Category Archives: Childhood

What Gift?

Opening presents at my grandparents’ house in Drake Saskatchewan in the late 1950s

I’ve been browsing through the old newspaper columns I wrote in the 1990s. My mother used to cut all my columns out of the paper and save them in photo albums, so I have hundreds I eventually took out of those albums and stored in envelopes according to their topic.

I wrote this reflection in a 1994 column as I began Christmas shopping for gifts for my sons who were nine and sixteen at the time.

Mom reading to us. My sister and I are in dresses Mom sewed for Christmas. You can see the stockings are hung.

What Gift?

Someday our children may travel faster than the speed of light to destinations we can only dream of

They will no doubt, sail stormy seas that are completely foreign to us

As young people have for generations, they too will boldly venture across the boundaries so carefully established by their elders

They are sure to see things that are beyond our ability to imagine

What gift can we give them for such a journey?

For their trip to the unknown landscape of the future no toy or game will do

We must give them a gift of lasting value, a gift we have hopefully received on our own life’s journey

A gift that is the product of our deep sense of responsibility to them and our unwavering faith in them

That gift is an unconditional love they can never question

In time, everything will change for our children

But not the construction of their hearts. 

Other posts………

The Advent Books

God Rest the Children

Two Movies About Children Who Change Adults

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Filed under Childhood, Holidays

A Sign of Affection From Grandpa

When I was visiting my brother in Victoria he and I were recalling the way our paternal grandfather showed his affection for us. We both remembered how he would rub his scruffy beard against our cheeks in a playful way. It hurt a bit and made our cheeks red but we didn’t protest.

On our trip home, I was reading Carla Funk’s memoir Mennonite Valley Girl. It is a collection of essays about the author’s teenage years in Vanderhoof, British Columbia. Carla is a poet and that shows in her detailed and descriptive writing. I was surprised to find in an essay titled Holding the Flame that Carla’s Dad used to show his affection for her in the same way my grandfather expressed his for us. Here’s how Carla puts it…..

He clamped my shoulders in a soft bear hug. He smelled like he always smelled in the evenings: sweat, smoke, and whiskey. His stubble chafed against the side of my face, like it did when I was small and he would pull me close and say, “What you need is a good whisker-rub,” then scrape his cheek against my own until my skin burned and pinkened and I begged him to stop.

I wonder if anyone else had a grandparent or Dad who showed their affection in that way? Was it a Mennonite thing?

Other posts………….

On My Grandparents’ Farm

Grandpa and Me

A Lesson From My Grandfather

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Old Friends

With my childhood friend Shirley Joy in her Vancouver home

During our short stay in Vancouver, we were fortunate enough to be the recipients of the warm hospitality of a childhood friend of mine Shirley Joy, and her husband Mark. They were marvelous hosts.

Shirley Joy and I were able to do lots of reminiscing- looking at old class photos, talking about our favorite teachers, things we’d done as children, and our mutual friends.

Our Grade Five Class in 1963 with our teacher Mr. Helmut Klassen. I am second from the left in the second row and Shirley is right in the middle of the first row.

I was the editor of our high school paper The SCEye. I am sitting in the middle. Shirley was one of my staff writers. She is behind me and to my left.
High school graduation photo with Shirley

Shirley recalled eating licorice and drinking Mountain Dew at sleepovers, listening to Carol King’s record Tapestry for the first time in the rec room in my parents’ basement, and playing school in the garage of my house with all the neighborhood children as our students. Shirley remembered that one day her Mom insisted she shell pails full of garden peas before she played school so we had to take our students over to her house to complete that task before we resumed classes. She also reminded me of a concert we once staged with homemade puppets performing songs from The Sound of Music. We talked about how we built forts in a glen of trees in the center of our hometown and how a siren went off at noon and six o’clock so we knew when to head home for meals.

Mark, Shirley’s husband is a good chef and made us a delicious jambalaya one night from a recipe he’d found in the Globe and Mail. He had hot from the oven homemade muffins ready for us for breakfast. Another night we took our hosts out for Thai food. It is so reassuring that BC has a vaccine passport mandate for restaurant eating just like in Manitoba.

We had great conversations catching up on our lives, retirement endeavors, children and grandchildren, travels, and books we’d read.

Grade Eight class with our teacher Mr. Ted Klassen. Shirley is in the center of the middle row and I am just to her left in a striped top.
With my high school besties Deb and Shirley Joy on our wedding day

It really is lovely to reconnect with old friends.

Other posts……….

A Reunion With Old Friends

Friend For A Moment

My Mom’s Friends

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Filed under Childhood, Western Canada Travels

Life and Death of A House on the Prairie

In 1925 the year my mother was born, her family moved into a brand new house in Drake, Saskatchewan. The house was of a mail-order variety. Large department stores like Sears and Eatons shipped out a kind of kit that contained blueprints and every single board and nut and bolt you would need to put the house together.

According to the house plans which my mother kept, my grandparents Annie and Peter Schmidt received their plans and materials for the house through the Saskatchewan Grain Growers Association and my grandfather hired a carpenter to help him build the house.

My mother described the house in great detail to me.

My Mom’s family on the verandah of their house

There was an ivy-covered verandah and you walked inside to the biggest room in the house, the dining room. A railing high up all around the room displayed fancy plates and other knick-knacks. A couch was near the stairwell to the upstairs and my grandfather like to lie on it and listen to his favorite radio shows. On one wall of the dining room, there was a buffet cupboard for dishes, and on the other a wooden wall phone.

Just off the dining room was the parlor where my Mom’s family had their piano and my grandfather’s writing desk. Couches and chairs in the parlor were for visits with guests.

At the back of the house was the kitchen with its wood stove. My Mom remembers the dumb waiter. It was behind doors and had shelves where you could place items like jars of canned goods and lower them to the basement cellar with a pulley rope system. You could also haul up vegetables kept in cold storage down there or coal for the stove. In winter my grandmother did laundry in the basement but in summer her washing machine was on the back porch.

My grandmother doing laundry on her back porch. Right behind her is an area called the shed on the house plans. It had a sink where the family washed up when they came in from the field.
The second floor of the house

My Mom’s parents had their bedroom on the main floor but the other three bedrooms were upstairs. One of the windows going up the stairs was stained glass and at the top of the stairs was an indoor bathroom something very few houses had in 1925. Mom said it had a washstand and a claw-footed bathtub. Her Mom heated water on Saturday and poured it in the tub and they all took turns bathing in it. They had an indoor toilet as well and her Dad emptied its pail every morning.

The house had a large expanse of lawn and beautiful flower gardens my grandmother planted from seed. In the photo, my mother and her two sisters pose in the flower garden.

Near the house was a large barn and in this photo, my mother farthest to the left plays on the farmyard with her siblings.

Before I was born my grandparents sold the house and their farm to their son. I visited the house many times as a child when my aunt and uncle and cousins lived there.

On my visit to Drake earlier this week one of those cousins took me to see the old house. After my uncle died in a tragic accident in the 1960s my aunt sold the house and property. The house was moved to a different location on the same yard where it was built and it is still standing.

It is so dilapidated that it didn’t seem safe to try to go inside, but we peered through the windows.

Many of them still have beautiful leaded glass pieces in them. I remember delighting in the way the sun shone through those prism-like window features and created rainbows.

Even though it is sad to see the house in such a broken-down state it is good to remember that the house served its purpose marvelously in its time housing several successive generations of a family and creating many memories for them.

My mother is the baby in the chair on the verandah of the house in 1926.
My mother’s family in the 1940s

Other posts………

First Day of School-1931

An 80 Year Old Christmas Card

Remembering My Grandfather


Filed under Childhood, Family

Rejected by Chicken Soup- Running Away From Home

I have had quite a number of my stories published in The Chicken Soup series of books but I have had an equal number I’ve sent in that were rejected. I’ve decided from time to time I might publish the rejects here on my blog. Here’s one I submitted for a book about mothers. It is a true story as all Chicken Soup stories must be.

Me at six years old

I ran away from home when I was six. I was angry at my mother for making me go to bed at the same time as my younger sister.

     “I’m older. I should get to stay up longer,” I said.

     “But you’re in grade one now,” my mother tried to reason with me. “You need to go to bed early so you can get up for school in the morning.” 

     “It’s not fair,” I protested. I took out the blue suitcase we used for train trips to my grandparents’ house and hoisted it onto the couch in the living room of our small apartment. I yanked my school uniform, my Sunday dress, my pajamas, and pedal pushers out of the closet and flung them into the open suitcase along with my piggy bank and a few of my favorite books. To my surprise Mom didn’t stop me.  She just stood watching. I closed the suitcase, grabbed the handle and marched to the door. 

      “Good-bye. I’m leaving and going far away.” 

      “Have a good time,” said my Mom. “But if you change your mind remember you can always come back home.” 

       I couldn’t believe Mom was really going to let me go. I trudged down the long apartment block hallway and out into the evening air.  I plodded along the train tracks that ran behind our building dragging my heavy suitcase. 

      Soon I heard a train coming.  We heard trains all the time in our apartment. Their clacking and chugging provided a kind of lullaby as I drifted off to sleep beside my little sister in our bed that folded out from the living room couch.

But walking right beside the track was different. The train cars hurtling by sounded like a herd of angry bulls charging past me on pounding hooves. The wheels screeched and I had to let go of the suitcase handle and plug my ears.   I was breathless with terror and ran to hide behind a pile of coal beside the track. 

       And then I heard a dog barking. I was petrified of dogs. I tried to bury myself in the coal to hide. Finally, the dog was quiet but the sun was setting and I was shivering. 

        Dejected I turned back toward the apartment block, my face and hands and legs black from the coal. My cheeks had white streaks left from the tears I’d cried when I heard the dog. My mother had been watching out the window the whole time, but she acted surprised to see me when I opened the door. 

       “Why hello,” she said. “Looks like you need a bath.” 

       After my bath, she put white raisin cookies and chocolate milk on the table for a snack.  She read my sister and me a story, listened to us recite our prayers, and tucked us into bed. 

      “Welcome home,” she said as she bent down to kiss me goodnight. 

Other posts……..

Living at the Hospital

In Chicken Soup Again

Back in Chicken Soup


Filed under Childhood

Teen Targets

Someone told me a story this week about a teenager who had just started work at a Winnipeg cinema that had re-opened for business. The teen had already been bullied by people who didn’t want to follow the mask regulations dictated by the province. They became rude and angry when the teen requested they put on a mask before entering the theater. That brought to mind a conversation I once had with a group of my high school students about bullying.

Photo by Keira Burton on

Some told me they had been bullied because of their race. Some had been teased about their accent because English wasn’t their first language. Others had been harassed about their clothing or hairstyle or had their sexual orientation questioned sarcastically. There were students whose family background had been ridiculed and others had been the butt of jokes because of their unique physical characteristics.

But…….. the most common kind of unfair treatment surprisingly had come from adults who bullied them or treated them unfairly because of their age. 

One boy said he’d been browsing in a store when the business owner approached him and asked if he had stolen something. The young man said he hadn’t and turned to leave. The owner refused to let him go until he had searched him for stolen merchandise.  “He didn’t even apologize for falsely accusing me”, said the student. 

Other kids had seen people cross the road rather than walk by a group of teenagers. Teens had been the recipients of dirty looks for no apparent reason other than their age. Some felt discriminated against in the workplace where they believed employers felt freer to get angry with teenage workers.

Teen workers deserve the same respect as adult employees

Like the situation, I mentioned at the beginning of this post, customers sometimes feel they can treat teen employees less respectfully too. They feel freer to vent their anger at a teen thinking perhaps they won’t face the same repercussions because the teen isn’t as likely to retaliate or stand up for themselves. I know I experienced some of that kind of bullying treatment when I was a teenager and worked as a waitress.

As we slowly begin to enter post-pandemic life and start engaging with each other again in all kinds of settings we may need to remind ourselves of just how important it is for adults to be good role models when it comes to bullying or angry behavior. We need to accord everyone, including young people a full measure of respect.

Other posts………

Lessons Waiting Tables

Crossing the Line

A Display of Racist Anger

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Aunt Olly

Olly Penner

We didn’t have Sesame Street or Paw Patrol or Blues Clues when I was a kid. We had Aunt Olly. Olly Penner hosted a program on the radio station CFAM for kids called Children’s Party and I was a devoted fan in my childhood.

Like many families in the late 1950s and early 1960s we didn’t have a television and along with thousands of other children from all over western Canada and the central northern United States I sat near the radio every afternoon while Aunt Olly read stories like Tall Fireman Paul, Big Red or Johnny Appleseed and played funny songs like I Know An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly and There’s a Hole in the Bucket. If your mother sent in a request, Aunt Olly would also wish you a Happy Birthday over the air and even tell you where your Mom had hidden your present.

I remember hurrying home from school and sitting down at the table with the snack Mom had ready for me and listening to Aunt Olly.

Photo from the CFAM radio website of Aunt Olly and her sidekick Gus

In 1989 I was on the staff of the magazine The Mennonite Mirror and was assigned to write a feature story about Olly Penner for the magazine. I was excited to have the chance to interview my childhood idol. I found out that not only had Olly done a children’s program for CFAM she had also hosted a variety of other shows like Ladies First, Hints for Homemakers, The Garden Show, and Social Calendar. She co-hosted the radio station’s morning show with anchor Jim McSweeny for 13 years.

Remember this was a time when most women did not work outside the home, something Olly Penner was criticized for by some radio listeners. She said the support of her husband Vic who was the editor of the Altona newspaper The Red River Valley Echo but was often referred to by the public as ‘Aunt Olly’s husband’, made it possible for her to keep up with all her radio station commitments which included many public appearances. She also found time to write a regular newspaper column, publish a cookbook, and be an active participant in several community organizations, all while raising two sons.

Children’s Party souvenir from Greg Lindenbach

The day I interviewed her she showed me the thousands of fan letters she had received from children. Many had sent her photographs and drawings and I recognized some of the names. But Olly also had fan mail from adults; grandparents who enjoyed her show, farmers who listened to her while driving their tractors, recent immigrants who said they were learning English by listening to her, and parents who said they got their children to behave by threatening to take away the privilege of listening to Children’s Party. She even had a fan letter from a clergyman who said he’d ‘fallen in love with her voice’.

Olly Penner

Olly retired in 1987 and when I interviewed her in 1989 she was already a grandmother and was enjoying traveling with her husband, and spending more time with her family. Olly Penner died in 2015 at the age of 86. She had a legion of fans in a time when media programming aimed specifically at children was a rarity.

The full original article I wrote for the Mennonite Mirror can be accessed on page 4 of the May/June 1989 issue here.

Other posts………

Radios Good and Evil

What a Woman!

My Childhood Reading Heaven


Filed under Canada, Childhood, Culture, Media

The Girl Who Loved Giraffes

I was smitten with the story of Canadian giraffologist Anne Innis Dagg after I saw the movie The Woman Who Loves Giraffes. I wrote a blog post about how the film inspired and moved me. So when I heard there was a new children’s book about Anne Innis Dagg called The Girl Who Loved Giraffes I was so excited. Now Anne’s story would be accessible to a younger generation of Canadians.

I was even more excited when I heard that Kathy Stinson a Canadian children’s writer with a long and successful career had written The Girl Who Loved Giraffes. Kathy Stinson classics were favourites in my sons’ book collections when they were young as well as in the libraries of the elementary schools where I served as a teacher. At one point I probably could have recited any number of Kathy Stinson’s books by heart, because I had read them so often.

So when CANSCAIP (the Canadian Society of Children’s Authors, Illustrators and Performers) of which I am a member began to advertise the launch of The Girl Who Loved Giraffes by Kathy Stinson I signed up immediately.

The launch was terrific because not only did we get to hear from Kathy Stinson the author, but also from Anne Innis Dagg herself. I also enjoyed listening to Francois Thisdale talk about how he created such beautiful illustrations for the book. He put so many details into each drawing.

He explained for example that in this one where Anne sees a giraffe for the first time at the Brookfield Zoo he added a vintage ticket for the zoo and the numbers on the ticket are Anne’s birthdate.

Anne Innis Daag

One of my favorite things about The Girl Who Loved Giraffes is that it is really two books in one. First of all, we can read Anne’s story about how she went to Africa to study giraffes and became one of the world’s foremost experts on the animal only to be rejected for teaching positions at Canadian universities because she was a woman.

A gIraffe I photographed at the Taronga Zoo in Australia

But… we also learn all kinds of interesting things about giraffes in the notes on each page. Did you know a giraffe’s intestines are as long as a football field or that they eat 90 different kinds of leaves?

I can hardly wait to share The Girl Who Loved Giraffes with my grandchildren. It is a top-notch autobiography- a fascinating compendium of information about giraffes and it contains many beautiful works of art.

Other posts………….

Where Are the Women?

The Matilda Effect

Show Us Where You Live Humpback

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Filed under Books, Childhood, Nature

Show Us Where You Live, Humpback

“A celebration of the wonder of whales and the connections we share with them” are the words on the back of a beautiful new picture book for young children called Show Us Where You Live Humpback by Beryl Young.

A mother and child see a humpback whale with her calf as they walk along the ocean and a lyrical story begins to unfold where the lives of the two children, whale and human are described and compared. As the baby whale grows and learns so does the child.

Photo of a page from Show Us Where You Live Humpback by Beryl Young and Sakika Kikuchi published by Greystone Kids

Show Us Where You Live Humpback is a feast for the eye and ear. Illustrator Sakika Kikuchi has created gorgeous images of the whales under the sea all awash in different shades of blue while the cadence of Beryl Young’s text brings to mind the lapping of rolling waves on the shore.

I loved the page where the whale is shooting a plume of spray out from its blowhole and the reader is invited to make the accompanying sounds- Whoosh- Fwissh- Wow! This is contrasted with lively colourful illustrations of the child in the story blowing out birthday candles, blowing bubbles and blowing away the white fuzz of a dandelion.

There’s lots to learn about humpback whales from the text in the story itself and in a short information piece included at the end of the book which compares the knobs on a humpback’s head to the bumps on a dill pickle and the size of the baby whale to a compact car.

Author Beryl Young

Beryl Young the author of Show Us Where You Live Humpback has written all kinds of books for children including biographies and middle-grade fiction. This is her second picture book. Illustrator Sakika Kikuchi has a degree in children’s book illustration from Cambridge University and lives in Japan. This is her first picture book.

Illustration by Sakika Kikuchi from the book Show Us Where You Live Humpback

The book is published by Greystone Kids which specializes in nature books for children. At a conference in May, I listened to a presentation by Sara Gillingham who is a consulting creative director for Greystone and she talked about working towards more inclusivity in the visuals in children’s books. I could appreciate that in Show Us Where You Live Humpback where the illustrations depict the child in a way that leaves gender and ethnicity open to suggestion.

I have become friends with author Beryl Young through our connection with Heritage House. They published my novel Lost on the Prairie and have also published one of Beryl’s novels, Miles to Go.

I have never met Beryl in person but am hoping to rectify that with an autumn trip to British Columbia where I’d also like to go on a whale watching tour to meet the fascinating creatures featured in Beryl’s beautiful book.

Other posts……

What An Inspiration

Two Breathtakingly Beautiful Books

A Book I’ve Loved For Fifty Years

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Filed under Books, Childhood, Nature

A Book I’ve Loved For Fifty Years

My favorite novel as a young girl was The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare Published in 1958 the story is set in the 1860s. Kit Tyler, an orphan, has grown up in her grandfather’s home in Barbados. When Kit is a teenager he dies and circumstances force Kit to go and live with her very conservative Puritan relatives in New England. After being there for a time she is accused of witchcraft.

I think I loved the book as a young girl because Kit the protagonist is fiesty, independent and determined to stand up for those who are weaker than she is.

Kit and Nat- illustration by Christy Tortland.

I delighted in the tension of the romance that Kit has with a young sailor named Nat even though after the first time I read the book I knew exactly how it would turn out.  

Kit and Hannah-illustration by Christy Tortland

Kit has this wonderfully supportive mentor named Hannah, a woman who understands her and provides solace in tough times. I had a mother who was like that.  

Kit with Mercy and Judith -illustration by Christy Tortland

Mercy and Judith, Kit’s two cousins are a complete contrast in character and they reminded me of my own two cousins who were closest to me in age, one on each side of the family.  

I also really liked the fact that the book taught me so much history. I learned about the Salem witch trials, Quakers, Puritans and life in early New England. Kit charmed me because she had the courage to be different and go against the societal norms of the community in which she lived.  As a young girl I didn’t have the courage to do that, but I wished I did.

As an adult I’ve continued to appreciate The Witch of Blackbird Pond and I make a point of reading it again at least once every year. In the last decade as I have tried to become a writer for young people myself, I have gained an even greater appreciation for the writing genius of Elizabeth George Speare. She won many literary awards including the Newberry Medal for The Witch of Blackbird Pond.  Her characters are memorable and interesting.  Her plot has plenty of conflict. The setting is described beautifully and the pacing is perfect.

I’ve learned recently that since Speare’s novel was published during the McCarthy era in American history some people think she was using the book as a way to make a political statement. By describing Kit’s unfair accusation and trial for witchcraft in the 17th century, Elizabeth George Speare was actually commenting on the way many people in the United States in the 1950s were unfairly accused of being sympathizers with the Communist Party.

Image from @freepik

Today is World Book Day. It is a world wide celebration of books and reading designed to highlight the power of books to change lives and impart knowledge. It encourages people of all ages to understand the value of books and to read more. It promotes the idea that books serve as window into different worlds.

The Witch of Blackbird Pond has been that kind of book for me.

“People are afraid of things they don’t understand.” – Kit Tyler in Elizabeth George Speare’s The Witch of Blackbird Pond.

Other posts……..

I Read Canadian

The Magic Geranium

A Novel For Peter

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Filed under Books, Childhood