Grandmothers' Necklace

Two poems, one about each of my grandmothers, have been published in Grandmothers' Necklace, to be released in early February 2010. Grandmothers’ Necklace is an anthology created in honour of grandmothers. Over 60 award-winning male and female professionals, and some gifted non-professionals, writers and poets of multiple racial and socio-economic backgrounds from across Canada, the United States and Ireland have donated gems to it. Joyous and wistful, hilarious and serious, the collection is too rich to be scanned all at once. It is divided into three units: About Grandmothers, Being A Grandmother, and Aging and Intergenerational Relationships. Appreciate it a few treasures at a time.

Pictured on the cover are Gillian Federico, Mary Anne K. Moran, Jean Ostrom, Kathleen Gibson, Dianna Robin Dennis, Jean Turnbull Elford, African Grandmother and grandchild from SLF resources, Judy Maddren’s Nana, Glynis Belec, Winona Baker, Linda Patchett, and Terri Elders.

A few of the authors not on the cover: Phil Callaway, L. June Stevenson, Kathe Rogers, Ann Ritter, Marcia Lee Laycock, Denis Taillefer, Judy Maddren, Sandy L. Hazell, Ruth Zaryski Jackson, C.G. Mordaunt, Ruth Smith Meyers, Matthew Reesor, Carolyn Wilker, and Bella Mahaya Carter.

Through Patricia Anne Elford (a member of the Petawawa Grannies), editor and compiler, ALL profits will go to Grandmothers to Grandmothers, a branch of the Stephen Lewis Foundation, , to assist the grandmothers of Africa. These women aged 40 to 80+ , have lost adult children to AIDS and AIDS-related illnesses and are raising their orphaned grandchildren alone under unbelievably impoverished circumstances.

The first book launch: Saturday, February 20, 2010, at the Petawawa Library, Petawawa, Ontario from 7:00 to 9:00 pm.,

The second launch: Monday, February 22nd, from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. at The Bean House CafĂ© , Deep River, ON, followed by readings, signings, launches in Pembroke, Ottawa, Belleville (Greenley’s Bookstore, possibly February 27th), Toronto, Kitchener-Waterloo and other Southern Ontario communities. Plans are also being made for Grandmothers’ Necklace events in other provinces, in the USA and in Kenya.

Grandmothers’ Necklace Patricia Anne Elford, B.A., M.Div., Compiler and Editor
ISBN 978-1-5542-468-6 Essence pub., Epic imprint, 200 pp $20.00 Cdn, incl. taxes

Where to buy: various independent stores (e.g. Greenley’s Bookstore, 248 Front Street, Belleville, ON; Coates Laser Engraving, 3584 Petawawa Blvd., Petawawa, ON), on-line: 1) , or 2) , 3) The Church Bookroom . More outlets to be announced.

Although the Stephen Lewis Foundation will benefit most from books bought at launches, readings and signings because no percentage is charged for handling, not everyone can get to these events and orders placed on-line will buy a rich read and still benefit the African grandmothers through the SLF.

Monitor the media to learn of other launches, reading nights and signings; opportunities to hear some of the first-class writers, new places to buy a copy or two of the book and help the grandmothers of Sub-Saharan Africa as they selflessly, determinedly, fight to meet the daily challenges.

“According to organisers, Sub-Saharan Africa had an estimated 13 million children orphaned by AIDS in 2006; this number is expected to reach 18-20 million by 2010. Amidst the overwhelming needs, grandmothers have stepped up to take on the care of children left destitute and alone. With hardly any resources, the grandmothers of Africa are at the heart of the community response to the AIDS pandemic. In some countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, between 40% and 60% of orphans live in grandparent-headed households; the vast majority of them are cared for by grandmothers. “

From the Communication Initiative Network

Experiencing Memory

I have been thinking about how I experience my memories.

If I close my eyes, I can picture my old Charles Street neighbourhood as it was in the 1940s. My house is still standing, though altered, and transformed lately into The Gourmet Burger. The urban streetscape has changed drastically. In my mind I still see the row of narrow attached houses across the street, with English basements and steps up to the front stoop. I see the lane behind the stores on Yonge Street. I see the Sweet Caps sign painted on the brick wall far above the little grocery store at the corner. I see the chunky apartment building at the corner of St. Nicholas, a woman tossing coins down to us from the heavy railed balcony. I can visualize different houses on the street, the oversized Romanesque-style Victorian like ours, smaller row houses, and ones with large front porches. I see myself walking to Wellesley Street School, down the cobblestones on St Nicholas Lane, walled with furniture warehouses at the bottom behind Rawlinson’s near Wellesley Street. I even had visual memories stored in my head that I only recognized years later when I was a student at University of Toronto. I would come upon an archway at the end of St. Mary’s Street, a stone facade or a street scene and remember being there as a child. Old photographs whether archival or personal help me to cue and elaborate scenes. Talking to my mother and brother help a little.

My recollection of sounds is mainly an ear for accents in speech. I can be transported back to the rooming house in an instant if I hear a Scottish accent or an Irish ballad. These voices of my childhood have stuck deep inside my head. Other sounds of the neighbourhood can be retrieved when necessary but it is a more conscious effort. Music can be a good trigger for scenes.

I have a few kinesthetic memories of the touch of someone or the texture of a rose petal but for the most part I have to think about these before I write about them. Taking the time to focus on the sensation of touch requires effort for me.

Tastes are not strong memory triggers for me. When they are, the memory is related to a particular scene, e.g. eating a new food, the taste of Ukrainian cooking or my mother’s baking. I almost never eat butter tarts because Mom’s were so good.

Smells and memory do interact for me. The smell of lilacs conjures up scenes from my childhood in a flash: picking lilacs, Sadie’s talcum powder, my April birthday, Dad’s digging up clumps and planting them in the backyard. I think of the smell of spices, the smell of baking, and the smell of certain foods. A lot of memories come flooding back given the right scent.

I experience most of my memories visually, like a little movie projector playing in my head. While this is my dominant mode, I do remember some scenes through my other four senses. When writing, I try to scan all five for sensual details.

Thoughts on My Father

On December 5th my father would have been 98 years of age. In his memory I am posting this personal essay.

Thoughts on My Father

by Ruth Zaryski Jackson

The Priest swings the censer in a wide cross over the coffin and discordant harmonies of the Ukrainian Orthodox service fill my ears. Musty incense wafts into my nostrils as six pallbearers carry Dad’s casket out the chapel’s side door to the hearse which will take his body to the crematorium. I weep as I follow. I weep for my father who has left us finally and forever. I weep for the father I had and for the father I missed having.

On the 21st of January, 2000, during the first sub-zero blizzard of the season, my father died. He’d reached the millennium, but his heart stopped three weeks later. He was 88.

We moved Dad to a nursing home only five months earlier when Mom could no longer cope. She nursed him at home for years as his mind became more and more tangled. Was it Alzheimer’s or toxic metal exposure during a long welding career?

In the end his lungs failed him. A smoker from the age of 10, he’d given it up reluctantly in his 70s when diagnosed with a black spot on his right lung. Years later he forgot he’d stopped, started up again briefly, before forgetting again. The damage was done.

Major surgery prevented me from visiting for two months after Dad moved. I saw him only twice before a flu epidemic closed the nursing home to visitors. Before I could return with his Christmas pyjamas, he died.

Our life-long relationship had been distant. We didn’t clash openly, but rarely engaged. I learned early to get on with my life. I was a baby when he left for 18 months to work on construction of the Alaska Highway. He visited just once during that period when I was 14 months. The family story is: as he was leaving again, I held onto him tightly at Union Station, crying and wouldn’t let go. When he returned he found my personality at 2 ½, defined by my mother and the residents of our rooming house.

Born in Galicia (now Ukraine) in 1911, Dad spoke Ukrainian at home, Polish at school and later learned English. His own father had been absent for 7 years during WW1 then the Civil War which followed, and returned when Dad was 10. As his father attempted to discipline and make a man of him, Dad rebelled, and at 16, emigrated alone to Canada. He never looked back, except once, when he cried upon hearing in 1947, his beloved younger brother never returned from the war.

Dad reported growing up in a “reasonably happy” family with 5 siblings. In 1914 WWI broke out, eventually disrupting his schooling and casting a pall over village life. They dodged flying bullets, billeted soldiers, and hid in cellars. He played war games with friends during the quiet times. In the fabric of his early life, fear dwelt below the surface. The tumultuous history of Galicia made Dad a political animal and, given other educational opportunities, he might have become a lawyer or a politician.

Few early photos of my father survive. On his passport, he appears younger than 16, a prominent widow’s peak above hooded eyes and full lips. He looks determined with youthful bravado. In another, he sits on a dock with arms crossed displaying wiry strength, wearing his bathing suit, black socks and dress shoes. In my earliest memory his hair had already thinned. He remained trim and muscular throughout his life, dressed well when he wasn’t working in coveralls and prided himself on tasteful suits and Daks shoes. He wore a Humphrey Bogart-style fedora during the 1940s and 1950s.

“Eric,” he told my son when he turned 16 “I going take you to buy good suit for very good price”.

And he did.

Dad was fiercely proud of his family, but unsure in his role as father. After several missteps, Dad grasped his role as husband, but needed Mom’s guidance to negotiate the nuances of living. He understood “bringing home the bacon” but left child-rearing to Mom.

“Wait till your father gets home!” she’d warn us when she reached her wit’s end.

I resented Dad’s willingness to strap us on her word alone. In my youngest brother Dad found a mirror image of himself and quickly judged and disowned his son. Despite Mom’s attempts to mediate, Dad stubbornly held fast to his disappointment.

As a friend, his loyalty to those from his village exceeded all expectation. A dying friend moved into their living room and my parents cared for him. My father, as Executor, carefully carried out the man’s wishes, dealing with a resentful wife and daughter abandoned in Ukraine. With his white-collar neighbours, he offered manual skills and connections to the trades. With his grandchildren, he was affectionate and playful, the way we’d wished he’d been as a father.

As I listen to the eulogies, I try to reconcile others’ perceptions with the man I knew. He seems loved by many, but as a child, I often wondered if he loved me. He never expressed it until one day I pressed him, fearing he might not survive an ulcer operation.

He held Old Country prejudices yet in his neighborhood he got along with everyone. Religion was a touchy subject. Raised Greek Catholic, where church formed the basis of village life, he resented Poland’s attempts to convert them to Roman Catholicism. He had a love-hate relationship with Poles, yet some of his friends were Polish. I never knew him to attend church except on rare holidays yet, as death approached, he announced he wanted the full Ukrainian Orthodox funeral service: cantors, incense and all.

When I reflect on my father today, I wonder what of him I carry inside? Physically, I resemble my mother. Inside, I hold some of his tendencies: loyalty to friends and family, responsibility and stubbornness. We also share similar opposite traits: sociable and introverted, nervous yet confident. Perhaps I am my father’s daughter after all.

1984 age 73

A Working Title For My Memoir

This week I decided on a working title for my memoir: Missing Sadie, Missing Myself: Memories of a Childhood. Following the advice of one of Nina Amir’s guest bloggers on, 'Write Nonfiction in November' (she does post all year long), I even added it as part of my email signature. By promoting my book before it’s finished, let alone published, I hope to interest future readers.

Brainstorming possible titles or phrases forced me to focus on my central themes. Was my book about following Mother’s dream or was it about how an immigrant family assimilated? Was it about losing myself or finding myself?

I shared my ideas with my writing group. They gave me their suggestions and I settled on the one above. I like it. The Missing Sadie part expresses my longing for my childhood home on Charles Street, the rooming house with its cast of characters who were like my extended family. The Missing Myself part expresses my feelings of dislocation in the suburbs and how I lost my grounding when I was yanked from my old neighbourhood. These two parts sum up most, but not all, of my story.

I searched for similar titles on Amazon and found very little about 'Sadie', mostly children’s stories, and nothing about 'missing myself'. The wording is sufficiently different to distinguish the book from self-help books about 'finding yourself'.

The title I chose is not too long or too short. It’s not too cute or too weird. It conveys an emotion. I like the repetition and alliteration. The words focus on the important themes in my story and not on the parts I don’t wish to highlight.

My working title may change later. For now I’m happy with my choice and proud to tell people the title of my book.