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

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
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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!
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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.
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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.
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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
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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.

01 October, 2014

THE SAD STORY OF CANADA'S GREAT WHITE HOPE, ARTHUR PELKEY



Arthur Pelkey and Luther McCarty square off in fateful Calgary boxing match.
"Calgary's new Manchester arena was packed to the rafters with fight fans, the air thick with hubbub and cigar smoke as the city basked in the spotlight of the boxing world. No one was more excited than promoter Tommy Burns, the famous former world champ who had moved to Calgary in 1910. Here was the slugfest he knew would put the city on the map: Canadian brawler Arthur Pelkey versus Luther McCarty, a handsome, fleet-fisted Nebraska boy touted as the next "Great White Hope". Spectators and sports writers travelled from near and far to attend. A $10,000 purse and a potential title shot were on the line.

What happened in the ring the afternoon of May 24, 1913, would indeed change fortunes, but not as expected." -- The Calgary Herald

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My father was a boxing aficionado and he talked often about his admiration of Jack Dempsey who wore the world heavyweight crown for an extended period in the 1920's. He also told me about the tragic story of another boxer of his acquaintance who preceded Dempsey on the world boxing stage by a few years.

Arthur Pelkey (27 October 1884 – 18 February 1921) was a Canadian boxer who fought from 1910 to 1920. Born Andrew Arthur Pelletier, it is difficult to determine the actual birthplace for this amazing athlete. Some records list him as a Chatham, Ontario, native while others have him being born in nearby Pain Court. Adding to the confusion is the fact that a Chatham Sports Hall of Fame tribute clearly shows his hometown as being Dresden, the place of birth for both my father and I. While I do not remember my dad actually ever saying where Pelkey was born, my research suggests that it was in fact Pain Court, a largely French Canadian community in Kent County, like Dresden, not far from Chatham.
Arthur Pelkey

Somehow, my father who was about eight years younger, knew that as a teenager Pelkey moved from his Kent County home to the United States where he went to work in a cotton mill. He apparently started boxing to supplement his meagre earnings from the mill.

Nevertheless, at 6′ 1½″ and between 206 and 210 pounds, and after a series of local bouts, the hard-punching and durable Pelkey fought in the heavyweight division. He was one of the "White Hopes" of a period when African American Jack Johnson was the world heavyweight champion.

The height of Pelkey's pro career and its nadir happened simultaneously when on 24 May 1913, he met Luther "Cowboy" McCarty at Tommy Burns's Manchester Arena in Calgary, Alberta, with McCarty's World White Heavyweight title at stake. Tommy Burns had been the world heavyweight champ who had lost his title to Jack Johnson, and the title had been created to crown a white heavyweight champ in light of the failures of successive White Hopes to wrest the title from Johnson. Before he retired from the ring, Burns met Pelkey in a match that ended in a draw and was so impressed with him that he became his manager and arranged for what amounted to an exhibition bout with McCarty as a warm up for an ultimate encounter with the American Johnson.

Approximately, two minutes into the first round of the scheduled 10-round bout, Pekley kayoed McCarty with what appeared to be a glancing blow to the chest. Eight minutes later, still laying on the ring's canvas, McCarty was pronounced dead. Pelkey reportedly broke down and wept when told of McCarty's death. Manchester Arena, actually built by Tommy Burns himself, burned down the following day, likely as a result of arson in protest of the fight.

Four days after the controversial fight, professional boxing was officially banned in Alberta. Pelkey and Burns were charged with manslaughter, but the charges were later dropped. A coronor's jury eventually ruled that McCarty’s death was determined to have been from a brain hemorrhage, probably brought on by a fall off his horse a few days before. While they were exonerated, the lives of Pelkey and Burns were changed forever. Burns left Calgary and became an evangelist preacher. Legal troubles from the incident bankrupted Pelkey. He kept fighting, but only for the money, and he didn’t win much after that. Some suspected he was pulling his punches.

What began as a sensational exhibition ended in tragedy. A 21-year-old rising star was dead, a legend’s reputation was once again tarnished, a top notch contender was ruined, and Luther McCarty’s untimely end delivered a death blow to professional boxing in Calgary.

Pelkey reportedly was never the same after the McCarty incident. He lost the white heavyweight title to Gunboat Smith on New Year's Day 1914 at Coffroth's Arena in Daly City, California, via a T.K.O. in the 15th round of the scheduled 20-round bout.

When he retired in 1920, he had compiled an official career record of 22 wins (17 by K.O.) against 21 losses (having been kayoed 16 times) and three draws. He also had 10 *newspaper decisions: five wins, two losses and three draws.
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(*) A "newspaper decision" was a decision in professional boxing rendered by a consensus of sportswriters attending a bout after a no decision bout had ended. A "no decision" bout occurred when, either under the aegis of state boxing law or by an arrangement between the fighters, both boxers were still standing at the end of a fight and there had been no knockout, no official decision had been made, and neither boxer was declared the winner. The newspaper reporters covering the fight, after reaching a consensus, would declare a winner and print the newspaper decision in their publications. Officially, however, a "no decision" bout resulted in neither boxer winning or losing.
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Arthur Pelkey eventually became a police officer in Windsor and died of "sleeping sickness" (a form of encephalitis) at 38 years of age in 1921.

NOTE: On April 5, 1915, the remarkable Jack Johnson finally lost his title to Jess Willard, a working cowboy from Kansas who started boxing when he was 27 years old. With a crowd of 25,000 at Oriental Park Racetrack in Havana, Cuba, Johnson was knocked out in the 26th round of the scheduled 45 round fight. Johnson, although having won almost every round, began to tire after the 20th round, and was visibly hurt by heavy body punches from Willard in rounds preceding the 26th round knockout. Willard would ultimately lose his title to my dad's hero Jack Dempsey on the 4th of July, 1919, in one of the most lopsided championship fights on record.

27 September, 2014

INVENTION IS CALCULATED "MUSIC" TO THIS MAN'S EARS

Mike Sterling shows his musical instrument invention, the 'Bernoulli', to Eli and Dalia Maor
I like interesting people, especially those who think outside (or beyond) the box...The inventive and creative Mike Sterling of Southampton is one of those guys!

Most mathematical and musical heroes for Mike are lost in the annals of history, except for one, Eli Maor, a historian of mathematics, the author of several books on the subject and an in-demand lecturer and speaker. With a PhD from the Israel Institute of Technology, he teaches the history of mathematics at Loyola University of Chicago and was the editor of the Encyclopedia Britannica article on trigonometry, as well as being a contributor to the esteemed publication.

Mike was anxious to exchange notes with the man whose thesis for his PhD, based on using mathematics to solve musical acoustic problems, reflected his own intense interest in the relationship between science and arts, particularly music.

Maor's article, "What is There so Mathematical about Music" received the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics award for being the best article on teaching the applications of mathematics. He and his wife, Dalia, who is an engineer, also have a fascination with astronomy and have traveled the world chasing eclipses, as members of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Mike first learned of Maor some 10 years ago upon reading his book, "The Story of a Number". After several attempts to contact Maor, it was not until this year, 2014, that he succeeded. Sterling had been working on a musical instrument based on mathematics and sent an outline of his project to Maor who immediately became intrigued.  Mike's persistence had paid off.

"I receive many messages through my printing firm, Princeton University Press," said Maor, "but Mike's message and what he was doing definitely drew my attention."
Mike Sterling and Eli Maor discuss the mathematical
intricacies of another potential instrument that Sterling
is creating called "The Bernoulli Involute"
So intrigued was Maor, that he and his wife drove from their home in Chicago to Southampton to meet Mike and see first-hand his ingenious mathematical musical invention and some of his other brilliant contributions to the local museum where Sterling had his unique 'Bernoulli' instrument set up for the Maors, in addition to mathematical graphics set to music that he has designed.

Both the Maors were inquisitive about their surroundings and, although only spending one day in Southampton, took advantage of their time in the community to tour the Bruce County Museum & Cultural Centre, the Bruce Power Visitors' Centre, the boardwalk on the beach and the Saugeen First Nation Amphitheatre dry-stone wall project.

"It dawned on me", Mike said, "that Eli saw what others do not see. He sees beneath the surface and knows the relationship of objects one to another and he sees the world as a wonder.  The world is written about best in terms of mathematics. Words bind the hidden concepts by the mathematics that embody them,  It's a way of thinking and expressing oneself with precision. Eli, does just that.

His world view is vibrant and different from ours. It's like he has x-ray vision of a special type. He sees through the haze of reality into the essence. "

"We will definitely be returning to Southampton when we have a chance," said Maor. "It is a beautiful place with so many interesting features. The museum is amazing and we would like to spend an entire day there."

It goes without saying that they would also like to spend some more time with Mike Sterling...He'd no doubt have another invention to show them on their next visit.

I would explain a little more about the Mike's "Bernoulli" musical instrument, but it is beyond my comprehension -- as is the guy who invented it. Maybe I'll get him to write something about it for me, in dumbed-down terms that mere mortals can understand.

Where did Mike get the name "Bermoulli" for his instrument? What I can tell you is that Daniel Bernoulli FRS (/bərˈnli/; Swiss [bɛʁˈnʊli];[1] 8 February 1700 – 17 March 1782) was a Swiss mathematician and physicist and was one of the many prominent mathematicians in the Bernoulli family. He is particularly remembered for his applications of mathematics to mechanics, especially fluid mechanics, and for his pioneering work in probability and statistics. His name is commemorated in the Bernoulli principle, a particular example of the conservation of energy, which describes the mathematics of the mechanism underlying the operation of two important technologies of the 20th century: the carburetor and the airplane wing.

Mike Sterling explains how he crafted the replica cannons on the deck 
of the Bruce County Museum and Cultural Centre's H.M.S. General 
Hunter British war ship commemorating the War of 1812.

And another interesting project...The Helix

A giant 15-foot-high helix made from the anchor chain of an 1866 schooner rises majestically on an outdoor alcove at the new Bruce County Museum and Cultural Centre in Southampton.

This unique double-helix sculpture, named The Renewal, is another brainchild of Mike Sterling, one of many volunteers from the Southampton Propeller Club who value and honour the marine heritage along the Lake Huron and Georgian Bay coasts.

The chain was originally salvaged along the Lake Huron shoreline near MacGregor Point. It came from the 120-foot schooner, AZOV, which sprang a leak on October 12, 1911. The captain and crew abandoned ship and the schooner drifted across Lake Huron as a ghost ship, finally coming aground at MacGregor Point, just south of neighbouring Port Elgin.
Mike explains towering helix to museum vistors.

The sculpture has two helical strands winding 270 degrees from base to top and measuring 19 feet each. The links of the chain are huge, each measuring seven inches long by five inches wide with a girth of 1.5 inches. Total weight of the chain is 800 pounds.

“The shape is beautiful and can be seen for just that, without knowing the background or the inner meaning,” says Sterling, who, along with Giles Roy, worked on a full-scale wood model to establish the proper sight lines. To both men, the inner meaning of the sculpture is a fitting symbol of everything they value about Bruce County life.

The creative beginning of the anchor chain helix has its roots firmly embedded in Sterling’s life as a mathematician, studying shapes and the mathematics of producing them. He reaches his third floor study in Southampton by climbing a helical staircase. At the top, pictures of renowned scientists Albert Einstein and Dr. James D. Watson are linked with a small length of chain to depict the connection between these two men and their epic findings.

Sterling and Giles believe the “inner meaning” of the AZOV helix is many things.

It’s a symbol of renewal through all of Bruce County as well as the newly expanded and enriched museum. It also depicts “our tight connection with Lake Huron and Georgian Bay, which are at the core of our love for the area.”

“An anchor chain is on the seam of safety and danger, and helps us visualize our ancestors who braved the harsh waters and environment. The chain of life was sometimes held together by a blacksmith’s art.”

See what I mean about this guy and his ability to think beyond the scope of the average person?

Mike Sterling was given the Canadian Museums Association & Canadian Federation of Friends of Museums Award for 2012.

25 September, 2014

WORTH A LISTEN...

Actress Emma Watson Gives The Most Powerful UN Speech...“Feminists Are Not Man-Haters”

Actress Emma Watson recently made a powerful speech to the United Nations on gender, which has sent waves across the world. The 24-year-old “Harry Potter girl” and UN Women Goodwill Ambassador, launched HeForShe Campaign, a U.N. Movement for Gender Equality, last weekend in New York.

It was hoped she could be used to stop violence against women and help fight the fight for gender equality. In her presentation, a very poised Emma regretted the fact that women today are choosing not to identify as feminists. "If you hate the word "feminist", it is not the word that is important, it is the idea and ambition behind it," she stressed.

She also emphasized that gender equality is a male issue too, but I cannot do justice to her 11- minute talk in a brief summary of her remarks in this post. Instead you are invited to click on the attached video which captures the essence of her very carefully worded and poignant presentation. Personally, I truly believe it is time for all genders to be treated equally and we can learn a lot by listening to this beautiful young woman's words. It may even change your mind about feminism in today's world.

21 September, 2014

THE "QUIET" TRUTH ABOUT BEING AN INTROVERT

“Introverts need to trust their gut and share their ideas as powerfully as they can. This does not mean aping extroverts; ideas can be shared quietly, they can be communicated in writing, they can be packaged into highly produced lectures, they can be advanced by allies. The trick for introverts is to honor their own styles instead of allowing themselves to be swept up by prevailing norms.” -  Susan Cain, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking
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At least one-third of the people we know are introverts. They are the ones who prefer listening to speaking; who innovate and create but dislike self-promotion; who favor working on their own over working in teams. It is to introverts—Rosa Parks, Chopin, Dr. Seuss, Steve Wozniak—that we owe many of the great contributions to society.

Don't get me wrong, by no means am I putting myself in the aforementioned company, but I do not mind admitting that I am a born and bred introvert -- so is one of my grandsons. Some acorns do not fall far from the tree.  Because I have lived introversion, and the awkwardness that often goes along with it, I have worried about the wasted and brilliant potential of a 23-year-old young man in a society today that honours extroversion.
SUSAN CAIN

You can imagine then, my delight in being introduced to the refreshing views of another self-admitted introvert, Susan Cain.

In her best-selling book "Quiet", Susan Cain argues that we dramatically undervalue introverts and shows how much we lose in doing so. She charts the rise of the Extrovert Ideal throughout the twentieth century and explores how deeply it has come to permeate our culture. She also introduces us to successful introverts—from a witty, high-octane public speaker who recharges in solitude after his talks, to a record-breaking salesman who quietly taps into the power of questions.

The book was written as a passionate and provocative defense of those who are negatively labeled as "introverts".  She begins by reminding her reader that having an extroverted personality is more highly valued by our culture. Little Brennan and Brianna are encouraged to be more outgoing; shyness is seen as a social liability. Most classrooms reflect that goal. Where we once sat in straight rows and spoke only to answer a question, today's children work in groups which are designed not only for learning goals but also to promote social skills.

Corporations increasingly seek out prospective employees who possess the requisite "piece of paper" but also can demonstrate so-called people skills.

Cain writes to reassure the introverts among us (and who comprise at least 35% of our population). She reminds the reader that Carl Jung described how introverts gravitate to the world of thoughts and feelings while extroverts enjoy people and activity. While extroverts recharge their batteries by socializing, introverts renew their energy by spending quiet time alone. She argues that both personality types fulfill useful roles in society.

The recent PBS series on the Roosevelt family highlighted these differences. Franklin was outgoing and thrived on the life of a politician, capturing a crowd by the sheer force of his magnetic personality. Eleanor, his wife, was the polar opposite; a quiet, caring, deeply thoughtful woman who led by utilizing these relational skills and slowly built a consensus to achieve her goals of social change.

The author distinguishes shyness from introversion: the former is a "... fear of social disapproval or humiliation". The latter simply prefers a quiet environment. In fact, the trend toward open office spaces and collaborative problem-solving in the workplace can thwart the creativity impulse in that quieter employee who simply prefers to do his or her thinking alone.

Cain notes a variety of psychological research which determines that introverts are more sensitive, show greater empathy, make better listeners and possess stronger consciences.

“The highly sensitive [introverted] tend to be philosophical or spiritual in their orientation, rather than materialistic or hedonistic. They dislike small talk. They often describe themselves as creative or intuitive. They dream vividly, and can often recall their dreams the next day. They love music, nature, art, physical beauty. They feel exceptionally strong emotions -- sometimes acute bouts of joy, but also sorrow, melancholy, and fear. Highly sensitive people also process information about their environments -- both physical and emotional -- unusually deeply. They tend to notice subtleties that others miss -- another person's shift in mood, say, or a light bulb burning a touch too brightly.”
― 
Susan Cain


Like a respected acquaintance who has also written on this subject, I clearly saw myself in Cain's book at the point where she describes how introverts have an aversion to "small talk", preferring the intimacy of one-to-one conversations. For that reason I don't seem to do well at large social gatherings. We prefer to relate rather than socialize. Ironically, some of us can do well in public speaking, simply because, unlike spontaneous small talk, our role in communicating through a speech (or sermon) is clearly defined. We deliver well-thought-out messages to captive audiences that do not talk back and there is a degree of safety in that knowledge.

Cain adds, however, that introverts can "pretend" to act like extroverts when required. We can manage in large social gatherings or work effectively in committees. The difference is that such activities, while stimulating and energizing the extrovert, will more quickly become exhausting (irritating) for people like my grandson and I. She also reminds us that few personalities are found at either extreme end of the continuum; most people demonstrate some combination of both introversion and extroversion.

Susan Cain is not only helping the rest of the world to better understand that the quiet minority of us are not simply anti-social or lacking in ideas, but she is also reassuring her fellow introverts that we do have a place in the world after all...And we do have a contribution to make when we have the courage of our convictions.

Personally, I am most comfortable when expressing my convictions by means of the written word, in solitude.  I am not all that spontaneous and glib when resorting to oral communications in public settings. I hesitate to methodically edit myself when speaking and sense that I frequently lose the attention of my listeners in the process.  Suffice to say, introverts are generally self-conscious.  Without  the ability to write as an outlet for creativity and self-expression, I would be extremely frustrated and depressed...Unfulfilled.

I pray that my grandson appreciates this and understands that there very definitely is a role for him in society, once he finds freedom in the restrictions of his solitude...And learns to pretend a little by selectively stepping outside of his insular comfort zone (a favourite technique of mine) when the occasion calls for it.  Sometimes we have to compromise ourselves just to get ahead in the world.  The key is to not completely abandon, or lose, our real selves in the process.

"To thine own self be true," I always say; with one very important qualification: "Do not allow your true introverted self to become an excuse for backwardness, or laziness, in personal growth.  Nurture that introvert within you...He/she is your best friend!

02 September, 2014

ON HEALING SELF WITH THE POWER VESTED WITHIN ALL OF US

We sometimes hear a person in weak health say to another, "I always feel better when you come to see me (or get in touch)."

There is a deep scientific reason underlying that statement.  The power of suggestion so far as the human mind is concerned is a most wonderful and interesting field of study.

One of the world's most noted scientists once proved through laboratory experiments that the entire human structure can be completely changed, made over, within a short period of time, suggesting that the accepted method involving the application of drugs, medicines and external agencies was an artificial cure.

The late Dr. Jack Ruttle of Dresden, who practiced in the days when doctors made house calls, used to say that many times he did not have to dispense "pills" because all that many of his patients really needed was a visit from him. "They just seemed to feel better even before I left their home," he explained.

I suggest that Dr. Ruttle carried with him the spirit of health.  He brought into the home a friendly, almost family-like disposition that implanted hope in the minds of the patients he visited. He cared and that in itself was sufficient medicine in many cases.

In reality, the only thing that any drug or medicine can do is to remove obstructions and in turn give life forces a better chance to do their work.  One person may do a very great deal in connection with the healing of another, but this almost invariably implies co-operation on the part of the one who is being treated. We need only take a look at the Bible and the healings that Jesus Christ performed.  He most always needed the co-operation of the one who appealed to him for help.  His question always was, "Dost thou believe?" thereby stimulating into activity the life-giving forces within the one cured.

We have countless accounts of remarkable non-medical cures in all times and in connection with all religions, so why should not the power of effecting such cures exist among us today?  The power most certainly does exist in all of us and it can be actualized in just the degree that we recognize the same great laws that were recognized in biblical times.  We would do well to remember that health is just as contagious as disease.

Full, rich and abounding health is the normal and the natural condition of life.  Anything else is an abnormal condition...God never created sickness, suffering and disease; they are of human creation.  So used are we to seeing them in our lives that we come gradually, if not to think of them as natural, to consider them as a matter of course.

I find it interesting that more that 100 years ago Ralph Waldo Trine wrote:  "The time will come when the work of the physician will not be to treat and to attempt to heal the body, but to heal the mind, which in turn will heal the body. In other words, the the physician will be a teacher whose work will be to keep people well, instead of attempting to make them well after sickness and disease comes on; and still beyond this there will come a time when each will be his own physician."

The health of our bodies, just as the health and strength of our minds, depends upon what we relate ourselves with and how we feed the soul within. It all has to do with a vital realization of the omnipotence of our own interior powers and how we nurture and use them.

Is it too much of a stretch to think that we have the unrealized potential to be our own physicians capable of attending to our full and ever-renewing bodily health and strength?

Something to think about on the Tuesday following the Labour Day weekend.

Here's to good health, my friend!  Make your own house call.  Do a checkup on the infinite power within you.