Canadian holidays


Until 9/11 the day known as Veteran’s Day in the United States, where I was born and raised, was just a day. Nothing particularly elaborate or widespread.

You knew it was a federal holiday by the absence of mail and the dutiful coverage by the media of ceremonies here and there.

Politicians, of course, pandered.

But really, it was not a big deal.

The attack on the Twin Towers in NYC changed that a little bit but it was still hit and miss regardless of the impression given by the media down there.

When I came to Canada, I discovered the true origins of this day*, and the fact that in some countries around the world – Canada being one of them – Remembrance Day’s meaning is kinda like the Grinch’s observation about Christmas – “maybe, perhaps, means a little bit more”.

Life doesn’t come to a complete stop for Remembrance Day in Canada. In fact, it’s not even a statutory federal holiday. But it’s important.

Not because – as some people (politicians especially) would like us to believe – the fallen soldiers of our too numerous wars died defending “freedom”.

They didn’t.

Soldiers die because politicians fail.

They fail to negotiate, compromise and find equitable resolutions to vexing problems. They fail to think in terms of years and decades out as opposed to between now and the next election. They fail to understand that war’s human cost is seldom worth whatever short-term solution was gained. And finally, they fail to do what they were actually elected to do, safe-guard our freedoms themselves through their words and deeds.

Every time a soldier dies, somewhere a politician’s karma gets deservedly more muddy.

Remembrance Day is important because we remember how awful war is by recalling the bright futures that never were. The young men and women who didn’t come home to family and friends. The waste. The horror. The destruction. The fact that freedom wasn’t democratically defended and promoted but was used like a blunt instrument on the landscape, lives, hopes and dreams of people we don’t know. Whose strangeness to us made it “okay” to destroy their homes and kill their children.

And we should remember these things. It’s a painful and humbling reminder that we haven’t got it all figured out. That we are works in progress, and at times, our progress hasn’t been for the greater good but for greed, power and the right of the conqueror to force his will on the unwilling.

My father and my uncles fought in World War II and in Korea. It changed them, or so I am told. I only knew the men forged by war not the men they were prior to war. I recognize what a great loss that was to me and for them.

I wear my poppy in the weeks leading up to Remembrance Day like many, many others. I observe the day as do most of the people I know.

But I don’t think the day was ever meant to be about honouring as much as it was meant to be about remembering what was lost. Who was lost. And why we shouldn’t let war be the habit it has become.

 

*It’s amazing what you can learn about history when you leave the United States, where history is told in a way that is good for Americans and shorter on fact than a Texas social studies curriculum guide.


Canadians observe Boxing Day, which is a pseudo-holiday the day after Christmas. Tradition-wise, it sprang from the custom wealthy Brits had of bestowing boxed gifts on their servants the day after Christmas. Nowadays it is a bank holiday and in Canada, it’s taken on the added burden of being our version of the American “Black Friday” consuming fest.

For us, Boxing Day consists of sleeping late, lounging in robes and pj’s for the bulk of the remaining day and in general, being lazy sacks.

We exceeded even our lax expectations yesterday. Neither Rob nor I crawled out of bed until the latter half of the morning. Dee was near to famished by the time I got up and found that she’d run her new iPod to fumes and was back to playing with gift bags and boxes in the living room. Although she is perfectly capable of preparing a simple breakfast for herself, she had her eye on the left-over blueberry pancakes and egg, bacon and hashbrown casserole from the day before and she isn’t allowed – yet – to use the microwave.

The day was leisurely in pace and devoid of productivity save the relentless deconstruction of Christmas displays in the house.

Boxing Day marks the end of the Christmas season in our home. The tree, window decor and outdoor holiday decorations came down late in the afternoon after Rob and I found enough inner initiative to get dressed and cracking.

It’s not just a practical thing. The tree was near to kindling even with regular watering and so a hazard. It also becomes a bit of a nuisance, encouraging gifts to loiter about rather than find new homes in drawers or on shelves. Unless one has a compelling religious reason for keeping it up, or other holiday gatherings in the offing, a tree after Christmas Day takes on the aura of a ripe house guest or a tarrying relation.

So the house was swept clean of Christmas but for the gingerbread houses and the compost awaits them. Gifts have, mostly, found their places. With a soccer tournament looming this week, it’s better to have the more onerous clean up tasks completed so that we can devote proper attention to the serious lounging of the New Year’s weekend ahead.

It doesn’t feel like winter yet. Just five days past Solstice and it seems oddly spring like, an illusion of course but I will take it.

My only concession to the Boxing Day gorge took the form of setting up my new eReader and downloading books with the assistance of a gift card. The reader’s a gift from the older girls and the card was from Rob, who knew what they were up to.

I’ve resisted readers for a while, but I’m converted now and currently immersed in Game of Thrones. My only lament is that I can’t easily skip about and read the ending chapters without screwing up the bookmarking. A small thing in comparison to the ease and loss of clutter.

The day ended with Dee’s soccer tournament in the city. Not a big fan of children’s hobbies that require more of the parents than the children in terms of effort, but less of a fan of the inane notion that children benefit from empty praise, which is handed out to Dee and her teammates in abundance. They blew a lead at the half – that they frankly didn’t deserve given the mediocre effort – and simply didn’t show up in the second half after the opposing team managed to score on them.

They are a tiny bunch. Only a few of the girls have height and only one of them has any bulk, so many of them still struggle with the physicality and the size intimidation thing. But nearly half of them are also still terrified of the ball itself, cringing away from it whenever it flies at or even by them, and only about four of them have a kick that would scare a cat. The rest toe kick like …. well …. like girls, and I mean that in the derogatory sense.

I like the coach personally. She knows the game and it’s good for girls to have girl coaches, but she is forever praising them when they don’t deserve it. One of the reasons, in my opinion, that boys progress so much faster in sports is that their male coaches tell them when they’ve played poorly, explaining exactly what they didn’t do and then practicing the crap out of them on those very skills at the next practice. I coached for years and I taught for years more, and empty praise is one of the worst motivators. Smart kids see through it and are resentful and slower kids end up frustrated and resentful.

That aside, Boxing Day 2011 was a good one. Hope yours was as well.


Once upon a time, I was like most Americans in believing that Canadians were whiter, more northern and slightly more redneck versions of us. All I officially learned in school was that we fought Canada, indirectly, in the War of 1812, which my history teachers seemed to think we won although ask a Canadian and he/she will gleefully regale you with the bum kicking they gave us.  Everything else I knew, I learned from Bob and Doug McKenzie.

“Did you even know what a toque was?” Rob asked.

“No,” I said, “and I didn’t know what back bacon was either.  I thought it might be bacon from the back of the pig somewhere and, therefore, not really all that desirable a foodstuff.”

“Americans call it ‘Canadian’ bacon,” he says that with the disdain he reserves for the habit my countrymen have of laying broad claim to the term “American”.

When I was in high school, some of my classmates fixated a bit on Bob and Doug and the whole “Great White North” thing, peppering their speech with “take off”, “hoser”, “g’day” and “eh”.  I found the whole thing only mildly amusing because the parody seemed a bit far-fetched in an “Ernest Goes to Quebec” sort of way, and not really in keeping with the only other bit of Canadian culture knowledge I had, which was a book I read as a grade schooler that was set in Toronto. The author, it turns out, is a well-known Canadian writer and as a 9-year-old, I found her description of the city on the lake compelling enough to make me want to go there someday, which is something I’ve still not done.

“Do you know what a two-four is?” Rob asked me.

One of the lines in the song refers to a 6 packs of two-four.  Like most non-Ontarians, I had no idea.

“It’s a 24 case of beer,” he said. “When we bought beer, we’d ask for two-fours.”

“Well,” because now I was confused, “you were only 15 when you left Ontario. What would you know about a two-four?”

Chagrined, he admitted that perhaps his personal knowledge dated back a bit earlier than most.

It’s funny to me that Canadian English can vary as much as it does. At the grocery earlier this week, I was in the butter and cheese aisle where you can also find bacon and breakfast sausage and in less than five minutes no fewer than 3 different women queried the woman stocking the shelves as to the location of back bacon.

My most recent run in with language peculiarities was actually on Facebook. My friend Jade updated her status with a request for the number of a good plumber. When asked why she needed one, she replied that her garborator had vomited all over her basement. When I told Rob that she was having issues with something called a “garborator”, he replied,

“Well you had one of those in your old house.”

“I did?”

“Sure, in the kitchen sink. You scraped food into it to be chopped before rinsing it away.”

“You mean a garbage disposal?”

“Yeah, a garborator. You call them garbage disposals?”

“Uh huh because if you look at the name written on it,” I explained, “that’s what it says.”

You say garborator; I say garbage disposal. You say toque; I say winter hat. You say back bacon: well, okay, so do I … now. But we all still, mostly, say “Merry Christmas” unless we are really Brit-fluenced and then we say “Happy Christmas”.

So  merry eve and tomorrow morn to all and to all a good day.


By Richard Wheeler (Zephyris) 2007. Lambda rep...

Image via Wikipedia

Of late I have been more immersed in my family of origin than not. Number One Nephew’s situation resulted in a bit of “scheming” with my brother which resulted in N1, as of last evening, being safely in CB’s custody out in California. N1 sounded brighter and more hopeful than he has in a long time, and I know that my brother is tickled to have the boy out there.

We also have Mother for the week and the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. She’s preparing to semi-retire and wants to use up holiday time before she plunges into the lap of leisure. Since we visited over the summer, I suggested fall for her visit and she agreed.

The interesting thing about all this is that for the first time in a long while, I feel connected to my own roots. Most of the time, family is Rob and the girls. His family and his in-laws. Physical distance keeps my side of the relations a strictly virtual experience although sometimes that’s more than enough. But having Mom here plus the hours spent on the phone with my brother in the last couple of weeks has brought up opportunities to talk about myself and my history. That’s not something that happens much anymore.

Monday evening while Rob was out fetching Dee from Girl Guides for me (he noted that I was exhausted and offered to go in my stead), Mom and I sat on the sofa in the living (I cannot tell you how long it’s been in days since I had a sofa or a living room) and talked. The discussion meandered but it centered finally on Will. Nothing earth shattering, but when I thought about it later, I realized that I don’t really talk about him. Because I don’t really have anyone with whom to talk about him.

Dee is uninterested in her late father. I doubt she will ever care much about him at all aside from the passing curious inquiry, if that. That’s as it should be. He was never her dad in an active sense, and she doesn’t need to be burdened with obligation to a memory. Will’s own mother bludgeoned him with his late father’s memory, and he resented it, and her, all his adult life.

Rob listens here and there, as I do to his occasional references to his late wife, but they have nothing to do with our life, us or our future, and so have no place outside the incidental in our conversations.

No one ever brings Will up. Until this past summer, when my sister DNOS surprised me with an out of the blue reference to Will, my family ignores his existence and have readily transferred Dee’s “ownership” to Rob, which probably reflects heavily our backgrounds as adoptees because we don’t place the same odd premium on DNA that most people do.

But all of these things remind me that I am not moored to extended family that is “my own” or to history for that matter. I am like a transplanted tree.

Mick asked Rob recently what our plans for Christmas were this year. Her mother’s nephew and wife want to host the holiday at their home up in the Canadian Rockies. Last year, we moved Christmas Eve to the home of nephew’s auntie. A last-minute venue change to accommodate the older girls wanting to hang out with cousins on their mother’s side. It was a bit disruptive for Dee but she is used to rolling with it anymore. Christmas in a mountain hotel (shudder) would be a bit more than a “roll with it” thing, and add the unpredictable nature of nephew’s alcoholic mother* to the scenario, and a quiet Christmas in front of our own fireplace is infinitely preferable.

Rob just joked that maybe he, Dee and I would go to Arizona to spend Christmas with his mom and her husband then. Dee would like that, but she would be terribly lonely for her sisters either way. But their moving on to traditions of their own is inevitable and her being so much younger means she will have to put her ability to roll to more active use more frequently as time goes on.

This will be year five that I haven’t seen my family at Christmas. Not that it’s here or there. You grow up and away and begin traditions of your own as you date, mate and breed. It’s not the Disney theory of the “circle of life” but more accurate in terms of what life really is. My nearness to my family in the past coupled Will’s dislike of his own family lead us to spend the holidays with them more than anything. Had his mother’s family not been a drama infested Bedlam and his dad’s not an aloof bunch, it might have been different.

It’s proximity (which is totally relative) that dictates our current defaulting to Rob’s in-laws and his family recently. If we’d relocated to Texas or overseas as we’d thought once upon a time, everything would be different. But it’s not as if this happens all the time or that I am even aware of it often because most of the time, it’s just Rob, I and Dee. The older girls have their own lives and we have our routines as well.

Thanksgiving is at our house this weekend. A huge gathering with hopefully better weather than the wet gloom that plagues us right now. The new kitchen is operational minus the dishwasher thought that should be up and running by week’s end. The dining room will be rough, the living room isn’t painted and we’re still padding about on sub-floor, but the decor is the least of a feast.

And I am not complaining. Just observing. Awareness is just that and nothing more.

 

*They are a hard-drinking lot when they gather. I stayed on the outermost bleeding edges at the few family things I’ve attended – and even factoring out that these were funeral oriented where people tend to drink a lot more (although getting hammered after a funeral is not a family tradition that I grew up with, I know that it exists) – I have distanced myself from some branches of my own family because of the tendency to equate copious amounts of libation with “fun”. Growing up with an alcoholic just makes me want to avoid anything that reminds me of it and shield Dee from the idea that drinking too much is ever a good idea for any reason. The main reason though is that people tend to dig deep into their past hurts/issues when the tipping point comes and though nothing has ever been directed toward me – I have heard things I wasn’t meant to hear. That wouldn’t be a Happy Christmas for me.

 


Pike's Peak in Colorado, USA.

Image via Wikipedia

While on holiday, we off-roaded, following the forestry roads high up the peaks into logging country. Tourist types typically keep to the highways and attractions requiring little physical effort. You run into, across or past them on the well-worn trails of 3 km or less and at the venues close to the main roads. You will not find them up a mountain. Especially this time of year with the Canadian summer only officially beginning.

Our first off-road experience took us to Fenwick Falls, a sweet little waterfall up past Canal Flats. Gravel roads and not another person for over four hours as Rob rambled us up and up the mountain in search of Fenwick Lake, a mountain lake that feeds the creek and falls of the same name.

At times, riding shot-gun, I could literally look out my window at the thin air followed by a sheer drop to the river valley below. I have learned though not to do this too much because it’s quite terrifying.

The first time I ever rode  up a mountain, seemingly on the clouds, was back in 1999 on my honeymoon in Colorado. Will decided we should follow the rest of the lemmings to the top of Pike’s Peak. There is a monorail, but he had an issue with heights and refused. He had to be in control to contain his pesky (and in his opinion not at all manly) vertical aversion.

So up the mountain we went and nearing the top, the road is bald, narrow and framed with air. The first time I glanced out the window, I was keenly aware that inches separated our truck from taking flight. And I burst into tears.

I cried the last miles and Will, who couldn’t turn back and couldn’t take his hand off the wheel to take mine because the traffic was too heavy, tried to console me with reassurances about his superior driving skills. Not once did he chide me or try to talk me out of being afraid. He just allowed me to be a girl about the whole thing and when we got to the top, he walked us around until I felt brave enough to ride back down.

Riding down is also hugging the mountain, which isn’t nearly as bad.

I tell the story only because Edie and Silver were also on holiday in the Columbia River Valley this past week and the campground they stayed in could only be accessed through mountain roads. Edie, at shotgun, discovered what I did long ago – shotgun riding up a mountain really sucks.

“She looks down and bursts into tears every time,” Silver confided to Rob when we stopped for a picnic during another off-road adventure later in the week.

When Rob told me, I smiled. I couldn’t help it. The women of men who drive trucks up mountains eventually cultivate some measure of zen though I can’t personally say I enjoy heights or living a bit dangerously, as Rob thinks everyone should.

It’s funny because I can ride up a mountain now and only just phantom brake, but I hate climbing or standing close to edges. Twelve years ago I couldn’t ride but stood on the edge overlooking steep canyons while Will watched nervously from a distance. Change is reversal? Or just change?

We hiked the Hoodoos and due to the erosion, some of the trail is narrow and slippery with sand. I was all for going around but Rob coaxed Dee and I out. I was vocal about my fear. Some of it is actually bad knees. Climbing – down especially – hurts and I am keenly aware that it wouldn’t take much to strain or pop something. But worry about Dee is also a factor.

When we discussed Edie’s tear bursts, I reminded him that just because I don’t cry doesn’t mean I am not frightened. I simply tell him when I am scared and/or uncomfortable. Voicing terror works wonders. It’s an age thing and it’s also grounded in the fact that I don’t feel a need to “man up” for Rob. He is well aware of my weenie side and apparently is fine with it.

Interestingly Edie also has the same trepidation about driving trucks that I had back in the long ago days. Will had a Silverado and I avoided driving it like she declines to drive Silver’s truck.

I didn’t counsel her about the shot-gun position. I could tell she felt a bit foolish. Indeed, it is not something I expected because she is so like my sister DNOS, fearless and strong. But she will be fine. Eventually, she will concentrate on the horizon or on Silver or – perhaps one day – wee people in the backseat and the sheer drop to her side won’t hold much power because it won’t have her undivided attention. Change. Happens to all of us.


Wreaths of artificial poppies used as a symbol...

Image via Wikipedia

In Flanders Fields

by John McCrae, May 1915

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

I was driving in to town at noon when the nation paused for two minutes of silence to mark Remembrance Day, or Veterans Day for you Americans.

Though 9/11 revived the near blunted American interest in honoring war dead, Canadians appear to have never truly forgotten. Poppies proliferate on jackets in the week before the statutory holiday and the day itself is one where many businesses close, cities and towns stage elaborate parades and/or memorial services and school children have the day off to encourage participation.

Silence was broken by a man reciting the John McCrae poem, In Flanders Fields, which is the inspiration for the poppies we wear and should remove immediately after ceremonies are through – I only learned that today. The poppies should be discarded and new ones purchased every year to ensure that money will be raised for the various organizations that support our veterans and their families.

After the poem and a bit of patriotic music that surely must have baffled the teenage demographic that listens to this pop station (I am likely its lone middle-age listener, a lingering side-effect of all the years I spent teaching pre-teens no doubt), the dj followed up with this:

And I will remember you
Will you remember me?
Don’t let your life pass you by
Weep not for the memories