THE JOYS OF TOGETHERNESS
Birthdays and visits with family a pleasant reminder of belonging in these difficult times
In August there were two major events in my life. One was my No. 4 grandson graduating with a stellar Grade 12 report card from Edmonton's St. Francis Xavier High School.
His choice of high school, at age 15, was interesting. St. Francis is a Catholic School halfway across the city, while the home he grew up in is only three blocks from what is one of the largest and best-known public high schools in Edmonton (although it seems to have lost some of its lustre, possibly in part since, a few years ago, one of its teachers got fired for having the nerve to give a student a zero for an assignment not handed in).
Then ensued a big step for him: He left Edmonton to go to university and switch from home to dormitory life some 3,200 kilometres distant at Newberry College in the 10,000+-inhabitant town of the same name in South Carolina. He got a scholarship there for lacrosse — an Indigenous game that is physical to the point of making hockey and football look like a five-yearold girls' tea party.
I hope the school will give him a better-than-average education like mine, now 65 years ago, at the University of Manitoba. Newberry College has only 1,800 students and all but a few of its classes have fewer than 20 students — so it should be less of a sausage factory-like educational environment than, say, the University of Alberta (where the wife of a former colleague for years taught first year Economics to classes of 400 to 450 students).
But the transition may be eased by the fact he will be sharing a room with another student from St. Francis Xavier who also got a lacrosse scholarship and whom he befriended at the school. And as I told him, “You're lucky. You are about the same age as I was when I came to Canada. And your parents holidayed with you for a few days in Charleston before accompanying you to the school. The last time I saw my parents, they were standing on the pier waving to me and I was hanging over the railing of a ship, high above them, waving back, as it slowly got underway.” (The next time I saw them was 3½ years later when I went home for my eldest brother's wedding. )
And then I was on that ship for nine days, with little to see but endless waves and after that for three days on a train from Montreal to Winnipeg, seeing little other than trees and rocks until it burst out of the Laurentian Shield east of Winnipeg where, in late August, the grass was burnt brown, not the bountiful green I was used to, making me wonder what I had gotten myself into.
And “you have a cellphone not much bigger than a small wallet, with which you can phone anybody anywhere in the world with the greatest of ease (and at a reasonable cost), while I ended up on a farm in Saskatchewan on a 14-phone `party line' where any incoming phone call rang at all 14 telephones (albeit each with a different ring).”
And the phones themselves were wooden boxes on the wall, with a crank on the side that one turned to alert the ladies at the “phone central” to connect you with whoever you wanted to talk to.
Calling Holland to talk to my parents was a major and costly undertaking. You had to reserve a time and date beforehand and at the appointed date and time sit by the phone and wait for the connection to be made. And then sometimes the line went dead in the middle of a conversation and I had to be reconnected.
The second was my 88th birthday bash on Sunday evening, Aug. 29 (the day before my birthday). I invited some of the residents in my building and quite a few friends and/or former colleagues, a total of about 45 in all. The site was the outside courtyard (and the adjoining “Social Room” in case it rained). Fortunately, the weather was warm and beautiful.
I barbecued a whole pig. So on the Saturday morning my No. 1 grandson, an apprentice chef, prepped a whole bunch of food, before going to work shortly after midday. Then my No. 2 and his 12-minute younger fraternal twin brother helped set up the barbecue, after which I was beat and decided to get the charcoal in the morning.
That was a mistake: A 45-pound pig takes about six hours to cook and I had planned to start it by noon so we could eat by 6:30 p.m. So after getting charcoal, the pig didn't start cooking until well after 1 p.m. No. 1 grandson wasn't able to return to finish his food preparation. So things were tense for an hour or so and I was about as friendly as a bear with a sore paw.
Fortunately, a couple of the residents pitched in and all went well. We ate later than I had planned but nobody seemed to mind, in part because there was lots of finger food to keep their hunger at bay and they didn't know what my original timing plans had been. And, in the absence of my No. 1 grandson, I carved the pig (something I hadn't done since my Canada Packers days in the 1950s).
In the end everybody had a great time, for all that I had to dispose of when all was said and done was the head, the tail and a bunch of bones. So as Shakespeare put it, “All's well that ends well.”
And on Sept. 5 I was off to Dawson City, Yukon, to visit the (sluice) gold mine my No. 2 son (the father of my Nos. 1 & 2 grandsons) has been working at this summer, located somewhere in the middle of nowhere, dozens of kilometres outside Mayo, Yukon. I hoped to follow that with some time with my No. 5 grandson, my No. 1 and only granddaughter and (so far only) great-grandson in Whitehorse on the way back.
But I timed my return home to cast my vote on Sept. 20, so as not to spoil my unblemished record (so far) of never having failed to vote in any federal election since I became a Canadian citizen in 1958. And then I hope to spend some time with my No. 3 grandson (from Kenya), who has been here for the summer, working at a whitewater rafting outfit in Chilliwack, B.C., and will return to Kenya in October.
Calling Holland to talk to my parents was a major and costly undertaking. You had to reserve a time and date beforehand and at the appointed date and time sit by the phone and wait for the connection to be made. And then sometimes the line went dead in the middle of a conversation and I had to be reconnected. Nick Rost van Tonningen