Montreal, Cemeteries, and Donovans


by Roxanne Tellier

My family has a tiny burial plot on Mount Royal, in the Cotes de Neiges cemetery, and that’s where the bones and ashes of my ancestors have been interred for over a hundred years.

It’s been two months since my aunt’s passing. The clan will gather this week to bring her ashes home.

Patricia Donovan, daughter of Freda (James) Donovan and Denis Patrick Donovan, the last of her generation, died March 29, 2019 in Ottawa. Born in Montreal, Patricia lived most of her life there. She enjoyed travel, and worked for a time in Washington, D.C. She moved to Toronto and cared for her mother until her mother’s passing. 

aunts and uncles 1970 001

Patricia was a writer, painter, and sculptor who pondered life’s big questions.
Auntie Pat had fifteen nieces and nephews and enjoyed a unique relationship with each of them. She is survived by the clan, and will be missed by them.”

My family has always had an easy relationship with death; when I was young, my mother would often take my sister and I to the mountain for a picnic in the graveyard. We’d loll on the well tended grass while we ate lunch, and then wander around the tombstones and mausoleums, looking for famous names.

Michael Donovan A shamrock_in_the_snowI believe that my cousin Michael Leo Donovan, a man who loves the city of Montreal with a fervour I’ve never seen excelled, wrote a book about one of the cemetery’s denizens, the statesman Thomas D’Arcy McGee, after repeatedly seeing his tomb on family visits.

darcy mcgeeIn 1867 he became a Father of Confederation. It was said that if Sir John A. MacDonald of Ontario and Sir George Etienne Cartier of Quebec were the architects of Canada. D’Arcy McGee was its prophet. He was murdered on April 6, 1868, in Ottawa, while returning home after a session of the House.” (A Shamrock in the Snow, 1996)

Other well known Canadians resting in peace at this, and the neighbouring cemetery, include the Reverend William Squire, the first person buried in Mount Royal Cemetery, who died of cholera in 1852, after performing a religious sick visit to a local merchant; Thomas Lee Hackett, a young Irishman shot during a fight between the Catholic and Protestant Irish on July 12, 1877, the day that the Orangeman had chosen to parade on the streets of Montreal; and Sir Arthur William Currie, Commander of Canadian Troops during World War I, and Principal of McGill University from 1920-1933, whose death in 1933 drew a funeral procession with a crowd estimated at 20,000 people, consisting of politicians, diplomats, military bands and hundreds of veterans. The Cross of Sacrifice, a military monument, marks his grave.

Here you will also find David Thompson, surveyor and explorer, who died very poor with no grave marker. The grave languished for seventy years, until, in 1926, the Canadian Historical Association erected a monument to him with the epitaph, “To the memory of the greatest of geographers who for 34 years explored and mapped the main travel routes between the St Lawrence and the Pacific.”

joe beef tavernMontreal’s revered Joe Beef has a place of honour. “His real Irish name was Charles McKieman. He owned the famous “Joe Beef’s Canteen,” located near the port. His 3-storey building held a tavern, a restaurant with free food for the homeless, a dorm of 100 beds and a basement full of strange menagerie. He died in 1889 aged 54. His six sons and his wife organized a very impressive funeral for him. Every office in the business district closed for the afternoon, and there were representatives of workers from all classes in the procession.”

Several more souls were added to the site in 1912, when six victims of the Titanic‘s sinking were buried there, including Charles Melville Hays, once the president of the Grand Trunk Railway. (A further five lie in the Notre Dame de Neiges Cemetery, and one in the Baron de Hirsch Cemetery. Montreal was, sadly, well represented in the tragedy.)

laurier palace fireThere is also a section dedicated to some of the 76 small children who died in the Laurier Palace Theatre fire in 1927, an event so horrific to Montrealers that a law was summarily passed forbidding the entry of children under 16 to any theatre or cinema screenings. That law remained in effect until 1961

Calixa Lavallée, the man who, in 1880 wrote our national anthem, “Oh Canada,” was born in Verchères, Quebec in 1842, but enlisted as a musician with the 4th Rhode Island Infantry at the outbreak of the American Civil War. He died a respected composer and conductor in 1891, from tubercular laryngitis, in Boston, Massachusetts, where he was buried until 1933, when his body was brought to Montreal for reburial.

More recent interments include Celine Dion‘s husband, René Angélil; journalist and politician, Nick Auf der Maur; Gratien Gelinas, actor; hockey players Doug Harvey and Maurice ‘The Rocket’ Richard; Pierre Laporte, politician, who was murdered by the FLQ in 1970; Robert Bourassa, 22nd premier of Quebec; and Montreal mayor Jean Drapeau, who truly made the city world class, by organizing Expo 67, along with playing host to the 1976 Olympic Games, and giving it an amazing Metro service.

Small wonder the place is considered one of the most haunted spots in Montreal. Often described as a “City of the Dead overlooking a City of the Living“, ghostly spirits are believed to roam the grounds after sundown.

Not to be forgotten, other mortal remains lie outside the cemetery boundaries. Most famously, the tomb of Simon McTavish is located in the dark forest above Peel Street. The angry Scottish fur baron died unexpectedly in 1804 while overseeing the construction of a magnificent castle on the slopes. Stories of his ghost tobogganing down Mount Royal in his own coffin terrified Montrealers during the 1800s. To make people forget, city officials demolished his abandoned castle and used the rubble to literally bury his mausoleum. Archaeological work a few years ago disturbed his tomb and now rumour has it he is haunting Mount Royal again.”

The silhouette of a warrior woman with storm clouds in the background.But the most common ghost spotted on the mountain where First Nation peoples were also known to bury their dead is that of an Algonquin warrior.

I’ll keep an eye open for that lonely fellow when I’m there.

I always look forward to visiting Montreal, the city of my youth. These are the grounds I stomped, my neighbourhoods, my restaurants, my mountain, my Canada Life Weather Beacon, first lit up in 1956, that let the city know what weather was on the way. It is and ever will be the city of my heart, no matter where I roam.

I miss my city, but it is inevitably, my family ties that pull me back when I have been too long gone. You can’t stay away from Donovans for very long.

Oh, ‘céad mile fáilte’ they’ll greet you down at Donovan’s
As cheery as the springtime, as Irish as the conovan
The wish of my heart is if ever I had anyone
That ev’ry luck that lightens life …. may light upon the Donovans”

the uncles 001Growing up, I think I always took my family a little for granted. Maybe I just assumed that all families were graced with so much talent, in so many fields. We grew up with my uncle Dennis , co-creator and writer of The Beachcombers; my uncle Leo, whose majestic land and seascapes graced our homes; my uncle John, who was possessed not only of great writing skill, but also of a deep, radio friendly baritone speaking and singing voice; my aunt Pat, a writer, painter, and woman of enormous intelligence; and my own mother, who was a superb dancer, writer, and editor.

cousins 001With that sort of heritage, it is almost a forgone conclusion that the 15 children they brought into the world also possessed many talents, not only in the arts, but in social and computing skills. We just never thought that we wouldn’t be able to do whatever we wanted to do with our lives.

daisy circusMany of us write. I mentioned Michael, above, but there’s also Kieran, the poet and singer-songwriter; and Rita, who has won multiple awards for her nine books, short stories and essays.

Michael also wrote and produced a fine video series on the origin of Montreal street names, now available on youtube. (And yes, those are his kids getting in on the act as Ms Kayleigh and Complete Stranger. )

 

 

dianne donovan beat divasWe all sing. Dianne toured with a Harry James tribute for years before settling down in Austin, Texas with her husband, where she also hosts Classical Austin on KMFA radio, produces a weekly vocal jazz show, “Voices in Jazz” for CKUA Radio in Edmonton, and has a new CD release, “A Musing,” featuring mostly original compositions. She also teaches a cooking class with her jazz trio, The Beat Divas. (dianne donovan beat divas.jpg)

aileen paintingSome of us draw, sculpt and paint. My cousin Aileen took her dad’s painting skill and crafted it into a long career as a well known animal portraitist during her years living in the North West Territories with the Inuit peoples. She now focuses mainly on past life regressions for both pets and people.

I could literally go on and on, listing the accomplishments of this talented group. I’m extremely proud of my family, with good reason.

cousins 003And I’ll get to see some, though not all of them, this week. While the occasion is solemn, visits to my city and my family are never terribly formal for more than a few minutes. We are a group that cannot be repressed for long – laughter, good humour, and our love for each other guarantees a boisterous reunion.

The passing of the last of our parent’s generation seems so final, and yet there’s a part of me that can’t believe that my cousins and I – even as we develop deeper ‘laugh lines’ and grey hair – will ever really age enough to become the ‘grumps’ of the family.

cousins 002I’ll bring that up with the clan at the wake next week, and see if anyone’s pencilled in a date for when we can get to the ‘growing up‘ part of life. With any luck, we can keep putting it off forever.

So far, so good.

 

 

Closing The Circle


by Roxanne Tellier

Sometimes grief will steal the words right out of you. All morning I have struggled with how I could possibly explain how devastating and final it feels to know that my aunt Pat is gone.

Patricia Donovan, December 2015For too long, I kept putting off a visit to Ottawa to see her in her nursing home. She’d been such an integral part of my early life, and yet – there was always a reason, some excuse, why I couldn’t jump on a bus or a train or a plane, and spend a few hours in her company.

She would have been 95 this December 14. That was one of the many things we had in common, our December birthdays. She was the first to gift me turquoise jewelry, our shared birthstone. Theresa, Pat , Roxanne and Jodi

Of all the people, places and things that have made me “me,” it was her guidance, especially in literature, that informed the person that I continue, daily, to become. When we lived in Alberta, it was her annual gifts of classic children’s literature that I most appreciated on Christmas morning. I would gobble up the works of A.A. Milne and Noel Streatfield. I would revel in the never-ending adventures of Edith Nesbit‘s plucky children, ignoring the snows of an Albertan winter, dreaming of the Five Children and It, and wishing that I could be one of the talented – yet never vain – Fossil sisters. Through the books she sent, I played in the Thousand Acre Woods with Christopher Robin, Pooh, Piglet, and the ever depressed Eeyore. Those books taught me to dream, and to know that there was so much more world than just what I could see around me at this moment in time.

I always admired her exquisite taste in all things, be it jewelry, clothing, or art – she had an innate flair and sensibility that made her every surroundings special. Her talents were many – she could write poetry, fiction, or non-fiction with equal flair and ease. She painted as well, usually monochromatic and faintly geometric figures. There was one painting – a symphony in shades of blue – that she told me she’d created in an homage to the novel, Don Quixote. I would stare at it for hours.

But she could not sing – oh my lawdy, lawdy, she could not sing, and yet she did .. often, and enthusiastically! Sadly, in a family as musical as ours, she was the only one completely unblessed with a musical ‘ear.’ She loved music, even as she murdered it in it’s cradle of song.

auntie pat young 001In her youth, she’d worked as an executive secretary in several companies, with her longest and final stint being with British Petroleum. At one point in the sixties, she worked in Washington, DC, where a chance invitation to a party got her hauled in before the FBI, to explain why she had briefly visited a home where there were posters of Che and Lenin on the walls.

But by the time we’d returned to Montreal from Alberta, my aunt was living with my grandmother. From then on, and wherever we landed, in Park Ex, NDG, or Westmount, we always lived very close to my aunt and gram. For a very long time we actually lived in adjoining buildings, with second floor balconies that were literally a stone’s throw from each other.

When I moved to Toronto in 1976, my family weren’t far behind me, and soon, first my sister, then my mother, and finally, my aunt and grandmother, had all taken up residence in two buildings in the Yonge/Eglinton area, literally across the parking lot from each other. There was comfort in the proximity.

In 1986, my sister died, and in 1992, my grandmother went into the hospital, for the last time, in the last week of March. She’d had heart issues for decades. But she hung in, as was her style, right up until April 1st. Such a joker, my gram … it was like she wanted to have one last laugh with us, and pass on April Fools Day, at the age of 95. My mother died eight days later.

And now my aunt is gone, on Friday, March 29.

There is the feeling of a circle closing in my aunt dying almost exactly 27 years after her mother and sister. They had always done everything together, as much as they possibly could, and she must have been very lonely. living nearly another thirty years without them. I know how lonely I have been, without my mum and sister, and despite having had the love and support of husbands, children and grandchildren. There are some rifts of the heart that can never be mended.

Gram and her five kids 001Patricia Donovan was very much loved by her family, and the many nieces, nephews, and great-nieces and great-nephews that knew her. She gave so much to us, and I would like to think that we gave back a little bit of what she needed in return.

You know, you get to be a certain age, and it’s harder to cry, harder to justify the tears when you rationally knew that death was always to be expected at some point. And so on Friday night, I hid in my bedroom and watched the film, Christopher Robin, the recent follow up to the films about Winnie the Pooh .. and I remembered. And I wept.

There was so much more to my aunt than these few stories, but I have lost my words. In late spring or early summer we will gather in Montreal to inter Pat’s ashes, and then, I think, this very talkative family will share our memories, and laugh at the crazy antics of this passionate, talented, wonderful family.

My cousin Rita was the family’s bridge to Pat, visiting her, keeping her up on the family’s adventures, and keeping us informed on her health. Rita was the one who notified us of my aunt’s decline, and then death. In her email, she included a few photos, and this poem. I hope you will enjoy it.

FALL ON ME

Pale pink petals
Dropping from a tree
Fall on me
Fall on me

A minute ago
You were the tree
And now you’re
Part of me

From your branches
Showering tree
Rain on me
Rain on me

A week ago
You wouldn’t let go
And now you rain
On me

Pale pink petals
Waiting on the tree
Fall all over
Me.

Patricia Donovan

Pat early 80s Broadway apt 001Patricia Donovan   (1924-2019)

 

Father’s Day 2018


american family brunchAll over America, happy families are waking up to a warm and fuzzy Father’s Day 2018. Little boys and girls are presenting their sleepy daddies with home made offerings made from bits of pasta, lashings of glitter and scraps of wood,  while they all look forward to a yummy family brunch, a good American style feed of  eggs, bacon, sausage, fruit and more, all washed down with buckets of freshly squeezed juice and pots of good, strong coffee.

But in the tent cities ordered by president Trump, there are babies and children, ripped from the arms of their mothers, and in one case literally ripped from the breast of the mother feeding them, the mother then handcuffed for resisting … waking up to another day of forced incarceration and prison food.

2 year old immigrantAlong America’s border, thousands of kids are waking up in migrant detention centers, that operate as de facto federal prisons with similar restrictions. In Texas, about 1500 young boys, aged from 10 to 17 years old, are padlocked behind the concrete blocks of a former Wal-Mart, spending 22 of 24 hours a day inside, wrapped in Mylar blankets and sleeping five to a room in rooms meant to hold no more than four. The prison has received a variance from the state because of overcrowding, because that’s how a totalitarian state deals with the reality of the horror of housing children they’ve kidnapped from their parents – by making ‘variances’.

Nationwide, there are detention facilities operating at 95% capacity, overflowing with the 11,000 children being held.

In some of these camps, babies and children, separated from their parents, and even from their siblings, are treated like prisoners. Can you possibly imagine adding that denial of comfort, a stunningly cruel addition to already brutal rules that must have been thought up by the American version of Ilsa the She Witch of the SS? These children are even denied – again, with rules put into place by their vicious caretakers –  the comfort of a touch or a hug.

american gestapoThe human consequences of Trump’s earlier executive orders have become increasingly clear.

I’m not gonna pull punches on this incredible abuse of human rights. If you’ve ever wondered what you would have done had you been alive and aware during the rise of Nazi Germany,  you’re actually doing it right now.  That’s how serious this situation is, for not only immigrants and refugees, but America itself.

What the Trump administration has wrought, what they’re doing to systematically separate parents and children who enter the country illegally, has been done in America before. It happened to African slaves, and to Native Americans. America is no innocent, no stranger to gross cruelty. That callous disdain is, in some ways, the very definition of America, a country that can always find a group of people to dehumanize and brutalize.

immigrant detainees 2014You may have seen a photo, taken in 2014, of two young unaccompanied minors sleeping on the floor in a detention centre during the Obama administration. The photo was first presented as being a consequence of the new policy, but in fact, was later used to claim that the former administration was just as bad on how immigrant children were being handled. This worked really well for the ‘what about-ers‘ who claimed that same policy is the one now being enforced under the Trump administration.

They are lying. Trump is lying when he blames the Dems for family separation at the southern border. The actual culprit and impetus for all of this ugliness is a Department of Justice memorandum issued on April 6, 2018. At that time, Jeff Sessions announced that, from that day on, all ‘improper entry by an alien’ would be prosecuted with zero tolerance.

“This zero-tolerance policy shall supersede any existing policies” puts the onus squarely on the current administration.

keep waving that fucking flagA simple phone call from Trump to the Department of Homeland Security could change the situation. But that’s not gonna happen. Because … here’s the thing .. Trump, Sessions, and their base LOVE this new policy. They are wetting themselves in glee over this punishment of the vulnerable, and finding Bible verses to shore up their ‘right’ to do so. They LOVE it. They just don’t want to take responsibility for it.

Jeff Sessions unleashed his murderous shock and awe attack on immigrants in furtherance of the vile policies that whipped up the Trump base during the election. Their appetite for inflicting pain on those seeking refuge is voracious, seemingly limitless.

In the last few months, Session has been trying to curb even legal immigration: lowering refugee admissions, targeting H1-B visas for skilled foreign workers; introducing more restrictions and red tape for other classes of entry permits  and now, cracking down on the accepted rules of asylum – THAT AMERICANS HELPED TO WRITE AFTER THE ATROCITIES OF THE HOLOCAUST -potentially reducing claims by the thousands by deciding that victims of domestic and gang violence are not eligible for protection.

In May, nearly 90,000 Hondurans lost their protected status, when the Department of Homeland Security decreed that they’d had a long enough respite, and were now expected to return to their own war torn country.

border kids are they legalIn recent days, the Justice Department said that it would not defend the DACA program in a Texas lawsuit.

And people, who would normally consider themselves good, faithful loving Christians, are justifying all of this zenophobia on the grounds that the refugees and immigrants are entering the USA illegally.

Meanwhile, the House is frantically trying to pull together an immigration bill that will please and eventually will be passed by Emperor Trump, who has already said that he will not sign the bill into law. It’s really kind of moot, either way, since provisions of the new bill would not reunify families – in fact, it would make it even harder for children and families to be together, never mind find a path to legal citizenship. Trump wants just one thing, and he doesn’t care who has to suffer tor him to get that one thing. He will have his way, and dissenters will pay.

trump wall kidnapped childrenMeanwhile, the atrocities continue, and the real human price is being paid by those who prayed for a safe haven in the Promised Land of America – Home of the Free and the Brave.

Sessions claims that this ripping apart of families will be a deterrent to the refugees fleeing violence and crime. However, these immigrants have been walking from war torn nations for up to two months, and strangely, the means to receive that message is denied to them.

So they arrive in America, praying for sanctuary, and are instead punished.  

Sophies Choice 2018“When Muñoz and his family arrived at the border, they were taken by border patrol agents to a processing station, where they were informed they would be separated. Muñoz resisted, fiercely. “They had to use physical force to take the child out of his hands,” one agent told the Washington Post. Muñoz lost his three-year-old boy to the agents and was himself taken to the Starr County Jail.

The last time anyone saw Marco Antonio Muñoz alive, he was praying in the corner of his cell. A short time later, he was found in a pool of his own blood. Authorities ruled it a suicide. No one knows what has become of his three-year-old son. His father is gone forever.”

This is America. This is the America where kid’s trying to protect themselves from being killed in school shootings have to fight for themselves, because the adults have not only abdicated responsibility, they want to punish the children for protesting. People with the power to protect children, have instead chosen to protect guns.

This is America. This is where the right to force women to have babies whether they want them or can support them are not, is  upheld, while their legal right to have an abortion is not.  (all lives matter except yours little child.jpg)

I have to ask you, pro lifers, why do you care so much about an unborn child, an unfeeling fetus, but somehow can’t see the tears and pain being visited upon these living immigrants and refugees? Is there some reason that you need to ensure a multitude of babies and children upon whom you can vent your rage? Do you, like your president, feel a deep need to use innocent children as pawns, so that you can force your own beliefs upon other people? This is a Christian Taliban, engorged on their own religious rights, and unable to see any other humans’ rights.

Because let’s get one thing straight, once and for all. … The Republicans control every single branch of government, it is within their grasp to fix this .. they have chosen not to. Since none of the Republicans have the guts to speak up, and tell Trump that they will not stand for this horror, all of the repulsion the world is feeling at this atrocity lies firmly on Republicans shoulders.

trumplerTo it’s shame, the base of the Republican Party is now intrinsically entwined with every other regime that trampled human rights.

They are now represented by the likes of Ivanka Trump, who countered the release of photos of sobbing, terrified immigrant children with the release of a completely tone deaf romantic photo of herself with her own, pampered child, or Paul Ryan, who took the time to claim a happy Father’s Days for himself, while ignoring the reality of grieving, terrorized fathers killing themselves over the loss of their child. There is one America for the Republican party .. and nothing but pain and humiliation for everyone else.

Saddest of all, most Americans are not going to pay much attention to any atrocity aimed at people unlike themselves until the economy starts to tank. And that’s an incredibly sad and cynical truth the rest of the world needs to absorb.

Once there was an America that was the envy of the world. That America no longer exists.

 

 

Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep


keep calm and gobble onHappy Thanksgiving weekend! Hopefully most of us will be lucky enough to be gathered together at some point with friends and family to share the bounty of the harvest – or at least the goodies we’ve bought from our local grocers — and that most precious of commodities …. our time.

It’s crazy how fast the days and years go by. That’s not an ‘old people’ thing anymore; even kids in grade school find it hard to accommodate all of the information and entertainment they need to constantly absorb in order to successfully process their world. Those of us with much to remember don’t stand a chance, post-retirement, of guessing the day with much accuracy. (Helpful hint: Write everything down!)

Although I’m not a religious person, I consider myself blessed. I have a roof over my head, food in my fridge, and a husband, family, and friends that love me. I also have a keen awareness that I am more fortunate than a great many people, who often lack the things that a lot of us take for granted.

While I do try to do what I can to help others, this weekend I’m grateful to be enjoying the hospitality of two lovely friends, who asked us to share their respective feasts.

toronto-skyline-nightOn Saturday night, we joined long time friend and writer Ira Band for dinner at the Island Yacht Club, on Mugg’s Island. It was a beautiful night, with weather more like August’s than October’s. Earlier this summer, the island was horrendously flooded, but is now back to being it’s luxuriously landscaped self. After a delicious Thanksgiving buffet, we alternated between enjoying the fireplace inside, and the view of the Toronto skyline from the comfy lounges outside. A perfect evening!

Today, we’ll be joining fellow scribe/photographer/Energizer Bunny Pat Blythe for her amazing festive spread. That woman can cook most people under the table, and still sparkle as the hostess with the mostest. We will enjoy the company of friends, and Pat’s famous pies, and who could ask for anything more!

i-came-in-like-a-butterballMonday will be Bring On The Fat Pants Day and let it all hang out. I can live with that.

But let’s talk about Canadian Thanksgiving. I like when we celebrate the holiday. Let the Americans have theirs on the fourth Thursday of November; ours is just better positioned. We’ve got Halloween at the end of the month, which acts as a speed bump before we get on the tilt-a-whirl that is the countdown to Christmas, and that’s just fine by me.

So why aren’t our holidays celebrated simultaneously, you ask? It’s all about history.

According to wiki, “the first Canadian Thanksgiving is often traced back to 1578 and the explorer Martin Frobisher. Frobisher, who had been trying to find a northern passage to the Pacific Ocean, held his Thanksgiving celebration not for harvest but in thanks for surviving the long journey from England through the perils of storms and icebergs. On his third and final voyage to the far north, Frobisher held a formal ceremony ifrobisher-thanksgivingn Frobisher Bay in Baffin Island (present-day Nunavut) to give thanks to God and in a service ministered by the preacher Robert Wolfall they celebrated Communion.”

Over the years, succeeding waves of immigrants brought their own harvest traditions and delicacies to Canada, and we gratefully blended those new foods and tastes into what we now call Canadian cuisine.

And of course, we cannot forget how new Italian/Canadians brought their own tradition of the Spaghetti Harvest to our great land.

What we think of today as a traditional Thanksgiving feast owes a lot to what American film and TV has idealized as the proper fare… the groaning board that begins with pickles, olives, and hot dinner rolls (Pillsbury Crescent Rolls are a favourite for me) and carries on with mashed potatoes , roasted vegetables, cranberry sauce, stuffing and giblet gravy, all but the preliminaries to the guest of honour, the roast turkey.

And when you’ve had your fill, and have moved your belt buckle over a notch, lo and behold, the desserts arrive – pumpkin or cherry or raspberry pie, carrot cake, ice cream …. Ahhh … yep, sounds like Thanksgiving at Pat’s!

I’m happy to have a day designated for giving thanks. We’re an entitled bunch of gits, and having to stop and actually think about what’s good in our lives is rare; we’re far more likely to be complaining about what we don’t have. This is a day – or a long weekend – on which Canadians can all agree that they are blessed to live in a country which, because of or in spite of current leadership, allows us freedom in so many ways.

thanksgiving-gratitudeI try to have an “attitude of gratitude” as the platitude goes. No matter what life brings, I try to remember that there are people on this planet who would kill to be in my shoes. Which is not to say that I don’t occasionally complain, but I do value what I have, and I thank those who make my life better, just by their presence and love.

 

“When we neglect to require our children to say `thank you’ when someone gives them a gift or does something for them, we raise ungrateful children who are highly unlikely to be content. Without gratitude, happiness is rare. With gratitude, the odds for happiness go up dramatically. The more you recognize and express gratitude for the things you have, the more things you will have to express gratitude for.” Zig Ziglar

grateful-for-everythingSo, what are you grateful for in your life? I’m grateful for my husband, my children and grandchildren, and my family and friends, who continue to love me despite my many, many quirks and odd behaviour. I’m grateful for the food in our pantry and the roof over our heads. I’m grateful that I’m getting older, because the alternative sucks. I’m grateful that I get to write this column every Sunday, and some of you actually read it and even discuss ideas with me, whether you agree or disagree with my points. I’m grateful that I’ve never lived in a country ravaged by war or pestilence or famine, and probably never will.

Little girl asleep in bed.I’m grateful when I lay my head down on the pillow at night, and know that the odds are good I’ll be waking up in the morning to another day filled with possibilities. I’m grateful for every bit of my life so far, and the wonders that still await my discovery. For as long as I am on this planet, I want to be cognizant of the beauty that is all around me, and never take for granted the gift that is existence.

Even when the going gets rough and it seems like there’s nowhere to go but down, it’s best to consider the good you have in your life, and be thankful. That small shift in thinking can put things into perspective.

Never underestimate how important it is to have people in your life who are kind and loving and thoughtful. When all else fades away, love and kindness are the greatest gifts you can give or receive.

There’s a reason why this song has over 52 million hits … the simple lyrics, and the joyful delivery remind us of the things that are most important in our lives.

Have a wonderfilled Thanksgiving weekend, everyone, however you choose to celebrate.

 

 

Of Time and Tides


not ready for growingupNext week, I’ll be heading to British Columbia to visit my daughter, granddaughters, family and friends. My husband gifted me the fare; he knows I’ve been aching to see the girls. I’ll be there for my daughter’s birthday, and to reacquaint myself with my granddaughters, who are teetering on the brink of their teenage years, at ages 11 and 13. My daughter will have her hands full for the next decade with these two little minxes.

I, on the other hand, have ‘grandmother privilege.‘ I get to see them when they’re on their best behaviour, and to leave the room for a nap or to visit friends when they’re acting up. Life is good!

For years I was unable to travel. A weird combination of finances and bureaucracy kept me from obtaining the necessary identification to board a train or plane. My clever friend, Barbette Kensington, steered me through the morass of paperwork, and now … I am a genuine, legally viable, traveling person!

So I’m looking forward to this trip, for many reasons, and despite my insane fear of flying. It’s a joy and a privilege to be able to travel, and one that I’ve not been able to do in over 16 years.

Getting older is a privilege as well, although many of us hate to think about it. As our loved ones, idols and contemporaries succumb to time, it starts to seem like the world we once knew is fading away, leaving us adrift in an altered space.

Coming to grips with aging looks a lot like getting thru the stages of grief. You’re gonna have to go through denial, anger, bargaining and depression before you finally come to acceptance.

I have my own theory on how we deal with getting older; I think I read it somewhere, but it’s mine now. Basically, there’s three stages.

In the first stage, you feel pretty much like you always did. You still want to do all of the things you used to do, and for the most part, you are able to socialize, travel, and maintain your hobbies with maybe a little more resting time needed than before. But you’re still a you that you recognize, and if you’ve got a few bucks, you can finally relax and enjoy life.

In the second stage, something goes wrong, either physically or mentally. Maybe you break a hip, or have a stroke. Now you’re wishing you had gotten in that trip to Peru before your lungs decided high altitudes were no longer an option. You get a little angry that your social calendar looks barer than it used to, and you might start to tell people that you’re “not as young as you used to be,” in order to get out of doing any sort of strenuous movement … like walking up the stairs.

do not regret growing olderIn the third stage, you can’t do very much at all, and there isn’t much you look forward to anymore. That’s the last bit of the human journey, and probably the least anticipated.

Aging is inevitable, and few would prefer the alternative. Ready or not, at some time in your late fifties or early sixties, you will realize that you’re nearing, or in, that first stage, and that you have no idea when exactly the second stage will kick in.

We live in wonderful times. While we can’t turn back the clock, we can be grateful that medical science now allows an array of options for dealing with aging bodies. Hip surgeries and knee replacements are commonplace. Who knows what miracles will be available as we age and need a few more drastic nips and tucks?

laser surgery. jpgWe simply can’t anticipate what the future will hold, for good or ill. As a kid, I never dreamed that there would someday be a surgery available to correct vision … I had just assumed that I’d eventually lose my sight entirely, as both of my grandmothers had. Thanks to lasers, I had two decades of perfect vision. One of these days, I’ll have more laser surgery, and that will correct the effects of aging as well.

It would be great if there were big advances in cancer treatments. Cancer is a cruel bitch, and she’s taken away too many of my loved ones. Last fall, I had to finally admit that it was time to stop smoking, and I quit cold turkey. I’ll be dealing with the damage that I did to myself from here on in, and keeping my fingers crossed that I escape the Big C.

Took me too long to realize that you only need to change a few letters to go from ‘excuse’ to ‘exercise.’ A regular exercise program makes me feel a lot less stressed. Maybe the aquafit will also help me lose a few pounds. Couldn’t hurt. For sure it’s refocusing my attention on how good it feels to be able to stretch without pain.

The first stage of aging can be a bit of a shock – it’s almost as though our bodies are betraying us. After years of doing pretty much whatever was asked of them, our bodies have gone mutinous, and are demanding that we treat them with more care.

There’s several reasons for these changes, but they are all inevitable, so you may as well get used to them.

” Two biological phenomena appear related to the aging process:

• Accumulation of waste products in the cells
• Loss of elasticity of the connective body tissue

These changes, sometimes called nongenetic, occur at the cellular level. They have a direct bearing upon many declines we experience in our physical and sensory capabilities.

Many bodily changes take place over the entire lifespan— some beginning with birth. They are part of a relentless, post-maturational phenomenon called senescence (biological aging).

Senescence results in a decrease in the physical capacity of an individual, accompanied by an increase in a person’s vulnerability. As a result, any product or environment may become less friendly and less supportive for some people while adequately providing support for others.

Most of the changes that characterize senescence occur slowly. As they occur, individuals adapt to them. For example, people with arthritis may select utensils with larger and softer handles to ease the pain and enhance their grip.”

http://www.transgenerational.org/aging/aging-process.htm)

While the changes are inevitable, how we deal with them is up to us. Denying the realities of aging only leads to a more rapid decline, and if we try to force ourselves to perform at the same level, mentally or physically, as we did in our prime, we’re doomed to failure, and to setting up a negative feedback loop that tells us that it’s no use to even try for what improvement we can rationally expect.

What we really crave is a happy aging experience, and that’s easier to get to when we aim for smaller goals, with less dramatic gains, but gains that are progressive and ongoing. In a positive feedback loop of self-reinforcing and self- energizing behaviours, we can find the sweet spot of feeling comfortable at any age.

those who love deeply never grow old. jpgThere’s got to be joy in our lives. That’s what really motivates us, and leads us to the healthy actions and interactions that make getting up every morning something to anticipate rather than dread.

We need ‘fresh air and friendly faces,’ people that we care about and people who care about us. We need to love and be loved, and to hold dear those whom we treasure for the good impact they’ve had in our lives.

We need to appreciate where we’ve been, and what we’ve done, while embracing new experiences that stretch our abilities. And sometimes we need to get on an airplane even when we’re terrified of flying.

There’s no sense in denying your ‘golden years;’ there’s only the reality of how you’ll choose to live them. My choice is to make the rest of my life, the best of my life.

mark twain on travel

 

You And Me Against The World


I wrote this column three years ago … tomorrow, it will be 24 years since Mary Theresa Donovan left me the lone survivor of my crazy little nuclear family.

I’ve done a little editing, and added and removed some pictures.

mum Star win 1984 02I wish I could say that time heals all wounds. I know from experience that time softens the corners, but losing those you loved changes you, makes you different. A little more appreciative, perhaps, of those that remain, but always, always, vulnerable to those things that remind you of your loss. Some silly memories will make you smile; others will fill your eyes with tears.

I could, and probably should, write a book about her life, with it’s ups and downs, and the gallant courage she always showed. I am grateful for having had her as my mother.

******

It’s been 24 years since I lost my mum, and still there are days when I think, “Oh, I must tell Mum! She’d get such a kick out of hearing about that!” Then I remember that she’s gone, and it hurts all over again.

But I am lucky. I had a terrific mother, who was funny and smart and strong and she loved me, despite my failings. Even when I was at my most hateful, a rebel without a clue, Mum encouraged theresa, pat, roxanne and jodime and found the good in my mutinous soul.

My mother was just always there, usually chasing after me.  I wasn’t a clingy kid. You’d more likely find me way up at the top of a tree, or posing beside the mannequins on a revolving display stand, than hanging off her skirt. I was the kind of kid that kiddy leashes were made for; darting madly into crowds, racing towards excitement. I wasn’t a brat – that would not have been tolerated – but I wasn’t easy.

My sister Jodi and I got into scrapes all the time. Once, we thought it would be lovely to bring home lilacs for Mum. So we helped ourselves to armfuls of the flowers, oblivious to the fact that they belonged to a private school. When the caretaker spotted us and started yelling, we ran, with the flowers leaving a trail of petals behind us, up the street and up the stairs of our apartment building. Thrusting the shredded lilacs into my mum’s arms I said, “Hide us! He’s coming!”

How she kept a straight face when the caretaker arrived, having followed the trail right to our door, I’ll never know. As he ranted and raved about the desecration of the school’s trees, she calmly told him that her girls couldn’t have done it; they’d been home and in their rooms all night. Of course, we were scolded later, but also warned that, if we were going to pursue a life of crime, it might be an idea to hide our getaway route a little better.

Jodi developedjodi2 juvenile diabetes at 12. Always frail, she now became angry at the world. Heading into her teenage years with the stigma of twice daily injections and a restricted diet, she seethed with rage, flailing out at the rest of us for being healthy. My mum was a tower of strength, keeping her in line with love and laughter.  Jodi and I thrived on Mum’s ability to put a funny spin on even the worst tragedies. Our humor was dark at times, but there was always laughter, and always music.

I left Montreal in 1976, and within a year, both Jodi and Mum joined me in Toronto. For a while, we all lived in the same apartment building at 100 Roehampton, just floors apart, and when my Grandmother and Aunt Pat moved to Toronto as well, they took an apartment in the building behind ours. Our strength came not just from laughter, but from proximity.

When I was singing full time, Mum couldn’t have been more supportive. She wouldn’t let me lift a finger in the house, lest I break a nail, or be too tired to perform that night. She lived through the joy and heartbreak of my first two marriages, the birth of my daughter Cara, and later, Cara’s son Carter, and never passed judgment on the way I chose to live my life.

4 gens at weddingAfter suffering a double stroke that left her partially paralyzed, she fought to re-learn how to walk, and eventually was able to triumphantly show me her first baby steps. When my sister died, Mum and I were devastated, and it was only through sharing each other’s strength that we were able to carry on. And still we laughed, and joked, sometimes through our tears.

My friends adored my mother, and loved to spend time with her. We’d have regular Rummoli nights, where she’d display her cutthroat gambling techniques, wiping out her opponents and winning all the pennies we used as chips. Mum drew people to her, and her friends spanned all age groups. No one was immune to her charms.

Mum adored Christmas. She would transform our humble home into a winter wonderland, with her collection of heirloom and newfound ornaments. She’d make sure anyone who dropped by was treated to a holiday they would never 4generationsforget, and always had a few small presents tucked away so that no one was empty handed when the gifts were unwrapped. After her stroke, she was unable to decorate with her previous flair, but we compromised with a tiny artificial tree and a selection of her favorite foods to enjoy on Christmas Eve. Christmas Day, she would spend with Aunt Pat and Gram.(Me, Gram, Mum, Cara in front)

My grandmother, bless her, died on April Fools day, in 1992, and my mother finally gave up her own struggle 8 days later. I had just come home from bartending, about 3 a.m., when two policemen arrived at the door. Apparently they had been given the wrong phone number, and had been unable to reach me earlier. They told me that mum had had another stroke, and a heart attack, and was in critical condition. I cabbed it to Sunnybrooke. She was on the operating table, but they let me in for a moment to see her. As I stroked her hair, and assured her that I was there, she murmured, “don’t let them bring me back, I can’t face it again.”

As horrible as that was to hear, I understood. Going through rehab had nearly broken her spirit, and even those tiny steps relearnt had strained her. I told the doctors what she had said, but they were adamant that she was too young and would be strong enough to make it through.

I was brought to a waiting room, where I pulled out the book I had in my purse. Ironically, it was an Ashleigh Brilliant book of funny sayings and drawings, called “I May Not Be Totally pat, theresa and freda 2Perfect, But Parts of Me Are Excellent.” I had bought it for Mum, but I paged through it, to relieve the tension, and find a laugh as I tried to send healing thoughts to her.

Although the door and windows were closed, I suddenly felt a soft breeze against my cheek. Tears rolled down my face, but I smiled, and said, “Bye, Mum.” A few moments later, a doctor entered the room to tell me that she had died, but I already knew that she was gone. She was only 64 years old.

les belles damesA lot of odd things happened in the days following her death. Music boxes would start to play; strange, mystical items would suddenly appear.  My aunts told me of dreams they had had about her, laughing and dancing, a young carefree girl once again. I knew she was somehow letting me know that all was well, and that I mustn’t let my grief consume me. She was wise and wonderful that way. (Aunt Anne, Mum, Aunt Pat and Gram)

All these years later, I still miss her. Despite being a mother and grandmother myself, I will always be Terry’s little girl in my heart. And I too will always remember her laughing and dancing. Her indomitable spirit gave me the strength and courage to reach for the stars, for even if I failed, she’d always be there to help me up again. And that’s really all a child can ask for in a mother.

 

= RT =

(first published Mother’s Day, 2013)  https://bobsegarini.wordpress.com/2013/05/12/roxanne-tellier-you-and-me-against-the-world/)

Christmas and Snowbound in the Treasured Past


My mum embodied the Spirit of Christmas. She loved everything about the holiday, and she made every one of my childhood Christmas’ as merry and bright as she could.

She’d grown up in the depression – she knew Christmas wasn’t about money. When times were tough, she’d tell us it would be a “Hoodoo McFiggin” year – that meant the only presents would be things she had to buy us anyway, just to keep us clothed and fed – underwear, socks, boots. Presents were lGrinch xmas means a little moreovely, but some years, presents could wait. Christmas was about gathering with family, and sharing what we did have, and what we had to spare was love.

She just had so damn much joy and childlike belief in the season that it all came naturally through her to us … the breathless lead up that began months before, when she’d start asking my sister and I what we were going to ask to receive from Santa, and the admonition that we must be very sure of what we’d tell the Big Man when the day came … this was serious business! We were to name only one important item we really, really wanted. If there were other gifts, they would be of Santa’s choosing. We’d spend hours arguing over what toys were best, what we really wanted, and we’d change our minds a zillion times before our visit to Santa’s Kingdom.

cindy lou whoNor were the needs of others to be forgotten. We’d be given a small amount of money, and a list of those we needed to delight with thoughtful gifts. It’s extraordinary how far $5.00 could go back in the sixties. We would have been mortified to not have a gift to give to any of the family who had brought a gift for us. Some years would find us digging through our own stash of precious things, in order to find something we could wrap quickly and present to an unexpected guest.

In the run up to the Day itself, we’d drag out the boxes of carefully packaged ornaments that Mum had collected through the years. She’d linger over the battered aluminum stars made from pie plates, reminding me that she and I had made those together, one year when I was very young, and recovering from the mumps. She’d carefully unwrap the fragile glass ornaments she’d had since she and dad first married, each colourful globe a warm memory. soap bubble ornamentAnd she’d always linger over a set of orbs, some round, some tear-shaped, so transparent they reflected rainbows, so precious and delicate, “they’re like soap bubbles , Roxanne! Aren’t they beautiful?!”   

We had to have a real tree. She felt there was no point in having a tree if it didn’t come with that delicious smell, and the scratchy feel of pine needles under foot. The tree would find a place of honour in the dining room, and strict instructions about its care and watering were delivered. After the tree was set into the metal holder, she’d draw a bright red and sparkly cloth gently around the base, and then add puffs of ‘angel hair’ to make the tree look like it was floating on a cloud.

xmas tree old timeyShe’d drape the tree’s branches with long strands of tiny glass beads, the beads a little more worn every year, but shining nonetheless. The box of tinsel was precious too; after Christmas we’d gather as many of the used strands as we could and save them for the following year. We had two special toppers for the tree – one, a paper plate collage of an angel adorned with cotton batting that I’d made in first grade, the other , a plastic doll dressed as an angel, it’s halo tipped jauntily to the left, a scratch of pen ink faintly visible on it’s cheek.

Christmas songs would be playing on the little record player, and we’d all sing along as we decorated. Jodi and I liked to make up new and naughty words to some of the classics, just to make mum laugh, before she’d chide us to “Behave! Santa hears and sees everything you do!”

Once the tree was up and decorated, we went into a two week hiatus, where the other 50 weeks of naughtiness were replaced by determined niceness. We’d wait brearankin bass productionsthlessly for the Christmas specials to appear on the TV; without video or DVD, you had to be home to see “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” or one of the other animated delights, most of which seemed to be Rankin Bass productions.

As my sister and I got older, we began to appreciate more adult offerings; Jodi loved “It’s A Wonderful Life.” My favorite was “Holiday Inn,” with the moment I waited for being when the heroine posed in silhouette against a giant red paper heart, before dancing through it … and breaking poor old Bing Crosby’s heart.

 

 

And of course no Christmas was complete without the scary, but ultimately uplifting, black and white classic … Alastair Sim in “A Christmas Carol.” God bless us, everyone!christmas-carol-1951

There was also one special box that contained nothing but photos, recipes, newspaper clippings, song lyrics, and a few very treasured books. Our favourite to read and to have read to us was Erwin L. Hess’ Christmas and Snowbound in the Treasured Past,” a large full coloured collection of holiday poems, stories, artwork and photos, from 1961.

xmas and snowbound n the treasured past

We remember our best Christmas.  A flashback appears and this favourite Christmas plays on a very special screen in a picture of color, and we see the scenes we remember so well.  Immediately our story we’ll begin to tell…It snowed early that year.  In those days the holiday spirit was in the air with the first fall of snow.  Sleigh bells jingled and that meant Christmas was near!” 

We loved that book; it epitomized an ideal Christmas, one that we’d never had, nor likely ever would. But it held a promise, so much so that the phrase, “Christmas and snowbound in the treasured past” became our family code for how we imagined paradise to be.

First_Snow Jay MaiselWere winters colder then? Not always … one memorable Montreal Christmas Eve, the family toddled off to church in summer dresses and sandals, only to emerge into a starlit night made brighter by soft, fat flakes of snow gently falling onto the sidewalks. But that was an aberration; most Christmas Eves were ‘see your breath’ cold, brightened by our new knit hats and mittens that Gram had made to keep us warm.

Cold, colder and coldest was more often the weather on Christmas day. During my teen years, the habit was to gather at one of the uncles’ house to carve the roast beast. The best parties were at Uncle John’s big house in Chambly, as there was plenty of room for the kids to play, and even a special room where we could have our own holiday meal, manners and decorum cast aside, while the adults ate, smoked, clinked glasses and laughed about adult matters. We felt a little sorry for them – they didn’t even get to watch TV while they ate!  50s kids watcing tv

No matter where the party was held, in time the celebrations would wind down, and we’d gather our outdoor clothing, say goodbye to the umpteen cousins, and kiss all the ‘grumps,’ (grown ups) before piling into the car for the long ride home, across snowy roads and an ice-laced Pont Cartier, and then along Sherbrooke Street for miles, our bellies full and heads nodding, and inevitably slipping into sleep just before the car drew into the driveway. If we were small enough, we’d even get carried to our beds, where our new pjs and slippers awaited us.

It was a very different time, and, as with every generation that comes along, we were creating our own version of what Christmas should look and feel like. My mother’s memories were precious, but no more precious than the one’s she created for my sister and me.

Times change, and families are usually smaller than they used to be, and often times, a great deal more complicated. The name we give to that wonderful time of year when we get together to eat and sing and laugh and pray may be Christmas, or Hanukkah, Kwanza, Ramadan, or even Festivus. Heck, call it “Christmahanakwanzika“ if you want to.

What we call the holiday doesn’t matter – what matters is that we take the time to find that small, still place in our hearts, where peace and goodwill live. We gather with our families and friends to join our hearts and hands, to share what we have, and to give thanks that we … together … made it through another year, and are ready to enter another year, whatever it may bring … together.

coexist xmas

 

 

Hoodoo McFiggin’s Christmas: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bZm0WoTl1wU

 

(first published Dec, 2015: bobsegarini.wordpress.com/2015/12/13/roxanne-tellier-christmas-and-snowbound-in-the-treasured-past/)