Friday, July 29, 2011

Moments of Amusement, Embarrassment, Fright and Magic


Life is a Kaleidoscope...of trials, tribulations, achievements, victories
of celebrations and Good Samaritan deeds. We have all experienced them.
Sometimes Life is Just...sometimes Unjust!

With you, I share a few personal experiences that carved my character
through several years of Life's Journey.

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A CREEK meandered through the farm...swamp-like in appearance. When our uncles and family came to visit, it was a  joyous time.  They loved to tease my sister, Eileen and me.  Garter snakes lived in and around the "woodhouse" attached to our home.  They would catch these harmless reptiles, chasing us with them and putting them down our necks.  I was So Frightened!  Thereafter,  I would remain in the house while they dined and chatted the hours away.  Snakes terrified me!...and still do, to this day!

MY BLONDE HAIR is very fine and tends to tangle easily. When a child, Mother braided my hair and my sister's into “pig tails”. My scalp was very tender...many ouches daily! These two braids were always adorned with colourful bowed ribbons, matching the clothing we wore. After this continual pulling of hair and constant “ouches and ooh's” Mother sent me to the village hairdresser. I was never told what was to occur. Shocked was I, when my hair was unbraided and cut off...short!!! In tears, I was so angry with Mother...and So Embarrassed...I could not accept what she did to me! What do I tell my classmates? How will others perceive me now?

Returning home to the farm, it was my turn to cut the grass beside the long driveway. With a push-mower on this hot day, tears welled in my eyes. An overhead bird, as it flew above, dropped a “splat” on my head...adding insult to injury! I was furious...and questioned what I had done to deserve all this!

WHEN WORLD WAR II was raging in Europe, I was in Grade 8. War Savings Stamps, rationed foods, shortages of luxuries were “the norm”. Brant County had a weekly early Friday evening radio program on CKPC. It featured a contest of questions and answers between any 2 teams of Grade 8 students. Four students were principal-selected and invited to meet in Brantford for a dinner hosted by the Board of Education. The superintendent, the 2 principals and 8 students assembled prior to the contest held at the radio station. I was so thrilled to be chosen from our village school. First Time Ever to Dine in a Fine Restaurant! Questions arose...what to do with all the cutlery lined each side of the dinner plate? Beautifully folded cloth serviettes, the crystal-like glasses for water and juice amazed me! The “smarts” told me to observe the adults which became valuable learning experiences. And who was this man in a black business suit called The Maitre-D? This opportunity was not only a Magic Moment, but several hours of unexpected “grown up” manners and deportment.

WE LIVED ALONG HIGHWAY 53 which winds from Hamilton Mountain to Woodstock. It was a paved road. To go to school, I would roller-skate along the pavement, always facing the traffic until reaching the sidewalk at the eastern edge of the village. On one Spring day, a wheel caught a pebble and threw me onto the road. My knee was skinned badly and bleeding. A Labatt beer truck eastbound, was able to avoid me and stopped. The driver was so kind. I was upset with myself for falling and embarrassed beyond reason for having a beer truck driver stop to help me. (My parents were dedicated Christians and very strongly beliefed...dances, alcohol and Hollywood were “taboo”.) To have my parents know of this 'alcohol-related incident' might result in severe punishment. The driver, with his First Aid Kit, cleaned my badly grazed knee, ointmented and bandaged it.  I thanked him very politely.  To me, he was My Good Samaritan.
My parents never knew about these frightful moments.

WITH 75 ACRES to farm and livestock to care for, my sister and I assisted with many of these chores: gathering eggs, feeding the chickens, picking strawberries,
planting of the yearly vegetable garden, tilling the farm soil for crops; the cutting of hay, grain and corn to fill the barn loft and silo. Since I was to have been a male heir, helping Dad became my responsibility. The nearby farmers neighboured together  with the harvesting of these crops.  Picture this.  When the hay is ripe for cutting, the tractor pulls the hay mower which I rode, tripping the "load carrier" into furrows of freshly cut hay.  Here it would lay for several days to be dried by the sun. Then, when cured, the tractor would pull a wagon  plus the attached hay loader, straddling each furrow.  I drove the tractor.  My Dad and a neighbour on the wagon accepted the hay and dispersed it evenly on the wagon as it came upwards from the ground.  When the wagon was full, we detached the hay loader and drove to the barn side where a trap door to the loft would be opened.  A rope pulley with a giant pincer-fork-grip was lowered to grasp loads (one at a time) to be transferred from the wagon to the loft for cattle and horse fodder over the winter months.
On one such occasion, a lengthy garter snake came up the hay loader onto the wagon. The assisting neighbour, thought it a great “prank” to fling this wriggling green snake to me, landing on my shoulder. I was terrified...stopped the tractor and fled from the field. My Dad would not permit me to play Ladies Fastball that evening with the Burford Bluebirds. I was mortified!

WITH THE HARVESTING of grain, my uncles and neighbours again co-operated. The big noon day meal was dinner! My mother was a great cook...these ravenously hungry men thought her “divine”. All the food was placed on a long table seating all the men. Bowls were always passed in one direction form man to man for each to “load his plate”. One neighbour took a large serving of “cole slaw” and savouring the taste, quickly discovered it was strong horse radish. Wow! Uncle Willie loved my mother's desserts...especially cherry pie, being his favourite. He had 2nd and 3rd slices, telling mother how super-delicious it was. She asked, “Willie, what did you do with the pits?” “What pits?” he questioned. She commented that she'd not had time to pit the cherries prior to baking. How amusing these two incidents!

JIM SCHOFIELD was very fond of my sister. In High School, he “drove a car”! One of the Few! Once a month a “tea dance” was held for students. Our parents would never permit us to attend these (why? because dancing with a man might lead to pregnancy). Eileen wished to attend these with Jim. She asked me to tell our parents that she was “researching some material in the Library”. Later he would drive her home....letting her out of his car, away our farm home. (Yet, for our parents, it was OK for her to be involved with the drama classes and musicals.) I found it amusing that I was part of this plot to “'cover for her” while she and Jim enjoyed themselves socializing with the many students.

FOR TWO SUMMERS our parents arranged for us to attend a Christian camp for teens held at Port Ryerse along the shore of Lake Erie. During these 2-week holidays, we had work details to accomplish...setting up and preparation of tables in the dining hall with clean-up after each meal, dishwashing, serving the meals, garbage removal. It was such fun with all these teens and the aquatic activities. We had never learned to swim. (Whiteman's Creek just north of the village was where “learning to swim” was experienced...our parents forbade us to go to this swimming hole...where it was “jump... and swim or sink”). The Lake water was shallow; several feet from shore was a floating dock which was an open invitation to swim to and loll in the sun. All friends encouraged Eileen and me to wade through the water to reach it. I asked about the water depth, but was ensured, “It's easy to reach.” I nearly drowned as there was a section where the water was over my head and I was upset by the waves. I moved frantically, trying to turn myself around to face the shore, hoping I would survive...I believe a lake nymph came to my rescue.

WHILE ATTENDING my final year of College in Toronto, a friend became engaged. We arranged a Bridal Shower for her. The usual games and conversation ensued. After the opening of gifts, each “guest” was given a wrapped gift. One at a time, a gift was opened which generated fun and much interest. I had a round tin with a lid on the top to remove. Out sprang a long green snake...artificial, it was..but so traumatized me, the plate and teacup on my lap, fell crashing to the floor, breaking and spilling badly!

FOLLOWING GRADUATION, I returned home to work for the summer at Spalding's Sport Factory. My father had sold the farm and moved to Brantford where he physically built a service-station-garage selling Supertest gasoline. My father still treated me as a teenager, insisting on curfew hours and strictly governing my activities. Unfortunately, I had to make the decision to move out (to my mother's chagrin). I urgently needed money to attend Teachers' College in September. I boarded with a family affiliated with the church I attended. Mom knew where to reach me. At the end of August, my Dad telephoned, requesting to meet with me. He had a cheque in the amount of $200 from the IODE (Independent Order of the Daughters of the Empire)...a bursary given to selected students embarking on extended education toward the building of a career. Somehow, somewhere , this organization heard of my financial plight. What a Magical Moment! Of equal importance, the relationship with my Father was reinstated.

ON WEEKENDS, when home from Teachers' College, I would often walk to the Arena to ice-skate. With white skates slung over my shoulder, I briskly walked in the winter air to enjoy a few hours of activity. A carload of guys slowly drove by, and with the window run down, someone yelled, “If I had a swing like that in my back yard, I'd cut the ropes!” I was So Embarrassed!

AFTER MY SECOND YEAR of teaching,I spent the summer on a tour of Europe. My parents drove me to Montreal to board the ship for Scotland. For my Dad, this was “a high”...seeing this ship that was to cross the ocean...he was awed by the opportunity to board it for 30 minutes. He seemed so proud that I was “living his dream”. After docking on the Scottish shore, we boarded a tour bus, meeting our travel companions...passengers from all walks of life and varied ages. At one rural area, we stopped along the road's edge to view the long-haired Highland cattle grazing on the far side of the field. Gary, a High School teacher from Hamilton, cupped his hands and mooed and mooed and continued to moo...when suddenly, a bull rushed at full speed toward him, ready to jump the fence. Gary very quickly retreated to the safety of the bus! Very Amusing!

MONDAY EVENINGS, I played badminton at Westdale Collegiate in Hamilton. It was a great recreational few hours weekly. I met John Cornale and occasionaly paired as “doubles” at a few local tournaments. He was tall and athletic, fun to be with. From spring until late fall, he played and Captained a soccer team in Oakville. It was apparent that his team would win the championship. He invited me to the Celebrations Dinner and Dance. I Could Not Dance! He asked me three times...so embarrassed that I'd never learned dance, I kept giving him excuses. So sorrily disappointed was he, that he invited someone else...how could I tell him that I was unable to accept, for fear of spoiling and ruining his triumphant evening, due to my inability to dance?

THE FOREGOING EXPERIENCE incited me to Dance! Latin American music soared within me...if only I knew what to do with this romantic, sensual beat! I have a good sense of rhythm, having studied piano,  singing with my parents when young, singing with church choirs and groups; also dueting with my sister's soprano voice in a few Toronto engagements. Enrolling at Arthur Murray's Dance Studio in Hamilton, I felt safe...here, no one knew me! One of the instructors introduced me to Richard Baird-Kerr, from Chile who had attended McMaster University and presently working at Stelco as a Research Chemist. He was learning Fox Trot and Waltz...and I the Tango, Cha Cha and Samba. We became good friends...within two years we married. When our son was four years old, we flew to Ecuador and Chile to meet Richard's family, during the months of January and February (summer months). Exciting!

WHEN MY CHILDREN were young, I remained at home about five years to stabilize their growing and learning stages. Due to no full-time teaching positions available at this point of re-establishing my career, I successfully passed the courses and qualified as a Sales Representative in Real Estate. It took a couple years to start and grow this business. I had many successful years. It was often difficult and financially challenging to raise two children and work full time, with seldom a weekend off. The recession in the late 80's and early 90's seriously affected my business. I was frightened for my family...as were most people working as Independent Contractors!!! Property values declined; real estate holdings were lost and debts accumulated. The important and significant factors in life are one's Sanity, one's Health and one's Attitude! Life has its valleys and mountains. To balance the scale of ups and downs are the Magic Moments that revitalize our lives.

Personal Friendships are among the most fundamental of Human Needs.
The quality of these friends often define the outcome
of our decisions and actions.
Someone once wrote, “Friendship doubles your joy and divides your sorrow.”

I could have written a hundred more personal experiences
resulting from Amusement, Embarrassment, Fright and Magic...
as could you, the reader.
Our emotions are severely affected and could be damaging
to our development and demeanor.
We can all reflect on individual incidents,
realizing now what we “could have, should have done”.

Remember that, “We need not Walk Alone!” Like the author of a book who credits those who researched and assisted him toward his completed writing, we can do likewise. I can attribute praise to a High School teacher, to a neighbour lady, to an elementary school principal, to 2 or 3 women from networking organizations, to a tennis buddy who at a time of diversity gave me the strength to positively face the future, to a Harley Davidson biker who introduced me to true fun, to a ski enthusiast who shared the thrill of downhill skiing at various winter resorts. A couple of years ago, while in Connecticut where my son was working, I met a wonderful gentleman at a local bridge club...a World War II Veteran who is titled, “The Oldest Military Blogger”. He is delightfully “young at heart” with a positive attitude and of intelligent mind. It is a pleasure to know him. We inspire each other to write. I respect his wisdom, his judgement and his sincerity. He is my mensch!

A friend is someone we turn to
when our spirits need a lift.
A friend is someone we treasure,
for our friendship is a gift.
A friend is someone who fills our lives
with beauty, joy and grace.
And makes the whole world we live in
a better and happy place.

Merle Baird-Kerr    (written November12, 2010)

2 comments:

  1. Wow... what lovely life altering memories to share... honest, heartbreaking and life changing.
    Deeply inbedded in our minds forwver and you Merle have a wonderful way of bringing them up for discussion. I love your freshness of writing and honest feelings served up to us on your table of life. I have many as well... which I will send to you someday. But for now let me relish your realism of life...and what made you the wonderful woman you are today !
    Sherrie

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  2. Dear Sherrie...you are so complimentary! I am delighted that you relate to these personal experiences...and I feel honoured that I have the ability to recall them and able to word-express so vividly! I knew it important to state that our Life is not Full of Magic Moments...like the long putt on a green that sinks...like the spectacular run down a ski slope...like the perfect rendition given at a recital! These are the "pay-offs" for the other challenges we face and endure in Life!

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