Welcome Aboard

Posted on April 17, 2018 under Storytelling with 6 comments

 

I was born into a large Catholic family in rural Nova Scotia. It seems that just about every family was big and most in our community wore the Catholic label. In fact, such was the preponderance of Catholics in our community that we became affectionately known as “The Little Vatican”. This sobriquet remains to this day despite the fact that Antigonish has changed vastly over the years. Many faith communities exist and families are much smaller.

All Catholics have a start and finish line. We are born to die. This is not the most appetizing thing on the Catholic menu. But there are promises of greater things when our mortal remains are cast into the wind or set adrift on the ocean at Mahoney’s Beach.

I wake up from a long nap. I squint as the morning light streams through my bedroom window. I attempt to rub away sleep from my eyes. I catch something out of the corner of my eye. My eyesight is not as good as it will be. I see something above me going around in circles. I haven’t quite figured this out. I later learn that this is a mobile. Truthfully, everything is a giant mystery at this point in my life.

I recognize my mother as she gently lifts me out of my crib. She bathes me in warm water and scrubs me to within an inch of my life with bar of Sunlight soap. I sparkle like the sun. She finishes things off with a slathering of Johnson’s baby oil.

She takes me over to a change table. “Hey. What’s with the white dress?” I’m thinking as she places a well-traveled gown over my tiny frame. I distinctly remember dad doing cartwheels outside the delivery room when he heard that he had another son. So, if I am truly a future standard bearer for the MacDonald clan, then why the dress?

My mother cradles me in her arms as we get into dad’s car. It might have been a Studebaker. We drive a short distance to a large stone building with a cross on top. It is my first trip to St.Ninian’s Cathedral but it wouldn’t be my last. This cavernous building is quite scary to one so small. I remain placid amid the wails from several of my peers. I can’t quite figure out what is going on.

I soon discover the reason for the trauma as I am about to be subjected to similar treatment. Every newborn in the church will become part of an important fraternity on this day.

The priest blesses me with the sign of the cross. There are prayers and more prayers. A large candle is lit and I can smell the residue of the smoke from the extinguished match. I am lifted up and positioned over a large receptacle filled with water.

Drip. Drip. Drip. It starts with a trickle and then becomes a torrent. It sounds like a waterfall. Later in my life I will visit Niagara Falls, causing vivid flashbacks. A large man, wearing strange robes is looming over me speaking in a foreign tongue which I later learned to be Latin. He is pouring water on my head but it runs into my eyes causing extreme agitation. I am tempted to ask for a bathing cap and goggles. The situation worsens as I start to whimper and now the water enters my throat, prompting me to gag. I soon realize that being a Catholic involves pain and suffering and possibly suffocation.

Years later, I will come to understand that the events described in previous paragraphs were my baptism. I was born Roman Catholic and as such am expected to take part in several sacraments.

So, why is baptism the first step on the long journey of a Catholic? Good question and one that still puzzles me from time to time. Baptism is the sacrament that frees us from original sin. This is a bit of a head scratcher. How many times did I commit original sin (or worse) in the womb? And at the tender age of 7 days, one wouldn’t think that a wholesale cleansing would have been necessary.

And so, the first roots of guilt were planted in my subconscious.

I would learn that we are all born sinners and only a thorough dousing in a baptismal font would keep me in God’s good graces. It was explained to me that wearing something white (like a Stanfield T-shirt?) was a symbol of purity. I also discovered that christening dresses are handed down from generation to generation.

There’s a party at our home after the ceremony and I am handed around the room like the Stanley Cup. Everyone, it seems, needs to pinch my cheek which is quite annoying and also coo sweet nothings into my tiny ears. It must be an important occasion as mom is serving lobster sandwiches with the crusts cut off.

I am now a full blown member of the fraternity.

The train of life is leaving the station. Welcome aboard.

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Believing in the Possible

Posted on March 15, 2018 under Storytelling with no comments yet

 

“Our house is a very, very, very fine house.”

Our House. Crosby, Stills and Nash

Most people in this part of the world expect to have a roof over their heads, food on the table and a means of supporting themselves. Most, but not all.  For the poor and the working poor, nothing can be taken for granted. Affordable housing in a university town is particularly challenging.

The Extension Department at St.F.X, in partnership with the Antigonish Affordable Housing Society (AAHS), is hosting a People’s School on Affordable Housing on March 24th at St.Ninian Place from 10-4 and you’re invited.

The Extension Department planted its roots in Antigonish 90 years ago. Throughout its long history, the Extension Department has focused on economic self-reliance and social well-being through adult education and collective action. It is no surprise to see them working in collaboration with AAHS to tackle the thorny issue of affordable housing. The Sisters of St. Martha have shared the journey with Extension from the beginning. These remarkable women have always demonstrated wisdom, generosity, vision, social justice and a “can do” attitude.

The purpose of the People’s School is to build awareness about the current state of affordable housing in Nova Scotia and to initiate a broader conversation about what communities can do collectively to make a real difference in the lives of people living on low incomes.

So, who all is invited? It is expected that people will come from all over the province to share knowledge and experience. This could include educators, researchers, community groups, service providers and people living on low incomes.

People’s Schools are not new. In 1943, the Diocese of Antigonish and St.F.X created CJFX. One of the station’s primary mandates was to broadcast Extension Department messages to the region. Back in 1954, one of the topics was the problem of outmigration. Here we are 64 years later having a similar discussion.

The Extension Department and AAHS want to hear from all the stakeholders in a discussion about affordable housing. Everyone attending the People’s School is welcome to share their expertise and their vision.  Organizers hope that by the end of the day, people will be inspired to take action and that it will stimulate further discussions.

The problem can’t be solved by a handful of dedicated volunteers. This is the responsibility of the broader community. Someone once said that you’re only as strong as your weakest link and there is little doubt that affordable housing is a weak link and must become a priority. From the very beginning, the Extension Department has been committed to fostering local leadership, sharing knowledge and building civil society.

Are you interested? Are you willing to share a day of your life that might help address this chronic problem in our town and in this region?

If you want to attend, you’ll want to register in advance as numbers are limited. Go to www.stfxextension.ca and click on “Events Registration.” Registration is free and lunch is provided.

Anything is possible. It starts with believing and finishes with action.

 

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No Greater Love

Posted on February 14, 2018 under Storytelling with 4 comments

Happy Valentine’s Day, mom

 

M is for the many things she gave me,

O means that she’s only growing old,

T is for the tears she shed to save me,

H is for her heart of purest gold,

E is for her eyes, with love light shining,

R means right and right she’ll always be,

 Put them all together they spell mother,

A word that means the world to me.

I know. I checked the calendar. It’s Valentine’s Day and not Mother’s Day.

Valentine’s Day is for lovers. But it is so much more. It is a time to applaud the notion of love and nowhere is this more recognizable than the love of a mother.

Many of us are getting up there in years. And many of us have lost one or both parents. I don’t think I would get much argument from my peers that we will never again see a generation of women such as those who raised the baby boomers.

How did they do it?

How did they raise 6, 8, 10, 12 children… and in some cases more? Without the benefit of modern appliances, they toiled from early morning until late at night. They prepared meals, baked their own bread, washed countless loads of wash (including cloth diapers!)by hand before the advent of the ringer washer. They read bedtime stories, helped with homework and bandaged many a bloody knee.

They mended clothing and broken hearts and wiped a lot of bums.

They found time to worship, very often praying the rosary daily and attending mass on Sundays.

And when their children left the nest, many of them spread their wings and went out into the public work force where they demonstrated their remarkable work ethic and prowess as managers. After all, can there be anything more daunting than managing a house filled with enough children to field a baseball team?

Some of our moms have died. Others are still living but have been robbed of their memories and a handful is still carrying on well into their 90’s acting as if they are still teenagers.

Being a mother of young children in 2018 is no less challenging. In many ways, it is more difficult. We honor these women too.

Happy Valentine’s Day to all mothers.

 

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