Life’s Lessons

They danced together under the shade of the trees

They danced together under the shade of the maples as they had done so often before.

Mom and Dad were such good dancers, but of course, they came from an era where dancing was a part of life.  If you weren’t dancing, you weren’t living.

I reached out to touch their names and was confident that they spoke directly to my heart.  “Happy anniversary, Mom and Dad.” I whispered.  I was alone at the cemetery but yet, not alone.

They danced through life much like they danced on the dance floor – they were in harmony with one another.  When one lead, the other followed and when one turned the other turned.  That’s not to say that they didn’t sometimes step on the other person’s toes – but they were more often aware of the other person than not.

Today, in my mind, they danced together under the maples.

How did they do it?  How did they stay married for such a long time?  How did Dad survive for 18 months without his bride of, what was then, 62 years?  They would have marked their 64th anniversary today.  There would have been a party – a celebration – a dance.

The farm that they built together was half-field, half-forest.  The field yielded raspberries and the forest yielded maple syrup.  They worked together to produce a hobby-farm that thrived and where friends and family would always be made to feel welcome.  Under the hot, blazing sun, they toiled to rid the gardens from bugs and weeds.  But under the shade of the maples… they danced.

The life they built together was so entwined that it was difficult to see where one ended and the other began.  They lived harmoniously – for the most part – always taking care of each other, supporting each other, dancing together.

And so, on this day, on this occasion, I wish Mom and Dad “this dance” today.  Enjoy Glenn Millar’  Moonlight Serenade.(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6JQ0ifSjgAE)

Happy anniversary, Mom and Dad!

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Categories: Duff History, Family and Friends, Life After Dad, Life's Lessons, Mom | Tags: , , , , , | 8 Comments

Rising to Significance

My neighbour, Barb, and I walk every Saturday morning.  It is not a long walk, but it is always “significant”.  There is a word / concept that we focus on during our walk and begin on one end of the spectrum with it and explore it until we are on the other side. Yesterday, our topic was the difference between success and significance. 

I found it very easy to wrap my head around this word when I began to think about what it would look like to be insignificant.  This concept was easy to explore as just the previous day I overheard a couple of my students talking about their childhoods.  Their conversation was so sad that I became quickly overwhelmed with emotion.  Both young men had been abused and neglected by their parents.  What had happened to them, when they were at a time in their lives when their families should have been supporting their development of self-worth, traumatized them into believing they were not significant in this world.  Consequently, their lives had been spent looking for significance – but in the wrong way. 

At school, both boys demonstrated they were, in fact, very significant.  Their thinking was deep – their understanding of issues was deep – their contributions were deep. They were far, far, far away from being “in”significant.  I remarked to both of them how impressed I had been with their thinking and that they were very wise for their years.  I had no idea what power this one little comment would be.  One young man responded, “That is the first time in my life I have ever had anyone tell me that.  If I had had encouragement as a kid – someone to tell me that I was smart – someone to tell me I was worthwhile, I would not have had so many problems in my life.  I have never thought I was smart.  I have always felt insignificant.”  As a teacher, I now expect great things from these young people – and I fully expect them to rise to the occasion. 

Another young lady in my class struggled with her life.  She did not have an easy childhood either.  Her role models were more impressed with a bottle of booze than they were with her.  Again, did she feel significant in her life?  Throughout the year while attending school, however, she found her value.  It was not an easy thing to find as it was almost like having to cut through impenetrable layers of insults her parents had wrapped her in.  I wouldn’t imagine her parents set out to make her feel insignificant – but it would seem that insignificance breeds insignificance – it is a culture.  Over the course of the school year, this young woman was made aware of her contributions to her own life, her son’s life, and her school life.  She gave more of herself to the school community and the community responded.  She became a leader.  She became significant.  She was invited to be the valedictorian. 

What are we to learn from this?  As a teacher, I feel like I can finally put a name to what I do in the classroom; I help people to see their own self-worth — to see that they are significant.  I help people to see they have value. 

Where do we first begin to realize our own worth?  How significant are we to ourselves, our partners, our families, our county, our planet?  When we can find our place in each of these levels – will we be more likely to feel a greater sense of empowerment?  If every person in the world rose to significance – maybe the world would be a better place to live.  Maybe government would be less corrupt, maybe the environment would be less stressed, maybe individuals would suffer from good mental health?

One thing I do know, however, is that one gets what one gives. Those young men and that young woman made a difference in my life.  When they began to realize their own significance, it became more clear to me what my role was as a teacher – and that I too, am significant. 

Categories: Life's Lessons, Teaching | Tags: , , , , | 5 Comments

The Gift

Dad's 89th birthday 010

It has been a long journey – three years since we lost Mom and nearly one year since we lost Dad.  I have l learned to be patient, to breathe, and to accept.  It was the final “acceptance”  that has been the most difficult. 

I have now, however:

– accepted that I am now the one who must take up the role of the family elder

– accepted that life carries on even when it changes

– accepted that things always work out of the best

– accepted that there is a season for everything

– accepted that I cannot always get what I want – but I tend to get what I need

– accepted that true friends are always there to support and guide

– accepted that it can be difficult to age and lose your friends

– accepted there is a difference between growing old and being old

– accepted that it is important to accept gifts – as much as to give gifts

The greatest gift Mom and Dad could give to my brother and I was to be raised in the culture of family they crafted for us.  Our culture is unique; We cry at the drop of a hat.  We can be so terribly sentimental and attached to things. We can be sad when meals are not shared with our children or partners.  We have faith in each other. We like to use good dishes.  We like to cook from scratch.  We like to quote Robbie Burns. We recognize celebrations and we celebrate – any occasion can become a celebration.  We value life.  We respect others.  We always say please and thank-you.  We like to make frugal purchases.  We love being outside with our hands in the dirt.  This is our culture.  This was our gift. 

TTFN

Categories: Family and Friends, Life After Dad, Life's Lessons, Mom | Tags: , , , | 11 Comments

Apartment 1001 re-visited

Looking out onto Kempenfelt Bay, you would never know anything had changed.  The waters were calm.  No Serendipity – the local tourist paddle-boat – yet, but other than that it looked just the same as it did a year ago. 

I turned to my oldest son, Ben, and took a deep breath.  It was time to leave apartment 1001.

They say your life flashes before you just before you leave this earth – snippits of my life with my family flashed before me as I walked through the patio to the dining room where we were always so careful that Dad did not lose his footing while climbing over the step to return to his pink chair after enjoying the night air.  It was a ritual almost – Mom would cling onto his belt buckle (as if she could hold him should he fall) and I would hold on to his walker to secure it from moving forward un-expectantly. 

I walked past where the dining-room table was – where so many meals were served.  Here too, was the place where toasts were made to life, anniversaries, birthdays, births… even commemorations of deaths.  But I heard joy in the voices in my head – I remember the good times, the laughter, and the oh, so delicious food Mom had so lovingly prepared. 

I walked past where Dads pink chair had once been – where David climbed onto the walker in front of Dad so that he could be so much better positioned to hop on Poppas lap and give him a hug.  The pink chair was the focus – the inhabitant (my Dad) was always the centre of attention.  Was he warm enough?  Was he hungry?  Was he able to hear the conversation? Did he tune us out to read? 

I walked past the couch – where we had danced.  I watched my daughter, Katya, twirl and spin and laugh.  I heard David giggle with delight as Nana ordered a steak and baked potato from his make-believe restaurant.  I knew she hoped that his culinary interest would continue and be her own little legacy. I saw Katya standing there, dressed in Nanas black lace dress – hand-made so many years ago.  No one but Katya could fit into that waist line anymore… but three generations had worn that dress – and Katya was the last of the lineage…

I walked down the hallway to peer into Moms room as Dad had so many times before.  Was Paula there?  Was she asleep?  Was she ironing or sewing?  The room was empty – and full all at the same time.  I thought if I looked quickly I could see her smiling at me as she was waking up from a quick afternoon rest… rarely did that happen, but it always seemed to comfort me that she could rest.

I walked down the hall to Dads room – the room where it had all ended — I expected to see him there.  But, alas, neither bed, nor Poppa were to be seen.  Ben heard me and came to see if I was okay – my 6 foot son put his arm around me and we both stood there knowing how happy Nana and Poppa would be that he grew up to be such a fine, young man.  You done good, kid, I heard my Dad say.  And with that, my son Ben and I turned around and left.  Buenos noches, Poppa – hasta manana – TTFN.  Sleep well. I love you both! 

It was odd, locking the door for the last time.  I did not cry.  They were not there.  I did not feel compelled to open the door quickly to check to see if I could sneak a peek.  Bill and Paula had definitely left the building. 

And so it was that today was our last glimpse of what was once a very happy household.  It was now my turn to provide that stability, comfort, and sense of belonging in my  own home.  I always said to my parents that my home had been wherever they were – now it is with my family and I.  Apartment 1001 is now us.. my husband, three children, and I. 

Categories: Duff History, Life's Lessons, Mom | Tags: , , , , , , | 23 Comments

I don’t think Dad would be happy about that!

“Dad”, I said, “Why did you want to be a part of the war?”

“It was exciting, Stacey.  Everyone wanted to make a difference in the world and we were young enough and cocky enough to think that we would never die.”

I guess doing things because you want to make a difference is an eternal theme.  That’s why I teach.  I want to make a difference in my students’ lives.  I want to help them realize their full potential so that they can make a life for themselves and for their children.  And, in some cases, I do think I make a difference.  Although, it is not always immediately evident.

I, and my colleagues, find ourselves in a bit of a pickle these days.  We are busy getting on with our making a difference when – bang- we are side-lined by criticism and judgement.  And it has nothing to do with our own ability to teach.  It has everything to do with perception.  The labour dispute between teachers (the teacher’s unions) and the Ontario government has become an elephant in the classroom.  It does not belong there – there should be no dispute.  The pickle part of the matter is that I feel caught in the middle and am being split and quartered by both union and government.  What’s worse is that media has not even recognized that I am being so severely severed.  I am being painted with a brush that labels me “greedy” for more money.

I am happy, in this economy, to have a job.  I am more than happy with the salary and benefits I receive.  I have worked for nearly 25 years in education and have earned by “wings” per se.  New teachers have to begin at the bottom and through hard-work and energy and love, will learn skills that will make them become better teachers – worth more pay.  This is the way it is.  And I don’t know anyone I work with that begrudges this process.  I remember as a beginning teacher struggling to make my rent, car payment, and student debt repayments month to month.  School was expensive and long.  I did the time.  I paid my dues and now I am entitled to enjoy what I have worked so hard for.

What I am not thrilled about, however, is that it seems the institution that guarded our rights as workers in the past, has lost it’s ability to negotiate rights.  This is not through their own doing, rather, a government that has disenfranchised the very people who forged it’s election.  How did that happen?  How is it possible that, in Ontario, citizens are worried about losing their democratic rights?  It is more troubling to me that the climate is one of distrust than anything else.  This is not the same government that my Dad put his faith in – and fought overseas for.  It can’t be.  Dad wanted to make a difference and the government supported him.  I am saddened by the fact that I too feel my work is important and I too can make a difference, but mis-representation by government and media has mitigated my abilities.

My purpose in the classroom each day, is to help students find ways that they can identify their own strengths and weaknesses, to find their way in the world so that they too can feel purposeful, respected, and worthy.  That is why I teach… not for money, as the media and government have claimed.  I know Dad would not be happy about that lie.   Nor am I.

 

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Apartment 1001 in 2013 – nothing new

There is a showing tomorrow in apartment 1001 and so I needed to be sure that it was in good shape and I needed to pick up the mail.

I went this afternoon for a “check-up” and to wish Mom and Dad a Happy New Years.

I don’t know what I expected.

I walked in and the room was dark.

I turned on the light.

I looked around.

It smelled fresh.

The place was empty.  Mom didn’t say, “hi”.  Dad didn’t say, “hi”.  What did I expect? I knew they were both at a better address – yet, I felt their “hello”.  I felt their “excitement” to see me.  They were always excited by a surprise visit.

I went to the pantry to check things out.  Nothing new.

I went to Dad’s room.  Nothing new.

I went to Mom’s room.  Nothing new.

I poured myself a glass of wine to cheer them with.  Nothing new (grin).

I cleaned the glass.  I had a cry.  Nothing new.

I left and locked the door behind me.

I opened the door – half expecting to see them giggle sitting in their chairs – as if they really had not passed away and they were just checking to see if I’d say, “TTFN” and “I love you”.   But, there was no one.  Nothing new.

What had I expected?  I don’t know.  This is a new place and space for me in 2013 as it is for my departed parents.  It is new – but there is nothing new.

And as I exited the building – and apartment 1001, the reflection of the sunset caught my eye.  It was Dad – I know it was – saying, “TTFN”.  “I love you, Stacey.” And delightedly I thought, “nothing new”.  Thank God.

The Setting Sun - nothing new

The Setting Sun – nothing new

 

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I’m sorry, but I can’t help but throw in one more memory!

Here is a very poignant memory of backwards and forwards:

It used to be… that I would take a plunge with my hubby and then when they grew up – children – into the freezing cold pool or lake (if it hadn’t frozen over yet). You know, a polar bear swim of sorts – but in the dark.  One year there was no snow and we were able to drive the car right up to the beach in Collingwood.  A group of us joined hands and wading into the icy water as the snow began.  Almost immediately “ice burg” kind of clumps of snow drifted towards us.  The rule was – you had to fully submerge before you could get out.  The water felt like a knife cutting our legs – but we did it.   I have no photos of these days..

Now: I go in the hot tub and watch the kids do snow angels.

Here’s to progress!

Happy New Year everyone.

Categories: Family and Friends, Life's Lessons | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

That was then and this is now…

I am still intrigued with the notion of forwards and backwards.

I know this theme is repetitive from yesterday’s post – but I would like to take a moment to reflect on the concept once again. ( You knew it was coming!)

What if I were to construct my posts according to then and now?  How would that look?  Here’s a sample of what “could be”.

Looking Back:  It seems that a lot of my childhood time was spend outdoors.  My parents were very strong environmentalists – before their time.   Dad was a farmer at heart and during the summer would pride himself in stirring the compost pile that sat beside his 1/2 acre garden.  At the time I thought it was disgusting and avoided at all costs the trip to the compost pile to empty the organic kitchen scraps.  Oh, the stench!  But Dad knew that a good pitch fork to add oxygen to the pile would keep the smell in check.  I often now think about Robert Service’s poem:  Ode to a wee mouse and wonder how many plans of the mice Dad had interrupted by stirring their inevitable home?

Now:  My husband and I keep five composters in our back yard.  They are the ones that can be turned to aerate.  We faithfully collect kitchen scraps and still reluctantly take the trip to dump the scraps into the composter.  No matter how many turns they get, however, they still smell.  But each spring, they get emptied into my garden.  And with pride, I mix the soil and wonder how the heck Dad was able to keep 1/2 acre free from weeds as my little backyard garden is plagued by weeds!  I love to garden and burst with pride when I carry in tomatoes, potatoes, and zucchini to the kitchen.

Looking Back:  The winter was a time of magic and wonder when I was a child.  Mom would always talk about the beauty of a snow-filled forest.  And it really was spectacular when the snow stuck to the branches and created a delicate veil.  Day in and day out, Mom and I would click into our cross-country skis and “do the loop” out the back door, through the woods, through the field and back to the house.  Our cheeks would be rosy and our spirits lifted by the beauty of nature.

Today:  My family and I just created our own little loop – out the back door, around the pond, over the bridge, and home.  We returned with rosy cheeks and lifted spirits.  The woods were so beautiful and the snow so crisp!  What a joy it was to take “my” family and friends out to enjoy something I remembered so fondly from my own childhood.

Maybe the joy we experienced in the woods today and in the garden in the summer were shared by those who live on in our hearts and memories?  Maybe they come alive when we remember the joys of childhood?  Whatever it is – there is definitely something to be said about living for today with the spirits and joys of “then”.

Mom and Marion out to do the loop

Mom and Marion out to do the loop

 

Categories: Family and Friends, Life's Lessons, Mom | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Forwards or Backwards?

Lessons my Dad taught me

David and Poppa

My daughter was excited this Christmas to open up one of her gifts from Mountain Equipment Coop:  a slack line.  I wondered where she would be able to attach it in the middle of winter – now that the basement poles are no longer exposed.  Of course, we needed to explore the possibilities anyhow.  My daughter is quite driven to find solutions to problems she has.   After there was a “no go” decision for the basement, she turned her eyes to the front yard… and voila.  The street-light was a good distance from the maple tree and it would be perfect.  The snow below would also serve to cushion the multiple falls that we were advised she would have initially.

With snow pants, boots, mitts, and all the winter garb, Katya was ready.  She hopped up on the slack line with great caution and focus.  And fell.  She tried again, and again, and again.  Finally, she called it a night and unhooked the line.

My husband and I watched from the front room.  I thought about how my mom and dad would have been so excited to see her tackle this new sport.  This was something new – something that they had not seen before… much like New Year’s will be for my family and I.  I recall I was anxious to leave the year 2010 (the year Mom passed away).  I don’t want, however, to leave 2012… the year Dad passed away.  Moving forward will mean leaving the past.

I have always found New Year’s to be somewhat nostalgic.  It is a time to think of highlights, things for which we can be thankful, and things that we want to improve.  How important is it to not forget the past and to reflect?  I think it is vital to pause and reflect.  It is not easy, though.  Sometimes mistakes we’ve made – mistakes I’ve made seem unforgivable.  But these mistakes have also been such powerful lessons.  Mom taught me, for example, what not to do – and by learning from her – I was able to help Dad depart this world with dignity.

What lessons did I learn from Dad?  I’ve learned that everyone needs a purpose – no matter how old you are.  I’ve learned that that purpose can be as simple as what Dad had decided.  “My purpose, Stacey, was to make people happy.”  I’ve learned that to forgive people, you first have to be honest with them and tell them how you feel.  I’ve learned that it is vitally important to count your blessings.

It is a tricky balancing act – to not fall too far on either side of this line that sits between history and future – the stroke of midnight between 2012 and 2013… the “dash” between one’s birth and one’s death.  It is tricky, but not impossible.  And tomorrow, Katya will, no doubt, be back up on that slack line… finding her own balance – just like me.

Thanks to all of you who have supported my Dad and I through this blog – our sentimental journey.  I hope that this journey has allowed you some insight into your own lives.  And so, I will write the last post for 2012 and bid all of you, “Ta-ta for now. ”  (TTFN) from Bill Duff, (Dad) and I (Stacey).

All the best in the new year!

Categories: Family and Friends, Life After Dad, Life's Lessons | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

The Sentimental Journey Continues: The Christmas Season

The Snowman sits at his piano and pounds out three melodies:  Oh, the weather out side is frightful,  jingle bell rock, and finally have a holly, jolly, Christmas.  And David, my youngest son, still delights in watching the motion of this battery operated Hallmark toy.

Today, however, he didn’t do laps around the room.  David sat and reminisced about Nanna.  “It’s not the same, Mom.”, he said to me after the Snowman had entertained in his historical fashion.  The Snowman was so much more fun when he was at Nanna and Poppa’s house.

And then only seconds later, he and I were back at decorating the tree… Nanna’s artificial tree that she had given to us when she down-sized to a foot-tall model that sat on her stereo cabinet.

Was this the same tree that sat in a box for years in our basement?  Hmm.  David thought it was much smaller than he had remembered it being at Nanna’s house.

Yes, it is the same tree.  It’s just that now, this tree is the tree that Nanna gave to us – and that makes it special.  More special than a tree that we could chop down ourselves.

As David and I assembled the pieces, spread the malleable limbs,  and then wrapped the lights around it, we talked about Nanna and Poppa.  “What I like most about Christmas David …. is tradition”.  Tradition anchors us to our roots, our memories, our heritage.

“What I like about Christmas, Mom, is family.” , said David.

God bless him, that little boy.  His Christmas list that I opened to read today asked for hugs and kisses.

He is a sentimental little guy, our son, David.  I love to spend time with him – and I love lighting the tree with him – and talking about his memories of Mom and Dad.  I feel much more reassured that their memory will live on through our children when we remind out children about the wonderful things we shared.

This is the first time that we will not share it with Nanna and Poppa… yet they are everywhere … when I open my heart to them.  They are in the tree, the wreath, the photos, the children, the decorations… the list goes on.  Christmas is a season of memory – of tradition – of hope – and holly – jolly … or so the Snowman says.

TTFN

 

Categories: Family and Friends, Life After Dad, Life's Lessons, Mom | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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