Thursday, May 9, 2013

A Woman's Inspiration (Part II)

Judy, I met at Teachers' College...also from Brantford.  An attractive girl, well-cultured, intelligent and wonderful personality.  She drove one of those Metropolitan small cars...yellow in colour.  In exchange for driving  lessons, I sewed and altered clothes for her...gave her also a few hand-crafted items.  One summer, while working at my Dad's garage in Brantford. I asked if he would allow me to use his vehicle to test for my driver's licence.  This, he flatly denied!  I contacted Judy, seeking her assistance.  She offered her car to drive and take my test in Hamilton...bless her heart!  I was “on a high” now as I rode the bus to Hamilton and was also confident, with licence in hand, my Dad would permit me to drive!  When my parents suggested going to Lake Erie one Sunday, again I was denied driving...his response being, “We'd better get there first.”  I never did drive his vehicle until after my June marriage.  In November of that year, he had a heart attack and passed away.  It was a powder blue Wildcat Buick that I drove back to Hamilton to keep over the winter season...returning it to my Mother in the spring; she had decided to take lessons and get her driver's licence...passing the test on her third attempt…and now for her “a new lease on life”!  In this case…daughter influencing the mother!

A life-long passion I had, was to SKI!  Friends from Teachers' College told me about Cedar Springs Ski Club...and it would be easy...just come with them and they'd teach me...a smallish club in North Burlington, quite accessible. I rented skis and poles...fell and tumbled numerous times!  Wrong Thing To Do...learning from learns their bad habits!  There I met avid skier and...a High School Physical Education Teacher...a delightful person, anxious for weekend company with whom to travel and ski!  Every winter weekend, three or four would rise at her with her Volkswagen Bug, mount skis and poles on her roof rack and drive 1 ½ to 2 hours or more to Collingwood, Barrie, or to Holiday Valley (south of Buffalo)...regardless of the weather!  More than once, we'd follow the snowplow to reach our destination...worry about driving home later!  Imagine lining up, on the slopes for a buffet spread of lunch including hot glu-vine or an ale...with yodelling music heard everywhere...superb!  Even to appreciate the winter beauty of snow-laden evergreens and icicles hanging from rooftops of the chalets, blue skies and white drifty clouds.  What a Life!  So Exhilarating! Our Monday to Friday teaching days sped by quickly in anticipation of our weekend excitement.  Marnie lived with her parents  on Auchmar escarpment-edge home, built by her father, which overlooked the lower city, the harbour and Lake Ontario with its sweeping views from Burlington to Toronto.  On a clear day, one could see the CN Tower on this city's waterfront!  Over Christmas and New Year's holidays, 2 or3 times we drove to The Laurentians, north of Montreal for ski weeks.  Lessons included, we feasted on French cuisine, the frigid crisp air, the apres-ski bar in late afternoon when the “lifts” closed. With a warm fire blazing, a  local small-piece band entertaining us,  we relaxed:  boots off, jackets unzipped and a cold beer in hand.  Memories...from memorable friends!

After Mary and Murray were married, I located new room mates:  Mim (Miriam) a teacher and her sister, Pat, a nurse.  Our abode was a 2nd floor apartment in a stately 2 ½  storey red brick home facing the gardened Barnesdale Boulevard.  Every Thanksgiving weekend for several years, 4 or 5 friends rented a car and drove to view the magnificent colour foliage in Haliburton.  Mim and Pat's parents owned a cottage along the Fenelon River near Fenelon Falls.  It was always a wonderful weekend despite the volume of traffic along the 400 route on our return trip. 

One summer, Mim invited me to travel with her to the west coast.  We selected an extra-ordinary tour for the month of July.  A boat-train railed us to Port McNicoll (near Midland) on Georgian Bay to then board a passenger ship sailing north through the locks at Sault Ste. Marie and northwesterly to what is known today as Thunder Bay.  We viewed  Kakabeka Falls just north of Lake Superior.  The Canadian National Railway transported us across the prairie provinces (Manitoba and Saskatchewan) then northwest to Jasper National Park in Alberta.  Maligne Lake is an absolute “jewel” set in the Rocky refreshing to swim early morning in this mountain-fed glacial water.  Wow!!!  After a hearty breakfast, Mim and I were overwhelmed with the snow-capped Rockies, gushing rivers and lush green forests en route by train to Vancouver. we come!  A CNR cruise liner plied the west coast along the Inside Passage...port calls between the islands and the mainland.  

In Ketchikan, we saw salmon climbing the fish ladders to spawn in fresh waters...toured fish canneries in operation.  In Juneau, the Alaskan skyline is awesome!  During gold-rush-days, a narrow gauge railway was built for miners to pan for gold in the interior.  We rode the White Pass railway to Carcross (cariboo crossing), viewing milky-aqua lake waters, forever snow-capped peaks and relished the fish-fest lunch at this stopping place.  Back in Juneau, we joined the entertainment at the Red Door Saloon.  This trip to Alaska is one every Canadian in his lifetime should experience...the unspoiled natural beauty of mountains, tumbling rivers, ice fields and glaciers, the ruggedness of the coastline and Indian totem poles. Mim was definitely excited about this Alaskan cruise...she met Ed!  From Edmonton, Alberta, he was an engineer regularly inspecting the several government operated dams throughout the province.

Returning to Vancouver, Mim and I ferried to Vancouver Island's capital city, Victoria and Ed to his uncle and aunt's place in Nanaimo overlooking the Strait of Georgia and BC's mainland.  He came to Victoria to meet us, taking us to his relative's home to spend a few days.  Next day, when the tide was out, he provided us with long pole sticks for support to walk the soft wet sand beach...we saw numerous purplish starfish and coloured stones.  Ed's interest was the oysters...a rare treat, he told us, as he opened the shell, dipped the raw meat into the salt water and deliciously mouthing it to savour the flavour!  Of course, Mim and I had to sample this “delicacy”.  One was enough for me!  The conclusion to this tour culminated in Ed spending Christmas at Mim's home in Uxbridge (east of Toronto).  On Valentine's Day, they were engaged and to be married in the summer.  Her possessions and treasures were sent by trunk-loads to and from Edmonton. We corresponded for a couple years...our lives had become busy!  There was always the thought that we'd meet again.

Through the Teachers' Federation, I met Joyce. She was a Home Economics High School Teacher.  Our friendship “clicked” .  We shared a 2-bedroom apartment on St. Joseph Drive in Hamilton located near the base of the escarpment.  One summer we drove to Winnipeg, Manitoba in her new pale green Ford Falcon to visit her sister.  Joyce was very craft-oriented, introducing me to petit-point stitching.  At Mary Maxim outlet in Winnipeg, I decided that if Joyce could accomplish this art, so could I.  Patterns and threads depicting Indian children, a squaw and chief in beaded leather wear appealed to me.  With these in my bag, we headed far north to Flin Flon which was her home town...well known for its ore mining.  Her parents had a cottage bordering a lake where we spent a couple weeks...sitting on  the dock with my “Indian children, embroidery floss, pattern and needle”. I became “hooked” on this craft!

When I was in Brantford on weekends, I usually attended a Young People’s Fellowship group at a local church.  One young lady I greatly admired was Marie…from a good family, who was attractive and seemed well-adjusted  to life.  If I could emulate her, I’d be happy!  Stella, another church acquaintance advised me to “Be Yourself and let your individual personality develop.”  I accepted this a good philosophy and decided to be the person I wanted to be and not to pretend to be someone else.  I found my niche with this group.  I suggested we could perform as an acting cast to present a play…as a fundraiser.  It was a comedy by Samuel French for 6 characters.  We obtained the rights to use this play.  Together we accomplished this feat with great success…a stage set we built, costumes made, lighting and music arranged.  Christine, a silver-haired lady member of the church apparently recognized my ability. She’d had the initiative to create The Fledgling...a newsletter announcing events and news of the church…a monthly publication distributed to members and visitors.  She asked if I would consider taking over this project to “give it some wings”. We worked an arrangement whereby she would gather the local “news”  and I would assemble it.  Reluctant I was at first (what do I know about writing something, packaging it with a cover page and being responsible for increased success???)  Actually, Christine was instrumental in tapping into my hidden writing skills…I believe she was certain that as a teacher, I automatically had this ability.  I designed a front cover for The Fledgling and wrote a personal article in each issue.

Another opportunity arose:  On Sunday afternoons, 2 or 3 church elders drove to a rural country church to hold a service.  The attending families requested something special for a Christmas concert.  I loved the story of The Littlest Angel which would be “ever so perfect”. I rewrote it into a play. Mothers of the children made white gowns and I created gauzy angel wings and sparkling tiaras.  This was so delightful…appreciation and sincerity from these rural people...all brought tears to my eyes.  It amazed me that such a small idea…became the focal point of their Christmas concert.

Gloria was a very special lady…only a short time in Brantford biding time until her appointment from Ottawa was activated. Groomed as a top-flight secretary, we frequently chatted about job opportunities.  She would be sent to any country in the world where a Canadian ambassador was placed in a foreign embassy.  We  both looked forward to our weekend visitations. After 18 months, she was notified of  her assignment in Teheran, Iran.  We corresponded regularly.  Upon completion of her “tour of duty” she mailed me a piece of art depicting the writings of Omar Khayyam (born 1048 AD), an Islamic scholar who was a poet, mathematician and compiled astronomical tables.  Beautifully ornate with a  Persian border, I gold-framed it and valued Omar immensely. How she enhanced my knowledge of  embassies and the country of Iran!

At Hampton Heights School where I taught Grade Eight students for 5 years, I met Louise…the sweet secretary, who with the principal, kept the administration running smoothly.  Again, a new friendship was “in the making”.  Her parents, Salvation Army, had spent several years in Jamaica. There, she attended a British school while her father chaplained a district in Kingston. Her brother and his wife were now serving “the Army” in a needy part of this same city.  Her family invited me join them on their visit to Jamaica.  We drove to Miami…did a bit of shopping…including a couple long-play records of Latin music. After flying to Jamaica, Louise and I spent a week with her parents and  her brother’s family.  Sultry Hot Weather!  Vendors were on the street daily at 6 AM selling fruits and vegetables.  Scissor and knife sharpeners were ready to ply their wares and. women, young and old carrying produce on their heads to sell. One afternoon we enjoyed High Tea with British acquaintances. We visited the Botanical Gardens…tropical plantings of banana palms, magnolias, many hibiscus that grow wild, the Royal Poinciana with its voluminous red blooms…and climbing ivies that twist through the highest of trees.  For a few days we stayed at a Salvation Army Retreat.  The area was tropically beautiful.  Near an old church was a broad concrete slab with pimento beans (allspice) roasting and browning in the hot sun.  A burly black man (reminding me of Buddha) would raise his portly self to re-rake these beans to roast to perfection. He shook down a coconut from a tall palm tree and with his machete, opened it, inviting us to drink its milky contents.  Louise knew this place well.  With a prepared lunch, we trailed through the tropical growth to a path leading down to a quiet sheltered cove.  (I was assured there were no snakes on the island…at least I did not see one.)  So scenically beautiful was this cove…reminding me of pirate days long ago…and how idyllic the blue water!  When a brief shower occurs, the best cover is a large banana palm leaf.  One could ponder, visualize and dream here...where the hours and the minutes mean nothing…only paradise!

Louise contacted a couple school friends she had while living here.  Yes, they were available and had a boat…we could sail to the keys.  One’s mother had a guest house (Bed and Breakfast) at Port Antonio who welcomed us to stay a few days.  From the cays, we watched freighters and cruise ships as they slowly glided to their Kingston port of destination.  I wasn’t so fond of the eels I saw slithering the water.  In the evening we visited a café/bar with an entry of long strings of coloured beads.  The cool tropical drinks on the deck and dancers inspired by the reggae beat of music absorbed our minds and body as Caribbean waters lapped and washed ashore before our eyes.

When we returned to Miami I discovered that the records we left in the car were badly warped!

Back home in Hamilton, Louise and I missed the Latin music of the island. We  took dance lessons to learn a few steps.  Here, she met Stan whom she later married and I met Ricardo from Chile who came to McMaster University to study and now employed as a research chemist at Stelco.  He sought instruction at the dance studio  to  “foxtrot” and “waltz”.  

Lessons Learned Over the Years About a Woman’s Role in Life

                               You are a unique person.  The greatest possession you have
                                is your Individuality  and Uniqueness.

                                Accept yourself as you are. Self-acceptance means a feeling
                                of  Self-Respect…a feeling that…You are Worthwhile.

                                Be a Self-Directed Person.  Don’t conform to what is necessary
                                to gain Acceptance  and Approval from people.

…to be continued …A Woman’s Inspiration (Part III)

Merle Baird-Kerr … written February, 2011
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  1. Merle,

    You continue to inspire all of us in your
    Woman's Inspiration Theme this lovely Month of May. It is a delight to read about your life and how it has been inspired by these wonderful women. You definitely give gracious honour in your written word to each and everyone of them. And I pray that each one of them will somehow connect with you ... even be it in spirit !
    What wonderful inspiring stories you have told here which I will forward onto others.
    Have a Happy Mother's Day.

    Do you know what Mom spells upside down... Wow...That is you and all of us !


  2. Superb comments, Sherrie! To me, at the time, the experiences seemed "so ordinary"; yet now I look back in wonderment...realizing how beneficial we were to each other. I trust readers will relate to their own development of the Life they live today.