Tuesday, December 31, 2013

On The Frosty Eve of A New Year

it's cold,
I'm told.
-- my mother's poem, right off the top of her head when I said, "I need a poem about a cold winter's night at the end of the year."
Maybe once she gets into the champagne, her poetic genius will emerge.
Till then, I'll let the photos be the poem:

The dream of summer..

Can you spot my Christmas geese? They didn't get rescued in time!

The chickens are snuggled up tight in their coop. They'll be dreaming of summer, too.

The last sunset of 2013

Happy New Year! May 2014 be a good year for you and yours.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Orange You Glad You Hung Up Your Stocking?

First published in The Oxford Journal on Wednesday, December 25, 2013, by Sara Mattinson.

If I sit quietly, for long enough, and relax, without thinking too hard...
If I picture the living room of the home we lived in when I was a child...
If I see in my mind a decorated Christmas tree and wrapped gifts under it, if the morning light is faint – but not before six o’clock, by decree of my father – if snow is falling outside the big windows in the old house...
I can be there, tiptoeing across the green carpet in a long flannel nightgown (new for Christmas Eve), peering into the living room to see if Santa had come.
What was I looking for? What would reveal to me that Santa had been there? It would be the most new and wonderful change from the night before when we draped our stockings over the back of a chair and put out a glass of milk and plate of cookies: Those once-flat stockings now thick and bulging. 
My stocking, propped up by the arm of the chair, was forest green felt with a snowman; my sister’s, on another chair, was royal blue felt with a large piece of holly. On the couch were my parents’ wool work socks, bulging as well, and this excited us too; Santa was here for Mum and Dad!
Around the stockings were the unwrapped gifts that Santa left for us. A record and a book, Fisher Price toys and a stuffed toy (a dog or Kermit the Frog) in the early days, CDs and earrings, books and clothes in later years. For my mother and father, piles of books and boxes of chocolates (Laura Secord miniatures and Turtles).
Always, always in the toe of each stocking, each sock, a huge orange.  
(For a kid, fruit in a stocking is a shocking waste of valuable space. What was Santa thinking?)
If I sit quietly, without thinking too hard, if I am relaxed and picturing that silent, pristine Christmas morning scene, I can actually FEEL the anticipation of my six-year-old self. The memory is so clear and strong, I can remember my pure childish joy in discovering that SANTA WAS HERE!
Like all good legends, the story of how the Christmas stocking came to be a tradition has several versions, having evolved over hundreds of years to reflect differences in cultures, time period and the storyteller’s prerogative to embellish and rewrite. 
The most common story, from Europe, is this one: A father had three beautiful daughters but he despaired of any of them marrying because he was too poor to provide dowries for his daughters. 
One Christmas Eve, while passing through the man’s village, St. Nicholas of Myra heard the locals discussing the uncertain future of these girls. Knowing the man would be too proud to accept a gift of money from him, St. Nicholas waited until dark then snuck to the man’s house and dropped three bags of gold coins down the chimney.
It just so happened that the daughters had washed their stockings that day and had hung them by the fireplace to dry. The bags of gold coins dropped into the stockings, one bag for each daughter. When they woke in the morning, they each found enough money to provide each of them a suitable dowry and they were all able to get married.
As word spread about the bags of coins falling down the chimney on Christmas Eve, others began hanging their stockings by the fireplace, hoping for a similar gift. 
St. Nicholas, the original secret Santa.
For North Americans, the tradition of hanging stockings by the fireplace was immortalized by Clement Clarke Moore’s famous 1823 poem, “A Visit From St. Nicholas”, which we now know as “The Night Before Christmas”, in which he writes: 
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there.

Over the past few years, I’ve tried to return my family to this simpler way of giving gifts at Christmas. 
“Just stockings!” I say every November, but on December 25 there are more gifts than technically count as ‘stocking gifts’. But this year, money is tight and we also agree that truly, no one needs anything so finally my request is being taken seriously. 
“It’s the way Christmas used to be done,” my mother said to me.
My request for ‘just stockings’ resulted in an unexpected remembrance from her. For what I think is the first time, she told me about her Christmas stockings from her childhood in the 1940’s.
“We used to get a navel orange and a Red Delicious apple and a silver dollar in the toe,” she told me. “There were also a mix of nuts and little wrapped gifts. But I don’t remember what they were.”
You may think that the silver dollar represents the legend of St. Nicholas but there is a version of the saint’s story that replaces the bags of gold with gold balls. 
And that’s what the orange in the stocking represents. 

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

In Conversation With...Eric Mosher

First published in The Oxford Journal on Wednesday, December 18, 2013, by Sara Mattinson.

In the 1998 movie “You’ve Got Mail”, there is a store called The Little Shop Around The Corner. In Oxford, there also is a shop around the corner, more commonly referred to, however, as “the alphabet store”.
“Next year will be forty years of having this store,” says Eric Mosher, now the sole owner of  GJDE Enterprises, a name that doesn’t even hint at the gifts and treasures inside the big, old store.
“We moved here in 1974,” Eric says of what would be the Mosher family’s last move. 
Before Eric was born in Springhill, George Mosher had operated the Stedman’s store on Water Street in Oxford, only to return to the same location after 13 years of managing Stedman’s stores in Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and New Brunswick. 
“It’s certainly been a great building and Oxford has been good to us,” Eric says.
It was quite a building for a 13-year-old boy to move into. The store is on the first floor, the family living quarters are on the second while on the third floor...
“That’s Oxford’s first theatre,” Eric explains. “A.E. Smith owned this building. Before he built the Capitol Theatre, he operated a theatre in this building. It was before safety film so the movies were bursting into flames. The projection booth is lined with tin.”
By the time the Moshers moved in, the third floor had been converted into a kind of giant playroom. 
“This building was wonderful,” recalls Eric, now 52. “There was a swing up on the third floor and rings you could hang from. It’s a huge open space, 15 feet tall. It was great.”
Eric, who has a Masters of Fine Arts, now uses the vast third-floor space as a studio. 
“I paint up there. We’ve rehearsed plays up there and made sets. The mural across the street was varnished upstairs. Because the space is so big. You just have to be able to get [the project] up there and get it out,” he laughs.
He was involved with the Maple Players and hopes to get that group going again and through Visual Arts Nova Scotia, he worked on mural projects in the county. Most often now, though, he directs his creative energy into the store displays.
Has he found it challenging to pursue his artistic interests in a rural area far from Halifax?
“It’s all a point of view,” Eric says. “People will tell me my talent is wasted here in Oxford and I feel if it’s benefiting anybody, it’s not wasted. I don’t really have any big dreams. I’ve done pretty much what I want to do. I’m pretty fulfilled.”
The store has provided an income that supports his artistic endeavours. 
“I never pursued trying to make money off my art work.”
Eric got involved in the day-to-day running of the store in 1985, after he’d completed his Masters degree. By then, his father had left Stedman’s and was running the store as an independent. “GJDE” represents the members of the family: George and Joan are Eric’s parents while the D is for his sister Deborah. 
On his return, Eric says he told his father they couldn’t survive as a variety store.
“I thought we needed to carry more unique things. We’d never been to trade shows that weren’t with Stedman’s so we started going to trade shows and Dad sort of begrudgingly let me experiment with product. When it started to sell, I got more say in what we were carrying,” he says. “It was fun because we’d go to a show and there’d be people there [with Stedman’s] and they would be saying that it was really difficult and Dad would say ‘You should be trying different things!’ because it was working for us.”
The Mosher’s store perhaps is best known for its year-round collection of Christmas decorations. 
“When you’re doing inventory and you have all this Christmas product and you’re packing it away and putting it downstairs,” says Eric, “you wonder why you’re doing that. Why not leave it out and add to it?”

This is his first Christmas without his father. His mother died in 2011 and George passed away this past October at the age of 85. 
“Dad is certainly present in the store,” his son says. 
Eric’s favourite part of running the store is the people. 
“I suppose I’m sort of like my father,” he says. “Dad was certainly a great talker and story teller, and he just loved the people.”
Eric considers himself lucky to have a job that lets him play. 
“I’ll be frank with you,” he adds. “I met with people at the beginning of the year because I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. You know, I’m not getting rich; it’s a living. But there’s contentment and it’s something I enjoy doing. I’m my own boss and everything’s paid for. As long as I can keep going at it. This is a historic building and it’s difficult to maintain a building of this size. The oil is expensive to heat it. The exterior, and I’ve got a leaky roof back there. There’s not a lot of money to play around with so it’s frustrating.”
 A man comes in looking for an Elvis tree topper. Earlier in the week, someone had hoped to find a Nutcracker snowglobe. One couple has bought each of their children a Christmas ornament here for years. Carrying unique gift items means GJDE Enterprises puts a twist on the building’s long history of being a variety store. 
Eric is well aware that there is a legacy here, both his father’s and A.E. Smith’s as well
“I feel that. I want to honour the history of the building and the people.”
And that means trying to remember the Smiths and the Asbells but he can’t remember who married who or how old the building actually is and he starts to say, “It’s too bad Da -- ”
Perhaps during January’s quiet time of inventory, Eric will be able to hear the whispers of ghosts telling their stories. 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Shining A Light In The Darkness

First published in the Oxford Journal on Wednesday, December 11, 2013, by Sara Mattinson.

All the signs of a dress rehearsal were there: A guy with a screwdriver was working on the inside doors, the choir members were mismatched in their everyday clothes, the house lights were bright, and shouts and screams from the children getting into their costumes reached the sanctuary from the basement.
The next day, the day of the community Christmas concert in Pugwash, shouts and screams from children were heard in Newtown, Connecticut, as a young man walked into an elementary school and opened fire, killing 20 first-graders and six teachers and administrators before turning the gun on himself.
The concert in Pugwash went ahead that evening as planned, as was appropriate, not despite the tragedy in Newtown on December 14, 2012, but because of it. 
We staggered in, stunned by the horrific events of the day, and sank onto pews, sank into the promise of peace and hope, joy and love provided by the sight of an enormous Christmas tree decorated with lights and ornaments, the choir looking elegant, the children costumed and quiet. We needed the sanctuary provided by that space, by that concert. 
A prayer: May the place of my trust be where my hope finds sanctuary. 
On that cold December evening nearly a year ago, it didn’t matter what church you attended regularly, it didn’t matter what denomination you identified with, it didn’t matter if you were deeply religious or only casually spiritual; we gathered as one small community of humans with hurting hearts. We knew we could trust in the people gathered in that place. 
Together we experienced the joy of beautiful music amidst the bleakness of a massacre. One choir member in particular in the choir sang with a look of pure joy on her face. Her face was lit up by a pure enjoyment of the music and the singing. 
The pianist was the vice-principal at an elementary school and also the mother of a Grade Two student. Already running on the hyped-up exhaustion that comes with putting on a major concert, she would not have yet processed what had happened earlier in the day, was not letting herself think about the meaning of it, yet. 
At the end of the concert, Rev. Meggin King spoke the words that needed to be said, a brief acknowledgement of the dark cloud of sorrow under which we’d been celebrating. 
Afterwards, we gathered downstairs for tea and coffee, sandwiches and sweets. Acquaintances and friends chatted. We talked about Christmas plans – one woman admitted she’d stopped counting at 30 the number of family members who would be at her farmhouse on Christmas Day – and we laughed, we hugged, we wished each other “Merry Christmas”.
That is how fellowship, too, was part of the horror and grief of the day. The giving of kind words, the receiving of encouragement, the sharing of joy create bonds in good times that sustain us through the bad times. That is how we keep the light of hope burning through the darkness.
Ben Wheeler was one of the children killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012. In an interview in the December issue of Oprah magazine, his mother Francine revealed that Ben loved lighthouses. 
“Think of what a lighthouse does,” Francine Wheeler said. “It shows the light so that we can find our way. Now Benny has become our light.”
The candles, the glowing tree, the joyful face of the woman in the choir – those are the lights we found when we came seeking sanctuary, when we came seeking a way through the pain.
When darkness settles around us, and it does, all too frequently, we need to keep going no matter how much it hurts. We need to sing, we need to see children in their costumes, we need to share a laugh over tea and squares. What makes that possible is the kindness we show each other. 
Shining the light of hope and peace, joy and love is our only human defence against the darkness. 

Image from @WeAreNewtown 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Bringing the Christmas Tree Spirit Home

Since it was so cold on Saturday, sunny but with a nasty wind chill, we said, "Why not wait until first thing tomorrow to get our Christmas tree?" Since the snowstorm wasn't due to start in earnest until mid-morning, what could nicer than heading back to the woods to find our tree in the midst of gently falling snow? We'd even thought about doing a fire and cooking breakfast sausages and beans!
But the snow started early -- well before nine -- and once the call came that church was cancelled (we would find Joy in the woods instead), we headed out.
Not far. Just up the lane to our woods on the left.

We took the truck because getting it on the four-wheeler would have meant broken branches.

The woods are particularly peaceful when it's snowing. No wonder my husband spends so much time here. He cut this lot many years ago and the trees are growing up nicely.

I made sure to say, "Thank you, tree," as Dwayne sawed through it. Don't want to mess with the tree spirit!

Now that the December 15 snowstorm is blowing in as predicted (lovely, lovely, lovely!), we -- what am I saying? -- I will spend the afternoon decorating it. In stages. With lots of yelping and complaining. Stages: Allowing Archie the young cat to adjust to the tree. So far, he hasn't tried to climb it. The yelping and complaining? What might keep him out of the tree -- very prickly spruce branches -- will make decorating it a big headache.
Yet as always, it will be worth it when it's completed.
I wonder if the power will go out as soon as I turn the lights on?!?

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Congratulations to the Pick of the Litter!

Through Facebook, I've learned that Jane Jorgensen is Litters 'N' Critters Volunteer of the Year.

To know why, read my interview with Jane from a couple of months ago:

Congratulations, Jane! You are very deserving.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

In Conversation With...Krista (Orr) Nguyen

First published in The Oxford Journal on Wednesday, December 4, 2013 by Sara Mattinson.

Every week, several copies of The Oxford Journal are mailed out to the United States. One of those papers lands in a mailbox in Eros, Louisiana. 
This begs the question, “Why there?” and when Krista Nguyen (pronounced “Win”) answers the phone, she does so with a strong southern accent, evidence of a life lived in Louisiana almost as long as she lived in Nova Scotia.
“I went to nursing school at the Halifax Infirmary the year before they closed the school,” says the former Krista Orr of Collingwood. “My brother Trevor was in nursing school with me. We graduated at the same time. We went to a nursing job fair and there were people from Louisiana there. It was something about their voices, their accent that fascinated me. They were funny and fun. They kept calling us to come down and interview with them so we did.”
That was in November 1993, when she was 23 years old, and by January 1994, Krista had moved to Louisiana and started working at a hospital. 
(Her brother joined her a month later but he eventually moved to North Carolina.)
“I would have loved to stay in Nova Scotia but it wasn’t possible,” she says. “There were no jobs in Canada at the time. I got a job in home health care but it didn’t pay much and the work was sporadic. There were no benefits. It was hard to live.”
Krista says she planned to go down for a year to get experience but given her initial experience while travelling down, she should have guessed her life was going to get interesting. 
“With all the crazy January weather, there were delays and I got delayed in Memphis, Tennessee,”  says Krista. “It was the weekend of Elvis’s birthday. I had Canadian money but I didn’t have any American money or a credit card so I had to sleep at the airport. When I woke up, all these Elvises were coming towards me. I thought, ‘What have I got myself into?’ “
After working on several different floors of the hospital for eight months, she applied for an opening in the Emergency room -- and that’s where she met her husband. 
He wasn’t a patient; he was a doctor. Krista met him during a night shift. 
“I was the Nurse In Charge so I went up to him and introduced myself and told him if there was anything he needed, just to let me know. Little did I know, he started to like me then,” she laughs. “He just worked weekends and worked residency during the week. One Saturday, he told everybody that we were going to breakfast so when I said okay, he told everybody NOT to go to breakfast. So just he and I met there.”
Dr. Hoa Nguyen grew up in Baton Rouge after his family left Vietnam and came to the US when he was 12. Krista and Hoa (pronounced “Wah”) were married in Oxford in 1999. 
“So I guess if I had found a job in Nova Scotia, I wouldn’t have met my husband,” Krista says.
Nor would she have four smart, beautiful daughters aged 14, 12, 9 and 8.
Krista says there were a couple of things she had to adjust to: the spicy food and the weather.
“The biggest adjustment was the summer heat. You can’t go outside. It’s so humid. Even the wintertime, it’s humid and with the cold, it’s bone-chilling. I remember dry, itchy skin and being dry all the time,” she says, “but I guess that was from the fire being on all the time.”
She’s philosophical about the differences.
“This is what I say: It’s about adaptability. If I can adapt, I can survive. You know? Enjoy your life, adapt to your surroundings. I guess it was an adventure, coming down here. It was not planned out.”
At the same time, it’s not as if Krista went from Collingwood to a big city; she went to a place that is a lot like Nova Scotia. 
“Exactly,” she agrees. “People down here are fantastic and funny. Everyone is so kind. They are very accepting. We have so many friends. It’s a little Nova Scotia.”
But her accent definitely has lost its Maritime twang.
“A few years after I moved here, I went back and was in Halifax,” says Krista. “I met a few friends at a bar and the people that I knew for years said, ‘Where have you been? You sound so weird!’ But I don’t sound any different than y’all.” 
When I point out what she just said, she bursts out laughing. 
“That’s so funny. How y’all doing? That’s the way. It’s friendly here. Everyone is y’all. It’s not ‘How are you doing?’ The only thing that gets me [caught out] is if I say ‘outback’.”
And there it is: the Canadian “oot” instead of the American “owt”.
“That’s the only word,” she says. If I say out, they say ‘Where are you from?’ ”
While she has acquired an American accent, that’s all. She is a permanent resident of the US but, “I still have my Canadian citizenship,” she says.
Despite 20 years in Louisiana, Krista says she definitely still feels Canadian. 
What does she miss about Nova Scotia?
“Oh, I miss the seasons,” she answers immediately. “I miss family and friends, my parents. I miss snow. I miss seeing it fall. The prettiness of that. Just to walk outside and have it hit your face. And I think I miss it for my kids, you know? The snow makes Christmas.”
Her subscription to The Oxford Journal was a Christmas gift from her mother four or five years ago. Krista likes to read the Old Time News, Williamsdale News and Collingwood News. 
“I always know a few people,” she claims. 
Krista drops a bombshell into the conversation: A famous Maritime novel is on the curriculum at her girls’ private school. 
“Oh, yeah!” she exclaims.  “In Grades six, seven and eight, they have a list of classic and contemporary novels that they have to read and do book reports on. Anne of Green Gables is on the list!”
Krista and her family visit Nova Scotia -- home -- every summer and she hopes once all four daughters are graduated from high school, she and Hoa will retire and spend six months of the year here. 
Now, given that I’m speaking with someone living in Eros, Louisiana(four hours north of New Orleans and the coast), it’s time to ask about a certain TV program. When I say, “Now, here’s my Duck Dynasty question – ” Krista shouts, “Yes!  We’re from there! They are from West Monroe. Actually, Phil and Kay don’t live too far from here. They live outside of Eros and we live in Eros.”
Is it real portrayal of country life in Louisiana? 
“It is a little jazzed up,” Krista says, “but it’s fairly realistic.
“And yes, I have eaten squirrel.”    


Sunday, December 08, 2013

It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like A Simple Christmas

Are you getting that feeling this Christmas season? It's not necessarily a new feeling, either. Its tingle might feel a little familiar. Likely you experienced it last year. Perhaps even the year before that.
It's that feeling that Christmas could be, should be a heckuva lot simpler.
I'm meeting up with a lot of people who are expressing the same wish that I have: Christmas is too commercial and too focused on stuff. There's too much pressure to buy things and people are getting harder to buy for.
The way the feeling is manifesting itself in me this year is a desire to be donating money instead of buying gifts.
With my mother home with us for Christmas this year, we have been attending the Advent services at church together. On the first day, we received a sheet of paper that works as a Advent giving calendar. Each day, we are given a monetary task to fulfill, like "Give 10 cents for every Christmas CD you have" or "Give five cents for every Christmas card you will send".
Yesterday, the feeling hit me with a wallop. My husband and I were going to attend the Christmas Open Mic at the theatre in Oxford and admission was a monetary donation to the food bank. Whomp! Like a punch to the chest, I felt that this was how I wanted to celebrate Christmas, this was how I wanted to spend my money.
Giving. Helping. 
Why am I buying socks for our stockings when I could be buying a gift for a child?
Why am I buying chocolates for our stockings when I could be donating to the food bank?
Why am I buying books for our stockings when I could be making a donation to the local library?
Why am I buying hand lotion for our stockings when I could be donating those to a women's shelter?
This list could go on...Obviously "just stockings" is still creating a shopping monster.
Listening to friends talk about this yesterday, I heard them say, "It's the kids who want to do gifts. They're the ones who say 'Oh, Mom, we want to buy you gifts'." And families with children still at home, couples with grandchildren must find it very difficult to resist the orgy-of-gifts circus that Christmas has become.
Imagine Christmas as a season of gratitude instead greed.
Yet it's the whole idea that Christmas is about giving that trips us up in the end.The statements ring out: "We want to give you gifts" and "I have to give my parents gifts" even when those gifts are just money or gift cards, presents with no thought or meaning behind them.
We can't even hold ourselves to one gift each. It's always one more thing... Stockings are a joke! I already have so much, the stuffed stockings will balance on a pile of stocking gifts. Yeesh. 
But I am amazed that every year, more and more people are expressing the idea that gift-giving should be scaled back if not stopped altogether. They -- we -- aren't anti-Christmas but instead, they -- we -- want to focus on something different for Christmas.
There is no stocking big enough, to space under the tree wide enough, no box deep enough to hold all the blessings in our lives.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Finding Sanctuary

Working on my column for next week. The date of the issue is December 11 which is three days before the first anniversary of the mass shooting at the elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut.
So I'm writing about the community Christmas concert in Pugwash that was held on Friday, December 14, 2012, the day of the shooting, how it went ahead as planned, how it was rendered more beautiful and more poignant because of the unimaginable tragedy, how it was an example of what the light is and how we must keep it burning.
But most of all, when we needed some place to go to be together, when we needed sanctuary and solace, hope and healing, we found it at a church. And it didn't matter what denomination it was, it didn't matter that all denominations were present because our gathering was about community.
I love the play on the word "sanctuary" -- the church sanctuary, a place of sanctuary. Where everyone is welcome and taken care of when horror and grief overwhelm us.

This prayer was posted on Facebook by my church denomination. Although it reflects what I am trying to say in the column, it doesn't fit in anywhere so here it goes:
May the place of my trust be where my hope finds sanctuary. Amen.
The column comes out three days before the anniversary of that massacre but, better, two days before this year's community Christmas concert in Pugwash. 7 pm at the United Church.
That's where we all found hope and peace, joy and love last year...and we'll find it all again in the same place, the same sanctuary, next Friday night.

(I'm also aware of the anniversary marked by today's date. I was a second-year university student when the Montreal massacre happened. December 6, 1989 -- this is the 24th anniversary of that terrible day.)

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Sparkle Of Light Brings Sparkle to Lives

East Cumberland Lodge in Pugwash is the area's provincial long-term-care facility and since 2002, it has hosted a fundraising event called "Sparkle of Light".
In the past 11 years, this fundraiser has brought more than $115,000 into the facility to be used on improvements not covered by the province.
This year, the goal is to raise enough more to create a "family respite apartment" to be used by those who have a family member in the final weeks/days of palliative care. People will be able to have a rest, a shower, a snack in the privacy of this apartment.
Such a great idea, I doubled my annual donation to support it. I make my donation in memory of my father. He was never a resident there but Pugwash was his other "home" community and he would have made a considerable donation to the fundraising efforts.
Tuesday night was the official lighting off all the trees, angels, snowflakes and lights (plus the dedication of the wreaths hung inside the lodge). It was the first time I attended the Sparkle of Light night and seeing the impact the decorations outside around the building have makes me want to up my donation significantly next year -- from a couple of lights in my father's favourite colour to a string of snowflakes or even a tree.
Although the pig is a nice touch and I hear there was a moose lit up in the courtyard!

These lights are set to music so I did well to catch a bunch on at the same time!

Outside one of the downstairs lounges.

Out front (dining room is behind).

Most of the snowflake strings were hanging off the fence around the courtyard but it was raining too hard for me to want to venture back there for a photo.
The Sparkle of Light is a great cause and it's wonderful to see the community supporting it, supporting the staff and the residents. There are wonderful people living at East Cumberland Lodge and being there reminded me that they are so often forgotten -- and their stories are lost that way, too.
John Colson, one of the residents who got into a photo for next week's issue of the newspaper told me how much he enjoyed the music (my mother played the keyboard for thirty minutes as people arrived then a trio of guitars and a singer play Christmas songs) and he reminisced for a bit about growing up in  Cape Breton and everyone in his family playing an instrument. He told me he played the guitar but no longer can because the fingers on his left hand won't let him.
We featured him for our Remembrance Day issue but he may deserve a non-military conversation. He, and I'm sure many others who fascinating lives are drawing to a quiet close at ECL.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Another Country Skill Acquired

First published in The Oxford Journal on Wednesday, November 27, 2013, by Sara Mattinson.

By the time I found the tick on the throat of my outdoor cat, it was the size of a dime.  
I picked up the phone knowing I could count on the person who would answer on the other end, even at 7:30 in the morning. 
“Fern has a tick on her. How do I take it off?”
“I’ll be right there.”
Months later, what I thought was a skin tag on the old dog turned out be another engorged tick. Again I made a phone call, this one at nine o’clock at night.
“Stella has a tick on her. Will you take it off?”
“I’ll be right there.”
My friend should start answering her phone with, “Jane’s Expert Tick Removal. You tick ‘em, I snick ‘em.” 
She does, too, with a flick of her thumbnail.
When a tick finally showed up on my younger dog, it was engorged enough to be visible in her short fur but not big enough to gross me out. I realized the time had come to figure out how to deal with ticks on my own because obviously, this was going to an ongoing problem. Jane would only take payment in eggs for so long. 
My source of basic information comes from Nova Scotia’s Public Health Services. According to its pamphlet on Lyme Disease, there are 16 different kinds of ticks in our province but only two bite people: dog ticks and black-legged ticks. It’s the black-legged ticks that carry the bacteria that causes Lyme disease which both people and pets can contract. 
Black-legged ticks thrive in humid wooded areas and are most active in spring and fall when the woods are wet and cool. 
That means you weren’t the only ones loving the extra-long and warmer-than-usual autumn. 
Two years ago while on vacation in Florida with my sister’s family, one of my nephews came up to me holding his arm out. There was a tick on it. 
“Go see your mother,” I told him. 
I’ve always been grateful to live in an area where bugs don’t get too big or too prevalent because of cold winters and hot summers but it looks like my days of bug smugness are coming to an end as those two seasons get shorter. 
 A few years ago, we learned that mosquitoes can carry the West Nile virus so everyone freaked out, covered themselves in DEET then carried on normally after the initial mass hysteria passed. We’ve been hearing for years about ticks and Lyme disease and it’s enough of a threat to be taken seriously; if not detected and treated soon enough, Lyme disease can be  devastating to both people and pets. So now that our springs and autumns are getting longer and warmer and wetter, let’s just skip the hysteria by doing a few simple things to protect ourselves. 
First of all, know this: Ticks don’t fly. Instead, they hang out on vegetation or logs waiting for a blood-filled mammal to get close enough for it to crawl on and attempt to attach. 
The best protection for humans is full coverage when outside: hat, long-sleeved shirts, socks tucked into pants. For pets, it’s a once-a-month topical application and a once-over when they come inside. 
When the tick showed up on the younger dog, we headed to the vet clinic for a nifty gadget that in a few gentle turns does all the work of removing the tick, head and all, no thumbnail required. 
Slick enough to quell any squeamishness.
Small enough to fit inside a pet’s stocking. 
(Santa Claus doesn’t have to worry about ticks; they cease to be active once the first snow falls or the temperature is consistently below four degrees).  
Since Lyme disease is a possibility but it’s hardly feasible to send off every tick to be tested, I asked the vet assistant what to look for just in case the dog had contracted the disease from the tick.
“If she gets up in the morning stiff and sore, that’s the first symptom. Bring her right in,” she told me. 
A week later, I found a small tick on the back of the cat’s neck. Instead of picking up the phone, I picked up my handy-dandy tick remover, clamped it on the tick and gently turned it until the tick, plus, head, slid out of Fern’s skin. 
When I lived in the city, the only thing I had to worry about biting me was the terrier at the dog park. Now I’m picking ticks off my pets like an employee at Jane’s Expert Tick Removal.
And crossing off another item on the “How To Be A Country Girl” list.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Free To A Good Home...If Home Isn't Decorated

The Christmas season was a lot more relaxing and enjoyable when it was just the Nova Scotia Country Boy and me and the old dog (who wasn't that old back then).
Now, we've added two wild animals to the mix. Not wild as in feral but wild as in "If you don't smarten up, you're sleeping in the garage tonight".
On my lunch hour at home alone yesterday, I was distracted by a chicken wandering around the yard. In my haste to wrangle her back in the pen with her sisters as I left to go back to work, I forgot to put the younger dog, Wild Thing #1, in her crate.
I didn't know this until the Country Boy asked me after work, "Did you forget to put Abby back in her crate at lunch?"
Anyone who asks a question like that...already knows the answer.
"What did she do?" I asked.
If I wasn't so mad at her, I'd be impressed with her intelligence. For several weeks, the bags of Christmas shopping have been piling up on the floor of the spare room; some chocolate stocking stuffers were in the bags. As soon as I left the house, that damn dog went upstairs to the spare room, ate through a bag and consumed a small bag of M&Ms and a small bag of mini Reese cups. I can't find the Reese bag but my husband caught her in the act of munching on the M&Ms.
I met him on my way back to work so that dog perpetrated her crime within 15 minutes.
All I want for Christmas is a way to channel her brain power for good instead of evil.
The other problem pet in our house, Wild Thing #2, is the year-old cat. We didn't decorate inside at all last year, partly because we were heading south on the 26th but also because of him. We set up the lighted artificial palm tree and he spent several weeks happily hanging around on the top (and nuking the lights wrapped around the trunk on his way up). He's on top of all the furniture now and making a meal of any flowers I try to put out (most recently a lovely combination of white carnations and red roses).
So this mornning, my yoga practice sounded like this:
"Archie! Get of the mantle."
Crash, thunk.
"You stupid cat."
Munch, munch, munch.
About the time I was ready for the final relaxation (and feeling more tense than when I stepped onto the mat), Archie decided it was time for his pre-breakfast nap. All was calm. Or rather, Wild Thing #2 was calm. Yoga Thing was still trying to get to her happy place.
Suddenly, Christmas shopping has become a lot easier: Since Abby and Archie are too naughty to get anything -- if they even survive until December 25 -- I'm back to buying just for the Country Boy and the old dog.

Monday, December 02, 2013

You Don't Want To Miss This Seaside Sale!

The annual (3rd? 4th?) Pugwash Farmers Market is open from 9 am to 1 pm
AND the Chatterbox Cafe is open so you can stop in for coffee or for lunch!
See you on Saturday in Pugwash.

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.”