Love Your Elders Well


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I freely admit that I’ve had a stormy relationship with my parents for all my life. And I’ve seen enough family relationships being played out at hospital bedsides to know that I am not alone.
As children, we see our parents as all-powerful, because they hold all the power over our lives.
As adults, we begin to see them as human beings, with all their faults and foibles.
If we are lucky, we will some day come to the point at which we realize that they are frail and mortal and that, try as we might, we will never truly understand the fears they grew by and through.
Perhaps then we can cradle them in our hearts, and, if they allow it, in our arms.

Old-Stock Canadians

An open letter to our nation’s prime minister.



Dear Mr Harper
My personal ancestry search uncovered the shocking truth that my daughters’ paternal great-great-grandfather fled to Canada to escape prosecution for theft and murder (the Australian arm of the family counts that as proud history, the Canadian arm hid it with such care that neither my children’s father nor their grandfather had a clue).  Nonetheless, this makes my husband and his family old-stock Canadians.
On the other hand, I have, until very recently, been proud to call myself a Canadian, even though I came to this country as a 2-year-old and became a citizen as a 10-year old. I have volunteered as a campaign pollster, volunteered at voting polls, contributed as a member of neighbourhood volunteer organizations of several kinds.
I have never once evaded or cheated on my taxes; I have been called to serve on juries and been tapped to run for two different political parties. When we opened our doors to the desperate immigrants of the 70s, I went to the local college to learn how to teach English language and culture – for FREE to these refugees and taught for two mornings a week for the next two years without receiving any compensation for helping these people become better citizens of their new country.
I wonder how many of the “old stock” can claim even a fraction of that.

Your own ancestral history, Mr Harper, is most interesting.
Your Canadian roots begin with Christopher Harper – born in a small village in Yorkshire in 1730 – emigrated to Nova Scotia in 1774, during a time of great rebellion in the Atlantic.
History goes on to record:

“Two of the most vindictive in their attitude toward the former rebels were Christopher Harper, a Yorkshireman, and parson John Eagleson,” writes Snowdon. “With the eruption of hostilities Harper had taken an active and determined stand against the invaders, and on November 7, 1776, had entered the fort with his family. The burning of his house and outbuildings forced him to remain in the fort for two years. While rebuilding, he and his associates had to remain in arms until the end of the war on account of ‘the rebels being so much incensed against him.’ Harper’s unpopularity had arisen from his claims for compensation of his losses.”

Christopher Harper, writes historian Clarke, “was accused of having abused his office of justice-of-the-peace. He was guilty, found the judges, of violent and oppressive measures and they recommended his removal.”

“In order to further the aims of the government in creating a spirit of reconciliation,” Snowdon wrote, “Harper was dismissed from ‘every judicial power that he [held in order to]quiet the minds of the inhabitants.'”

I concur with writer Roy MacGregor’ penultimate statement: “It is, of course, ridiculously unfair to presume that the small-minded Christopher Harper has returned to life in an ancestor who likely doesn’t even know the Original Harper exists – just as it is absurd to accuse Ignatieff of having royal airs before he even reaches the office to which he aspires.” (source:…/tracing-th…/article4274405/)

But, according to your term “old-order Canadian,” I am a second-class citizen. I feel personally deeply betrayed by this increasingly elitist increasingly xenophobic government.

I find myself asking one last question: My daughters are descendants of a 19th century criminal and a 21st century immigrant. Are they “old stock Canadians?” And should they be more proud of their “old stock” roots or their immigrant roots (over five hundred years of legitimate business men on my paternal side and academics on the maternal side)?

I realize, of course, Mr. Harper, that you are far too busy keeping more of my ilk out of the country.
So I can only offer the farewell of my forefathers: “Mr. Harper – Geh mitt Gott, aber geh!” Oh, right! Of course, Mr. Harper – I forgot that you would not deign to read anything except English – so allow me to translate that for you: “Go with God, but for God’s sake GO”

Walking the Iron Horse

The Iron Horse Trail

Iron Horse

How many times I’ve looked at the street map and guessed that walking from Kitchener to Waterloo was just too far, I really don’t know. But I had eight hours to kill and $3.00 each way for the local bus was just too much when I was only earning $2.00 an hour. Besides, I reasoned, I needed to walk to put in my ten thousand steps per day.

What I had not accounted for was that the insoles of my shoes had worn out, but, aside from some awkward blisters, that soon became immaterial.

In Hamilton, I was quite used to walking for the sake of shopping, but the map between cities just seemed to cover much longer distances.

The heat of the day felt more like August, but the scent of the air was clearly September: that wonderful combination of fall flowers so reminiscent of my youthful  first days of school.  And some part of me clearly channeled my youth. I was still several minutes from the crossing at Victoria Street when I registered someone standing on the sidewalk facing me apparently increasingly frustrated by the constant stream of traffic that prevented him from crossing the street. When I was directly opposite, now also between the two yellow lines that mark a pedestrian crossing point. My arm swung up and out of its own accord and my finger pointed across the road.  On either side of us, the cars slowed and stopped, obedient to the decades’ by-gone ‘stop and point’ signal. I strode confidently forward and the younger man opposite raised his eyebrows in surprise before he followed suit. “So that’s how it’s done,” he grinned as we passed each other. “I don’t honestly know, “I smiled back. “But apparently it’s worth a try.”

My legs quietly ate up the blocks of sidewalk, while my eyes drank in the brilliant autumn flowers. There was no question but that my Canadian world had changed in the past six decades. The bright saris and snowy headscarves of two elderly women taking shelter from the sun under a crab-apple tree was enough to tell me that.  As I left the street to join the trail that marked the old railway line, the sight of two women jogging along the path confirmed my perception. Not only the face of our culture, but also its concerns have changed for the better. Fitness has become more important that floors, and learning different outlooks and ways from ‘the other’ more important than teaching them ours. I may miss the first days of school this year, but I have no nostalgia for Kinder, Kirche, Küche.

I have changed too in the intervening years. Schoolmates remember me as a girl who would blush if spoken to. The burden I carried as a teenager dragged my head earthward and kept my eyes fixed on the ground to avoid those of others. Although I will always be a shy introvert, I am no longer either the victim or the victim-in-waiting. I have sunk my roots deep into the earth like the wildflowers around me.

The wildflowers on the trail are indeed abundant this year and I am grateful for another change. No longer are they mowed down in favour of some imported grasses, they are allowed to run riot, their heads held proudly upward.  Shy asters, gentle brown-eyed Susans, and bold goldenrod scent the air around me.

Ah – but there is a scent that makes me chuckle for it is certainly not native or quite natural. Here in a cool shady patch alongside the dry creek-bed, there lingers the scent of recently burned marijuana. Someone sheltered here not so long ago for a little illicit relaxation. Once a totally foreign odour, I know it well, for it drifts nightly from the balconies around my apartment and, when the weather is colder, permeates the hallways.

The trail comes to an end and I dash into the Bauer Lofts to use the bathroom. My finances are stretched past their limits so I don’t even browse through the offerings at the deli. And by now my heels are very sore. To my delight I discover an assistance agency just a few doors further along and I am every so grateful for the bandages they give me.

The difficult part of this journey is not the journey itself; it is the need to ask for help when I was the one who freely offered help for over thirty years. Asking and receiving are harder than offering and giving. But the journey continues.

The trail