As the pandemic wears on I will be the first to admit that I cry much more easily and more often than I did before. I know that my situation is not unique and that I am better off than many. But when I think about how long it has been since I have seen my three grandchildren and my son and daughter-in-law in Saskatoon I get teary. I realized the other day that I have not hugged my son and daughter-in-law here in Winnipeg for over a year. Their little four-month-old daughter only sees my face on a screen or with a mask on.
I have not gone back to the Winnipeg Art Gallery since I was laid off from my job there because I think as soon as I walked through the doors I’d start to cry remembering how much I loved being there and loved talking about art with our visitors.
When I let myself think too much about the impact the pandemic has had on my father’s dementia the tears can flow before I know it.
The other day I watched one of those Flash Mob videos where a crowd of musicians gathers slowly to perform an instrumental and vocal rendition of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy and I was weeping by the end thinking about how long it has been since I have sung a hymn with others or have listened to a choir perform in person.
When I visited Jerusalem I went to the Dominus Flevit Temple. It is also known as the Tear Drop Temple because its roof is shaped like a teardrop. The temple was designed and placed on the Mount of Olives in memory of Jesus’ tears.
The Bible records two times when Jesus cried. Once was at the death of his good friend Lazarus and another was when he was overcome with sorrow because he knew what was going to happen to the people of Jerusalem. The Tear Drop Temple is said to be built on the spot where Jesus wept.
There are times when we all need a good cry. There is nothing wrong with tears. They are not a sign of weakness. Tears can relieve stress and provide a good emotional release. Tears are a healthy sign of our humanity and vulnerability. During these pandemic times, a good cry should probably be a regular requirement.
American writer Rita Schiano says “Tears are God’s gift to us. Our holy water. They heal us as they flow.”
Smashed! That’s the title of an article in the latest edition of the magazine Positive News. It talks about the Granby Workshop in Liverpool England which makes new dinnerware and decorative tiles by recycling discarded ceramic crockery. About 68 million tons of ceramic waste is sent to the landfill each year in Britain. The Granby Workshop is trying to reduce that number.
The Granby Workshop reminded me of my visit to the Temple of Dawn in Bangkok, Thailand. It is covered with millions of pieces of smashed ceramic bits that skilled craftspeople have turned into works of art on the exterior of the temple.
The Temple of Dawn was built by King Taskin in the 1700s. He wanted to find a way to use the millions of broken bits of beautiful china that had to be discarded when ships arrived from China with ceramic dishes. Some of the dishes always smashed in the ships’ holds on the journey to Thailand.
The article about the Granby Project also reminded me of my cousin Sharon Loeppky who makes these absolutely stunning pieces of art from discarded bits of smashed china and ceramics she finds in rubbish heaps.
Isn’t it lovely and interesting how the bits and pieces of broken things can be turned into something new and beautiful?
If my father-in-law Cornelius Driedger were still alive he would have turned 100 today.
Dad was born February 26, 1921 in Tiege, Ukraine. His parents fled there after bandits led by Nestor Machno, repeatedly entered their Schoenfeld home and threatened to kill Dad’s father Abram Driedger.
In Tiege they stayed in the Mennonite School for The Deaf closed to students because of the revolution. Several other families also took refuge there. Abram worked for some local farmers. Cornelius was born there just a month after his one and half year old sister Kaethe died of pneumonia.
Cornelius was a sickly baby. Worried she would lose another child his mother took him outside the School for the Deaf and held him up to God. She vowed if God spared her child she would dedicate him to the work of the church. Perhaps hearing his mother tell this story is one reason Cornelius became a pastor later in his life.
A famine began shortly after Cornelius was born so his parents spent a few years living in the village of Petersagen with his maternal grandparents Cornelius and Agatha Friesen. His younger sister Agatha was born there.
On June 23, 1924 about 1000 Mennonites including Cornelius, his parents and sister crowded into box cars at the Lichtenau train station in southern Ukraine.
They traveled to Latvia where they took a ship to Antwerp Belgium. From there they boarded the steamer the Minnedosa which took them to Quebec City landing July 19, 1924.
When they first arrived in Canada Cornelius’ family stayed with Mennonite families in Welesley and Zurich Ontario. In 1925 they moved to Newton Siding Manitoba and also lived in Glenlea Manitoba for a time. In 1929 his parents decided they should move to Pelee Island, Ontario to join his father’s relatives living there. Cornie quit school at age 13 to help out on the farm.
In April of 1937 Cornie’s family left Pelee Island for the mainland and lived on a farm where they worked as sharecroppers. Cornie hired himself out to other farmers to earn extra money and also worked in a tobacco factory.
Dad was baptized in 1941. He is third from the left in the back row and his future wife Anne is fifth from the right in the middle row. They were baptized by Cornie’s uncle N. N. Driedger in the Essex County United Mennonite Church.
Cornie married Anne Enns on September 26, 1942 in the Oak Street Mennonite Church in Leamington, Ontario.
They had only been married a few months when Cornie had to leave to work in a logging camp in Montreal River. He had been drafted and since he was a Mennonite and a conscientious objector, he did this alternate service.
After working on the Hadley and Marsh Wigle farms for nearly a decade in 1956 Anne and Cornie bought their own farm on Highway 77 in Leamington.
They had five sons Robert, John, Paul, David and William.
Although their family worked incredibly hard on the farm there was still time to indulge in their passion for baseball. Dad played and so did all of his sons.
Over the years Cornie took on many roles in his church including Sunday School Superintendent and pulpit assistant. He was ordained to the ministry in 1970. In 1974 when his brother-in-law Jacob Neufeld who had served as the pastor of North Leamington United Church died Dad became a full-time pastor. He and Mom rented out their farmland.
Cornie and Anne’s five sons all married but sadly their oldest son Robert died of cancer in 1974. Cornie and Anne were blessed with ten grandchildren.
Dad retired from his job as a pastor in 1989 and he and Mom sold their farm to their son Bill and his wife Julie and moved into a townhouse in Leamington. In 1984 Dad took a job as a chaplain at the Leamington Mennonite Home and served in that role till 2008.
Anne died on October 14, 2011,and after living in the Leamington Mennonite Home for several years Cornie passed away June 6, 2016.
At his funeral, many people spoke to the family about all the ways Dad had cared for them in his pastoral role. In a tribute, his sons Dave and Bill thanked their Dad for teaching them to work hard and for sharing his passion for the game of baseball with them. They noted that the role their father seemed to have enjoyed most in life was that of a grandfather.
My father-in-law Cornelius Driedger would have been 100 years old today.
I know the title of this blog post is a phrase associated with weddings. Traditionally in order to ensure a happy future a bride was supposed to wear something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue. Doing a little reading on wedding websites I found out there are reasons behind each of those directives and I think they can apply to everyday life, not just weddings. I thought of examples in my own life this week.
Something old connects us to our past and provides continuity between past and future generations. I received something old this week in the mail. This leather case belonged to my grandfather Peter Martin Schmidt the man whose story inspired my soon to be published novel.
When my grandfather was killed in a car accident in 1961 my grandmother gave it to her niece’s husband who happened to have the same initials as my grandfather’s which are embossed onto the case. Now that man’s daughter returned it to me. I am guessing the case was maybe used to keep cufflinks and tie clips. I want to find a use for it too, so it won’t just be a decorative item. Any suggestions?
Something new suggests hope for a new future. We got a new sink yesterday. Our old ceramic sink was badly stained, its faucet cracked and its rim allowing water to leak into the cupboard below. Our kitchen is often the focal point of our entertaining.
People sit on the stools at our counter to visit. I spend lots of time in front of the sink after we have hosted parties and social events cleaning things up. I have photos of my grandchildren on display on the shelf just above my sink so I can look at them often. My new sink reminds me that in the future we will once again be able to fill our kitchen with friends and family and my new sink will get lots of use.
Something borrowed is a reference to good luck. If you borrow something from people who are happy you will be happy too. We just borrowed this puzzle from a couple from our church who have been happily married for a long time. We haven’t had a chance to start it yet, but it is a reminder that we have lots of great friends in many different areas of our lives and that is certainly a lucky thing. We have borrowed many puzzles from friends and family during the pandemic.
Something blue is in the rhyme because the colour represents loyalty and faithfulness. This week my husband Dave bought new beautiful blue mitts for me to wear on our winter walks together. Dave and I have been faithfully married for over forty-sevenyears now and during the current pandemic, I have been very glad for his loyal presence during what would have a very lonely time without him.
Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue, not just for weddings, but for all of us as we navigate our way through life, remembering our past, hoping for the future, and cherishing our positive human relationships.
A second cousin of mine recently sent me this photo of my great grandfather Peter H. Jantz who was born in 1850. Doesn’t he look like a dashing young man? Notice his suitcase and coat on the floor behind him? I see the pocket watch tucked into his vest.
I think this photo was taken in Illinois shortly after Peter arrived in America from Poland. He had sailed on the S.S. Westphalia on May 6. 1874 when he was 24 years old. He landed in New York and then made his way to Illinois. He lived in Illinois for three years before moving to Kansas.
Peter was the youngest of five children. He was born in the village of Czosnow. His mother Eva Nickel had died in 1869 before Peter left Poland and notes about his family on the Grandma Online website suggest two of his three older sisters may have preceded their mother in death.
Peter’s oldest sister Maria came to America with her husband Heinrich Frantz in 1876 two years after her younger brother had immigrated. She and her husband and family of eight children lived in Kansas as well for time before moving to Oregon in 1893. I think Peter’s father and older brother Gerhardt stayed in Polandsince there is no record of their deaths in America.So my great grandfather was a bit of a bold adventurer leaving his whole family behind in 1874 and sailing to America on his own.
On March 11 in 1879, when he was 29, Peter married my great grandmother Maria Gerbrandt, whose family was from the town of Hillsboro in Marion County. Her family had immigrated to Kansas from Swiniary Prussia in 1875 on the S.S. Paris. Swiniary is now part of Poland. In the photo above you can see Peter with his wife Maria and their eight children- Anna (Annie), Marie, Edward, Johan, Matilda (Tilly), Heinrich(Henry), Valentine and Ben. Shortly after his marriage Peter bought 80 acres of land from his father-in-law for $800 and he and Maria established their own family farm.
My grandmother Annie is the youngest and she was born in 1892 so I assume this photo was taken around 1893 when Peter was in his forties and had been married for around fourteen years. He has aged considerably since his coming to America photo was taken.Besides the eight children in the photo, Maria and Peter had a ninth, a boy named after his dad. Peter was their second child and he only lived for a year.
I believe this photo was taken around 1904 since that is the year when Peter’s oldest son Ben got married and his wife is not included in this family photo. Peter is now in his mid-fifties and in 1906 he decides to immigrate with his family and settle in Drake, Saskatchewan. His five sons were all interested in farming and there was more land to be had in Saskatchewan than in Kansas. In 1904 Peter made an exploratory trip to Saskatchewan with some other men and a decision was made to move.
Just as Peter made a bold immigration move at age 24, at age 56 he makes another oneand in 1906 he leaves America for Canada. The family started a homestead two miles west of Drake Saskatchewan and eventually four of Peter and Maria’s sons as well as their daughter Annie and her husband had homesteads nearby. Peter died of respiratory problems just four years after immigrating in 1910. He was 60 years old. Sadly his daughter Tilly died one year later and his son Johan three years later bothof tuberculosis.
This is on the back of Peter’s coming to America photo so we know he had his picture taken in Lebanon, Illinois at the McKendree Art Gallery by a photographer named J. Lupton. I looked him up and indeed there is a John Lupton who lived from 1833-1897 and who died in Lebanon Illinois. He was an art professor and professional photographer. My great grandfather lived in Summerfield Illinois which is only 3.5 miles from Lebanon where the photo was taken. From the German writing on the back, it looks like my great grandfather sent this photo to someone, perhaps his sister Maria in Poland who followed him to America?
The McKendree Art Gallery in Lebanon, Illinois where Great Grandpa Peter had his photo taken, is still in existence today. It is part of McKendree University which opened its doors to students in 1828. If we can ever travel again someday, I’d like to go and visit the gallery.
A big thank you to Elisabeth Reimer, my second cousin, from Saskatoon who supplied me with the wonderful photo of our Great Grandpa Peter.
I talked to a young mother recently who said her two-year-old son wasn’t learning to talk as early as his sibling had. She wondered if that was because his daycare workers wore masks so he couldn’t see the way their mouths formed words. She was confident that post-pandemic, the speech of her COVID kid would flourish.
On a walk with a friend, we talked about high school athletes who haven’t been able to participate in the sports they love for the last two years. This has made it tougher for them to earn athletic scholarships for university and has cut them off from the teammates and coaches that played such an important role in their lives. Despite this many have remained devoted to their sports, training on their own. Some people call teens living through the pandemic, the COVID generation.
I was talking with someone, who like me, has had a grandchild born during the pandemic. Our grandchildren have seen very few people besides their parents yet they continue to achieve all the appropriate developmental milestones. Some people are referring to children born during the pandemic as COVID babies.
The media is reporting that kids will be behind academically because their schooling has been interrupted by the pandemic. Luckily my nearly nine-year-old grandson was only out of school for about four months due to the pandemic, but he had such a variety of learning interests before COVID-19. He played basketball and took dance classes. He had a violin teacher and a swimming instructor. In summers he went to art and drama camps. For over a year now he has not been able to do some of those things that enriched his education but when I talk with him and he tells me about what he is reading and shows me his drawings I know he is still learning and growing intellectually. Some people are calling school age kids who are going through the pandemic the children of COVID.
Children born during the pandemic are being given all kinds of labels like COVID babies or COVID kids, or the COVID generation or the children of COVID. In a recent article Neil Renton the head teacher at a school in England talks about the dangers of referring to the current crop of kids with a disease- related label. He says that instead the fact children are actually surviving the pandemic with such remarkable adaptability should be celebrated. We should be calling them The Remarkables.
Renton believes there is power in words and he thinks using the name of a disease to refer to children implies something negative. It conjures up images of closed doors and feelings of hopelessness. Studies show that the expectations teachers and parents have of children impact their performance. If we always talk about our current kids as some kind of disease generation negatively impacted by COVID-19 we perpetuate negativity and set up a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure.
Renton also points out that science shows us negative thoughts and speech hamper brain performance and trigger stress hormones. We do our kids a disservice if we label them with the name of something negative like a disease and expect less of them because of that.
I am not minimizing the challenge of COVID for kids and their families. There are no doubt all kinds of effects that living through the pandemic will have on our current generation of children. But…………… it is indeed REMARKABLE the way so many children are surviving and even flourishing during this challenging time and in their best interest,we need to emphasize the positive by not labelling them with the name of a negative disease.
The Pillow Book was written over a thousand years ago by Sei Shonagon, a lady-in-waiting for the Japanese Empress. It’s become famous for the lists it contains. I was intrigued by a list of forty items titled Deeply Irritating Things and one called Things That Make My Heart Beat Faster. But my favourite Sei Shonagon list is Elegant Things. Included on her list are snow on plum blossoms and a perfect duck’s egg.
Sei Shonagon inspired me to make a list of elegant things.
“He’d a make a great basketball player. Look at those big hands.” That was my husband’s first comment as we walked up to the statue of Michelangelo’s David in the Academia Gallery in Florence, Italy. The white marble statue is 17 feet high and shows David ready to fight Goliath, the Philistine giant.
David’s hands do look big, but Michelangelo made them that way because initially David was created to stand outside a palace, rather than in an art gallery. From up close you can see the veins in his hands.
I’m standing by the sculpture of David in the Piazzale Michelangelo in Florence
Michelangelo thought people would be viewing David from far away. He wanted them to be able to see all the details of his statue, including David’s hands. Although some people think the 29-year-old Michelangelo made a mistake when he carved David’s large hands, experts agree their size was deliberate.
I took this photo of Michelangelo’s statue just outside the Uffizi Gallery
At age 24 Michelangelo began visiting morgues. He would cut up unclaimed corpses and study their anatomy. He was as well-trained as any physician in the body’s structure. He wouldn’t have made a mistake with David’s hands. He wanted them to be larger than life and powerful. From up close you can see the very veins in his hands.
Two other artists had rejected the piece of marble Michelangelo used for David because they claimed it lacked perfection. Michelangelo was able to create something beautiful despite the flawed material he had been given.
We visited the statue of David on a February day along with a few other hardy souls who were braving Florence at the coldest time of the year. The absence of the crowds that usually mill around David made it possible for us to spend about 40 minutes examining not only his hands but all his features from every side.
David has a determined, focused look in his eye. His cheeks are smooth and his upper lip is just a little bigger than the lower one. His nostrils are slightly flared, his brow mildly furrowed and his hair classically curly.
You can see the clear outline of his rib cage. His elbows appear calloused and rough and his feet are crusty and cracked.
My husband Dave is right. Michelangelo’s David does have big hands. He also has a big heart, one filled with enough courage, confidence and youthful enthusiasm to try the impossible and succeed.
Just the way his creator Michelangelo succeeded when he took an imperfect piece of marble and turned it into something that has become one of the most universally recognized pieces of art in the world.
Have you heard of the packhorse librarians? They were a group of hardy and brave women in Kentucky who were passionate about books and literacy. Sponsored by a program that was part of President Roosevelt’s New Deal in the mid-1930s they delivered donated novels, non-fiction titles, textbooks and magazines to rural areas in the mountainous regions of Kentucky where illiteracy was the norm and there was little access to reading material. Braving all kinds of weather and some antagonism from the communities they sought to serve, these hardy women would cover weekly routes of over a hundred miles on horses with saddlebags stuffed with books.
In her novel, The Giver of Stars author Jojo Moyes provides a fictionalized account of a group of women in one community who served as packhorse librarians. It’s a fast-paced and plot-driven story perfect for pandemic times when it isn’t always easy to hunker down over a book that requires lots of careful reading and deep thinking.
The packhorse librarians in the novel are unique individuals- Alice a woman from England trapped in a loveless marriage, Kathryn a young widow missing the husband she loved passionately, Sally one of the first Black librarians in the United States, Izzy who overcomes a physical disability and Beth who fits in her library work with her farm responsibilities. My favourite character though was Margery, a feisty outspoken crusader who cares not a whit about public opinionand has incredible strength.
The packhorse librarians have a unique historical story to tell and Jojo Moyes shares it in an accessible and engaging way.