Archive for Remembrances

The School Choir

The Sunday before it had been in the announcements, with a picture  up on the video screen- the choir from our denominational Bible School would be putting on a concert Saturday night.  I tabled the information, but not much more, the picture looked like other similar choirs on the backs of some of my parents’ record collection: a collection, unplayed for years, which still graces my living room.

Sunday morning, a friend mentioned that she had attended the concert. She has, on the past been on its board. I believe.  She said that the audience, drawn from our church of nearly two thousand, might have reached fifty- they can’t have out-numbered the choir.

I felt a pang of guilt.  And I remembered the times that such choirs visited our church in my youth.  It was an occasion in our  small southern Alberta town.  A couple of weeks ahead the call would go out for billets and my mother would be sure to take in a couple of these fresh-faced enthusiastic students.  They would take over the Sunday service with their music and testimonies.  Afterward there would be a potluck of delicious home cooked casseroles, and a wide-selection of salads and desserts, and mingling in the church basement.

In those days any young person with a claim to a committed faith expected to spend a year or three in Bible School before going on to other endeavors. I did myself.

(Another pang of guilt that I had not pushed my own offspring to attend.)

Has the world just moved on, or taken over?  Have we lost something vital?


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In sickness, and in health, doesn’t just refer to marriage

We’ve had a number of Christmases in a row now where sickness was the major feature.  Five in all.

In some ways the first of them was the worst.  My father was suffering from a yet undiagnosed brain tumor.  My mother held together until the day after I came home from Africa, and then fell to pieces emotionally for the next month.  My brother who had lived with my parents for many years was, in addition to his usual difficulties, totally stressed to the gills by it all.  The Magpie was in Ghana.

The kids coped up to the crisis.  They bought gifts and stocking fillers, and drove down from Edmonton. They rented a motel room as there was no room in the family inn. They took me to see the Narnia movie, and we went to the Christmas Eve program at the church.  We drove around to see the Christmas lights to lengthen the evening a bit.

The next morning I got up at 5:00 and with gritted teeth said, ” We will do Christmas, regardless!” as I stuffed a large turkey for the oven.  And somehow we pulled it off for all.  Dad always did love a Christmas spread.

The next year my Father died on December 8th- just a handful of days after Mom was moved down from ICU, still with a tracheotomy tube in place.   They were one room apart.  Hospital regulations would not allow them to share the same room because they both had resistant staphylococcal infections.  I didn’t understand it.  But the staff were kind, hoisted Mom up in a sling, rounded up portable oxygen and wheeled her down to spend time with Dad. On his last good day they sat with her hand laid on his, drinking up each other’s eyes.  Mom was still in hospital over Christmas and longer.

The next year she lay in yet another coma on Christmas-after fighting back to eight pretty good months at home.  We had been keeping one person at her bedside around the clock for two weeks.  On Christmas day the kids took the early shift while I prepared the turkey and then for one brief hour, we pulled everyone from the hospital and all sat around the table together and ate. She died Boxing Day evening.

Last Christmas my brother had a crisis and was in the hospital for two weeks over Christmas.

This year no one died in December, or seemed about to die, or was hospitalized.

I shopped, and baked, and cleaned house.  Our daughter and her husband and little one were to come Sunday night.  The boys were expected on Tuesday.  Christmas was basically a pre-event because our daughter’s family had to travel on Boxing Day.

Monday, my son-in-law did indeed come down with a stomach flu the rest of the family had had earlier and we thought he’d dodged.

By Wednesday night my husband showed symptoms.

And on Christmas Eve, just after Santa had tiptoed around delivering stockings, first one son, and then the other, and then I, were hit  with the heave and trots bug. In a moment of calm, around 3:00 a.m. it was actually, “Just too funny!” Come Christmas the house resembled an infirmary littered with prone bodies and strategically placed ice cream buckets.  And indeed, Janet was left with preparing the meal.  She served it as late as possible and still there were loads of left-overs.  Personally, I didn’t even consider the option- just pass me another glass of ginger ale, will you?

We were together though.  Nobody complained.  And so far, knock on wood, my brother seems to be immune.

My son-in-law would be excused for wondering what he married into.  “Is Christmas in crisis the norm for your family?  Is this a necessary tradition?

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Christmas is a time of traditions, surely nothing unless “sex,” is so set about with customs designed to set the mood and make it happen.

I started thinking about this after reading a post on a blog I’ve been following.  Very evocative as he recalled a difficult time and a family tradition started then.

It encouraged me to comment back:

In our early years in Ghana we did not have a tree, though we did have a small one later that my mother-in-law brought out. It made it, fully decorated, to a couple of the High School Christmas pageants- and we stayed late because of the many who wanted a photograph taken in front of it. My foster son did not understand why something that lovely wasn’t also brought out to grace Easter.

But every year, treed or not, we set up our eminently packable Advent Wreath, and sang family carols around its light every evening of the season. To our children that is now far more central to Christmas than a decorated tree.

(We use purple candles for the wreath, other than the white one for the Christ child- a colour not always easily obtained. I had plenty in Ghana though, because once, in the early years when not much was available in stores I chanced into an establishment that had one long aisle given over to one kind of toilet paper, and another stocked entirely with boxes of purple tapers. Go figure. I immediately laid in a supply that lasted us for years.)

Every year, as we sang, one of the boys’ favourites was always:

So, I’m asking, “What makes Christmas happen for you?”

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Christmas Gerbils

This morning, at the pool, I overheard one of my fellow early-bird-swimmers announce that today was the day they were picking up the Christmas gerbils.

Memories clanged.  Once upon a time, as a grade twelve biology student, I developed an ambitious, but rather inept science experiment that involved sacrificing two rodents at the end of it for the purpose of making tissue slides.  I went out and bought two gerbils.  They turned out to be far too cute and interesting to sacrifice in the interests of  science, so I further invested in a pair of white mice for the purpose and kept the gerbils as pets.

Did you know that gerbils are hard to sex, and prolific breeders to boot?  If you provide a nice nesting arrangement- say one of those rectangular hot chocolate tins with the metal ends you can leave Papa Gerbil in with Mama and have an enchanting family arrangement where both parents enjoy raising and playing with their young.   If you take Mama out and the baby you left with Papa for company is in fact, NOT a male you would be surprised at how fast you can have another enchanting family to watch.

As the end of grade twelve approached it appeared I had not improved in my eyesight or timing. I was now housing  twenty Gerbils in three cages.  The cat spent hours watching the in-house entertainment. She was an excellent mouser and probably could hardly stand prey so close and yet so out of reach.  Once she took advantage of a makeshift cage with an insecure lid and caught one.  We were unhappy with her and she retreated under the living room couch aggrieved, staying  so long that my father finally got down on his hands and knees to  beg her to call it pax.

I found a home for two, but the little boys so terrorized them that the parents soon brought back the now neurotic young ones.

Finally the Shop teacher at the High School offered to take them all. I didn’t ask his motives or if he had a pet boa constrictor.  I just jumped at the chance to unload.

And so this morning I said, “Did I hear you say Gerbils?  They’re awfully cute, but by the way, they are hard to sex and easy to breed.  Oh yes, and don’t keep them in a plastic cage- they can chew out of anything.”

The young Mom, the kind of person who researches everything thoroughly,  assured me that they were getting two males, and a glass aquarium.  I wish them all the best.  I hope the sales clerk is knowledgeable.

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My Mother’s Shortbread

This afternoon I made my mother’s shortbread.

This is the real stuff: the-melt-in-your-mouth original. There is not a hint of cornstarch, or icing sugar, or flavour enhancement.

One cup  butter

One-half cup brown sugar.

Two cups flour.

Cream the butter and sugar until it looks whipped, and then stir in the flour until just absorbed.

Roll out.

Bake at 400 degrees, about seven minutes until just slightly browned, watching it like a hawk because it is a small recipe and you can’t bear to lose a cookie.

The queen of Christmas cookies, and my mother always treated it like gold, to be doled out through the Christmas Season in carefully measured numbers. Her shortbread container was not a cookie tin family members were welcome to dip into at will.

This afternoon I kept all the ritual.

Only make one recipe at a time-never double it.  Shortbread dough should not be overworked.  Halve the dough and roll out once (Not having my mother’s light sure pastry hand, I rolled it between waxed paper so no extra flour would be needed. )  Cut carefully into long strips and then diamond shapes with a sharp paring knife.   Move carefully to a lightly greased cookie sheet, without flipping.

They need no augmentation, but it’s Christmas so Mom often decorated her shortbread with a sliver of red or green glace cherry.  I did so this afternoon having made a special purchase of cherries for the purpose.

(Over the last year I had gradually snacked to finish the last of the cherries my mother had carefully hidden away in a back cupboard.  They had hardened to just short of sticky rocks, but with care I managed not to injure any of my teeth.)

Mom died on Boxing Day two years ago.

I think she would like to know that her shortbread is still being made with respect- after all, it contains a whole cup of real butter!

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Survivor Stories

Not many patients stand out in my memory from my days as a student nurse.  They gradually teach you to be professionally distanced. There is one though, that I remember beyond all others.  She was in the latter stages of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.  She could only talk and breathe,  but she loved the sensation of movement and of having her arms and legs put through range of motion.  Once I brought in some of the purple cones growing on an evergreen outside our dorm to show her.  We would talk.  On one arm she had blue tattooed numbers- she was a survivor of Auschwitz.  One day another nurse on the floor said to me in exasperation.  “You are spoiling her, now she’ll want that from the rest of us.”  I was speechless. How could you “spoil” someone who had been through that hell.  Didn’t she deserve an extra measure of care and kindness in this new imprisonment?

I was roaming the blogosphere today and came on this video by other Survivors. It is not good to forget these things.

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King James Version or which. . .

My father in his latter days returned more and more to the King James Version, even leaving the New King James and going back to the beloved text he knew from his childhood.  For all that, his house is a treasure trove of English translations including some I have never consulted in twenty years.

People sometimes ask me about my preferred translation, and I will admit to hedging. They usually get a mini lecture on the spectrum of English translations available and what I perceive to be their varying strengths.  They are all- well- they are all translations, not originals. Translation is both art and science.  Scripture particularly,  being the Word of God, is always fresh,  glinting with new glimpses of the Almighty and new insights brought by his Spirit. It, most particularly, eludes the “ultimate translation.”  Certainly it should be accurate, natural, and esthetically pleasing but there are many ways to turn a phrase and subtle shadings that can be used to highlight nuances.  You cannot usefully say everything.  Efforts like the “Amplified Bible”, or the “Twenty-Six Translation New Testament” become cumbersome and distracting beyond bearing.

This morning I picked a slim red hard-bound New Testament off my shelf and started reading.

The New Testament of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ: A translation from the Latin Vulgate in the Light of the Greek Originals by Monsignor Ronald A. Knox

The Preface to the first Canadian Edition might be thought to be a trifle off-putting to a grand-daughter of a member of the Loyal Order of Orange:

“In the fourth century St. Jerome, encouraged by Pope St Damasus, translated the Bible from the then extant Hebrew and Greek manuscripts. Known as the Vulgate this was the one and only Latin version among those current at the time which the Ecumenical Council of Trent declared to be authentic. It was translated into English and, appearing in 1582 became known as the Rheims version. It’s publication in France was the work of exiles, who set about their task while the reformers in Elizabethan England were occupied in trying to overcome the very foundations of the Church.  (Huum) The Rheims version had been revised several times when the Hierarchy of England and Wales, giving expression to the general agreement that the new translation of the Vulgate was desirable and not a little overdue, commissioned Mgr. Knox in 1939 to undertake this great work.”

Out of that came this Canadian School edition.  The preface ends with a quote from Pope Pius XII which I can hardly take exception to,

“Christ, the Author of salvation, will be better known, more ardently loved, more faithfully imitated by men, in so far as they are moved by an earnest desire to know and meditate upon the Sacred Scriptures, especially the New Testament.”

I began reading in Romans rather than the begats of Matthew and came to verse nine-

“and first I offer thanks to my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, whose faith is so renowned throughout the world.  The God to whom I address the inner worship of my heart, while I preach the gospel of his Son, is my witness constantly. . .”  (Romans 1:8,9)

It was that phrase, “the God to whom I address the inner worship of my heart,”  that caught my attention; both because it struck me as esthetically pleasing and because it seemed different.

I checked the NIV   “God, whom I serve with my whole heart.”  Several others were closer to the literal Greek, “whom I serve with my spirit, or in my spirit, or even “to whom I offer the service of my spirit.”  All are accurate to the basic meaning.

But today I am rolling the phrase,  “God, to whom I address the inner worship of my heart,” through my mind and am delighting in the flavour.

Keep a gallon of Foremost Vanilla Ice-cream in the Freezer, by all means. But every so often try a mango sherbet, or dill pickle yogurt, and savour.

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