Month: December 2019

An Apology

Sorry to miss a week on regular blog output, but events like a new PC and holidays which deprived me of expert guidance through the labyrinth of new techniques have slowed down my already sluggish technical capabilities.

So I thought it wiser just to switch the new monster off until the festive seasons slows down a little and “Dan the man” from ABC Business Services can find time to gently guide me through the maze of new instructions.

Hopefully I’ll be back in this usual spot in a week or 10 days stumbling through the first days of my 97th year on planet earth after surviving my 96th birthday on the 27th. And I hope readers who have been with me for a good part of my journey so far will be waiting with their kind words and knuckle raps.

You are good companions to travel with.

 

“Trapper” John’s Christmas As Requested By Readers

The log cabin lay snugged down in foothills snow. Inside “Trapper” John Norton put another log on the fire, pulled up his chair and chatted with his dog Rover, his only companion and a good listener.

Trapper John is a fictional but believable character. He, Rover and the log cabin  were created by Rev. William Henry Harrison Murray back in the late 1800s. They remain believable today and nice to visit at Christmas time if you like stories about old men who sit by the fire and talk with their canine friends on how to best celebrate the festive season.

If you’ve never met Murray’s wilderness men then you should Google  “How Trapper John Kept His Christmas” and “John Norton’s Vagabond” for two Christmas stories, simply told with old fashioned charm and carrying messages as strong and relevant as Dickens’ Scrooge.

Vagabond is my favourite. It tells the story of Trapper John sitting by his fire and asking Rover what they should do about the vagabonds who wander the hills, steal from legitimate traplines, are an unsavory and untrustworthy lot, generally shunned and despised by “decent” folk. Trapper John explains to Rover that while he doesn‘t have much time for the vagabonds or their way of life, they are fellow human beings and that many of them may just be down on their luck.

He says that earlier in the evening he’d been reading “the Book” where it says “give to him that lacketh and, from him that hath not, withhold not thine hand …”

“There it is Rover,” Trapper says,  “we are to give to the man that lacks, vagabond or no vagabond. If he lacks food, we are to give him food; if he lacks garments we are to give him garments; if he lacks Christmas dinner, Rover, we are to give him Christmas dinner…”

So, Trapper John gouged invitations on birch-bark to a Christmas dinner at his cabin and nailed them to trees in the vicinity of remote wilderness trails inviting all who read, vagabonds and fellow trappers, to come dine with him.

And, come Christmas Day, his “table lacked not guests for nearly every chair was occupied.” Twenty men had breasted the storm that they might be at that dinner and some had traversed a 30-mile trail to be there; a motley company gathered for a remarkable event.

Trapper John thanked everyone for honouring him by sharing his table “because I hated on this day of feasting and gladness to eat my food alone. I knew that the day would be happier if we spent it together.”

And then it was time to say good night and goodbye and he asked his guests to take with them more than just the memory of a well-fed, pleasant evening: “This be the lesson I want you all to take away with you as you go – that Christmas is a day of feasting and giving and laughing, but above everything else it is the day for forgiving and forgetting. Some of you are young – and may your days be long on the earth – and some of your heads are as white as mine and your years (left) not many, but be that as it may, whether our Christmas days be many or few let us remember in good or ill fortune, alone or with many, that Christmas above all else is the day for forgiving and forgetting.”

Trapper John reflected that while it had taken a long time for him to learn the true spirit of Christmas – “I’ve  learned it at last.”

And, the old man extended to his now departing guests a blessing and a request I first brought to readers in a column some 30-years ago, and have repeated a few times over the years. I do so again without apology because it remains for ever timely – and needed.

“Ah, friends, dear friends, as years go on and heads get gray – how fast the guests do go! Touch hands, touch hands with those that stay. Strong hands to weak, old hands to young, around the Christmas board, touch hands. The false forget, the foe forgive, for every guest will go and every fire burn low and cabin empty stand. Forget, forgive, for who may say that Christmas day may ever come to host or guests again. Touch hands.”

Have a wonderful, loving, giving and forgiving, Christmas.

Let’s Hope Samuel Johnson Got It right

Maybe it’s just old age, but as I push through to my 97th year, I find myself wondering what life will be like 100 years from now for a child born on my December 27th, 96th birth day.

I haven’t yet come up with an answer, and there is a school of thought that says I never will because mankind, by neglect, will have eliminated life on our home planet before the next century runs its course. But, clinging to the hope that mankind will wake up and avert the forecast cataclysmic end to life on Planet Earth, I continue to wonder what life will be like for new-borns hitting the century mark in 2120.

Maybe intrepid readers can make it a family game of guessing what BC will look like 100 years from now. They will have to be wild guesses because the leap from 2020 to 2120 will surely be as nothing when compared with the leap in my not-quite-a-century starting in 1923.

In the year I came caterwauling into life in the front bedroom of No. 23 Botterill Street, Nuneaton, Warwickshire, houses and streets were lit by gas. Each night, the lamp-lighter on his bicycle carrying a long pole with a flint wheel sparker on the tip, provided dusk entertainment as without even a pause, he wheeled down the street, pole aloft, to touch and spark to light each street lamp. At dawn, he would ride his route again to turn the street lamps off for the day.

That street entertainment ended the day they laid electric cables and hooked street lamps and houses with the new-fangled and highly suspicious electric light. Children adapted quickly, but housewives, new brides and young mothers, born and raised in homes where an oil lamp or candle was the only after-dark light source, took longer to appreciate the blessing.

There were no monthly statements for monthly power use. Supply was more “cash and carry” with a cash meter in every house. If the power went out while dinner was being served, a silver coin would bring it back to life – briefly.

It was years later that the houses lining the streets discovered running water from electrically heated tanks, and the new-fangled electricity brought its multitude of gadgets to make life a little easier. And, supply became “friendlier” but was not always blessed. Television brought the world in colour to our living rooms and the insidious cell phone – once “owned” only by Dick Tracey in the comic strips of newspapers -threatened our every awakened moment.

The restrictive boundaries of life that once held all but deep-water mariners, intrepid explorers or invading armies close to home, began to fade.

I remember as a juvenile, my father taking me in summer to see barnstorming Royal Air Force flyers put on a Post WW1 flying show. They were selling brief joyrides for a few pence, but the great depression was on and even most minor expenditures were restricted. I remember watching with awe as the two already-old biplanes took off in tandem, fooled around a bit, looped and banked, and landed to great cheers from the crowd of mostly out-of-work men. It was beyond dreams that summer day that years later, I would sit with my own sons and watch a man land and walk on the moon, and that flying for my children and me would one day become a tiresome necessity.

On a far more important note, consider the advances in health care over the past 100 years. I was the fourth child in a five-child family, which had been reduced to a two-child family by the time I was 14. A sister Phyllis dead at 10-months of meningitis; a brother Douglas age five, the same disease; a brother Tom, 18, peritonitis. Those diseases can still be fatal, but not with the impunity of 100 years ago, when sanitation was not a high priority and our hospitals lacked the high standards demanded and, for the most part, met today.

I have only scratched the surface of the changes for the better in the close to 100 years I’ve managed to survive, aided considerably by love of friends and family, better diet than I could ever have hoped for and medical care I shall probably always complain about, but which I know is light years ahead of the best ever offered my original family.

In between the egg nogs and the Christmas cake nibbles, count your blessings. One hundred years ago we thought we had for ever to develop and harness our most spectacular inventions.

We were wrong, but I believe the young people of today are smarter at recognizing problems and correcting them than we have been. I believe they have accepted climate change scientific truths the majority of people of my century chose to ignore – and some still do.

And, in hope, I am reminded of a truth spoken to a friend by Samuel Johnson more than 200 years ago: “Depend upon on it,Sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.”

“In The Midst of Life…We Are In Debt”

It was in October each year that my coal delivery business started to pick up. It was an all-day Saturday job for which my Uncle George Noon – married to my mother’s sister – paid me the equivalent of two dollars.

Uncle George owned and operated a small corner store offering canned and packaged food, a modest variety of cheeses, a good selection of vegetables and fruit – and coal.

The coal was stored in a huge backyard in mounds of various sizes and was sold by the “hundredweight” – which, if my memory holds true, was 112 pounds on an English weigh scale. Uncle George’s father – known to me as “granddad” – ran the Saturday coal yard. I was the delivery boy.

Most customers brought their own wheelbarrows, watched the scales as granddad weighed their coal, paid him in cash and rumbled off down the street. And, every Saturday, at least half-a-dozen elderly ladies or ageing men lacking their own wheelbarrows or being too old to handle a hundredweight of coal, would wander in to choose the size of coal they wanted – large lumps or “cobs.” Large lumps burn slower; smaller cobs burn brighter but disappear faster. Important decisions to be carefully made when coal fires are your only source of energy for warmth or cooking.

With decisions made, the coal would be sacked, placed in the company wheelbarrow – a four-wheeled brut – and I would clatter forth. Walking ahead would be the customer guiding me to their sometimes close sometimes blocks-away homes. There was no charge for delivery, and in the extremely harsh economic times of the 1930s, no tips for the delivery boy and, believe it or not, none expected.

At the end of the day, a meal would be shared with aunt, uncle and granddad – after the coal yard crew had scrubbed themselves clean. I would then trot home, my pay jingling in my pocket demanding to be spent. But, before I could launch myself to a Saturday night Tom Mix movie at “The Rex,” there had to be the equivalent of a fifty-cent deduction paid to my mother.

When I earned my first Saturday pay, I thought it a bit greedy and unfair that mother should chisel into my hard-earned cash. I was maybe 15 – a two-year coal delivery veteran – before I understood where my weekly fifty-cent contribution ended up. It was paid into a layaway plan down at the local co-op store. Mother always used the layaway plan to make sure Christmas was a decent celebration for her four children. Later she used it to buy family treats like radios and new clothes.

It was a simple system. You just paid a store to hold an object for you until you had enough saved to buy it outright. The reverse of the way we do things now where we take possession of goods and then decide if we can really afford them. And often discover when the bill arrives – we can’t.

It was pay as you go until emerging airlines started their seductive “fly now, pay later” campaign and the magic wands called credit cards provided immediate access to Ali Baba’s cave and treasures once available only to the cash-blessed rich.

The great slide into individual, family and government debt began then and continues to accelerate at alarming speed, encouraged by the bankers who make is so easy for us to spend beyond our means.

There was a time when we could look to government to take strong actions to halt the slide to ruin – or at least slow it down. But municipal, regional, provincial and federal governments long ago ceased to preach the benefits of a frugal way of life. Fearful of rejection if they deny their constituents what they know they can’t afford, they just raise – always “modestly” – taxes, to pay back loans made to buy goods and services we could live without.

In the early 1940s, American humorist Ethel Watts Mumford quipped: “In the midst of life we are in debt.” After a brief chuckle, we might sadly realize it is true – we are, and we have no one to blame but ourselves.

I don’t think my parents belonged to a miracle generation in the human parade. But I do believe they had a better approach to life, and that living without packing a burden of debt is far more conducive to family strength, well-being and general happiness than self-afflicted penury.

“In the Midst of Life…..we are in Dept”

It was in October each year that my coal delivery business started to pick up. It was an all day Saturday job for which my Uncle George Noon paid me the equivalent of two dollars. Married to my mother’s sister Uncle George owned and operated a small corner store offering canned and packaged food, a modest variety of cheeses, a good selection of vegetables and fruit – and coal.

The coal was stored in a huge backyard in mounds of various sizes and was sold by the “hundredweight” which if my memory holds true, was 112 pounds on an English weigh scale. Uncle George’s father – known to me as “granddad” – ran the Saturday coal yard. I was the delivery boy.

Most customers brought their own wheel barrows, watched the scales as granddad weighed their coal, paid him in cash and rumbled off down the street. And every Saturday at least half-a-dozen elderly ladies or aging men lacking their own wheelbarrows, or being too old to handle a hundredweight of coal, would wander in to choose the size of coal they wanted – large lumps or “cobs”.  Large lumps burn slower, smaller cobs burn brighter but disappear faster. Important decisions to be carefully made when coal fires are your only source of energy for warmth or cooking.

With decisions made the coal would be sacked, placed in the company wheelbarrow, a four-wheeled brute, and I would clatter forth. Walking ahead would be the customer guiding me to their sometimes close sometimes blocks-away homes. There was no charge for delivery and in the extremely harsh economic times of the 1930’s no tips for the delivery boy and, believe it or not, none expected.

At the end of the day a meal would be shared with aunt, uncle and granddad – after the coal-yard crew had scrubbed themselves clean. I would then trot home my pay jingling in my pocket demanding to be spent. But before I could launch myself to a Saturday night Tom Mix movie at “The Rex” there had to be the equivalent of a fifty cent deduction paid to my mother.

When I earned my first Saturday pay I thought it a bit greedy and unfair that mother should chisel into my hard earned cash. I was maybe 15 – a two year coal delivery veteran – before I understood where my weekly fifty cent contribution ended up. It was paid into a Layaway plan down at the local Co-op store. Mother always used the Layaway plan to make sure Christmas was a decent celebration for her four children. Later she used it to buy family treats like radios and new clothes.

 It was a simple system. You just paid a store to hold an object for you until you had enough saved to buy it outright. The reverse of the way we do things now where we take possession of goods – then decide if we can really afford them. And often discover when the bill arrives — we can’t.

It was pay as you go until emerging airlines started their seductive “fly now, pay later” campaign and the magic wands called credit cards provided immediate access to Ali Barba’s cave and treasures once available only to the cash blessed rich.

The great slide into individual, family and government debt began then and continues to accelerate at alarming speed, encouraged by the bankers who make is so easy for us to spend beyond our means.

 There was a time when we could look to government to take strong actions to halt the slide to ruin – or at least slow it down. But municipal, regional, provincial and federal governments long ago ceased to preach the benefits of a frugal way of life. Fearful of rejection if they deny their constituents what they know they can’t afford they just raise, always “modestly”, taxes to pay back loans made to buy goods and services we could live without.

In the early 1940’s American humorist Ethel Watts Mumford quipped “In the midst of life we are in debt” and after a brief chuckle at the pun we might sadly realise it is true – we are. And we have no one to blame but ourselves.

I don’t think my parents belonged to a miracle generation in the human parade. But I do think they had a better approach to life, and that living without packing a burden of debt is far more conducive to family strength, well being and general happiness than self created penury.