Thursday Tidbits

Posted on December 9, 2021 under Thursday Tidbits with one comment

 

Atsunai

 

“All my bags are packed, I’m ready to go.”

Leaving on a Jet Plane – John Denver

It’s checkout time.

Last May when the plane lifted off the runway in Kangiqsujuaq, I looked down at the village thinking that I would never see the village again. My two- year adventure in the north had come to an end and I looked forward to the next chapter of my life… a quiet, peaceful retirement.

I guess I don’t do “quiet and peaceful” so well.

I had a fantastic summer back in Nova Scotia culminating with the celebration of my 70th birthday. The highlight was joining my children for an evening of live music at a local pub where they were the headliners. A few days after this, I marked this important passage by walking 77 kilometers around “the Cape”.

I don’t think I’m necessarily a restless individual, but I am either blessed or cursed with my mother’s energy and curiosity. There is no debate here. Having good energy is the blessing of all blessings. As the summer wore on, I could feel boredom creeping in. With travel restrictions very much a reality, I knew that flitting off to Spain to tackle a different Camino was not in the cards. I had stayed in contact with my principal. Besides being work colleagues, we had become good friends, going on many hikes together.

Covid has affected the economy in many ways including the workforce. The north was not immune to these new realities, and it became apparent that there would be staffing issues at the school. I knew that I didn’t want to return to the north as a full-time classroom teacher so we made a deal that would see me split my time between administrative duties and some substitute teaching. I offered to come for four months. My contract would allow me to stay for the whole year, if I so chose. Early in September, I returned and once again as the plane descended, I chuckled to myself. My hiatus from the north had lasted a grand total of three months.

Over our lifetimes, we accumulate a skill set. We use different skills at different times. Rarely do they all coalesce at the same time. This was the case this fall. The pace of work was relentless, and I ended up using every tool in the toolbox. I even did a bit of janitorial work from time to time when something had to be cleaned up in a hurry. Back in the early 70s in Victoria, I worked at a few jobs at the same time. One of them was cleaning a daycare in Vic West. I’m pretty handy with a mop and a pail!

I’m not bragging. It is quite possible that I never worked at full capacity at my previous jobs. I guess if we all held up a mirror, there were times in our life where we didn’t put out 100% effort every single working day. But this job was different. Every minute of the day was full. It is a strange feeling when you are firing on all cylinders physically and mentally. I tip my hat to health care workers. Nurses and CCA’s are among the hardest working people I have ever met.

I enjoyed working at the school this fall but fatigue set in, both physical and mental. Most of us know “when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em”. It is a gut feeling. My ample gut (!) told me a few weeks ago that it was time to call it a day.

I’ll be heading back to Nova Scotia at the end of next week carrying many fond memories from my time in the north.

What’s next?

I have had the pleasure (?) of doing four, full two- week quarantines over the past two years during which time, I started writing my book about my northern adventure. I will spend the remainder of the winter back home completing this project. I might also take on a small part time job just to keep me out of mischief. Hopefully some time in 2022, we will be able to travel beyond our borders again.

I am looking forward to spending more time hanging out with my granddaughters.

There are a lot of people in Kangiqsujuaq that I owe a debt of gratitude. I’ll save this for my final post from the north next week.

“Cause I’m leavin’ on a jet plane,

Don’t know when I’ll be back again.”

Have a great weekend.

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Thursday Tidbits

Posted on December 2, 2021 under Thursday Tidbits with 3 comments

Couldn’t find the baptism picture. This will have to do.

 

With apologies to my Catholic friends. I have been threatening to write a light hearted book about growing up Catholic in Antigonish A.K.A. “The Little Vatican”. Here is the first installment.

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.

Have a great weekend.

P.S. Later in life I was introduced to the kilt, a much more dignified and manly dress!

 

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Thursday Tidbits

Posted on November 25, 2021 under Thursday Tidbits with no comments yet

Country Food

 

“Food, glorious food,

Don’t care what it looks like.”

Food, Glorious Food – From “Oliver”

I love Sundays.

I was fully retired for nearly five years before I became unretired. Is that even a real word? It is now. Like most retirees, the weekends had just become other day of the week. Time kind of lost its meaning. No longer did hump day (Wednesday) cause my heart to quicken or was Friday as eagerly as anticipated as Christmas. When I was a working stiff, Saturday and Sunday just felt different. Saturday usually meant running around doing chores, going to the Farmer’s Market, going for an outing with the family and finishing of the day (in winter) catching a hockey game. Sunday was a day to gear down. Go to mass. Go for a walk. Watch some sports and begin dreading that Monday was but a few hours away.

In the fall of 2019, I resumed my working career and my mind easily slid back into its usual patterns. The weekends became cherished again.

This past Sunday, I was in serious chill mode. No. It wasn’t -40. I eased into the day sitting in my lounge chair with a coffee listening to Symphony Hall on Sirius radio. I did a load of laundry and watched an excellent movie called The Necessities of Life. (For rent or purchase on Youtube): https://youtu.be/lam3rtJ4UiY) . It is about TB back in the 50s, the story of an Inuit man forced to leave his home in the arctic to go to a sanitarium in Quebec City.

It was late morning and I was starting to think about a Sunday walk. There’s a group of teachers who routinely go walking, hiking, snowshoeing or cross country skiing on Sunday. My phone pinged and it was a message from my good friend Mary Arngak. “I’m inviting you for lunch at my house. We are going to have ammiruq – beluga tail and blubber that my husband and son harvested. For you to watch and learn. It is a tradition for the women to take part in the amirruq. For men there will be other food too.”

Never one to pass up a free meal and learn at the same time, I quickly agreed.

I was given a warm welcome by Mary and several members of her extended family. The youngest attendee was 11 months old and a few of us north of 70. Everyone was sitting on the floor as is the custom. There were two exceptions. I assured Mary that if I got down on the floor, I might not be able to get back up (Bad back, bruised ribs, weak mind…). The other was Mary’s husband, Lucasi who opted for a chair. On a long piece of cardboard, a large array of country food was laid out. Very often, fish and meat are frozen. The Inuit use an ulu, a very sharp, curved tool to cut up the food. I was told the reason for sitting on the floor had to do with physics. It is much easier cutting up frozen food when one is able to exert the full force of their body in the cutting action.

As we ate, the air was filled with conversation, much of which I didn’t understand but Mary (my teacher!) translated as we went along. I learned that two of the elders were brought up on the land. One was a summer baby, born in a tent while the other was born in the middle of winter in an igloo. I heard stories of forced relocation. Lucasi regaled me with hunting stories. I was fascinated to hear the process required to hunt the massive bowhead whale. All the while, we ate. I tried a bit of everything including small bites of frozen arctic char, inaluaq (sausage stuffed with beluga), and nikkuk (dried beluga meat). I think they made an exception and let me try the beluga tail and fin! As the meal was winding down, I made the fatal mistake of asking Mary if she ate the eyes of the char (like the eyes of the ptarmagin I had consumed last spring). Before I had a chance to reconsider my question, Mary presented me with iji, the eye of the char. Lucasi chirped in that the Inuit also love to eat raw seal liver just after it has been shot. The meal was finished off with coffee and Bannock.

There weren’t a lot of scraps leftover. I have discovered that nothing is wasted when it comes to the harvesting of animals and fish in the north. It seems that every part of the animal has a purpose and even the bones are kept to use for games. The few remaining pieces of the beluga were shared with the ravens.

Everything is shared. Nothing is wasted. The family already shared some of the beluga with community members as is the custom and they plan to send some to relatives in other communities.

We retired to the living room. Mary produced a guitar and a ukulele. Mary and the women sang some traditional songs. I sang a few of my own and we collaborated on a few spiritual songs. I would sing in English, and they would follow up in Inuktitut. It was the perfect ending to a lovely afternoon.

Later that day, I posted a few photos. Some people in the south often cringe when I tell them that I have eaten raw fish and meat and other body parts that seem to make people feel very squeamish, but the Inuit have been living and eating off the land and sea for centuries. I like to try new things and I have found, without fail, that there is nothing offensive or gross about eating animal parts not normally found in a southern grocery store, neatly packaged and processed to the hilt. I think if most people went to a hot dog or sausage factory, they would quickly change their tune.

I was very honoured to be invited to Mary and Lucasi’s home.

My education continues.

Have a great weekend.

 

Cutting the beluga fin with an ulu

 

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