Tuesday, May 23, 2017

If We Have Memories Worth Relating – What Would They Tell?

Not everyone has stories that they either want to remember or love to tell. The generation I grew up in, like all before me, had a mixture of those sorts of individuals that at one moment loved to rehearse their youthful escapades, and at other times seemed a bit reticent to open up those parts of their past. Perhaps the telling might shed too much light on a too personal perspective on life. One cannot blame another for not wanting to divulge too much of themselves to a child, much less a young adult. It seems that we all carry a few skeletons in our closet that may rattle about in the minds of those whom we would not necessarily want to shape in our exact image.

I have often said that my dear wife reminds me, along with others as well I might add, that it may be quite important to set down in words some of the stories/songs from my youth. So many had been shared by my Grandfather/Grandmothers, my Mom and Dad, along with those many and various relatives that gathered, in joyful family get-togethers, in what Mom called our “Dell”. Around the fireplace, so lovingly built by my parents, while we sat on lawn chairs and logs or even kitchen chairs, stories flowed and the neighbourhood quaked with echoes of our laughter and singing. It was during those precious times of my childhood that I tried to sit quietly absorbing the stories that were shared. It was never just teasing and playfully embarrassing stories to be heaped on one another in jest. It was meant to remind them that life lived, though fraught with its years of trial and tribulation, was also adorned with the jewels of those treasured moments of togetherness and love, regardless of the heartaches they had at one time faced.

When Mom’s family got together, their corporate memories were important and  Mom often continued to explain, when I asked questions, long after the gatherings had ended. My mother’s family suffered that particular heartache, which many others shared in her generation, as did others before them. Her parents were afflicted with Tuberculosis. This was not uncommon as most will know. What I found most distressing in my childhood was that her family was broken up and sent off in different directions, to be raised by others. In the case of one son, he was actually adopted away from the family and community into which he was born. I didn’t meet him until my mid-teens. Children were often conceived even after a diagnosis that might surely mean the deaths of their parents, and this was the case with my Mother’s parents. So it was that my Mom was taken in by a cousin who lived just down the road from my grandparent’s home.  This dear lady, who I knew as Grammy Chetwynd (her husband died before I met him), grew to be a central part of my early childhood years, when she came to stay with us during the winters in her later life. Both she and my Mom related so many stories and spent time laughing about the odd things that brought about first, my parent’s long-term friendship, and then the love that led to their marriage, after my mother finally got out of the TB hospital when she was about 28.

I walked the stomping grounds of my Mom’s childhood neighbourhood, quite often in my early years, in company with both my immediate and extended families. I learned the daily life of those times along with the many names of places both on the mainland and the island offshore from their property. They were glorious days, filled with freedom and exploration, so very different from the more inland situation of my own home. We got to waft the smell of the barrel of lobster bait when we were introduced to a small shack along the water’s edge. But there was another barrel there as well, and it held fish liver oil. I can remember thinking of how awful it must have been as Mom and her siblings were forced to swallow that concoction back then. It had been left simmering in the heat of the day, preparing to become an elixir for bracing up the immunity of whatever person could get it swallowed, and not heaving it back up in disgust.

The huge boulder near Gram Chetwynd's
There were ghost stories, about the headless man of John’s Island, shared at the campsite during the evenings. We never tired of asking about all the special places that Mom and her brothers used to go exploring, when opportunity afforded it. One such place was the Thrum, or the Grand Thrum, which was a huge rock out-cropping on a section of land, jutting out from the shoreline below the two adjoining properties of both sets of Mom’s parents. Mom shared tales of hours she spent there at the beach, discovering all the magical pools up at Lyles, and catching minnows. Just behind the beach there was an inner pond where frogs and pollywogs could be caught. Another place, that I have often wished I could visit again, was a huge boulder near the house where Gram Chetwynd lived in her later years. There is a lot of history rehearsed about that particular spot, and its popularity down through the years has made many memories for those who were brought up in that area. Times have changed and these days’ children are drawn more toward electronic media and games, than they are to the great out-of-doors. The knowledge of such places becomes only a fond memory to our now dying generation.

We were given permission to pitch our family tent below the home of Mrs. Lizzie Adams, who lived very near both the childhood homes that my Mom had enjoyed. She offered to let us use one of the fields just off the lane, leading to Gram Chetwynd’s old property, where Lizzie was pasturing some cattle. Mom, who was always afraid of large animals, swung her purse at a cow near the fence gate, through which we had to pass. The purse separated from its handle and flew off scaring the cow as it sailed toward her. I am not sure who got the greatest fright, Mom or the poor cow. That dear lady, Mrs. Adams, had the strength of a man, and the heart of saint, in my eyes. I was told she used to go fishing, cut down and manufactured her own winter’s wood, raised cattle and chickens, and put in a full garden, all while maintaining her own home and property. Folks living through the early 20th century were a tough, and for the most part, hardy people. But, due to the prevalence of tuberculosis in the area, there was always a stark reminder of how fragile life could be when illness invaded the lives of families, sometimes changing previous plans that they had made, forever.

Dad was not always as forthcoming with his tales as my Mom. It took a lot of prodding sometimes to prime the pump, so to speak, and getting him in the mood to ease into reminiscing about bygone days. His childhood,(him being a bit older than my mother) put him in a bit different era in some ways. My Dad, born in 1909, was a survivor of the “Great Depression”, making his stories quite different. Many families were separated as the menfolk had to move around looking for work. For some that meant uprooting themselves from familiarity and relocating to the far reaches of the continent or further, in search of something that could give them financial stability for their needy families. Many families migrated to the United States to work on farms or in the timberlands of Maine, and sometimes even further west to Michigan. Many of course took to the sea working on foreign ships or schooners bound for all types of fisheries.

But my father’s stories were not about moving away; his were mostly about sticking closer to home and fulfilling family responsibility, though they could be interlaced with hunting stories by times, or trips to baseball games somewhere in the county. His trips were only short trips to harvest apples, which did not seem to suit his personality. Dad was a man of deep thought, having a good natured ability to influence people with his skill and prowess, rising out of what experience taught him, growing up as a lumberman’s son. He was used to watching and learning from the various skilled labourers, such as those who teamed horses in the woods. He understood the best way to get teams to perform their duties, showing both respect and love for the animals under his care, and in doing so he never had occasion to be kicked. There were instances where he did however encounter biters that always seemed to find their way to logging camps. He told me that there were also those excitable horses that liked to squeeze their handlers. When he found himself between the horse and the stall walls, a good sharp thumb in the ribs seemed the only correction that was ever needed during those isolated events.

He did however love to talk, once he got started, about his months working on the river dams for the Shelburne Electric Company, while in his early twenties; they were located up on one of the back lakes of our County. He would recall in detail the types of work and play during his stay in the camp. It was not easy work, and the times were hard, so a man did what he could to provide for the family. He chatted about competitions where men would see who could carry the heaviest rocks over a measured distance, either in their arms or in a wheelbarrow. He lived to regret those rather crazy tests of strength, when later on in life he suffered with some very painful back problems. This included a couple of deteriorated discs that had been crushed during those escapades in camp.

I was always amazed at the variety of things that Dad was willing to undertake. I have often reflected, when thinking of my own life, how like my father I really am, in light of his revelations about his working career. He and I had driven ambulance for a while, sold insurance for a very short time, had a love for metal and mechanical things, and worked in construction. He laughingly told me one day about his one and only carpentry job. I had been helping some carpenter friends on a job site, while I was still quite young, and when he found out what I had been doing he said; “well you are ahead of me… I got fired off my only carpentry stint because I couldn’t pound a nail, or make a straight saw cut!” As you can see, he loved challenges, and even though he had his family later in life, (he didn’t choose to marry until he was 40) he was still up to foot races and arm wrestling bouts, up into his 50’s, when finally one of us children beat him at one thing or another. After that he was content to walk along behind or contentedly watch others with their competitions.

We generally never tire of knowing more about our parents. While Mom could tell outrageously spontaneous stories of her experiences, both at home and at the Sanatorium, where she lay for years recovering from TB, Dad’ stories came more reservedly. It often seemed to me that they were given with a sense of appropriate timing, and a reflective longing on his part. I never knew exactly what Dad thought about many things. It took a lot to get the “whole” truth about what had happened and why some things “were” happening; not that he lied to me, and I am sure  he never did. Some things, he told me once, were best left unsaid until the right time came for their discovery. I may divulge at some point a few of those, but perhaps for now they are better left for another day.

Little may be known about your own parents or grandparents, or those persons who brought you up. You on the other hand may feel that you already know far more than you want to know, or even feel comfortable with knowing. It may be like that in our approach to God. I know in my own life that I have railed out against God, as things turned bleak by times. When my mother was returned to the TB hospital, over 4 hours away at that time by car, I was devastated. I was around 7 years old, and I could not understand why she had to leave, other than that I had known she had fallen ill again. I understood that if she went there she might get better. But, she might be away a whole year? Why would God do such a thing when I was being told what a loving and kind God we had; our God could be called upon in prayer, for He heard and answered. I called on God a lot as we got the news, and my prayers were not being answered. Of course the problem was that I prayed selfishly, and was too young then to understand timing and reason, in God’s plan.

But, as God’s greater plan unfolded after several months, Mom was returned to us and she became a patient in a nearby hospital where we could visit regularly, and life began to flow back to normal, and the stories continued in person. Now those family stories have become my stories. As you have noted in my blog, most of my stories are about how God interacts with me, in life within family community and everyday life, yet interaction with Him is most often dependent upon our own sense of being. The story of my life thus reflects more of a presence of God, than it does merely my parent’s influence. This is not meant to diminish the part my parents played, because without their Christian inspiration in my life, I would not have known who God really is. If our personality leans toward us having a strong independent spirit, then we may not readily include God in the picture. There may be personal tragedies in life, when people seeking God and not hearing a reply, or feeling no heavenward response, begin to decline the decision for faith. They begin to lean on the physical presence of humanity, sheltering only in the arms of friends or loved ones, or for some, perhaps in a worst case scenario, seek a temporary chemical answer, hoping to assuage the pain. But, believe me; this avenue of response will not get the job done… God is the only answer to humanity’s trials, which will ever give true peace.

Whatever your story has become, I pray that somewhere along the path of life, you will allow God to be evidenced in your own journey. He is there already, no matter what path you have chosen for yourself, and regardless of whether or not you have bothered to acknowledge Him as present. The amazing thing for me has been that though life has thrown some mighty outrageous screwballs my way, God has both held the bat and made the calls from behind the plate. Ok... a baseball analogy and not everyone likes baseball! My personal stories include, as I prattle on to those who would choose to listen; (or in this case read) a background of assurance upon God that has gotten me to this day. My prayer and belief is that God will continue to see me through to perhaps more than a reasonable conclusion in life. I will leave that one up to your future evaluations and God’s grace. There are more stories I could share, as this is just a few of the numbers of memories to be retold! Perhaps a walk near the edge, digging into your own memory banks, will bring some great stories to mind, prompting a whole new perspective on life, from there.