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

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."
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
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.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 

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.

11 November, 2011

Small town Ontario remembers...

Color Party leads the way to the Cenotaph in Southampton. Remembrance day, 2011.

The best quote that I've heard in a long time:

"People always say 'Motivation is great but it doesn't last.' I just tell them, bathing does not last either, that is why I recommend it daily."  -- Zig Ziglar

10 November, 2011

WHEN IS IT A MISTAKE TO POINT OUT A MISTAKE?


Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new. (Albert Einstein)

I am a left-handed dyslexic.  Can it get any worse than that?

Answer:  Yes it can, especially when you live in a world that aspires to, and expects, perfection -- in others.

Souls like me have to be philosophical about the mistakes we make.  I have a perhaps unusual view of perfection.  I strive for it, but never quite attain it.  I accept the fact that I am prone to making mistakes and leave myself wide open to that potential every time I sit down to write something, which is numerous times in a day, or tackle any kind of job that requires manual dexterity.

If I was afraid of making a mistake, I doubt if I would ever undertake anything in life.  It does not take much for me to have pride in both authorship and  workmanship.  The fact that I have totally applied myself to a task, doing my level best, overrides any warts or wrinkles that may ultimately surface in my work.

I have no trouble living with imperfection, in fact to me it is a fact of life.  Little flaws do not trouble me as long as they are easily overlooked or patched up and do no harm in the overall scheme of things.  It is not the same with some people who can pick out a flaw a mile away and have no qualms about drawing it to your attention.

It often comes back to bite me you-know-where, but I am inclined to overlook the mistakes of others because I know how easy it is to slip up or to make an unconscious error.  It has to be a major faux pas, generally one that is personally disadvantageous, for me to react unfavorably.  If I am privy to a mistake that is a harmless one that does not necessarily alter the course of my world, I will let it pass.

While I do not go around looking for the mistakes of others, I also do not issue open invitations for others to point out errors that I may have made.  I am of a rather sensitive nature and easily embarrassed and frustrated when errors are brought to my attention and I always appreciate a kind, constructive, cushioning approach when someone does deem it necessary to correct me.  To have mistakes pointed out just for the sake of pointing them out, is an affront that more often than not is simply annoying.  I am sure that most people look at it that way.

Why then, are there those who feel compelled to point out the mistakes of others?  I am of the opinion that there are a number of reasons:

  • They may think that they are being helpful, interesting or impressive by pointing out some one's mistake. They're not considering that the correction may not be welcomed nor appropriate at that time.
  • They may have a mentality where it just feels 'wrong' to let a mistake slide. They may feel they just have to say something, and get a sense that they're restoring balance to the universe by sharing the Truth with others.
  • Some people may get a little ego boost from being knowledgeable, knowing more than someone else, and getting to show it.
  • Some people may correct others out of a sense of intellectual competitiveness. By pointing out some one's mistake they feel 'one up' over them.


It is interesting to note that the Muslim religion places emphasis on the issues and considerations to be made before and when dealing with and correcting the mistakes of others, i.e.: "When correcting the mistakes of others, it is essential that one's intentions be to earn the pleasure of Allah, not to demonstrate superiority or to vent one's anger or to impress others." 

There is a message there for all of us.

09 November, 2011

A TRIBUTE TO CHURCH LADIES PAST AND PRESENT

I have received a special request to re-produce one of my earliest posts on Wrights Lane.  "The Church Ladies" was/is one of my favorite subjects, but unfortunately Google inadvertently wiped it out of my archives along with 33 other posts, about three years ago.  I wanted to use "The Church Ladies" item in my book Wrights Lane...Come On In and ended up having to rewrite the story from memory.  Here is the re-worked version, with the addition of a few photographs  from the 1950-70 period that will suitably compliment the story. 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
My mother Grace, seated, with IODE friends (from the left) Betty Spearman, Dorothy Rigsby and Isabele Wismer at an IODE meeting in London.  Circa 1970s.

I have fond memories of my early exposure to  the wonderful work of "women of the church".  Regardless of denomination, the faithfulness and commitment of women's organizations have, without question, been the life blood of all communities and their churches across our nation.

At a very early age, I came to realize what women of the church really stood for, be they auxiliaries, societies, ladies aid or missionary groups.  The Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire (IODE) was an all-inclusive group in my hometown of Dresden, bringing together women from all churches, and continues as well to have a special place in my heart to this day.

In the early 1940s, I remember very clearly being relegated to my upstairs bedroom on evenings when my mother hosted church group meetings and gatherings of the IODE.  I would curl up on the floor with my ear cupped to the metal grate that allowed warm air from downstairs to circulate to the unheated upper floor level.  I would listen to what was transpiring in the parlour and living room below -- the prayers, God Save the Queen, hymns, committee reports, updates on care packages and those coarse woolen khaki socks and mitts so lovingly knit by the ladies for the troops ("our boys") overseas in World War Two.  Of course, there would always be at least one fund-raising program on the agenda to help bolster organization and church coffers.

I was able to put a face to every voice that came up through that dusty grate and I was fascinated by what was being said and who was saying it:  Several school teachers, the banker's wife, a nurse, my Aunt Hattie, several of my best friends' mothers, a druggist's wife, a farm lady who delivered eggs to us every Thursday, a choir leader with her unmistakable laugh, a minister's wife with her quiet voice of reason, occasionally my mother -- the collective face and voice of mission and outreach in churches and communities small and large, around the globe.

Looking back now, maybe I was hard-pressed for entertainment.  Maybe I was just curious -- maybe a combination of the two.  Remember that there were no televisions, i-pads, computers or cell phones in kids' bedrooms in those day.  Certainly, it was a different era and I am glad that I was brought up in it.  At that impressionable age I came to understand how the efforts of a small group of women in small-town Southwestern Ontario, could have such a far-reaching impact.

With the impression of the grate well embedded in my cheek, I would generally drift off to sleep just as tea cups began to tinkle amidst the soft din of female conversation at the conclusion of the business portion of the meetings.  All was right with my world.  I could depend that there would be leftover peanut butter cookies and at least one date square put aside for me next day, several of the ladies would always see to it.  I was warm and secure.  God was in Heaven and "The Church Lades" had everything under control.

Fond memories all, and an appreciation for the work that church women and organizations like the IODE have continued over the decades with much dedication and little fanfare.  I dare say that there are no inquisitive little boys eavesdropping on meetings these days, but it goes without saying that God has an ear to His Heavenly "grate" and He blesses all church women for what He is hearing.

IODE members always had a special birthday gift for seniors in Dresden area nursing homes.  Accompanying my mother for this presentation was IODE member Doris Dusten (right).



07 November, 2011

LET'S BE COGNIZANT OF TRUE FRIENDSHIP

In an age where liberties are taken with almost everything, I resist the misguided impulse to apologize for being a literalist in interpretation and use of the word "friend".

Someone once said: "Friendship is always a sweet responsibility, never an opportunity."  The world is full of people who claim to know other people, to in fact be their friend, yet it is debatable how much they really know one another.  It is my opinion that we have cheapened the true meaning of friendship by applying it so easily and loosely, regardless of motivation.

I am thinking, in particular, about the popular social networks of today where a good majority of people requesting "friendship" are doing so primarily to build massive lists of "friends" for the purpose of subtly marketing something (special interests, products, services).

Of course, ego and the satisfaction in building up long lists of so-called friends (or followers), enters into the equation too; but that's a totally different story.

Personally, I have confined my small list of friends on Facebook to those I truly know and care about.  Most have joined me on Facebook because the feeling is mutual.  We share a commonality of interest that I truly respect.

Be honest now -- how often do we misuse or misapply the word "friend"?   We call remote acquaintances friends (even those we have never met, in some cases) and it is only when we understand that they care very little for us, that we begin to wonder whether we have given them the title too freely.  Who is kidding who, you might ask?   Is there a difference between a "good friend" and someone simply labelled a "friend"?

Who is really looking out for your best interests in life?  Who is sticking with you through thick and thin?  Who will be there for you in times of need?  That is the person you should feel proud to call your "friend" in every sense of the word. That person more often than not would be your life's companion, to my way of thinking.

Opportunity finds its way into everything in life but it is misleading when it takes the misinterpreted form of "friendship".  Facebook, especially, has to come up with a more apt catch-all term for network connections.

06 November, 2011

MY DAD KEN "CLIPPED" DETROIT GANGSTERS IN THE 1920s AND WAS WELL PAID FOR IT TOO

The Detroit River, representing the border between Ontario and the United States, has always been one of the busiest waterways in the world, with freighters bringing iron ore from Michigan's Upper Peninsula to the bustling automobile factories of the Motor City. Timber barges from northern Michigan and Wisconsin pass through the narrow waterway which separates Windsor and Detroit, Michigan en route to Lake Erie and the East Coast and hordes of recreational boaters and weekend fishermen use the river for their pleasure.  In the winter, traffic on the narrow flow (less than a mile across in some places) comes to a halt as the river freezes over.

During Prohibition, rum runners and bootleggers used the frozen river as an easy way to get booze from Canada into the United States. From Detroit, liquor went to Chicago (where Al Capone sold it under his "Log Cabin" label), St. Louis, and points west.  It was a well-known fact that if you were bringing a load of hooch across the Detroit River that you had better show up armed to the teeth. There was no denying that in the 1920s, Detroit belonged to the Purple Gang, a group of killers and thugs as vicious and bloodthirsty as any racketeer in New York or Chicago.

The "Purples" ran the rackets in Detroit for much of the 1920s and early 30s until the Syndicate boys from back east moved in and wrested control from a gang that had seen its numbers decimated by infighting and prosecution. Detroit may not have been New York, but make no mistake: the Purple Gang was tough. They were strong enough to tell Capone to keep his mitts off eastern Michigan and managed to hold on to control of most of the state when Scarface was at his peak. Capone coveted Detroit, with its huge number of hardworking, hard-drinking laborers, but wisely decided it was better to buy booze from the Purple Gang than to fight them.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

There's no story like an old story, but what good are stories of any kind if they are not shared.  I honestly think that there is only one thing better than an old story and that's two old stories.

Here are a couple of favorite oldies that involve my father Ken in the swinging and notoriously raucous era of the 1920s.

On completing his apprenticeship in barbering in the early '20s, Ken packed his bags and left his widowed mother and the quiet, close-knit community of Dresden in favor of the bright lights of Detroit, where he had secured a job as one of four barbers at the newly-built Detroiter Hotel.  It would be the beginning of a whole new world for the laid-back, God-fearing, young writer of poetry who had hardly ever been beyond the limits of rural Kent County in all his 23 years.
The Detroiter Hotel was renamed The La Salle shortly after four murders in 1930.

The first couple of months at the Detroiter were relatively uneventful for the young Dresden barber and he quickly became comfortable in his new big city surroundings.  He was taken aback, however, when he began to notice that many of his new customers were wearing shoulder pistol harnesses under their suit coats.  No one had told him that the infamous Purple Gang had adopted the Detroiter as their headquarters shortly after its opening in 1926.

Ken did not have to be told what was good for him...The message was loud and clear:  Just cut hair and turn a deaf ear to anything that was said.  This was one venue where barbers were not the customary conversationalists. Beyond pleasantries of the day, no questions were ever asked of customers.

The good news in all of this for Ken was that Purple Gang members were very good tippers, often handing over a five-spot for a two-bit haircut and shave.  Before long gang members were waiting for his chair to be empty not only because they liked the way he cut hair but they also knew he was not a "talker" outside of the hotel.  His tips were more than enough to cover living expenses and he was able to bank all of his regular pay cheque each week.


One of Ken's new acquaintances and first customer at the hotel was a chap by the name of Jerry Buckley who was an enormously popular Detroit radio show host considered to be a champion of the common man, and he often crusaded on air against organized crime. Jerry had his studio on the mezzanine of the Detroiter. On July 23, 1930, he was gunned down in the lobby of the hotel. The murder came on the same day that voters opted to recall Mayor Charles Bowles on the grounds that he had done so little in fighting organized crime. Buckley was a vocal critic of Bowles on the air.


The bullets flew shortly after Buckley had finished a broadcast. He walked down the stairs from the mezzanine and was reading a newspaper in a lobby chair when three men entered the hotel. One stood by the door; the other two walked over to Buckley. Witnesses at the time said Buckley seemed to rise in recognition when the two men unloaded 12 shots. Only one bullet missed.

Many thought the killing was the work of none other than the Purple Gang upset by his radio attacks calling for a crackdown on mobsters. Other theories said the killing was politically motivated or the result of his rumored shady dealings in the Detroit underworld. It has since become accepted that Buckley had links to mob bosses and was killed because he was planning on going to the police. About 150,000 people attended his funeral. His murder was never solved, and the hotel carried the stigma of being a violent and shady place overrun by gangsters.

Buckley was not the only person to meet a gruesome end at the hotel around that time. A cigarette girl and manicurist either jumped or was thrown from the roof of the Detoiter, and only one week before Buckley was killed, two drug peddlers were gunned down out front.


My dad always contended that the cigarette girl, who worked beside him as a part-time manicurist, was a little too friendly with her clientele and knew too much for her own good.  There was no question in his mind that she had been encouraged off the hotel's roof.

The gun smoke had barely cleared at the corner of Woodward Avenue and Adelaide Street when he very wisely gave up his lucrative barbering chair at the Detroiter, soon to be renamed the La Salle Hotel.  He had a job waiting for him at Hudson's departmental store where a certain young lady, also from Dresden, worked in the women's hosiery department.  He didn't make as much money barbering at Hudson's, but life was a lot less stressful and considerably more pleasant.

Ken had pretty good dukes too

As a young lad growing up, Ken was interested in the art of self defense, particularly boxing and jujitsu.  He sent away for as much information on martial arts as he could get his hands on and trained on his own.  He formed a small group of equally interested friends in Dresden at one time and eventually trained several boxing prospects in later years, including his son.

His time in Detroit in the 1920s and '30s coincided with a boxing surge in the Motor City.  Jack Dempsey was heavyweight champion in those days and Joe Louis was an up-and-comer.  Ken frequented the Kronk gym in Detroit to watch boxers in training and to workout on the speed and heavy bags when there was an opening.  At five-foot-ten and 165 pounds soaking wet, he had no intentions of ever stepping into the ring competitively.  He had exceptionally long, strong arms for his size though and often performed fetes of strength for admiring customers in the barbershop at The Detroiter.  He often attended Friday night prize fights at the new Olympia, later to be known as Detroit's "Old Red Barn", the home of the city's fabled National Hockey League team, the Red Wings.
Ken, ready to step into the ring?

As a preliminary exhibition feature to the Friday night fights, handlers of a rotund heavyweight known only as "The Killer" would offer anyone from the audience $20.00 if they could last two five-minute rounds with the human beast.  The Killer was reportedly undefeated in his ring career and was prowling the canvas and intimidating onlookers one particular night because there were no takers brave enough to face him for the required two rounds.

Three friends who had accompanied my dad to the Olympia that evening, began to chant "over here, over here" while pushing their unwilling Canadian buddy to ringside.  Finally relenting to the insistence of his friends, Ken parted the ropes and climbed into the ring.

Ring assistants pushed a pair of well-padded boxing gloves on to Ken's outstretched hands and laughingly wished the totally unprepared wisp of a challenger good luck.


Before he knew it, there he was in the centre of the ring staring into the eyes of an expressionless "Killer" chafing at the bit to have his way with another hapless, living-dangerously victim.  Dressed only in his street clothes and with no protection whatsoever, Ken answered the bell by warding off several wild hay maker punches thrown by the Killer. He tried to counter with a few lunging right jabs of his own, but his smooth Oxford clad feet slipped hopelessly on the ring's slick canvas surface.  Two minutes into the round, it was obvious to Ken that if he was to survive the first five minutes, he would have to fall into a defensive mode.  He bobbed, weaved, danced and frequently slipped his way through the next three minutes, much to the frustration of the Killer who could not connect with his elusive target.


Round One ended with the crowd wildly cheering the slight-of-build challenger who was surprisingly unscathed and still standing after five minutes.   Before he returned to his corner, Ken surprised everyone by making his way directly to the opposite side of the ring where he methodically and intentionally stepped into a resin box that was intended for The Killer's use only.


"Hey, what do you think you are doing?" screamed Killer's handlers.  But it was too late, Ken's mission was successful.  He had picked up enough resin on the soles of his Oxfords to give him more secure footing on the canvas.

The bell sounded for the second round and the two pugilists --  one hulking and towering and the other smaller and crouched tentatively -- met at centre ring.  The overly confident Killer's guard was carelessly and momentarily down and Ken, with his feet now planted firmly on the canvas thanks to the resin, lashed out with a stinging left to the nose of his opponent followed by a crushing right to the jaw.

The Killer dropped to one knee, blood spurting profusely from a nose that was flattened all over his face.  A few seconds later and it was game over.  A ringside doctor was unable to stop the bleeding and the round was called off.  Ken's friends stormed the ring, elevating him to their shoulders as the crowd applauded in approval.

When the excitement of the upset finally subsided, Ken was informed that he would not be awarded the promised $20.00 prize because of the medical expense that would be incurred by The Killer in having his nose put back in place.  The Killer's handlers eventually had a change of heart and handed over a $20 bill only after seducing my dad and his friends into promising that they would never again show up at the Olympia with thoughts of taking on The Killer. 


Later that evening when Ken showed up on the doorstep of his soon-to-be in-laws' house, he received the tongue lashing of his life for being so foolish and putting himself at risk.  The bouquet of flowers and box of Saunder's chocolates that he brought along with him did not have the intended impact.  Unimpressed, my mother always had a way of delivering a verbal knockout punch of her own.

I think she would have given The Killer a run for his money too.

02 November, 2011

THE JOBS I'VE HAD, AMONG MANY OTHER THINGS THAT MY BLOGGER PROFILE DOES NOT SHOW

Unlike the past, where I get ideas for Wrights Lane while mowing the lawn, a mixed-bag of thoughts crossed my mind this morning as I was raking up a yard ankle-deep in leaves. The month of October is the only time during the year that I question my fondness of trees.  With every passing fall that fondness wanes just a little more.

A regular daily fortification of glucosamine and ibuprofen was not sufficient to ease the pain and agony associated with each armful of leaves that I tossed into my truck a few hours ago. Over and over again, I wondered if I would be up to this annual fall task again next year.  I thought, probably not; but stubbornness enabled me to see this particular job through to an uncomfortable and dubious end.

It had taken me the equivalent of four days to complete the chore this year, compared to the less than four hours that it had taken me in the past. "Why am I wearing out so fast?" I had to ask myself.  After a lifetime of high energy multi-tasking, I had to concede:  "I am now an old man."  Like it or not, this is my destiny.

My mind lapsed into flashback mode, like a reel of film rolling back the years and pausing momentarily and frequently on the almost countless number of things that I have done in my life -- jobs, activities, special interests -- and what it took on occasion to simultaneously juggle three and four of these involvements. One job never seemed good enough for me.  I always had to have "other irons in the fire", as I explained it. The endurance that was required amazes even me, especially now when any form of mental or physical stamina has gone bye-bye.  I honestly do not know where I got the wherewithal to take on so much.  I have never talked publicly about this over-riding compulsion for change and my need to continually try new, sometimes unorthodox things.

I really do not know if it was an unexplained need to experience as much as possible in one lifetime or an undiagnosed bi-polar disorder the caused me to jump from one challenge to another, but I began questioning very early in the game what it was that really made me tick.  About 55 years ago I announced to my mother that I thought I should consult a psychiatrist and her spontaneous response was:  "Oh sure, and the first thing that he will say is what a terrible mother you have had.  He'll want to talk about your childhood and it will all end up being my fault...You had a happy, loving childhood, in case you forgot. So don't even go there."

"Okay, Grace.  Thanks for reminding me!" I responded with customary tongue-in-cheek discretion.

I actually saw a psychiatrist in Toronto a year or two later and after the first appointment he sent me a letter explaining that he was retiring from his practise and would be unable to see me again.  In that one and only appointment we talked about my childhood, but I never breathed a word of it to my overly reactionary mother.  And I never again mustered up the courage to sit on another psychiatrist's couch.

But, back to that aforementioned flashback while raking up leaves this morning.  Here is a retrospective list of jobs that my mind's film rolled out for me.

  • My first after-school job in a men's clothing store, at 14 years of age..
  • A short-lived stint in professional baseball in the U.S.A.
  • My first full-time job with Jack Fraser Stores in St. Thomas, Chatham and Toronto.
  • Completed two-year business management course by correspondence.
  • Initiated a part-time janitorial business in St. Thomas.
  • Cub reporter, sports editor and managing editor for four Canadian daily newspapers (St. Thomas, Simcoe, Prince Albert and Brampton) over a 20-year period.
  • Set up of a second part-time janitorial business exclusively for a board of education headquarters.
  • Accepted part-time free-lance writing assignments from several business publications.
  • Took a year-long hiatus from newspapering to sell office furniture and equipment in the London area.
  • Worked evenings and weekends at a major department store in London,
  • Officiated in baseball and hockey for token reimbursement.
  • Was paid secretary-statistician for the Niagara District Senior Hockey League.
  • Joined Insurance Bureau of Canada as media relations manager, then public affairs director.
  • Bought into a Kid's Toys distributorship in the Toronto area, operating out of my home in spare time. 
  • Worked evenings and weekends as a security officer in the Toronto area.
  • Obtained another part-time distributorship selling Herbalife health food products.
  • Joined the Ontario Trucking Association as director of public relations and human resources.
  • Affiliated with a new Toronto area security company as a night shift supervisor, in addition to my full-time job with O.T.A.
  • Became a free-lance public relations consultant, producing a syndicated monthly industrial newsletter.
  • Managed a team of young people selling subscriptions to the Toronto Star.
  • Joined several friends in a public relations agency catering to the junior mining industry in Canada.
  • Worked in landscaping after premature semi-retirement due to the need to free up time and to be closer to home during late wife's struggle with cancer.
  • At the same time, became a part-time car jockey for Avis Rent-A-Car at Pearson International Airport. 
  • Sold cemetery plots part-time, close to home in Brampton.
  • Associated with the owner of Kipling Medical Laboratories in Toronto, first in charge of property security and finally as warehouse and delivery manager.
  • Continued to take on free-lance writing assignments for several journals in the United States.
  • Joined Naylor Publishing as a telemarketer, probably the most ill-advised undertaking of my life.
  • Became a sub-contractor for Consumers Gas, reading meters in Mississauga, Oakville, Burlington and Brampton area.  Also assigned to an on-going "gas leak" survey in the Region of Peel.
  • Suited up as Santa Claus at a major shopping centre, also appeared at numerous company Christmas functions as a Santa for-hire.
  • After the passing of wife Anne, eventually went to work with Brampton Chrysler as used car lot maintenance manager with responsibility for special customer transportation needs.
  • Served as a lay preacher (Presbyterian Church) for a two-year period in the two-point charge of Port Elgin-Burgoyne.
  • Most recently set up an ill-fated on-line marketing company, before deciding that I had been drained of what little entrepreneurial blood was left flowing through my veins.

All of that on top of belonging to a number of service clubs and business associations, organizing and coaching minor baseball and hockey in three communities, serving as president of a figure skating club and  several minor baseball associations for both boys and girls; managing a Junior "C" hockey team in Simcoe and Junior and Intermediate baseball teams in St. Thomas, singing with the Gilbert and Sullivan Society in Toronto as well as a number of choirs and barbershop groups, attending university night classes as a mature student, obtaining accreditation (APR) from the Canadian Public Relations Society, belonging to a little theatre company, being a Big Brothers and Boy Scouts leader, taking on motivational speaking engagements, serving as a Sunday School teacher and church elder, sitting on numerous municipal boards and organizations, being the founding president of the Community Crime Prevention Network (Canada), founding president and organizer of a neighbor outreach program for seven churches in Brampton and writing three books, just to mention a few of the involvements over the years that instantly come to mind.

The jury is still out on how good a husband and father I was during the lion's share of those years, but it is not for me to speculate.  I can honestly say, however, that I tried my best under some difficult, pre-occupied and self-inflicted circumstances to be a responsible and sensitive family provider.

Truthfully, I cannot say if it was worth spreading myself so thin and burning the candle at both ends for so much of my life.  It all seems like the blurred obsession of another life, over which I had no control. What was I trying to prove, you ask?  Dunno!  Two things I do know, however, 1) I lost a lot of sleep over the years and 2) paid the government a lot in the form of income taxes; and, oh yes, a third thing -- I have nothing personally to show for any of this.  Would I do anything differently, if I had it to do all over again?  Let me count the ways!  But that's life.  Live and learn.  We do what we think is right at the time. I just took on more than the healthy and normal average of things that one feels compelled to do in a life time.

After almost completing this post, I have also become aware of a fourth conclusion...I am feeling worn out in these twilight days because, quite frankly, I have worn myself out.  Plain and simple. It was bound to happen sooner or later.  It just never occurred to me until now.

Knowing me as I do, I'll no doubt keep on plugging as best I can, for as long as I can.  Hell, I'll probably even tackle those damned leaves again next fall, and like it even less.

My mother would be very relieved to know too that she was in no way to be blamed for what transpired in my life.  I have no one to "blame" but myself.  In many ways, I guess you could say that I am a self-made man -- for better or worse.

I would still be interested in seeing a psychiatrist though, if for no other reasons than finally finding out what makes me tick.  Only trouble is, there is a good chance he wouldn't believe me.