Sharing with you things that are on my mind...Maybe yours too. Come back to Wrights Lane for a visit anytime!

20 March, 2015

YOU CANNOT TELL A VEGETABLE IS UGLY AFTER IT'S COOKED


(W)right on…
Waste not, want not

It’s astonishing and rather disgusting that $31 billion in food is wasted annually in Canada – or 40% of the food we produce.
The alarming statistic speaks directly to the amount of food that’s left to rot or spoil in our refrigerators, the food left uneaten at kitchen and restaurant tables, and the truckloads of food never considered or offered for public consumption because that food is not considered to be attractive.

Forget about toddlers and other young children who are called picky eaters. It looks as though we’ve become a nation of picky eaters.


An ugly carrot?

The issue of food waste was again raised recently when Loblaws announced it wants to sell “ugly” produce in its Ontario and Quebec stores. The produce – apples, potatoes and other goods that appear to be imperfect (imperfect, only because they are judged by their appearance, not their quality of substance) – will be sold at discount as part of the food company’s new line of no-name brand produce.
Loblaws deserves credit for offering to the public food that in the past was difficult to sell. The discount – of up to 30%, according to reports – will give customers reason to pause and consider the value of the food they’re purchasing, even if that food doesn’t look like the fresh fruit and vegetables we’ve been conditioned to believe are attractive and therefore acceptable.

If the gambit pays off (and it likely will, especially if other grocery stores begin to offer the same), the idea of purchasing such goods could have an impact on Canada’s food efficiency. Billions of dollars in labour, fuel, electricity, water, seed and fertilizers are consumed annually to grow food in Canada. The fact our society has been conditioned to reject some of that harvest (or isn’t even given the opportunity to reject that harvest) because it’s misshapen or odd-looking or doesn’t meet our picky expectations, represents a monstrous economic and environmental loss.
Never mind the fact we already waste tonnes of food in our own kitchens, either through neglect or indifference. A study by the Value Chain Management Center found that vegetable waste in this country in 2009 was the equivalent of 80 kilograms for every Canadian.

But that waste occurred AFTER truckloads of so-called ugly but nutritious vegetables were rejected and not offered for sale. If we can begin to reconsider the value of food that’s thought to be ugly, perhaps we’ll take better care of all of the food we purchase and consume.
In January, engineers Without Borders covered a table at the University of Saskatchewan with food reclaimed from dumpsters to make its point that too much food is being trashed. The group says one-third of all food around the world is wasted.  "Food waste is a huge issue," said Co-president Angela Howell." It contributes to rising food prices around the world, it contributes to environmental costs, it can create a lot of social inequities."

While Howell says around half of food waste is generated in the home, a large percentage of waste is generated in grocery stores and restaurants. She says the system should be made more efficient to avoid wastage.
"Say you're buying carrots," Howell added. "You get these beautiful long carrots that are all the same length. All of the ugly carrots may get thrown away. "The group hopes the very visual display helped spread the word.  "It's a very easy thing to visualize, and we thought it would make the biggest impact" said group member Alyssa Kimber.

Chapters of Engineers Without Borders across the country are focusing on food issues this year, planning events on themes like food deserts, growing local food and inefficiency in the food growing and distribution system.
Something for all of us to think about! 

MOTHER NATURE'S HANDYWORK



The weather in the past week may have moderated but it is still a winter wonderland along the Lake Huron shoreline at Southampton.  It will take many weeks for the picturesque wave-like ice formations to melt away.

13 February, 2015

A SPECIAL DAY TO EXPRESS LOVE


In keeping with the February "love" theme, did you know that in the 19th century, sending paper Valentines through the mail got to be so popular that during some years, post offices had to hire more workers just to get all the cards sorted and delivered?  Here are a couple of rather historic newspaper articles from 1811 and 1846 that I find interesting.

The first is a 1846 clipping from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reporting that the Brooklyn, N.Y., postmaster had put on eight extra hands to deal with the deluge of Valentine's Day mail.  The second is a news report from London announcing that England's Two Penny Post Office had hired almost 100 sorters to handle the Valentine's mail in 1811.
 
I don't think that post offices experience the same kind of Valentine's crunch of "scissar(sic)-cut hearts and darts" in this day and age, but the heart-felt messages have not changed much over the years...and it is kind of a nice tradition that makes us feel good, regardless of age.  Everyone is somebody's special Valentine!
 
Here is a collection of some of the most famous quotes on the subject of "love, not just on Valentine's Day but every day:

Love is composed of a single soul inhabiting two bodies.- Aristotle

Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.- Lao Tzu

My bounty is as boundless as the sea, My love as deep; the more I give to thee, The more I have, for both are infinite.- William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.- Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Young love is a flame; very pretty, often very hot and fierce, but still only light and flickering. The love of the older and disciplined heart is as coals, deep-burning, unquenchable.- Henry Ward Beecher

Age does not protect you from love. But love, to some extent, protects you from age.- Anais Nin

Life has taught us that love does not consist in gazing at each other but in looking outward in the same direction.- Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Love has no desire but to fulfill itself. But if you love and must needs have desires, let these be your desires; To melt and be like a running brook that sings its melody to the night. To know the pain of too much tenderness. To be wounded by your own understanding of love; And to bleed willingly and joyfully.- Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart.-Helen Keller

Love does not dominate; it cultivates.- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Love makes your soul crawl out from its hiding place.- Zora Neale Hurston

Love is life. All, everything that I understand, I understand only because I love. Everything is, everything exists, only because I love.- Leo Tolstoy

Love is like quicksilver in the hand. Leave the fingers open and it stays. Clutch it, and it darts away.- Dorothy Parker

I have learned not to worry about love; but to honor its coming with all my heart.- Alice Walker

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where. I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride; so I love you because I know no other way than this: where I does not exist nor you, so close that your hand on my chest is my hand, so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep.- Pablo Neruda, “Love Sonnet XVII”

05 February, 2015

A LOVE STORY ON STICKY NOTES




It’s February, the month of looooove! In times like this it is easy to get distracted by STUFF — boxes of chocolates, jewelry, stuffed bears, and all that jazz. And though its always nice to give gifts to that special someone, it is even nicer to take a moment and remember the reasons why you love having them in your life.

So take a couple minutes and watch this awesome short film about a love story that was formed from sticky notes!

24 January, 2015

ANGELS FOR ALZHEIMER'S, A COMMENDABLE SCHOOL ACTIVITY


A good news story worth passing on
 
The entire school body at G. C. Huston Public School in Southampton learned about Alzheimer's on Friday (Jan.23rd) and what it could feel like for someone with the disease.

Organized by Alzheimer's 2015 Walk for Memories Coordinator, Jodi Eagleson, the students were asked to lay quietly as she asked them to image what it must be like to have some of the symptoms of Alzheimer's so that they might have a better understanding in the event a family member incurs the illness.  Chances are that one in three of the youngsters will experience Alzheimer's in their family.

The activity also served as a fundraiser by donation for the Alzheimer's Society and all monies raised locally stay in the community. Once the exercise was over, it was outside for everyone where all the students made their own "Snow Angels for Alzheimer's".

The 2015 final winter Walk for Memories will be held Saturday, January 31st in various venues throughout Grey and Bruce counties.
 

13 January, 2015

Free Speech, Reform, and the Paris Murders

How should we respond when people are murdered for insulting the religious sensibilities of radical jihadist Muslim terrorists? Should they stand on the side of free speech, or that of political corrected religious tolerance? The recent executions at the office of a satirical magazine in the center of Paris force us to navigate the tightrope between the two. While violence is never the answer to religious mockery, nor is the undercurrent of racism and religious prejudice which some have argued, lurks beneath the surface of religious satirical journalism in the West.

The bloody killings, which took place Wednesday, the 7th of January, were among the worst attacks on the public in modern French history. The attackers, who were radical, fundamentalist Islamic French brothers named Said and Cherif Kouachi, stormed the offices of the Charlie Hebdo magazine and opened fire, killing 12 people, including two police officers. According to witnesses, one of the gunmen shouted, “We have avenged the prophet. We killed Charlie Hebdo”. Yes, they avenged a 4th century cleric revolutionary who believed the world was flat and your heavenly reward was a harem of virgin little girls and boys (see QURAN 52:24: “And there will go round boy-servants of theirs, to serve them as if they were preserved pearls”).

On Friday, police cornered the suspects in a printing warehouse near Paris. They fled the warehouse firing at police, who granted their wish to meet their maker.



It was the end of a bloody and horrific massacre, but the beginning of an important dialogue about the state of freedom of speech and other democratic principles in a world increasingly besieged by religious terrorism. Almost immediately, demonstrators held vigils in cities round the world, holding signs that read “Je Suis Charlie” (“I am Charlie”), in solidarity with the victims of the Charlie Hebdo shooting. And almost just as soon, a global conversation began about the threat of religious extremism to free speech and freedom of the press. But on the sidelines some suggested that, while the shooting was inexcusable, it was provoked by racist mockery on the part of the cartoonists.

Free-Speech Martyrs, or Racist Provocateurs?

Among those defending the satirical cartoons produce by Charlie Hebdo is Iranian-French graphic novelist Marjane Satrapi, the author of “Persepolis”. Although she disagrees with some of the magazine’s messages, she believes their mockery of Islam or other religions deserves to be defended because “[p]eople have the right to have a different point of view, and to provoke,” and she warns that “[i]f we allow acts like [the Charlie Hebdo shooting] to create a climate of fear, we will have lost our freedom.” For people like Satrapi, those who died at the Charles Hebdo offices sacrificed their lives for free speech.

But others are more careful about what kind of speech, art, and journalistic expression deserves to be defended, pointing out that younger generations have a more sophisticated understanding of the position of privilege from which such cartoonists launch their attacks. As 24-year-old Michigan cartoonist Jacob Canfield points out, Charlie Hebdo’s “white editorial staff” members were not simply free-speech martyrs but frequent, deliberate peddlers of “a certain, virulently racist brand of French xenophobia.” Acknowledging the indefensibility of violent attacks on dissenters, he says that “[i]n the face of a really horrible attack on free speech, it’s important that we don’t blindly disseminate super-racist material”. One questions if there is any issue here about race, or rather appropriate questioning of religious ideology.

Personally, I think that we should defend the intellectual and artistic integrity of those who share different, sometimes highly contentious opinions. While feeling insulted is never, ever an excuse to retaliate with bloodshed, it is a good idea to re-examine the method by which we critique others’ belief systems. Rather than with the gun, we should respond with the pen; or, as Anonymous has vowed to attack crazed Islamic terrorist websites and social media accounts in revenge for the Charlie Hebdo murders in Paris.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is on the right path. He and Pope Francis are calling for change in the doctrines and practices of Catholicism and Islam, respectively. President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi argues that it is time for a revolution in interpretations of the faiths over the centuries. Notwithstanding, “Who am I to judge?” and “all people and animals are creations of God’s work,” says the popular Pope Francis.

Should we not take it one step further and pressure all religions to update their archaic, unprovable doctrines? Spirituality and faith are great for mankind, but statements to corral the masses into blind obedience and violence on the behalf of any deity needs to be removed from teachings. Sadly, I am not holding my breath!

There are those in our society that question why any so-called religion is exempt from bigotry and discrimination, allowed to sell and receive property and operate without paying taxes for programs that are antithetical to social reform and equality. In essence, why can religion benefit from a modern society while hindering its progress and evolution in the 21st century of mankind?

As Canadian police are on the alert, as never before, I am uneasy about the increasing threat of acts of terrorism by radical religious factions in our beautiful country.  We may never be the same again as we collectively look over our shoulders in the 21st Century.

Sources:  BBC News, The Huffington Post, The New York Times

01 January, 2015

WE CAN ALL BE BETTER GOOD NEIGHBOURS

I am sure that most of my readers have heard of Fred Rogers.  Certainly, two generations of my family grew up with him.

The unassuming Fred was, of course, better known as "Mr. Rogers" and he had a ground-breaking television show for children called "Mr. Rogers' Neighbourhood".

Every show began the same way with the neatly attired Mr. Rogers entering his home, taking off his jacket and shoes and putting on a trademark red zippered sweater that has since been donated to the Smithsonian Institute.  As he slipped into comfortable tennis shoes he would sing his theme song "Won't You Be My Neighbour."  The song started out like this...
Fred Rogers and his favorite hand puppet.

"It's a beautiful day in the neighbourhood
A beautiful day for a neighbor
Would you be min,
Could you be mine?"
 
And it ended...

"Won't you be my neighbor
Won't you please, won't you please
Please be my neighbor."

When Fred Rogers died about 12 years ago, he had millions of "neighbours" all over the world, yet he never thought of himself as a TV star.  In his typical soft-spoken manner he insisted that he always thought of himself as "a neighbor who just came in for a visit."  He knew what it meant to be a good neighbour and he wanted to demonstrate that for his young audiences.

It was not commonly known that Fred was a music major and that he graduated from seminary as a young man.  He was in fact an ordained Presbyterian minister who found his true calling in shaping the minds of children through his creative and unique television neighbourhood.

In my spiritually-motivated days as a lay minister with the unmitigated gall to preach to small community and rural church congregations, I often used Fred Rogers to introduce the Story of the Good Samaritan who stopped at a roadside to rescue a man who had been badly beaten by robbers. The injured man had previously been ignored by a Priest and a Levite who feared religious reprisals if they stopped to help him.  The Samaritan did not ask questions, he did not care who the man was...He just tended to the man's wounds and took him to safety.  The Samaritan was truly history's first documented good neighbor role model.

The world is full of people today who are in desperate need of a neighbour.  Just as the Good Samaritan in the parable related by Jesus Christ, you and I are called to "go and do the same."  In other words, help those who need your help...regardless of who they are, or where you might find them along the way.

Kind of sounds like another good New Year's resolution, doesn't it.

A BLIZZARDY WELCOME FOR 2015

 
The New Year 2015 arrived like a lion in Southampton at midnight, bringing with it sub zero temperatures, blizzard proportion winds and snow.  Closed roads in the area kept celebrants close to the home fires.

24 December, 2014

WE SHOULD GIVE FOR THE SAKE OF GIVING

CHRISTMAS BLESSINGS, MY FRIENDS!
Because 'tis the season, I have been thinking (and writing) a lot lately about giving.

I have always considered myself to be a "giver", not necessarily in a monetary sense because my financial resources have often been limited.  I have compensated for a shortfall of disposable income by donating my time, energy and humble talents to worthwhile, charitable causes and I consider that to be a valid and much needed form of giving in today's society.

Regretfully, because of present conditions in my life, my "giving" has fallen off, or at least I am having to be increasingly selective in what I give and how I give it.  That admission does not make me happy, but it is nonetheless a fact of life.

Giving, in whatever form, is the Christian way...It is also the Canadian way.  It is ingrained in most of us.  For that reason, I found myself in complete agreement with Saadlyhah Baksh's letter to the editor in today's Toronto Star.  It was his contention that we should give for the sake of giving, regardless of whether or not we get recognition.  "The purest form of giving is to do it when no one is looking, so you can turn off your (camera) flash and remove the lens that is blinding you from what real generosity is."

Saadlyhah was, of course, referring to the controversial "Pass the Pizza Movement" which is using social media to post photos of people donating pizza to homeless individuals with the hash tag #passthepizza.  The idea of giving to the homeless is wonderful, but fleeting social media campaigns that glamourize the giver while dehumanizing the less fortunate is not the most effective way of instilling long-term positive changes on the social issue.

Trends like Pass the Pizza have their 15 minutes of fame and then something new and more exciting comes along.  Actually, Pass the Pizza is the new ALS Ice Bucket Challenge that went viral on Facebook a month or so ago. 

In today's society, I am fully convinced that people lose the message behind such campaigns and just join in because they have been challenged by a friend or relative and it is a popular thing to do.  Something that was meant to be a genuine act of kindness resultantly got lost in the reward of "likes", "favourites" and "retweets".  I really wonder how many actually followed through and forwarded their pledged donation to the ALS Foundation after being photographed as they were doused with a bucket of mind-chilling ice water?  I commend those whose hearts were in the right place...It was a fun thing to do and the videos were equally fun to watch.

Genuine pride and satisfaction comes from truly giving from the heart.  We should not have to be challenged to give, however, nor should we stand in front of a camera lens to do it. 

If you have the price of a pizza to spare this season and you are moved by the kindness of your heart, why not drop that sum into a Salvation Army kettle or donate it to a local food bank where you know it will be put to good immediate use feeding the hungry, needy -- and homeless? 

21 December, 2014

NO MATTER HOW YOU CELEBRATE IT, CHRISTMAS IS A TIME OF GIVING

Christmas has become such an all-embracing, virtually secular event in western culture that people find it difficult to avoid, irrespective of religious upbringing.  The business sector, retailers in particular, have capitalized on the commercial potential of the festive holiday.

The secular version of Christmas features the evergreen tree (real or artificial) and outdoor lighting, winter holiday pageants at school, the arrival of Santa Claus, frantic shopping for gifts, opening presents...and turkey with all the trimmings. 

The birth of Jesus, the Christian Messiah.
The original sacred version and the basis for Christendom, reflects on the religious aspects of the occasion and features traditional carols, midnight candlelit church services and Sunday School presentations of the crèche scene depicting the birth of the Messiah in the person of a baby who would become Jesus Christ of Nazareth.

Much has been made of the inherent conflict between these two traditions. Around the world, at this time of year, both Santa and Jesus can claim their multitude of followers.

Maclean`s magazine, assuming there exists some cosmic battle for the minds and hearts of people, recently -- and solemnly -- proclaimed Santa to be the winner. Do Santa and Jesus have to be mutually exclusive? I believe there is enough overlap to enable us to partake of both traditions.

The common theme which underlies each story is the centrality of “giving.” Santa brings gifts to the children and as family or friends we in turn exchange gifts with one another.

1881 illustration by Thomas Nast
who, along with Clement Clarke
Moore's poem "A Visit from
St. Nicholas", helped create the
 modern image of Santa Claus.

In Orthodox Christianity, God loved the world so much that he gave the gift of Jesus. In turn, Jesus taught his followers that loving God and one another is the greatest commandment of all. His definition of loving is to offer the gift of ourselves to one another -- our time, our care, our support -- as opportunities arise to do so.

It is true that we can give without loving. Sometimes we give out of guilt, habit or appeasement. In contrast, we can never truly love without giving. At Christmas, the best gifts are those carefully selected and given as a token or symbol of that love or caring.

For most of us, the two traditions merge together on Christmas Eve. Finally, all the preparations for the biggest celebration of the year are in place. Now, secular or sacred, we can truly relax. A sense of wonder, hope, joy and peace slowly settles in. We might even feel an urge to lift our voices in agreement with a familiar Yuletide refrain...

Silent night, Holy night ... All is calm, all is bright.

27 November, 2014

BE SEEING YOU, MAYBE!!!

IT REMAINS TO BE "SEEN": A few days ago I stated that I was serving as a "seeing-eye person" for my blind dog Lucy...Poor Lucy!!!...As it turns out I will be undergoing surgery on both of my eyes next week for a long-developing optic condition which has made it extremely difficult for me to continue to write on computer, or by any other means. As of this post, I will be signing off on Wrights Lane and my other blog sites. Time and inclination will determine if and when I return. Meantime, all the best to those who have followed my internet ramblings for the past 10 years. It has been "my pleasure".
...IN BETTER TIMES
 

22 November, 2014

THE LIGHT HAS BEEN TURNED OFF IN LUCY'S WORLD...MINE TOO!

Three eye surgeries in the past eight months and $10,000 in veterinarian fees later, my little girl Lucy is now totally blind.  I am her new "seeing eye person".  Together, we are learning how to live in a constantly dark world.  She follows my lead, and I follow her brave example in coping with adversity. Mercifully, she does not see my tears.  She would not want her Poppa to be sad.

18 November, 2014

IT HAS BEEN SO COLD THAT IT COULD FREEZE BRASS BALLS

The current, unexpected and premature blast of winter has been the topic of conversation in my world for the last couple of days.  One rather crass but comical expression is not only on the tips of many tongues, but I have seen it a least a dozen times on Facebook in the past 24 hours.  In all honestly, I cannot think of any other 12 words in the English language that better describe how cold it is.

It is often stated that the phrase "It is cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey" originated from the use of a brass tray, called a "monkey", to hold cannonballs on warships in the 16th to 18th centuries. Supposedly, in very cold temperatures the "monkey" would contract, causing the balls to fall off. However, nearly all historians and etymologists consider this story to be an urban legend. Interestingly, this story has been discredited by the U.S. Department of the Navy, etymologist Michael Quinion, and the Oxford English Dictionary (OED).

They give five main reasons:
1) The OED does not record the term "monkey" or "brass monkey" being used in this way. The purported method of storage of cannonballs ("round shot") is simply false.

2) Shot was not stored on deck continuously on the off-chance that the ship might go into battle. In fact, decks were kept as clear as possible. Furthermore, such a method of storage would result in shot rolling around on deck and causing a hazard in high seas. 

3) Shot was stored on the gun or spar decks, in shot racks -- longitudinal wooden planks with holes bored into them, known as shot garlands in the Royal Navy, into which round shot were inserted for ready use by the gun crew.

4) Shot was not left exposed to the elements where it could rust. Such rust could lead to the ball not flying true or jamming in the barrel and exploding the gun. In fact, gunners would attempt to remove as many imperfections as possible from the surfaces of balls.

5) The physics does not stand up to scrutiny. The contraction of both balls and plate over the range of temperatures involved would not be particularly large. The effect claimed possibly could be reproduced under laboratory conditions with objects engineered to a high precision for this purpose, but it is unlikely it would ever have occurred in real life aboard a warship.

So, there goes another myth.  More likely the reference is almost certainly 16th to 18th century humour, just like it is used today to emphasize how cold it is.

Just how cold has it been in your area folks...?

08 November, 2014

ON LAND, AIR AND SEA THEY SERVED


HMCS Atholl K15 was a modified Flower-class corvette that served with the Royal Canadian Navy during the Second World War. She fought primarily in the Battle of the Atlantic as a convoy escort. She was named for Campbellton, New Brunswick, however due to a conflict with a Royal Navy ship with the same name, her name was chosen to commemorate the town instead of being named for it directly.

What follows is a recent conversation with a Canadian Legion comrade recalled by Rev. Bob Johnston of Saugeen Shores.

HMCS Atholl began its short life journey in April, 1943 on the shipbuilding docks of Quebec City. Don Cochrane was a teenager growing up in Calgary. The two, boy and ship, were destined to meet and spend over three perilous years together on the Atlantic crossing. Their task was to protect heavily-laden allied merchant vessels from German submarines.

On Remembrance Day we will honour those who served their country in times of war and as peacekeepers. History books and classroom lessons have always presented the “big picture,” those dates and places of significant battles, the politics of war, the maps, the strategies. While this is important, an understanding of war can also be gleaned by hearing the firsthand stories of those men and women who were there to witness the shaping of that “big picture.”

Don and I recently talked about his war service. With a smile he reminded me that that were “ no oceans around Calgary.”. Like himself, most of the young men who joined the Canadian navy had no prior sailing experience. In 1942, the 18 year old -- and admittedly-reluctant student -- shut his books and enlisted.

The Atholl was one of 122 corvettes designed and built in Canada specifically for escort service in the North Atlantic. The ships were small, about 200 feet long and 33 feet wide. While sturdy and seaworthy, they bobbed and rolled in the water like a fisherman's float.

After the war Winston Churchill acknowledged that his greatest fear during that long struggle against Germany was the danger of Britain being cut off from receiving vital supplies from North America. And destroying those vessels of the Merchant Marine was precisely what U-boat commander-in-chief Karl Donitz had in mind. In the shipping lanes between Newfoundland and Europe lurked his Nazi “wolf packs.” They waited patiently to torpedo any unarmed ships who entered their killing zone, carrying food, munitions, motor vehicles, heavy guns and oil to beleaguered Britain.

The Canadian Navy, with its seven destroyers and growing fleet of corvettes were primarily assigned to protect the Western half of the Atlantic. Despite our small population Canada successfully provided almost half of all the escorts in the Atlantic campaign.

Don quickly discovered he was seasick! Four years later he was still seasick. On one occasion, just after he finished dinner and relieved a buddy on duty watch, his fellow sailor hungrily inquired as the dinner menu. Don`s reply?:

“I can`t remember but if you can wait five minutes I will show you.”

In our conversation Don chose to remember the good memories -- the long walks in the Irish countryside during their rare shore leave -- or meeting a young British woman who was also in the Service and his conniving to be on duty whenever her team came aboard ship to do work. Peggy and Don eventually were married right on the corvette, something else the resourceful sailor managed to pull off.

Deeper memories are there, perhaps lurking under the surface much like those U-boats. In the black darkness of night, a merchant ship could suddenly be torpedoed, its flames lighting up the sky and illuminating the oil-covered faces of the crew slowly drowning in the frigid water.

Don's corvette still saw action for months after the war officially ended. They had to round up remaining U-boats that had refused to surrender. It was only when he saw the dozens of captured subs lined up at St. John`s did Don finally realize the extent of the dangers he had survived at sea.

The Atholl ended her life in 1952, chopped up and being sold for scrap in Hamilton. Don has long ago joined the ranks of the senior citizens and has trouble with his hearing. He is saddened by the reality that the war took the lives of some of his best friends, he also regrets that the conflict robbed him and thousands of other young Canadian men and women of four or five years of  “normal life” between adolescence and adulthood. 

He does recognize and appreciate that he entered the Service as a directionless, vulnerable boy and, how wearing the uniform, quickly became a man of discipline with inner strength and core values. On Tuesday he will remember.

05 November, 2014

REMEMBERING FLYING OFFICER R. S. "BILL" JOHNSTON

The practice of presenting tiny gold caterpillar pins to anyone who saved their life by parachuting from a disabled or flaming aircraft, started in 1922. The Caterpillar is symbolic of the silk worm, which lets itself descend gently to earth from heights by spinning a silky thread to hang from. Parachutes in the early days were made from pure silk. Bill Johnston wore his Caterpillar pin with utmost pride and distinction
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
As Remembrance Day 2014 approaches, I herewith pay tribute to an RCAF flying officer who was shot down over Germany during WW11 and interned in two prisoner of war camps. I do this in memory of all young military servicemen who fought for their country in major world conflicts during the past century.  Lest we forget!
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Some people hover under the radar in life because that is exactly the way they want it.  A cousin by marriage, Roy S. "Bill" Johnston of Dresden was one of those individuals.

The youngest of nine siblings born to Mr.and Mrs. William H. Johnson, a Dresden area farm couple, Bill was always quiet-spoken, dry-witted.and congenial, enjoying life to the fullest...Traits that ran through the entire, salt-of-the-earth Johnston clan. Almost from the day he was born, Roy was tagged with the name "Bill" because he looked so much like his father.  He went through life carrying William's name.

 R. S. Bill Johnston
AC2, Flying Officer, RCAF
He graduated from continuation school just as WW11 was breaking out and he answered the call to serve his country by joining in the Royal Canadian Air Force on 8th of December, 1941.  He trained as a navigator and quickly rose to the rank of Flying Officer, ultimately assigned to the historic 115th Squadron RAF and its Lancaster flying bomber ND805.

Aircraft navigation, then as now, demanded much pre-planning. There was the need for a flight plan showing the proposed course, with height, expected flight time and an ETA at the objective. Then, once in the air, the wind made all calculations subject to change, so from observing a position in relation to landmarks on the ground, which continued to vary, calculations made the necessary course and speed alterations.  Bill gained a reputation as being spot on with his navigation calculations.  His calm persona lent itself to the responsibilities of wartime air navigation.

It was one thing to undertake these duties in a small plane over familiar territory, but it was quite another proposition to execute them in a heavy bomber at night, under total blackout conditions, sitting above 9000 or more pounds of bombs and flares, over unfamiliar and hostile territory, while being shot at from the ground or attacked by enemy fighters.  Bill would have have been positioned in the plane at a navigator's table, immediately behind the pilot, as seen in the photo to the right. By today's standards, navigators relied on quite antiquated means, often having to navigate by the stars or use dead reckoning to estimate the aircraft's position.
The navigator's table

After 13 completed missions over Germany, 115th Squadron was airborne at 07:00 hours on 14 October 1944 from Witchford, United Kingdom, as part of first-wave "Operation Hurricane", to bomb a target in Duesburg, Germany. On its return from the the mission, the Lancaster was hit in what was presumed to be a shower of flack. The pilot struggled desperately at the controls as the flaming plane began its hopeless descent. Choosing to stay the course, he ordered the reluctant crew, including his navigator, to bail out.

Bill and Sgt. F. M. French, the flight engineer, were the only members of the seven-man crew to parachute safely to ground.  Bill landed in a dense rural area with an injured hand and promptly found himself being captured by a machine gun-toting German farm woman. The husky, house dress clad, distaff civilian, marched her captive across a field to her home where she cleaned and bandaged the wound on his hand, subsequently turning him over to German military authorities.

The exact landing location of the downed 115th Squadron's aircraft was never determined.  Five of the crew members were eventually declared killed in action.  Bill and French were reported missing in action for several months.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
On the eve of receiving news that her son was missing in action, Mrs. Johnson had an epiphany as she lay in bed that night.  Bill appeared before her, saying "It's alright mother, I'm okay!"  When reporting the incident to her family the next day, she revealed that Bill's hand was bandaged.  For almost eight months, she held to the conviction that her "Billy" would eventually come home safely to her.  And when he ultimately did, she learned for the first time that Bill's hand had in fact been injured when he parachuted from his burning aircraft.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Allied air crew who were shot down in Germany and survived were incarcerated after lengthy interrogation at Air Force P.O.W. camps run by the Luftwaffe (German Air Force), called Stalag Luft.  Stalag Luft 111 was situated in Sagan, 100 miles south-east of today's Berlin.  French was interned in Camp L7 and Bill in Camp L3.  I have not been able to determine how French was captured, nor what happened to him after the war.

Once at their permanent Stalags, the P.O.W.s' chief complaint was the lack of food. Their diet largely consisted of potatoes and moldy bread at least partially made from sawdust. Watery soup was made with carrots or turnips. In the fall of 1944, as Germany's resources ran low, the P.O.W. rations were reduced, and the Kriegies (POWs) were largely dependent on the supplementary rations in their Red Cross aid packages.

Still, with the help of the Red Cross and the YMCA, the American and Canadian prisoners found ways to take their minds off the hunger. Many Stalags allowed their prisoners to play sports. Cards were also popular and helped pass time. Many Stalags had camp newspapers created by the prisoners. Some camps put on musical or dramatic productions. Sending and receiving mail was perhaps the most important activity to the Kriegies.
POW roll call at Stalag Luft 111, Sagan, Germany.

Most agree that officers and airmen received preferential treatment over enlisted soldiers. And while there were numerous P.O.W.s who recounted horror tales of abuse at the hands of their German captors, most Air Force P.O.W.s also felt that at their respective Stalags, the Nazis for the most part, abided by the rules of the Geneva Convention.

By early 1945, the war was going badly for the Germans with Allied forces poised to overrun Hitler's homeland. As the Russian army approached from the east, the Germans decided to move the occupants of certain P.O.W. camps farther west. During the infamous treks across the country, Allied P.O.W.'s were divided into groups of up to 300 men and marched off under guard.  Bill found himself in one of those groups.

The large mass of Air Force prisoners in Stalag Luft III at Sagan was moved in the last days of January, and marched through the frosts, the snows, and the biting winds which beset the paths of the hundreds of columns at that period slowly making their roughly parallel ways west. Orders were given by senior officer prisoners not to attempt to escape, as it seemed that isolated fugitives who could not prove their identity might be an embarrassment to the advancing Allied forces.

It was moreover impossible, owing to the weather, to travel across country and spend nights in the open; and German troops were streaming back through the villages and towns, many of them in an ugly mood. The Air Force prisoners had only three days on the road, for once they reached Spremberg they were loaded onto trains, hundreds to a car. Some went to Tarmstedt, near Bremen, and marched from there to Marlag-Milag Nord at Westertimke. Bill's party went to Stalag IIIA at Luckenwalde, 40 miles southwest of Berlin, a camp which already contained some 16,000 prisoners of various nationalities; another party went to Stalag XIIIC at Hammelburg; and the remainder went to Stalag VIIA at Moosburg, in Bavaria.

In later years, and on the rare occasions that he spoke on the subject, Bill would downplay the miseries of his time in captivity at the hands of the Nazi military.  He was obviously uncomfortable in talking about any part of it.

As it turned out, he had only a few months to endure the conditions of his confinement at Stalag 111-A, Lukenwalde.  The Red Army eventually took control of the camp and released Commonwealth and U.S. captives on the 12th of May, 1945.  A little gaunt, but in surprisingly good condition considering what he'd been through, the Dresden farm boy's nightmare was over.  He survived, but he took no comfort in the fact that thousands of fellow P.O.W.s did not.  It had to bother him too, that at the time he did not know the fate of his other 115th Squadron crew members.

He received his RCAF discharge September 14, 1945, and returned  to Canada and his welcoming family to pick up his life where it left off four years earlier.

After a few weeks of adjustment to civilian life and letting off a little steam, Bill joined his brother-in-law Gordon Wees in a Dresden grocery store business.  When Gordon decided to retire a few years later, Bill took over the store which he ran for 30 years until he himself retired.

Destiny continued to play a role in his life when he met and married my first cousin Norma Sharpe, the first girl that he ever really dated after returning home from the war.  Norma and Bill had one son, Curtis, now a prominent dentist in nearby Chatham.

Bill was extremely active in Dresden Legion Branch 113 and a long-standing member of the local Kinsmen Club.  He also served on the St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church board of directors.  His passion was golf and he was pretty good at it too.
The ever-relaxed Bill Johnston with his
Caterpillar Pin faintly visible on the left
lapel of his suit.

He rarely shared any of his P.O.W experiences, not even with his wife and son.  He preferred to leave all that in the past where, perhaps, it belonged.  In fact, I do not think that any of his closest friends ever knew the extent of his wartime ordeals.  To everyone, he was just a good guy -- extremely unassuming.-- with the slightest hint of a pleasant smile on his face. Someone that everyone in town was glad to know.  If he ever said anything bad about anyone I didn't hear it...If he ever got angry, I wasn't around to witness it.

Bill loved the truck that he used for business, but he rarely drove the family car.  I always found it rather comical that this former air force bomber navigator did not like highway traffic and driving at night.  Norma was his pilot and he left the controls of their Chrysler to her. He may have done a bit of silent navigation which he kept to himself because...Well, that was just Bill.

My mother used to say that Bill Johnston was the most contented fellow that she ever knew..."He has his comfortable home, an easy chair from which to watch his sports on television and he has Norma to look after him...He simply does not need any more than that in his life to make him happy!"  She was completely right in her assessment of a very humble man who deserved the comforts of life.  He earned them and he thoroughly enjoyed every minute.

I am forever indebted to Bill for his kindness the first Christmas after my father passed away.  I worked in a men's clothing store after school and on weekends as a teenager and on this particular Christmas eve at closing time, the store owner told me to pick out a pair of trousers because Bill Johnston had left $15.00 on deposit for me. When I got home that evening, I told my mother about what Bill had done.  "He did?" my mother gasped..."I bet Norma doesn't know about that.  She already has a gift for you."  It was just another of Bill's many quiet gestures and when I thanked him for it, his reply was typically dismissive: "That's okay Dick.  Think nothing of it!"

When Bill passed away a few years ago, members of Legion Branch 113 carried their comrade's casket and formed an honour guard.  That would have pleased him.

Knowing Roy Stevenson "Bill" Johnston as I did, I know he rests in peace...And I, for one, do not intend to forget on the 11th of November, nor any other day of the year for that matter.

14 October, 2014

A GRANDMOTHERLY GUARDIAN ANGEL TO THE RESCUE

People have so many different ideas about angels, but the only authoritative guide in understanding angels is the Bible -- God's Word.  Some think that angels are little, chubby babies flying around with a toy bow and arrow. More often than not, angels are depicted as beautiful young women with wings and a halo.  But the Bible describes angels as great warriors that are here to guide, protect and deliver us when we believe and "speak His word".  Some, including my wife Rosanne, also think that angels are people who have died.

Rosanne has simplistic beliefs, the result of early Roman Catholic schooling and Ukrainian family influences.  She has her own rather unique private relationship with God and the spirits of loved ones who have passed away.  She constantly prays to God and frequently talks to the spirits of her son, her mother, her grandmother -- even my late wife -- all people she considers "angels" for whom she declares deep love and enduring devotion. It works for her and that is all that matters.  I have reason to believe that this mystic phenomenon just might be working for me too.
Maria Shmorhai
1901-1970

Rosanne's grandmother

Many of her "prayers" to God and her angels are directed at me and the things that I do, or experience. She feels that I often need help and I readily acknowledge that she is probably right. Her main go-to spirit or angel is her grandmother.  "She has been there for me in so many ways," explains Rosanne.  "She never lets me down.  I don't ask for miracles...Only for her presence and guidance in our lives."

Let me relate just two of the countless incidents where Rosanne's favorite angel has tended to me personally. Certainly, if it was not her grandmother's spirit looking out for me, someone or something definitely was.  You may draw your own conclusions.

One of my first experiences occurred shortly after we were married 12 years ago.  I was having problems with my nerves and in an extremely agitated state.  An emotional wreck, I could not sleep on this particular night and rather than disturb Rosanne, I got out of bed.  After a drink of water and a breath of fresh Lake Huron air, I collapsed on the living room sofa and eventually drifted into a disturbed, half-conscious stage of sleep.

I was awakened by the approach of soft, shuffling, slippered foot steps on the carpet.  Thinking that I was merely hearing things, I chose not to open my eyes. As the shuffling sound drew closer to me, I was enwrapped in a sudden and unexplainable cloak of warmth.  A hand touched my shoulder, ever so gently, and an instantaneous state of calm came over me.  I opened my eyes, expecting to see Rosanne's figure hovering over me, but in the darkness all that was visible was a coffee table in the reflection of a street light penetrating a split in the living room curtains. There was no one there.  I even reached out and waved my hand to make sure.

"How surreal...I must have been dreaming," I rationalized as I drifted off to a much welcomed, uninterrupted sleep.

The first thing that I asked Rosanne in the morning was "Did you come into the living room last night and touch me?"

"No I didn't!  Why?" was Rosanne's quick reply.

She was equally prompt in interrupting my brief explanation with a matter-of-fact follow up: "Oh, that was my grandmother.  I prayed that she would come into your heart to comfort you and to help get you through the night."

Kind of makes you think, doesn't it?  Without a doubt, it certainly made me think -- and wonder.  It was another introduction to Rosanne and the mysticism that I had previously taken for granted.

A most recent incident in my life was even more remarkable because of unique circumstances and deadly potential.

Our little dog Lucy dog has required eye surgery this past summer.  Due to cataracts and glaucoma, she eventually lost the site in her left eye and required emergency surgery and a lens implant to save the site in her right eye. She had her final surgery on a Monday morning in Ilderton (near London), a three-hour drive from our home in Southampton.  A return trip to the pet eye doctor's clinic was necessary the following morning, the equivalent of a 48-hour endurance test for both me and Lucy.  Under normal conditions, pet owners who travel great distances, stay over night for the mandatory next-day follow up check after eye surgery, but that was out of the question for me because I could not leave Rosanne for an extended period of time due to her delicate health situation.

I was on the last lap of my return trip Tuesday afternoon on Highway 21, between Goderich and Kincarden, when I found myself defying the inevitable.  Traffic was fairly heavy and I was following a grey van in the northbound lane of the single-lane highway.  The van, approximately 75 yards ahead of me and without directional signals, suddenly stopped on the highway to make a lefthand turn into a trailer park.  I applied my breaks but realized that at 85 kilometers an hour I was not going to stop before colliding with the van.

Instantaneously, I elected to avoid disaster by swerving to the right in favour of the soft shoulder of the highway.  With that initial quick action, my car spun out and I could sense a roll-over in the making. Miraculously, however, the car righted itself as I hit the shoulder of the road and entered a 12-foot-deep ditch.  Something seemed to tell me to crank the steering wheel, take my foot off the brake and to accelerate along the ditch.  All I could see was flying dirt and grass to my right and what appeared to be a white orb of some description in the distance.

It is amazing what you think and how much you can think in a fleeting few seconds when your very life is at stake.  I was reconciled for the worst, but kept my foot on the accelerator as I drew closer to that white light.  After a good 50 feet, I felt my tires finally taking grip and I began to exit the ditch at a right angle, coming to a miraculous, abrupt halt with the car's under low under carriage deeply embedded in the soft gravel at the side of the highway.  My right back wheel was four feet off the ground and my front left wheel one foot from the side of the pavement.  I hate to think of what would have happened had my car actually re-enterd the highway at the rate it was going.  Traffic stopped in both directions and for a moment, I was frozen in time.  I had forgotten about Lucy, but there she was trustingly tucked close to my side, almost as if nothing had happened.

With a break in southbound traffic, the driver of the grey van was able to pull into the trailer park driveway and after stopping momentarily, sped out of sight, never to reappear.

People ran up to me from all directions as I opened the door and exited the vehicle.  "Are you all right?" "That van driver didn't give you much warning." "I can't believe that you did not roll at least twice!"  "God, are you ever lucky, it could have been so much worse!"  "You really did a good job of keeping your car under control...I didn't think that you would make it!" were some of the comments.

Among those who rushed to my aid was a Provincial Park warden, a young lady perhaps in her late 20s. She parked her truck in front of my car, leaviing her trouble lights flashing.  She offered to call a tow truck from Goderich, relaying my information to the dispatcher on her cell phone.  She then called a fellow assistant warden from the nearby Point Farms Park and asked him to attend the scene with another truck to serve as a warning for oncoming traffic.  A delightful girl, she engaged me in roadside conversation (often cautioning me when I got too close to traffic and checking on how I was feeling).  She maintained her vigil until the arrival of the tow truck some 45 minutes later.  I could have kissed her, but I opted for a hug as we parted company.

In short order the tow truck operator pulled my car from its precarious position on the side of the ditch and happily announced that there was absolutely no damage to the undercarriage of my car -- not a scratch nor a dint anywhere, thanks in large measure to the loose gravel and long heavy grass.  Less than an hour and $56.00 later, I was on my way again.

When I reached home sweet home, I did not tell Rosanne what had happened until much later that evening. Quite frankly, I did not feel like talking about it at that point in time.  I needed to collect my thoughts, have a glass of wine and a bite to eat before sharing my experience.

"I had a feeling that something had delayed you when you took longer than usual to get home," exclaimed Rosanne when I finally did break the news to her.  "I never stopped paying from the time you left until you walked in the door.  I asked my grandmother to be with you and Lucy and to bring you home safely to me," she added.  The more we talked the more Rosanne was convinced that her grandmother had, once again been my guardian angel.

Several weeks have passed since that incident and I continue to replay the scene in my mind and to ask questions.  1) Were my reflexes and reaction time slow that day due to the fatigue of the two-day ordeal? 2) Could I have reacted sooner to avoid the van stopped in the middle of the highway? 3) Why did my car not roll over at least twice when it was balancing on two wheels at a 45-degree angle in the ditch?  4) What was that white light "orb" in the distance that I drove toward, all the while struggling to keep my car under control?  5)  Why was there not a scratch on my car when it should have been totally demolished?  6) Were there actually two angels looking after me that day -- Rosanne's grandmother and a much alive, young provincial park warden?

There are no doubt rational answers for most of these questions.  I know that Rosanne has hers...and I am becoming a believer!

11 October, 2014

HAVE I REMEMBERED TO TELL YOU LATELY ABOUT MY FORGETFULNESS?

I have a major problem with my short-term memory.  How bad is it, you ask?

It is so bad that I lose things that aren't really lost. I forget current things that I remember -- well eventually.

This from a guy who has a reputation for possessing a long-term memory as sharp as an elephant's, for heaven's sake. No problem with dates, faces, names and events dating back more than 75 years; but I can't remember what I had for lunch, where I put my glasses, where I left my car keys, and what I did with my wallet.

I find myself going to the refrigerator and not knowing why...I rush into a room and don't know what I went there for...I find myself driving my car and temporarily having to stop and ask myself where I am going...I leave the grocery store and leave my shopping in the cart -- back in the store no less. Its driving me crazy(er)!  I stopped public speaking because I lose my train of thought in mid sentence.  I am becoming self-conscious.
Without a word of a lie, I have difficulty getting things done through the course of a day because I spend half my time retracing my steps looking for things.

I really outdid myself two days ago. I was in a store and wanting to pay for a purchase with my Visa card. I opened my wallet and, you guessed it, no credit card.  I had an instant sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. You see, after a three-week wait, a new card had just been reissued to me because I had lost the old one.  Left it behind in a store somewhere and out of desperation, had it cancelled.

With some prodding by the sales clerk, I thought back to when I last used the card.  To my credit, I remembered that I had used it about four hours earlier at another store in nearby Port Elgin. Frantically, I rushed back into Port Elgin and questioned a young man at the cash counter.  "I was in here earlier today and think that I may have left my credit card in your machine...Is there any chance that it was turned in?"

"I don't know...I just came on shift, but I'll have a look in the office for you," he replied, sensing the urgency in my demeanor and leaving a somewhat annoyed cash-paying customer holding his money.  In a few seconds he returned empty handed and I feared the worst.  "Sorry sir, nothing has been turned in...Are you sure you didn't leave it somewhere else?"  Poor kid was trying to be helpful.

Dejectedly and completely befuddled, I left the store and walked to my car in the parking lot.  Yes I remembered where I left the car, but there have been times when I did not.

Almost as an after-thought as I checked all of my pockets for the 10th time and scanned the car's front seat and floor board for an equal number of times, I reached for the wallet in my back pocket and pulled out the two-sided card holder...And what to my wondering eyes should appear as I flipped over the card holder, none other than the beautiful, familiar grey and blue colours of the "lost" card.  It was not in its customary slot on the front of the holder, but it was there on the back nonetheless.  I had obviously and absentmindedly misplaced it in the holder earlier in the day and was overlooking it in the haze of a very protracted senior moment.  With a "thank you God!" and a deep sigh of relief, I placed the card back in its usual spot in my wallet and went on my way to live another day, vowing to never let it happen again.  I must keep my wits about me and be more conscious of what I am doing at all times, I tell myself...If only I remember.

With that preamble, you can imagine then, my amusement when today I read a piece written by Canadian singer, songwriter, broadcaster and author Jann Arden. I have admired Jann ever since she burst onto the music scene some 30 years ago, so much so that I follow her writings on-line.  I not only appreciate her music, but also her quirky sense of humour and personality.  In a recent post, Jann talks about bearing the weight of her parents' forgetfulness.  Here's what she wrote:
JANN ARDEN

There are days when I feel like I am the worst person in the world. I sit in a chair and feel like everything I do and everything I say is mean spirited and selfish. This is the weight that slithers my way on occasion, when it comes to the care of my mom and dad. Both of their memories are all over the place and I find myself getting more and more impatient, more snippy, more grumpy, more frustrated. 

My mom said to me the other day "You always seem mad at me Jann..." I died a little inside after she let that sentence fall out of her mouth. I told her I wasn't mad at all, that I was just somehow caught off guard with this new version of them. 


"This is new to me too", she said, "And I can't do a darn thing about it. I am practically drinking that coconut oil you bought us..."  That really made me laugh. I told her that I hoped she was kidding. 


I loathe watching them misplace every single thing; keys and purses and credit cards and hats and coats and money and electric bills and coffee mugs and glasses and the TV remote...ALL of it, goes missing. There are elves in the house, "movers" my mom calls them, that take little things and put them just out of reach, just out of plain sight. "The movers move things" she said. "Either that, or your dad and I are going crazy. At least we're doing it together." 


They are indeed doing it together. They NEVER get mad at each other. My dad will answer the same question from my mom a hundred times and not even flinch. After about the fourth time mom asks me something, I seem to lash out like a whip and I feel completely ashamed. I called her the other day and told her how sorry I was and she said "About what?"  It gave me a lump in my throat the size of a toaster. 


"About you being so short with me," she added, "well, you're doing the best you can, you always do and we appreciate everything you do..."  I can feel my heart pump the blood to the end of my fingers. I can feel it fill my cheeks and pulse in my running shoes that are tied too tight again.


My mom is so kind. It baffles me most days how my dad's drinking and carrying on back in the day didn't make her coarse and bitter and unmerciful. No matter how much he yelled, or how drunk he got, or how often he stormed around like a four year old, my mom just kept right on being herself -- empathic, good natured, generous, funny and thoughtful. And here I am, turning into some kind of memory referee, blowing my whistle and crying fowl, every time either of them repeat themselves or get mixed up. 


After much reflection, I have realized how scared I am. I am scared of them forgetting themselves into oblivion and taking me with them. I am scared of all the changes, how their lives seem to be stolen day to day, their pasts thrown into a blender and set to STUN. I am just scared. The funny part of all of it, is that they aren't the least bit concerned. They, on the contrary, are not scared at all. They are happy.  They are so good humored and light hearted, positive and faithful and easy going. I am the only one freaking out. I need to tear a page out of their book and just calm the hell down. 


So what if they put the remote in the fridge? So what if the car keys are in with the dog food?  Mom said: "We find things eventually Jann, it's not the end of the world."  Indeed, it is not.


God bless Jann Arden as she learns to accept and live with what her parents are going through at present time.  May some of their sense of humour rub off on her...She's going to need it more and more in the days ahead, trust me!

Are you taking note, Rosanne, Debbie and Cindy?

08 October, 2014

THE UNTOLD STORY OF ELDRED BRANDON

Ken Wright (left) and Eldred Brandon, lifetime 
friends and members of the Dresden Continuation 
School Soccer Team, 1914-15.

My father, Ken, and Eldred Brandon were best chums all through school in Dresden (ON) and life-long friends.  They were both born in the year 1899 and their families were neighbours in the small town in the heart of Kent County.

There was always a mystique about Eldred, even in those early days.  He was unquestionably a genius and by my dad's account, just a little different than the other kids.  They got along well however.  Ken and Eldred just seemed to have mutual respect and understanding, the type that transcends years and distance. 

After high school, my dad embraced the barbering trade and Eldred, for some unexplained reason, decided to join the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force, February 29, 1916.  He was only 17 years of age at the time and lied about his birth date.  It took the army seven months to catch up to his deception and he was officially discharged November 8, 1916, after being declared unfit for military service. 
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Prior to World War 1, Canada had a small permanent standing army and a much larger Canadian militia. The Minister of Militia and Defence, Sam Hughes, was ordered by Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden to train and recruit an army for overseas service. At the time, Canada had a regular army of only 3,110 men and a fledgling navy.  Although the Chief of the General Staff, Willoughby Gwatkin, had been planning for a mass mobilisation of Canada's armed forces for some time, the mobilisation plans were scrapped in favour of mobilising a completely new land force, the Canadian Expeditionary Force, to be based on numbered battalions and reporting to a separate ministry, the Ministry of Overseas Forces of Canada
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Eldred Brandon
...short-lived military career
Always a brilliant student, an undeterred Eldred then turned his mind to higher education by applying, and being accepted, to Queens University where he earned an honours degree in mathematics and was awarded a fellowship in the Canadian Bankers Association.  He would subsequently become a director of the Controllers Institute of America and was associated with a bank and trust company in the United States. He was employed as an accountant with Sylvania Electric Products in New York when, by some strange quirk of fate, he became involved with the American government.  In story book fashion, he would climb diplomatic ranks, culminating with an appointment as a valuable and highly-regarded attache to General Douglas MacArthur, stationed in Washington where he would entertain international dignitaries in his penthouse apartment.

I well remember Eldred's letters to my dad and Christmas cards bearing the return address of the American Embassy in Japan.  After Japan's World War 11 surrender, MacArthur's occupation staff in Tokyo at first numbered about 1,500 and grew to more than 3,000 by 1948. Like Eldred, most of MacArthur's minions ranged politically from conservative to ultraconservative, and they established policies that continued, rather than dismantled, the zaibatsu (business conglomerates) that had long dominated the Japanese economy. 

Eldred also travelled with MacArthur to Honolulu and the Philippines. Without going into third-hand classified detail, it seems Eldred was privy to some extremely sensitive and potentially damaging inside information involving MacArthur's command and as a result was methodically degraded and discredited to the point that he was eventually hospitalized with his mental stability very much a bone of contention.  There were hints in the recounting of his experiences that Eldred was methodically brainwashed during his hospital confinement. In 1949 he returned to Canada, virtually a broken man, and lived out the balance of his life with his elderly parents in Dresden.  

The much decorated MacArthur meantime (seen in this photo with his  celebrated  corn cob pipe), Commander of U.S. Forces in the Far East from 1941 to the end of the war in 1945, was synonymous with the conflict in the Pacific.  Often referred to as a "megalomaniac" and an extremely "political" general, MacArthur imposed complete censorship of everything in his theatre.  All words attributed to him had to be good news, otherwise they were censored.  All credits went to him instead of his respective field commanders.  He was known to pander and manipulate those on his staff.  Everything that came out of MacArthur's headquarters from 1942 onward, was predicated on the next U.S. presidential election which he coveted.  Poor Eldred had the misfortune to be caught up in all of this...He knew too much and was dispensable.  Effectively eliminated, you will find no mention of an "Eldred Brandon" ever being a member of MacArthur's staff in the 1940s.  His "military aircraft" flights to Manila in the Philippines and Honolulu, Hawaii, via Pan American airways in 1947, are clearly documented however.

I recall a nervous Eldred sitting in our living room at home in Dresden, incommunicado and complete with hat pulled over his ears, half covering sun glasses that he never removed, and a trench coat down to his ankles (a Great Dane guard dog at his feet), relating his incredible story to my father. His last visit to our home was cut short when the Great Dane began barking uncontrollably. "They've caught up to me. They're outside!" stated Eldred obviously referring to Secret Service agents he claimed were constantly following him. "I'll take my leave Ken," he said with eyes darting in all directions..."I don't want to put you and your family in harm's way!"  In haste, he was gone and I don't recall him ever again crossing the threshold of our home other than to be a pallbearer at my dad's funeral in 1952.

Eldred had previously entrusted Ken with the authorship of a book that would tell his story in detail, potentially blowing the lid off the secrecy of the extremely controversial MacArthur era...An untold story, as it were. Sadly, the longtime friends both died before the book ever saw the light of day and they took Eldred's tale of intrigue with them. I was too young then to appreciate it all, but it has always bothered me that I could not turn back the clock and capture all that priceless information for myself.  I am left only with the vague recollections of a spellbound little boy sitting at the feet of two old friends and a huge, panting dog.

I wish I could do better for Ken and Eldred, but they did not leave me with much to go on...This is the best I can manage after so many years.

I trust that in due course I will stop looking over my shoulder for any secret service agents who might still be lurking in the shadows 70 years later.

Special Note:  I originally planned to post this item on the Dresden Virtual History Group's web site, but it was rejected by Facebook for some unknown reason.  The mystique strangely continues...Perhaps coincidental, but curious nonetheless.  I AM DETERMINED.  I OWE IT TO TWO OLD DRESDEN CHUMS who never got to tell their amazing story. 

Eldred, incidentally, was the son of Dresden Postmaster and local historian Robert Brandon and wife Edith (Hazlett).  They lived on the north corner of Holden and St. George streets.  Eldred had two younger brothers, Alfred and Grant.  He was twice married while living in the United States.  A daughter, Daphne, died in infancy.

A truly brilliant and complex man, always a little different.