Thursday, May 30, 2013

Music and Memories

Just like stones in a farmers field things in my house work their way to the ground every now and then. An old CD that I hadn't played for while surfaced recently. At the time that I bought it I played it over and over again, but it has been seven years, so when I popped it into the CD player in my car, it came back as fresh and beautiful as when I first heard it. 

It was Rob who asked me if I had heard the song Nine Million Bicycles by Katie Melua. I hadn't, but I bought the CD, Piece by Piece, after he described her voice, just to hear it.

Playing the CD, I was struck again by how tied in certain memories are to music. I listen to that CD and I am in Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam. The music takes me back to 2006. I have taken time out from a visit to Mum and Rob in Alvechurch, to spend a week in Holland with Dutch cousins whom I have not seen for forty years. After flying to Amsterdam from Birmingham, I am waiting for my cousin Deborah who is flying in from Geneva to meet me there. Then together we would be taking a train to Rotterdam, to stay with her brother Hans and his partner, Walter. While I waited for her, I listened to the CD on my Sony Walkman CD player--I was not cool enough to own an ipod. I have one now, but still have and use that old portable CD player.

What I notice is that not only does the music transport me to the place I listened to it, but everything else that surrounds that memory comes to life again as though I have opened a time capsule. I am in the airport, but back in Alvechurch Mum is alive and safe with Rob. I know that she will be there waiting for me when I get back to spend my last week of vacation with them. She is there again. I can feel it. It all comes to life against the backdrop of Katie Melua's voice.

I thought about the other music that is tied to memories. I are a few:

The songs from the Beatles' 1965 album, Help, will forever be associated with a party in Rotterdam. I was 15, and had been invited by some neighbours of my Tante Lijda to a birthday party for their daughter, Eskaline, who was my age. By the end of the evening I had lost my 15 year old heart for the first time, really seriously. He and I never saw each other beyond that evening and the next day day in 1965, but wrote for a whole year after that. It was a practice run at love!

Real love came in 1967 when I fell hard for a boy who had asked me out after a Sunday School Christmas party. I had turned him down because I was dating someone already. The person I was dating turned out to be going in a different direction in his life than I was and I realized, that I was in love with Paul, the guy whom I had said no to. Eventually we got together, but it took a whole heartsick year before he asked again. During this time I borrowed a Cliff Richard album with Spanish songs, from him and I remember in the summer of 1967, when he was in Spain on vacation with his family and friends, playing the album--mooning around the house, and dreaming. This is one of the songs I loved, Amor, Amor. Amor

Fast forward to 1977. We had been in Canada for 8 years but I still missed England and my family deeply. Mum had bought a tape recorder and made a few tapes that were of conversation at home--she would just turn it on and record what was happening. That Christmas my Dutch Oma was living with Mum and Dad in Alvechurch and Mum recorded their voices while they were watching TV. Oma chatted away in Dutch, laughing often as she always did, and Dad's deep voice was there too. In the background I could hear the British commentator on TV introducing Paul McCartney's song, Mull of Kintyre  and then the song began to play while the conversation went on around it. I still have that tape and to me it captures "home" in a very special way.

I would love to hear your musical memory associations. Leave them in the comment section!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Bouquet



By Belinda

(My final story with a connection to Maplewood Lodge--for now, a story from 2010.)

I was a few minutes late but I arrived to smiles and a whispered, "He's ready," which turned out to be an understatement.

"He" sat on a couch and I noticed right away that he was wearing a suit. The staff told me that he had been there since first thing that morning and that he had talked of nothing else but this day for the past two weeks.

On the couch beside him, wrapped in pretty pastel paper were flowers, which he said were for ME! I felt appreciated; a special guest--but I was here for him--to celebrate his birthday.

He got up to get his coat, watched benignly by the silver gray cat sitting in the middle of the room.

In the car I gave him a birthday gift, a CD, which he studied and thanked me for quickly before opening the card. A bill fluttered from it, and he caught it quickly, "Ten dollars!" he said, "Thank you," while pulling out his wallet and putting away the money. "That's going towards my boat trip in the summer."

As we drove into the town of Orillia, he said, "They closed the institution."

"I know," I said.

"You can't go in, it's all locked up."

"Would you want to?" I asked.

"Yes, just to look around."

In the restaurant we were both hungry for our late lunch and we enjoy our meals to the full. When it was time to order dessert, I asked if he could guess what I would order. He thought hard and we both said at once, "Carrot cake!" and we laughed, and I told him that I only eat it when I go out with him, which was almost true.

I am surprised when he tells me that he is 70. To be certain he is right, I ask what year he was born. "I don't know, but it was before the war," he says.

"1940?"

"Yes, that's it; 1940."

I've known him for almost 30 of his 70 years. I ask him if he remembers Maplewood Lodge and he says, "Yes, I remember Maplewood Lodge. I broke a window and had to pay for it."

"But how did you feel about that place?" I ask, knowing that he will give me an unfiltered answer.

"Maplewood Lodge was a good place," he says, without hesitation. 

It was the place he came having struggled elsewhere. He found a measure of peace in the two acres of land and in the house that also had places in which to find solitude. Since then he has lived in four other places, but he has kept the thread of connection through every move, because to him, a friend is a precious thing. If you define friendship as a relationship that has common history and which both parties choose to maintain beyond the common ties, we are friends.

"Remember how you used to sleep out on the sun porch?" I ask. He did. It was the nearest thing to camping out, and a cool place to sleep in summer.

And we talked of the cats who both had kittens at once and chose his house mate George's room in which to have them. George had a dozen kittens and two cats in his room at one time.

We talked about what had happened to us both over the past year and laughed about moments and people we can both remember in the more distant past.

We see one another only once a year and I came expecting to be the one to give. But by making the effort to dress up in a suit; buying me flowers; and knowing what dessert I would choose, he filled my friendship cup, and reminded me that a friendship in which the giving flows both ways is richest.

Now it is almost 30 years since the chapter called "Maplewood Lodge," with all its fond memories; closed in our lives. Since then the small agency I joined when we left, has grown to the largest provider of services to people with disabilities in Ontario. I might think that I have just shared my life in a nutshell, but the adventure continues. Only God knows what is next--and experience tells me that with him it will only be good.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Gifts in Strange Packages

By Belinda

God had been all over our coming to Maplewood Lodge in the beginning. Certain circumstances of our life at the time made me open to doing something radically different. We had made a rash decision to buy a house that we had only seen in the dark and when we saw it in the daylight on the day we moved from the house we were leaving behind, I hated (no that's not too strong a word) it on sight. My excuse is our extreme youth at the time. :) So we rented out the house we had bought and moved into a farmhouse on two acres of land that was home to ten, and later twelve, men with disabilities.

did stay at home, which was always what I wanted to do when we had children, but it was "home" with a difference that meant it included a few extra people!

Sometimes God gives gifts in strange packages. I have found that to be the case. Often when I have been disappointed by a turn of events I wonder if God is secretly trying to give me a gift (if only I would stop wallowing in self pity and a bad attitude, and receive it.)

When we did that incredibly naive job of buying a house in 1974, we had no idea that it was how God would get us to the next place in the plan for our lives.

Our children grew up on the farm with rosy cheeks and the wind in their hair as they climbed the old trees and looked out across fields of waving corn--corn that whispered and creaked if they walked in it and listened. They awoke to mornings when the mist rolled across the fields until the sun burned it off, and the breeze sighed tales of summers past over the creek that ran through the field. 

The children played in the long cupboards that ran the length of the house, beneath the roof. In winter they tobogganed for hours down the hill out back. I only found out after the fact that they had also played in the old barn on the property, leaping from upper floors in the old and dangerous building. 

But as the 1970's turned into the 1980's, we heard of plans to close Pine Ridge, the institution where Paul worked. It is hard now to believe this, but we had mixed feelings about the planned closure. In fact I even wrote a letter to the local paper, expressing my belief that for some people, the institution had the support system needed for their complex needs--a point of view that I would hear years later from parents when other institutions closed. By that time I was able to reassure them that even for those with complex needs, life is better on the outside of an institution.

By 1983, the planning for the closure was well underway. Paul was helping to facilitate the closure by connecting with outside agencies who might offer homes and support to the people moving back to the community.

Within the institution there was great tension as staff adjusted to the thought of huge change coming into their work life. Everyone was guaranteed another government job, but it would mean a different location and different job.

We, too, wondered what would become of our home. We were praying about it and knew that God had a plan; but he never sees fit to reveal his plans too far ahead of time. Up until then we had been supported by an interdisciplinary team at Pine Ridge. We had access to behaviour management services; health services; the recreation department and vocational services. We needed to decide what to do when Pine Ridge closed.

We considered, explored and prayed about several options: coming under the auspices of the local association for community living, where many of the people who we lived with went to day programs; we considered being connected with Huronia Regional Centre, an institution to the north, in Orillia; and we considered the possibility of being an independent care home. 

Paul was attending many planning meetings throughout the stressful and unsettling early months of 1983. One evening he came home from a meeting at the Nottawasaga Inn near Alliston, where he and other government staff had been meeting with the leaders of community agencies. He said, "Lynn (his nickname for me), today I met a man named Noel Churchman; the Executive Director of a small agency called Christian Horizons." He went on to tell me how impressed he had been, both by Noel Churchman, and by the agency. Most of all he was struck by the fact that Christian Horizons was willing to support even the people with the greatest challenges."

We both thought the same thing--how wonderful it would be if Christian Horizons would consider taking over our home; it would be the perfect fit. We had no idea if they would be interested, and didn't know what this would mean for us, but we began to pray about it.

Meanwhile, work continued on finding homes for the people living at Pine Ridge. There was a strong parents group opposing the closure, and one day Mr. McKenzie, the administrator, brought the vice president of the concerned parents group to visit our home. I knew that this was a great honour. 

Our home was filled with second hand furniture. It could happily be described as rustic although it was neat, tidy and clean. But Mr. McKenzie was shrewdly banking on a mother's instinct to know love when she saw it--and she did. She said that this was where she wanted her son to come and said that she had seen other homes that were brand new but felt to her, cold and sterile. Here, in this home, she said, she could feel the love. And so it was that her son, began a transition to our home, replacing one of the other men who was moving back to his home community of Brampton.

One day that summer, Noel Churchman came to visit us and look at our home. We were getting to know each other; talking about the possibility of working together and what that might mean. Noel was tall, and skinny as a rail with a slight stoop. His features were sharp and his gray blue eyes twinkled with a quick intelligence and wit that could be biting. He had been a school principal before God called him to work for Christian Horizons in the 1960's. When Noel had come to Christian Horizons there was a legendary shoe box in which all of the bills to be paid were kept--that was the extent of the systems in place!

It was in November when another staff of Christian Horizons came to talk to us. He was dark haired and as wiry as Noel. His dark and gentle eyes danced with humour that lay just behind them and his questions were probing. His name was Ed Sider, and he was then the director of operations for Christian Horizons.

Before he left he said to me, "Lynn, (he had picked up Paul's nickname as did many others back then) we would like to offer you a position as director of this house, for Christian Horizons." But then he told me that Christian Horizons did not have a "live in" model. We would have to move out.

We were willing to do anything that God asked us to do and I told Ed that, "But," I said, "The house we own  is rented out and even though they don't have a lease, we would want to give our tenants sufficient notice."

Ed did not seem worried by that at all. He said to take as much time as we needed and not to feel rushed. "Let's work towards January," he said. That was very comforting--we had nearly two months to figure it out.

Ed left to drive back to Kitchener before supper. He had not been gone for very long and I was just clearing up the pots and pans from our meal, when there was a knock on our door.

I opened it up, wiping my hands on a towel and there stood our tenant. He had never come to our house before. He seemed awkward and uneasy. He apologized for bothering us and said that he was really sorry, but they had been offered a house at a rent they couldn't turn down. He said that they would be moving out on December 31st.

He must have wondered why I was smiling so widely! I told him not to worry--that I was so happy they had this great opportunity for a lower rent.

God knew that in the months ahead, which would be turbulent and stressful in the extreme, I would need to have a sign to look back on that we had made the right decision. How often I looked back to that night in the months ahead....

Monday, May 27, 2013

Winds of Change


By Belinda

(Another Maplewood memory first posted in 2009)

From one Christmas to another, those happy years went by at Maplewood Lodge, shaping us all in ways we were hardly aware of.

Paul continued his work at Pine Ridge; always in a battle for some improvement or another. He petitioned for a "village area" on the institution property, where several portables gave some people an opportunity to live in a more homelike environment and get ready for the next step--living in the outside world--"the community." He fought for breakfast to be cooked "on the ward" on the weekends, so that the residents could have the pleasure of smelling bacon and eggs cooking. It also meant that they could sleep in later on those days and not miss breakfast--simple things most people take for granted. Before this, some people did stay up later on Fridays and Saturdays and were tired, but the night shift would get everyone up early in order to change the bed linens as the day shift didn't like having to do it. It was a short change for staff and those that had worked until 11 the night before were back at 7.00 a.m. and not always in good humour. The weekends, as a result of short fuses all around, were times when there were many angry outbursts.

When Paul asked for breakfast to be cooked on the ward, he was asked how 52 people could fit into the small dining area there. He said that if his guess was correct, people would get up as they woke up, not all at once--and that is exactly what happened. The table never had more people around it than would fit, and the atmosphere had changed from tense to relaxed.
f Maplewood Lodge became a mandatory placement for the students going through the DSW course each year as the coordinator of the program, Mrs. Eileen Moran, a feisty Irish nurse, had taught Paul when he was taking the MRC course. Every February and March, pairs of students would come for a couple of weeks at a time and do part of their course work at our home. It might be coordinating a special event, such as a Valentines party; or putting together a program to teach someone a skill.

God had taken this rather shy introvert, who would not have described herself as a people person, and plunked her into an environment full of all kinds of people. It was during this period that I went from being a detached, and often critical, observer of people, to someone who had grown to love people with a love that was birthed in a heart bigger than my own. 

Our children, too, were being shaped by our unusual family setting. Certainly there must have been a down side, but it never was evident to me. Their horizons were much broader than they would have been otherwise, because every student that spent time with us also engaged with them. I was tired, but I was young. I survived the long days and unremitting pace and I enjoyed the solitude when everyone else had left for work and school, and I was alone with my thoughts as I shopped and cleaned and cooked and did the many other things needed.

I began to attend occasional meetings at Pine Ridge. I remember my first time because I held a piece of paper in my hand that shook as hard as my hand, so intimidated was I by the professionals around the table. I grew in confidence and knowledge though and began to develop a set of deep values about working with people who need support. Our years of living with people taught me that people really are more the same than different and that disability wasn't the difference as much as just another part of someone.

I made some close friends on the staff at Pine Ridge and our home became a place where God led people looking for spiritual conversations and prayer; a mutual blessing.

We had only ever intended to spend two years living with the men of Maplewood Lodge, but we found ourselves almost nine years in, when a wind of change began blowing...a wind that would bring changes I never imagined...

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Rob's Days at Maplewood

By Belinda

In 1978 our family of 16 at Maplewood Lodge grew by one as my brother Rob, came over from England, intending to make Canada his home too. His decision was helped by the fact that during a visit the year before, he had fallen in love with one of my friends.

It was fall when Rob arrived. The children had made welcome banners out of construction paper, which I found while cleaning up in the loft room recently. 

"Welcome to Canada, Uncle Bob. We love you," the words danced over the paper in childishly scrawled letters.

Rob was a champion shot putter and also into weight training. Paul was the brother he never had and together they lifted weights and trained in a shed that was baking hot in summer and frigid in winter and which stood about 20 feet from the house.

At school Rob had been the victim of cruel bullying and for him, building a body that was big and strong was a way of ensuring that no one wanted to pick a fight with him.

The men we supported at the home loved and respected him. The first person he met though, the day after he arrived for his first visit, told him so convincingly that he was the gardener, that Rob believed him and we in turn had to convince him that we didn't have a gardener!

Peter remembers Rob's green Adidas track suit, in which he thought he looked like the Green Giant! He credits his uncle with teaching him how to throw a frisbee and catch a football. He taught Peter to keep his eye on the ball, a principle he thinks helped him finally win the heart of Sue after we had all given up hope! His dad also helped, with the adage, "Faint heart never won fair lady." How could he go wrong?

Rob mowed a running track into the front lawn. Not used the heat and humidity, he sweltered as he ran, sweat dripping, while Peter trotted behind him. Peter made the mistake once, of saying to his uncle, "This is easy." Rob was not impressed!

Rob regularly ran the 5 kilometer block from our house. Our little dog Honey used to hide when she saw him lacing on his running shoes!

Buffy the cat seemed to target Rob for special blessings. She used his suitcase as a rather large litter box on occasion, and when she was sprayed in the face by a skunk she retreated to her favourite suitcase. Rob is the most fastidious person you would ever wish to meet, so of all the places she could choose, this one caused the most laughter. :)

Rob stayed with us for two years, during which he became a Canadian citizen, but sadly, his relationship with my friend did not go further than a very close friendship. After a few jobs that he did not enjoy, he found that he couldn't settle and in 1980, returned to England.

Before he left he carved his initials into a tree in the conservation area off Mulock and Bathurst in Newmarket.

We have so many happy memories of Rob's two years with us and when we are together, the stories begin, always bringing with them laughter.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Best Uncles

By Belinda

Some people woven into the fabric of our lives enrich it with their depth of character and the beauty of who they are. Our children's lives were touched by the many people they grew up with at Maplewood Lodge, our home for ten years; where we lived alongside 12 men at a time who had intellectual disabilities.

At our family Christmas this year, Brenda and Peter spoke of them fondly while looking at some photographs from those happy days. Thirty years later they remember them through the eyes of the children they were then. They didn't understand, or see, disability, but they understood qualities of the heart,and in that department they lived among some giants.

Stanley was 57 when we moved into the home where he had already lived for two years. We had no idea then that he would be part of our lives for the next 29 years, until he died in 2003 at 86. Everyone who knew him loved him, and no wonder. He was the kindest, most selfless person in the world. Having grown up during the Depression, he was always concerned with having enough money in the bank for that proverbial rainy day. He never splurged on himself, but he was generous to a fault with others. When Peter and Brenda played outside, it was Stanley who warned them to stay away from the road. They remember their childhood surrounded by his loving concern.

Years later, when Stanley was an old man, he was cared for by the agency I work for now, Christian Horizons. Before Christmas I spent some time chatting with one of the two staff who sat with him the night he died, almost 7 years ago. She was young and scared. She'd never been with a dying person before. She and her coworker sang to him, all his favourite songs. They stroked him and held him close as his breathing became more shallow. His face began to perspire, and the young staff immediately said that she would change his pajamas for him. Her coworker stopped her; she knew from experience that the time they had dreaded had come. They each held one of his hands and prayed. Then the young staff said, "It's all right Stanley. Go to Jesus." Stanley's eyes were closed, but he raised both his arms up in the air, outstretched to someone only he could see, then he breathed his last breath. It was a holy moment, when heaven intersected with earth, and they were privileged to be there.

On the wall in my laundry room I have a shadow box in which one of the staff placed his last piece of knitting, with the needles exactly as he left them when he put it down, just days before he died. His Special Olympics medal hangs from it.

Mervin reminded me of a daddy long legs. He was tall and thin and walked with the jerky gait of cerebral palsy. He had a shock of dark blond, soft, frizzy hair that stood out from his head, like an Afro. His elderly Jewish parents came to see him regularly and took him home for the holidays. Mervin himself went to church, and like Abe, another man of Jewish background who lived with us, seemed to have found his own faith, in Christ.

I have never known anyone who anticipated Christmas better than Mervin. Some time in September each year he would begin stowing away small gifts beneath his bed, with a twinkle in his eyes akin to the star of Bethlehem. For Mervin there was so much joy in the plotting, hiding and giving.

He was a sweet spirited man with a delightful sense of humour. Peter remembers him always replying, "Pinocchio," whenever he asked him what his name was.

When we left for a family trip to England one summer, Mervin was not well. He had a stubborn cough that turned out to be caused by a blood clot on his lung. He died in hospital while we were away. Although she doesn't remember him now, Brenda was inconsolable and sobbed for days when we heard the news.

We were rich in good friends then and we are rich because of them still.

Friday, May 24, 2013

More Maplewood Memories

By Belinda

(Another "re-post" from 2009.)

The years that we spent living at Maplewood Lodge, from August 1974 to January 1984 were so happy; we all feel that way. And if you were to ask any of the men that lived with us through those years, they would mostly say the same. I know that because some of them are still in my life.

Oma came over from England with Mum to visit twice during those years. She was 80 the first time, in this photo.

When we took over the running of the home from the people who were there before us, I followed the routine that was in place already. On weekdays the men would be picked up at 8.00 a.m by a van that would take them to work at locations in Newmarket, Brampton and Aurora. They would come home again in the afternoon at about 4.00. In between I would be busy shopping, cooking and cleaning.

On Monday mornings the men would bring their sheets and towels downstairs and I would launder them. In summer, I hung them to blow in the wind on the line that hung from near the window in the breezeway. I would fold them up and put them by their places at the three tables in their large kitchen. When they got home they would put them back on their beds. On Thursdays they would bring down their soiled clothing and I would wash them. When she was with us, Oma would sew on missing buttons and mend any ripped seams. She could never rest while there was work to be done. She saw the men as needing extra love and care and she had a lot of compassion for them.

The two acres on which the house stood, was a wonderful place for the children to grow up in. We did not have much in terms of material things and often I was so tired that I fell asleep the moment I stopped moving, but we were together, in a place that was happy and we were all being shaped and changed by living in community with so many people.

A retired English couple who were friends, would come on Sunday mornings and stay with the men so that we could go to church.Paul's sister Sheila lived with us and helped by spending time with the men when they came home from work

I cherished the quiet hours during the day when I was in the kitchen cooking or cleaning and often found that while my mind was on autopilot while I was doing some menial task, inspiration for a poem would strike. It was at such a time that this little poem; more of a word picture than anything; came to me, and the photograph of Brenda is the perfect illustration.

A child's tousled head
in bed,
Eyes dream laden,
tightly shut,
Dark lashes brushing a soft cheek,
rosy with sleep.
Arms flung wide
with abandon,
Or gently holding close
some favoured, furry, teddy bear.

Dear child,
each night
I feast my eyes
upon this sight,
and with a mother's grateful heart
I pray,
my thanks to God
whose precious gift
you are,
and share with him
my hopes, my fears,
my dreams...

For one day,
far away from me
you'll sleep,
and I'll no longer
watch beside your bed.
But in his tender care
my Lord will keep
a watch for me
o'er thee.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

A Life of Celebration

By Belinda
Here is another re-post from 2009, in honour of our days at Maplewood Lodge. Having walked on the land where the house once stood this past Saturday, I enjoyed reading this again and remembering... I'm thankful the readers of this blog who encouraged me to keep writing these memoir posts a few years ago. Because of your encouragement, we have the treasure of these memories in writing:

Brenda and I sipped our Saturday morning coffee recently, sitting back in comfortable armchairs in the sunshine that streamed through the windows of our spacious back room. She was thinking back to her childhood and the impact it had on her, her ten years of growing up at Maplewood Lodge.

She said, "I was always surrounded by adults who listened to me and made me feel as if what I had to say was actually interesting."

"And we celebrated everything!" she went on.

Yes, we did celebrate. We celebrated St. Patrick's day by giving prizes to the person who wore the greatest number of green items of clothing or we had Irish stew and mashed potatoes tinted green; we made the same special heart shaped cookies each year at Valentines; we had parties with old fashioned games like Pass the Parcel, and Blind Man's Bluff and Musical Chairs--all played by our children and the men we cared for. Every occasion was duly feted, including 16 birthdays a year, for which I baked and decorated all of the cakes. Our surroundings were humble in terms of furnishings, but those things are so unimportant really when it comes to the enjoyment of life.

The fun, as a parcel is tossed from hand to hand, with layers of paper torn off in the interval when the music stops was intense! Many times the " paper ripper" would have to be urged to stop ripping when the music started again and pass on the parcel that grew ever more tantalizingly small and close to the inner surprise with every layer. Hands held onto that parcel tightly before letting go, willing the music to stop before it passed on. It makes me laugh even now to think of it.

Christmas was the crowning Celebration of Celebrations and preparations began in late October with the baking of the Christmas cakes--a rich concoction from an English recipe, into which after baking for hours in brown paper lined tins, I would poke holes with skewers and pour in brandy, wrapping afterwards in brandy soaked tea towels and putting them somewhere cool to ripen. Sometime in early December the cake would be unwrapped and brushed with sieved apricot jam with which to adhere a layer of almond icing. This would be left to harden for a day or so and then came the layer of royal icing.

One year I made three oblong cakes with the message Peace, Love and Joy, respectively. I left them on the dining room table so that the icing could harden. Imagine my dismay to find that our little mutt, Honey, had found the scent of brandy laced fruit irresistable. I came into the room and found her on her hind legs, a good third of her way into one of the cakes! I momentarily forgot peace, love and joy! The cake was too precious to waste and I salvaged what I could.

I once bumped into Mr. McKenzie, the administrator of Pine Ridge when I was there for a meeting one November and he asked me how things were. I said that I was very busy baking for Christmas. He asked why I was baking and not just buying. I tried to explain that Christmas was home made. It made it more special somehow and each year the same special treats issued from the kitchen and were carefully stored out in the cold breezeway: rocky road fudge; shortbread; sugar cookies decorated by the children; mince pies, and many other delicacies.

We began a tradition of having a big Christmas open house in December, to which a stream of 80 or so people would come: family members, staff from Pine Ridge and friends of the men who lived at Maplewood. We would have large bowls of cold salads, plates of turkey, English trifle and all of the baking would be out for the occasion. We would always spend time after eating, singing some carols.

Christmas shopping and wrapping was a huge undertaking for our large household. It was unthinkable that there would be inequity in the quantity of presents. We recognized that we owed our living to the people we had moved in to support and on Christmas Eve, after they went to bed, I crept into their side of the house and laid piles of presents to add to those from their families, beneath the lights that twinkled magically on the tree. Everyone cooperated by going to bed early that night of the year as if by some unspoken agreement, and there was a hushed anticipation over the whole house. There was at least one true believer in Santa Claus amongst the men, which added to the magic.

In the silence of Christmas Eve, I was often the last person up, padding around the kitchen making last minute preparations for Christmas Day. The wind would blow and snow swirl across the lonely fields ourside, and the sense of waiting was tangible in the air, just as it must have been on the night of Jesus' birth.

I went to bed late on Christmas nights, having stuffed a large turkey and put it in the oven to cook overnight.

We would put one present on the children's beds for them to open when they woke up but then the day of waiting began for them! They enjoy telling now what torture they went through, but it is with laughter.

After a quick breakfast we would all go and join the men around their tree. Some would have gone home for Christmas, but there were usually about 7 who hadn't. The names on the presents would be read out by Paul with a Santa hat on; on his hands and knees by the tree. One person in particular, would never open any of his presents, but would sit while his pile accumulated beside him, until there were no more presents under the tree. Then, and only then, would he begin to open them.

Around our tree the presents beckoned, but we had church yet! Paul would take the children to church while I prepared the Christmas dinner. On his way home he would stop and pick up our very dear, elderly friend, Miss MacDonald, my beloved "Aunt Agnes." Aunt Agnes never married because her first beau died in the First World War and she left the second love of her life behind on the mission field in Africa, when malaria forced her to return to Canada. One year after Christmas I asked her what she had done for Christmas and was crushed to hear that she had spent it alone. I had imagined that she would be in demand at many Christmas tables. I vowed that as long as she lived she would never spend another alone, and she didn't.

Eventually the children, Paul and Aunt Agnes would arrive back from church and sometimes Paul's family would join us too. By this time the children would be getting phone calls from their friends, asking what they got for Christmas. "We don't know yet!" they would say, to the disbelief of their friends.

We didn't intentionally spread the day out like this but there was just so much to be done! Eventually all the presents were opened and dinner was served. The best of all times came then, when the afternoon twilight would deepen and the Christmas lights would twinkle in each room. Boxes of chocolates were opened and snacks laid out; turkey sandwiches made for the evening meal, and a happy quietness settled over all of us in the house. Sated and tired we snoozed intermittently and had another chocolate or two, grateful for the blessings of Christmas.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

There is No Place Like Home

By Belinda

After sharing the story of my "One Perfect Day," a friend who read it shared the fact that she is a descendant of the family who once owned the land on which we lived for almost ten years, and which Brenda and I visited on my perfect day, Saturday.

She was interested in any information I had about the Stephens family and also curious about our history on the farm, so I thought that I would share again this blog post that I wrote in July of 2009.  I may post some more of the posts I have written about that place where we were very happy.



This is the house on Second Street; now Bayview Avenue, between Newmarket and Aurora, to which we moved on July 31, 1974, when I was just 24. The drawing was done by Al Calverly, a social worker at Pine Ridge, for an article I wrote about the home in 1981 for the Pine Ridge News. By then it was known as Maplewood Lodge, a name chosen by the men with developmental disabilities who lived there.

I spent the month before we moved, preparing to cook for 15 on a daily basis. I visited the ministry of agriculture office and picked up wads of booklets full of recipes. I still have some of them. I loved cooking, but this would be COOKING! A family at our church ran a Home for Special Care (a boarding home associated with the ministry of health) in Newmarket, and they offered to help with the meals for the first day. They gave me useful tips like where to shop in bulk.

We also met the couple we would be replacing as "house parents" for the group of ten men with developmental disabilities. They were an older couple, although I am sure they were no older than we are now. They were moving to another town to run a Home for Special Care.

They told us the routines and said about the men, "You'll find that they will be quite compliant for the most part. They were used to doing what they were told in the institution." I shuddered at those words, which I never forgot, but said nothing, I was learning, and would retain what was useful and right, discarding what was not.

The couple had a two dogs. One, named Brandy, was a big old white bulldog; slow, blind and used to the place, so they said they would like to leave him behind. We said, "Okay."

Brandy didn't stay long because he jumped through the screen door during a thunderstorm the first week we were there and his old owners thought better of leaving him behind.

The house was really two houses. The old farm house, which was probably over a hundred years old, is seen from the front in Al's drawing, and faced the road. Another house built on the back, faced the fields.

We rented the house from the York Regional Police Association who had bought it and a large acreage as an investment, from the Stephens family who were the original owners. The Stephens family were descendants of the United Empire Loyalists who had been granted the land two hundred years previously, having moved to Canada from the United States after the American Revolution.

It was the Stephens family who lay in the pioneer burial ground in the orchard, although then there was just one complete headstone, for Shadrach and Elizabeth Stephens. Far out in the field, at the back of the house, by the curving bank of the creek that ran through it, was another memorial stone, with the names: Daniel Prior and Lydia Stephens. Why the stone was there is a mystery. I always wondered whether they were buried out there in a place that was special to them. In any case, in later years, when the land was filled with huge houses and the fields and creek were no more, the headstone joined the rest of the family in the orchard. The cemetery is still there, but now surrounded by a black wrought iron fence.

One day, after we had been there for several years, on a gray, misty day, there was a knock at the door and a sombre looking man stood at the door in a raincoat, carrying a briefcase. He handed me a card which identified him as a Government Cemetery Inspector. I was surprised that such a person existed, but he told me that his job was to inspect pioneer burial grounds and make sure that they were being properly maintained. He also told me that there were 32 people buried in ours!

The ten men: Sam, John,, Ivan, Gerald, Jack, Bill, Joe, Stan, Abe and Jim, lived in the original farm house, and we lived in the house at the back. Both houses were connected by a dark stained wooden french door with frosted glass panes.

Neither house was well insulated and they were heated by an oil furnace in the cellar of the farmhouse. A big truck would come and fill up the oil tank that stood outside the house. Because the houses were surrounded by tall, shady trees, and because there were windows facing in all directions that could be opened, we all felt reasonably comfortable in summer, but in the winter it was chilly and we would hear loud bangs and cracks as the house responded to the deep cold. The pipes would frequently freeze and the plumbing to the septic system was primitive and ineffective. Paul spent many hours down below the floor boards, heating pipes, or outside digging and dealing with the septic system blockages. Now, the house would never pass a safety inspection as it was most definitely a fire hazard, but in those days it passed the regulations that were required. We just had to have fire extinguishers strategically placed.

The house stood on two acres of land dotted with trees and flowering shrubs. . There were lilac bushes that surrounded a big vegetable garden close to the apple orchard. Each May I would pick the rhubarb and inhale the fragrance of the lilac. Pink, creamy white and deep burgundy peonies were planted along the south east side of the house and bloomed every June.When we eventually moved, we dug up a couple of the peonies to take with us to our new home; a reminder of such happy years there.

The men we had moved in with were quite independent, and several of them later moved on to live in their own apartments as the home was meant to be a stepping stone. As John, Sam, Jim, Gerald, Ivan and Jack eventually moved, they were replaced by Wesley, Fred, Percy, Rodney, another John, and Tom. Then George and Mervin came to stay on an emergency basis and didn't leave, so the number of men grew to 12.

Our first night there, at about 8.30, we heard a rustling sound in the kitchen. We investigated and found several mice busily running over the countertops as though they owned the kitchen! Over the next few days we waged war on the mice and caught 25 of the critters in traps. We hated to do it, but had no choice. Thereafter we managed to keep them at bay with the help of Buffy the cat.

On my first morning as "Mother of Many," I found that I had ten tutors to help me with what I didn't know, which was a lot. I had only to ask and they showed me the ropes. We were off and running...

This photograph is of Paul (with his back to the camera) writing out cheques with the men, which he did weekly, based on what they wanted to take out of their bank accounts.

Monday, May 20, 2013

One Perfect Day

I left the salon on Saturday and began to drive towards Highway 400 to head back home. On my way I caught a glimpse of Kempenfelt Bay on my left, and made a split second decision to turn towards the lake.

I had my packed lunch and thermos of coffee--and there was no rush to get home. I parked my car, refilled my coffee cup and headed for a park bench. While I ate, people passed on bikes, on foot, in a wheelchair and on skateboards. I just enjoyed being still, enjoying the view, breathing in the fresh air and feeling the warmth of the sun.

Only 6 days before, Brenda had run that 10 k race in a snowstorm! In Canada we go directly from winter to summer. :)

It wasn't long before I was back on the road home, with lots of day still ahead. Brenda had made reservations for the two of us at 5.30 an Italian restaurant in Newmarket, called Spero; which means, "I hope." 


Brenda's husband Kevin was at his family's cottage, helping them to get the dock ready for the summer, and Paul was busy in the garden. Brenda wanted to celebrate my birthday, which is coming up soon, and this was the perfect opportunity to have a girls' night out!

We had the most delicious "zuppa"--tomato soup with goat's cheese that was so rich and flavourful. We dipped our assortment of breads in olive oils and a tapinade.

After the soup we each chose a different "salata." Mine was decadent! Arugula topped with pan seared pears and caramelized pecans. Every morsel was exquisitely tasty.

We deliberately chose to have only soup and salad, so that we would have room for dessert and we both could not resist the chocolate peanut butter cheesecake, with a cup of coffee to finish. I was completely spoiled!

We decided then to drive to Mount Albert where Brenda and Kevin have just bought a home. She wanted to see the "sold" sign on the lawn, and I had not seen the house yet.

As we headed east though, both of us had the same thought at the same moment. We were passing too close to our old home of 30 years ago, Maple Wood Lodge, where we spent some of the happiest years of our lives with a group of men with developmental disabilities. The house has been pulled down, but the land is still not built on. Brenda loved that place.

The sun had not gone down yet as we pulled into the old driveway. The lilac bushes bowed beneath the weight of abundant blooms, and their intoxicating fragrance encircled us, bringing back memories of the nine Mays we spent there. Happy, happy days.

Brenda walked around this island of undeveloped land, surrounded now by large homes and sporting facilities, and we remembered how each morning the mist used to rise up from the fields, and the magic of the place. She touched the trees she used to climb and said that they felt to her like old friends.
 
We traced the foundations of the old house, and looked at the names in the small pioneer cemetery, belonging to the Stephens family, the United Empire Loyalists to whom the land was originally given.

And then, across rolling farmland, we drove to Mount Albert and Brenda's new home as of the end of July. A home that she has said more than once, is the kind that, "Omie would have loved." It is cozy, just big enough!


 Seasons of life, celebrated all in one day. One perfect day.



Sunday, May 19, 2013

Road Trip to Barrie

It felt like a road trip even though it is usually just a half hour trip north.

On Friday evening I suddenly realized that my 9.00 a.m. appointment with Jamie, my hairdresser, in Barrie, the next day; would mean driving north on the first holiday weekend at the start of the summer.

Even on Thursday, driving south with co-workers from a meeting in Huntsville; as we approached Barrie, the highway going north was packed with cars that were moving as slowly as the last dregs of ketchup on their way out of the bottle. 

So I set my alarm extra early for Saturday morning and left the house an hour before my appointment. 

Maybe it was because it was a holiday weekend that I packed as though I was going on a road trip. I had a packed lunch; extra coffee in a thermos; my camera (who knew what photo opportunities might present themselves,) and a great book to read. And just in case I finished the first one; a back up book.

Any road trip needs music, and in my CD player I had music given to me by someone this week--a Mavis Staples CD. Mavis Staples is a legendary singer and a civil rights activist.

My car headed into the warm, holiday weekend sunshine, while encapsulating a voice and music with the power of a jet engine. I made a mental note, "Add a Mavis Staples concert to my bucket list."

Here is a little Mavis for you to enjoy.
I cranked the radio and tried to decide which of the 13 tracks I loved the most. Impossible! !


Paul had advised taking the quieter highway, 27, rather than highway 400. I took his advice and instead of racing up the highway as I would have done, I enjoyed driving through the villages that dot the route to Barrie like pearls on a necklace: Newton Robinson; Cookstown; Thornton and Holly.

All the cars and bikes passing through them with me, had an air of "holiday," and "freedom from care," about them.

I drove into the parking lot of the Gravity Salon, twenty minutes early and went in and greeted Ivo, the owner. I said that I knew I was very early. He laughed and said, "And you know she (Jamie) isn't going to be here, don't you?" I did, and I adore her just the way she is, because when I am the one in her chair, I am the only person in the world on her mind. 

Ivo showed me upstairs to the still empty second floor, but I decided to go grab my camera from the car and take some photos to record this part of my day.
 


I was sitting comfortably at a round glass table, writing while sipping on coffee, when Ivo came back upstairs and said, "You know how you told me what a great day you were having?"

I smiled expectantly, "Yes?"

"Well, how about I ruin it for you," he said, "I just checked the book, and your appointment is next week."

My heart refused deflation. "You are not ruining it," I said, "I'm here enjoying the music, writing, coffee and quiet. If Jamie can squeeze me in, great! If not, I am still having a great day."
 On cue, Jamie arrived, beverage cup in hand, and with a quickly agreed upon 45 minute wait, I was "in."

During the wait I got to read without distraction. It was wonderful. 

Jamie squeezed in my root retouch between stages of doing the hair of her two "legitimate" customers of the morning. I thanked them both for not minding my pushing in to a little of their time, but I didn't want to be really rude, so I got Jamie to just comb out my hair and leave it to dry on the way home, rather than blow dry it. At the cash register I had a great surprise--a deal on colour that week, and a savings on no blow dry. So sweet! And Jamie was happy too, as she has a waiting list of customers for cancellations, so she will fill my appointment for next Saturday with another happy client.

My day went from amazing to super amazing from there on, but  I will save the rest for tomorrow!


Thursday, May 16, 2013

For No One's Sake But Ours

It has been a busier week than usual; one in which I longed to sit down and capture my thoughts in this small corner.

I have glanced at my laptop in passing by, but the luxury of time to write eluded me!

And although I would be tucked up in bed by now if I had a sensible bone in my body, I can't let another day to go by without putting fingers to keyboard:

I wanted to talk to Rob on Saturday...I needed to debrief the emotion that unexpectedly inflamed my heart through reading Mum's letters and my journals of late 2002. 

Throughout the day I looked at the clock many times, thinking of where he would be in his Saturday, over 3,000 miles away and in a different time zone. I know his routine by heart. At 5.00 p.m. here, I know that he will be putting on Bruce's lead and heading down the stairs of his flat, and out into the village for Bruce's nightly last walk. When he comes back, about 15 minutes later, he will take off the lead inside the front door and Bruce will gallop up the stairs ahead of him, and shake his big head at the top, his small ears flapping hard. Rob will take off his collar, talking to Bruce about getting into his (Bruce's) pajamas. Rob always says that they look very similar to his day clothes, in fact you can hardly tell them apart. :) Rob then moves Bruce's bed into the kitchen so that he can settle there and himself he takes the newspaper to bed for a read before going to sleep.

I didn't wait until 5.00, but called at 2.30 (7.30 in England,) when I knew he'd be sitting down for the evening, but before the next program on T.V. had started! It was a little later than I usually call.

His deep voice answered with a quick,"Hello," and when I said, "Hi Rob, it's me," he said, with surprise, warmth and gladness all wrapped up at once in his voice, "Oh, hello, Belinda!"

He told me that he had just sat down, with Bruce beside him on the settee, to read the paper, and I laughed and said, I could just imagine Bruce with his reading glasses on, peering at the paper. We joked that they were made extra wide to fit his Staffordshire Bull Terrier nose.

Then I told him about the pain I had uncovered as I relived those long ago months, in writing. I had wanted to ask him about his experience of that time, meaning to take notes and continue writing the story. He filled in more details that I hadn't even known, or remembered. It was good to talk about "then," and be thankful together for the later years. Later on that night, I wrote about knowing that it would not be right or respectful to write the details here.

And then we went on to other things--his boys, and his justified pride in who they are and how they are doing. I told him about the excitement of Brenda and Kevin's first house purchase together about to be completed and their pending move this summer. His voice conveyed his happiness for them.

Before we knew it, covering these and other topics, we had talked ourselves out and almost an hour had gone by. He resumed his evening's viewing and I my cleaning frenzy.

Back in August last year, in a blog post: Nobody Tells You, that we were floundering in our relationship. We are so different and Mum had been the centre of our conversation and our lives in many ways, and she bound us together. Without her, I felt unsure, uncertain of the next step in the dance of relationship. I wrote back then: "We will find our way and find one another in a new way. We love each other. We just don't quite know how to be yet; now that she's gone."

I realized on Saturday that it has happened; we have found one another for no one's sake but ours! I wonder if it was coincidence that it happened to be Mother's Day weekend when this hit me. :)

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Using my Mother's Day Ticket...:)

This Mother's Day we woke up in Ontario, to a joke being played by Mother Nature! It was snowing. In May. After being over 70  degrees in Toronto last week!

Not only that, but as the snow swept down from the leaden sky, a blustery wind blew full force.

As I drove to church, I thought of the 10 K run that Brenda had signed up for. Surely she wouldn't be doing it in this weather, I thought, especially since she hadn't been running for the past three months after her training schedule was interrupted by some health issues. I couldn't imagine anyone running in the freezing cold of this morning.

But I was wrong! To my daughter, a promise is a promise. Pardon me for using the Mother's Day Ticket, to be proud.

It was the Toronto Sporting Life 10 K for children with cancer, and she managed to run 5 kilometers without stopping, and walked and ran the rest of the way. Brenda is cold at the best of times, and she said that parts of her were completely numb as she ran!

There were 27,000 runners, cheered on by crowds of onlookers holding up encouraging signs. She is the one in the second row centre with the headband. I am sure that her two girls are as proud of her as I am. Happy Mother's Day Sweetie!
Belinda/Mom :)








Saturday, May 11, 2013

Can't Do It!

It seemed like a good idea to share them when I found Mum's letters, but I had forgotten the sadness of that time.

Tonight I dug out my journal for those months in 2002. My trip to England in October was both painful and healing. I was reading Philip Yancey's book, What is So Amazing About Grace? during my weeks there, and it helped set me free from anger and unforgiveness. I will be forever grateful for that.

I don't think I can write about the back story to all of that as it is so very personal and hard to expose; it doesn't feel right. Maybe I will find a way sometime in the future to put it into words in a way that will add value to whomever reads it, but at this point I think it would just be depressing and I don't want to do that to people! I would rather that  you came here and got cheered up.

But I do want to share what Mum wrote on her 76th birthday, on December 15th, 2002, because in it she wrote about my friend Susan, who you all know. Mum had met her during her own visits to Canada and she loved her. Here is what she wrote:

Hi! I've missed a few days here and there, but that's not important. I enjoyed my birthday very much! I have enjoyed all my phone calls so much. Susan's call was such a lovely surprise. She's just priceless. :) I felt so close to her and all of you and all of our lovely friends. Susan is special though and I don't mind to lend my stick to her anytime :)  (Susan had hurt her ankle while Mum was in Canada once, and Mum had loaned her, her walking stick!) I hope she won't need it though! Deborah phoned as well as Auntie Corry, Adrie, Lijda, Mies and Uncle Jan and Dicky. And of course your lovely call, and Susan's. I felt so spoilt. :) I suppose you have to feel that way on your birthday....
I am glad at least, that Mum has been shared in a way that was different from the past few years, in which she herself was unable to say much verbally, and was yet was still a joy to be with and spoke in other ways to the world.

Stay tuned for whatever comes next! :)
Belinda

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Gift of a Day

I booked this day off months ago and suddenly it was here, a day off which I had put on my calendar for today.

I had plans. There are so many things when you work full time, that just don't fit into the time left at the end of the day, or squeeze into a Saturday, what with the laundry, shopping and cleaning (like I even really do cleaning as it should be done! :)) I'm not complaining though. I wrote a while back about the routine my mum had, without the help of a dishwasher, washing machine or dryer. And I love my job. No complaints.

But gratitude? Oh yes!! For a day at home; "extra!"

In a week that has been glorious; unseasonably warm and sunny--like a sudden outbreak of summer; today, Friday, dawned gray and cool and drizzly. It didn't matter! I woke up without a deadline for getting up, but got up because I didn't want to waste a precious minute. 

Paul was away, on his way home from a conference in Ottawa, so I relished solitude and listened to the rat-at-tat-tat of the needles of rain on the skylights as I made coffee and whipped up an omelette for breakfast.

The body fed, it was time for the soul and a meeting with God. He was waiting of course; he always is. Precious minutes, aha moments as I read his Word! I loved every minute spent with him, face to face and heart to heart.

I got sidetracked then, from my plan for the day, but that too, was pleasurable. I could get sidetracked and it didn't matter. I tidied some shelves and purged some more of the things I really don't need, washed them and wrapped them in tissue, to go to Alliston's Attic the thrift store that supports the school where three of our grandchildren go.

I had a healthy tossed salad with chicken for lunch, and then I was ready to get back on track with my plans for the day; a trip to a clock store, and my doctor's office to arrange for my file to go to a doctor closer to home.

I had already turned the heat back on after feeling frozen by the air conditioning that had been needed earlier in the week. Outside today it was only 11 degrees. Air conditioning definitely not needed! I put on my raincoat and still feeling chilled, cranked up the heat in my car as I drove off, and headed to the post office to pick up our mail. 

"It feels so lovely and warm in here," I said to Diana, who was working away behind the counter, dressed in her blue Canada Post uniform. She smiled and said, "And I haven't even had the heat on!"

"Well, it is so chilly outside, and rainy too," I said, "But I don't mind at all because I have a day off and I'm enjoying every minute!"

Diana looked as though she was sharing my joy even though she was working. I do think joy is contagious! :)

I drove next, up the highway to the village of Cookstown, looking for Timepiece, the clock and watch repair store, on Queen Street. I hadn't been there before, but had looked them up on the internet and knew that I was looking for storefront painted a dusty red, with a clock hung over the door.

I spotted it quickly, found a parking spot right outside. I opened the trunk and carefully carried our beautiful 40 year old chiming wall clock up the steps and inside.

I felt that I had entered a magical place! The walls were covered with clocks of every type and every size, all unique, some quirky, all of them beautiful! The counters had display cases that held antique watches, rings and other treasures. Behind the counter a man stood talking to a man in front of the counter, but stopped to invite me in a European accent that I couldn't pin down, to, "Show me your baby;" the clock in my arms.

I explained what was needed, while the other man said he'd see him later and left. While he was getting the details from me, another, older, eccentric looking man came in, obviously a friend, because he plunged right into conversation with a strong British accent, about a great "find" of some sort.

Meanwhile I was entranced by the clocks all around me and said, "I am so sorry I didn't bring my camera. Would you mind if I come back and take some photos?"

As if that was a request perfectly understood, he said, "Oh, no, that would be fine."

I drove away thinking that I should never leave my camera at home!

As I drove away through the quaint and pretty village, and headed for Aurora and my doctor's office, I turned my car radio to Classical 96.3 fm. I usually listen to CBC, but wasn't interested in the topic under discussion. 

The piece of music playing on 96.3 was a notturno Opus 12 by Joseph Joachim (1831-1907.) The voice of the violin plucked the strings of my heart, pulling it almost out of my chest, it was so achingly beautiful. I think it was played by Daniel Hope. I have looked for the piece on You Tube but can't find it. Find it, listen, and be prepared to have your heart almost explode with ecstasy.

As a second best, I did find a clip of him playing a piece from his new CD "Spheres," entitled "I giorni" by Einaud. As I sign off for today, I leave it for you to enjoy!
Belinda

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Just a Few Lines to Say

Just a few lines to say that I read further in Mum's letters tonight and am trying to decide how to share them. 

Since Dad died in late January of 2003, the months that I have to share are his last days, and they were difficult ones, even though Mum continued to write about the everyday things and mentioned only hints at the background against which they unfolded.

I noticed that she suddenly began to simply start her writing with the day of the week as a heading and no date. I dated them with the help of an online calendar, but it is indicative of the stress that she was under without writing about it.

How I wish I could go back to those months and be with her in them, but I can't, and couldn't then, but in her late seventies, and in frail health herself, she carried a heavy load.

I will continue if I can think of how to do this well, in a way that honours them both. Maybe I will share snippets of the journey--we'll see!

Thank you for caring to read here.
Belinda