Thursday, November 28, 2013

What Do You Call A Gathering of Local Writers?

A wriggle of writers?
A  bundle of word-biters?
I bet Sheree Fitch knows the answer
And she'll be there wearing purple antlers!

...Oh, my. Deepest apologies to Sheree....
Whatever: This Saturday, New Glasgow's Highland Square, 2-4 pm. Join the party!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

In Conversation With...Pauline "Polly" Ferdinand

First published in The Oxford Journal on Wednesday, November 20, 2013, by Sara Mattinson.

For the first time in 30 years of writing for The Oxford Journal, Westchester’s correspondent finds herself on the other side of the pen and notepad. 
“It’s surprising to realize I’m so close to the very last report I’ll ever be sending in,” says Polly Ferdinand on November 8, ten days before she moves away. 
Polly arrived in Westchester in 1974 after her husband, Winston, retired from the military and  began submitting  news about the Westchester Firefighters Ladies Auxiliary in 1983. 
“I said when I am all through work – I worked at the Lady Wentworth – when I’m all through work, I’ll consider it,” Polly says about the Journal’s repeated request for her to cover community news. “Well, if they didn’t up and close the Lady Wentworth. So that’s how I became a correspondent.”
That was in 1989.

Note the photo of Polly in her Leading Air Woman uniform on the left.
The gregarious 77-year-old says what she enjoyed most about being the correspondent was meeting people from all over. 
“The people that I’ve met have been fantastic. I’ve been a greeter at the Westchester Pancake Supper for 30 years,” she says. “One year, this lady walked past me and she had an accent. I remembered how she was dressed so when she came back through, I said, ‘Excuse me, would you please tell me where you’re from?’ ‘Down under,’ she said. She was visiting people in Halifax and they asked if she’d ever been to a pancake supper. They were coming to Westchester and we were her very first pancakes.” 
When she tells me she is originally from Ontario, we discover we have a common connection in Trenton -- that’s where she met her husband. 
“I was in the military for five years on my own. I was a teletype operator,” Polly explains. “That’s how I met my husband. I was working at the counter [at CFB Trenton] and a bunch of boys had been transferred from St. Hubert, Quebec. The only way you could come into the Airwomen’s Mess is if you were sponsored by someone. Because I was working and hadn’t sponsored anyone, they asked if I would sponsor that airman over there. All I did was look at my future husband – not knowing he was my future – and said Okay. But I said, ‘He has to understand that when I’m off work at ten o’clock, he leaves, too.’ I finished my shift and went over to tell him and he said the least I could do was sit down and talk. He was just another airman.”
It took three years for the two of them to get serious, a case of “two strong personalities trying to mesh,” Polly says (both are the second of five siblings). They married in 1954 and their son was born in 1960.  
“In those years, if you had a child, you had to take your release,” Polly says.
Born in Almonte, outside of Ottawa, the military is in her blood.
“My father was in the military, my uncle was in the military. When we would have the gatherings, so many relatives were in the military. My son. And  now my grandson is stationed at CFB Shearwater flying on the Sea Kings so the tradition has kept on going.”
Because her family lived under the fly path for planes heading to the Maritimes, Polly says she grew up wanting to fly in them. 
“The air force has always been there. Army was our family but the air force – I guess it was because of the aircraft. And I married an airman.”
When she and Winston and Kevin, then 14, moved to the Ferdinand home in Westchester, she had to learn to call her husband by another name. 
“He was always called Ferd because in the military, everyone had a nickname. His family called him Wint. I came east and people were talking about Winston and Wint – but vice versa, they’d say ‘Who’s Ferd?’ Civvie Street was Wint and military was Ferd. At home [Ontario], I’m Pauline. When I joined the military, I had to have a nickname. I became Polly through the military but no one knows me here as Pauline.”
Polly’s secret to becoming part of the community is simple: Get involved. 
“I joined the Westchester Women’s Club and was a part of it for seven years. I’ve been in the Westchester Firefighters Ladies Auxiliary for 31 years. So all together I’ve been part of a group for 38 of my 39 years. Thank goodness for these organizations because they keep the community prospering. You form bonds that last forever.”
As a member of the military then as the wife of an airman, Polly has lived in St. Jean, QC, Aylmer and Trenton, ON, Greenwood, NS, and Summerside, PE. Yet she was happy to live in rural Nova Scotia for 39 years (her husband warned her when they married that he wouldn’t live anywhere else). 
Winston died in 2007 but it was her sister’s death this past fall that precipitated a major change in Polly’s life. 
Her sister Joan left the entire contents of her  household to Polly and paid the rent and utilities on her apartment in Almonte to ensure that Polly could move from her home in Westchester without having to worry about moving any furniture. 
“My family wants me up there,” says Polly. “I’ve been working on this since the 8th of October and I’m moving on the 19th of November. And believe you me, every day, there’s nothing boring. I never know what anyone’s going to say to me.” 
She takes a deep breath, lets it out in a sigh. This tough air woman is trying to hold it together.
“Emotionally, this is a hard thing to do,” she admits.
At the time of our conversation, she’s facing all the ‘last of...’ moments that come with leaving a community after nearly four decades.
“My two nieces were here the other day with their hubbies and I had two bottles of jam left, the very last two I was ever going to make so I gave it to them. Those are the very last maple tarts I’m ever going to make.”
The Oxford Journal staff has enjoyed its  share of them. 
Polly, our thanks for all the news and baked goods you’ve shared over the past 30 years. You’ve touched many lives in Cumberland County and we wish you all the best on the rest of your life’s amazing adventure. 

Sunday, November 24, 2013

No More Wascals

"Rosie is spending a lot of time in her house," my husband said at suppertime (which I'm supposed to point out was a delicious roasted chicken dinner that he cook). "She needs a friend."
Here we go again.
In 2008, when we built the chicken coop, we divided it in half. One half was the coop and the other was storage for food, straw and a rabbit pen. The chickens were my want (as soon as I saw these 72 acres, to be honest) but rabbits were Dwayne's because he had rabbits as a kid.
"After one winter, I had 67 rabbits," he told me. "Good thing I lived on a farm so they had lots to eat."
He sold some as pets. "I used to put a sign out at the end of the road: Rabbits For Sale." He was 12 or 13.
At the age of 52, he wanted to revisit his childhood.
 We started with two rabbits - a brown one named Nutmeg and a grey one named Rosie (named after my first car!). Then a few weeks later, we got two more rabbits - a black one named Peppa and a white one named Daisy (named after my first dog!).  They all started out as babies but they grew into big rabbits.
Nutmeg picked on the others so we gave her away.
Peppa died during a thunderstorm in the summer of 2011.
Daisy died in the fall of 2012.
Rosie is in fine fettle. My pretty little bunny. She had the outside pen all to herself this summer. We didn't flip it onto its side last winter, let the grass grow up through spring so she had a lush jungle of grass that she slowly mowed through until September. Pretty good cottage experience for a five-year-old rabbit.
But I don't want any more rabbits. They serve no purpose in our life and lead a very limited existence (although in more spacious quarters than I see most "pet" rabbits in outside). We are going to see out Rosie's life and be done with rabbits. My husband suggested we breed her once but I also don't want the responsibility of finding homes for baby bunnies. Not everyone is willing to keep a rabbit for years and years and years.
I don't think Rosie is actually lonely; I think she's annoyed. She has a lovely big space in which to roam, she's reunited with the hollow log, she has a great "condo" we created that will allow her to sit in sunshine by the window if she ever gets up the ambition to climb up the straw bales (instead of burrowing through them) BUT she is sharing that half of the coop with chickens.
Young, chatty, flappy, freaky chickens.
With young roosters just starting to crow.
With the big old rooster waking everyone up at 5 am ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WALL.
She's definitely not lonely.
And she's not getting a friend. We are a one-rabbit town.
But if anyone would like a handsome young rooster just learning to crow, watch for the sign at the end of the road.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Leaping Over Language Barriers

First published in The Oxford Journal on Wednesday, November 13, 2013 by Sara Mattinson.

Last June, there was this mother-daughter road trip to Ontario. Our route was a loop, down through the States then after a week of visits with family and friends, back home through Canada.  
Stopping for lunch in Quebec at a TransCanada service centre, we ordered food from A&W and I said to the woman behind the counter, “May I have a fork, please?”
I rarely use my high school French because my accent is so awful, no one responds to me in French anyway, which is good because I’m limited to high school French vocabulary drills: I know words, not sentences. 
But since I knew the French word for fork, I added, “Une fourchette.”
Before she handed it to me, the server held up the white plastic fork wrapped in plastic.
“You say?”
“Fork,” I told her.
“Fo-ork,” she repeated.
Putting our tray of food down on a table, I said to my mother, “Well, that was nice. I taught someone something today.”
I imagined the woman going home and using her new English word all weekend. 
“Fo-ork,” she’d say over and over until someone in her family yelled, “ArrĂȘte! Fermez la bouche!” (Oh, so apparently I do know a sentence in French.)
If you think this can only happen between an English Canadian and a French Canadian, let me share with you the exchange between a Nova Scotian and an Ontarian.
My husband called me at work to ask, “I thought I’d cook hamburg patties for dinner. Do you want one?”
And I answered, “Jane and I are eating in Truro before the movie. I won’t need dinner.”
He laughed. “Okay, then, I mean lunch.”
Except when my born-and-raised Nova Scotia country boy pronounced the word lunch, it was like that woman in Quebec pronouncing her new English word. He rolled it off his tongue like a strange flavour: “Lu-u-nch.”
We even confuse the puppy because she gets a mid-day meal. When I’m feeding her, she knows it as lunch; when Dwayne feeds her, he says, “Do you want your dinner?” 
You’d be surprised, I’m sure, to know this debate happens rather frequently in our household because to me, the meals of the day are breakfast-lunch-dinner while my husband adheres to the breakfast-dinner-supper combination. Where I come from, supper is a casual dinner, like bacon and eggs or grilled cheese sandwiches, so sometimes supper in our house really is supper and every so often I end up eating dinner twice in one day. 
If that’s the worst miscommunication we have in our marriage, we’re pretty lucky. 
It shows how important an open mind and a wide-ranging education is in order to communicate with people, even in our own country. These anecdotes aren’t examples of dialects (my pronunciation of “butch-er” versus my husband’s “boot-cher”) but of semantics, the meaning of words. I think it’s rather fun that within a rather homogeneous nation, we can still find ways of confusing, and teaching, each other.
Speaking of fun, for a magazine article, I interviewed a family from England who now live on Prince Edward Island. The teenaged girls told me about the snow that fell during their first Christmas here. 
“We spent all day outside playing in the snow and rolling around in the garden,” they said.  
When I explained that here, a garden involved flowers and vegetables and that what they really meant was the yard, their mother piped up and said, “In England, a yard is concrete. Usually where you park the car.”
Makes travelling through Quebec and ordering “un hamburger” not seem quite so foreign now. 
My favourite semantic mix-up happened  during a trip to Scotland in 2010 when the hostess of our B&B in Aberfeldy recommended a restaurant in neighbouring Weem. Since it was within walking distance yet through the countryside, she said to us, “I’ll give you a torch for the walk home.”
Having grown up reading Enid Blyton and Agatha Christie, I knew that a torch was a flashlight but when I looked at my husband’s face, it was clear he was picturing a stick with an oil-soaked rag wrapped around one end that we would set on fire to light our way home. And he was excited about that. He was having a Braveheart moment.
I was very sorry to douse the flames of his excitement by informing him that his new Scottish word had the same meaning as a familiar English one. 
C’est dommage

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Breathing Through My Eyes

It has to be the time change. 
I hate to blame November, the month that is like the porcupine of the calendar: misunderstood because it is slow and prickly but really it has a soft underbelly and it just wants to be friends even if it hurts. But I’m so sluggish, in brain and body, so edgy and itchy, and sleeping so damn lightly, it must be an effect of the time change. 
For the months of September and October, I was wrapped up in creating my presentation for the provincial Alzheimer conference, on top of doing all my regular writing for the newspaper. You must remember: I might be sitting in a chair for hours with only my fingers moving but, man, my brain is spinning like a garden whirl-i-gig in a Maritime breeze. It's hard on my eyes, too, staring at a screen for hours. Writing is hard work no matter how many walks the dog gets through the fields while I’m trying to produce a column. (Sometimes the butt-in-chair must bow to the get-your-butt-outside rule)
I was looking forward to November. There was nothing much on the calendar, just a church service at the end of the month. November was anticipated as the month when I could slow down, breathe and relax, and let the creativity flow. I wanted to release those creative voices inside my head but all I hear is that horrible screechy sound my brakes make when I haven’t driven the car for a couple of days. 
I’ve been so busy, it’s like I’m stuck in October. I’m just as busy. It’s not the creativity that’s been released but all those important-to-me projects that were put on hold while I focused on the conference. And it’s not a breeze but a gale that’s keeping my brain spinning spinning spinning. For creative types, this is a spooky feeling. When the flow is blocked, when the work is a grind, when the incredible lightness of being creative is not experienced. We know what it feels like and when we can’t tap into it, well, we get a little twitchy. 
But November is doing its best to help me slow down, breathe and relax. 
On Sunday morning, we were surrounded by fog so there was nothing else to do but lie in bed and read. And I did that. 
And this morning when my alarm went off as usual at 5:15, instead of hitting the snooze button to wake up in bed instead of on the yoga mat, the no-longer-full moon was shining high in the sky, turning the trees and the lawn silver and shadowy so I had to get out of bed and stand at the big window in our bedroom soaking it all in. I woke up through my eyes this morning. 
There are ten days left in November. Ten days until - *gasp* - the lights and garlands and gifts and food of December invades my house. Ten days to hold onto the moonlight, breathe through my eyes and change my time.

Monday, November 18, 2013

A Dog's Watch

When you think about it, there is nothing more hopeful, more you-never-know than a dog. Perhaps this is why so many writers have dogs; you think it’s about the walking -- and it is -- but it is also about persistence and longing and the possibility that THIS TIME, the dream will come true. 
There are two dogs and two cats in our household. They each own a watch, set to their particular animal time:
7 am
5 pm
Yes, there is a noon in our house. Our younger dog needs a lot of food to fuel her high energy level but she can’t handle a big breakfast.
Because in our house, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Since 2002, when my parents’ dog was pooping blood and the vet put her on a bland diet of cooked ground beef and rice, I’ve fed my dogs a home-cooked meal for breakfast: meat, fruit or vegetable, a banana, rice or potato, a poached egg, a powdered supplement and a dollop of probiotic yogurt to keep the canine gas under control.
Truly, it is an act of love to devote 20 minutes of every morning to preparing the dogs’ breakfast. At least I get to drink my first cup of coffee.
Stella’s obsession with food is entirely undiminished by her advanced age of ten and three-quarters. And at her age, routine is very important. 
So she and I perform the same ritual every morning. She is fed first then I begin to assemble Abby’s breakfast. Stella stands RIGHT THERE.
“You’ve already had yours, Stella,” I say. Every day. “You’re not getting another breakfast. Go lie down.”
And she goes. Backing up the entire way out of the kitchen. In case I change my mind. In case this is the day I decide to put that bowl down in front of her, again. It could happen. You never know. That’s why the ritual happens, that’s why she never gives up. Every day there is the chance that a miracle could happen.

Is it time for a meal yet? 

Monday, November 11, 2013

In Conversation With...Harold Patterson

First published in The Oxford Journal on Wednesday, November 6, 2013 by Sara Mattinson.

* 2013 marks the 60th anniversary of the Korean War (1950-1953). Harold Patterson served in that war. Earlier this year, The Government of Canada declared July 27 will be recognized annually as “Korean War Veterans Day”. *

Around his neck, Harold Patterson wears the Ambassador of Peace medal he just received from the Korean government. He shakes hands with a representative of Veterans Affairs Canada prior to receiving a Certificate of Recognition from the Canadian government. 

     Sitting in the beautiful country kitchen of his house on King Street in Pugwash, Harold Patterson talks with ease about his service during the Korean War (1950 to 1953). His detailed memories are in sharp contrast to the quiet, sunny autumn day. 
“I’m a combat veteran,” says Harold, who joined the Armed Forces while he was still in high school in Montreal. “I was with the First Battalion of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, which is an airborne infantry. The first Canadian forces had been over there for a year and the war was still going on so they needed replacements. They decided to take the three First Battalions that were in Canada: the Vandoos [Royal 22nd Regiment], the Royal Canadian Regiment based in Petawawa, and us. All airborne regiments. We were all sent to Korea in October 1951. I came home in December 1952.”
He starts to speak then he stops as if gathering his thoughts on a difficult subject, not pleasant memories. 
“You know when you go over, you’re a young guy and full of pee and vinegar then you get there. You really do say to yourself, ‘What in the hell am I doing here? We’re not fooling around here’,” he says. “But anyway I survived it. We were in very heavy fighting for two periods of time but we made a good account of ourselves. After that period of time, they created what they called third battalions who came over and replaced us. They were there until 1953. It was pretty hard.”
According to Harold, they fought through rice paddies and lowlands that were wet and mucky. 
“We had quite a cold winter and a very bad rainy season the year I was there,” he says. “It rained for 38 days non-stop. The skin on your feet was the colour of that – ” He points to a piece of white paper lying on the kitchen table. “Talk about waterlogged. And when we came out of the line, we were in such a filthy state that they had large tents with hot showers and you walked up to one and you stripped naked. You got deloused coming out and your head shaved. Oh, we were crawling with stuff. They gave you a whole new kit to put on. You went on to rest and recuperation for awhile. Oh, we were a mess.” 
He pauses again. “It was not the best. But you’re young and the discipline is there and you accept it and you do it.”
When he returned to Canada after more than a year of fighting in Korea, Harold admits it was hard to adjust. 
“Parts of it still do stick in your mind. It’s an experience you go through. The army trains you the best they can. If you are a combat soldier, you’re shooting at people and that certainly isn’t something people brought up in Canada adjust to very easily. You have a difficult time with that.”
But the hardest thing, he says, was visiting a family whose son was killed in Korea. 
“That’s a difficult thing to have to go and meet a mother who has a son who hasn’t come home. It tears you apart, really,” Harold says. “You can imagine what it must be like for them because they see you and the last time they saw their son, he was wearing the same uniform. That was a tough one to do.”
As a young man in combat, fighting for his life and for his country, he couldn’t help but consider the point of it all. 
“You often think when you’re fighting in the line, ‘You know, the guy on the other side comes from a home the same as me’ and at times you do say to yourself, ‘What the hell are we doing here?’ It is true, you do think that way.”
After he returned home, Harold decided to leave the Armed Forces. 
“The Iron Curtain went up in Europe and we were slated to go to Europe,” he says. “It affected my mother terribly, me being in the Forces, so I took my discharge.”
In those days, bodies were not repatriated so the soldiers who died in Korea are buried in Korea.  According to a Government of Canada website about the Korean War, “516 Canadians died and of these 378 soldiers are buried in the United Nations Memorial Cemetery in Busan, South Korea. Another 16 soldiers have not been found and 5 sailors were lost at sea. The remaining 117 soldiers are buried in Canada and Japan.”
Harold and his wife, Shirley, retired to Pugwash twenty years ago after living in Montreal and Ottawa. That’s when he became involved with the Royal Canadian Legion’s national poster and literary contests, so this time of year, Harold is busy speaking to students. 
“I don’t speak about shooting and killing,” he says. “I try to talk to the young people in regards to the effects that the war has on people.”
His message has to do with avoiding violence. 
“As they grow up, they should do everything they can do avoid confrontations,” Harold says he tells the students. “Even starting with bullying in school. One thing leads to another and when you get into a fight with someone in schools – the result of the fight isn’t going to do anything for anyone. It’s an exercise in futility. And wars are terrible things.”
For this, he provides a poignant statement. 
“In my regiment alone, we had 127 killed, 280 wounded. Just in our regiment. It really hits you,” Harold admits. “This goes on when you’re there. The first ones that get killed or injured really shake you up. You say ‘This is for real.’ And when we were coming out of the line and went to southern Busan, you see all the white crosses at the military cemetery and it really impacts you. You visually see how many were killed.”
Harold, who turns 82 on November 12, says Remembrance Day is very important to the veterans who served in wars. 
“Many of us on Remembrance Day really do think of buddies who didn’t make it home,” he says. “For the young people especially and the parents of soldiers who did not come home, to have that minute to reflect sincerely about the way they sacrificed their lives to help others and thank these individuals who didn’t come home. The statement that we make: ‘We will remember them’. Yes, we should and we will remember them. Some of them had awfully short lives.”

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

The More You Know, The Easier It Will Be

First published in The Oxford Journal on Wednesday, October 30, 2013 by Sara Mattinson.

Most episodes of “bad behaviour” my father displayed during his years with Alzheimer disease had a cause that could be figured out with a little detective work. 
One evening, he awoke from a snooze on the couch and seemed confused. He put on one slipper but not the other and proceeded to clomp around the house. It was well after nine o’clock, my mother was away, and I wanted him to go to bed because I was tired after another day of taking care of him on my own. 
My father began to go back and forth to the bathroom; he would go in but come right out again. My patience was wearing out and he was becoming agitated. I just wanted him to go upstairs to bed. 
We ended up standing nose to nose in the living room and my father snarled, “I’m going to push you down the stairs.”
This was so unlike him, even inside this disease, that it snapped me out of my tired impatience. Yet I was beyond being able to play detective so I called my mother in Georgia, where she was visiting her grandchildren, and told her what was going on. 
“If he’s going in and out of the bathroom but not using it, the problem is there,” she said.
And she was right. So very simply, wisely right. The toilet seat was down; without a hole visible, he couldn’t distinguish the toilet from the floor. 
This always has stood out as a Big Learning Moment and it was driven home to me last week at the Alzheimer Society of Nova Scotia’s 24th annual provincial conference. I attended the conference as a presenter providing a family caregiver perspective but I benefited greatly from what the medical experts had to share. 
One in particular connects to my story about Dad and the toilet. Dr. Sameh Hassan, an assistant Professor working in the Department of Psychiatry at Dalhousie University, started out explaining how eyes and ears and muscles age. I wondered what on earth all this physiology had to do with dementia care? It turns out it has everything to do with it, including the answer to why my father couldn’t see the toilet. 
This is how our eyes age: They don’t take in as much light, they don’t adapt as quickly to changes in light, and the eye muscles weaken. All of these symptoms are worse in someone who has dementia. 
According to Dr. Hassan, there are two major issues we need to address when providing care for someone with dementia: Contrast and Lighting. 
Contrast was my father’s problem. His eyes’ inability to see the delineations of lines and shapes meant he couldn’t distinguish the white toilet from the white floor. Don’t make fun of the wood toilet seat! It provides the right kind of contrast. 
Think of the doors in your house. If the walls are light, and the door is white, a person with dementia can’t see where the door is. We experienced that in the first nursing home room my father was in; with grey walls and door, he was never going to know where the bathroom was because there was no contrast. 
If you know someone in the early stages of dementia who is complaining that something is wrong with his or her glasses because they are having trouble reading the paper, it’s not the glasses. That’s normal aging coupled with the effect of dementia. The connection that’s made in the brain between what is seen and what it means is broken.  It’s more of a comprehension problem.
Here is my biggest takeaway from this conference: This information is out there, the resources are available but they aren’t getting to the newly diagnosed and their family early enough, or at all. We need to receive all this insightful information but we also need to ask for it. We know what’s going on; it’s knowing why that makes a difference.  
Dementia, and caring for someone with dementia, is never going to be easy. But it is possible to make it easier. 
Call whatever phone numbers for an infoline or caregivers outreach number you get your hands on.  You will connect with caring, knowledgeable, compassionate people who want to help. Even if you just want to talk, someone is there to listen. And you never know what you will learn.

Check out this link to the "dementia-friendly" washroom designed by the Dementia Centre at the University of Stirling in Scotland:
* a WC = water closet in the UK *

The Dementia Centre has designed both a dementia-friendly home and a dementia-friendly hospital. Innovative and forward-thinking.