Mrs. Clean

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


“Do you remember Grandma’s Lye Soap,

Good for everything in the home,

And the secret was in the scrubbing,

It wouldn’t suds and it wouldn’t foam.”

Cleanliness is next to godliness. While this phrase is credited to John Wesley, its roots can be traced to biblical times. Of course, one suspects that Mr. Wesley was talking about purity of the soul but humans as a species are known to be fastidious when it comes to personal cleanliness. Some of today’s youth take this to extremes with showers that can last upwards of 30 minutes.

Growing up in a large family, learning the ins and outs of cleaning was a part of our education. We learned how to do the dishes, vacuum the carpets and wash and wax the “battleship” linoleum floor coverings. And was there a more miserable job than cleaning the small, individual panes of a glass in a French door?

Sarah and Jane (not their real names), aged 6 and 8, were seconded by their grandmother to go to the village church on Saturday to get it “spic and span” for Sunday mass. Much like it is still today, the cleaning and maintenance of churches in rural locales fell to a group of dedicated volunteers back in the 1930’s.

The girls had been instructed to come equipped for a morning of unselfish labor in the name of the Almighty. They had gathered up cleaning supplies from home which included a cotton mop and wringer pail, Johnson’s Glo Coat, Rinso, Chipso, Oxydol, Red Devil Lye, Comet and Bon Ami and lots of rags. They also came armed with the most important ingredient: elbow grease. Cleaning a church was not a task for the timid.

By any description, grandma was a force to be reckoned with. She didn’t have a lot of tolerance for improprieties. So when the young girls showed up on the steps of the church without appropriate headwear, grandma was not amused. That was in an era that women wore hats inside places of worship. Entering a sacred place without a hat was a sacrilege.

It would have taken too much time for the young girls to go back home. Grandma was not deterred. Women of her ilk were used to improvising. She grabbed the rag bag and pulled out an old cotton bed sheet. She quickly tore it into strips and affixed a piece on each of her granddaughters’ head using bobby pins to keep them in place. She marched her young charges smartly into the church.

The girls were quite small in stature and they wondered if grandma might just grab them, turn them upside down, dip them into the wash bucket and start using them as human mops.

They toiled for three hours without uttering so much as a word such was their fear of speaking in the house of the Lord. Actually, it was their fear of grandma that rendered them mute.

The church was spotless but grandma wasn’t quite finished. She suspected that the children needed spiritual cleansing as well and instructed them to kneel in the pews to say a decade of the rosary.

One can only surmise that they began with the Sorrowful Mysteries.



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Just Follow The Arrows

Posted on November 8, 2018 under Storytelling with 3 comments

Ikea. Too big to describe.


“Follow the yellow brick road”

Glinda. The Wizard of Oz.

Is it possible to get lost in a store? Certainly.  Now, you may not get lost at the 5 to $1.00, Sobey’s or even Walmart, but if you happen to be wandering through the new IKEA store in Dartmouth, getting lost is highly probable as you try and navigate 330,000 square feet of merchandise.

At the behest of my wife and daughter, and against all of my non shopper’s instincts, I agreed to go to IKEA in Dartmouth last weekend. Normally I would have to be shackled to go into a large shopping venue but I was curious to see what all the fuss was about. Having downsized and trying to live by the mantra “slow down and have less”, going shopping for household items seemed somewhat counterintuitive.

We also had our granddaughter in tow so naturally the first stop upon entering the store was the supervised children’s play area. It took longer to check her in than to clear U.S. Customs. A parent has one hour of uninterrupted shopping provided their child makes friends quickly. If not, the parent is paged with one of those locator gizmos that they have in restaurants. After seeing the size of IKEA, it is entirely possible that you could leave your five year old in the play area and find out that they are old enough to enter university by the time you have investigated every item in the store.

I grabbed the Saturday Chronicle Herald expecting that boredom would quickly set in.

I resisted the temptation to accompany my wife and daughter and headed into the belly of the whale.  I was told to follow the arrows on the floor to avoid getting lost. It didn’t take long for me to get the impression that the only thing comparable in complexity to this behemoth of aisles and shortcuts was the Riverbreeze Corn Maze in Truro. At one point during my 30,000 step jaunt, there was a disconsolate lady somewhere in the kitchen section asking a sales clerk how to get out of the store. They suggested downloading the Google Maps app.

After dispatching the ground level in record time, I made my way to the second floor to have a coffee in the cafeteria. The lineups reminded me of those all you can eat buffets in Vegas. However, IKEA is clever and knows that there are people like me who just want a coffee and a cinnamon roll. To my relief, I found out that I didn’t have to get in the large queues. I knocked off a few words of the New York Times crossword puzzle while caffeinating.

I must admit that the signage in the store is excellent. For people like me who are extremely challenged putting furniture together (or anything else for that matter), the most important sign is “We Assemble”.

I am not a shopper and understand my limitations so I try my best to avoid saying or doing anything that might expose my ignorance. Silence and avoiding scrutiny are excellent strategies. Sadly, there are others who don’t recognize their shortcomings and human frailty. While passing through the bedroom showroom, there was a guy trying out a bed. Fully shod (maybe he was a horse or a horse’s ass), he climbed into the bed and tucked himself under the covers. This is not totally surprising. The store is so large that it is possible to develop a romantic relationship during your stay. Maybe this guy was getting ready to propose.

Do you know how to hang a curtain rod? I can hang a load of laundry on the clothesline but DO NOT put me in the line of fire of tools. Apparently there are people more inept than me, hard as that is to believe. While passing through the curtain section I overheard this little gem of an exchange. The salesperson patiently and diligently explained the process and suggested that he put screws in the studs if possible. The befuddled (stunned) male then asked the following question: “Do you have studs for purchase?” I was sorely tempted to jump in and suggest that he contact the Calumet stud farm in Lexington, Kentucky.

I continued to “follow the yellow brick road” (the arrowed floor path is actually grey) and arrived at the checkout area. Have you ever been to Costco around Christmas time? Mere child’s play compared to IKEA’s checkout area on a Saturday afternoon. The only redeeming feature of this terrifying locale is an ice cream stand once you get through.

I reconnected with the gals. I thought my granddaughter had aged. I know I had.

After this experience, I now understand what IKEA means: I Know Every Aisle.


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David’s Dream

Posted on November 2, 2018 under Storytelling with no comments yet

This story was previously posted in 2014. David Miller left us yesyerday and what a legacy he left behind. Thank you David for your tireless efforts to make Antigonish a better place to live.


“I have an idea.”

And with those few words, a twenty-six year conversation began between David Miller and me.  David and his wife and soul mate, Aida Arnold, arrived in Antigonish in 1988 to open a McDonald’s restaurant.

I was on Town Council at the time and had three small children.  A fourth was soon to follow.  McDonald’s quickly became a magnet for families, especially families with youngsters like ours.  David and Aida became engaged in the community almost instantaneously.  And we are all the better for it.

Sometimes you have to step back from the forest to see the trees.  They saw the great potential that Antigonish town and county had at their fingertips, right from the word go.  And they have both been bringing ideas, energy and enthusiasm to many worthwhile endeavours since the day they landed here.

Aida was one of the driving forces behind “Communities in Bloom”.  Just walk around town and see all of the beautiful flowers hanging from posts and buildings, or overflowing from boxes adjacent to shops and stores along the Main.

During the recent street fair held in the downtown core, I was talking with an old neighborhood friend who spends her summers here.  Aida happened by, and once introductions were made, my friend said that in all her travels, the McDonald’s in Antigonish was her absolute favorite.  I don’t think it was because of the fries.  Their fries are always the best, whichever outlet you go to.

No.  It wasn’t the Big Macs either.  Our local McDonald’s franchisees festooned the interior of their building with local art and brought it to life with beautiful and unique landscaping outside.  I agree with my friend.  I have never been to a McDonald’s that was more esthetically pleasing or welcoming.

For many years I heard David talk about the local cultural scene.  He was always passionate in his support of actors, musicians and all manner of artists and artisans.

And, he had a dream.

On many occasions he asked me “What can we be doing to promote the area?”  Recently, he answered his own question with the creation of the Antigonish Art Fair.  While he will point out, in his self-effacing way, that many others were responsible, he was, and is, the driving force behind this bold new initiative.

The Antigonish Art Fair has begun with a series of five “Art in the Park” events, showcasing the immeasurable creative richness of our community.  The idea is to turn Antigonish into a cultural mecca; a not-to-miss destination for art tourism.

The Fair was launched a few weeks ago.  I had a bird’s eye view of the proceedings, acting as Master of Ceremonies.  The event was held at Chisolm Park, on the banks of the Brierly Brook.  Staring out from the gazebo, I could see dozens and dozens of artists showing their works.  There was a children’s corner and lots of tasty food from around the world. The dignitaries cut the ribbon and moments later, David’s dream unfolded like the first flowers in spring.

We were entertained by an eclectic mix of entertainment on the stage at the gazebo. Everything from very young Highland dancers, to a fire eater and belly dancers.  Chisholm Park is named after the late Mayor, Colin Herman Chisholm.  As I watched the belly dancers, I smiled, wondering how Collie Herman would have enjoyed this particular exhibition.  He would have thought it was just fine.

The Antigonish Arts Fair is up and running.  We are thankful for David’s vison and unbridled enthusiasm.

Stealing a line from McDonald’s, “We’re lovin’ it”.

Thanks, David.

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