5 December 2016

One more post on eulogies

Still going through mother's stuff, and I found portions of the eulogy for the aunt I never met.  She died in 1941 in her early thirties after thirteen years of being bedridden.  I never met her, as I said, but she was a constant presence, so to speak, in the house when I was growing up.  She was mother's favourite sister, and must have been something special. 

When requesting the prayers of the congregation for Miss -----, on the Sunday after her death,  Father ---- paid her the following tribute: "I am sure that the sympathy of every member of congregation will go out to Mr. and Mrs. ----- and their family in the loss they have sustained in the death of their much beloved daughter and sister, ----.  (She) was a very remarkable girl. There are few of her kind in the world in any one generation. Unable for many years to take any part in social activities,  she cultivated other tastes and other interests which enabled her to enjoy life to the full.  Bright and intelligent she found in good literature and the fine arts,  a never filing source of pleasure and enjoyment. She loved everything that was nice and saw Go in all that was good and beautiful.  She prized above all else her holy religion and, and drew from it her greatest joys and consolation.  Living apart rom the noise and bustle of the world she attained a high degree of sanctity which made her the angel of her home of which she was at once the joy and the crown.  Never once in all the years she was confined to bed did she utter a word of complaint, and there was a prayer on her lips up until her last conscious moment on earth. The innocence and purity of her soul were reflected in her countenance and made her a most beautiful girl to look upon.  She was indeed a great Saint- the nearest approach to the Little Flower we have known in our time.  All who knew her will regret her passing, and we who are her fellow parishioners will not fail to offer a prayer for the repose of her soul."

18 November 2016

Mom's Eulogy

I was asked by someone what it was that I actually said after the funeral about mother.  For any interested, here it is, every maudlin word of it.

We have gathered here today to pray for, to remember and to bid  a very fond and very loving farewell to one of the most remarkable people we have ever met, or are ever likely to meet.  I want to thank, on behalf of our family, all of you for coming, and, above all, to ask for your continued prayers for her, as she did pray and would have continued to have prayed for all of us here. 
The claim that mother was remarkable may, in some ways, seem to be somewhat incongruous.   In our time, people are often measured by the jobs they hold, the lands in which they have lived or to which they have travelled, the homes they have owned or cars they have driven. Mother owned no cars, held only a few jobs to put herself through OCA- which she ultimately abandoned to look after her ailing mother- and traveled but little.  She very nearly literally died in the house where she was very literally born, and she called no other place home at any time in all of her long life.   
I regret that I never asked  Bud Osborn what he was thinking when he introduced mother to dad- whether it was truly inspired genius, or perhaps a practical joke that went horribly right.  On the surface, it would be difficult to think of two more different people.  Dad was a hard living hell raiser and a lapsed Catholic.  Mom lived with and looked after her parents, attended Mass almost every day, and insisted on going to confession every Saturday before they would go out for a date. In the confessional she would often chat with the priest for – in Dad's estimation- about half and hour.  Dad would stand outside and wonder what kind of woman he was dating, that she needed so long to confess her weekly sins.  The most remarkable thing about their first date was that there was a second date.  Dad, Lord knows why, thought he would impress my teetotalling mother with his ability to drink.  We have often thought she took Dad on as a reclamation project. 
Dad lived his life out loud and loved to be the centre of attention, whether it was for his skill at bowling, or fishing, or his gift for telling a story- and he was a master storyteller.  Whatever he did, he wanted to be the best at it- and by 'the best' he meant 'better than anyone else'.   Mom lived her life quietly, joying in her skills in the solitary arts of painting, or her embroidery, or the simple tasks involved in keeping a home clean, and running smoothly. When it came to telling stories, well, Mom, bless her, often derailed her own tales as she spent five minutes trying to remember some irrelevant character's name, and then forgot what she was talking about in the first place.  Like Dad, she also wanted to be the best, but in her case, 'the best' meant 'the best she could be'. Unlike Dad, she would not measure herself against others, and I believe she was the wiser of the two for that. 
She was generous with her gifts.   Many of us here- most of us, perhaps- have on our walls examples of her paintings and her portraits- gifts of skill and of love from a woman who was overflowing with both.  Her paintings hang on the walls of many strangers to us, as she painted hundreds of portraits for families that lost loved ones through tragedy or war, as a gift to the families, and an effort to send them what comfort that was in her to give. 
Mom has scrapbooks at home filled with letters and tributes she has received from families, police and fire departments, and the military. Not everyone writes to mother, but many do, telling her what those of us who knew her already knew: that she was a wonderful and loving woman and  a talented artist. She has never asked for any recompense or recognition for her work, although she loves reading out the letters of thanks she has received to her friends and family. She was never told that anyone was trying to nominate her for this or any other award, because she would have told whoever was doing the nomination not to put themselves out for her. But we did anyway, because we believe she deserved some recognition for her work, and because she did what most people today believe is impossible. When reading the news, it is the easiest thing in the world to become depressed, and to be overwhelmed by feelings of helplessness. The news is full of darkness about which we seem to be able to do nothing. Mom was one of the few who decided to do something in her own small way to push back against the darkness and to not stand by helplessly, who, instead of throwing up her hands and asking rhetorically "What can I do?" instead looked within herself and asked "What can I do?" and then rolled up her sleeves, and did it. 
The gifts she gave to us, her children, are too many to count.  A love of art and music, our faith, an appreciation for the ties of family. The greatest gift she gave to us was our father. Dad, according to the man himself, was a wild, hard drinking man heading to an early grave before he met mother. Such a man may live a life that makes for great stories (and many of his best came from those wild years) but such a man would make a poor father. I did not have a poor father. Mother told that hell raising wild man in no uncertain terms not to ask her to marry him, unless he cleaned himself up and quit drinking. I have known many women who have tried to reform men, and I have told my daughters in the strongest terms possible never to try it, because it almost always fails. I know of only one woman who pulled it off, and that was mother. I had a great father, but that was because I also had a great, perhaps a greater, mother.   And so it is that I owe everything to my mother. Any good that I have done in my life, any good that I may hope to achieve, has its roots in her.  
My friends, I have few words of comfort to say at a time like this.  We mark both the passing of a loved one and the end of an era.  I take comfort in the promises of Christ and his Church, that her passing marks not her end, but the beginning of her new life.  I think of the words of the New World Symphony:  "I'm going home, just going home."  I think of the words of Seneca the Elder, who wrote that everyone dies, but not everyone truly lives.  Always remember that,  in her own quiet way, Mom lived, and as we are Christians, Mom lives still. 
Please, continue to remember her in your prayers.

14 November 2016

This is how you become a hoarder

We have been going through Mom's things,beginning with her thousands (literally) of paintings.  We  have given away a fair number, but are keeping many for ourselves.  At first, it was decided that all portraits shall be given to or kept by the portrait subject.  As her children, there were dozens upon dozens of portraits of us.  It seems I will have to turn one room of my house into a shrine to me.  We are now realizing that maybe we should trade a few of them around, and have portraits of each other, as well.

One of the odder things I brought home was my father's chest x-rays.  I have no idea why Mom kept those, and less of an idea why I kept them.  It just didn't seem right to toss them.  Ironically, I don't have many photos of my father, so now the single largest collection of pictures I have of him are these x-rays tracking the cancer that killed him.  There are so many of them I wonder if it really was smoking that brought on his cancer.  I'm surprised he didn't glow in the dark, or develop super powers.  I should put them into a family album, frame a few, hang them on the walls.

Lastly, pray for my brother.  He is still living in the house, surrounded by Mom's things. The rest of us got to go home and escape for a time.  But he is in her house, surrounded by her presence and therefore her absence, and it is hitting him hard for that.  I have tried to get him to come to my house for a few days, give him a little break, but he has turned me down.

12 November 2016

Quotation for today

'I wish to mention to you a circumstance which gave me no common consolation, on the chance of its also proving capable of diminishing your sorrow. On my voyage from Asia, as I was sailing from Ægina towards Megara, I began to survey the localities that were on every side of me. Behind me was Ægina, in front Megara, on my right Piræus, on my left Corinth: towns which at one time were most flourishing, but now lay before my eyes in ruin and decay. I began to reflect to myself thus: “Hah! do we mannikins feel rebellious if one of us perishes or is killed—we whose life ought to be still shorter—when the corpses of so many towns lie in helpless ruin? Will you please, Servius, restrain yourself and recollect that you are born a mortal man?”'

-Servius Sulpicius to Marcus Tullius Cicero

11 November 2016

The Homecoming

They shall grow not old
As we that are left grow old.
Age shall no weary them,
Nor the years condemn
At the going down of the sun,
And in the morning
We shall remember them.


 Ninety-eight years ago, on the evening of November 10-11, the Canadian Corps had reached the outskirts of Mons, and the men began to prepare for the end of the war on the morrow. To their shock and dismay, orders came down for the men to start marching. They were to capture Mons. Will Bird wrote of the reaction among the men that night in his book "Ghosts Have Warm Hands". The men were planning their lives after the war when an unexpected visitor showed up.

"Bird!" It was the voice of the company-sergeant-major, harsh as a whip saw. "Get your section ready at once. Battle order. leave your other stuff in your billet."

The Mills brothers sat up. Jones pushed the little girls from his lap. I managed to speak. "What's up?" I demanded.

"We're going to take Mons. No use to argue about it. Get our men ready."

"Just a minute." Tom Mills was on his feet. "The war's over tomorrow and everybody knows it. What kind of rot is this?"

"Watch what you say." The sergeant-major's face was set. He was not speaking in his normal voice at all. "Orders are orders. Get your gear on."

Every man argued bitterly and it was difficult to get them ready. We formed up with the platoon while the men swore over trivial matters, hitched around and changed positions. Two cursed steadily, and with frightful emphasis, the ones who had issued the orders.

Away on the left was the report of shell bursts, and we could see a few long range crumps leaving black smoke trails. Thirteen platoon came along and joined us. Five or six of their men were shouting at us to turn around and attack headquarters. The officers were worse enemies than any German. No one tried to quiet them, and presently we marched down a street along a road and into a field...

The decision to attack Mons remains controversial to this day. No one knows exactly why General Currie decided to make one final attack in the last hours of the war. Some say it was because Currie had been attacking all along, and he did not wish to give the Germans any breathing space in case the armistice did not go as planned. Some suggest it was because Mons was the first place the Germans and British had fought in 1914, and Currie felt capturing what the British had lost would be a symbol and inspiration future generations of Canadians. Others suggest he had been treated roughly by the British in the closing weeks of the war, and he decided to show them up by taking back what they had lost.

Currie's own statements indicated he did not expect and resistance from the Germans. He was not far off: resistance was quite light, but 30 Canadians still died in capturing Mons that last day. Every dead man was someone's friend, or rival, or brother.

It had become full day when Old Bill came around the corner with Jim Mills. he beckoned me to him. Jim was wild-eyed, white as if he had been ill. "He says he's going to shoot whoever arranged to have his brother killed for nothing. " whispered Bill. "He really means it. He's hoping Currie comes here today. If he doesn't, he's going to shoot the next higher up. He says his brother was murdered."

One of the 42nd officers was walking toward us and I went up to him. He was not the one I would have chosen, but something had to be done. I saluted him and told him about Jim. He was startled, for he had not known Jones and Tom Mills were dead. But he said there was no need to worry about Jim. Take him and get him drunk, so drunk he wouldn't know anything for twenty four hours. When he came out of it he would be all right. He told me to say my piece to Bill and come back to him. Bill agreed to get Jim plastered, and I gave him the money. Then the officer took me up to where the adjutant was standing. He said there was to be a parade shortly, but the two deaths must be reported...

The decision to take Mons is the only spot on Currie's otherwise sterling record as a general. It is also ironic when you consider that after the war Field Marshall Haig was celebrated as a conquering hero after having commanded the two greatest disasters in British military history, and who did not once successfully plan a battle during the war, that Currie's reputation was ruined for a battle he won with minimal casualties.

However, not all men remembered the end with bitterness.One soldier wrote of the experience later, in a letter to the editor that mentioned my Grandfather, a soldier in the Great War.

I Was There

By a Port Credit Veteran

In the murky darkness of a November morning 41 years ago I was in Mons. Not far ahead in the blackness were the retreating lines of the German army, splitting the night with its artillery as is put up a last desperate barrage against the advancing Canadians. Before dawn had broken I was given the singular privilege of passing the cease fire order to a Port Credit man, the late Roy Finch.

As a Sergeant in No. 3 platoon, 'A' Company, 19th Battalion Canadian Expeditionary Force, Roy Finch, D.C.M., M.M., had been left in charge of the platoon when his officer had been killed 10 minutes before the order was received. Another Port Credit man, the late Fred (my grandfather), was responsible for carrying the good news to many war weary Canadians. He was a runner with the same battalion.

This incident remains fresh in my mind as other memories remain fresh in the minds of all Canadian relating to both past wars. This is as it should be, and to observe these memories each November 11 is little return for the great sacrifice made by so many. We who were there can never forget, the the remembrance is a permanent inspiration to us, as it should be to all.

At 10:59, Canadian soldier Private Price was killed by a sniper as he took part in a patrol near Mons. He was the last Canadian soldier killed in the war, possibly the last soldier of any side to be killed in the war. At 11:00, the guns fell silent for the first time in four years. The war was over.

As that long ago November day wore on, the Canadians found themselves in the middle of celebrations, parades and parties. No man would present would ever forget that day and the cheering joy that rang in their ears. The war was over. They had won. For a time they were delirious with joy. But soon their thoughts turned to their distant homes. Much to their chagrin, the soldiers soon found out home would wait, as they were still in the army, and for a time they were to be part of the occupying force of Germany.

The Canadian Corps' record of achievement throughout the war was singular: no other unit could rival the Corps. The Germans apparently invented a new word to describe the Canadian troops: "stormtroopers." But their victories and their reputation came at a price Of the 440,000 men who served in the four divisions of the Corps, 67,000 died, or one in seven. In terms of Canada's total population of the time, nearly one percent of Canadians died on the battlefields of Europe. A further 173,00 were wounded, bringing the total casualty rate to one in two, or fifty percent. Recent studies have indicated that should a military unit suffer a casualty rate higher than twenty percent, the survivors suffer from irreparable psychological damage. By that standard we are left with the disturbing possibility that the next generation of Canadians were raised to a large extent by men who were not wholly sane. Worst of all, the peace treaty, when it finally came, was a disaster, though none knew it yet. The young men through their blood and sacrifice had bought a chance to make a new world. The old men took that chance and merely recreated the old one. In twenty years the sons of the veterans of the Great War would be back to fight a greater, bloodier war.

It was 1919 before the Canadians were back in England, awaiting their transport home. Some men couldn't wait for the return. Others began to dread it. The young men had grown up in war, had come to manhood in war. As men, war was all they knew. What were they to be in peace time? Other men began to sense something was different within themselves. They had changed.

Slowly the men began to trickle back to Canada to find a country which had made no preparations against their return. The men were expected to simply pick up their lives when they had left off. Some men found a way to do it. For others the change had been too great. Men of war, they could not cope with the peace. Men like Captain Agar Adamson of the Princess Patricias. Adamson was a very rare bird: he had served almost the entire war. Throughout the war he had written letters to his wife almost every day, telling her details about camp life, battles, and the deaths of friends. He signed all the letters "Ever thine, Agar." "Ever" turned out to be a year. Shortly after his return he found peace no longer suited him. He abandoned his family and travelled. He became a hard drinker, a gambler and an adventure seeker. He died as a result of a plane crash in 1929.

For a time my grandfather waited in England for his transportation home. He got some leave and travelled about a bit, even going to Ireland where he met his grandfather for the first and only time. He returned to camp and waited. On May 14th, 1919 he and the rest of his battalion boarded the ship SS Carolina and set sail for home.

Home was becoming real for the men now. Many of the men, mainly the newer recruits who had only arrived just before the very end, looked towards home with unbridled enthusiasm. The older men had mixed feelings. Will Bird wrote of his journey home:

In my fine sheets I could not sleep and began to forget where I was. I seemed to be in an atmosphere rancid with stale sweat and breathing, the hot grease of candles, the dampness of the underground. I saw cheeks resting on tunics, mud streaked, unshaven faces... men shivering on chicken wire bunks. Then, from overhead, the machine gun's note louder, higher, sharper as it swept bullets over the shell crater in which I hugged the earth... the rumble of guttural voices and heavy steps in an unseen trench just the other side of the black mass of tangled barb wire beside which I lay... the long drawn whine of a coming shell... its heart shaking explosion... the seconds of heavy silence after, then the first low wail of a man down with a blood spurting wound... It was too much. I got up and dressed, although it was only four o'clock in the morning.

It was cold but I wore my greatcoat, and to my amazement there were other dark figures near the rail. We stood, hunched together, gazing ahead into the darkness. Presently another figure joined us, then another. In an hour there were fourteen of us, and no one had spoken, although we were touching shoulders. The way we stood made me think of a simile. Ah-we were like prisoners. I had seen them standing together, staring over the wire into the field beyond, never speaking. And we were more or less prisoners of our thoughts. Those at home would never understand us, because something inexplicable would make us unable to put our feelings into words. We could only talk with one another.

All at once the watchers stirred,tensed, craned forward. It was the moment for which we had lived, which we had envisioned a thousand times, that held us so full of feeling it could not find utterance. Far ahead, faint but growing brighter, we had glimpsed the first lights of home!

But Halifax and the East Coast of Canada was not home to my Grandfather. Home for him lay two thousand miles to the west, with a woman he had not seen in three years, and a son who had been but two or three weeks old when he signed up. Many of the milestones marking a child's progress were long in the past. He had missed his son's first steps, his first tooth, his first words. The two would not recognize each other, and would meet as strangers.

If he looked into the future, he might have seen three more sons (my father being the first of those three, born in 1922) and one daughter who died in infancy. He would return to his job of making fireworks. The job was dangerous, and explosions were common. Every Saturday night would see him at the local legion hall with the other veterans. Will Bird was correct: they could only speak to each other, and sought the regular comfort and company of each other. My Grandfather never spoke of the war to his sons, not even my father, who followed Grandfather's journey across the ocean to serve in the Second World War, and was a vet like his father. My Granfather had even received a medal from the war for some act of bravery, but no one knows for certain what it was, or why.

Grandfather and his battalion disembarked at Halifax, boarded a train and began a long journey to Toronto, home drawing nearer. The men were excited to be returning, but they knew they were leaving something behind. Gone was the camaraderie of the trenches, the bleak humour, the brotherhood. Gone was a life lived only in the present, where the next moment may not exist and therefore was unimportant. For years or months they had lived only in the present moment, the future being an unreal possibility. Now a normal span of life stretched out before the men. Once again they would grunt and sweat under the weary burden of the future, a future that seemed more of a question mark now than ever before. They would find a way.

The train carrying the 19th and 20th battalions arrived in Toronto on May 24th, 1919 at the Toronto station of the CPR, now known as Summerhill station. The men were formed up in parade formation and they marched together for the last time. Crowds in the street cheered and threw confetti at the men as they marched to the old Varsity stadium, where there was to be a reception. Officials and politicians had gathered planned to give speeches to the men and their families before the men were dismissed.

But at the the sight of the long lost men the crowd could not contain itself. They burst past the barricades and rushed the men. The police tried briefly to retain order, and then gave up. The politicians threw their hands up in despair: they never would give their speeches. No one noticed. No one cared. Once again the men of the army found their ears filled with a roar and noise; once again they stood in the midst of chaos. But unlike the noise and confusion of the war which carried fear and death, this was the noise of Joy and Life. People wept and kissed as they met again after years apart. Some soldiers found time to say good-bye to old comrades as they went off with their families. The men forgot the past, forgot the future as they reunited again to the present, only the present. Here was another day no one would ever forget for as long as they lived, for the men were home.

The men were home.

10 November 2016

I'll be taking another break from Facebook

I was going to stay off Facebook for a month or so, but I had to cut the sabbatical short when my mom fell, as it was necessary to open up all possible lines of communication.  I'll be leaving it again on Saturday, and take a break until December or so.  Hopefully by then people will have shut up about the blasted election.

9 November 2016

Apropos nothing specific

Sent to my from a friend who is far deeper and better read in matters concerning the Church than I:

Appendix to the Roman Ritual
(Revised and reissued by Order of the Fathers of the First Plenary Council of Quebec)
Part I, Chapter II — Special announcements
On the Sunday following an election, the Parish-Priest shall say:
Now that the elections have taken place, Dear Brethren, I ask you to forgive each other for any lack of mutual charity, as you hope to be forgiven. Humility and Charity are two essential virtues for all true Christians, and members of different political parties are not dispensed from their observance.
Put your dissensions on one side, Dear Brethren, and work together with loyalty and goodwill for the well-being of your parish and your country. Do not bring your political divisions into parochial, municipal or educational questions — still less into dealings between relatives.
“God is charity,” says the Inspired writer, “and those who dwell in charity dwell in light”; they have life in them : charity is the fulfillment of the law, and for this reason those who have not charity are dead in the eyes of God.