Grandmother Gunhild (Nano)

Grandma Gunhild, who I called Nano, was an influential person in my early years. White Nano welcomed me to her cozy floating home beside ours and spent innumerable hours teaching me first steps of most of the needlecrafts that I have enjoyed through my life. In recent years, I have been drawn to the colours she favoured in the fabrics of her dresses. Rich shades of orange and yellow muted by greens and some browns, those colours serve to brighten the dreary grey sky she found in her new Canadian home.

Chosen from the catalogue and purchased by the yard, she sewed almost everything she wore, including the ever-present aprons that encompassed her well- defined frame. With an all-business demeanour she held her shoulders square and her body upright, giving an impression of height. Whenever I slouched she showed me the way it could be corrected, by placing a broom handle across my back and hooked there by the bend of my elbows.

I remember her shoes. They were always black with sensible Cuban heels, and were carefully polished, worn with ugly thick beige stockings. I think they were knit of a cotton fibre mom called lyle. The only time I ever saw Nano wearing pants was when she joined us to walk the beach at low tide to dig clams. I still have a photo of her with heavy wool fishermen pants tucked into grandpa’s heavy black rubber boots, and carrying a fire bucket. The picture on the book cover is definitely not the ever-proper lady I adored.

She poured coffee beans from a tight-lidded can into a well-worn wooden coffee grinder, and with a few cranks of its handle, Nano’s whole kitchen was filled with that wonderful aroma that I’ve coveted since then. Coffee is my primary addiction.

She seemed to know just the right number of beans to grind so their grounds could be placed directly into the basket of the coffee pot without measuring or spilling. Then she settled the lid into place and positioned the pot on the hottest part of the stove, which I recognized as the smallest removable circle of the three used to access the firebox when wood was added. The coffee-making process begun, we could go on with the current lesson until the coffee pot came to the boil. Some days it was knitting, embroidery, or crocheting, but today’s lesson was sewing on her hand cranked sewing machine. I still have it.

As my lesson proceeded, we eventually heard plop … plop … plop … and then the more rapid plop … plop … followed by plop, plop, plop, plop which meant it was time for Nano to pull the pot to the back of the stove before it boiled over. Our lesson interrupted, now the coffee clatch began as she set out the cups and saucers, spoons, sugar bowl and can of Pacific evaporated milk. Into my cup she poured milk from the can to at least half, then, when the blurping sounds of the pot had stopped, she added coffee from the steaming pot. I was allowed to add my own sugar, stir and test the temperature from a spoon.

As I grew older, the percentage of coffee to milk became greater until during my first year at university I eliminated milk altogether. I had forsaken sugar as a calorie saving measure long before then.

Unavoidable Losses

My  oldest and best friends seem to have disappeared. I miss having those long-term female friends with whom I shared life’s trials. Many are sick, some are dying and there seems to be no cure for some of them. Maybe there simply is no cure for AGE.

Early in my married life I met a woman in Alaska who became a very dear long term friend. Our husbands were associated through business. When my husband and I travelled to company conventions three times each year we were able to maintain a friendship with them. As couple friends we vacationed together, visited each other’s homes, met the children. She and I continued writing and meeting when possible. We held meaningful discussions about world affairs, differences in our country’s political system and with lots of fun and laughter each time we were together.

Forty years into that friendship I learned she was having tests. An unusual untreatable leukemia was found. Internet searches turned up a new treatment being tested in Seattle. She was eligible! So began her trips from Ketchikan to Seattle. For nearly two years it seemed to be going well and the test results were encouraging. And then they weren’t. About that time her husband showed signs of early Alzheimer’s.

On two memorable occasions I drove to Seattle, stayed with her and drove her each day for treatment at the clinic. Once that part of the day was over we made the most of the rest of it, talking and laughing each step and mile of the way. Restaurant meals in interesting places were a part of it, visits with her friends and relatives who lived within driving area, shopping for clothes to take home, simply exploring that marvellous city. After my second sojourn with her I suspected things were not going so well. I heard that against doctor’s advice, she made her annual trip to Kawaii. We talked when she returned; I spoke with one of the children who told me she was clearing up her office. It was my sign; only a few days later she called to say goodbye. We had had the best of times but both my husband and I miss her still.

I once had a professional friend. We co-chaired big events, we did short trips together. Our husbands were friends. We discussed and read about spirit. I considered her my soul sister and I think she did me, gave me a picture captioned, “Friends Forever.” Slowly she faded from a dementia disease her mother had suffered early – lost, forgetful. Thankfully her children live near and they had given her precious grandchildren that gave focus to her days. To her I have ceased to exist —.

A new friend entered my life. She moved here from the east to be nearer family. We sought family history together and wrote personal stories about them, organized an all-candidates political forum. I learned how to create a website using MS Publisher and side by side, she and I made it ‘go live.’ One sad day she learned the harsh truth: pancreatic cancer would give her only a brief time to enjoy those grandchildren. Within six months she was gone; I had lost another soul sister.

A close neighbourhood friend loved to talk and we laughed as we walked together. Our small walking group all appreciated her, for she was filled with love for everyone. Although she suspected something wasn’t right in her own body, love for her good husband made his health her priority until after their winter vacation. When the big C diagnosis came she fought, and walked on with us.

She followed doctor’s advice: accepted surgery, chemo, and radiation. As her local support group we walked with her, now more slowly, and continued talking and laughing. When she could no longer walk briskly, instead, we drove her to interesting places where we could enjoy fun together. Salt Spring Island to see the farms, large gardens to see new blooms, seaside restaurants to enjoy real food, even a wheelchair stroll through pathways of her very own home garden retreat, all seemed to sooth her pain. In Palliative Care she talked and laughed with us, all the way to the end.

On the Friday before Christmas one year, while I was vacationing on Maui, a friend of 20 years sent a brief e-note, “I’m having some heart trouble, waiting for tests, if they ever get around to doing them.” The next day she was dead. Now, who will I discuss club resolutions with, share my room at conference, and worse, at the end of a convention day, who is left for me to drink brandy with?

My most recent loss is a friend with whom I discussed children, compared notes on education systems, errant sons, and fiercely competitive daughters. Over forty years ago our five – year – old girls decided it was ‘not fair’ that there wasn’t a district soccer team for them; their brothers who played were only two years older. My friend’s husband agreed to coach a team of girls under six. Those same girls became members of the under-six girls relay team of our Summer Swim Club! A relationship developed between the couples – couple friends are few in any life – and then the family moved to Ottawa.

My daughter and I visited, kept in touch. We had two Mom and Daughter weekends together. The family had always planned to return to this island; we found property for them, sent pictures, they bought on our recommendation, and, on their return, built their dream home. And so our friendships continued.

When her husband died of a dreaded brain cancer she and I still had marvelous times together. We travelled to New Orleans, shared advice, our troubles and triumphs, always over good red wine. In an effort for her to have more time with a grandchild – she had only one – I shared my three whom she knew well. My friend fought her cancers with everything she knew. She hung on to life for a short six months more. We’ve missed her dreadfully.

A friend whose deceased husband was our “best man,” 55 years ago is no longer the same person. We grieved his passing but that loss continues to affect her immeasurably. Depressed, over-self-medicated, obese, suffering arthritis and effects of knee and hip replacements she sleeps badly, eats poorly, moves only with difficulty, and now appears to have suffered several mild strokes. My longest, best friend, with whom I shared every step taken by our growing family: discussions on sewing, cooking and canning, raising children and understanding forester husbands, appears to now be giving up on her life. There are brief glimpses of her former self, but our great plans for sharing new experiences together, including travel, will never be.

I have a huge support group of newer friends but I desperately miss those long term friends. I have children and grand-children; I have love and continuing good health. I may be old, but despite grieving my losses, I am still here and fully alive.

Towels

“Fairmont is committed to conserving our planet’s natural resources and we offer you the following option:

           Each day, Housekeeping Services will make your bed using your existing linens.

            Every third day, fresh linens will be provided. If you would prefer fresh linens daily, simply place this card on your bed.

            This initiative is part of our ongoing Green Partnership program. Thank you for helping with our environmentally conscious efforts.”

(This message was displayed on a small card in coloured ink of MIX paper from responsible sources) www.fsc.org CO92711

***

Equipped with hair drier, electric kettle, Kureg coffee maker, refrigerator and microwave, our room was supplied with individual bottles of shampoo, conditioner, various skin creams and lotions, teas, coffee pods and a never-ending supply of bottled water delivered each day to the refrigerator.

And so began this recent winter vacation, so different from any others we had experienced on our favourite of islands. Each step during the day we noted differences that, as independent and reasonably logical renters, we were familiar with. Inconsistency in the stated policy of the Fairmont Hotel was noticeable at every turn. Service of a full buffet breakfast each day was enjoyable but, by the third day, became ‘ho hum’ after being subjected to the required seating ritual once more.

Seeing brief intervals of a courageous sun one morning we sallied forth to the adult pool to expose our pale bodies to sunshine’s benediction. But before stretching upon our chosen lounge chairs the pool attendant offered each of us, not one, but two towels. Later that day we chose an alternate space at beachside. Once again there were the towels, and another convenient towel bin to deposit them in when we left.

Another day with clouded skies and heavy rain seemed a perfect day for a full body scrub if we were to have one of those full relaxation experiences. It went like this: Lay on a towel, be covered by a towel, be scrubbed with sea salt, rinsed with steaming water, wiped with additional towels, more body ministration with scented oil, smoothed in and wiped off; more dirty towels thrown to the basket; now a steamy hot application, next, the plastic tenting over the entire body and steam piped in until my body and all the dry towels were soaked.

Before leaving the room I asked the masseur how many towels she estimated she used in a day. Her answer: lots!

Maui in the Morning

The light steadily strengthens until it bursts into a brilliant sun ball over the top of Halelakala. It shimmers down upon mortals like me, out early enough to witness its magic. It is a benediction, without denomination, from the mountaintop. Giver of heat and light, the sun is what I crave. Stiff from a six-hour international flight and uncounted hours waiting in car, ferry, airports and rental kiosk, my body opens itself to the energy offered.

My morning walk continues past hedges of rioting bougainvillea and hibiscus; only constant trimming tames their growth. “Another perfect day in paradise,” is a familiar comment.

Perfection yes, but much more complicated than that. We assume that perfection has no flaws. I know Maui has grievous flaws. There are poor and sick people on Maui; groceries are expensive; a drug culture thrives. Just as at home, politicians argue over roads and trees and taxes. Big dollars have big power. Like indigenous peoples around the world, Hawaiian natives are struggling for their birth rights. All that and more are evident here. Still, my Maui is a perfect paradise.

“What makes it so?” you ask.

For 45 years I’ve tried to find the answer. I only know that each time I step from the plane, Maui’s magic is upon me. My spirit is uplifted. My perception is enhanced. My attitude is adjusted. It’s impossible not to relax.

The secret is in the air, a light fresh balm to a body’s clogged passages, filled with delicious scents found nowhere else on earth. Everything that grows on Maui blooms at least once during the year. It means that each breath yields scents from a tree, shrub or flowering plant, all mingle on the gentle breeze with Perfume da Pacific Ocean. The ocean is never very far away.

A turn at this intersection and I’m on grass beside sand dunes. Here the floral scents are overlaid by salt spray, and, after major storms, odours of rotting seaweed, but always there is lightness in the air. On surrounding hills, where warmth and tropical rainfall decays all fallen leaves and blossoms, one huge composting facility is created, one more aroma added to the mix.

The annual rainfall of Kiehi, where I walk, is lowest of the island—a desert micro-climate on a green Pacific oasis. To breathe this mix is such relief after alternately breathing cold outside air and heated, dry indoor air in Canada. Temperature and humidity opens bronchial passages and encourages deep breathing. Who wouldn’t prefer to take their morning exercise under these conditions?

I am reminded once more of why I keep returning. Exposure to Maui encourages a kind of openness, a willingness to consider new ideas, opinions and opportunities. Nothing seems hopeless or impossible. Best of all, at the deepest level, my psyche shifts. A perfect Maui morning directs me along the path of life.

Searching in Salt Lake

We are assembled at Victoria Airport, ten women, each with some understanding of genealogy but each of us with different experience levels. Most of us belong to the Victoria Genealogical Society. I have done this trip to Salt Lake City twice before. Others have made the odyssey more than once but I had not met them before today. Two of us are friends from a CFUW writing group with family history a frequent topic. Two of our party are very new to the experience, as you might one day be. As assumed, we will assist them.

The setting of the city is magnificent – the descent of our plane allows views of a broad flat plateau surrounded on all sides by mountains – the highest peaks dressed in winter white. No wonder Joseph Smith and his followers chose this valley. Our luggage comes down the chute promptly just as the hotel shuttle pulls up outside. The air here smells and feels like spring.

Check-in at the hotel is efficient and our rooms are comfortable. For a serious searcher The Plaza Hotel is the absolute best place to stay. Situated in the same block as the Family History Library, it is right across from Temple Square and only a block from two shopping centres. Jay’s Family Restaurant in the hotel is inexpensive; a senior’s discount is available but must be requested.

Our after-dinner agenda offers a presentation, “Introduction to Genealogical Collections.” The speaker is knowledgeable, his handout helpful, but he is uniformly vague, or perhaps just uninformed, about Canadian sources. Gratefully we retreat to bed.

Morning light is so bright and clear I can almost touch the snow-tipped mountains from my window. The day begins before seven with make-yourself-coffee. Strict Mormons do not drink coffee, nor do they drink alcohol, but we were able find places that serve both. The pot in my room splutters and spits out only a few drops at a time. My palate is addicted to this treasured brew; it is taking so long I will have my shower first. Then, clean, dry, and creamed again, I allow time to enjoy my favourite beverage.

We take breakfast downstairs at a table prepared for ten. Group members arrive, eat and leave, according to their personal schedules. Newcomers are always shocked to learn the library opens at eight o’clock. Singly or in pairs, we all arrive soon after. Within this famous repository of all things genealogical my personal search will begin once more. There is an orientation class and guided tour, but I won’t need to do it again.

During my first trip to Salt Lake City I had learned more about the religion that has created this tremendous facility that has benefitted family historians world-wide. I learned that in order to be accepted into the Temple believers complete a two year mission of volunteer work for the church. Those who are called to travel abroad proclaiming their beliefs to others and finding new members must have first earned sufficient funds to support themselves for those two years.

Each person hoping to be received as a Mormon is advised to have researched four generations of their family members on the family tree to share with others who may be related. This explains why the files kept at the library here, and available to smaller sites around the world, are so extensive and become more so each year. Workers here at the library and elsewhere within the Church of Latter Day Saints locations include volunteers, missionaries and paid experts which means there is always a well-informed person for us to ask.

People are often surprised to learn that church and civil registries have been assembled by the Mormons for almost every ethnicity. When these records were filmed a copy was given to both the church itself and the government of that country, many of which didn’t have these records accessible to the public country wide.

Each of these four floors of the library holds information specific to a particular part of the world: Europe, Scandinavia, Great Britain, Asia, United States and South America. The place is so extensive one can easily become disoriented and feel completely lost. Ten researchers, each with individualized search plans, probing these four floors, means we rarely encounter a familiar face all day. If we do, it is only for a hurried consultation, “How are you doing?” “Finding anything?” and then we’re away to the next reference.

Each area is equipped with whatever may be needed for our search: books, films, microfiche, maps, indexes and computer files. There are narrow alleys between floor-to-ceiling drawers of films and shelves of books, cubicles equipped with film readers having varying adjustments. Computers are all new, have large flat monitors and each computer pair shares a printer. Printer cards come from conveniently located machines that accept both coins and bills. There are also copiers of various types. Searchers are supplied with modern comfortable chairs on rolling legs that makes spending long hours in a seated position almost bearable. Scattered throughout are large library tables for quiet writing and reading. Improvements are noted each time I have visited: the search is addictive!

Freedom of Wheels

The return trip from Campbell River last weekend placed me in a contemplative mood. Have you ever considered the importance of wheeled conveyances in our lives? When I was a child I lived on a float that was tied to the rocky shore and partly surrounded by water. On the beach side the trees and undergrowth came down nearly to the high water line. Unless it was low tide even walking outside was restricted.

Then we moved the house on to land! That summer when I was nine my parents bought me a bike. Not an ordinary drab boy’s bike but one with a low slung bar to accommodate a girl’s skirt. My bike was a bright green colour and had modern balloon tires to give it a smooth ride. And that was the way I began to know the beautiful feel of wheels under me that could take me farther and faster than my quickly growing feet.

The big problem about all of this was that we now lived in a large truck-logging camp where gravel roads were rough and dusty. On weekdays loaded trucks came barreling down the hill on their way to the log dump across the creek from our house. It was dangerous for me to ride on the road leading out of camp. What I did enjoy was the smooth ride on the rough board deck of the pier that ran out to the wharf. It was a good opportunity to be away from my sister, who wasn’t allowed to take her trike there. I could be alone to watch all the boats coming and going.

The summer I was 16 years old my parents moved to Campbell River. Thankfully they agreed I should learn to drive and since they owned two vehicles it would not be any inconvenience to them. For 10 days at a time my father was working away, having taken a ride with his work partner, so his half ton stick shift truck was available for my use.

But what a disreputable looking vehicle it was! Its dull blue colour wasn’t noticeable but its bashed bumper and fenders certainly were. Dad had been fortunate to purchase the current year model at a very good price because by some reason never revealed to us the truck had been rolled into a ditch. The marks were not put there by him, or me, the student driver, but it certainly elicited second looks when I drove by.

Thus began my driving lessons with Mom as the instructor. She had only been driving for a few years herself and had taken paid lessons at the time so she knew the rules and the route I needed to learn to pass the driving test. Better yet, she was clear in her instruction of parallel parking, which we practiced on Sundays in an empty parking lot until I could do it proficiently. Thanks to her patient instruction I still can do it well.

Oh the freedom of having a driver’s licence! I had a summer job and being able to get myself there on time was a feeling to be treasured. The next summer I obtained employment at the Campbell River Lodge located on the Campbell River itself. The work was varied: serving guests at mealtime, typing and copying daily menus, occasionally shopping and picking up mail at the Post Office. For the latter chores I was allocated Mrs. Painter’s elderly Mini Minor car. Such fun it was after sitting up high in Dad’s truck, to be bombing around the familiar roads in that little stick shift vehicle!

At university in Vancouver I was without a vehicle and relegated to the tired and slow bus system if I needed to leave the campus. During those years most students had no vehicle, borrowed or otherwise, to get them to and from the university location. It was just the way it was and I eventually found my way easily on buses to the places I needed to go.

During my year of teacher training the time came to practice my teaching techniques at the assigned Vancouver high school. Once more I felt the freedom of wheels when my current ‘boyfriend’ and now husband, lent me his car. Unfamiliar as I was with the Vancouver streets I was able to find my way following the bus routes I had already learned and travelled on. Again I was on my own, that wonderful feeling of being independent of other systems and able to plan my own way.

I can still remember the different cars I’ve driven, some of them his, some my own. But the most powerful euphoria came from deciding which brand and year and colour of automobile I wanted to drive, and making the purchase myself with money from my own bank account.
may-016

I make fewer long trips these days but over the years there have been many “road trips.” I recall a significant trip, perhaps it was a first of its kind, when the destination was Kelowna for a CFUW BC Council conference. I packed up and picked up three other Nanaimo Club members, leaving three children at home with their father.

Such freedom there was to be able to get away for a long weekend with adult friends to discuss adult issues. Many of the women I knew, for various reasons, were not able to go away on their own, and they considered me fortunate. Yes, I was fortunate but always there had been that need to travel along my independent road, as long as it did no harm to others.

Some years later when the children were grown and gone I made a lengthy trip through British Columbia. The car was new and of my own choosing, and this was the beginning of a new volunteer role. Once again I felt the power of independent choice, of creating my own route map. Each stop along the way had its own significance and I remember the people and the places still.

Some of those memories came back to me last week on the road from Campbell River. Five hours, including stops, alone in my own car to contemplate the power and freedom that wheeled vehicles have provided. It has been a great ride.

I am Becoming my Mother #2

Last week I wrote about my mothers’ experiences in gardening late in her life and of my own adventures in that same activity. My point was that I now acknowledge that there was at least one way she and I were similar, when I had always noted how dissimilar the two of us were.

This week I want to tell you about something else I have recognized when I look in the mirror. My basic bodily features have always resembled my father, whose Norwegian ancestry became remarkably evident the day, at the Oslo airport, my second cousin, Halvor Forberg, took hold of my big suitcase and set out across the tarmac with me following.

My brain messaged to me, “There goes Dad,” as clearly as any spoken comparison could have been. Husky body, broad shoulders, long back, meaty hips and heavy short legs moving with the same unmistakable gait! I have struggled with how to camouflage those legs my entire life.

But back to Mom, whose skin tanned easily, as mine does, who loved the sun too, but with added years I’m discovering those same facial wrinkles she had are appearing almost overnight. Something else I’ve discovered: long hairs on my chin telegraph to the world I am her daughter and that I have reached a certain age. I began by tweezing them, with little success.

When Mom’s chin whiskers – she called them that – appeared, she quietly made an appointment with an esthetician in downtown Nanaimo for electrolysis, and then enjoyed a bonus of visiting with our children on the way out of town before she returned to Campbell River two, hours away. Over several years of regular appointments most of the offending hairs were no longer evident. Guess what? I am following her lead on this.

There is one technique she used, as do many of my friends, I will not be copying. Pencilling an eyebrow line to replace faded, sparse vestiges of the hair that frames a person’s eyes is popular among older women. But I have noticed many women of similar age and older who highlight their brows with a thick brow pencil, have made a very bad job of it because of a shaky hand or bad light or failing eyesight. One day I came to the realization that unless I drew eyebrows every day one of my better features, blue eyes, would retreat to oblivion. At least Mom, the painter, had a steady hand, so could do it well. Until the stroke that is.

Hazel Forberg

I decided there was another way and sought a specialist who in two 90 minute sessions, two weeks apart, has given me a permanently coloured brow line that looks normal and requires no further daily fussing. I only need to keep my skin clean, apply day cream regularly and present a uniform face to the world with, or without, further makeup! It is so easy, and with no fuss.

I am Becoming my Mother #1

I walked in my garden tonight and what I saw and heard and smelled there pleased me. The rhododendrons are in various stages of bloom, each their own spectacular shade, the azaleas quietly spreading lower and wide but with more arresting aromas. Seabirds waken us every morning but these songbirds of the evening are busily making nests in the cedar hedge and chattering about the babies they expect to feed soon.

We have worked hard to create and maintain this property to mature status.The result I observed tonight makes all the stiff muscles and sore hands worthwhile. My walk in the garden reminds me of my mother who did the same thing every evening after her chores were done and before she settled down with a crossword puzzle or a game of scrabble with a friend.

I have never thought I had much in common with my mother. Now I have found just a whispering suspicion that it may not have been entirely true. I knew her as a consummate sportswoman: rowing, fishing, hiking, curling, softball and hunting. Only later came the gardening.

That was never me. From my earliest years I wanted to spend time indoors with crafts, games, puzzles and books. Even when we were going someplace on our boat – the only means we had of travel – I would position myself to enjoy a book.  On one occasion while Mom rowed I tried to read while holding a fishing line in one hand. The question she asked was “What will you do when the fish bites?”

Mom sought opportunities to be outdoors, occupied in some physical activity whenever possible. The places we lived until I was nine years old severely limited Mom’s outdoor activities. After we moved, and when she was old enough, my younger sister was similarly inclined and keen to accompany Mom doing many activities like picking berries for jam or collecting salal to sell for cash.

I was well aware that my father had hoped to have a son. So it was that when my sister displayed her love of so many outdoor and sporting activities he nicknamed her, “Judy Boy.” By then I had become a “bookworm,” in their minds. It did hurt just a bit but in the words of my own daughter, “It is what it is.” 

Hazel Fearing with background of Jackson Bay family farm in 1936

Hazel Fearing with background of Jackson Bay family farm in 1936

I realize now that Mom was essentially a “farm girl” who happened to fall in love with and marry a hand logger. For the first 10 years of Mom’s married life their home sat on a float entirely surrounded by water. Then when the floathouse was towed to Rock Bay and the house pulled up on reclaimed land there was still no soil for gardening. For five years they lived in the original house but it was set on what was essentially a gravel surface, and surrounded by stirred up dust of moving trucks and other vehicles. Neither location gave Mom any opportunity to grow anything: flowers or vegetables or fruit, as her own mother had done when the family lived in Alberta, Vancouver or Jackson Bay.

From the time they moved from Rock Bay into the house on Hilchey Road Mom made tilling the ground around the new place her passion. Dad was away working a lot, Judy in high school and I was at university, so Mom had plenty of free time. She improved the soil and created a fenced English Country Garden haven for butterflies, bees, and birds. That is, until Dad insisted they move to another lot where he could once again see the ocean.

She made the move, as expected, but we knew it was unwillingly. At the new property she refused to have anything to do with the garden, which left Dad to fertilize and water the few plants already established there. His gardening focus was growing boysenberries and that involved watering each night.

About the same time Mom’s rheumatoid arthritis kicked in. It is a dreadful disease and I and I am thankful to have only ‘regular’ arthritis that Advil can keep at bay. Long after she was gone I am realizing we do have some things in common. Mom was always artistic with her garden plantings and creative craft creations. It was only when Dad insisted they move and she started receiving her own Canada Pension to use to buy oil paints and brushes with that she took up painting. Whenever Mom and Dad were on their forays into the wilds in their camper Mom took photographs of beautiful natural landscapes of forests, lakes, mountains and glaciers. So now she used her own photographs to create oil paintings that we all treasure.

An evening walk in my mature garden on the edge of the ocean I have always loved has unexpectedly become a memorial to my mother. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be made to leave this place, for any reason.

Sometimes a simple thought hits so strong it must be written.

The Walking Wood Game

One, two, three steps, jump, another jump, ten steps along the cedar log, jump over the rock to a big cedar chunk, along a fir peeler, now what? Myrtle Forberg was stymied; there were no more pieces of driftwood within jumping distance large enough to bear her weight without rolling on to the beach. Maybe try the smaller pieces along the high water line. They were all tangled up with kelp and seaweed driven in by a late winter storm. It seemed like cheating but what else could she do? Three steps in the loose stuff and she was again walking on solid wood, this time a big log that would make a good boomstick. She would have to tell her father about it.

Driftwood along a beach in Sidney

Walking this morning along the beach in Sidney reminded me of my childhood walks on the logs

Myrtle’s favourite outdoor game had many of the same characteristics as playing solitaire, a favourite household game. Most importantly the player needed to be honest. After that you needed to be persistent, ready to try again the next day. Like shuffling cards the tidal action reorganised the driftwood on the beach twice daily so each day offered a new game. During the larger fifteen-foot tides during these winter months it could be a completely new game every day. When strong wind tossed and drove the driftwood around, new pieces from some other beach always turned up.

The trick of this game was to see how far along the beach you could go by walking only on wood before you had to resort to stepping on rocks or gravel. Next, some smaller pieces challenged her until she was eventually balancing sure-footedly along a big spruce that had not yet been de-limbed. It must have come down limbs, roots, and all when her uncle had felled one of the larger, more desirable trees right into the water.

Myrtle could hear the roaring of the donkey as her dad and his father and brother hauled a big one to the saltchuk. The A-frame shuddered and strained as the heavy cable lines winding on the donkey drum pulled the log to the ocean. She had come to a place where salal and other undergrowth came right down to the big log she was standing on. The brush blocked her way; it was time to go back to the floathouse anyway and see if mom  had finished the wash.

 

Launching My New Book

I began this crazy business of writing after complaining about a book I had used in high school. Called Foods and Home Management the little red book was first compiled in 1932, and I was teaching from it! That complaint to Ministry of Education’s Bruce Naylor brought me to writing two popular foods and nutrition texts whose story will be a part of my next book.

Beyond the Floathouse, Gunhild’s Granddaughter, begins a boat trip back in time to 1938, when a baby girl was born in Vancouver General Hospital. Her mother, Hazel Forberg, had travelled from Port Neville aboard the SS Chelosin at least a month before she was due to give birth, particularly since this was her first child. Our arrival home to the Port Neville dock occurred a month after my birth as the first Forberg granddaughter. We need to remind ourselves that in that remote location of the Forbergs floating hand-logging camp, there was no medical help available: no hospital, doctors, nurses or even a doula.

Cover of ‘Beyond the Floathouse, Gunhild's Granddaughter’This little book is the second of a trilogy that began with from Fjord to Floathouse, one family’s journey from the farmlands of Norway to the coast of British Columbia. Those of you who have read it will recognize the girl Rae. In this new book Rae is Myrtle Rae Forberg, now writing in first person. Many of the same locations, including Port Neville and Rock Bay, are important in this book too, of course.

Port Neville was the farthest northward stop for the Union Steamship before it turned south. Those boats were our only connection to the outside world. Their schedule brought the ship north every two weeks.

Mail and all supplies arrived then; including any groceries that couldn’t be picked, fished or shot. Most food came in sacks and cases and except for root vegetables, all vegetables and most fruit came canned, with no such possibility of fresh green vegetables.

The first chapter of Beyond the Floathouse, Gunhild’s Granddaughter describes my welcome at Port Neville and tells about the much earlier arrivals of both sets of my immigrant grandparents. The next four chapters describe other aspects of my early life and the lives of those other residents of that remote area: school lessons from the BC Elementary Correspondence School, taught by mothers, Christmas preparations and any other important celebrations on our floathouses, sometimes with my grandparents and occasionally our extended family.

Then at Chapter 6 came a huge and important life change: We moved our house – from the float where it had always been, on to a spot of land farther south along Johnston Strait to Rock Bay. Even more importantly, there was a road out, a rutted gravel logging road, but it went to somewhere! For the first time I was able to experience very small forms of independence, incremental, but nevertheless, – – I could walk all the way around our house, climb up on the rock after which Rock Bay was named, and at nine years of age I even learned to ride a bike!

Readers will find that at the end of most of the chapters I have inserted a more recent thought I call Reflection. A good example is on page 78 where I explain the call that water has had on me. This move to Rock Bay also meant that for the next 4 years I got to attend a real school – we had one teacher who taught 8 grades sometimes having up to 28 pupils. We all learned cooperation and sensitivity there and a good understanding of at least one other culture.

In this case 2/3 of the students were of Chinese heritage – children of the Jay brothers who came originally from Victoria. Their fathers – as Jay Brothers Logging – worked in the next bay and the camp crummy brought the children to and from school every day.

The next shocking change comes at the end of Chapter 8, when I was ready to begin Grade 9. My parents made the decision, I learned much later it was an agonizing one, to send me out to Campbell River for high school. They were not yet prepared to move as a family, or to send me away to private school, so they arranged for me to board with different families for each year of high school. However, with that move, I was being trusted with the responsibility of making my own choices and I was only 13 years old! Beginning about Page 97 I’ve tried to describe the loneliness of that transition.

Then during Grade 12, I suffered a huge surprise. Imagine this, I’m called on the school’s PA system to the principal’s office! There sat Mr. Fogg and Mr. Monk together with the principal, Mr. Phillipson, who asks if I ever considered going to university.  No, Not really,” I replied. The fact was I had never knowingly met anyone who had been to university.

Shaken by this unexpected meeting I asked myself, Why? What more do they want to know? I remembered having an argument with my father who would never allow me to fill in the part of the school counsellor’s form where it asked for the parent’s annual income. His secretive nature about the privacy of money issues was part of the reason why I never knew if, or how much, he paid for my board so I could attend high school.

“We have already completed some parts of this form,” Mr. Phillipson said. “Here they are, you just have to fill in the personal details and write a short essay about why you would like to have this scholarship to be a teacher,” he told me.

To be a teacher was it? I thought. Well that would be okay. Better than working in Pat’s Style Shop where I would be this summer. “Maybe you can write the essay on this weekend and bring it in to me on Monday morning,” he continued. “Then I can get it mailed off for you next week.”

And so I did, and the envelope went on its way —-