wood stoves and I thought that I would pass on some personal reminiscences of a period that now has a certain romance about it.


When I was born in the 1930s, old iron cook stoves were still providing heat, hot water and cooked meals in many homes. As a matter of fact, when I was first married in 1960, my wife's grand parents in Durham Bridge, New Brunswick, were still using a wood-burning cook stove.  

Take a long look at the cook stove in the above photo as an example.  It could generate enough heat to blast you out of the house.  There were holes in the ceiling, covered with grating, for the warm air to rise to the bedrooms above. Getting up on a cold morning, you stood over the grating while you dressed, or ran downstairs with your clothes to dress by the cook stove. 


It was a chore to keep the stove burning, and usually the fire was not allowed to die out, even at night the hot coals were banked so that they would last until morning. Chopping firewood and kindling was a daily chore. It was a balancing act to light the fire and then to keep it going -- kindling and then wood chunks, while getting just enough air through to get the flames to spread, not so much that it blew out the fire.


Stove pipe damper similar to those
manufactured in my hometown.
Some of us will also remember the blessings of the old cook stove. If we were lucky, there was a damper on the stovepipe to regulate the flow of air. By regulating the flow of air and the amount of fuel, a person could regulate the temperature of the ovens. Different places on the stove’s surface were different temperatures too, so water or coffee could be kept always hot but not boiling on the back of the stove. The cook moved pots and pans around on the cook stove top to cook at different temperatures. 


The lid lifter was inserted into the slot of the various lids on the cook stove top. With the lifter, a person could lift a lid to add wood or blow on the fire, or good old gram or auntie may choose to remove a lid to put a pot over the hold directly above the flames to get it extra hot. From my own experience, pancakes and popcorn tasted better cooked on a wood stove then they ever have since. Same thing with good old bacon and eggs. Even bread was toasted perfectly on the oven.  Let's not forget those mouth-watering home made pies made from apples, cherries and mulberies picked an hour earlier from trees in the back yard.


And when your feet were wet and you were damp and cold, what comfort it was to sit before the open oven, with your feet on the door to warm up!  Ah, the good old days...gone but not completely forgotten.

12 November, 2011

JULY 11, 1939: HISTORIC NIGHT A SPECTACULAR METEORITE DROPPED ON A DRESDEN AREA FARM

My hometown of Dresden is noted for more than just Uncle Tom's Cabin, championship baseball and hockey teams, its popular raceway and casino -- and pretty girls.  It is the site of a spectacular meteorite drop some 72 years ago.  This will not come as news to most of my older Dresden readers, but it will be news for many other followers of Wrights Lane.

Information for this post comes from various news sources, including an article written by Howard Plotkin in The Journal of Astronomical Society of Canada.  Plotkin is a University of Western Ontario Professor of Philosophy with more than a passing interest in meteorites. He was the organizer of an exhaustive search in 2002 and 2003 which, after so many years, successfully rounded up previously unknown fragments of the Dresden "fire ball".  Here is the amazing story:
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Luke Smith (right) and farmer friend Marshall McFadden admire the Dresden meteorite resting between then on a porch step.  Later that day, Smith persuaded the original finder, Dan Salomon, to sell him the space rock for a paltry $4.00.
A spectacular fireball roared across the sky in southwestern Ontario as dusk fell on the night of July 11, 1939 and was seen by thousands of persons there and in Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, and even as far away as Pennsylvania.  The fireball underwent three explosions, and ended up dropping a 40-kg (88.25 lbs.) meteorite in the sugar-beet field of Dan Solomon, about 10 km southwest of Dresden, as well as several small fragments in nearby fields.

The meteorite, known officially as the Dresden (ON) Meteorite was high in nickel and iron content with many other properties and classified as H6 Chondite.  It remains the second largest individual meteorite to ever fall in Ontario and the fourth largest from all of Canada.  Through an interesting route, it ended up at the University of Western Ontario (UWO) and was put on display in the Biology and Geology Building.

The first recovered fragment of the Dresden meteorite was a small piece reported to weigh about 1 lb (454 g) dug out of the ground by Bruce Cumming on his sugar-beet farm, about two km south of Solomon’s farm.  Cumming reported (Chatham Daily News, July 12, 1939) that he and his family were attracted outdoors when the entire countryside was lit up by the glare of the falling meteor. He reported hearing a roar "like thunder" when it seemed to pass directly overhead, then "a strange noise like the staccato firing of a machine gun, or the sputtering of an airplane engine," and then a "dull thud", as the meteorite hit the ground about 100 metres from his house.
This fragment of the Dresden
meteorite was found in a Grand
Bend flea market in 1993.

The family quickly formed a search party, and headed out in the direction the noise seemed to have come from. Their dog Shep accompanied them and led them directly to the spot where the meteorite had landed and buried itself to the level of the dirt and mashed one or two small sugar beets to a pulp.

The main mass of the meteorite landed in Solomon’s field, only 200 metres from where his wife Hazel was standing with their children.  Her description of the event clearly reveals how terrifying it was for her:  "My little girl, two years old, saw it first, coming out of the northern sky. I was weeding in my garden at the time.  When I first looked up it was about the size of a baseball.  It kept getting bigger and bigger until it was about the size of a bushel basket. I started to run toward the field at the back of the house. I was too scared to know what I was doing. When it got directly over me it stopped and made a noise just like a big rotten egg being broken -- a sort of hollow plop. The thing shot off toward the west. Just at the same instant or maybe a second afterward, I heard a terrible noise in the field right ahead of me. It sounded like a big airplane tearing along the field. That scared me worse than ever and I turned and ran back toward the house. My four children were with me. My husband returned from Dresden a few minutes later, but I wouldn’t let him go to the field until the following morning."
Dan Solomon up to his chest
in the meteorite hole.

On the morning of July 12, Dan Solomon set to work to retrieve the main mass of the meteorite. He found that it had made a hole 30 cm by 45 cm.  Dirt was piled up all around the hole and chunks of earth were thrown 13 metres away. He enlarged the hole and began digging.  At about two metres, the top of the meteorite became visible. His children looked on with fascination, as did a crowd of interested neighbours, including Charles "Chuck" Ross, then  a young editor of the Dresden News, who had raced to the scene. Ross helped Solomon hook a chain around the meteorite, and with neighbours’ help they were able to extricate it from its hole.

Later that day, Henry Lozon reported he had recovered a fragment weighing about 5 lbs (2270 g) 80 metres from his house, and it was rumoured that two other nearby neighbours, A.V. Scott and George Highgate, had also dug up fragments of the meteorite on their farms.  According to a report in the Globe and Mail ( July 13, 1939), they "were awaiting offers" for their specimens.

Solomon didn’t have long to wait for an offer for his 88.25-lb (40.07-kg) meteorite. Luke Smith, a former Chatham dentist turned oil and gas prospector,  and his friend Marshall McFadden, saw the meteorite as it was being cleaned and
quickly paid Solomon a visit. Smith decided (Toronto Daily Star, July 13, 1939) he wanted to purchase the meteorite: "I thought an oil man should not miss a chance to get that close to heaven.  Besides, it’s a nice relic." According to one story, he was told that someone had already offered Solomon $3.00 for the "souvenir", so he raised the ante to $4.00.
Beth Ross, sister of Dresden
newspaper editor Charles Ross,
in the process of cleaning the
Solomon farm meteorite.

Solomon’s son Wilfred later said that Smith and McFadden pestered his dad incessantly to sell the meteorite. Solomon, by all accounts a very gentle, soft-spoken man, gave in to this pressure, and agreed to sell it to Smith for $4.00. But within a very short time, Solomon began to realize how terrible a deal he had made.  A desperate plea to retrieve the prized specimen from Smith was to no avail, however.

Many in the area at the time protested that Smith had taken unfair advantage of Soloman, but he held fast claiming that a deal is a deal and "the law of supply and demand held good, even for meteorites."  He subsequently refused a number of offers to purchase (including universities in the U.S. and the Smithsonian Institution) in the $200.00 range, holding out for his price of $800.00 to $1,000.00.

Newspaper accounts about the meteorite appeared daily.  So did hordes of motorists, some from as far away as Ohio, who lined the concession road in front of Solomon’s farm for days on end, eager to see the meteorite. Although they were disappointed to find out that it was no longer there, many helped themselves to small chips of the meteorite that had splattered off when it plowed into the ground, or had been rubbed off it by the chain used in its excavation. Wilfred Solomon remembers selling small chips to  passing motorists for a few pennies each.  Many of the tourists were from the U.S., prompting one newspaper (London Free Press, July 22, 1939) to wryly note: "...American tourists have gone home with a large number of fragments from the recent spectacular meteor. This addition to Canada's tourist income will never be known, probably."
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On the lighter side:  Dresden Virtual History Group contributor Frank Vink, recalls with humour that his father, whom he expected watched too many Flash Gordon movies, was sure that the meteorite was an invading "rocket from China".  His grandmother even got her rosary out, convinced that it was "the end".


"A piece (of the meteorite) landed in the field of a neighbor on the Prince Albert Side Road in the 13th Concession of Chatham Township.  When the neighbor retrieved the remnant, he put it into his flower garden," Frank adds.
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In early October, it was announced in the London Free Press, (Oct. 7, 1939) that the meteorite had "been purchased outright and now is in the possession of the University of Western Ontario."  Although the price was not given, the newspaper article read: "The purchase of the famous fireball was made possible through the kind offices of the directors of the London Life Insurance Company."

Through the efforts of Don Spanner, the London Life Archivist, UWO author Howard  Plotkin found out that its Board of Directors contributed $700.00 to the university to buy the meteorite from Smith. London Life's gift was motivated in large part by E.E. Reid, Managing Director, who was also a member of the University’s Board of Governors.  Reid stipulated he wanted the meteorite displayed in the new observatory soon to be erected on the campus, a gift from the estate of actor Hume Cronyn. In 1970 the meteorite was moved from the Observatory (a plaster cast of it remained there), and placed in a glass showcase outside the office of the Department of Geology.

It was not until some 60 years later that members of the late Dan Solomon's family were honored by the University of Western Ontario for their father's historic discovery and the innocent, ill-advised deal that saw him give away the Dresden meteorite to the shrewd opportunist, Luke Smith.  (See photo)

Two sons and a daughter of the late Dan Solomon attended a tribute evening for their father, hosted by the University of Western Ontario. A fragment of the meteorite that landed on the Solomon farm in 1939 was presented to the family along with a plaque commemorating the occasion.