Monthly Archives: October 2011

Housework

housework2According to an article in London’s Telegraph it will 2050 before men and women do equal amounts of housework. Women still do 70% of housework.

 I’m doing my own house cleaning for the first time in thirty years. I’ve always been a full-time teacher and initially, I managed to do that job as well as maintain some semblance of order in my house. However, once my children arrived, I just couldn’t keep up with everything. After one particularly frustrating week when the demands of a toddler, teaching and toilet cleaning had me in tears, my husband Dave volunteered to help out with my routine Saturday clean up of our home.  I ‘d suggested previously we hire a housekeeper but he thought it was too expensive. One Saturday of vacuuming, dusting and scrubbing shower tiles had him singing a different tune. “Let’s hire a housekeeper,” he said.

So we found someone to come in once a week and spend four hours cleaning our home. It was so nice to open the front door after work and find everything looking pristine and orderly. I’d just stand there for a minute inhaling deep whiffs of the fresh, clean smell of our house. I got an extra job writing a weekly newspaper column and that kept me in enough money to pay for my housekeeper. I always said I’d rather spend a couple of hours Saturday morning writing a column, than cleaning my stove or washing floors.

The downside of having someone do your housework is that you get out of practice doing it yourself. My husband Dave and I both retired this year and as we planned for living on a pension, at a substantially reduced income, we discussed ways to economize. I suggested we do our own housework. So for three months now, I’ve been doing my own house cleaning.

The 70% statistic about male/female involvement in housework would hold true for our household. This is not to say that Dave doesn’t do any work for our family. He handles all our finances, does our income tax returns and pays all our bills. He takes care of car maintenance and does all the driving on long-distance trips. He fixes things around the house. He does lots of grocery shopping and his fair share of cooking. He is our travel agent, and in the last six years, that’s been lots of work, because we’ve usually made at least a half a dozen major trips a year. He books flights, car rentals, accommodations and tours. He is our social coordinator, planning most of our movie dates, supper outings, dinner parties and get-togethers with friends. He helps shop for furniture and other household goods and buys presents for our children.  He just doesn’t clean toilets, do laundry or wash floors.

Last Saturday we were expecting guests and so I spent hours scrubbing, dusting, and cleaning glass. I only got through it by playing loud lively music to keep me motivated. Frankly, it wasn’t much fun.

They say by 2050 men will do an equal share of housework. That may help my granddaughters but it’s not going to ease my housecleaning burden. I think I might need to find a part-time job, so I can afford a housekeeper again.  

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Occupy Winnipeg

Yesterday on my walk I went down Memorial Boulevard and saw all these tents set up in the park. I started taking some pictures and realized when I zoomed in for this shot and saw the sign, that the encampment was part of the “Occupy” movement spreading across the world inspired by the Wall Street demonstrations that started on September 17th.

According to an article in the Winnipeg Sun, Trevor Semotok, a spokesperson for the group says they are protesting the growing disparity between the rich and poor in Canada and promoting the idea that “people should come before profits.”  The sign here says “Canada owes $800 billion to private banks.”  Chad Lozinkski another spokesperson for the Winnipeg group gave a less specific motivation for the protest when he was interviewed by the Metro News. He says “our strength is that we have no specific message. We are providing a venue to speak up about any issue. ” This kind of all-encompassing agenda is true of the group who is staging a similar protest in Toronto. A Globe and Mail reporter spotted a variety of signs in the Toronto camp including pleas to protect the environment, provide better services for the disabled, a warning about exploiting aboriginal people and a call to end poverty in Canada. 

The Manitoba protest started on October 15th with 400 people participating in a march that originated at the Manitoba Legislature. According to Metro News there are only about 20 protesters left at the site. I think that is a bit of an under-estimation. I saw more than 20 people there yesterday. The National Post says that the mayors of most Canadian cities are hoping for a peaceful resolution of the protests. They think the cold Canadian winter will eventually drive the protesters inside, although the Winnipeg group has installed a fire pit and an insulated kitchen in hopes they can carry on the protest at least till Christmas.

A 13-year-old girl at the site with her mother told the Winnipeg Sun she is protesting the fact that the wealthy who comprise 1% of the population, control 99% of the country’s wealth. The middle class is rapidly disappearing as the gap between the rich and poor widens. The teenager’s mother said it is a shame that there are people in our country still living in third world conditions. 

 While I was taking photos of the “Occupy Winnipeg” site these workers who were installing windows in a building across the street from the protest  said to me, “Why don’t you take a picture of us? We have jobs. We are working to make our country better. We aren’t slackers like those guys over there.”

The gentlemen made their opinion of the protest perfectly clear. It got me thinking about my own opinions about the occupy movement. Certainly, as a child of the sixties, I know how effective protest can be in changing things. I was a teen in the era of Martin Luther King and the anti-Vietnam War protests. One thing that is different is that those protesters put a lot on the line to defend their issues. People like Gandhi and King went to prison for their anti-establishment ideas.  According to the National Post, Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson speaks for most civic leaders, when he says physical force and legal action will not be taken against Canadian protestors. I guess I also have to wonder if this kind of protest is as effective in changing things as taking some kind of concrete action to address the needs of the disenfranchised might be. 

However one cannot dispute the fact that the Occupy movements are drawing attention and inciting lots of discussion.  Last night,  Diane Sawyer did a piece on ABC News about the growing gap between the rich and poor in the United States .  She talked about the wealthy 1% of the population whose income has grown by 240% in the last few years.

The protests are having the desired effect. People and the media are talking about the economic inequities in North America, and here I am writing a blog post about it. What next? Maybe I need to go down to the Occupy Winnipeg site and engage the protesters in a conversation about what they are trying to accomplish. Maybe I need to think about what concrete things I can do to try to ease the disparity between the “haves” and “have-nots” in my community. 

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Dying Well

My mother-in-law, Anne Driedger, died in the palliative care room at the Mennonite Home in Leamington, Ontario. It was such a comfortable, peaceful place for us to walk with Mom through the last 72 hours of her life. Soft music played in the background and big sunny windows let the ‘outside in’. There was a long leather couch with pillows and an afghan.  Both ends of the couch reclined and the room also had an additional reclining chair, so family members could pass the nights in relative ease as they kept vigil. Appropriate reading material had been provided and the staff kept hot tea and coffee, water, juice and pop in constant supply for us. A gathering room right across the hall was the site for family meals and snacks brought in by relatives or delivered from local eating establishments. One night the nursing home staff even made sandwiches for us. We had family photo albums in the room and looked through them, reminiscing about happy times from the past. 

As Mom made her end of life journey, from Tuesday morning to Friday morning, a continuous stream of family and friends filled her room. Her children were there almost all the time, and her grandchildren popped in, on their way to and from work–Hannah in her paramedics uniform, Rachel just finished her shift at the greenhouse, Tim, leaving his accounting office early, so he could stop to pick up his son Bryson from school, and bring him to see Oma before hockey practice, Michael in his city maintenance crew bright orange blazer and hard hat.  Stephanie, Michael’s wife, rocked her baby daughter Chloe to sleep in the room, and Oma’s great-granddaughter Isabella sang Oma nursery rhymes and laid a flower she had picked for her on her pillow. Her great-grandson Nash engaged anyone in the room who was interested, in his own version of the card game Go Fish, complete with rules that guaranteed his victory. One or two of us were almost always holding Mom’s hands, talking to her, or rubbing her feet– because we knew she loved that. Her sons and grandsons discussed the ALCS baseball finals around her bed. The family’s favorite team, the Detroit Tigers, were in the play-offs.  It is exactly what she would have expected from her ‘baseball- crazy’ family. Before she lost consciousness every one of her grandchildren had phoned her from various places in Canada, to say good-bye and to tell her how much they loved her. Her granddaughter Olivia, who inherited her grandmother’s baking expertise and is a chef at the Fairmont Hotel in Banff, told Oma she was baking pies. “Save a piece for me”, Oma said. 

We sang Mom and Dad’s favorite hymns, and told Mom we loved her many times. We cried and our tears sometimes dripped onto her blankets. Her friends visited briefly, long enough to give her a kiss and tell her what a good friend she had been to them. Her sister and sisters-in-law came too, to take her hand, gently touch her forehead, and tell her how much she had meant to them. The nurses and health care aides, were infinitely polite about not interfering with family moments, and consulting and informing us about Mom’s care. After adjusting her nightgown, giving her an injection, swabbing her mouth with cool water, or changing her bedding, they whispered words of affection and encouragement to her. 

The Mennonite Home chaplain paid a visit as did Mom and Dad’s church pastor, who read her favorite passage of Scripture, Psalm 121 which begins with the words,” I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills from whence cometh my help.” Members of the Mennonite Home office staff came to sing the German and English hymns Mom loved to her.  The pastor, the chaplain, and our 90-year-old Dad, who is a retired pastor and chaplain, prayed with us and Mom. 

Brenda, the personal care director at the home, came by many times, to encourage us, answer our questions and give us helpful advice.  She was with us at Mom’s bedside, providing guidance, support, and quiet coaching during the moments when Mom opened her eyes wide and took her final breath. Linda, the nursing home administrator, also stopped by frequently to let us know her staff was ready and willing to be of assistance in any way they could. Linda arranged for a special service at the nursing home the morning of Mom’s funeral,  so her friends there could say good-bye to her as well. 

The Mennonite Home has a meaningful ritual after a resident has died. Women from the home’s auxiliary have made an exquisite quilt with a cross, a dove and a sheaf of wheat in its center– the wheat symbolizing the rural farm background of many of the nursing home residents, the cross their Christian  faith, and the dove the strong Mennonite belief in peace. The words Good-bye and Auf Wiedersehen are also stitched prominently into the quilt. Many of the home’s residents, including Mom and Dad, count German as their first langauge. 

After Mom died, and we were waiting for the funeral directors to come, the nursing home staff covered Mom with that quilt, which had been hanging on the wall of the palliative care room. When the funeral directors arrived, they placed Mom on a gurney, and then they too covered her with that special quilt. As a family we lined up two by two behind the gurney, and holding each others hands, followed the funeral directors who slowly pushed Mom down the nursing home hallway, through the spacious lobby and out the front doors. Some family members stood with Dad inside watching through the big front windows, while a number of us went outside along with Mom as they transferred her into the waiting hearse. The funeral directors then took the quilt off Mom, folded it ceremoniously, much like they fold a flag at a military funeral, and returned it to the Mennonite Home staff. We stood in the cool autumn morning, whispering  good-bye and waving farewell, many of us with tears streaking down our faces, as Mom left her last home for the last time. 

I had heard the phrase ‘dying well’ before, but last week I think I learned what it meant. 

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The Grey Nuns

The Grey Nuns are a Canadian order of  Catholic sisters founded in 1738 in Montreal. The St. Boniface Museum tells the story of the Grey Nuns in Manitoba and is located in their former convent. It was built in 1847 and is the oldest building in Winnipeg. 

This statue on the Tache Promenade in Winnipeg pays tribute to the Grey Nuns. It was created by Madeline Vrignon

Four sisters from the Order of the Grey Nuns in Montreal came to the Red River Settlement in Manitoba in 1844. They travelled by canoe. Their fifty-eight-day journey was a difficult one involving endless portages through the bush in almost constant rain. Snakes plagued their night time camps. 

Louis Riel statue on the grounds of the St. Boniface Museum

Once they arrived in the Red River Settlement, the Grey Nuns opened a school. Louis Riel the founder of Manitoba was one of their students and they arranged for him to study at a college in Montreal. Louis Riel’s sister Sara Riel would eventually join the Grey Nuns order. 

This statue on Tache Avenue pays tribute to the health care services begun by the Grey Nuns. It is also by Madeline Virgnon. 

 Sister Teresa McDonnell was a Grey Nun who won the hearts of the Metis community because her remedies cured many of their illnesses.   Sister Theresa founded the St. Boniface Hospital. 

The Grey Nuns provided important health care and education opportunities in the early years of the Red River Settlement. 

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Apartments For The Dead

Last night we had dinner guests, and perhaps because Dave and I had just returned from attending a funeral, the conversation over dessert and coffee turned to planning for funerals and burial. We were surprised to learn that one of the couples, who are even younger than we are, had purchased burial plots in a local cemetery. They did this after one of their own parents had died, and arranging for a place of burial had been just one added difficulty to deal with as they made funeral arrangements. Several of our dinner guests said they wanted to be cremated, but weren’t sure if they wanted their ashes spread out somewhere or buried. I told them that in Hong Kong, the government provides cremation services at public crematoriums and although it is still possible to have coffin burials, in public cemeteries they may only be for six years, after which the remains must be exhumed and cremated. If the family doesn’t arrange for it themselves the government will do so. 

 

Most people in Hong Kong are buried in columbaria, a kind of high-rise apartment for the dead, which have been built in cemeteries throughout the city. Here families can purchase a niche in the wall and place their loved ones ashes within. Each niche is covered with a marble plaque that features a picture of the deceased person and gold engravings detailing their name, date of birth and death, and the site of their ancestral home. Each also has a ring in which you can place flowers. Columbaria can be up to nine stories high and contain as many as 20,000 separate niches for ashes.

The government, which is facing a crisis when it comes to having enough land on which to build cemetaries,  has been urging people to use columbaria since the 1960’s and so most people do, primarily because, according to an article in Time magazine,  a permanent burial space in Hong Kong, in a private cemetary runs around US $30,000. Our dinner guests last night had paid only $700 for their plot here in Canada. 

One of the things we talked about last night, was that for families it is nice to have a certain site to go and visit after someone dies. If you are cremated and your ashes spread out, rather than buried, there is no such site where family can go and pay their respects. I remember at a family reunion many years ago, our large clan went to the graveyard where my grandparents are buried, and we spread out blankets near their burial plots, for all their great-grandchildren to sit on. One of my aunts told the children stories about their great-grandparents. It was very meaningful. 

In Hong Kong there are spring and summer festival days called Qingming and Chongyang when schools and businesses are closed so families can visit their ancestors’ graves. These are called grave sweeping holidays because traditionally the family brought brooms to sweep the grave clean of leaves and other debris. Now they place flowers at the site and sometimes buy paper money from vendors near the cemetery. They burn it in small fires on the tomb or on the floor of the columbaria. It is believed the smoke carries the money to heaven so the deceased may use it to buy things they need in the after life. In order for these kind of traditional rituals to carry on it is important to have an actual burial site, even for ashes. 

Writing about it this morning, our dinner party conversation about burial plots last night seems strange and even a bit morbid, but I guess as you enter retirement and ponder what’s next, perhaps giving some thought to your end of life arrangements is prudent and natural. 

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Anne Driedger 1923-2011

“She walks in beauty.” I used that quote from Lord Byron to start the tribute I gave to my mother-in-law at her funeral.  Anne Driedger was a beautiful woman inside and out.  This picture of her as a young woman is certainly clear evidence of her beauty. Mom had a trim figure, deep brown eyes and a ready smile.  My father-in-law says he was so taken with her beauty that the moment he saw her for the first time, he said to himself, “She’s the one for me.” 

Anne, who is sitting on her mother’s lap in this photo,  was born in 1923 to Henry and Gertrude Enns in the village of Rudnerweide in the Molotschna Mennonite colony in Ukraine. Mom’s father was from a very wealthy family and after the death of his father and brother he ran the family estate in Kowalicha, near the Mennonite village of Schoenfeld. Mom’s father was in charge of their large herds of livestock, many servants, orchards and vast acres of land.   During the Russian Revolution when terrorists began killing and looting , Mom’s family fled their estate and took refuge in a tiny house on her maternal Unruh grandparents’ farmyard in the village of Rudnerweide. During this time Mom and her older sister Gertrude were born. Mom’s family immigrated to Canada when she was one and a half years old. Her younger sister Agnes, now the only surviving member of her family, was born in Canada. 

Mom went to school till she was fourteen and had completed grade eight, and then she had to get a job to help support her family.  Although her years of education were short she loved to read and learn new things. When Dave and I began to travel extensively eight years ago she asked us to buy her a world map so she could follow our travels. She was always interested in each new place we visited.

After leaving school Mom was first a babysitter earning $3.00 a week and then worked at a green house farm. Her next  job was as a maid for the Jackson family in Leamington. Mom credits Mrs. Jackson with teaching her how to become such an accomplished cook and baker. Mrs. Jackson believed that maids had to keep their place. Mom started dating Dad while she was working at the Jacksons and Mrs. Jackson got upset if Dad used the front door to call on Mom. The side door was for maids and Mrs. Jackson told Mom it wasn’t proper for her boyfriend to use the front door. 

Mom and Dad got engaged in the summer of 1942 and set their wedding date for September. This was during World War II and just before the wedding Dad received a letter that he was being conscripted to join the Canadian Army. He took it to his uncle Nick Driedger who was the church pastor and he said he would apply for conscientious objector status for Dad. Mennonite church members were usually granted conscientious objector status because pacifism is an important tenet of their faith. Uncle Nick suggested that Mom and Dad go ahead with their plans to marry in the mean time.

Mom and Dad were married in the Oak Street Mennonite Church in Leamington on Saturday, September 26, 1942. It was a rainy day. Mom’s brother Dick and her sister-in-law Erna chauffeured the couple around in their car, taking them to church.They walked down the aisle as the congregation sang a German hymn Gott Gruesse Dich (May God Greet You) and they walked out of the church as the congregation sang Jesu Geh Voran (Jesus Still Lead On). After the service there was a meal in the church basement and then they went to a farm and gathered in the green house to play circle games–the Mennonite alternative to dancing. On their wedding night, when they arrived at the little house they were renting on the farm of Cecil Stobbs, the rain had flooded the kitchen and made a mess of their brand new stove but thankfully the rest of the house was dry. The next morning they were going to go to church, only to discover their friends had let the air out of the tires on their Model A Ford as a joke.  Dad had to pump up the tires before they could go to church.

In the lumber camp bunk house. Dad’s on the far left.

Mom and Dad both got jobs at the Imperial Tobacco Factory in Leamington and just a few months later in January of 1943 Dad received word he had to report to the conscientious objectors (CO) forestry camp in Montreal River. Mom moved into town before he left and rented an apartment with Margaret and Aggie her husband’s two sisters.  A year later when Dad came home, he and Mom went to live on the Hadley Farm where they rented a house and worked for two years. 

Mom and Dad moved to the Marsh Wigle Farm in 1945 and were sharecroppers there for seven years before buying their own farm on Highway 77 in Leamington in 1952. By this time they had four sons, Robert, John, Paul and Dave. They grew all kinds of vegetables on their farm and added greenhouses in 1959, so when their field crops weren’t as good they could depend on greenhouse crops.

Their son Bill was born in 1958 and they rented more land to grow tomatoes and burley tobacco. They seldom hired extra help but did all the work on their farm as a family. Mom worked out in the field and the greenhouse all day and then hurried inside to do all the cooking, cleaning and laundry that her family of seven required. At her funeral several of her nieces and nephews mentioned that what they remember about their Tante Anne was that she was always working. They also mentioned her delightful laugh and how they admired her for living in a house filled with six males. Another cousin talked about playing baseball with the Driedger family. Mom played too and had a wicked left-handed pitching arm. 

Mom and Dad celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary in 1967. They had a service in the church and ordered Kentucky Fried Chicken for the meal. A male choir sang at their silver wedding. Dad was a member of this choir. Dad wasn’t the only one with musical talent though. I remember going to church in Leamington after we were married and seeing Mom sing in the choir. She had a very nice alto voice. By now the boys were graduating from high school and leaving home to go to university. Here Mom and Dad are with my husband Dave at his graduation. By 1973 Bob, Paul and Dave were all married. For the first time Mom had the daughters she had always wanted. 

This is a picture of Mom and Dad at Dad’s pastoral ordination. Dad became involved in church work beginning in the mid 60’s as a pulpit assistant. He was also the Sunday School Superintendent and head umpire for the church’s Sunday afternoon baseball league. In 1970,  he was officially ordained as a minister and in 1974 was installed as the leading minister of the North Leamington United Mennonite Church. That same year Robert, Mom and Dad’s oldest son died of cancer. Mom dealt fairly stoically with this loss. She was never one to complain or feel sorry for herself. I know at her 50th wedding anniversary in my tribute to her, I talked about how courageously she dealt with her crippling arthritis and many people came up afterward and said they didn’t even know Mom had arthritis. That is just the way she was–dealing bravely and quietly with the difficulties and sorrows life sent her way. 

Dad would serve as a pastor for the next 15 years. During that time he married 140 couples and no doubt officiated at just as many funerals. Mom was always at his side during this time, attending all those weddings and funerals and other church meetings and events. At the same time their family was growing as their ten grandchildren arrived.  Mom was a wonderful Oma. In this photo she is with our son Bucky. Mom babysat for her grandkids, made them quilts for their cribs and beds, loved to spoil them with her wonderful baking–her cabbage rolls and paper-thin pancakes and homemade donuts and she took a keen interest in each grandchild’s life, praying for them with dedication and remembering their birthdays. She played games with them–Dominoes and Scrabble and Rummycube. At her funeral four of her grandchildren paid tribute to her remarking on her selflessness, the way they had always felt safe and loved with her, the way she really listened to them and was a trustworthy confidante and the joy she took in her family. 

Mom and Dad sold their farm to their youngest son Bill in 1989 and moved into a town house in Leamington. They celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 1992. The photo above was taken the day of their golden wedding. In 1994 Dad was offered a position as a chaplain at the Mennonite Home. He served in that post till 2008. Once again Mom was Dad’s ongoing support. She was always cheerful and positive and continued doing kind and caring things for her family. Never once in the thirty-eight years that I was her daughter-in-law did Mom say a critical word to me and I rarely, if ever, heard her say anything negative about anyone. In 1995 Mom had a serious heart attack and a quadruple bypass in 1997. Although her recovery was slow, the surgery allowed her to live another fourteen years during which she was able to enjoy the weddings of five of her grandchildren and welcome four great-grandchildren into the world. 

The last two years of Mom’s life were not easy. She said to me numerous times that “growing old was not for cowards.” Dad was nearing his 90th birthday and had ongoing health problems that made it difficult for Mom to look after him at home. Of course she was stoic and brave about this too and it took a long time for her to confess her struggles to us children. When she finally did, arrangements were made for Mom and Dad to move into an assisted living facility at the Mennonite Home in Leamington. Before that move could happen however Mom had a stroke that left her paralyzed on one side and in a wheel chair.When she finally got out of the hospital she moved into the nursing home and was able to share side-by-side rooms with Dad.  She was a very private person and found it hard to have to depend on the nursing staff for all her personal care. 

Despite her struggles Mom remained interested in the world around her, and just six weeks ago was able to attend her granddaughter Hannah’s wedding. In the photo above she is at the wedding, still looking as beautiful as ever.

As she lay dying in the Mennonite Home’s palliative care room last week many of her caregivers came in to say good-bye to her and tell her they loved her. She was one of our ‘favorites’ they told the family. Mom’s warm kind ways obviously were still evident even though she was dealing with challenging health problems. Mom died at 10 in the morning on Friday, October 14th with her family all around her. 

All of Mom’s grandchildren were at her funeral and the ten of them carried her casket out of the church and to her grave site. As a family we sang Amazing Grace because Mom had requested that it be sung at her funeral. She once told me that it was her favorite hymn because she was amazed that even amid the difficulties of her life God had still blessed her richly and provided for her and her family so generously. 

Mom had a way with plants, and the flower beds around her home were always awash with color. She especially loved pink roses and each of her children and grandchildren placed a pink rose on her casket before it was lowered into the ground. I love this photo of Mom as a young woman sitting in the flower bed at her parents’ home.

Mom was a beautiful person inside and out. I count myself blessed indeed to have had her for my mother-in-law. I loved her very much and I will truly miss her. 

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Good-Bye Mom

My mother-in-law Anne died on October 14th at ten o’clock in the morning. My husband Dave and I were with her as well as two of Dave’s brothers, his Dad and my sister-in-law. We were surrounding Mom, holding her hands and we sang to her. Although she had struggled for nearly 72 hours she went to heaven peacefully. The staff at the Mennonite Home in Leamington were wonderful. She died in their lovely palliative care room. Many of the health care workers came to  say good-bye to her and give her a kiss. They told us stories about things they enjoyed about our mother and said she had been one of their ‘favorites’. Mom had a stroke just before Christmas last year and after that she was confined to a wheel chair and needed help with all her personal care. This was not easy for her and yet she obviously endeared herself to those who cared for her, just as she endeared herself to us. I will write a longer post about Mom soon.

Other posts …….

Anne Driedger

Lives Lived- Anne Enns Driedger

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Just a note

I will not be writing for a little while. My husband Dave’s mother is very ill and we have traveled to Ontario to be with her. We are spending all our time at her bedside. I will resume writing when I can. Thanks for understanding.

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Feeling Excluded

Several times a week I walk through St. Boniface to visit my mother at the St. Boniface Hospital where she has dialysis. I lived in St. Boniface and went to school there for a year when I was in grade one, because my Dad was a medical intern at the St. Boniface Hospital. As I walk the  streets of St. Boniface and go past the Basilica I am often reminded of the public school I attended nearby. 

A priest came to visit our school once a week to provide instruction in the Catholic faith. My parents, good Mennonites that they were, asked that I be excluded from these lessons. Whenever the priest arrived, I was sent to sit alone in a desk in the dark and often chilly hallway. I had only my Dick and Jane reader for company. For thirty minutes I would shiver out there  letting  my imagine run wild, wondering what the priest could be talking to the boys and girls about that was so strange and disturbing my parents didn’t want me to hear it. 

Then came the day everyone went to the Basilica with the priest to practice for their First Communion. Off trooped the boys all spiffy in their shiny shoes and dark pants. They girls waved good-bye to me as they flounced out of the room in pretty dresses, with their lace head squares perched atop their ringlets. That day I was allowed to go back into the classroom after the other children had left. I sat there alone for what seemed like a very long time, with only the hissing radiator for companionship. I felt lonely and “left out.”

We moved to the rather religiously conservative town of Steinbach in 1960 when I was eight. I knew we were going to live in a predominantly Mennonite community. No doubt it would be a place where I would “fit in” a little better, at least when it came to matters of faith.  I was soon to find out that this was not the case. My parents had taken me to see only two movies in my lifetime Bambi and Mary Poppins. I quickly discovered mentioning this to other children in my class at the old white clapboard Kornelson school was a big mistake. “People who go to movies, go to hell,” I was told by a classmate. 

I loved my grade three teacher immediately. She was fair and kind and seemed to genuinely like me despite the fact I hadn’t learned how to multiply in my grade two class in Winnipeg and was behind in math. Yet some of my classmates made fun of my affection for my teacher and told me in a shocked whisper that she was a Lutheran. Did I realize they wondered, that the tin containers where our teacher kept those colorful little pegs we used to figure out our math problems, were really tobacco cans? Our teacher’s husband smoked. My classmates let me know this was another sure ticket to hell. Although no one in my family smoked, my parents had never told me the behavior was sinful.

Obviously I had plenty to learn about what was right and wrong if I wanted to be accepted in Steinbach. It didn’t take me long to figure out that it would probably be best not to mention the fact that my grandfather served homemade wine for Christmas dinner or that some of my aunts wore lipstick.  I also learned to keep quiet about which church I attended. The General Conference Mennonite Grace Church was known as the ‘TV Church’ by many in Steinbach because a goodly number of the members had succumbed to temptation and bought television sets. Some of the men at my church also wore colored shirts on Sunday and some of our worship leaders actually read prayers rather than praying them spontaneously. 

I had been an ‘outsider’ in my predominantly Catholic school in Winnipeg, but I learned quickly that if I wasn’t careful ‘outsider’ status was just as easy to achieve in predominantly Mennonite Steinbach. 

Reflecting on these childhood experiences lately has helped me put them into perspective.  The religious  exclusion I felt as a child I think served me in good stead, and made me try very hard to include all children and make them feel accepted in the school classes I taught, no matter what their cultural or religious heritage. It has colored my own faith, making me more open to learning from those of other religious backgrounds. I think it has made me less ready to pass judgement and made me more aware of how strange and narrow the ideas of my faith community might seem to others. 

I am realizing more and more as I grow older that even the experiences that weren’t pleasant in my past were often helpful in shaping me in good ways to become a better person.  

What next? I’m wondering if this morning on my walk I won’t try to find my old school in St. Boniface, take some pictures and then write about other memories I have of my year of education there. 

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Joanne Gullachsen, Maud Lewis and Me

in the pump house by Joanne Gullachsen

In the Pump House by Joanne Gullachsen

On Friday my friend Esther invited me to visit the Mayberry Fine Art Gallery just one block over from my home to see an exhibit of paintings by Joanne Gullachsen. Esther thought we would enjoy the exhibit because Joanne, who is having her first public show as an artist at age 68, is a retired teacher just like we are, and she has been compared to Canadian artist Maud Lewis.  Esther and I used to be teaching partners and we crafted a multi-subject learning unit on Maud’s life story and work for our students. 

cows coming into the barn by joanne gullachsen

Cows Coming Into the Barn by Joanne Gullachsen

Joanne’s paintings at the Mayberry Gallery are certainly ‘happy’ as Bill Redekop reports in his Free Press article about the exhibit. They are also reminiscent of Maud Lewis’ work and perhaps that of Grandma Moses, an American folk artist who like Joanne, only became well-known later in her life. Grandma Moses was ‘discovered’ when she was 78.

waving goodbye by joanne gullachsen

Waving Good-Bye by Joanne Gullachsen

Joanne grew up on a dairy farm in Manitoba’s Interlake region and her paintings which were all drawn from memory, and not from photographs, provide an intimate portrayal of her childhood. She painted the pieces over a period of 27 years while pursuing a busy teaching career and caring for her growing family.

Each painting in the Gullachsen exhibit is accompanied by a short story the artist has written about what is going on in the scene portrayed. joanne gullachsen the thiefIn one painting a neighborhood thief had taken off with the family’s milk pail and Joanne’s grandma was trying to flag him down as he whipped his horse to speed away. 

Family by Joanne Gullachsen

Family by Joanne Gullachsen

What I loved about the Gullachsen collection were the personal connections and memories the paintings evoked for both Esther and me. As we ambled through the Mayberry Gallery with its bleached hardwood floors and high sunny windows, we shared stories from our childhood and family life, each story prompted by one of Joanne’s paintings.

reading while watching baby joanne gullachsenA painting called Dad Reading While Watching Baby reminded me of a photograph my mother took of my father looking after me as a baby, and managing to still read and study while he was doing so.

dad feeds ml

My Dad feeding me while studying for his medical school classes

Dad had to multi-task  because he was supporting and caring for a young family at the same time as he was in medical school at the University of Manitoba.

looking at the catalogue joanne gullachsenA painting of a mother and her daughters looking at the Eaton’s catalogue brought back memories of the dress my mother bought me from the Eaton’s catalogue to wear on my first day of school. marylou childhood0008Mom always sewed all our dresses but because she wanted me to have something special for the first day of grade one, I got to order a dress from the catalogue. I still remember the excitement of the package arriving from Eatons. The dress was grey and red plaid.

 

milking time by joanne gullachsenA painting called Milking Time reminded me of going out and helping my Grandpa  with the chores in the barn when I was staying at his farm in Gnadenthal Manitoba. grandpa and me heading out to milkIt is winter in the painting above and it is winter in the photo below. I am all bundled up to go out to the barn to milk the cows, pick eggs from the chickens and feed the pigs. 

 

kittens by joanne gullachsen

Kittens by Joanne Gullachsen

Just before we left the gallery the affable owners, father and son Bill and Shaun Mayberry, stopped to chat with us. Esther mentioned that the reference to Maud Lewis in Bill Redekop’s newspaper article about  Joanne Gullachsen, was what had brought us to the gallery since we were avid Maud Lewis fans. Bill told us they were in the process of putting together a collection of Lewis’ work to be part of an exhibition this fall. “I think four Maud Lewis paintings just came in today. Would you like to see them?” Bill offered. 

The Mayberrys unwrapped the Lewis paintings and laid them out on a table at the back of the gallery. Bill told us one of the pieces came from a woman whose mother had bought the painting for five dollars from Maud Lewis because she felt sorry for her. Bill  pointed out some unique features in the paintings that aren’t found in Maud’s other works with similar themes.

What a treat for us to see Maud’s paintings up close and to have our own little private viewing of some of her work, courtesy of the congenial Mayberrys. The last time I had seen any of Maud’s paintings in person was when I visited the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia nearly ten years ago. 

What next? I will definitely visit the Mayberry Gallery to see the Maud Lewis exhibit when it opens. I am inspired by Joanne Gullachsen who is earning money and becoming recognized as an artist at 68. I read in her biography that she took art classes and was mentored by other Manitoba artists. Taking writing classes and finding a mentor or writing group to work with, is something I need to do as well,  if I want to find a wider audience for my writing and turn it into a source of income. But I am only 58 so I still have a whole decade left to attempt to emulate  what Joanne has done. 

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Filed under Art, Canada, Culture, Family, History, People, Retirement, Winnipeg