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Sunday, May 31, 2015

Get Busy Living


The Future is something which everyone reaches at the rate of sixty minutes an hour, whatever he does, whoever he is. ~C.S. Lewis

Men talk of killing time, while time quietly kills them. ~ Dion Boucicault 

Time gallops on. ~ John Jackson

When I worked at the Vancouver Public Library years (eons!) ago, I remember a librarian once laughing at me when I expressed my shock at how quickly time was passing. She said "Wait'll you get to my age!" Well, I'm actually probably past her age now, and I get what she meant. Everyone around my age expresses the same sentiment. Where did the time go? 

I get up in the morning and have my shower and say to myself "Wasn't I just doing this a little while ago? Has it really been a whole 24 hours?" I'm shockingly aware of the fact that there is now more time behind me than will be in front of me. How did that happen? I thrill at the return of spring and summer, only to find it's fall turning into winter again.

When we are small, a day is a lifetime. An hour is unbearable. A minute can't come soon enough. Does time really speed up as we grow older? Or is it only a trick of the senses?

Well, it turns out that it's all to do with perspective. At least that's what the theorists tell us. When we are five, a year is 20% of our entire life.  When we are 50, a year is only 2%. No wonder it seems to go more slowly when we're young. Our experience of time at that point in our lives is entirely different.

Other theories state that we have many more "firsts" when we are young, and therefore we remember those times with more intensity as if they stretched on and on. For instance, in high school we probably all had a lot of firsts. First girlfriend/boyfriend. First acne. First trophy at a basketball game, first bra (okay some of you girls probably got your first one when you were 10). 

Later in life, well, we've been there and done that. Our regular days are filled with repetitive events and tasks that are unmemorable, and certainly not as emotionally intense as in high school. The boring repetition in our lives leads to a kind of blurring of minutes and hours and days.

Yet another theory is that our "biological clock" actually slows as we age, so that external time goes more quickly.  I'm still trying to get my head around that one. There are other theories too, including the fact that we pay less attention to time as we get older, and daily stress both contribute to the feeling of time speeding by.

Whatever it is, real or not, I've become increasingly aware of the quick passage of time as my parents have grown older and passed away. It's the "I'm next" syndrome, which is rather daunting if not depressing! There are things I want to do yet, places I want to see. But most of all, I want to live more in the moment, to really BE where I am and fully experience everything, no matter how boring and repetitive. And so that is exactly what I have been working on in the last few weeks and months.

Here is an example: every week morning I go for a half-hour walk. My husband once cajoled me for always taking the same route, but I like it and I've stuck with it for years. Some of you might think, why not take a different route and see something new? Well, I could do that.  But the fact is that I've discovered something very valuable during my walk and in my quest for being in the moment. It actually IS a new route every day. I see different people, the birds sing different notes in a different order, the weather is different, plants and trees change, flowers bloom and then they're gone. Every single walk is different, all I have to do is pay attention! When I pay attention, I see all sorts of things rather than just getting lost in my thoughts and forgetting where I am. I've posted pictures here in this blog of things I see, sometimes funny, always surprising and definitely something I would have missed if I was not paying attention.

I've also started sketching again, something I did when I was younger. When I put pencil to paper, I get lost in the flow. On the one hand, time flies. On the other, I am intensely involved in it.

When I am IN the moment, I truly experience it in a way that almost makes time slow down, just as when I was a kid.

As a young girl looking at old people, I would feel so removed from their age. Now, not so much. One thing I did notice at a young age was that there were old people who were miserable, grumpy and to be avoided, and there were others who were always smiling. I'm sure there's more than one reason why, but I know that my parents were the kind to always make the best of things, to engage with others and stay interested in what was going on around them. I think that's an attitude that I can foster in myself over the next while in order to make the best of whatever time there is left.

It's up to me, as the line in Shawshank Redemption says, to: "Get busy livin' or get busy dyin'."

IJ


Sunday, May 10, 2015

Fanny

Fanny Jackson, New Years 1957
Today is Mother's Day. I can't remember the first Mother's Day I lived through without my Mom, but I'm sure I felt pretty badly. I would only have been 15, and that age can be weird and overwhelming anyway, so being without a mother on Mother's Day would have only added to that strangeness.

But this isn't about me. This is about Fanny.

I have always loved her name. I think she may very well have been named after Fanny Brice who was a popular American model, singer and theatre actress in the 1920s. My mother's parents had actually lived in New York for a period of time, and her first two siblings, Roy and May, were born there. They were a part of the throngs of Europeans coming to America to find their fortune in the early 1900s. Except that my grandparents were a little strange in that they actually went BACK to Denmark after a few years of living in Brooklyn. I guess the American Dream didn't live up to the hype for them.

So my mother, Fanny Helga Corfixsen, was born in Karrebeksminde in Denmark on May 6, 1920. She would, in fact, have turned 95 this past May 6th.

My grandfather was a fisherman and the family, which eventually grew to five kids, was dirt poor. While my Dad didn't have any qualms about having grown up during the depression, my mother actually seemed a little ashamed of her poor childhood, from what I remember her telling me. She talked about the white beaches of Karrebaeksminde and how the "rich" people had summer houses there. She talked about being dirty and feeling ashamed of her lack of cleanliness. Other than a few scant memories, I know very little else of her young life.  I do know that when she got older, she started cleaning houses to make money, and one of her clients was a doctor who convinced her to go to nursing school. And so my mother eventually became a practical nurse, leading into the war years. Denmark was occupied by Germany during World War II and at that time my mother started working as a nurse in a mental hospital.

I knew about her time working in the mental hospital in Copenhagen, but I what I didn't know at first was that my mother was also a part of the Danish Resistance. I found that out from someone else. Among some of my mother's possessions which I still have, was an envelope with a man's name and a return address somewhere in Ontario. The letter was old and I didn't think much of it until one day, out of curiosity, I did some research and found a more recent address for him, and I wrote him a letter (this was long before email and Facebook!). To my surprise, he wrote back, telling me that they met in Denmark while they both worked for the Danish Resistance.

During the German occupation of Denmark, the Danes searched for any and all Jewish people by their names and helped them escape to unoccupied Sweden. One of the ways in which they accomplished this was by committing them to a mental institution and keeping them there until they could sneak them out of Denmark by boat to Sweden, helping them escape their Nazi hunters. Now I don’t know if my mother was actually involved in this for certain, but the facts suggest that there is a good possibility. This is an excerpt from a website called “Rescue of the Danish Jews”:

Dr. Koster, who was in charge of Bispebjerg Hospital, was instrumental in arranging for hundreds of Jews to be hidden at the hospital before they made their escape to Sweden. The psychiatric building and the nurses' quarters were filled with refugees, who were all fed from the hospital kitchen. Virtually the entire medical staff at the hospital cooperated to save Jewish lives. Once it became known among Danes what the hospital was doing, money was donated from all over the country.” 

To put it in perspective, because of this and other forms of rescue, 99% of Danish Jews actually survived the holocaust!  This is an amazing statistic, whether or not my mother had any involvement.  Not only that, but when they returned after the war, the Jews found their homes and possessions intact, as compared to other countries where Jewish homes and possessions where damaged or stolen in the interim. The Danes made sure that nothing belonging to their Jewish neighbours was touched.

Only a few years after the end of the Second World War, my mother again became involved in another conflict;  the Korean War.  She volunteered with the Red Cross and became a nurse on the Danish hospital ship Jutlandia.

The Jutlandia, pictured to the left, was a fully equipped hospital ship, complete with operating rooms and facilities to treat injured UN and South Korean troops and, along with the captain and crew, a full staff of doctors, surgeons and nurses. My mother spent a year on that ship, but the Jutlandia was actually in service during the entire Korean War. It was really like a MASH unit, if you remember the old TV series of the same name. My mother told stories of how they would go from having to treat an overwhelming number of patients over many hours, sometimes days on end, to having absolutely nothing to do, which, she claimed, almost turned them all into alcoholics because they were bored out of their minds. There were many stories, especially in the Danish newspapers, about the adventures of the Jutlandia and my mother kept many clippings in a scrapbook that I still have.  This picture was taken of my mother and one of the surgeons when he was recovering from an illness:

(I guess cigarettes and alcohol were considered medicinal at the time!)

The Jutlandia was the only hospital ship at the time that also treated Korean civilians at the insistence of the doctors on board.  There were a number of South Korean children who were either injured or who had lost their parents, who were taken on board and fed, clothed and given blankets.  It was a miserable time for so many.

However, my mother seemed to have a lot of happy memories from the ship too, among them the port cities they stopped at on their journey to Pusan, South Korea and back to Denmark again. I still have tiny, paper thin tea cups and chop sticks and silver that she brought from Japan, but there were many other ports of call along the way.

Only a year or two after she arrived back in Denmark, my mother boarded another ship and immigrated to Canada, landing in Montreal and taking the train across the country to Vancouver. She worked as a nurse in several places, having to learn English by the seat of her pants.  One story she told was when she was working near a logging camp near Pender Harbour.  She had a small Danish/English dictionary to help her translate, but when a logger came in one day claiming he had a "bellyache", she was flummoxed.  And what exactly is a "pain in the nice word for ass"?  Could there be more Canadian cultural shock for a young Danish immigrant?

But she loved Canada and told me that one of her proudest moments was becoming a Canadian citizen.

My mother was 35 when she met my Dad on his bus.  After a short courtship, they married in January 1956 and I was born the following year, July 1957.  They decided not to have any other children, so it was always just the three of us. I had a wonderful childhood with two terrific parents who made me the centre of their universe. It doesn't get better than that. But my happy little world began to fall apart when my mother found out she had Hodgkin's Disease, a cancer of the lymph nodes, in 1968. She died on May 25th, 1972.

I often wonder what my mother would think of me now. I still regret that I'm not as great a cook or house cleaner as she was, which sounds silly, I know. When I dust the furniture I inherited from her, I think of how she used to throw up her hands in despair at my laziness, my disaster of a bedroom and my refusal to eat everything on my plate. I know now where all of that comes from, of course, but I was just a stupid kid with no sense of the real world back then. My world was so Leave It To Beaver. There are so many conversations I would have loved to have with her, so many moments I would have been thrilled to share with her. So many questions I would have asked about her life.

But I count myself very fortunate that I had a wonderful mother who, along with my father, taught me so much and gave me such a happy life.  I am proud of who my mother was and what she did in her short time on earth, and I'm especially thrilled when I see some of her qualities blossom in my own children.  As someone pointed out to me recently, they live on in us.  

Yes, I can see they certainly do.

I haven't had the chance to say it in awhile, but Happy Mother's Day Mama,
All My Love,
Irene


Saturday, May 2, 2015

Freddy Hacks Again

I'm nearly as afraid of him as I am the character Freddy in the movie Friday the 13th.  He doesn't have the hockey mask, but he does have the chainsaw.

Let me explain that my "fear" is not horror-movie-like. I fear more for my plants.

Every spring, and occasionally in the fall, my husband and I will inevitably come to blows over his so-called hedge "trimming". The trimming has to be done, no question. But it is the manner in which he approaches his task that I find frightening. There is no preparation, there is no forethought. He plugs the offending instrument in, grinning as he fires it up, and then starts hacking wherever it suits him, flailing the thing around mercilessly. No bush is spared.

Most of the time I know well enough to stay away and work somewhere else, like moving to the back yard when he's in the front. He will often do his deed when I'm not even at home, likely to avoid my dirty stares and bitter comments. But a couple of weeks ago, he decided to start his hacking right in the area I was working in. Right after I had cleaned things up.

It started out amicably enough. He began on one side of the yard, I was working on the other. There were two very new astilbe plants that had been doing quite well in their new plots just on the other side of the hedge that he was working on. So I decided I would just ask him to be careful and avoid them when he got to that part. He agreed, gleeful sweat already pouring down his face.

I didn't trust him, so I hung around. And it was a good thing I did. He'd kept to his word and hadn't trampled on the astilbe. Instead, he let all of the branches he'd cut away fall right on top of them. I was seething as I carefully pulled away the piles of refuse to allow the fledgling plants to breathe. Which brings me to the second most annoying aspect of his hackery. The clean up.

His idea of cleaning up the mess left behind is to take a very large rake and scrape the ground (mostly) clear of dead branches. I say mostly, because the rake doesn't pick up the little bits. No it doesn't. I do. Again and again. And again.

I realize that I clearly have a problem. I must remember that it is a very physical task and I appreciate that he does it instead of me. And although he doesn't plan it out, the hacking usually turns out well once the hedges have recovered from the shock. And I'm just fussier about clean up than he is.

Two weeks have passed and you wouldn't know the violence and mayhem that had occurred around those bushes. My seething has stopped and life has moved on. Until Freddy hacks again.