Family Lines

stories for you

Tag: writing (page 7 of 17)

The “me” in memory

Family_Lines_alzheimer'sFor an hour a week I write with a man who has Alzheimer’s disease. We write about the yellow leaves that fall on his front lawn. We write about eating Thanksgiving turkey and Brussels sprouts. We write about going for walks with a dog name Bo. We don’t write stories about the man as a young boy or raising his family or his career days. Those memories are locked away in a place where only Alzheimer’s has the key.

From the time we’re born, we start building memories and telling stories from them. When our memories are gone, what happens to us? Are we our memories?

Who am I without my recollection of a life lived? What’s my personality without the anecdotes of where I was born or when I went fishing with my dad and he fell asleep and pushed me into the creek? What would I be like if I didn’t have stories to share with family and friends and strangers? Who would I be?

In the end, I don’t think memory loss diminishes the person. A person is still him or herself despite a lack of reminiscing about the past. They still create moments of joy every day.

Trail tales

Skoki main lodge.

Reading in the main lodge at Skoki.

I’m sitting in Skoki Lodge reading a book. The lodge itself must hold many, many stories as the log building is over 80 years old. The story I’m reading I found on the Skoki bookshelf and it’s called Every trail has a story: Heritage Travel in Canada by Bob Henderson. One chapter is about women who bucked their traditional roles in the early 1900s and took to the trails. Mary T. S. Schäffer is one of them and she explored the Skoki area as well as other remote Alberta regions.

Mary, a Philadelphia Quaker woman, took on the Rockies on horseback. She photographed and painted the people she met in what remains today, isolated and hard places to get. Some of the art she produced and treasures she bought along the trail are found at the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies in Banff.

Another hard-core adventurer was Lillian Ailling. Lillian was a Russian woman who came to North America. She didn’t like it here and started walking home to Russia. She hiked from New York to the Yukon in 1927 trying to get home. Once in Dawson, Lillian worked as a server until the spring. That’s when she took a boat she repaired and headed down the Yukon River and out to the Bering Sea. Did she land in Russia? Maybe. One story says she arrived in the fall of 1930. Another says something different.

Australian author Cassandra Pybus tried to trace Lillian’s story to Russia but hit a wall. She later got

Skoki Lodge.

Skoki Lodge.

help through a man who had once met Lillian. He got in touch with Cassandra and told her Lillian got married and settled in Dawson.

Which ending do you like best?

It thanks to authors like Henderson and Pybus that I even know there was a story, and thus have an ending to choose. Just think of all the people who have done amazing things and we’ll never know about them.

 

Manwich mistake

Sloppy Joes.

Sloppy joe / Manwich = Yuck

There’s a memory going around and around in my head. Waiting to get out…or spill out. The story is about a sloppy joe.

I was little, maybe about six years old, when I was invited to my friend’s birthday party. Her name was Suzie and she lived across the street in a white house a few homes over. She was a couple of years younger than me and I remember her in a pink dress.

I bet I was excited for the party. In that way when you’re a kid and you can eat all the goodies you want and not worry about getting a muffin top. (Though I doubt muffin top was even a word used in the mid-70s in Nova Scotia to describe wobbly stomach bits hanging over your jeans.)

My two sisters and I headed to the festivities. There were friends and games and it was lots of fun. Suzie’s mother walked around to each kid asking how many sandwiches we wanted. When it was my turn I said, “Two, please.”

Two because I didn’t know if Suzie’s mother would know I meant a whole sandwich. If I said I wanted one sandwich, she might think I just wanted half a sandwich. I wanted the whole thing. The two parts of the one sandwich.

I guess the kind of sandwich didn’t matter to me. My prospective party meal wasn’t going to be gluten-free or multi-grain or sugar-free anyway. Back then, a sandwich would have a fifty-fifty chance of being peanut butter or peanut butter and jam. On white bread.

I was sitting in an armchair when Suzie’s mother brought me my sandwich…that wasn’t. I had no idea what it was. In front of me were two buns oozing ground beef. What I didn’t know then – but I know now – is that Suzie’s mother had said “Manwich,” which is a brand name for sloppy joes.

The sloppy joes/Manwiches/whatever did not look good to me. They didn’t taste good either. And there were two of them.

My parents raised me with manners. When you are visiting someone, you eat what they give you. You eat everything they put on your plate. You leave nothing.

Whether I took big bites and gobbled it down quickly or took my time sliding the sloppy joe down my throat, I don’t know. I only know that those two Manwiches were the first two and last two of my life.

Common people

Family_Lines_peopleThere’s a theory that we’re connected to every single person in the world through six degrees of separation. That is, we all have someone in common everywhere and anywhere we go: a friend of a friend of friend of a friend… It’s a small world after all as I rediscovered during a recent trip to see a client in Burlington, Ont.

My client has a German background and we’ve been working on her stories about living in Hamburg and growing up during the Second World War. She came to Canada with her husband for work years later and her three children were born and raised in Burlington. I met my client through her daughter, who is a good friend of mine. We met in Vernon, B.C.

I went to Ontario two weeks ago to finish my client’s story. We were looking for photos to add to her memoirs and I was flipping through the pages of an old album when a picture caught my eye. I thought I recognised the people in it: a friend and her family. It was them.

I’m from Nova Scotia and met my friend playing floor hockey in Grade Six. We were opponents and my friend high-sticked me in the mouth. And I had braces. There was some blood shed on the Port Williams Elementary School gym floor and despite this, we became friends and stayed friends. I visited her in Montreal and Germany and went to her wedding in the States. She came to my wedding a few years ago. So what ties me, my friend and my client together?

Burlington, Ontario.

Burlington, Ontario.

Burlington. It’s the common denominator. My friend is of German background and when her parents lived in Burlington, they made friends with my client. When I went to Burlington, I saw the photos. It was a random discovery but a cool one. It certainly made the world feel a lot smaller.

Do you have a six degrees of separation story? Tell me about it.

Storrytime in Ontario

Airplane wing.One of my memoir client’s lives in Ontario and I’m going to visit her this week. We’re working on finishing her two books. She has lots of interesting and fascinating stories, photos and documents and I can’t wait to put the books together and publish them for her family.

See you when I return.

Winter in summer

Peter Lougheed Provincial Park - Kananaskis Country.

Aug. 22, 2015. Chester Lake trail – Peter Lougheed Provincial Park – Kananaskis Country.

It’s still August but that doesn’t mean it won’t snow in Alberta. Here’s proof that the dog days of summer in the mountains can be white and cold. At least the sun is shining and the lake hasn’t frozen over…yet.

Whatever the weather, it’s not time to reminisce about another season passing. It’s not time to move on to making autumn memories. No. The calendar says summer and darn it, I’m going to enjoy every last drop of it. Even if those drops come in a frozen form usually found in winter. Summer snow makes a cool story anyway for those of you sweltering in the heat.

Political write

Photo of Graham Clews.

Author Graham Clews

Let me introduce you to Graham Clews. Graham is addicted to books — writing them, that is. The Westlock, AB author has seven novels to his name, covering many different subjects and genres. From historical fiction to stories for young adults to political humour, the characters keep forming and jumping from his mind to the page. Now he’s looking to get his books into the hands of readers. That’s where I come in.

I’ve been helping Graham with the marketing of his books. He has taken a year off from writing (if he can help it) to promote his novels. His first book signing will be on Sunday for his latest title, Politically Detained. With the country in the middle of a federal election campaign, the book couldn’t have hit shelves at a better time.

For most of us, we tune in and out of federal politics. It can be dry, boring and many people feel any election result won’t bring about much change anyway. The ennui goes beyond Harper versus Trudeau versus Mulcair versus May. It doesn’t really seem to matter who is at the helm of the government, there’s no way to make a difference. Or is there? That’s the serious question Graham explores with a deft comic touch in Politically Detained:

Across Canada people gripe about politicians, but never do anything about it. There’s a reason: they can’t. So why try? After all, how do you form a special interest group when you’re in the majority? How do you get the message to the elected if it costs votes? How do you fight apathy when so many people are too busy to care?

Photo of book cover.

Politically Detained: a book about change

The answer…you’ve gotta have a cause; you’ve gotta have a plan; and you’ve gotta have the right people. A disgruntled Minister of Finance, determined to step down in a reckless burst of glory; a half dozen well-heeled seniors with influence who are not afraid to use it; a reluctant Member of Parliament, accidentally caught up in their web of intrigue; three spectacularly unfair federal policies that cost billions; a novel plan to reform the federal electoral system and, what the heck, the senate too. It’s a good place to start….

If you’re interested in what’s happening in Canadian politics right now, then Politically Detained: A novel about change is a book you’ll want to read. You’ll also be able to meet the author if you live in the Edmonton area. Graham is signing books at Chapters Strathcona, 10504-82 Ave., this Sunday, Aug. 23 from 1 to 5 p.m. Political leanings of all stripes welcome.

For more info on Graham and Politically Detained, go to: http://www.graham-clews.com.

He’s also on Twitter, GoodReads, Facebook and has a blog. Now go read a book!

Have a very scary holiday

Family_Lines_Leapbks_frightheader1Looking for some Christmas fear? Yes, it’s still July and many of us aren’t thinking about Christmas but I have announcement. One of my fiction stories was picked up and is being published in the Fright Before Christmas anthology. I’m being paid for it too. Always a happy event for an author.

FRIGHT is a collection of 13 tales, from 13 different authors and will knock the stockings off your fireplace this Christmas season. Earlier this April, I read that the publisher, Leap Books, was looking for submissions for the anthology. That’s when I scraped together an idea and wrote about a stenchy monster that takes instead of gives on December 24.

Many of you probably think of Christmas as a time of good cheer and tinsel and hohoho. But my festive memories always have a bit of a scary side. That’s because my father used to bring home horror movies to watch as a family over the holidays.

This was pre-VHS machines and definitely before watching movies online. He rented out a large LaserDisc player and then stocked up on creepy films. I saw such Christmas gems as Alien, Aliens and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The Body Snatcher scene where the dog has a human head and his owner has his dog head really made an impact on me. I couldn’t sleep alone for weeks and would drag a blanket into one of my (younger) sisters’ rooms and curl up on the floor for the night.

It this kind of Christmas magic that I’m familiar with so I don’t have any problem writing a scary story for a happy holiday. FRIGHT is set to launch in November of this year and is for children in Grade 6 to 9. My other kids’ book is already out. The Raven named Flight and How She Learned to Fly is about a raven from Fort Smith, NWT. I wrote the story and had the illustrations done by Helen Monwuba. I published the book myself this past December 2014.

kids; book about a raven.

The Raven named Flight and How She Learned to Fly

Print book

Blurb: http://blur.by/1zZpZdi / $32.99 CAD without shipping

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1320278310 / $28.58 US without shipping

Ebooks:

Blurb: http://store.blurb.ca/ebooks/p43a9f931da2cda4398e5 / $4.99 CAD

Apple iBookstore: http://itunes.apple.com/ca/book/id950045042

Take a funky interlude

Sea King.

A Canadian CH-124 Sea King performs deck landing. qualifications on board dock landing ship USS Pearl Harbor (LSD 52) during PANAMAX 2007. PANAMAX 2007 is a joint and multinational training exercise tailored to the defense of the Panama Canal, involving civil and military forces from the region. U.S. Navy photo by Lt. j.g. Brett Dawson (RELEASED)

If you lived in the Maritimes in the 90s, you might remember TV interludes. Every now and then a video put to music popped up on the screen instead of a commercial. Why there were interludes, I’m not sure, but it was a nice break from ads.

ATV (CTV in the Maritimes) broadcast the interludes and I have often wondered if the musical breaks were just a Maritime thing. Or if across the country, we were all glued to the 90s version of Vine. Whatever the reason, take a funky little respite with these three interludes.

Sea King over Halifax interlude

ATV downhill skiing interlude

Christmas interlude

Who are you?

Painting of a soldier.

Do you know who this soldier is?

A few summers ago I bought a painting at a yard sale in Vernon, B.C. It’s acrylic on velvet; almost like one of those velvet Elvis pictures you see hanging in someone’s creepy wood-panelled basement. Except it’s not Elvis staring back at me, it’s a soldier. This soldier is nameless and nationless but his story may have been revealed by a click of a mouse.

The painting appealed to me: the colours, the texture of the “canvas,” the subject, and I brought the piece of art home for four dollars. The unknown soldier has travelled with me around Western Canada and now lives in Calgary. Even though we’ve been living together for about seven years, I don’t know anything about him.

One friend who met the soldier thought he was a Gurkha, a fearsome soldier from Nepal. Their famous motto is, “Better to die than be a coward.” Gurkhas still carry their traditional weapon called a kukri, an 18-inch long curved knife. An interesting speculation but I don’t think this guy one of these warriors.

The other day I was wasting time online when I clicked on a BBC News link: Why the Indian soldiers of WW1 were forgotten. The article’s main photo was in black and white but I immediately recognized the uniforms: my soldier’s kit. Was he an Indian solider in the First World War?

I don’t know. But through the article by I learned that the feats and the losses and the stories of these soldiers are missing from most of our history books. Some people, including me, have no idea of the contribution of the Indian units. It also makes me think about the time when I lived in The Gambia, West Africa. My roommate and I walked past the Fajara War Cemetery a couple of times and I wondered why we don’t hear about Gambian veterans. Where are their stories?

There’s no signature on my soldier’s likeness. No markings to tell me where he is from or where he belongs. Nothing to identify him. However, his silence spoke to me and opened a new portal into the past and introduced me to some forgotten sacrifices.

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