Category Archives: Time and Space

Coming Home

Coming Home Talbot-St-to-east-photo-D-StewartComing home after an absence, you see it differently. When you leave one home to visit another, you get it both ways. Going back to Ontario after a year in a new home, I was both visitor and resident simultaneously. I was surprised St. Thomas looked the same, but how much does anywhere change in one year?

St. Thomas at night

Talbot-St-to-north-dorothystewartMy eyes had changed, though. I saw beauty in things I’d never really noticed for a long time. Waiting for a pizza one night, I looked at the main street – the buildings themselves and the details of architecture we often forget to look at. Chef Bondi Pizza, in business since the early 1970s, next door to Your Fish & Chips, in business for even longer. Both with signage I’ve known all my life.

At 10 p.m. the street was empty enough to stand on the middle line. Yet cars are driving somewhere, people singly or in pairs walk home or to the bars, dogs and their people are out for their late night constitutionals.

Talbot-St-to-south-dorothystewart

Aylmer, Ontario

Being in Aylmer at a Scottish-surnamed, German-speaking family-run Mexican food shop, The Tortilla Store, buying corn Tortilla-Store-Aylmertortillas in bulk to bring back to NB. Looking at the parking lot of The Bargain Shop across the side street. A horse and buggy parked alongside the cars and minivans.

Teary-eyed outside the John Street Tim Hortons in Aylmer. Waiting for my coffee, I automatically nodded to people at the tables. They nodded back. They may well be the same ones I’ve seen for years at the same tables at the same time of day. It doesn’t matter that we don’t know the other outside this common meeting ground, we always nod hello. Then again, maybe I’ve never seen these particular people before. Doesn’t matter, we always nod hello.

horse-and-buggy photo D StewartMissing Aylmer; the complex mix of peoples in a small town, there long before the term cultural diversity became common parlance. Stores and restaurants that have remained exactly the same since I went to high school there.

I hated Aylmer and all small towns then, thought the big cities had it all. Eventually learning that, really, big cities become living in your own small neighbourhood for the most part and that getting away to see fields and forests requires a Clarkes-Aylmer photo Dorothy Stewartmajor expedition. In Aylmer or St. Thomas, you drive only a few minutes and you are in countryside with cows and horses or woods.

In a London department store, the young sales clerk who waits on us isn’t busy so she starts chatting. She’s counting the months until she graduates from university and can leave the small-town dust of London behind her for the Big City. She can’t wait. I remember being you, I think as I listen to her talk about what London doesn’t have. But she will do well in Toronto. I can see the virtues of Hogtown, but London Ont is big city enough for me now. I was born and bred in real small town Ontario and I have grown old enough to appreciate that.

Home to NB

coming home, field-walk-photo-Jim-StewartThen returning to New Brunswick and what is now home. No take-out pizza close enough to get it home still warm. No Tim Hortons without a 20-minute drive. But the stars fill the sky as they cannot do against the lights of any city or town. The fields and woods beckon us to come for a walk. Silence other than the songs and squawks of birds.

Hampton Court House

Hampton Court House 5-Feb-2013 D StewartThe 140-year-old Court House in Hampton, New Brunswick has heard its last case.  Court cases for Kings County will now be heard in Saint John.  The town knows a new purpose for the building must be found, something befitting its beauty and its position as centrepiece in the town.  But.

They already have a museum and library.  The building needs extensive refits and, of course, public money is in short supply.  Please, Hampton, don’t let this magnificent structure and its grounds become derelict.

There are too many beautiful old buildings left to moulder beyond the point of any reasonable possibility of renovation or maintenance.  Such buildings are markers of our heritage.  When we lose them, we lose our collective history.

nb-castle-manor-cbc.ca-22jun2012In Moncton recently, I saw Castle Manor for the first time.  The huge stone building with good-sized grounds looks pretty bedraggled.  Plywood covers all the ground-floor windows.  Originally built by the Roman Catholic Church in the early 1900s as a seniors’ residence, it has also been a school and orphanage.  Vacant, it was bought in 2012 by a local builder.  He says vandalism has been a problem.  He didn’t say what his plans are, but it sounds like he values its historical and architectural significance to the city.  I hope he can do something beautiful with it before its story ends sadly.

Compare to Alma College

Coming from St. Thomas, Ontario, I know that architecture, and the recognition of its value, can be defeated by real and bureaucratic vandalism.  Alma College was the pride of St. Alma-College-discover-southern-ontario.comThomas.  Built in 1878, it was a private girls’ school from 1881 to 1988.  It then passed through several hands and, like Castle Manor, became pretty sad looking.  Windows were boarded up after the glass had been broken.  People slept in the building and used it as a hangout.

It had provincial status as a historic building but status and a plaque cannot protect against the predation of weather, time and vandals.  It deteriorated to the point that rehabilitation may have been impossible, no matter how much money was available.  Battles about whether to restore or demolish went on for years. Then somebody torched it.

Alma-College-Fire-Credit-Robert-Chaulk,-Sun-Media-Corp-heritagecanadaMay 28th 2008, smoke could be seen all over the city. I drove toward it.  Alma College in flames.  Pretty much every firefighter and piece of firefighting equipment in the city was there, huge crowds gathered on all sides to watch and cry and pray but it was too late.  All that’s left are the outdoor amphitheatre and the music building.

Please do not let this happen to the Hampton Court House.  The building, still usable Main-Street-Hampton-5-Feb-2013 D Stewartnow, has given grandeur to downtown Hampton for well over a century.

I am sorry that it will no longer be an active court.  I will miss the reportage from it in the Sussex Kings County Record.  Every week there is at least one full page of proceedings.  Shoplifting, drunk driving, assault – lengthy and detailed accounts that give a wonderful window into society and jurisprudence in this area.

That Good Night

I have always loved Dylan Thomas’ exhortation to his dying father:  Do not go gentle Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Nightinto that good night.  Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Dylan Thomas on cover of poetry bookYes, I thought, “old age should burn and rage at close of day.”  But Dylan Thomas knew something I didn’t, I think, even when he wrote those words.  He was still a young man, but he knew something that becomes apparent with age:  sometimes it’s time to hang up your hat and say goodbye. Evidently, he never showed the poem to his father.  He wrote it for himself – the child pleading to, and for, the father.  He knew, maybe, that what his dad wanted was to go peacefully and quietly.

Mom holding dog Feb 2012Four weeks ago my mother, my remaining parent, died.  I know in my sensible brain that it’s good that her death was quick and peaceful.  But there’s another part of me that says no, you should have fought to stay, you can’t leave me.

It doesn’t matter how old you are, when you lose your final parent, you feel orphaned.  What will you do without parents?  Driving through our hometown, my brother tried to remember the name of people who used to live in a house near ours.  “There’s nobody to ask now,” he realized, “I’m the one they’ll come to now for answers and I don’t know.  Mom knew.”

You lose your family’s corporate memory when your parents die, all the little bits of information about whose house was whose, where the neighbours moved to, what their dog’s name was.  Does it matter?  Ruby-1939-Pine-StYes, in the history of a community or family.  No, in the continued existence of that community or family.  Other families become the old neighbours who moved away, the next generation become the family elders.  But, like with photocopying, with each generation there’s a loss of the depth and colour of the original.

My mother had Alzheimer’s for the past few years.  She still knew us but didn’t remember many other people.  I hated the disease.  I hated seeing her sharp mind shut down; cried, after leaving her, when she asked “who’s X?” when X was a family member.  Cried even more when she stopped asking, stopped trying to figure out who people were.

However, as she accepted her dementia and came to terms with it, so did I.  Often I’d wonder about something and think I’ll ask Mom, then would remember she wouldn’t Ruby Grace Burwell Anger obitknow any longer.  After her death, I caught myself taking pictures because “Mom will want to see this,” only to remember she was gone.  But it wasn’t the huge shock to me that it would be if she’d had her mental faculties intact.

Maybe that’s a gift that Alzheimer’s gives survivors.  You’ve had to come to terms with losing your loved one before she or he is actually gone from this life.  It is a gradual process, thereby maybe gentler at the ultimate end.  Maybe, as Dylan Thomas’ dad knew, that’s what we all wish for at the end, going gentle into that good night.  My mother went gently, and for that I’m glad.

House Deconstruction

Three weeks in our new house and slowly it’s coming together.  A new house is like a clothes on line and fieldRubik’s Cube:  frustratingly impossible to figure out the parts but hit the right one and somehow the rest fall in place.

I haven’t moved in over a decade.  That’s too long, I’ve decided.  Move every five years so you don’t have time to accumulate too much. Alternatively, never move so that someone else will have to deal with your lifetime’s worth of stuff.

We moved to a smaller house.  So even after fairly extensive pruning, a lot more came in the door than could be accommodated.  Furniture was arranged several times before a workable solution was found.  You start with a preconceived idea, based both on your perceptions china cabinet with cat in houseof the space and the way you had things before.  Then you see it doesn’t work or feel right. There’s too many pieces left over. Or what you need doesn’t fit, and what fits you don’t need.

Throw it all out and start over’ was followed by ‘We paid to move this stuff halfway across the country so it’s all going to fit come hell or high water’.  Then a midpoint of sanity:  you have to see something in the space to know if it’s needed and rejigging can make things fit.  And if something really doesn’t work, replace it.  Life is indeed too short to settee and table on house porch photo D Stewartlive around your furniture, accommodating it instead of it accommodating you.

So a settee and coffee table sit on the porch, no place inside for them.  Kind of looks like the Clampetts moved in.  They probably will go to the attic or garage, or I might leave them there until winter.  They just beg you to ‘set a spell’.

Farmland and house

The countryside around here is beautiful:  farmland with hay baled or cows grazing, woods.  I’m enjoying just looking at my own flower bed and grape arbourland – rosebushes, tiger lilies, grapevine-covered arbour, field with the potential of being pasture, woods.  A deer out in the field late one afternoon, turned her head when she heard a voice and meandered on.

An old farmhouse, it’s very different than our previous new-ish suburban house.  But this house, with old softwood floors and a renovation job of pine cabinetry, tile and soft sea colours, is of the lineage of houses I have lived in and loved the most.  I could line up photos of rooms from this and three inside houseother ones and they could all be the same house.  That’s not to say I haven’t missed my St. Thomas house.  I liked its space and convenience and straight walls and floors, and I enjoyed just looking at the rooms.  But my soul is back at home in this house.

 

“Look at Bingy”: Alzheimer’s and Distraction

Frustration is part of Alzheimer’s and other age-related memory loss and dementia – frustration for the person themself and the people caring for or interacting with them.  warning on dementia ward doorOften, an Alzheimer’s person will believe something totally contrary to “reality” – it may be a big thing or a little thing.  But explaining, usually, will get you (the non-Alzheimer’s person) nowhere.  At best, your explanation will be immediately forgotten. At worst, it will create an argument and distress for both parties – really over nothing that can be resolved.

It’s very hard coping with “it’s white” statements when you know that, in fact, “it’s black”.  You can reason, you can scream, but nothing is going to convince that person.   It’s especially hard when the person is a parent or grandparent, an individual you respect and who expects respectful behaviour from you.

The Bingy Strategy

I’ve read that the best thing is distraction, and I find it works better than any long-winded explanation.  But you can’t be obvious about it.  Someone might have Alzheimer’s but that doesn’t mean they don’t pick up on patronizing behaviours.  So you have to distract Bing the dog, in service stationto something equally interesting or at least off-the-wall enough to command attention.  With luck, the attention paid to that new thing will last long enough for the problematic thing to be forgotten.   I call it the ‘look at Bingy’ strategy.  Thinking of it that way helps me as much as it does the person with whom I’m dealing.

‘Look at Bingy’ became a family catchphrase for distraction after my mother invented it out of necessity.  A guy had come to my father’s business to see him, but only my mother and the dog were there.   The guy thought Mom was a fine looking woman and put the makes on her.  She didn’t want to offend, but wanted to stop him.  So every time he’d start with ‘hows about it’ type things, she’d say “oh, look at Bingy!”  He’d turn to see what the dog was doing.  This worked for Mom at service station windowher several times, until he said “Bingy be damned!” in that Bing wasn’t actually doing much of anything.  However, it bought Mom time and Dad soon returned.  After that, whenever you were in a sticky situation and didn’t know how to get out of it, ‘look at Bingy’ was a reminder to play for time.

Don’t argue with dementia

So, with Alzheimer’s creating belief that “I don’t live here” or “I don’t have any food, I need to go shopping”, the ‘look at Bingy’ approach can forestall pointless argument.  Saying ‘you do live here, remember when you moved in?’ or ‘you have your meals in the dining room’ means nothing to someone who can’t remember where the dining room is.  Start talking about something else – the dog or cat or someplace you went on the weekend.  Just pick places and people that you think might ring a bell.  Dogs and cats are especially good.  I’ve found pets are remembered more clearly than many people, and not being able to remember them is less upsetting.

You’re not going to cure Alzheimer’s, you’re not going to bring the person’s memory back, you’re not going to ‘teach’ them anything.  The best you can do is listen, acknowledge and, yes, sometimes distract.

My Seeing the world the Alzheimer’s way has more. Also, a couple of excellent points I found on pages that are no longer online: 

…death of the mind… “if you argue with an Alzheimer’s patient, you get exactly what you deserve”

Alzheimer’s Assoc. Online Community, a poster (Dec. 31/10) gives this advice “Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That is how the light gets in.”  Using Leonard Cohen’s words in this context is inspired –  so lovely, so true.

Snow Day

snow day back yard with dog and snowAll the snow had gone, even the mud had started to dry up.  Then bang, last night, a snowstorm.  A mixture of rain, freezing rain and snow making big heavy piles of snow on wires, trees and fences.  Beautiful.  Our backyard late last night.  Today, a snow day. At the dog park, only one other person there with his dogs.

Then Pinafore Park, only a few people there.  Another man taking Peter Robson statue, Pinafore Park, St. Thomaspictures.  Another woman walking her Boxer in his winter coat.  A young couple bringing their kids to the playground.  They didn’t stay long.  The pheasants were toddling around their cozy enclosure, seemingly not aware or caring about the snow outside it.

Stores were pretty empty all day, so a couple store clerks told me.  Playground in snow, Pinafore Park, St. ThomasBut Tim Hortons was blocked with people, inside and in the drive-through.  It was definitely a doughnut and coffee or hot chocolate day.  And definitely a day for playing in the snow.

Detailing

Several years ago, I bought a two-year old car from a newspaper ad.  When I took it for a test drive, I couldn’t believe how clean and nice the inside was.  It was like a brand-new car.  The young woman selling it was also very neat and tidy.  She seemed like the sort that kept a car immaculate.

German Shepherd in back seat of car - cleanI had a very large German Shepherd who shed like crazy and liked to get muddy.  And, dog or no dog, I’ve never had a car that stayed clean for more than two days.  During our test drive, I started apologizing to the seller.  I told her about the dog, who was not with me, and that the car would not stay clean.  She said “oh, I usually have a mess in the car too.  Don’t worry about that.”  I thought sure, your mess would consist of one empty coffee cup carefully placed in the cup holder and maybe an empty water bottle rolling around.  My dear, you don’t know a messy car!

I bought the car and assured her that I would put proper covers on all the seats and floor so the dog didn’t mess them up.  I wanted to tell her that, if I were her, I wouldn’t sell the car to me.  She just took my cheque and wished me well.

I had the car for a long time.  It was always a mess.  I learned there was something called car detailing.  My in-laws did it with a van they were trying to sell.  The van came back looking brand-new.  I was impressed but it didn’t look that much different to me.  Their vehicles were always clean and like new inside anyway.

Then my husband and I borrowed my mother-in-law’s car for a trip to the States.  Our dog went with us – another German Shepherd who shed a lot and got sick on the trip.  Two weeks in the vehicle with dog hair, dog food, dog medicine, fast-food crumbs and wrappers, coffee spills, smoke.   My husband said it will clean up, don’t worry.  I thought we’ll have to buy an identical car and swap them and never ever let her see this one again.

Back home, we took it to a detailer.  I thought for what cleaning that car would cost we probably would be better off buying another one.  Next day, we picked it up.  It was like a brand-new car.  And it cost less than $200.  Before we gave the car back to my mother-in-law, I would sneak up on it and jump in and sniff to see if I could smell any trace of anything.  Only new, clean car smell.  I looked in every nook and cranny – not a crumb to be found.  I was gobsmacked.

And then I knew why my neat tidy young woman didn’t mind selling her neat tidy car to a slob.  It may indeed have been a pigsty when she drove it.  But she’d had it detailed.  What a truly wonderful discovery that was for me.

Resort Towns (Feb. 2/11)

Brighton, in December, although still a fairly bustling city, bore little relation to Brighton in June or August.  Jury often felt there were few things bleaker than a seaside town in winter.

– Martha Grimes 2002, A Richard Jury Novel, The Blue Last

resort towns Port Stanley, on lake ice bankI usually agree with Scotland Yard Superintendent Richard Jury on everything, but not this one.  You could call summer resort towns bleak in winter, but it’s a beautiful bleakness.  I like summer resort towns much better in their off-season.  They can also be lovely in their season.  Sun, sand, fun – that’s why we go.  But, for me, too many of us go.

I went to Brighton once, in April.  It wasn’t as wind-swept and, yes, bleak as it would be in December.  It was cold; there was no bathing in the sea.  But there were the arcades, the beach walks – and, best of all, there were no crowds.

Port Stanley beach in summerI live near a lakeside resort town.  Port Stanley on Lake Erie is beautiful in summer.  Wide expanse of sand beach, wide expanse of fresh water warm for swimming.  Small downtown streets with interesting shops.  A pier with fishing boats tied up or chugging into port.  Teeny cottages cheek by jowl in a rabbit warren of lanes near the beach.  Mansions on the beach and up the hill, built as summer homes for wealthy merchants of a century and more ago.

Lifeguard station in JanuaryI rarely go to Port Stanley in summer.  But I love going in winter.  The beach is empty.  The wind howls in off the lake.  On a good cold day, when your ears are ringing and your eyes streaming from the wind, you can run into Mackies on the beach and warm up with a hot drink or a cheeseburger or hotdog with the famous Mackies sauce.  Walk another block or so and go in the shops, most still open in winter.  Go into a bar and it’s local people, fishermen and schoolteachers, talking about next year’s fishing quotas or whether there’s going to be a ferry or not.  They’re drinking ordinary beer from bottles, not asking for fancy stuff on tap.

Mackies on the beach in resort town Port StanleyGet a take-out pizza or go to a fancy dining room.  There are a lot of good restaurants in Port Stanley, more than in the average small town.  That’s because it’s a resort town, I guess.  The volume of business is there in the summer to support a year-round operation.  That’s nice for the winter visitor – excellent food and no one waiting for your table, wishing you’d hurry up with your crème brûlée and get out of there.

I’ve been in a lot of summer resort towns.  I’ve found I prefer them in their off season.  It’s not that they’re better; they’re just different.  Port Stanley Harbour winterThey’re sleepier, cozier, nicer.  They’re hibernating, getting their strength back to deal with the hordes of sun worshippers, wannabe models, families with overexcited children, slow-walking pensioners.  The off-season is when a town is what, and who, it really is.  And the added bonus, of those in cold climes, is the wind whipping at you, making you feel alive.

(winter photos by Jim Stewart, beach in summer from Environmental Defence.)

Seeing the world the Alzheimer’s way

walking in hallway, space and timeWith Alzheimer’s, how is space and time perceived within your head?  Take walking 20 yards down a hallway, from your room to the dining room.  Halfway through, you can’t remember where you’re going.  How can you not remember what takes maybe a minute to do, even at a walker-assisted pace?

I got a clue from something my husband said when we were trying to puzzle this out.  “Well, when you’re a little kid, a hallway can seem enormously long.  Then when you see it as an adult you realize it’s not at all.”  I said “yeah, but kids are little so they walk slow.  It takes them longer to get down the hallway  so maybe it would seem really long.”  And then the penny dropped for me.

Space and Time

If you’re old and incapacitated, it takes you longer to walk down the hallway, just like it does when you’re a child.  Add in loss of short-term memory, and maybe you indeed are empty tv room in nursing home at dinner timeon a long and winding road.  Someone with Alzheimer’s can forget what was said or done five or 10 seconds before.  Walking those 20 yards to or from the dining room takes longer than that.  So halfway down the hall, that person may have forgotten where they’re coming from or where they’re going.  They’re likely to find their way to their immediate destination because if they keep going straight, they’re going to run into it.  But an hour or two later, trying to find their way back?  Or even that there is a “back” to which to go?

It’s frustrating, also flabbergasting: “your room is down the hall” – “what hall?”  Maybe it’s a little easier to understand if you think of it as a very long walk, like a two hour trek nursing home roadway in winterfrom point A to point B through the woods.  When you reach the end, you probably can’t remember every detail of what the starting point looked like.  You’d have to go back there to refresh your memory.  With Alzheimer’s, maybe walking that hallway is more like a trek through the woods.  The staff are the signposts along the path, pointing out to walkers the right way to go. With space and time, maybe the path will be visible for at least a moment.