It’s Elementary

Posted on March 21, 2019 under Storytelling with 2 comments

The march from Morrison School to St.Ninian’s Cathedral for communion

(Photo courtesy of Karin Alex Fleuren)

My first experiment with school lasted exactly one day.

I was an August baby and turned five a few weeks before school was about to begin. My mother thought that I might be ready for the rigours of school and sent me off with my brothers and sisters to Morrison School. In those days, everyone who lived in town, walked to school as there were no other options. Our parents were far too busy for those niceties. As  the family got bigger, it became a moot point as the car could not fit eight passengers. The Dodge Caravan had not been invented yet.

Morrison, our elementary school, was only a stone’s throw away from our home on Hillcrest. We could practically see it from our back doorstep. The high school was even closer and the campus of St.Francis Xavier University loomed in the background. For most members of our family, all of our formal education took place on a small footprint of land. Our informal education took place at the bowling alley, the Parish Centre, and the Memorial rink.

I trudged across the open field to the school on a bright September morning. There were plenty of kids playing in the school yard. I swear that half of them were from Hillcrest Street. The bell rang and it was time to begin my educational journey.

My home room teacher was a nun from the religious order called the Congregation of Notre Dame, or CND’s as they were better known. It was not that I had never seen a nun before, living in “The Little Vatican” but I had never really seen one up close, close enough to smell their starched uniforms. Sister M. towered over me, with her pointed hood perched on her head. I remember that she didn’t smile a lot. “Take your seats.” That was a command and not a suggestion.

The rest of that first day is a bit of a blur. The only thing I remember for sure is that I was not a happy camper. Most of this was age related as many elementary teachers would agree that keeping some children back until they are six, is beneficial in the long run. I felt overwhelmed and frightened. Sister M. made it very clear that she was the boss and would broach no insolence from her young charges. She carried a long yard stick by her side and would occasionally smack it on a desk to get our attention.

It seemed that every class started and finished with a prayer. The fear of God was never far away.

I enjoyed recess and lunch break but little else.

In those days, many of us went home for lunch. With an hour to kill and a mere five minutes from school, we marched home at noon to our main meal of the day. Yes. We had dinner at midday which seems odd these days. “Bless us O Lord, and these thy gifts, which we are about to receive from Thy bounty, through Christ our Lord, amen.” Meat, potatoes and some canned vegetables was normal and there was always a freshly baked dessert. “We give Thee thanks for all thy benefits, O almighty God who livest and reignest world without end. Amen”

The last morsel was barely on its way into the stomach, when we were all herded into the living room and dropped to our knees. It was time for the rosary.

Praying the rosary was, and is, a key component of Catholic tradition. It is a time of contemplation, meditation and worship.  The rosary begins with the recitation of the Apostle’s Creed, an Our Father, three Hail Mary’s, and a Glory Be. There are five decades which each begin and end with an Our Father and a Glory Be, and have 10 Hail Mary’s in between. When you pray the rosary, you meditate on the events in Jesus’ life.

Concentration and meditation are not the strong suits of most six year olds and I often found my mind wandering, especially on this, my first day of school. I had prayed entering the school, prayed before and after our noon meal and now a few decades of the rosary. All I could think about was Sister M. and her long stick and dour demeanour.

Dinner didn’t set well as I made my way across the field for the afternoon session at Morrison. And, my knees hurt from 30 minutes of kneeling on the hard living room floor at home. Like any good fighter, I stayed until the final bell. But I felt like I had suffered a TKO, a technical knockout.

My mother was a no nonsense kind of person. It didn’t take her long to realize that sending me to school was a miscalculation and she hastily arranged my withdrawal the following day.

That evening, I got on my PJ’s, brushed my teeth and crawled into bed, with a wave of relief washing over me. Mom had sprung me from jail. A life sentence of one day was over.

“Did you say your prayers?” Mom stood in the doorway with armed across her chest. I crawled down from the top bunk and once again, dropped to my knees. I tried to think of what I would say to my creator. I had done a lot of praying that day.

“Deo Gratias.”


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Monday Morning Musings

Posted on March 18, 2019 under Monday Morning Musings with one comment


Missed step misstep (with thanks to DMD).

The anatomy of health care.

I had a firsthand look at the health care system this week. Unfortunately it was as a participant. From all accounts, health care across Canada is not all that healthy. Many people don’t have a family doctor. There are long lineups at Emergency departments and long wait lists for many procedures. It is increasingly difficult to attract GP’s and specialists to rural Canada. An aging population will continue to put enormous strains on the system for at least another thirty years until the Baby Boomers “go gently into that good night”.

Last Wednesday, I was coming down a set of stairs. I had my guitar on my back, my songbooks in my hands and my mind in the clouds. Stairs are one of those many things that challenge those of us with progressive lenses. I missed the bottom step. My left leg (with a surgically repaired knee on three occasions) extended, planted and my knee went sideways. It was indeed a missed step misstep.

That evening, I ended up at the Emergency Department at our local hospital. My wife piled me into the back seat of our car like a 50 pound bag of spuds. You know you’re in for a long haul when the reception area and triage room are both “full to the gunwales”. We knew we were in for a long evening.

For two hours, it resembled the Brierly Brook jammed with ice. Nothing was moving. More people were arriving but no one was being called. Some people had already been there for several hours. I have a cursory understanding of the Emergency department. I fully realize that it is not a first come, first serve operation. They take the most serious cases first which is what you would want if you arrived with a serious problem.

We met some lovely people including a mother with a five year old daughter who were superstars. They waited five hours before being seen and neither uttered a single complaint the entire time. You could sense the frustration mounting around the room.

At 11:30 p.m. and with no end in sight, we finally bailed and went home.

The following morning, I called my family doctor’s office and they were able to take me immediately. There are many things I don’t take for granted. Having a family doctor is one of them. In the next few years, there’s going to be a huge exit of family physicians in our town and everywhere across the country. In many cities and towns, having a family doctor is a luxury.

My family doctor was able to get an appointment the next morning in Halifax with arguably one of the best orthopedic surgeons in Canada, Dr.Bill Stanish. Bill did the three previous surgeries on my knee. We had a great chat (he’s extremely personable) and I was relieved to hear that I had only ruptured my quadriceps muscle. Of all the possible outcomes, this was probably the best I could have hoped for. I have a partial tear. I couldn’t believe my ears when he told me that the best physiotherapy was walking! He believes I will heal in time to do the Camino in early May. He also suggested that I use a cane for support. I wish I had been quicker when he mentioned this. I would have replied “I will use a cane if I’m able.” If you’re not a Christian you might have to ask somebody who is.

Despite the understandable wait at Emergency, I would rate the overall service I received as exceptional. As battered and bruised as our health care system appears, it is still better than most.

I mentioned this in an earlier post. I am going to do a book give away at People’s Place Library from March 25-31. My first three books will be available at the main desk. For those who are able, you can make a donation to the library. On Saturday, the 30th. I will be at the library from noon until 2:00 p.m. to do some storytelling and music. I’ll also talk about book publishing. I’m no expert but after self-publishing four books, I know some of the dos and don’ts… especially the don’ts!

Have a great week. Watch where you’re walking!!!

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Thursday Tidbits

Posted on March 14, 2019 under Thursday Tidbits with no comments yet


“Kick a stone down the road,

Run and catch the wind”

Run and Catch the Wind – Up With People

Are you forever reliving childhood memories? Are you trying to find a sand dollar on the beach? Are you building the most amazing snow fort ever? Are you holding a daisy pondering the imponderable: “she loves me, she loves me not?” Are you climbing a tree hoping to pluck an apple from the branches? Are you playing “red rover” with your best friends?

It must be a sure sign of oncoming senility but lately I find myself having all these weird flashbacks from my youth. I try my damndest to live in the present, with an eye on the future but the past always seems to lurk nearby. Maybe it is a form of escapism when the world seems to be going crazy. It all seemed so simple back then.

I might have been (?) the strangest kid ever. Am I now the strangest adult ever?

Did you ever kick a stone down the road? In my youth, for some unexplained reason, a stone lying haplessly on the road would become the object of my obsession. I had to kick it in front of me and see how far I could go before the stone would wander off the road or over an embankment. I am certain that there is an entire psychiatry course dedicated to this phenomenon.

The tragedy in all of this is that I find myself doing this again but because it’s winter, I am kicking chunks of ice along the streets of my hometown. Is this simply ennui or some deep seeded character flaw? The other day, on a long walk, I kicked a small mass of hardened ice from the Irving station on the Post Road almost all the way to the lights at the Superstore. As this would be considered “local knowledge” at the golf course, the distance would be about 400 hundred yards or approximately 365.76 meters, for you out of towners.

This past Sunday, after a few hours of watching golf and basketball at the same time (a distinctly male sickness) and feeling the need for fresh air to resuscitate my addled brain, I went out for a brief evening walk. The sidewalks were mostly clear but there were still many icy patches to be navigated. I don’t fear Kim Jong-Un as much as I fear a fall on the ice. I have had dozens of those close calls when you can feel yourself slipping but just catch yourself at the last possible moment. Your heart races a bit faster and you tell yourself to be more careful.

I wasn’t far from home and the sidewalk on which I was strolling was basically bare concrete. But wouldn’t you know, there in the middle of the sidewalk was a fairly large chunk of ice that was yelling at me to kick it. It was the perfect size. I looked in both directions to make sure there were no street cams to catch my lunacy.

“The first cut is the deepest.” Cat Stevens.

The first kick is the most important one. You want to kick the ice directly ahead of you. You can extend this game longer if you’re a straight shooter.

A funny thing happened. You can’t kick the ice too hard or it will disintegrate nor can you be too gentle. My first attempt was short and swift. The toe of my boot made contact with the ice.

Are you familiar with the irresistible force paradox? You know, the one about what happens when an unstoppable force meets an unmovable object.

The chunk of ice was unmovable. I wasn’t. I could feel my body being hurtled forward by the laws of gravity. I was spinning out of control and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it. I landed sideways hitting the hard concrete, first with my arm and then my knee. Battered and bruised, I picked myself up, once again looking around me to see if anyone had witnessed my folly. On a dark Sunday evening, on a poorly lit side street, I needn’t have worried.

I knew I hadn’t broken anything but could feel a distinct stinging sensation on my knee cap. On the completion of my walk, I discovered that most of the skin on my knee had been neatly removed by the sidewalk. I wasn’t going to say anything to my wife but wanted to make certain that I didn’t aggravate the situation by not taking proper medical treatment.

When summer arrives and apples appear on the neighbor’s tree, I will curtail the urge to climb it to shake one loose.




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