Thursday, July 30, 2020

Righting A Wrong

I made another sign

For thirteen years, an injustice has bothered me.
As injustices go, this one is small and very personal -- it happened to someone I love, and I have an overdeveloped sense of fairness. But it also was an injustice I could do something about.

Dwayne and I are both survivors of divorce, but he lost far more than I did when his long marriage ended in 2002 (at the same time mine ended). The canoe in these photos was his but she sold it. That's the simplest way to tell the story. And it's a typical divorce story. There are no unique divorces, just He said-she said, who did what when, I want-you want, Let's just get this over with. 

After we married, Dwayne told me about the cedar strip canoe he bought from a maker in Ontario (see? all good things come to him from Ontario!) when he was forty, and how he'd added his nickname to the thwart in front of his seat in the stern. It was perhaps a harder loss to bear than anything else he lost.

He's nicknamed "Flint" for his hard head, but he has a soft heart.

I knew where the canoe was -- tormentingly close, in a garage just up the road -- and  I knew who owned it -- a really nice guy. It bothered me that Dwayne lost his cherished canoe. It bothered me that he didn't fight for it, that he just gave in and said, "Fine, take it."
Because she only wanted it to sell it. 
Yet even as I fretted about the injustice of it, I never felt the urge to spend the money to buy it back. It didn't feel like my job to correct the decision he made in another lifetime.

Then in June, on a boat run upriver, as we passed by this guy's house and I thought about what was in his garage, the voice inside me, that voice that speaks clearly and it always, unfailingly right, said, "Get it back". 
I've learned not to ignore that voice. In 1996, when the voice said, "Break up with him," but I ignored it, I ended up in my own unhappy marriage, so that's how I learned to trust the voice.

I thought at first the canoe would make a perfect birthday gift but realized I couldn't wait until the end of August -- one just doesn't know what could happen, right? So I decided to give it as an anniversary-and-birthday gift. 
I made the deal to buy the canoe on July 13th, and Dwayne's father died the next day. So for two weeks, I knew that as he struggled with the loss of his father, he was going to gain a piece of his life back. 

The voice is always, unfailingly, and sometimes freakishly, right. 

I love all the serendipity in our life together. We ebb and flow, we give "for better or worse" a proper workout, but this time, Dwayne married a fighter. He married someone who doesn't give up, who won't give in, who forgets nothing and remembers every detail, every date, every word. 

Who trusts in the voice that guides her life. 

The voice that brought her back to the East Coast when her marriage ended.
The voice that brought a beloved canoe back into Dwayne's life just when he needed it. 
That voice brought brought the canoe back into our marriage right when we need it. It's been ten years - ten! - since we canoed. Life just got complicated; for awhile, we were physically unable to lift a canoe or paddle, then eventually we stopped making time. I got Dwayne a fishing boat for his 60th birthday and that's what we use on the river. 

But this canoe is who he is, and canoeing is who we are together, how we started out as a couple. And I couldn't have planned the day better for taking the "new" canoe out on the river and getting reconnected; the day was hot and the river was calm. Without saying a word, we renewed our vows: to keep paddling together, honouring the gentle strength up front and the power steering in back, taking up the slack with the other needs to rest, always moving forward yet going with the flow, knowing that even as the tide goes out, it will always come in again.  

There's no place he'd rather be. 
As Henry David Thoreau said, "Everyone must believe in something. I believe I'll go canoeing."

Monday, July 27, 2020

Dedicating the Sunflowers

As I watched the slideshow of family photos at my father-in-law's funeral on Saturday, July 18, I saw photos of Donn with the sunflowers he'd grown along the back of the barn or later, around the flagpole. It was before my time so I never saw those gardens, but they were his thing, a fact reflected in the sunflowers in the flower arrangements around his casket and the sunflower bouquets his great-granddaughters laid at his grave.

That's when I realized it had become Dwayne's thing, without him even realizing he was picking up where his father left off. We inherit a lot of traits and habits from our parents, some good, some bad, but planting sunflowers is definitely a good one.

So I decided to paint a sign dedicating this year's sunflower garden to Dwayne's father. The sign says, Donn Mattinson Memorial Sunflower Garden. 

At bedtime on the night of the funeral, I was reading a few pages from "The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver", and came across How Would You Live Then? Although the whole poem is a must-read, the final lines in particular made me think of my father-in-law:

"...What if
You painted a picture of a tree, and the leaves
began to rustle, and a bird cheerfully sang
from its painted branches? What if you suddenly saw
that the silver of water was brighter than the silver
of money? What if you finally saw
that the sunflowers, turning toward the sun all day
and every day -- who knows how, but they do it -- were
more precious, more meaningful than gold?"

~ Mary Oliver

Sunday, July 26, 2020

The Power of Gardening To Change Our Lives

Bee balm hinting at future redness in the tomatoes. 

In committing this summer to creating balance in my life between inside and outside, brain labour and body labour, sitting down and moving around, books and dirt, I have felt so much better. I look forward to and enjoy my work around the yard in the evenings, even with the deer flies buzzing and biting, even with feeling like most of my work is pulling weeds! 

There is balance even in the weeds. Although currently the balance of weeds on my property has the weeds winning! 
Nevertheless, spending more time outside in my gardens, watching my kale regrow after being eaten by, mostly likely, the groundhog, seeing the bright red bee balm flourish everywhere (!), and being in the "new and improved" greenhouse at least twice day now, I can say I feel the difference. I feel a balance restored to me that a mere hour-long walk every morning couldn't do. There is something about gardening -- tending to the soil, the seeds, the plants, the fruits and the flowers -- that truly taps into something essential. 

This is from the opening of an article in the July/August issue of Spirituality & Health magazine. The article is actually an excerpt from Sue Stuart-Smith's book, "The Well-Gardened Mind" (Scribner, 2020). 

~ We are a grassland species that emerged in the savannah landscapes of Africa.

Over the course of evolution, our nervous and immune systems have been primed to function best in response to various aspects of the natural world. This includes how much sunlight we get, the kind of microbes we are exposed to, the amount of green vegetation around us, and the type of exercise we take. 

When we work with  nature outside us, we work with nature inside us. It is why people feel more fully alive and energized in the natural world, why gardeners report feeling calmer and more vigorous, and why spending time in nature awakens the connection-seeking aspect of our human nature.

Later, Stuart-Smith wrote, 

~ The contemporary emphasis on self-improvement and self-investment can make caring for something other than ourselves seem like a depleting activity, but the neuro-chemistry of care is not like that. Care has inbuilt neuro-chemical rewards. The feelings of calm and contentment that accompany nurture have benefits for giver and receiver alike, and there are obvious evolutionary reasons why this should be so. The anti-stress and antidepressant effect of these pleasurable feelings arises through the action of the bonding hormone oxytocin and release of beta-endorphins, the brain's natural opioids.

What a beautifully written argument for more nature, more gardening, more outside. Everyone needs to spend time taking care of plants, putting their hands in dirt, hearing water pour over plants. It's healing, it's uplifting, it's essential. 

Tuesday, July 21, 2020


I managed to grow something from seed.

I planted tomato seeds, daisy seeds, coneflower seeds AND poppy seeds and not one, seriously, not even one seed germinated. Not even in the lovely heat of the relocatedgreenhouse. 

Not being one to ever give up, I put eight romaine lettuce seeds and eight spinach seeds in two different planters on the back deck. 

And I actually grew something -- enough to make salads! I'm not a complete grow-my-own-food failure but one cannot live on spinach and lettuce.

Especially considering my experiment with growing strawberries in hanging planters is an utter failure, even with the fancy hanging planters hanger my husband built. 

Not being one to ever give up, I'm going to build (okay, well, Dwayne will build) a raised bed for the strawberries. 

Like bee balm, I won't quit until I'm knee-deep in strawberries, too. 

Saturday, July 18, 2020

The Death of a Wealthy Man

Donn Mattinson in the 1950s

My father-in-law died earlier this week; his funeral takes place this afternoon. Although I have known Donn Mattinson for merely 13 of his 94 years, I had the pleasure of writing about him and Mary, his wife of 72 years, for several stories in Field Notes, including the opening one, “A River Runs Through Him”. 

Donn was born and raised, and worked and lived his entire life in rural Nova Scotia. He came from that pre-WW2 generation that made do with what they had, that did more with less, reused and repurposed everything, and didn’t waste resources or time. Donn’s generation did not take for granted what they earned and what they were lucky enough to be given. There was no concept of privilege or entitlement. You certainly didn’t maintain a balance on a credit card, or spend beyond your means. 

Even as the world changed and he struggled to keep up with, or just understand, new ways of doing things, Donn remained steadfast in what mattered most: his devotion to family and to work, his dedication to his church and community, his generosity towards his wife and his children, his faithfulness to every aspect of his life. 

In June 2018, Donn had a heart attack. While he was recovering in hospital, I went to visit him just before regular visiting hours so we enjoyed a rare hour alone together. He shared some of his stories from his then-92 years of life with me.  

He reminded me of his advice to his two sons (and likely to his grandsons): “There’s no point in wearing a pair of pants if they don’t have a jack knife and a handkerchief in the pocket.”

He spoke a lot about being poor. He said his parents were poor, he said he and Mary were poor. “I’ve never had those things other people have. Two cars and a cottage and a camp. They take their wives on a trip down south,” he told me.

In response, I asked Donn, “Do you have any debt?” The answer was no.

It shocked me he could still see himself as poor – despite his large house, the barns and the field along the river, and his nice truck. He had everything people want, yet he couldn’t see what was so obvious. He was wealthy beyond measure when it came to the one thing money can’t buy: Love.  

I’m sure the devotion, generosity and faithfulness Dwayne gives to me, he learned from his father. How a man treats the woman in his life – his mother and his wife – says far more about the man than the money he makes, the truck he drives, and the house in which he lives. 
More and more, I see Donn in my husband, and for that I am grateful: Donn’s values, and what he valued in life, live on in my husband. 
What also lives on in Dwayne is a tendency to exaggerate, and leap to the worst-case scenario; on the other hand, Dwayne waits patiently in the truck for me, no matter how late I’m running or how long I’m taking in a store.

My impression of my father-in-law is that he was affable – easy-going and easy to get along with.
“Actually, he was,” Dwayne agrees. “He had to be really mad to get mad. I’ll never forget the day he beat the power saw to pieces because it wouldn’t start in the cold.” (That story ended up in Field Notes.) 

I wrote a version of the following for a newspaper column in 2012: 

Whenever we go four-wheeling through the family’s 300-acre woodlot, Dwayne tells stories about “working in the woods” with his father when he, Dwayne, was a teenager. He says it both hard work and good exercise. 
Hearing the affection in his voice, and the longing, I finally asked him why those memories mean so much to him.
“I miss spending time with my father,” he answered. He also misses the fresh air and the camp jays that showed up every day once father Donn signalled the start of dinnertime by building a fire. For Dwayne, those days of frozen sandwiches in his lunch pail and hot tea in a thermos are inexorably tied to the opportunity to the bond with his dad.

(These are the memories Dwayne still turns to now, following his father’s death. These are the memories in which he finds comfort and reassurance.)
“My father’s greatest strength was providing for his family,” Dwayne told me. “He worked steadily. He had a gravel truck and the farm. He sold wood. He’d come home from haying or putting in grain, have a bit to eat then out and turn on the tractor lights so he could sharpen fence posts till ten o’clock. Dad used to say, ‘Hard work and honesty pay off’. And he’s right. He proved it. And so did I.”

Sometimes, we see older people as entrenched, as stubborn, as “backwards” and “out of touch”, and yet, the values that our elders cherish (or “cling to”, we might say) are the foundation of a good life. If we are fortunate, those values are the wealth we inherit. 

Faithfulness. Honesty. Dedication. 

In the end, at his end, as Donn looked back on his life, he had 
no debt
and no regrets. 

He died as he lived: at peace with his life, in love with his wife, and at home in the hearts of his children and grandchildren. 
He died as he lived: with the greatest wealth any person could hope to acquire during their lifetime. He can’t take it with him, nor does he want to. 

Dwayne and his dad, August 2013

Friday, July 17, 2020

Love Balm

This post is from a sermon I gave last June...
but the photo is from this week. Prayer
(and good soil) works!

I love bee balm. 
I love its vibrant colour, and its spiky flowers.
I love its name – bee balm. That’s B-A-L-M. Something soothing for the bees in a world that is dropping pesticide bombs on them.  

BUT – for all the love I have for bee balm,
I cannot get it to survive on my property.
I probably have spent a hundred dollars on bee balm plants over the last seven years, and so far, not one has returned the following spring. 

On the other hand, 
I love clematis.
I love its colours and its wide-open flowers. I love the feathery seed puffs left after the leaves fall off.
I love its name – clematis. Its symbolic meaning is ingenuity and cleverness because of its climbing prowess. 

I have several thriving clematis plants. They love growing on my property.
So…I bought another one.  Because: “Plant what will grow”. 

You also need to know that I bought another bee balm this spring [2019], and planted it in a new spot, a tried-and-true spot of good soil and lots of sunshine. 

Why? Why would I plant something that will not grow?!

Because: HOPE. 

If the clematis represents LOVE and JOY, the bee balm is HOPE and PERSISTENCE. 

It’s the hope that if I try something different, if I don’t give up, if I’m down on my knees in the dirt saying a persistent prayer over this new plant, this time will be different. 

I admit: this is the last time, the very last time I’m planting bee balm. While I don’t want to give up until I’ve exhausted all attempts, the spot it’s in right now is my final option. If it can’t grow in that spot, with the sunshine and good soil, if it doesn’t come back next spring, there will be no bee balm in my gardens.

You’re likely thinking – give it up already! Just plant what will grow!

But it’s about hope, and persistence, and not wanting to give on something we love. So we keep planting bee balm, just as we keep adding water and sunlight to a dry, withering plant.
A bit of water, a bit of light – and everything is better.  Everything is better when we love each other. When we treat each other with even a little bit of kindness. 

That’s just what humans need, too: Just enough water, just enough light, just enough love to keep us going – to keep our faith and our hope alive. 

That seems to be what we get these days. 
For every moment of terror and horror, we get an act of kindness, a measure of mercy, a story about saving grace.

I honestly don’t think we could keep going if we didn’t have the action – pain and suffering – followed by an equal and opposite reaction: LOVE and COMFORT. 

So: Plant what will grow. 
Protect the seeds, nurture them, watch over them. Persist. Don’t give up. 

Because there’s this Zen proverb: “No seed ever sees the flower.”

That’s what love is. A small seed with the potential to grow into a great big self-propagating plant. And we are in charge of that seed, my friends. 

No matter what “fertilizer” the world, and those neighbours we’re supposed to love, throw at us, we will continue to water and fertilize that seed of love. 

Let’s think of it as…love balm! May it grow in the driest of soils, and the rockiest of patches. 

Thursday, July 16, 2020

The Peace of Feathered Things

(in the way of Wendell Berry)

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my future and what the world’s future may be,
I go and hang out where the rooster
crows in all his beauty in the grass, and the hens peck around in the dirt.
I come into the peace of feathered things
who do not tax their lives with forethought 
of grief. I come into the presence of freshly-laid eggs.
And I feel above me the dusty cobwebs
clinging to the familiar ways. While I clean the coop,
I rest in the grace of the flock, and I am free.

~ inspired by a popular poem by Wendell Berry, The Peace of Wild Things, published in his first collection of poetry in 1968 then reprinted in a collection in 1985. 

Monday, July 13, 2020

Feeling for the Bottom

Swimming in the Northumberland Strait with my friend Alison.

This photo is a nice metaphor for how I woke up feeling today:
Floating with no destination.
Getting pushed farther from shore. 

As I walked early this morning, I tried to figure out why I felt crappy. Not depressed, per se, but down. Edgy. Not sure of what to do with myself.
Ah, yes, I realized. Post-book funk. 
This is how you feel when you're finished the book you've been working on for a year. The book you said was the last one you'd ever write if it didn't get published.
Now what do you do? The advice used to be to start your next book but these are not those times. These are end times, my friends. No matter how badly people want to return to The Way Things Were, a whole new way of living and working is unfolding. 
I have no idea where I fit into that world. 

Can no longer feel the sandy bottom with my feet.

With the way publishing is right now, and looks to be in the future...sure, people are still buying books and publishers still seem to be accepting submissions and planning catalogues, but I've kept myself afloat with magazine publishing and I think that's going to collapse by the end of the year.

Wondering where these waves will take us.  

It's a good thing my mother and I have a Top Secret Book Project. The state of the world, the state of human existence has reminded me that life is short, too short, there aren't enough days to accomplish what you want to do so, you can wake up one day not feeling well and a month later be dead so -- "Mother," I said, "F**k it. We're doing that book project." 
Life is too short to not do the damn project -- and too worry if you're swearing too much. 

I mean, there are two ways of looking at that ocean and that sky: As a reminder of the limitlessness of one's life -- that there are no boundaries to what you want to do and be -- 
you're a small speck in the vastness of this world so you might as well just dunk your head below the surface and not do anything. 

I'm going to keep swimming. 

Friday, July 10, 2020

Oh, Baby, Bye Bye

Little Cheeps went to her new home this week. It wasn't upsetting because from the outset, I knew she was being raised for my friend's flock. Even though we became attached to her, and to having her and Phyllis doing their hen-and-chick thing around the yard, there simply is no way we can keep any chicks we hatch because they'd be part of a flock whose rooster is their father.

We did ponder starting a second flock, so we could raise our own Barred Rocks, and perhaps that will happen next year, but for now, we know Cheeps is adjusting to her new place across the river. 

There was a moment, however, when I did get upset...
We'd agreed on the day I'd take the chick over but early that morning, my friend messaged to say she had to work and did I want to come another day? Because Mother and I were making a one-day (therefore a long day) road trip to Cape Breton the following day, I wanted the chick gone so Dwayne didn't have to deal with her (I was worried he'd forget to keep an eye out; he's not as watchful about the chickens as I am). 
When I arrived in the afternoon, her husband took me to the barn where I was to leave the chick.
In a cage.
In a small cage with two other chicks a bit larger than Cheeps. 
In a cage sitting on a table. 
By the time I returned home, my whole body was clenched. 
"I don't think I can leave her there," I wept. "I can't bear the thought of her in a cage for three or four months until she's big enough to join the flock."
I kept picturing her running across the backyard to catch up with her mother. I couldn't bear the idea she'd never feel grass again or eat a strawberry. 
So after supper, I went back. I wanted to tell my friend to her face why I was taking the chick back. 

Turns out, I'd forgotten what she'd said weeks ago about the cage: It's just until Cheeps gets used to her new surroundings and bonds with the two other chicks. She doesn't want Cheeps to run off. 
"I only put them in the cages when I'm at work," my friend explained. She, too, has a husband who isn't as watchful as she is. The animals are her thing (she has goats and a pony, too). 
I was embarrassed, but also grateful I'd gone back right away to speak with her. She wasn't mad, and despite the initial awkwardness, now I know the truth rather than thinking awful things about poor Cheeps new life and making myself sick with worry and regret. 

It was hard enough, I'll admit, to think of Cheeps, who I saw sitting on the roost in the cage that evening, and know she was wondering where her mother is and wondering why she isn't roaming free in the grass. But all along, I knew Cheeps was going to join another flock, and I also know my chickens have a lot more freedom than most chickens. I used to think my coop was pretty dirty but now I realize, it's really clean and roomy, and the outside pen very large and green compared to most places where the hens aren't completely free range. 

Phyllis squawked most of the following morning (when Mother and I were away) but she seems to have moved on. I'm sure she's still wondering where her chick went but this is life. This is farm life. 
I'm just grateful Cheeps didn't turn out to be a rooster because it would have been hard to give the chick to another neighbour, knowing it would be raised to be butchered. 

We all miss Little Cheeps. She talked (chirped) a lot and it was so much fun to watch her and Phyllis together. They spent every morning in "the cottage" while I worked inside then I let them out to free range around the property at 3 o'clock. Andre Poulet would fly out of the pen for a family visit; that was always sweet. 
It was a good spring for raising a chick; not too rainy or cold. In fact, the hot June weather was great. 

I'm glad of this experience, my first experience with a hen hatching out a chick and raising it. I'd like to do it again; maybe it's time for a second flock. 

Phyllis and Little Cheeps on their last morning together.

Monday, July 06, 2020


My niece, Mimi, made this sign; it's nailed to a tree in the front yard of her family's home in Atlanta, Georgia. Good place for it. So far, unvandalized. 

Making this for our home is one of my vacation projects. I'm going to add a brown and black board with a red heart in the middle to the bottom. I think I might stake it between our two sunflower gardens where everyone who drives by can see it.  

I have the paint and the board, but it needs to be cut into smaller boards -- and the last time I asked Dwayne to cut something for me with the table saw, he cut the end off his left thumb so I'm wary of asking him again. Not because he's clumsy but because I might be the jinx! 

Sunday, July 05, 2020

On Vacation, On Staying Home

The late-afternoon view from my reading chair in the gazebo.

The first week of my three-week vacation is over. Of course, for me, "vacation" simply means I don't do any church work. Otherwise, I'm still working but not having to ponder a message for Sunday frees up brain space for pondering other writing.  
Before the creative writing and painting begins, I'm "polishing" the memoir about my father, which cleans up and tightens the text. Also, I continue to maintain balance by spending each evening out in the gardens, watering and weeding. I have another three weeks of vacation at the end of August when I'll get to enjoy the evenings NOT watering and weeding.  

Writing, watering and weeding: these are my vacation plans. Not much different than my pre-vacation plans of worship, writing, watering and weeding. When you do work you enjoy, nothing seems like work, but my brain appreciates the chance to think less serious thoughts.

Two times on Friday, I was asked how I fared during the pandemic lockdown. 
My answer was honest: I didn't impact my work, but I've realized how happy I am to stay home. I'm loving this simplified life. I'm wearing last year's walking shoes. I'm wearing last year's sun dresses. I'm only washing my hair twice a week because it's in a braid or ponytail all the time. I don't need more stuff, I don't want to eat restaurant food anymore. I'm writing and gardening, hanging out with the chickens, puttering in my not new but improved greenhouse. Home is where my heart is happy.

My husband, the extrovert, is missing people but I'm not. Humans are hard work. Humans are exhausting. 
I went grocery shopping on Thursday, wearing a mask, and once I was back in the truck, my face was aching. I realized I'd clenched my jaw the entire time. Even wearing a mask, I'm finding it stressful to be in stores. I don't like wearing a mask, either, no one does, but if it's the best way to protect my mother and my husband from contracting a virus that would kill them, I'm all in. 
I'm here for the common good. I'm here to do the greatest good for the greatest number. 
I'm here to be in service to others.  
I clench my jaw because I can't believe how many people -- and 99% of store employees -- are not masked. It's an airborne virus! It's in the air because it's expelled when people breathe and talk. Wearing a mask is such a simple way of protecting each other; I'd rather wear a mask than be injected with an untested vaccine with side effects (I'm not anti-vaccine; just wary of medicine that's not been fully tested). 
At least by wearing a mask, I stopped holding my breath in the grocery store so I'm less likely to pass out in the cookie aisle. 

I'm quite happy to stay home, watching my chick grow, working my way through a high stack of books, going for boat rides with my husband, and counting my tomatoes. 
As well as my blessings. 
I know I'm lucky I don't have to leave the property for work. I know I'm lucky to be safe and loved and protected here, well-fed and happy. I know I'm lucky to be healthy and pain-free, and not waiting on rescheduled appointments. 
Eight tiny green tomatoes, and eight hundred blessings.

You can pass an afternoon just watching the chickens...

Wednesday, July 01, 2020

A Father-Daughter Story for Canada Day

The author of The Stone Thrower (2012, Thomas Allen Publishers, now owned by Dundurn Press), Jael Ealey Richardson (JER), is a Canadian Black woman, born to two American Black parents. 
When JER tweeted out the question, "Is your bookshelf racist?" I answered Yes. No qualifiers. No "But I read magazine articles" or "I have a couple of books by Indigenous authors." I realized that her question required a simple Yes or No answer and since there no books by Black authors on my shelves, there was only one, unqualified answer.

So I ordered her memoir direct from the publisher. It's not available at the usual online bookstores but I actually received it faster from Dundurn Press than I've received any books from Chapters online. 


Friends, this is the first book I've come across that compares to the memoir I've written about my father (which is now in the "polishing" stage, the final stage before querying). Although our family experience is different -- Jael Ealey Richardson was raised a middle-class Black Canadian while I was raised a middle-class white Canadian -- the theme of our books is the same: Who am I because of who my father was?

You know, unless it had been recommended to me (You should read this because you're writing about your own father) I wouldn't have chosen it; not firstly because it's about a Black family, although I'm sure that unconscious conditioning would play a role, but because it was about football!
I should know better: Some of the best books I've read are about subjects I have little interest in. And that's the gift of good writing: to take a personal story about a specific topic and event, and make it appeal to a wide range of people. 

I mean, I'm writing about funeral homes...and everybody dies. The universality is kind of a given. 
But this book about a football player AND about racism is a wonderful book. I cared about the football, I cared about the racism, I cared about JER's search for identity.  It's well-written but also well-woven; she blends her father's past, the near past (her upbringing) and the present very well. It's not confusing. 

On this Canada Day, I've chosen to highlight this book because JER is a Canadian author, and her book deserves amplification -- published in 2012, it's more relevant than ever -- and because of this passage about 2/3 of the way through her narrative. We like to say Canada isn't racist -- but here's what JER wrote about the Black American refugees who escaped slavery in the 1800's by settling Canada:

"The refugees who were interviewed back then informed the [Freedmen's Inquiry Commission] that prejudice in Canada was rampant, that is was often worse than it was in America, but they also explained...but the LAWS in Canada supported freedom.
"It pointed to what my father had been up against all of his life -- a nation where the laws reinforced racism, segregation, and inequality. American laws created obstacles for basic rights and necessities..."

On a personal note, I dog-eared a whole lot of pages: 

There are that many instances where Jael Ealey Richardson's narrative paralleled mine, where an expression, like "my father's quiet grace", made me yelp and underline because that's what I was trying to say.
This isn't a case of her book beat me to it so my book has no market; our books are very different -- Black and white, football and funeral service, US/Canada and Canada/East Coast -- but it actually makes my heart hum with excitement that our theme is the same. It tells me I've written the right book. It tells me that my book actually has a chance. 
It tells me I should have read this book a long time ago. For ALL the reasons. 

Happy Canada Day. 
Remember that we are built on the backs and with the lives of our Indigenous Peoples. Without them, we are not a nation. 
Remember that racism exists in Canada, and has despite the fact we were the end of the Underground Railroad. The Black and Asian people who helped build our country, and who contribute so significantly to it despite how they are treated, are a vital part of our nation. Our diversity is something to celebrate, to bring us together as HUMANS, not something to divide us. 
Stereotypes are wrong. Us versus Them is a waste of time. We know better; we should be doing better.

We can protest even as we celebrate because we are Canada. We are the true north strong and free -- and we must do better.