Category Archives: Family

All in a Name

What’s in a name? you might ask yourself sometimes. I know I ask myself that question as I do family history work. You run across stories – written and oral – about how those with this surname are intelligent and those with that surname are stubborn. How this person is ‘just like the Deans’ or that person is ‘just like the Ivanys’.

The topic came up at a family reunion I attended last summer. My first cousins once removed were reminiscing about all those who were not there and all those who had gone before, including my paternal grandfather, Alex Dean. About how mild and gentle he was, how all the Dean men were like that once. At my parents’ 40th anniversary party my father’s youngest sister commented in her toast that my dad was just like their dad – she had never heard my father raise his voice, and she had never heard her father raise his voice.

I am not a Dean. I mean, I am a Dean, but I am not ‘just like the Deans’.

I suppose I’m more like how family lore describes one of my fifth great-grandfathers. Some people say the story is made up, but there is a family legend that says that he almost met his end in the 1800s when he got into an all-too-common argument, and the others, having yet again had enough of his mouth, tied him up and threw him into the bottom of a boat that was then set adrift. By some hope and a prayer, it washed ashore on the last little piece of land between Newfoundland and Ireland, and so that is where he settled and raised about ten or twelve children. Or so the story goes.

While I can possess a little of that hot-headedness, I have learned to control it most of the time. Someone once told me that I had a very quick temper. I told them that actually I have a very long temper – it takes me a long time to get angry but when it goes, it goes.

But this progenitor of mine had another important trait that I also seem to have inherited. Resilience. The ability to take something, no matter how bad it might be, and turn it to something good. The author Brandon Sanderson writes in one of his fantasy books how curses and blessings come in pairs. If temper is my curse, then resilience is my blessing.

In my church, we call each other by the terms Brother and Sister. The local leaders are called Bishops or Presidents, volunteer positions that one does not volunteer for but agree to accept if asked, if that makes sense. Local leaders, depending on the needs of the area and the type of unit they preside over, generally hold these positions for three to five years; area leaders for five to ten years. Instead of calling them Bro. Smith, for example, we call them Bishop Smith or Pres. Smith. Even after they no longer hold the leadership position, it is customary to continue calling them by those terms.

Which brings me to my husband.

Back home, he is known simply by his first name at church. I have watched people walk down the hallway, greeting person after person with ‘Good morning, Brother’, and then they reach my husband and it’s “Good morning, S.” It doesn’t happen when we go to church in Newfoundland or when we visit other congregations in our travels. But it happens in our own congregation and in his former congregation. No judgment here. Just an observation.

Now we find ourselves overseas in a place where he was a local leader many years ago. And here, he is still called President. His name is revered here. He is a legend. The people love him. He is greeted with smiles and cries of ‘Ah! President!”

He’s the same person here as there.

All in a name, I guess.

 

 

Church Service Missions

Altoona Pennsylvania Stake Conference, Nov 22, 2014

In the fall of 2012 I was teaching in northern Manitoba, Canada, about 750 miles north of Fargo, North Dakota. My husband and I had been married for two and a half years, and I had taken this position teaching in a remote Cree Indian community for something to do while we waited for immigration to allow me to come to the United States to live with him and my step-daughter. During those first years of our marriage we spent a lot of time on Skype – we turned on Skype when we got up in the morning, and turned it off when one of us fell asleep at night. With little else to do in the community I was living in, I was spending a lot of time online while we were Skyping. One night I was on LDS.org and was just sort of clicking my way through all sorts of links on there, when I stumbled across a page that talked about part-time church service missions. As I read, I got more and more excited. As a convert to the church in my mid-twenties with a nine-year old daughter, I didn’t have the opportunity to serve a mission, so I found this prospect intriguing. I, for one, always imagined that church service missionaries were retired older members, probably married, with no children at home, and looking for something worthwhile to do in their golden years. And that used to be the standard. But no longer! If you have as little as eight hours a week to spare, you can qualify to serve a church-service mission!

You, like me, may not realize just how many different kinds of church service missions there are. Some are full-time; some are part-time. Some require travel; some are at-home. They all fall under one of the areas found in the four-fold mission of the church – helping members live the gospel of Jesus Christ, gathering Israel through missionary efforts, caring for the poor and needy, and enabling the salvation of the dead. But one thing is clear…if there is something you love to do, there is probably a mission for it.

Do you like taking pictures? There’s a mission for that! Church-service photographers are sent a topic each week, spend a few hours taking pictures, then submit them to the church. These photos are then used by website developers, church magazine editors, the Mormon Newsroom, and other church departments to create and enhance content on the church’s more than 200 official websites.

Do you like looking at pictures that other people have taken? There’s a mission for that! While you are checking submitted photos to ensure they meet our standards, you also tag them so that when someone is looking for pictures to add to a website or article, they can quickly find them.

Do you like technology? There’s a mission for that! If you have tech skills, you could be developing apps and other tools for members, making online games for children, creating music apps, or offering technical support.

Do you like family history? There are missions for that! Indexing, research, data specialist, online support – these are just some ways that you could serve a family history mission.

Do you like helping people with their problems? There are missions for that! From Addiction Recovery to Bishops’ Storehouses to Mormon Helping Hands there is a way for you to serve. And if you have medical training, there are even humanitarian cruises where you spend five months on board a navy ship traveling from port to port giving medical attention to underprivileged areas of the world!

Do you like building or fixing things, talking to people, answering phones, working with youth, teaching, helping the missionaries, enhancing military relations, swimming, camping? There are missions for all of these things!

There are even at-home church service missions for youth and young adults who cannot serve a full-time regular mission!

So, after praying about it for several months and having several conversations with church employees about it, I submitted my mission papers and a few months later was called as an Operations Specialist for the LDS.org Response Team in the new church department called Communication Services. Now, that’s a mouthful!

But what do the thirty-five of us on the LDS.org Response Team really do? Well, you know the little Do You Have Feedback About This Page? link at the bottom of all the church web pages? I answer the feedback. I typically respond to 500 or more messages a month dealing with all sorts of topics. I answer a lot of Welfare, Calendar, Directory and Newsletter questions, and I also answer a lot of questions in Spanish, Portuguese, French, German, Italian, Bulgarian and Romanian – and no! I don’t speak all of those languages! Some of us are specialists in different areas. I, for example, am the Specialist for all the feedback for Study Notebook, whether it’s in the online Notes or the various Gospel Library apps. If you have trouble with highlights, tags, links, journals, bookmarks, notebooks or notes, more than likely I am the one who will respond!

Sometimes the Team is given special assignments. Anyone who is in Primary is probably aware of the Primary Resource Pages. These are thematic compilations of every related article, song, movie, game or other resource found on LDS.org that are suitable for children, and are a great help for Primary teachers and families looking for activities for lessons and family home evening. I was part of the group that accepted the request from the General Primary Presidency to find the resources for this resource.

Another special assignment that I was part of involved checking the materials available in other languages to be sure that the links worked and that all available translated documents were posted online.

And yet another special project that I am involved with is image tagging so that church departments can easily find images. A few weeks ago I sent an email to Young Men and Young Women leaders about this project and how the youth and other members can get involved. If you haven’t seen it yet, please ask me or your youth leaders about it. I strongly encourage you to help out with this worthwhile project!

President Monson said in 2013, “You may sometimes be tempted to say, ‘Will my influence make any difference? I am just one. Will my service affect the work that dramatically?’ I testify to you that it will. You will never be able to measure your influence for good” (Thomas S. Monson, LDS.org News and Events, June 24, 2013).

I didn’t know when I decided to serve an at-home part-time mission that I would be involved in any of the above activities. But there is no doubt that I have had opportunities to be an influence for good. Working with Study Notebook has led to the developers knowing what works and what doesn’t work, and in some small part this has resulted in changes being made to how it syncs with the apps for the over 2 000 000 current users. My work with the Primary Pages has benefited thousands of Primary teachers. I have had online discussions with hostile anti-Mormons who have written to me later and told me that they changed their minds about us and apologizing for things they said. I have brought several inactive members back to church. These are people I will never meet from places I will never go. I have sent countless golden contact referrals to the missionaries. And because I sometimes forget to remove my name tag after church activities, I have had the opportunity to heighten the church’s presence in my own community.

Since 1979, the Church-service missionary program has provided a growing and varied number of opportunities to serve. This important missionary workforce helps many Church departments and operations provide needed products and services, while at the same time, safe-guarding the integrity of tithing funds. Serving others brings great blessings to the tens of thousands of us who serve, to our families, and to the Church worldwide. I invite you to prayerfully consider joining me in hastening the work by serving a church service mission. It’s just an hour a day. You won’t regret it! In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Poppies

The poppy. What better flower could be used as a symbol of remembrance and of hope? Springing forth from the poorest of soils and in the poorest of conditions, it wields it’s brightly coloured head on the slenderest of stalks, stalks that one imagines could not bear such a heavy load. Yet, they do.

The poppy, against all odds, flourishes despite all the hardships it endures, a symbol of hope that struggles can be overcome, sacrifices made meaningful, beauty found among horror. This common, lowly weed was one of the first flowers to establish itself on the battlegrounds and cemeteries of Europe during the war to end all wars, creating a mass of waving scarlet beauty where just a short time ago the same ground was drenched in blood.

It is not just our time that uses the poppy as a symbol of remembrance. The ancient Greeks and Romans gave offerings of poppies to the dead, as a symbol of a resurrection, a better life to come. Two hundred years ago, during the Napoleonic Wars, it was recorded that poppies covered the graves of those who had fallen. In addition, the poppy, due to its medicinal qualitites, has been used for thousands of years and across many cultures as a sleep aid. John McCrae was following these traditions when he penned  his famous poem. Perhaps more importantly, even though he was surrounded by the images of war, he continued to see the beauty that still existed around him – flowers blowing gently in the breeze, larks singing as they flew overhead – and used those powerful but often overlooked images to convey a message of hope, of accepting the torch of freedom, of remembrance. “If ye break faith with us who die, we shall not sleep, though poppies grow in Flander’s Fields” is a powerful statement on the nature of sacrifice from this doctor.

For many people, however, the word ‘poppy’ has another meaning. For me, growing up in Newfoundland, my grandfathers were called Poppy. Many a time I remember them, still miss them, wish I could talk them to once more in this life.

Poppy Ivany, my mother’s father, Eli, died in February 2001, after a terrible descendence into that anti-thesis of remembrance, Alzheimer’s. I have so many memories of him, but it was not until two years ago that I knew that he had volunteered to serve in World War II. He wanted to do his part, but was found medically unfit to serve, and so proudly wore his black armband showing that he was willing to fight but could not. After his memory had been destroyed and distorted by the ravages of his disease, my grandmother was forced to put him into a home. Yet she continued to visit him as often as she could. This was terribly difficult on her, not only having to make this decision but seeing him day after day descending further and further into his own private hell. I recall one day she was asked why she continued to visit him – after all, it was obvious that he no longer knew who she was. Her response? “He might not remember me. But I remember him.”

Eli’s father, Luke, was a Merchant Marine in the Great War. In the nineteen years that I knew him, he cautioned me many times to always do what was right, especially after he moved into our home when I was a teenager. One day after bestowing that same wisdom – along with many other insights – upon me once again, he paused. Getting a wistful look in his eye he told me that he always tried to be good, but there was one time he was glad he wasn’t. You see, he survived the Halifax Explosion because he and his cousin had been bad. He was positive that if they had not been sentenced to clean their ship as a punishment, that he would have been in the part of the harbour that was the worst hit when the explosion happened. His memories of that day and the days following, days when he was on clean-up detail, were etched in his memory like stone. A dazed young boy missing an arm, a father frantically searching for his family in the ruins of a house, a shell-shocked and blinded mother trying to feed her headless infant. My Poppy Luke had seen some terrible things during his time in service, and for many years he was quick to do his part at the Clarenville War Memorial ceremony as one of the last living veterans of World War I.

I sit here on this Remembrance Day, contemplating all of these things, and cannot help but think that when the Millennium comes it will be a strange experience for so many people. A time without war, without conflict, without sadness or loss…. Would that such a thing were possible before then, as we are admonished in the scriptures to ‘renounce war and proclaim peace’. Until that time, I will promote the cause of peace, support those who choose to be part of peace-keeping efforts, pray for a better tomorrow, and continue to wear the red poppy each year in remembrance of sacrifices made by loved ones, friends and strangers.

The poppies still grow in Flander’s Fields.

Lest we forget.

Jack

The old house stands empty near the intersection of Bar Road and what is now called ‘Trinity Drive’. The open door of the traditional Newfoundland-style square home with the low roof swings diligently back and forth in the breeze as I watch, reminding me of Jack, a man I never met and whose last name I did not know until a few weeks ago, but who plays an unforgettable role in my childhood memories.

You see, the only memories I have of this short and stocky man are of him dressed in his red and purple checked flannel shirt and grey-green overalls and rubber boots and blue hat with the ear-flaps, a shovel in his hand, either digging in the ditch in front of his house or taking a break from digging in the ditch in front of his house. I didn’t know if he was married, had children, lived alone, had pets. I didn’t know how old he was, what his last name was, what he did for a living. I don’t even know when he died. The only thing I know is that whatever this man was, whoever this man was, he left a legacy behind. It’s a somewhat small legacy, and probably only important to me, but a legacy, a gift handed down from one generation to the next, nonetheless.

You see, Jack’s ditch never overflowed. His pipes never clogged. His trench rarely had to be redug by the Department of Highways. No overgrown weeds or scraggly alders dared make their appearance. No rocks, frost-hoven from a cold winter, or mud, loosened by spring rains, blocked the steady flow of water in front of Jack’s house. At the first sign of rain or storm or spring thaw there was Jack with his trusty shovel, diligently ensuring that his small part of the world was free from flood and debris.

I can’t help but wonder if some of the devastation caused by Hurricane Igor could have been avoided if there had been more Jacks around.

And I can’t help but wonder what childhood memory I would have instead of falling into a sewer ditch in Cornerbrook with my brother. Not one of my more pleasant memories, I can assure you. Neither of us had listened after being told repeatedly by mother and father and great-aunt and great-uncle to stay away from the ditch and our camper, which was parked parallel to the ditch. Not heeding anyone’s word and fully believing that nothing bad was going to happen to us, my brother and I decided that it would be great fun to jump on the bumper of the camper and promptly slipped off and fell – actually, rolled – into the sewer ditch. Crying and reeking and dying of shame, we shuffled our way into Aunt Anna’s and Uncle Cec’s house, where we were quickly admonished, ridiculed, bathed at arm’s length, soothed with hugs and given bananas. (Looking back, I think the bananas were a desperate ploy to get us to stop bawling so much, as it is very hard to screech when your mouth is full.) After all was said and done, Uncle Cec took me on his lap in his old armchair and gave me a good talking to about listening to adults, and then gave me a little burgundy box filled with scripture cards. I spent many hours diligently reading those cards and rearranging them and sorting them in different ways – alphabetical, biblical order, by colour….I still have them.

If only Jack had lived in Cornerbrook.

The memory of his diligence is Jack’s legacy to me. His diligence in that mere two feet by twenty feet ditch kept his little parcel of earth free from whatever vagaries Mother Nature threw his way. Everytime I pass by his ditch I am reminded that there are so many things I could be more diligent about. Prayer and scripture study are two that come immediately to mind, but there are other things, too. I could be more prepared for emergencies. I could keep more food in my house. I could learn how to be more self-sufficient with home and car repairs. The list goes on. I just need to be more diligent in being diligent.

Jack’s ditch is slowly filling in. The garden is overgrown. The windows in the house are broken. The paint is peeling. Yet, however small it may be, Jack’s legacy lives.

Reflections on a life well lived (Revised from eulogy written August 9, 2011)

“I wonder what she’ll think of me?”

This is the question my Nan, Hazel Ivany, asked me just a few short weeks before entering the Dr. G.B. Cross Memorial Hospital, on a night she was sure she was going to die in the Miraquinn Manor Senior’s Home in Hickman’s Harbour. She was thinking about her mother, Edith Gertrude Luther Ivany, a woman she barely remembered except for a few brief anecdotes told to her by her father, Elam, and siblings Anna, Eric and Myrtle, her mother having died when Nan was but two years old. The one Nan told most often was how her mother had dropped her one Sunday morning walking to church on an icy road in Ireland’s Eye, and her mother’s cries of “Elam! Elam! I killed the baby!” The only words I know for sure that my great-grandmother spoke.

I was younger than my daughter, Amber, is now when I became interested in learning about my family tree and first asked Nan to tell me about her mother. For seventeen years her reply was always, “See, my mother died when I was only a baby, so I don’t know anything about her.” And for seventeen years I replied, “Nan, you must know something about her.” Then, about four years ago as Nan and I were looking through her earliest photo album, she asked me why I kept asking about her mother. I told her that she was the only one left who knew anything about her, and that when she was gone there would be no one to keep her mother’s memory alive. She looked at me for a long moment, then pointed to a picture in the album and started telling me all about the people in the photo – who they were, who they were related to, what she knew about them. By the end of the day we had discovered over a dozen people that she knew who were related to her mother. And so, Nan was completely surprised a few weeks later to learn that the little bit of information she gave me that day helped me to find her mother’s parents and two of her grandparents, information that she had forgotten or never knew. And she was astounded when I told her that someone in England had traced one of those people back over 900 years, and that we were all descended from a man named Peganus Trenchard who was the feudal lord of the Isle of Wight off the coast of England around the year 1100, and that he orginally came from Normandy. “If I had known you could find out all that, I might have tried to remember more years ago,” she said wistfully.

You see, Nan was a very resolute and determined person. Some might even call her stubborn. She had clear ideas of what was right and wrong, of proper behaviour, of the way things should be.

So, everything in her home had a place. I remember being asked time and again as a young girl to get a can of Carnation condensed milk from the pantry in the old house in Petley. It was always in the same place, on the shelf above the canned fruit, and next to the Fussell’s Cream. The same brand of powdered lemonade was always in Nan’s fridge, probably mixed in the same bottle it had been mixed in ever since I can remember. After all, what was a visit to Nan’s without having lemonade?

A life-long Anglican, she went to church at All Saints in Petley whenever she could, and tried to heed the words of her father to “Never leave your seat empty.” (The only words I know for sure that my great-grandfather spoke.) Both times she went to Ontario to visit me she went to church with us, in the Walkerton Ontario Branch. She was grateful when my husband Steve and I had devotionals with her for all but two Sundays – the first and the last – that she was in the hospital. She loved hearing Steve pray, and not a visit went by that she did not ask for him to say a prayer with her. She was so pleased that he holds the priesthood in our church, and was grateful for every prayer he said with her. “That man there is a good man, Pamela. And it’s about time you found a good man,” she told me just days before her death.

Nan had clear ideas on what proper dress should be. She rarely left her house without looking proper, something else instilled in her by her father, a man who, it is said, never left his house without wearing a shirt and tie. She said to Amber and me once after someone had dropped by wearing a very revealing shirt, “One thing I like about you coming here is that you don’t let your bosoms all hang out.”

Nan set an example for many of us to follow with our children and grandchildren. She really tried to live up to the example that her step-mother, who we all called Aunt Elfie, set. She did her best to help raise one of her grandchildren to help out her daughter. My own mother had that as an example to follow, as did other of her children. She took each of her grandchildren and their spouses, her great-grandchildren and step-grandchildren and almost-grandchildren and treated them all the same, loving and accepting each one. She was deeply saddened when there was conflict in the family, and felt much grief over choices we made and any part she played in it. But perhaps the person she was most disappointed in was herself. She felt that my Uncle Derek’s death – he drowned at age sixteen – was her fault because she had not heeded the premonitions she had felt about him going swimming that fateful summer. She felt that Pop could never forgive her for the way his life ended, alone in a nursing home, far from home and friends and family, suffering from advanced Alzeimer’s. In the end, however, because of things she said to me in the mornings I spent with her in the hospital, I believe she made her peace with them and with herself.

But there was a lighter side to Nan, too. She loved a good game of cards. She played every chance she could get, looking forward to Saturday night games of 120s with my Mom and Dad, and just smiling at me when I made us lose the game – again – but still insisting that she and I be partners. For her it wasn’t about winning; it was about playing the game and having fun. I will never forget one Saturday evening one fall when my parents were gone on a cruise. Nan hadn’t been feeling well, and had already lived well past the two scant years the doctors had given her after her surgery to remove her bowels. I had gone to visit her and, as was her custom, we were playing cards. Suddenly, she threw her cards on the table, looked at me with disgust, and exclaimed, “Well, I guess I’m going to have buy Christmas gifts after all since I’m not dead yet!” She loved to read, and read a book my cousin Holly had given her five times before going on to other books. She loved to travel. She and Pop travelled all over Newfoundland with her half-brother Ralph and his friend, Netta, and since Pop had always said that someday they were going to go somewhere, she made the trip to Ontario twice. She loved music, and missed the sound of Pop’s old accordion and Pop singing hymns, especially his favourite, ‘There is a name most sweet on earth, a name most sweet in heaven’. She loved a good practical joke, even though she tried not to let on that she did. She loved it when Pop teased her. And in Nan’s earliest photo album is one special picture. She had a twinkle in her eye as she asked me if I knew who the person was. I looked at it for a moment before telling her that I wasn’t sure, but the person must be related because he looked like an Ivany. She took great delight in telling me that it was not a man, but her and the schoolteacher who lived with them, “dressed up for devilment in Eric’s clothes.”

And knitting. Could Nan ever knit! She made sweaters for each of her living children one year when they were very young. I think we all still have them, passed down from mothers or fathers to daughters and sons and then to grandchildren. Three generations wearing those same hand-knit sweaters, Nan’s loving touch carrying through the years. Quilts and blankets for all her children and grandchildren, hold the evidence of her care for us, many of them lovingly stitched with our names and the dates they were given. Nan, in her eighties, was still knitting, up until about six months ago, still showing her love by the work of her hands. She missed it dearly. Hats, mitts, vamps, scarfs. And in her later years, dishrags. Dishrags by the dozens. Some people ask for big gifts for Christmas, but not me. Whenever Nan asked me what I wanted, I told her I wanted the same thing I want every year – dishrags. “Haven’t you got some left?”, she would say. “Yes,” I would reply, “but you can never have enough dishrags.” Truth is, I was saving up. Living away from home for so long, sometimes it was the little things that reminded me of who I am and that I am loved. Doing dishes with Nan’s dishrags, knowing they were made with love just for me, is something I look forward to. I asked for them every Christmas, every birthday, because I had to save up. With those dishrags in my hands every day, how could I ever forget that I am loved?

And so, Nan, you now know the answer to your question. I imagine your mother thinks that you did your very best to live a good life, to love your family, to love God. And while we are sad that you aren’t here with us any more, I imagine that you are now in the midst of a joyous reunion with your husband, your sons, your parents, your brothers and sisters. We will miss you, but we will see you again. Until then, I, for one, will always ask myself, “I wonder what she’ll think of me.”

Rest in peace, Nan. 1927-2011

A Time of Firsts

My step-daughter and then-fiance took their first trip to Newfoundland last summer, to attend our wedding. For her birthday, I put together a photo book of her trip for her. The trip was filled with many firsts for us all, including my and my husband’s first kiss. Ever. My step-daughter thought it was pretty funny.  I hope you enjoy the book.

Not the Perfect Man

January: I met a guy. Well…I met THE guy, although I didn’t know it at the time. Call it coincidence, call it karma, call it destiny…call it what you will, but I was more than a little surprised to find out that not only was the guy a writer, but that I had read one of his articles a number of years ago and used it as research for a project I was working on back then. We had so many things in common.

February: Wrote a children’s book about the guy’s daughter, based on a video by her uncle called “Looking for Monsters.” It was a big hit with her and with the 425 students I was teaching at the time. The story itself came to me at one in the morning, when I awoke suddenly with the story already in my head. I decided to illustrate it using watercolours, even though I had never used watercolours – or done anything other than fingerpainting – before. “Boy, she sure knows how to get a guy”, my future mother-in-law commented. Also realized on the 20th that he was THE guy – he just didn’t know it yet.

March: How do two people have a serious relationship from 1800 miles apart? By talking on the phone for two to nine hours a day and sending hundreds of emails, that’s how! The guy says, without realizing it, “One thing I have learned from loving you is that….” I didn’t let on that he had said it, but inside I was jumping for joy.

April: Went to visit the guy and stay with his parents for a week. He was a perfect gentleman – even paying for (and using) two hotel rooms. His daughter leapt into my arms and wouldn’t let go. We went to the Washington DC Temple on the 6th. On the way he very nervously told me that he loved me. I said, “I know. You already told me.” And smiled. Later that day he asked me to marry him.

May: We decided to get married in June. My mother was surprised to find that I planned on making my own wedding dress. “But you don’t sew!” she exclaimed. “Not yet!” I replied. We also discovered that our mothers had already met. His had asked mine for directions to see puffins near here while his parents were on vacation two years ago.

June: The big day arrived. The moment of truth – our first kiss. In front of many of those we love in my parents’ backyard. My gentleman. Not that I really remember much, as I had spent the day before the wedding in the hospital and was taking lots of pain medication. He was there beside me the whole day.

July: There was a July this year? More hospitals. More pain meds. More forgotten days as a result. More being waited on hand and foot.

August: Medical issues continued, and still he was by my side. The end of the month brought many poignant moments as I prepared to return home, and he reassured me that things would be okay.

September: Back home, a new school year approached. More medical issues. He spent every moment possible talking via skype, playing endless games of online scrabble, and figuring out how to play board games when we were 1800 miles apart.

October: Enough is enough, he said, as medical issues continued, and arranged for me to see doctors there, who actually did figure out what was wrong and what I needed to do to fix it.

November: He was more than caring and supportive as I returned to work in a school…preparing for a concert, a musical and in the middle of report card season. Perspective, sanity, encouragement…he offered them all.

December: In the face of immense trials for his daughter and our entire family he kept a cool head, remained patient, and went about doing what needed to be done.

Sounds like the perfect man, doesn’t he?

He’s not.

At this time of year I am reminded that my love is not the perfect man as I, along with countless others, celebrate the birth of Christ, the only perfect man to have walked this earth. And I am grateful that my love is not perfect, because I am not perfect either.

My love is not the perfect man, but he is the perfect man for me because he treats me as the daughter of God that I am.

Dishrags

1968. A man and a woman, madly in love, left home and went upalong* to seek their fortune. Those were my parents. And eventually it led to me being born in the heart of Scarborough, the big city, the land of opportunity. But the pull of Newfoundland on the heartstrings was too strong for my parents to bear, and back home they went, back to family and friends, harbours and bogs, and making ends meet no matter the cost.

It was a good childhood. You know, I never knew we were poor until I went to university and was told so by a professor. I mean, I had always had everything I wanted. I was never hungry, never threadbare, never cold. There was good homemade food, new clothes, a wood stove to keep us warm. I can still remember the smell of mom’s homemade bread baking in the oven…waiting for it to come out so we could have thick pieces spread generously with molasses and fresh cow’s cream. If heaven has a smell, I think it must be like that sweet, fresh, hot bread. And waiting for the fresh milk to be scalded was sheer torture. Too hot or too long and all that beautiful, delicious cream would be wasted. It had to be just right. Rhubarb jam, snuck by the tablespoonful when no one was looking, blueberry duffs, bakeapples, salt meat, salt fish dripping in butter and partridgeberry jam. Even now that I am a vegetarian my one yearly bottle of partridgeberry jam is saved for special occasions, and until 2008 it was reserved exclusively for fish. (To a Newfoundlander, whether born or bred, fish means cod. Salt cod.) My men over the years quickly learned that that precious ruby bottle was not to be used for toast, and the biggest argument I remember having with one of them was over my bottle of ‘home’. Smoked caplin, fresh out of the smoking shed, eyes watering as they were stolen from uncles who always seemed to turn their backs when they knew we were skulking nearby. Of course, since we had spent many long, cold, wet hours skivering those caplin on to dry, poking their eye sockets onto nails on the skivers, we felt that we deserved to taste the fruits of our labours. We weren’t so eager to taste the squid that we hung, though. Making sure that their tentacles were wrapped around the flakes was hard business, but putting them in the toaster later made a crispy treat. Fresh potatoes, beet, carrots, cabbage, turnip greens from the garden, berries from the bogs and marshes and patches, moose and rabbit and birds enough to share with extended family. Cakes, cookies, trifles. The Sunday dinners of roasts and vegetables and gravy and canned fruit with Fussell’s cream. Salmon, cod, trout caught with our own hands. Purity syrup and fruitcake at Christmas. We weren’t poor as near as I could tell.

And the clothes! My God, can my mother sew! You know, when I was in high school my class went on a trip to Quebec. I left my mother with three patterns and a bolt of cloth and strict instructions that I wanted the neck of one pattern, the bodice of the second, and the skirt of the third. We got back the day before graduation and my dress fit like a glove. An off the shoulder beautiful salmon pink, with a flowing skirt, and handmade rosettes. Mom made my Sunbeam uniform for church, dozens of dresses, shorts, shirts, and other clothes, too, and quilts both plain and fancy. And give her a ball of yarn and some needles and she can create masterpieces of lacey intricate design, sweaters and afghans and baby blankets like you’ve never seen before. I think I was in grade 3 when she made my “angel shirt”. Everyone had to have one. The sleeves could be thrown back over your shoulders and when you ran it looked like you were wearing wings, angel wings. We used to pretend that we were angels, like my Uncle Derek, who having just drowned, was an angel. We tried to run fast enough with our angel wings so that we could see him again. But we never could. We could just remember him chasing us when the caplin was on, handfuls of slimy fish ready to be shoved down the back of our shirts instead of buried in the potato garden for fertilizer.

My grandmother is talented, too. She made sweaters for each of her living children one year when they were very young. I think we all still have them, passed down from mothers or fathers to daughters and sons and then to grandchildren. Three generations wearing those same hand-knit sweaters, Nan’s loving touch carrying through the years. Mom’s sweater was mustard yellow with a beautiful green and blue and red skater spinning in eternal rounds, worn by mom and me and my daughter, and now put away for my future grand-daughters and step-daughter and perhaps other children. Quilts and blankets for all her children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren, numbering now in the fifties, hold the evidence of her care for us, each one lovingly stitched with our names and the dates they were given. Nan is in her eighties now, still knitting, still showing her love by the work of her hands. Hats, mitts, vamps, scarfs. And lately, dishrags. Dishrags by the dozens. Sometimes left plain, out of the plainest wool, sometimes fancy in bright jewel-toned reds and greens with silver and gold peeking through, especially for Christmas, sometimes stitched together into drawers with cute sayings. Some people ask for big gifts for Christmas, but not me. Whenever Nan asks me what I want, I tell her I want the same thing I want every year – dishrags. “Haven’t you got some left?”, she says. “Yes,” I reply, “but you can never have enough dishrags,” I tell her. Truth is, I’m saving up. Living away from home for so long and having had such terrible relationships before now, sometimes it’s the little things that remind me of who I am and that I am loved. Doing dishes with Nan’s dishrags, knowing they were made with love just for me, is something I look forward to. Sometimes those dishrags were the only thing that got me through the heartache and the pain and the disappointment. I ask for them every Christmas, every birthday, because I have to save up. With these dishrags in my hands every day, how could I ever forget that I am loved when Nan, and her precious dishrags, are gone?

*upalong: mainland Canada, as opposed to ‘down home’, which for a Newfoundlander always means Newfoundland.