Sunday, August 14, 2016

The Grandchildren


One of my favorite memories was one of the times when I was going to University.  Every Christmas I would come up to Grammy and Grampys and I would put up their Christmas tree. 

Both Grammy and Grampy made a big event over it.  It would be an all day affair.  They would sit in each of their perspective chairs, and Grammy would make pop corn.

*This audio includes Michael and Tracey*

Their artificial tree was one of the first that they ever had.  I would put all the branches in.  Every ornament I took out of the box they would tell me a story about each one. 

The funniest would be putting the Christmas lights on the tree. Because most of them would be melting onto the plastic.  I would say that pretty much half the lights were melted. 

But we would always have a good chuckle.  It was probably one of the most special times.  I would spend the night.  Grammy would tell me some pretty good war time stories.  

It was a very special time for me.

It reminds me of how important traditions are.  I am trying to create that now that I have 2 little girls of my own.  I am trying to create traditions that we have each year.  So for us it is putting up the Christmas tree together.  

That is what we do even the first year when my child was just a baby.  We would sit around and put the ornaments up.  Most of it would be for me.  But it is a special time.


I am the eldest grandchild of Herbert and Mary Marshall.

I remember when Grammy used to give me back rubs.  She would use rubbing alcohol and tell me stories about the war. 

I remember her telling me that she went out partying one time while she was in France.  I guess it was near the front and she was out drinking with some of the other nurses.  They were being driven back by some of the soldiers there and because it was wartime, they weren’t allowed to drive with full headlights. 

They couldn’t see the road so well and so they went off the road and that is how she got a head injury.  I remember her telling me that story.

The back rubs she used to give to her patients in the hospital during the war.  I used to like them and my mom used to give them to me.

I used to always sleep in the room upstairs in the house in Toronto.  It was always in the room on the right.  It had a big tall bed and it wasn’t very comfortable.  And the room even had one of those pots that people used to pee in.  

I think my grandparents and your parents had a real sense of honor, and commitment to family and values.  These are the kinds of things that guide you, and give you direction in your own life and give you a moral grounding. 

I think that is very important for my mother.  Because that is obviously where she got her values.  And that is where I got mine.

The tradition I carry on I like to call the intensity of grounding that my grandparents had.

Coming here was something we had to do.  We had to come.  Family is important.  It is important to honor them.

We always did something with them every year.   There was some trip that was always the Bryants.  Either going on the house boat on Lake of the Woods, or going to Mexico

One of the last bits of advice that Grampy gave me in 2008 after the global recession.  He told me not to quit my job.

Unfortunately my grandparents couldn’t come up North for my wedding.  Which was in 2010.  Instead they watched it on skype.

*Click Below to See Rest of Report*

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Precious Surprise

Bill Anderson is not unfamiliar with surprises.  Nobody of course is immune or can ever be entirely removed from encounters with the unexpected.  But at 93 years of age he has had some experiences over his many years that are just plain remarkable and a few more that were simply precious.

Recently he was generous about sharing with me some of the great and challenging moments that have popped up in his life.  Bill immediately impressed me, as he probably does a whole lot of others, that he is a true gentleman.  But there is something even more appealing about him.   I can’t help feel that he is at heart a good person, and we had only just met. 

I suspect dapper would be another appropriate adjective that fits Bill well.  We sat in a quiet corner of the Park house.  He is tall and slim and on that day he was dressed in his full Canadian legion regalia.  A blue beret perched perfectly on his thick white hair.  His mustache trimmed so neatly and a well polished cane resting against the table, which he leans on only lightly when he walks.

What stood out most about Bill though were not his words but his eyes.  They danced with the kind of brightness earned only by those who have lived their lives to the fullest and not been beaten down by adversity.

As he elegantly strolls along erect and regal onwards towards his 94th year, his life has seen a lot of unexpected events.  The many assorted kind of things, which both did buffet and lift up his life as well.  Unanticipated moments that are probably on average, an equal blend of both the awful and the wonderful.

His life’s journey has taken him a long way from those now distant days as a young man growing up in Saint John New Brunswick.  He and his wife Betty are now retired and live in a snug little home that sits on the bluff overlooking Lake Huron in Goderich Ontario. 

Ending up there, when he started out life on the other side of the country is a curious, but not an incomprehensible journey.  One whose distance seems like a fairly routine thing today, but compared to the way of life from 90 years ago it would have been considered a radical change.  Back when 1700 km westward along the Trans Canada was a long long way.

You don’t have to talk long with Bill though to be impressed. He has a lot of interesting stories and he tells them well.  He is steadfastly polite and courteous.  His memory and judgment not too tarnished by 93 years of living.  You can tell that he is just the kind of person who did not have to struggle too much in order to find success, both in his professional career, and as a husband and father bringing up his 2 daughters in a loving Toronto home. 

When I ask him what kind of job he had he humbly jokes that he never really had to work.  He mentions something about working with wines and we leave it at that.  At the same time his smiling eyes suggesting that he feels as though his life has been blessed, in all the incomprehensible ways that life has a way of bestowing upon us its true richness.

But tragedy has a way of reaching out as well and tangling up the trajectory of even the kindest and gentlest souls.  Bill and his wife had thought they had settled down to a quiet retirement in Toronto when one of their daughters took sick and the 2 of them had to pick up everything and move to Goderich.  This little town tucked onto eastward edge of lake Huron. 

But surprises, the precious ones at least, come like a breath of fresh air.  Promises that recharge our hopes and ably remind us that life is not always about struggle and futility.  That often, just when we need it most, something wonderful comes along to demonstrate to us that life is sacred after all.

As Bill is talking to me he is wearing his full Canadian legion regalia.  A smart dark blue blazer, and on his chest he wears a serious and glittering cluster of war service medals. 

None more prominent, and or more recent for that matter, than a Legion of Honor medal. It is one of the greatest service honors and Bill received it a little more than a year ago from a representative of the French Government.   It was given in recognition of his distinguished service in the liberation of France in 1944.  The ceremony at the legion was well attended.  The Legion of Honour is a big deal and the French wanted to seriously honor those who had risked so much to liberate them 70 years earlier.  

To Bill it was the nicest kind of surprise and he really had no idea it was coming until just a few months before it happened.  Typically when asked about the medal he is modest and said, “the honor is not for me, but for those who did not come back.”  

Which of course when he does look back and remembers all those he witnessed perish in battle, is something that still manages to cause an ache in his heart.  His sincere wish during those turbulent days of war he says was that, “that every person I served with go home healthy.”  A pledge, no man would not wish for, but also one not even the highest prayers could keep safe.

Bill doesn’t talk a lot about the war with me at least.  He and his regiment landed at Normandy just 6 days after the first big wave of the invasion, which took place on June 6th.  His group saw combat quickly and also almost immediately his commander was killed in action.  At just 22 years of age Bill had to take over the command of his anti tank unit.  Eventually they would fight all the way into Germany, right up until the final days of conflict.

But I had not sat down with Bill to talk about his darkest days but instead to ask him to recall a special memory that involved my Mom, who had also been shipped over to France at about the same time.  She was a nursing sister and she was attached to a mobile hospital that was to have been set up after most of the heavy action had ceased on the Beaches of Normandy.

In a coincidence that just about defies any practical probability it turns out that both Bill and my Mom had sailed to England in early November of 1943 on the same ship, the SS Bayano.  A small-retired banana boat, which had been earlier, scheduled for retirement but instead, with the start of World War 2 had been called back into service.

Now the odd thing about this is that though both my Dad and Mom had taken part in legion activates in Goderich for a number of years, this startling coincidence had never come up.  It was only because of a simple fluke that it had even been brought to light at all. 

Bill had gone to my Moms residence to pick up a friend who was late and he noticed a number of veterans all with their medals on waiting for rides.  Bill said to my Mom, “Those are nice medals that you are wearing.” Her response simply was that she had served in the war as a nursing sister.  He then told my Mom that he had sailed on a ship with 10 nursing sisters.  

Once the facts were out it was only then that they both realized, to their mutual surprise that they had sailed to England together.  Though to be honest neither remembered the other.  Bill fondly adds that everyone treated the small group of nursing sisters like Queens.  “The men couldn’t do enough.”

“It took 19 days.  It was beautiful balmy weather.  It was a British ship, which normally had 70 passengers, but it had 75 this time.  It was all officers.  I was a lieutenant in the artillery”

Now if this were not already remarkable enough the surprises only continue.  On the way home from the Remembrance Day service they had a further conversation about where each other wass from. 

Mom: “Where are you from?”

Bill: “I said Saint John.”

There was a funny silence

Mom: “I graduated from Saint John High school.”

Bill: “I said so did I.”

Mom: “Where did you live?”

Bill: “I said King street east.”

Mom: “What number?”

Bill: “I said 203 and I was getting a little impatient.  I wondered why she would ask this.”

Mom: “My cousin lived 2 doors up the street from you.”

Bill tells me the revelation was spirit lifting.  “I was so overjoyed.”

Now there is just one small event that adds one last amazing layer to this great adventure.  Bill tells me that 35 years after the end of the war he went, quite by accident into an antique store off of Bloor St. in Toronto.  There to his amazement he found a silver cigarette box with the name SS Bayano engraved on it.  

“I asked him how much and they said $35.”

“I said that is too much, and they said, but it is Sterling silver.”

He told them that the price was too much and then they volunteered to rub the name off if he wished.   He suggested to the shopkeeper to simply leave the box as it was and left.  Never letting on just how significant a find the little object was to him. 

“Between the Friday when I saw it and the Tuesday when I bought it I talked to or had been with 3 of the people who had been with me on that ship.” To no ones surprise Bill bought the box and eventually was able to lend it to my Mom briefly before she passed away this past February. 

Earlier in the day we had my Mom’s internment service.  In another kind of remarkable coincidence it took place on June 11th.  Just about 72 years to the day that Bill came ashore on the beaches of Normandy.  

Also there was a group of 24 veterans were there to pay tribute as my Mom’s ashes were placed into the wall niche next to my Dad’s.  It was a moving ceremony, not just for her 4 children and 9 grand children but also for all the old service men and women who marched down the gravel drive and stood at attention.  The warm Spring sun blessing us all with its brilliance and doing its best to discourage all our tears. 

At the end of the service each old veteran took off their poppy that they were wearing and placed it inside the niche beside my Father’s and my Mother’s urn. 

As Bill and I are talking, just a few hours have passed since the ceremony.  He has spent an hour or so with his legion comrades at the Park House and is getting anxious about getting home to his Betty. Bill has graciously and patiently answered all my questions that I have asked about his life and how it so interestingly intersected in such a brief and profound way with my Mother.  

By this point we are both getting emotional.  Tears have come to our eyes and his hand trembles as it rests on the table so I hold it in my own.  Bill shares one last thing before he goes. “Today I have thought a whole lot about that box and your mom.  I love knowing your Mother.  She was just great.  We go a long way back.”

Click Below to Listen:

Thursday, February 4, 2016

We Will Take Action

This afternoon a couple of friends and I took the short taxi ride into the town of Port Dickson to do some light shopping and to have a coffee at the local Starbucks.....It is a small simple town and a big American coffee shop really stands out.  At the time we went in for coffee and snacks it wasn't very busy.

After spending several lazy hours discussing everything that was significantly unimportant, we left and then went to a local super market where one of my friends bought some bananas.

I was interested in the signs on some of the carts outside in the market.

In my eyes there was nothing to see, nor was I interested in holding any of the items.  Now I am not even sure if I even noticed what was on the cart.

The next sign had this very serious message. It started me thinking a little bit more about security and safety in what appears to be a very safe country.  

We took a taxi back to the hotel. As always, when you enter the grounds you are greeted by hotel security.  They, like all the staff, greet you by taking their right hands and touching their own hearts. Always a smile and a hello.

I hadn't real thought much about the vigilant guards up until then. Though you can't help but notice them as they wander about the grounds night and day in their rather smart uniforms.  
They are all Gurkha's which means they come from Nepal.  The Gurkha's are famous for being professional soldiers, starting with the early colonial days when they worked for the British army.  They were famous for their bravery and discipline.

 Out on the end of the pier I decided to talk to one of them who looked more than a little bored and lonely.  This man's name is Shyam.  He spells it very carefully because at first I cannot understand his thick accent.

At first we talk about the fish trap hanging off the end of the pier.  It is a simple wire basket, which by my best guess is used to catch crabs.  But there is no bait in it, and it is not clear who watches over it.

Shyam tells me that he has been working here at the hotel now for only 3 weeks.  This is just the beginning of a long stay.  He will not go home for 3 years, that is unless he pays his own way which is very very expensive. Whatever he earns it is not very much.  When I asked, he averted his eyes embarrassed. 

He tells me he works 12 hours a day from 7a.m. to 7 p.m.. This is 7 days a week.  He has short breaks for meals and using the bathroom.  Every month his schedule shifts from the day to night and so on.  By his side he carries a stick which he tells me he has never used.  He also wears a walkie talkie to call if he needs help. 

The only problems Shyam has had in the few weeks that he has worked is small boats coming too close to the hotel to fish.  He has to yell at them to go away.  Other than that he just keeps watch. 

Shyam tells me that when he came the security agency he works for spent 4 hours training him.  Though I might have it wrong.  Perhaps it is 4 days.   He lives in a compound close by.  Overall he seemed happy to talk to me as he doesn't have much real interaction with anyone all day during his shift.

Being from Nepal I asked him about the earthquake that happened there a few years ago.  He said his village is 3 hours from Katmandu and nearly everything in his village came tumbling down.  25 people from his small community were killed.  His wife and son survived.

When he talks about home his face grows dark.  I have made him sad.

 He says until the time of the earthquake he had been a school teacher of young children in his village.  

His life in the last few years has changed dramatically.  How it came to pass that he changed from being a school teacher in a small village to being a security guard in Port Dickson Malaysia cannot be learned in a short conversation on a clean bright pier. 

Each questions that I asked seemed to bring more sadness to his eyes.  I realized that I was being a little too curious about the life of a lonely man far from home.  

He calls his wife when he can which isn't often.  He must be luckier than most of those in his village who are still trying to rebuild even now after 3 years. 
 I could not help but feel how lucky I am.  I sleep in a fancy hotel room while Shyam and a lot of other lonely Nepalese men watches out for me and a hotel full of guests. 

Every day standing guard at the end of the pier, and all along the paths that lead to this hotel. Soon I will return home but they will not.

Out And Up

I kicked myself in the pants today and decided to go on a local photo safari.  Keeping in mind there is always something to see if you look hard enough
 This little food stand is just up the block and I stopped to take a picture because I was puzzled by the sign

Down the block is and almost abandoned building which I see every morning while running.

 In the darkness it is striking because there is hardly any light in any of the the windows. It is a big building and appears to been a nice place to live not too long ago.   Now it looks to be nearly abandoned.  
 I poke around a bit.   I wade through the tall grass and peak through some of the open windows.  A car pulls up to pick up some people then drives away... Not completely empty.  

 Clearly a busy place at one time, but maybe this was all long ago.

Now it just shows that it is falling apart.  Dark stains of mold cover it.  On the roof a tree is growing large and there are no cars or motorbikes parked in the yard, which looks more like a wild flower garden.
 Nearby is the beach which also may have seen better days and actual people who swam and spread themselves out on the sand.

You have to follow all the rules, though I am not sure anyone does that any more. 

 I come back to my hotel and go up to the 9th floor and look down at where I live.  At least for 13 days. 

A much different kind of world than what exists just steps away down the muddy path.

Day 3

It has been a kind of lazy day.  Though the morning started with a burst of athletics ( running, swimming) it felt like not much was happening.

Though come to think of it I snuck into the neighboring hotel and jumped in their pool to swim.  It is better and no one was around.   Of course I recognized a friend having breakfast there in the restaurant by the pool and helped myself too.......(best not incriminate)

In the afternoon I pulled myself up and decided to practice my golf swing on the beach near by.  The tide was low and as I was using wiffle balls they wouldn't go far

 The tide was coming in so the crabs were climbing into their holes and pulling the wet lumps up over the top. 

Not sure why they do that other than to be protected from the inrushing tide.

It is Sunday afternoon and there are lots of families about.  Kids and adults enjoying the busy activity about their feet.

 The derelict boat no longer moves at all.  But the wind makes a creaking sound to the loose bits of the cabin.

Some things that no longer move.

 Some boys, well perhaps somewhat elderly boys are playing ultimate frisbee on the beach.  They have marked a great rectangle in the flat wet sand.  It is hot and they get sweaty and tired quickly. 

One person has brought a water bottle that acts as the outer marker of their playing field.  Either tiredness or the tide will soon spoil their game.
 I go back to my room.  I have swung my club, and taken pictures.   A pretty good afternoon.  Tonight I will post them here and try and make a story about it all.

I take a selfie......something I don't usually do.  I am having a pretty good time.


The Way

 Late Afternoon Day 1 Port Dickson Malaysia

It is the time of day here now when the light quickly drains itself out of the sky.  My own energy evaporated some time ago, but I am continuing to press on nonetheless. 

I have swum, I have walked, I have purchased a mini bar full of drinks, and while I was out of the hotel, which I checked in about 7 hours ago, some invisible person came by and left 3 microscopic cookies and closed the drapes. 

I am seriously tempted to say that this is the horrible scene that I left behind me, but that would be untrue.  By Wednesday night when I left, the mighty snow mass had reduced dramatically (more than 2 feet Sunday morning).  

All roads were clear by then.  Revealing the uneven jigsaw of asphalt that makes up our roads all the rest of the year. 

Close to the end of a very fine Wednesday I left JFK and headed east into the night flying on Qatar airlines.  It would be Friday morning when I would at last reach my destination.

The arc of my path traced the Atlantic coast northwards.  Dipped in across New Brunswick and than clipped the top of Newfoundland as we made the long trek eastwards.  Ultimately to arrive half a world away.
Sleep came to me soon after we took off, though I seem to remember a blurry view of Scotland on the seat monitor in front of me.  My senses gathered once more as we descended into Doha.  Landing as the sky darkened now for the second time.
I watched no movies at any time along the way.  Instead I listened to my ipod through my large noise cancelling headphones.  Only from time to time did I pay attention to the seat back monitor glowing at me vibrantly bright and relentlessly tracking our path.

All it showed were the slowly shifting cartoon shapes of all the middle east countries that we crossed. Just images of the real worlds that were actually passing by 6 miles beneath our wings.

Places that now, according endless cycle of reports spewing out of news programs seem so filled with political trauma, human suffering, and petroleum woes.  Pick the order.  Which compared to my own almost frivolous journey made no sense.  All this seems so strangely ironic as I sip bottled water in the warm comfortable cocoon of my Boeing 777.

 After 11 hours my Qatar flight took me here to Doha.  A place of sheikhs and migrant workers and everyone else in the rainbow realm living and breathing in between.  

Built with what was once an endless supply of petro dollars, the airport is an architectural marvel.  One to easily match all the other glimmering airport oasis's throughout the Persian gulf.

 At the very center of the airport is this gigantic teddy bear lamp.  Were the bear just by itself it would be peculiarly amusing.   Its incongruous combination with a lamp makes it strangely utilitarian.  If I weren't so tired I might just laugh or be amused.  Instead I am just puzzled.  I wander around looking for a bathroom.

For now the steady throng of travelers mostly ignore the teddy bear lamp.  For all of scurrying around and through its innards, Doha is simply a hub for most, and not a destination.  There is still lots of dashing across Asian skies yet to come.

Now I board the 2nd and last plane.  It is smaller and feels instantly more crowded, if that is even possible.  I gulp and find my aisle seat next to a large Scandinavian couple.

The husband sits in the middle and tries his best to fold his thick arms across his chest.  A feat he can do whilst awake but not so when he drifts into sleep. A task that this time I find elusive.

I am drawing closer to the goal.....Just a little more than 7 hours more.  But this will prove to be the hardest and noisiest and most mindbogglingly crowded leg.  

I feel as though I am being jostled physically and mentally the entire time.  In anticipation of this I have taken a little blue pill that was supposed to chase away this clinging restlessness.  I remain painfully conscious, too aware of the ceaseless shifting activity and noise about me.  I wonder if I shouldn't have brought another. It will be a long night.
Throughout the night a chorus of toddlers give voice to their own anxiousness and discomfort.  There may be as many as 9 under the age of 6.  Mothers proudly parade the youngest in front of them.  They hold up their extended arms and watch delighted at the wobbly steps their children make up and down the aisles.  Women with aisle seats gawk and coo as they approach. 

The cabin lights dim above us all but the peace does not follow.  Tranquility has vanished even as the pink light fades.
A 2 year old wired on sugar

It is now my second night on a plane.  The logistics of international travel does that mysterious math for us when you travel to the otherside of the world.

More than 20 hours of air time and you will see.... and most likely hear it all if you are trapped behind, on the dark unfortunate side of the magic curtain.  The modest fabric that is a strangely impenetrable barrier between all of us poor schlubs back  in coach and the smiling sleeping Gods blissfully at rest on the other side.

A recent email sent to me by the airline has told me. that for just $1000 more I too could be one of them.  A price that now seems worth it, but when I was firmly planted on the earth made no sense at all.

By 9 a.m. the wheels come down for the last time.  I collect my bags my thoughts and debate if I want to go to the bother of taking off the long sweater underneath my hawaiian shirt.  Knowing it is a good idea because it has to be hot outside but simply too frazzled and lazy to do it.

Of course it is blazing hot and use some of my meager french....C'est la vie.

$25 gets me to Port Dickson and the good news is my room is ready I can get breakfast and I can resume the battle to stay awake in comfort.

A short walk turns into a long one.   There are very few store close by.  My sandals, now unaccustomed to my winter feet start to bite and chafe.  I am thinking the immediate necessity of finding and applying band-aids.

Heading out to the main road I spot a 7/11 that is open and has stacks of interesting exotic and familiar drinks.  But before I do this I want to excise the torture that continues to cling like a damp sweaty shirt.   Which is exactly what I am wearing.

Next door is a small massage parlor that is empty.  I have been in places just like this all across Asia.  It is just what is says it is.   5 worn couches and a heavyset lady on her cell phone.

"You want massage Mr?"   ......add Malaysian accent. 

I don't usually get the full treatment so this time is no different.  I say reflexology and point to my feet.   She asks, "One Hour?"......."Yes please."

Keep in mind the charge is 50 ringit which is approximately $12

She goes to a door and calls upstairs and a slightly younger heavy set girl comes smiling into the room.  Grabs a bottle of oil and some towels and proceeds to give me as much relaxation as I want..... and apparently as much pain as I need. 

Her fingers are of course calloused and hard but it is the fingernail of her right thumb that she digs into the fleshy top of my foot, and drags down towards my heel, that makes me twitch and squirm.  More than just a little.

Of course I am trying to man up.  My eyes are closed and I mostly drift into some vaguely familiar realm of contentment.  Feeling that this prodding and digging must be working towards my physical if not mental benefit.  I can tell she knows what she is doing when she hits a spot that needs that thumb nail. She pauses as I squirm and digs just a little harder.

At first I was thinking I would come regularly during my stay.  But when it was all done I knew it was great but....... maybe I would wait a few days more before I returned.  As the days have stretched out since than it just may turn out to be never.  But the rejuvenation is now really and truly fully in place.

I buy my beverages, snacks, and bandages for the chafing the sandals have made in my heels....not the thumbnail.  I march back to the hotel to enjoy the sun setting in Port Dickson for the first time for me.

Of course it is always picturesque to see a sun dipping into the sea any sea.  I will take a shower, look at my photos, and write this letter, and than wonder. Wonder why the sign above says Atlantic.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Days Before The Snow

A great gusty wind has been pushing hard eastward across the lake all day.  The waves rolling up onto the pebbled beach come in, capped with heads of wild spray.   Just the kind that surfers ask for in their prayers, though none are here today.

The waves are rich and fat and come in clean ordered rows.  A kind of scene that you would normally expect to see when a storm roars up hard past the Atlantic shores.

This is not what usually splashes up on to the thin beach in Goderich, on the eastern shore of Lake Huron. This is also not how it looks on most late December days here in Canada.

 Christmas is just a day away and the thick crusts of ice that usually loll on the hard cold edge of the shoreline have not yet arrived.  

The grass is still a rich and hopeful green.  The people in town have yet to dig out their thick heavy coats from the back of closets.  A light sweater is all that you need today to brake the chill of winter from reaching to your bones, which became official, just a couple of days ago.

The Beach St station restaurant is open for the last day of the season.  The real Goderich winter will rush in soon enough.  The place so vibrant and inviting throughout the summer will be closed for winter.  The steep pitched roof, and the parking lot beside it will be layered with thick crusts of snow and ice.  Its big windows rimed with frost.

Since the Springtime hungry people have come here for its food, and for its surprising endless view out across the lake.  All from an old red brick temple of commerce and travel, brimming with a long history that had a great new chapter written when my brother moved it here.  

Now it is no longer a loved but neglected relect of a bygone era.  It brims with life and hope at least until the afternoon, when the doors will be closed and locked till Spring.

This winter, when it is still and dark and cold along the quiet edge of the lake. No one will come there except my brother Herb.  He who had the absurd inspiration to move it from its old foundations tucked up beside the hill.  There where it had not heard or seen the puff and rumble of busy trains for more than 50 years.

My sister Carol-Anne and my mother have just finished their lunch on this last day that it is open.  

It is a bright, warm, and happy place.  I do not know what they are saying.  It is a private moment and probably they are talking about not too much at all.

Just words dancing lightly in the sunlight. Little said but meaning more than enough.

Later my brother and I will take away my Mother's cheer by bringing her out to the edge of town.

It just may be the last time she comes this year to the grave yard where my Dad's ashes rest on the top shelf of this red marbled wall.

Despite the sadness she still likes coming here.  With her hand extended out towards the wall, she says before we go, "I will see you soon." 

Words to my late father now passed nearly 5 years ago.  Her speaking not to an urn filled with ash behind a wall, but to the place where departed spirits listen and gratefully receive the heartfelt cries from the earth below.

Not long ago I found a picture taken at a family Christmas nearly 60 years ago.  Taken by my camera at my Grand Mother's home in Glassville NB.  

I wonder now why no one is smiling for the picture.  What words, what event, stripped away the joy in every face, just then.  I do not know.

Just what could have happened in the moments before the camera flashed and captured this fragment of time on a cold winter night, so long ago.  So in contrast to my own happy memories of those loving days back in my Grand Mother's home.

Now the picture remains an unanswered and unsolvable puzzle.  Never to be known what caused this chorus of somber faces.  Clearly defying my memory which unhesitatingly describes a much different scene.

A tiny young version of myself is  there on the left, looking out through time from a faded black and white photograph.  I, like my family, have been caught by the bright impermanence of the flash of my little camera. 

But Christmas is not at all about the shadows that can suddenly fall upon faces captured long ago. It is about the love shared here and now.  The true smiles are not those that come from brand new things.  But what our hearts offer up to one another.

At my brother's house on Christmas morning the two newest members of this family get together and forge a loving bond.  Indya is exploring her first Christmas in this world.  One she has so recently joined last January, less than a year ago. 

Moose the dog, has seen more then a few hectic happy Christmas mornings at my brother's home, but never seen a baby there before.

On Christmas morning the full Marshall family, a rare occasion, gathers all together.  In years to come no one will look back at this picture and wonder why there are no smiles. 

 In just a few days more the snow at last blows in from across the cold lake.  The long dark days of winter have at last arrived.  They can be denied no longer. 

If you can think
Golden thoughts,
That means already
You have changed the winter weather
Of your mind.