Family


November 11 is called different things, depending on where you come from and who your parents were. My parents were both born in London, England, and both served in the last war, so you will forgive me if I have no patience with those who would like to see the world move on and forget the two world wars ever happened.

Perhaps because this November 11 marks 100 years since the first war came to an end it seemed to have particular significance for me. Perhaps it is my own aging frame that sees what my parents went through in a clearer, more compassionate light. I am not sure.

Last night I heard a choir sing “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” a song that came out in 1945 just as the troops were coming home from the war. It held particular significance for those that returned battle weary and broken. The lines, “at the end of the storm is a golden sky and the sweet silver song of the lark,” reminded that embattled generation of a famous poem from an earlier war, “… and in the sky, the larks, still bravely singing, fly/Scarce heard amid the guns below.”

I remember my mother sitting quietly on the couch when that song came on the radio. She wasn’t crying. I never saw either of my parents cry at anything. They were far too tough, both of them. But only a fool could fail to see her grief, her broken and shattered dreams of a life she and so many of her generation could never have.

Mom went through the terrible bombing of London, sleeping every night with her sister and her Mom in the London Tube listening to the destruction above them and emerging in the morning to see what was gone and what still remained. It was likely that those three months of nightly terror gave rise to her lifelong anxiety attacks. Partly out of desperation to get out of London and partly to “get back at the bastards,” she joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF), serving in the south of England in a secret radar installation near Worth Matravers.

They trained the WAAFs to identify the larger incoming blips that were German bombers, and smaller blips that were the British fighters. Mom’s fiancé was a fighter pilot. WAAFs never knew which smaller blip was a close friend or brother when the smaller blips disappeared. It was only when the fighter planes landed that Mom would find out her fiancé, Dennis, was killed over the Channel. They never found his body. Three months later she met Dad, on his way to the war in Africa. They met and married in two weeks. They didn’t see each other for five years. They clung to each other like drowning combatants for the rest of their lives.

People don’t know about these things anymore. “You’ll Never Walk Alone” is now just some song to sing when the blokes are kicking the ball around in Liverpool, or when high school kids walk the aisle to graduate. Everything gets degraded in this meat grinder of popular culture. When you try to share what this all meant to parents you saw struggle and suffer with their wartime grief, you get looks of withering contempt. Who wants to know that stuff anymore.

Well I do. My parents paid an enormous price in the loss of loved ones and the loss of six years of their lives to the war. They paid another price in emotional and psychological damage for the rest of their lives. I do not want my children and grandchildren not to know who my parents were, and the price they paid to bring an end to the barbaric brutality of the Third Reich and its Holocaust.

My parents were heroes. Broken and damaged, yes, but heroes all they same. I honour their memory for I know that we are not likely to see their generation again.

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For almost a dozen years now we have lived close enough to the equator that the changing of the seasons, although a reality, are almost imperceptible. The winds change directions, there is more rain, the seas become rougher or the temperatures become marginally cooler in the evening.  While we love the warmer climates, we do miss the uniqueness of each season: the clear, crisp, sparkling of the snow, the vibrant burst of new life in spring, the warm sunny days of summer and especially the brilliant array of fall colours. With that in mind, we opted this year to confine our summer travels to the west and spend our October mid-semester break in Ontario.

We were only off for one week but managed to pack each day to the fullest so that we were able to tie up loose ends in terms of our finances, condo and some purchases that need to be made in London. We were happy to be back enjoying the gracious hospitality of Randy and Sylvia in their cosy grannie suite, which is full of wonderful memories for us. It was an incredible joy to worship at West London, surrounded by dear friends with whom we have shared fellowship and served alongside for many years.

   

It was a whirlwind week, starting with a baby fest meeting six new great nieces; all under the age of 19 months. Spent a lovely evening in the new home of my nephew Jesse and his wife Christyn and had Chinese with three brothers and their wives. Long time friends, John and Bonnie treated us to their signature salad and pumpkin soup and Al and Shelley created an amazing brunch.  Kim made us quiche at her allergy friendly Urban Oven business and we had a nosh of India food with friends Matt and Kate. Made a quick trip to Cambridge area to catch up on the lives of precious and like-minded friends Beth and Stephen. We even stole a morning away in which I had tea with my dear high school friend Jane, while Steve headed to our old stomping grounds in St Thomas to meet up with teaching friends. Still, there were many others that we longed to see but time did not allow.

 

Saturday morning we left early for a three hour drive to meet up with Jon and Nic and the kids in Fort Erie for lunch and a quick visit by the Niagara River. The weather was cold, rainy and the fall colours not yet in full splendour but it was a beautiful drive and a fun visit. We then drove three hours to downtown Toronto to have dinner with Joe and Jane and catch up with the news on Steve’s side of the family. Finally crashed at an airport hotel to get a few hours sleep before heading to the airport at six for our flight home.

When you see people as infrequently as we do, every conversation is intended to share our hearts joys and struggles of the past year. Each conversation is rich, precious and often deeply painful. We went back to work exhausted, with our hearts burdened for many of our friends but rejoicing in the joy of being part of wonderful families and so blessed by the friends with whom we have had the privilege of sharing this journey.

When Liz and Greg welcomed their first baby, Russ into our family, Jon and Nic and the kids made the long drive from Seattle to meet him. There have been many, varied visits family visits and events in the mean time but since then that we have not been all together in one place.

It took a lot of planning and a tremendous amount of effort on everyone’s part to coordinate our schedules but we finally got together again just in time to celebrate Russ’s fifth birthday. We gathered at Greg’s family’s beautiful cabin on Moyie Lake in southern British Columbia. Jon and Nic rented a small but very adequate cabin about five minutes walk away. Dave made the five hour trip through the mountains on his bike to be there with us,

Along with lovely accommodations we had the use of a boat, canoe and kayaks and a cool lake for swimming. We BBQ’d and had great meals together, hung out and played what was for us a new board game, Settlers of Catan, without too many disagreements.

 

The weather was spectacular with cool, clear mornings and warm, sunny afternoons. Steve had a great time teaching Ben and Abi to paddle the canoe and they were both steering quite competently by the end of the week.

We moved to the Caribbean so Steve could continue his ministry in teaching and yet still be close enough to our family to be able to have this kind of vacation. This time on the lake certainly brought home to us home much we love to be with our children and their children.

It is a great thing to be around your adult children and see them and their kids all getting along. For Canadians is like something in our DNA that this is most enjoyable outdoors. The Cayman Islands have lovely beaches and warm weather year round. But they don’t have the kind of beauty you see in the Rockies.

The lake was cold, but not unbearably so. All of us went in the water at one time or another, some as a result of going too fast in the raft, but always with a great deal of laughter. It was the nicest summer we have had in many a year.

We have missed a number of birthdays during our time abroad: cousins, friends, children and grandchildren. It was so nice to celebrate Russ’ birthday while we were at the cabin.

Some presents were clearly more happily received than others, but one’s interests at five tend to be pretty specific. But whether opening presents, eating cake, or just sharing in the celebration of life, it was all a pretty joyous occasion.

Then and Now

August 1986

May 2018

For these guys anyway! Congratulations on another great year.

Eli has been waiting for three years for this birthday! Finally she got to go to the American Girl store to pick out her very own American girl doll.

After much debate the lucky doll turned out to be Maryellen Larkin, a little girl born in 1954. Each doll comes with her own life verse. Maryellen’s is very much like Eli herself:

“I follow my heart instead of the crowd
I have a heart full of high-flying hopes and a head full of
pie-in-the-sky ideas, even though they don’t all get off the
ground. But I know that if I stay true to who I am and what
I believe, the sky’s the limit.”

She will be a welcome companion for Kit Kittredge who has been already been around for three years, when Abi turned seven.

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