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To Any Loyal Readers: Goodbye Summer

I can’t say I saw that there would be a time when I would not post on a weekly or more than a weekly basis here.

Okay, maybe I could and did worry I would eventually run out of things to say and therefore would stop posting. A few months down the line or maybe years. Well, I made it past the six month mark and I am proud to say I have not yet run out of things to write about. On the contrary actually. If anything, I have too much to say and find it overwhelming at times. It isn’t always so easy to get all the ideas constantly swirling around inside my head down on this blog.

It is the end of summer, unofficially, with the long weekend and Labour Day just ahead. I can’t say I am sorry to see this particular summer go, but may find I am left to eat my words when another lengthy frigid winter like last years) settles in.

I am posting just once this week, smack-dab in the middle and only to let you all know I am still here and that I truly appreciate the more than eighty followers to this blog I have accumulated. I am taking a vacation, a week’s break. I wanted to take a few days to ponder the question of moving forward and adding to the wonderful thing I’ve got going here already.

I am trying to decide if it is always important to take a chance and make what you want your reality or if sometimes the point is to decide when to make a move and when it is the right time for a change and when to just wait. I am not always the most patient of people.

In this case, I have been blogging for months now and I needed this time to hone in on what I really wanted to write about, what I was most passionate about. I do enjoy writing about all sorts of things, from fiction and memoir to reviews and interviews, but I have a dream of having my own travel blog.

I came up with the name The Insightful Wanderer (thanks to a helpful suggestion from a friend), only after my first thought which was The Sightless Wanderer. I agree my friend’s suggestion is better. I just wanted to come up with something that could subtly hint at my particular viewpoint and from what angle I would approach travel writing from, but without being super obvious about it.

Step One: come up with a name. Check.

Step Two: Start a site and claim the name. (This is the one I am stuck on.

Should I rush into this when I haven’t even figured out the third and final step in my three-step process?

Step Three: Travel so I actually have something to put on my site.

Now, I have traveled enough in the past that I think I have plenty of past stories in me, enough to post for a good while. I would write about travel, whether it was local (in Ontario) or far off. I have been reaching out to several travel writers/bloggers in recent weeks and am determined to learn about what other people’s experiences have been with exploring this planet. I want to know how they do it and what they have seen of the world. Travel changes many people’s lives and perspectives.

I simply did not want to start posting a lot of these particular interviews on my current blog, even with my Travel Tuesday feature. I thought maybe now was the time to move forward and perhaps I could make it happen.

In the world of online and on the Internet it is hard to make a name for yourself and to find your voice. I want to make my mark in this world by seeing it up-close. I don’t want to just hear about it and read about it. Pictures do me no good and I feel like travel may be my only way to make the most of life while I can.

I do realize that if I do not include a photographic element to my travel blog that I will be behind almost everyone else, and I am still working that out.

Also, I admire the women who travel solo and I wish I could be one of them, because at the moment I don’t exactly have a lot of options. However, being a woman who just happens to be visually impaired also makes it all the more tricky to see my dream come to fruition. These are the sorts of things I haven’t yet worked out and of which make me nervous to jump off the cliff, so-to-speak.

On the other hand, how do you know when things like these aren’t just excuses not to make what you want happen?

I don’t want to take on more than I can handle and I am glad I have you all and this blog. The idea of having to build back up an audience and an online presence is daunting to me, seeing as this one I’ve got here wasn’t a walk in the park and super easy for me. I had help and I go on habit and routine. I do not have a master web designer on hand and at my beckon call. Money is not plentiful and this makes paying for help on a site and for the actual cost of travel rather tricky, but I will scrip and save where I can and save up if I know I will travel again one of these days.

I just want to be able to print off some business cards with the name Insightful Wanderer on them and to make a real and honest go at this dream of mine.

:)

Only time will tell and probably not in one week will I find my answers to all these questions.

One step at a time. Follow my new travel blog (on Facebook only, for now)

Here,

and I am open to any or all suggestions or feedback on this matter.

What advice do you have on making your dreams a reality or on travel? Where have you travelled and what might you write about if you had a reason to, such as a travel blog?

Thanks for listening and stay tuned for more excellent posts here in the weeks to come.

Note: I’ve got some wonderful interviews with interesting people ahead, a couple reviews of some movies and shows to share, and a new weekly feature, every Monday for the foreseeable future, which will start on September 1st.

Hope everyone enjoys the last long weekend of the summer and thanks for reading.

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History, Spotlight Saturday

Day in the Museum: Part Three, Keep Calm and Carry On

This is the final segment in my week-long posts of my day at The Stratford Perth Museum last weekend.

Part One explored my relationship with museums, through

The Four Senses

and then I spoke about the whole reason for visiting the museum in the first place in Part Two,

Shakespeare’s First Folio.

Now here is my final post.

***

TWW1his year marks

One Hundred

years since the start of World War I and with the subsequent World War II and the huge influence and shaping they both had on the 20th century.

When I heard about the World War exhibit upstairs I had to make use of the ticket to see as much as I could.

We took an elevator up a floor and back in time, finding ourselves amongst the history, bravery, and heroism of war.

We stepped out through the elevator door to commemorative service medals, to pictures and names…searching for familiar names, as we have had family around the area and, although it was a long time ago, you never know.

There was a history of the area and a write-up on the creation of The Stratford Perth Regiment, beginning with the settlement of settlers in the area in the 1850s.
stratford brass company.
Felt shoe company.
Manufactured goods and services. A furniture company.

Shells and bullet casings. Buttons from some long gone soldier’s uniform.

An example of the sort of food provided. Biscuits were, I can imagine, cheap and easy to produce, but must not have provided much nutrients to soldiers fighting in the trenches. I guess it was better than starting. I simply can not imagine it.

Again, seeing as we were in a museum, most of these things were untouchable for me, for whatever reason. a drum was one of the few things I could reach out and feel. I could imagine the sound of a drum beat, some chant in war.

A piece of trench art from a shell casing, a cross engraving.

What looked like a bit of rock, removed shrapnel from someone fighting in one of these mostly forgotten battles.

A diary and address book from 1916, France and the battle of Vimy Ridge in 1917 – a bayonet and an oil lamp. Some medical badges.

***

Above are some of the items from these wars and below are just a few of the stories:

I enlisted because I wanted to travel. I lied about my age.”

The D-Day Dodgers

we are the D-Day Dodgers
in sunny Italy.
Showed us the sites and gave us tea, Sang us songs. The beer was free.

More on The DDay Dodgers here.

just names,
an ironic take on the italian campaign, a brutal campaign. It was actually considered to be the cowardly mission in comparison to what was going on in France. They did not receive the same recognition as D-Day soldiers in Normandy did.

red_crossA female nurse during World War II:

She enlisted. That was her second attempt. She was told the war would be over by Christmas so they did not need more nurses.
She landed in Sicily with the troops,
at the casualty station.

“We went to see MASH and my aunt was upset by the way the docs and nurses in the OR acted.
My mom explained, you had to do that or you would end up losing it.”

(Daughter speaking on behalf of her mother)

war bonds

The most interesting part of this whole exhibit to me was the part devoted to the subject of propaganda. Being a fan of words I am amazed at how they can uplift and inspire, both in good ways and bad, how words have the power to sway and to mobilize. During times of war the propaganda machine can be used for good and for evil’s means.

The simplest of slogans can have the greatest effect:

DIG FOR VICTORY
To help with the war effort, Britain and Canada grew 1 million tuns of vegetables.

Dig dig dig,
Your muscles will grow big.
Do not mind the spade…

On display there was an extremely controversial text: Mein Kampf (My Struggle).

Adolf Hitler wrote this manifesto while incarcerated in the 1920s and in it he details his vision and his feelings concerning those he deemed to have caused him and his country the problems they were facing at the time of The Depression, post World War I.

- Ten million copies distributed throughout Germany
– This copy Had been handed out to Hitler’s Youth

The Swastika
– The crooked cross, an omni-present symbol
– a symbol present on everything from flags to match boxes, to inspire pride and loyalty in National Socialism.

It’s funny how I don’t have a clear image in my mind of what one of these looks like. I may have seen it. I seem to remember seeing it as a thick dark outline, in the Tom Cruise film Valkyrie, but as my vision has decreased, over time, I am unfamiliar with such a well-known symbol of cruelty and destruction.

However, symbols could be just as vocal for the other side:
– A hammer smashing the swastika.
– british Canadian propaganda posters in circulation
KAPUT!
Give us the tools.

Keep CalmIn thirty-nine and after outbreak of war the british designed posters with bold coloured backgrounds, a symbolic crown of King George the sixth.

rupert-grint-and-keep-calm-and-carry-on-t-shirt-galleryTo add a more modern and a contemporary touch, perhaps hoping to reach younger visitors such as myself, in and amongst the other examples of propaganda and symbolism there was even a movie premier poster from a few years ago. I don’t know which movie in the series it was for, but Rupert Grint was included, in one of the Harry Potter movie promotion posters, wearing a shirt with the infamous wartime slogan: KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON. I suppose he could be playing his role of Ron Weasley. Lord Voldemort was often compared to Adolf Hitler in many ways.

I have heard variations of this slogan myself, but this one in particular must be common enough in Britain still today. I find that slogan, in particular, rather interesting. Words even as simple as those are able to influence morale and mood, even in the toughest of times and those words still “carry on” to apply to any of us today.

originalposter Keep CalmThis slogan did not have a chance to take off as a slogan for war, remaining on only a few of these posters on the walls of military and recruitment offices. So how did it manage to remain in the peoples’ consciousness for all these years?

Some bookstore owner came across one of these posters mixed in with a dusty old pile of books from an auction.

A true nostalgia item.

keep mumOne more variation on this slogan was one spoken to warn soldiers against spilling privileged wartime secret information to any beautiful woman they might come across: KEEP MUM, SHE’S NOT SO DUMB!

And those are the words I will leave you with.

:-)

***

I left the museum and was left to ponder the power and potency of words, either written or spoken aloud. I learned a lot over one simple afternoon at a local museum.

Have you ever been to a museum and learned something you hadn’t known before? What effect did it have on you?

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Shows and Events, This Day In Literature, Throw-back Thursday

Day in the Museum: Part Two, Shakespeare’s First Folio

I just happened to be watching the news the other night when I heard something that immediately caught my attention…

Stratford, Ontario is a short drive from me and known as a lovely quaint tourist town, the claim to its fame being Stratford Festival. There they are known for their elaborate and brilliant performances of some of Shakespeare’s best-known and well-loved plays.

Museum Ad

Celebrating the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth, The Stratford Festival arranged to display something of great value in honour of the occasion. This item was so valuable that it was only at the museum for two days. It only arrived as people lined up to see it Saturday morning and, according to the museum employee at the entrance to the exhibit, would be leaving not at five, but at ten minutes to five.

William Shakespeare’s First Folio is the first book of his plays, published by his friends and fellow members of The Chamberlain’s Men: John Heminge and Henry Condell. It was published seven years after Shakespeare’s death; before that it was common to find fraudulent versions in circulation.

What’s a folio you ask…well I will tell you because I honestly didn’t know myself, until recently: Folio is Latin for leaf:

“Usually means a leaf in a manuscript. But in printers’ jargon it had another sense: it referred to page size more than one page was printed at the same time on a single large sheet of paper, which was then folded into pages. When the sheet was folded once to form two leaves, making four pages, the page and book size was described as folio. A folio page is usually about 38 centimetres (15 inches) tall.”

Driving into the parking lot of the museum – a police security presence was obvious. This was serious stuff, not that they had any fear of me attempting a theft of such an artifact. I am not that gutsy, but imagine if I had pulled that off? Sounds like a good idea for a story, just fiction of course.

We arrived at a good time, a lull in the lineup. Only ten people were being permitted in the room at one time. I was glad to hear that cameras were allowed inside, but no flash was permitted. Any direct bright light could damage this centuries old document. Anything to be done to prevent fading of the writing of this special piece of literature was being done.

folio IMG_0693On entering I heard the hushed conversations of the other people and a humming of what turned out to be a dehumidifier. This book needed to be in just the right environment, which included temperature and lighting. It couldn’t be too humid and any lights were not aimed directly at or on it.

I tried to take in my surroundings then. I knew it could turn out to be rather pointless, me here to see some old book hidden in a case. What was I going to get out of this anyway?

IMG_0675 IMG_0672 IMG_0668A few old photos and the dresses worn in past performances of Shakespeare’s plays were on display in the room.

IMG_0665My knowledge of actress Maggie Smith is fairly recent, with her starring roles in the Harry Potter films and more recently still in Downton Abbey. This photo didn’t even look like her, according to my sister, but it was from her performance in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 1977 and that was almost thirty years ago.

IMG_0664

The drawers in the cabinet held the separate pages of the folio. It was hard for me to comprehend and my sister read some of it to me, a lot made difficult by the old English writing. I felt like I was in a jewelry store, with the glass cabinets holding precious jewels. This time I was looking in at something so much more precious to me: words.

To the ReaderAn introduction by fellow playwright, poet, and literary critic Ben Jonson. This was all taking me back to a time I can not possibly grasp. It’s hard to even imagine what it was like back in the seventeenth century, of which Shakespeare himself was only alive to see the first sixteen years. His plays were mostly written and performed in the final years of the 1500s, at the open-air playhouse The Globe Theatre, on the south bank of The thames.

IMG_0686

 

Also in the room was a photo, included in the folio, of William Shakespeare himself. Recently, with the 450th anniversary, there has been a lot of debate about this likeness. Is it truly him?

IMG_0687

 

The artist responsible was only fifteen when Shakespeare died so it is unlikely he knew the man, but more likely he knew people who did and must have seen a photograph from the time or had someone describe what Shakespeare looked like in life.

I find it almost impossible, even in the face of some of the most proven methods, to truly believe that any of this has survived or is the truth. That is the part of history that both baffles and enthrals me. I would love to own something as precious as a book from so long ago. Even hearing it explained how something made of paper with ink imprinted on the pages lasts centuries I can’t quite fathom how. The diaries I own of my grandmother are only barely fifty years old and already some of them are so worn and delicate. How does anything make it this far through time?

Luck must play a big part in this, but you simply can not discount the care someone must have taken over the years. On our way out I hear a voice speaking with authority, or with something like it. This voice sounds young, but unmistakably informed. I pause to listen and speak to her.

She is only a summer student here and she reiterates that she is no expert: “Just someone who enjoyed researching all this.”

Through something called
Young Canada Works
she was given this opportunity for the summer, and she had clearly already done the sort of research I was relieved of having to do myself.

Her knowledge as a student, receiving her Masters and her interest in rare old books was evident. I could feel her passion for the subject matter and I could see why. It was something like that which drew me to this museum to see this famous piece of English literature. Within hours it would be back to its home at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library at the University of Toronto.

Finally, on my last post for this week I will speak about my trip upstairs in the museum to check out the World War exhibit.

Sources:

http://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/onlineex/landprint/shakespeare/

http://fisher.library.utoronto.ca/about-us/brief-history-department

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Guest Blogs and Featured Spotlights, Shows and Events

Day in the Museum: Part One, Four Senses

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I spent this past Sunday afternoon surrounded by a lot of old things and one incredibly old book. This week I will break up my afternoon at the Stratford Perth Museum into three separate blog posts: today, Wednesday, and Friday.

The Stratford Perth Museum sits on seven acres, its present location, in a big old brick house. It is out of the town of Stratford a ways now, for the first time, when it moved away from the Stratford Festival and the flurry of excitement, to a more peaceful spot. In 2008 they felt they needed more space and made the move and the transition.

I had never heard of this museum, but I suppose I hadn’t really thought about it. I don’t spend as much time in museums as I wish I did. I think most people think of the town of Stratford for the Festival theatre, but there is a rich culture and history in the area. It felt like one however, on entering, but I tend to have my idiosyncrasies with these institutions.

I enter a world of previously owned or used things. I love the history and the mystery of these items I find myself surrounded by, but I am without the ability to appreciate these collections with my eyes. It is my other four senses (excluding taste because it really doesn’t apply here) that I’m left with.

Immediately I realize I probably won’t be able to touch these precious and often times delicate pieces. I assume, rightly from the start, that this Shakespeare folio will not be the exception. The woman who greets us confirms that for me, no doubt spotting the white cane in my hand.

I want to stress that I love history and to imagine where something has been and who may have owned or handled it in the past. I can’t explain my strange discomfort with old things, starting in my childhood and with my fear of pioneer villages on school trips.

I have been to Europe and I swore I wouldn’t miss out on anything truly memorable while there just because I was afraid of…I don’t know what (an experience for another day’s post.)

I do not see as I walk through the museum and these buildings are like libraries, in that there is a sense of hush on the place. That only leaves one more sense: smell.

Smell is such a strange thing to relay to others through words, but it fills me with so much sense memory.

Smell can be nostalgic and it can be distasteful. It can be a distraction for me, totally taking me out of the moment and away from what history and treasures I find myself surrounded by.

Our special exhibit priced tickets give us access to the entire museum and my sister locates things I could actually get a feel for by touching. I spent my time in the Shakespeare exhibit and, unable to feel anything, (I was left with a museum headache) trying to grasp in my mind and imagination, what others were seeing with their eyes.

Festival Treasures: Creating the Wild Kingdom

“The Stratford Perth Museum, in conjunction with the Stratford Festival, presents a special exhibition called Festival Treasures: Creating the Wild Kingdom, showcasing unique pieces from the festival archives.”

It’s here my sister tries to show me the props and masks for view. I feel the strange materials and plastics and she knows not to place my hand on anything made of fur. I have a reactionary reflex alive and well that takes control of my hand, but I tell myself silently to take it easy and not pull away so fast. I’m sure it still shows in my behaviour.

“This fun-filled safari explores inventive ways of bringing birds and beasts to the stage. It will feature costumes, props, design sketches, audiovisual material, documents and photographs to illustrate the process of creating pieces for festival productions of The Birds, Peter Pan, Alice Through the Looking Glass, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and many others.”

I am curious about how these items have all remained in such good conditions for so many decades, through countless performances and I speak to an Archiveist Assistant:

I work in the festival archives. I’ve worked for a long time in the festival but I only recently went to the archives, I was a stage manager before that. Stratford Festival has the largest theatrical archive in the world, devoted to one theatre.

I ask her about how these things have managed to survive for fifty or so years:

Purpose-built facility…climate-controlled atmosphere. Archival friendly tissue paper and acid-free boxes. It’s kept at the right humidity, that’s why it’s so cold in here.

How does this work with keeping all these items from past performances?

We have the advantage of having props and costumes. Most theatrical archives don’t have the room or the money.

We have all the asses heads from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the strawberry handkerchief from Othello, the casket from Merchant of Venice

We recently celebrated the sixty-second anniversary. Back in fifty-three we’re lucky there were people that were far-sighted enough to keep things, especially because they weren’t sure there was going to be a fifty-four season or a fifty-five season, let alone two-thousand-fourteen.
We started in a tent.

How much is kept?

We take two costumes and the main props from all the productions each year.

I ask her specifically about something from Shakespeare’s time period and how that survives:

Bugs, moisture, heat…those are your biggest problems.

For four hundred years it was okay in somebody’s house. In order for it to last that long…biggest thing is moisture and sunlight…just to keep things from fading. That’s why you keep the lights down. It’s quite extraordinary.

So what is one way costumes and props are preserved over the years, in the festival?

For things like sweat and body odour…the best thing is vodka. You spray the costumes with it.

All the blood, sweat, and tears that go into that…all those performances.

This museum was once someone’s home and is now an old house, storing old things. It now houses so much from a past long gone. In Shakespeare’s case, long long gone.

Next time I will write about the reason I went to the museum in the first place: Shakespeare’s First Folio.

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Guest Blogs and Featured Spotlights, Memoir and Reflections, Throw-back Thursday

Tornado: Part Two, Aftermath

Last week (in Tornado: Part One) I told the tale of the day the tornado struck and the

Whirlwind

And now here is the aftermath of that storm.

***

Rural areas around Hickson, 13 km north of Woodstock, and a wide swath south and east of the city showed only too clearly the devastating damage left by the tornado.

***

What happened to your father’s car?

We found out where it was and went to the auto body. It didn’t look horrible. The windows were all knocked out, dents all over the car, but it looked damaged enough. We got the insurance and the things we needed out. I am not sure what ended up happening to it.

***

What did you and Dad do the next morning?

We went out to the farm and I was just shocked. By then already there were chainsaws going, people were cutting up the trees.

I don’t think I did anything but walk around that day from the barn to the house to the driving shed, everything was just completely gone.

Back then they still let you go through all your stuff. I wandered through the rooms. Today they would bring in crews and would need to check the structure of the house before they would even let you go in.

There was broken glass all over and shards of glass were driven right into the kitchen counters. The walls upstairs were completely torn off. My old bedroom was completely open to the sky. My wedding gown had been in one of the spare bedroom closets. We found it stuck up in one of the pine trees. shredded and dirty. Somebody else must have taken it down already because I don’t think I did that.

The little kids swing set was still standing unharmed with pine trees ripped out on all sides of it, from when we were kids. We had that swing set.

wpid-unknown-2014-08-14-08-09.jpg

(I used to swing on this set with my cousins when we were growing up. My youngest uncle would live on this farm for many years, after my grandparents retired and passed the farm to him.

My grandfather gave a swing set like this to each of his children for their children. Ours stands there still and now my nephews and niece play on it. It is a strong structure, as strong as the man it came from had been.)

***

What did you and Mom do and see that next morning?

We drove out and as we got there we could see how much damage was done. All the trees were down…tuns of people already, chainsaws going. Mom met her family…lots of hugs and crying, surveying the damage, driving shed gone and debris all over the place.

It was only nine or nine thirty and there were already probably one hundred people there, people…people showing up all the time. Family and friends just kept on showing up.

What damage was there to any vehicles?

The freezer had fallen against your uncle’s car. It had been in the garage and the garage had been attached to the house by a little breezeway. That wall had fallen…on his car, which was in pretty bad shape.

What other damage did you notice?

Outside I looked up and could see the bathroom wall was gone, you could see the bathtub and toilet. The house was quite damaged, especially the top, a lot of water damage. The staircase was damaged with bricks all over the place. I thought I walked upstairs. Sometimes…it’s thirty five years ago and it’s pretty traumatic. Some of the finer parts…I might have forgot. Chaos all day…people working, doing this or that. I don’t know what we did all day. I don’t remember me doing anything all day either…people bringing food.

***

When you first saw it, did it still look like the house you grew up in?

There was a nice stained glass window in the living room, it was all shattered to pieces. Most of the downstairs windows were all blown out. The stairs were all full of bricks.

How long had that house been there?

It had previous owners. It was built somewhere around nineteen-hundred. It was already almost eighty years old when this happened, but it had a double brick layer, a beautiful old farm house.

What did you say and what did they say when you finally saw your parents?

They both explained where they were and what it felt like.

The loud roar of everything being torn up above would have been frightening I’m sure.
She didn’t know where grandpa and bruce were. She had no idea. She stayed crouched beside the oil tank in the basement, next to the furnace.

They were out in the barn milking cows at the time.
They went over to the milk house because it was buried in the barn bank. two walls were buried in the bank and the third wall was against the barn, figuring that would be the safest place. The doors blew open and it got really really windy in there so they moved just inside the barn on or underneath the steps. As they did that there was a horrible loud sound and the silo broke apart and fell down on top of the milk house. If they had stayed where they were they would have been crushed by huge slabs of concrete.

(Grandpa and my uncle laid there, my grandpa covering my uncle and the dog somewhere in there too.)

Was her name Lassie? Didn’t you have several dogs named that growing up?

Quite a few. Grandma liked to name her dogs Lassie. The poor dog. She went deaf after that tornado. She never heard again. Whether it was just stress or the pressure of the wind.

It took their farm but the farm north of them and the farm south were perfectly fine. Then it went over to the next road. It hit the river bed and kind of followed along the river. Then jumped out…there’s one woods along the highway and it went through there and all the trees were just wrecked.

***

(For a while during my conducting of these interviews my two parents spoke of their memories and recollections together. Mom remembered what was necessary to protect the ruined property early on and Dad chimed in with what they both recalled of a particular situation.)

My uncle stayed over night to make sure nobody came out to steal anything. The telephone still worked. Well, I think you could call out but you couldn’t call in.

Wasn’t there some guy? my father reminded her, not having to finish his sentence.

When they were chopping up white birch trees…some guy started loading it in his truck. “Hey! This isn’t a free-for-all!” My mom recounted.

A lot of people were helping out, weren’t they? I asked naively.

Yeah, a lot of people but not strangers putting in their trunk to take home. HE was taking wood. Why would you take wood. You’d chop that up.

(Both their memories intersect and overlap and one had a picture of the details of those days that the other did not or which did not match up at times.

My father still recalls the tornado falling on a Tuesday while my mother does not recall the actual dates, him being better with those sorts of details. That is a trait I inherited from my father. He remembered details such as where the holidays were spent that first year after the tornado.)

We had Christmas dinner down there that first year, Christmas of seventy-nine.

***

What other damage did you and Mom notice as you wandered around that next day?

The chimney had fallen on top of Grandpa’s car.

How were you involved in the days that followed?

We were there constantly, back and forth everyday. I was off work for a couple days.

How did Grandpa seem to be holding up to you?

Confused, in a bit of a daze with everything that had just happened to them.

When did the rebuilding begin?

Grandpa had to decide if he wanted to even rebuild. Someone down the road might have sold their farm to him if they had been ready to retire…I remember him talking about that.

Finally they decided they were going to rebuild and by the next week there were men working to rebuild the top of the barn.

***

Mennonites are Christian Anabaptists who follow the teachings of European religious leader Menno Simons (1496-1561). They believe in pacifism, non-violence and simplicity. The Anabaptists (meaning “re-baptizers”) arose from the Protestant Reformation. They rejected the idea of infant baptism, believing the practice should be a voluntary expression of faith. Their descendants include the Amish, Baptists, Hutterites, Mennonites and Quakers.

. According to their website, The Mennonite Disaster Service was first organized in Kansas in 1950. It was an extension of the Mennonite practice of mutual aid, and the belief that their faith is best expressed through daily caring for one another. When church members or neighbours lost a barn in a fire, flood or tornado, the Mennonites would raise a new barn “to represent the love of Jesus Christ and the power of collaboration.”

. The Mennonite Disaster Service now claims the involvement of more than 3,000 Anabaptist churches and districts. They organize and manage volunteer labour, but do not provide direct material or financial donations to victims.

***

How did your parents find out about their car and all that had happened at home while they were away?

A week and half later mike (his brother/my uncle) and I went to meet them. Obviously, we had to pick them up at the airport and we told them what had happened. They said they remembered seeing something in the paper about a tornado somewhere around here, not if they knew where. Back then you didn’t have the same news as today. They didn’t realize it had hit at home here.

Even your father helped out didn’t he?

My dad was still working, but he came, as a brick layer. He helped fix some of the barn, pens and around the windows and doors. He would come sometimes after work.
There were people milling around, not as many people as the first few days, but it was a lot of mess around to be cleaned up still.

***

Where did your parents live once their home was practically destroyed? Did they stay with family?

They did for probably the first week or so and then their friends lent them a Winnebago they parked on the farm so they could stay right there because they had cows to milk and people were there all times of the day and night.

Did all the animals survive?

All the cows were fine. There could have been some pigs lost. I don’t know if there were some sows outside probably.
But most of the animals inside the barn…the tornado took off the whole top. The top of the barn was full of both straw and hay. It took the barn walls and roof and most of the hay and straw were blown away, but the floor of the barn was left in tact and therefor all the animals below it were protected.
There aren’t that many windows in a barn and they are all solid stone and concrete sides.

What other damage and destruction was there?

There was corn out in the field and it looked like someone just took a big roller over it and flattened it right to the ground. It was just pushed over sideways from all the rain and wind. Most of it wasn’t broken off. It was just pushed over sideways and flat.

One of my old report cards…up in the attic already…it blew to Drumbo, which was ten miles away. Somebody found it in their field. I got it back. Somebody eventually recognized my name and returned it to me. It was a little tattered, but it was still very legible…probably had gotten wet but had dried out and laying in a field. You didn’t know whose stuff was whose. We could have been picking up debris from the neighbours. A lot of it was broken pieces of things. Very few things were left in tact.

What happened next?

And then the clean-up began. I used to go out there every day and bring a basket of laundry home with me every night because everybody’s clothes would be filthy dirty.

Then we started knocking the mortar off, to reuse some of the bricks. Grandpa sold the bricks from the house. The whole structure was torn down. First, salvaging what you could, taking out all your personal stuff, Grandma’s photo albums were in cabinets right in the interior of the house inside closed doors so most of them were okay. She had a lot of her personal effects like that still kept. Anything out oven a room or upstairs was taken away pretty much.

It was a matter of taking all that stuff out and then where to put it. It got taken to a lot of different places. For months and months afterward, when they finally moved into their new house people were returning with boxes and boxes of the stuff they had taken to keep for them.
Many different people came and helped and then those people would take boxes of stuff to their own homes because there was no place to store it. There were no buildings left to put it into.

How long before they got their belongings back then?

It took probably almost a year after before they got all their stuff back. You didn’t know what all you were missing initially because so many people packed it into boxes and took it away. That way a lot of people cleaned up stuff for grandma so she didn’t have to do it all. For months after even food from the freezer was returned, stuff they didn’t even remember they had had.

Grandma dealt with pain and fatigue from fibromyalgia for years at this time. was all the stress hard on her condition?

Yeah she did. I’m sure it was. Sometimes you go on adrenaline initially but yeah Im sure it was hard on her too but she did well considering. Sometimes you don’t really get a chance to think of yourself. when you’re caught up with so many different things and
that was why it was good to be right there. She could go lay down anytime she wanted to.

How long before they could move back into their house?

They didn’t get into their house until almost Christmas. They were just thrilled when they could move into the basement. They just set up sheets to divide and separate the room for privacy.
One couch was rescued but their living room furniture was ruined. They had to buy a new living room set after they moved into their house.

(Years later the surviving couch was still in use in the family room of their little house. The arms were ripped, but at least it was well-worn.)

How long before the new house was totally rebuilt?

It would have probably been Feb or March before they actually moved in upstairs.
By spring all the rest, all the outside was done.
They had insurance so that paid for the majority of stuff. They had someone come in and paint and do all that stuff so Grandma didn’t have to.

How did this affect them financially?

The community, they had a tornado fund. I can’t remember if they got seven thousand dollars or how much they got.

What did Grandpa do going forward?

He took all the pine trees that were wrecked and took all the tree trunks and sawed them into 2 by fours to build the barn. Had to buy some but that really helped with the lumber, to keep down the cost too.

You were pregnant and then a first-time mom when all of this was going on. What was that like?

We spent that whole fall and into spring…almost every day I would go out to the farm. There’d be something to clean up…work at.
I felt fine…I felt good. I would take some days off, but spent a lot of days out there.
Paul and I went out fairly often in the spring.

***

It’s strange finishing the interview with her with Raffi on the television while my nephew sleeps in the next room, reminding me of a time on our old home movies with Raffi on in the background as children. That was only a few years after all this, but now it has been thirty five and I try again to imagine what it was like that day for them all and over the ones to come.

All I and many people imagine of a tornado when we try to picture one is that famous scene from The Wizard of Oz, on that Kansas farm in the thirties, a time long gone. That is even what I use as a visual in my own head.

I wanted to look back on what it was really like, with the only two people I can now ask. I want to thank my wonderful parents for telling their story and for the life they made for my siblings and I after that day that changed everything.

***

Some of the quotes from immediately after the fact I took from the following sources:

Kitchener Waterloo Record

Written by Sheila hannon

http://www.cbc.ca/archives/categories/environment/extreme-weather/deadly-skies-canadas-most-destructive-tornadoes/1979-woodstock-tornado.html

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Kerry's Causes, Memoir and Reflections, Memoir Monday, RIP

Carpe Diem

At first, with the immediacy of social media these days, we must let the sources and updates build up and hold truth before a rumour of a star’s death is to be fully believed.

Robin Williams had a big influence on the comedic distraction of my childhood. I loved him as Genie in Aladdin and just recently revisited his performance when I watched that childhood Disney classic again, after more than fifteen years, with my young niece. That was such a fun part for him to play and he would be forever imprinted in the imaginations of children like me everywhere.

As a child I also loved Mrs. Doubtfire. It was just the sort of family film that I gravitated toward. The scene at the end of the movie where he speaks as his old maid alter ego, about family in all its guises still being family, still profoundly affects me to this very day.

Mrs. Doubtfire: final scene.

I last saw it on Boxing Day.

I loved going to the movies and my friend and I saw Jumanji together, (my favourite Glossette Raisins in hand) and the over-the-top jungle scenery and animals blew me away. His role in that film was a very under-rated children’s epic adventure story. I was thrilled when I got the film on video for Christmas when I was eleven and I even got the board game to go along with it.

In this clip he is his usual wild and wacky self while promoting the release of the movie.

Jay Leno interview.

Of course I am not old enough to know his early roles (the biggest being Mork from Mork & Mindy). His last attempt at a sitcom seemed to be welcomed with relatively positive reactions, but I never did get hooked. To me he was and always would be a movie actor.

Each time a celebrity dies I already, in a sort of morbid curiosity, start to wonder which of them will be the next headline. They die like everyone else and often in tragic ways, but this sort of thing happens to the rest of us as well and the widespread headlines only serve as reminders of the suffering that many people experience.

This summer I’ve already written about such things in my own family and I can’t not write here when these things happen once more. I see them as the most appropriate time to explore what’s really going on with people. Suicide happens at any age.

He was the ultimate picture of the dark and the light battling for supremacy. Often, it is known, that comedians are the most dark deep down and in their pasts and their private lives. I happen to believe that comedy, laughter, and humour are the only antidotes for Sadness, despair and depression. Without the latter there would not be the former, but they each only serve to highlight the other in sheer contrast.

Never Had a Friend Like Me

This song is in your-face and attention-grabbing, just like Williams always was. HE couldn’t seem to be serious in his many interviews over the years. He seemed crazy and out-of-control through that television screen…to me.

I ask myself tonight: What kind of a friend was he? What kind of father was he? In Jumanji the young boy says to him:

“You’re afraid. It’s okay to be afraid.”

Just what was Robin Williams afraid of?

These are the questions I’d ask when I’d see the man in the media and realize he couldn’t possibly always keep that kind of energy up. He must have been all sorts of things off camera that people didn’t see.

Reports of suicide as cause of death are still being confirmed, but reports aren’t often wrong about these things. The most obvious explanation is probably the correct one, even now. Which one of us is going to be surprised at this conclusion? His depression was widely known. He battled drug addiction and alcoholism throughout his life.

He was a Stand-up who, like many comedians, was shy as a child and used the stage and screen to bring himself out of that shyness. HE went to Juilliard with life-long friend Christopher Reeve. He won an Academy award. All of this gave him credibility.

His role in Hook made him beloved. He seemed, a lot of the time, to be a big kid and perfect to act as a character in a world where you never had to grow up. He could be utterly creepy in movies such as Insomnia and One Hour Photo…both of which my brother introduced to me. Great movie roles such as the psychiatrist in Good Will Hunting and radio personality in Good Morning Vietnam showed his true acting brilliance. He made me smile as a barely competent Russian doctor in the movie Nine Months. He had a gift for improvisation and imitation.

I never did see Dead Poets Society, but it sounds like one I would probably enjoy. Any literary themed movie is one I aim to watch, but up until now I suppose I didn’t have it at the front of my mind or at the top of my to-watch list.

On reading up on all the internet traffic since the death announcement I came across a scene from the movie where the Latin expression I have always loved is discussed. I am titling this sad blog post Carpe Diem because it is fitting.

Carpe Diem

Williams seems to philosophize and reflect on the expression while simultaneously putting the fear into his young students about making the most of life before it’s too late…a lesson we often forget ourselves.

This is something I strongly subscribe to in my own life and, especially lately, have been striving for. None of us usually know how much time we have left. Sadly Williams probably knew by the end, if he made that decision to end it all.

I choose to speak, on this occasion, about what I believe is the important take-away. I know how many people suffer in silence or who are desperate for help to be led out of the darkness they are lost in. Sometimes there is no answer that will satisfactorily appease everyone involved or looking in.

Seize the day or one of these days it will be too late.
RIP Robin.

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Memoir and Reflections, Special Occasions, Throw-back Thursday

Tornado: Part One, Whirlwind

For years after it happened my grandma would appear visibly shaken during any summer storm. When the sky would start to darken it was clear she couldn’t help flashing back to the day her world was turned up-side-down.

She was alone in the house on the evening of August 7th, 1979 while my grandfather and my uncle (a teenager at the time) were out in the barn.

My grandparents were simple people, a hard-working dairy farmer and his wife. Their farm was everything to them and a visible sign of all they had built together over the previous thirty years.

***

Woodstock – her electric clock stopped at twenty minutes before seven.
About five minutes after the power failure, the tornado struck.

“It was just terrible,”, Ruby Witzel said Wednesday, fighting back the tears.
“It was a horrible experience – you just can’t express it in words,” she said, her voice breaking with emotion.
She stood outside her rural home near Hickson, huddled in a red and black plaid jacket, her salt and pepper hair drawn back.

wpid-unknown-2014-08-7-00-42.jpg

***

My parents were newly-weds during the summer of 79 and had been married just under two months, barely settled into the home they had purchased on the other side of the town of Woodstock. It was a big enough move for them both, not being overly familiar with that area, away from the farm my mother grew up on. My father had been a city kid all his life.

My grandparents are no longer here to be included in this (although I am certain they would have done gladly). They loved to tell their story and I heard it several times growing up, but now I am left with only old newspaper articles from immediately afterward.

I asked my parents to retell their own sides of that day. My mom was at home and waiting for my dad to come home from work. She had no idea anything happened until after the havoc that spread through the area.

***

When did you first know anything was wrong? I got a phone call. The afternoon was really hot and it was extremely still.

I’m not even sure who it was that called me and said that the tornado had gone through mom and dads and destroyed the farm.
I called to see if dad had already left to tell him to come home right away and they said their electricity was out and they couldn’t use their PA system to page him, but they kind of thought he had already left, but they weren’t sure. So I just waited and I waited and I waited and he didn’t show up so after waiting so long I hopped in our car and I thought I’ll drive to Woolco and see if I can find him
So I get on the 401 and it is completely stopped with traffic and all backed up. I looked at my gas tank it was almost empty. I waited for a little while and my gas tank started going down so I thought what am I gonna do so I turned around and went the opposite way and got back off and tried to go into town but it was completely closed off. There were trees all over the road and wires down.
I had no idea where he was or what was going on. I had no idea where he was for at least two hours probably. He wasn’t coming home and nobody at work saw him. I was in tears driving back to our house not knowing, how to get anywhere. Scared all by myself.

***

What about you Dad. What first tipped you off to something not right? The power went out in the store. I was done work at six and I was ready to go home. I didn’t want to stick around in case they wanted me to do some more work. I went outside and, since my parents went to Europe, I had my dad’s car, a big old Chrysler. I looked north of the mall…I thought holy smokes they’re getting a real bad storm out that way. Down south looked fine, at least what I thought.

***

“It was like a white cloud whirling around. I couldn’t see anything else,” Mrs. Witzel recalled with tears in her eyes.
“I quickly ran down to the cellar and the garage was already blowing away.”

“The wind was really blowing against the cellar door.” she said.
“I could hardly push it open,” she said, leaning against the battered wreck of her son’s new Thunderbird parked in what was once the garage.

(My mother’s two older brothers were both married and had children. My twin cousins were born only weeks before, prematurely. It had been a busy summer of weddings and births and now this had happened. It was simple proof of how my family always pulled together for each other, in good times and in bad.)

“They were in the milkhouse but it’s gone now,” Mrs. Witzel said, motioning to the east where a mound of hay and straw showed where the large wooden barn had been the day before.
“Just after they were inside the silo came down on top of the milkhouse,” Mrs Witzel said.
You can see that God really spared our lives – just by the margin that we escaped,” she said.

(This only served to cement my grandmother’s faith in God. She had come so close to losing more than property that August evening.)

***

So what did you do next? I got in the car and started driving. I got on the 401 and started driving toward home. It was getting darker and it was getting windier. Basically I got close to the cut-off and had the windows up, air on so it was nice and cool inside. I guess I wasn’t really paying attention and all of a sudden it got really windy and then it got dark and I saw something was going on ahead of me so I stopped. There were no other cars that I could see. I suddenly drove into this thing and before I knew it I was all alone. I still had it in drive but I had my foot on the break. Then it was getting worse and worse. I was getting worried and didn’t know what to do.

I just thought: I’m probably going to die. What’s going on here? It seemed like a long time it was doing this. Please stop, I thought I felt the car move, but it didn’t shift too much. I think it was more the pelting of stuff.; I was getting the debris. I didn’t get the tornado; it had already past. It was the swirl of bricks and trees and pieces of buildings.
If it was going on you’d think the car would have been moved, if it was the real thing I probably would have died. It had already gone across the 401 That’s what I believe happened. I didn’t drive into it and it hit me. I was in shock I guess. I didn’t realize what it was until later. Just married and am I going to die and never see my baby? You think the worst. When I laid down I was scared and thought I was going to die. It happened so fast but seemed like it was a long time.

I sat up. I sat for a bit, never getting out of the car, in a state of shock.
A car drove by on my ride hand side. They never stopped to help me, they were in shock too, I recall a kid looking out at me, shocked himself, I looked at him and he looked at me. That car drove slowly past.

***

The Woodstock tornado was actually three tornadoes spawned by the same storm. Two were powerful F4 twisters, with wind speeds of up to 400 kilometres and funnels two kilometres wide. The first one struck southeast of Stratford, Ont., at 6:18 p.m., carving up a path 33 kilometres long before it ended near the town of Bright.

A second, larger tornado touched down northwest of Woodstock at 6:52 p.m. It crossed Highway 401 and struck the city’s south end, cutting a swath 89 kilometres long before crossing Lake Erie and ending in New York State. A third, weaker twister struck south of Woodstock. Two people died in the tornadoes, 130 were injured and a thousand were left homeless.

***

When did you realize it was over and you were alright? I can’t tell you how long before it all died down and I sat up. Shortly after somebody from another car came running up to me and asked if I was okay. He asked me if I was hurt and I didn’t think so. He looked at me and I looked at myself. I didn’t see any cuts. He asked me if I could walk and he helped me out of my car and took me over to his. The men in the car said they were going to go back and see if the guy in another vehicle was alright.

They brought the truck driver and it looked like he was bleeding worse than I was.
They were taking him to hospital and they asked if I needed to go and I said I didn’t think I did.
They got off at the off ramp, next to the OPP station. They didn’t know what to do so they left me there and took the other man to the hospital.

At the station they were just getting lots of reports of what was happening around the county. They said something about up north area. It’s a big area, I thought, so who knows. At the police station I sat and listened, they were busy. “Yes we know there’s a tornado.” I heard them calling in off duty officers to come help. It got later and later so I used the phone. I thought I’d better call home. I called and got no answer. I think I called a few people, no answer. Any time I called I didn’t get an answer anywhere. I think I tried three or four different places.
Eventually I got a hold of your mother and she explained her parents farm had been hit, but everyone was okay, she said.
I was sitting there waiting and waiting and finally an officer said he was going out to a certain area, did I need a ride. I panicked. They were offering me a ride and so I thought I’d better take it.

He went to Oxford Centre first, which was also hit. There was a bunch of damage, getting dark by then. I must have been at the station quite a long time. He had to take another route because of the traffic tie-ups all over. I saw some of the damage. At one point he got out and told me to stay in the car because there were power lines all over the place, not wanting me to get electrocuted.

***

OPP were guarding the entrances to Oxford Centre, a hamlet 2 km south-east of the city, to stop sightseers and looters.
All but three or four of the 30 homes were severely damaged —  The worst concentration of damage outside of Woodstock.

Woodstock wasn’t the only populated area affected. Several tiny communities including Oxford Centre, Vanessa and New Durham were wiped off the map. Damage was estimated at $100 million.

***

When did you finally make it home? Eventually he took me back to our place. I pull in and see her there with the neighbour. I explained the situation. Then I took my shirt off and she cleaned my back because there were a lot of shards that had gone down my shirt. I don’t remember it being sore at all. She told me about her family and I took a shower and went to bed.

***

So Mom what did you do next? I went back home and then I think I got a phone call from Dad saying that he was at the police station and he asked me to come and get him. I said I didn’t know if I could so I said I would go over and ask the neighbour.

I knew them just barely. Maybe I had met them once before or maybe I had never met them. Maybe that was the first time I met them. I went over and their teenaged daughter was sitting on the porch. I told her that there was a tornado and I didn’t know how to get to my family. She went in and told her parents and they didn’t believe her at first, until they came out and went: Oh really!

This all took a long time because it was a long way around and when we finally got to the police station they told me he wasn’t there.
So the neighbour took me back home and as we were coming over the hill by our place a police cruiser comes up from behind us with his lights flashing so we pulled over and let him pass and then he pulled into our driveway and let Dad out.
He had bits of glass in the side of his shirt and he had his story to tell.
by then it was almost getting dark.

***

Friends, neighbours and relatives rushed out Tues. night to help rescue trapped animals and personal effects. They were back again in force early Wed., sawing up broken trees, gathering up boards and twisted sheets of steel roofing scattered like confetti through the surrounding fields.

Hay, straw and surviving animals were loaded on to trucks and wagons and taken to those neighboring farms which escaped the crushing blow of the 200 km per hr winds.
****

What were you feeling by the end of all this, after Dad was home safe? I didn’t realize how bad it was I don’t think until we went out there the next morning. We said we would just come out the next morning, but we should have gone out already that night if I’d known how bad it was.
It was a long night. If I had to do it over again I would have gone out to the farm that night, but dad was exhausted. We were both tired by that point. I had just recently found out that I was pregnant so it was scary. I didn’t know what was going on with everybody.

***

At the Witzel farm, more than three dozen cars and trucks line the road.
As the men worked at sawing the huge spruce and weeping willow trees, women chatted or tried to comfort the shaken Mrs. Witzel.

***

Excerpts were taken from the Kitchener Waterloo Record, August 1979

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