Thursday, May 6, 2010

Revisiting Barnwell for ten days. Apr 22 -- May 5

Motivations for this visit were at least two: I had scheduled a trip with President Tony Steven to go to the Cardston Temple; and an unexpected visit to Canada by Preston who wanted to get together with his siblings and make tape recordings of their reminiscences of growing up in Barnwell. Preston came to Calgary to take Sharon and I down to Barnwell, but conflicts arose with motives (1) and (2), and a visit with Grant here in Calgary revealed that he would be unable to come with us, but would bring Sharon down with him when Arlan was able to come on Saturday. Preston returned to Barnwell to a lovely dinner, and I had a very interesting ride down with Tony on Thursday. Bev and Virginia, Preston, Molly and Nadiene met with Tony and I after the Temple session to have lunch in the Temple Cafeteria, and then Tony went back to Calgary while the rest of us traveled to Barnwell.

While we waited for Grant, Boyce, Arlan and Sharon to arrive a day or so later, we visited and taped memories, and played Rook and their finger bidding game to peels of laughter. When Molly, Nadiene and Virginia grew tired, Bev and I watched a BYU series report on the huge project initiated by Jesse of publishing all the Joseph Smith Papers. There were 52 TV episodes, all of which I saw, that were collected, edited, and rendered in readable print, which was then printed side by side with the photocopy of the original hand written documents.

Go to tomorrow's episode two.

Revisiting Barnwell for ten days.

More Memories Coming Later

It is Wednesday today, May 5, 2010.

Bev and Virginia drove Bruce's wife Ruth Ann and me up to Calgary yesterday. She had a medical appointment and they had asked me to wait until Tuesday rather than take the Greyhound last Thursday.

Bev had so many Income tax forms to help his family with and the weather report is always negative. I agreed to stay the extra time which was pleasant for me.

That gave more card games to enjoy with Molly and Nadiene.

Nadiene had been working for so long on collecting photos for a history of Mother, and she rushed through the process of copying everything she and other had brought together with Preston's encouragement and Molly's help. She and Molly tried to get in on as many games as they could and we had lots of fun!

I do have a lot of things to share that happened in Barnwell.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

April's Winter Storm in Barnwell

Virginia got me onto her computer this morning. I am so grateful because I thought I had no way to email anyone since I arrived here last Thursday, a week ago. We had plans to get home to Calgary today but Bev came into my bedroom to tell me at a bout 8:30 a.m. that we were not going to Calgary today as there was a blizzard in Calgary that had shut the whole city down.

Take a look at some of the photos snapped by Calgarians.

It has been a great and work filled week.

After filling nine tapes with memories of the six of us, Preston returned to Utah just ahead of the big storm which started this past Wednesday morning. Orville Gregor's wife Marie (Shields) left here at about the same time Wed. morn. and both were back by 5:00 pm in the evening: Marie was headed down to BYU, and Bev to the Cardston Temple; they both came back just ahead of the storm that struck Calgary last night.

Virginia has been inviting me to stay for a month, while I have been saying I must return to home!

Now my decision making has been simplified.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Landscapes and Geography - Part Four

I seem to have come to the critical cross-over into adult life before I wanted to leave the dream like life of my childhood and youth. I am referring to the narrative line that I am pursuing at the present time and not the sequence of the lived history that floats in and out of my ruminations.

My intentions when I started this rambling reminiscence were to be aware of my audience, to be positive, and to be accurate in the ethical/legal sense, to be authentic in the spiritual/religious sense, and to be true to my theological convictions. The scope of these ideal impulses was not carefully thought out, and I have run my creative energy into many unexpected but slightly frustrating dilemmas. Those who have encouraged my efforts have skills that are helpful in sensing what may best nourish the needs of so many of the audience that I want to address in this odyssey that is still in progress and so is always on the cusp of some crisis, of some anxiety peak.

This leads to the conundrum of sounding so self-centered and unaware of which audience I am addressing, that everyone wants to help me get on the track of their needs. I feel the legitimacy of these kindnesses, and have with effort attempted to adjust the structure and style of my writing to address their suggestions, and have found myself comfortable and pleased with the results so far. However, I seem often on the edge of a perilous precipice that calls for the gentle help of a compassionate councilor to guide me away from the catastrophe and mire of “despond”. And so I give notice that I may at times change the topic of my musing. At such times, I am asking my reader to be patient while I re-adjust.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Landmarks and Geography-Three

I never stopped attending to these early introductory experiences of the mysterious prairie sights and smells. Years later, faced with school assignments in science, I chose to do my grade five work project on collecting plants, drying them and drawing them. By then I was discovering a greatly expanded world of prairie smells and plants. About the same time, our teacher taught the class the song, “Some think the world is made for fun and frolic.” When we had become comfortable with this jolly song, we had a surprise visit from the School Superintendent. He listened to the group performance, and then conducted a solo competition. Now that was a surprise: we were adjudicated after all had been heard. In spite of the embarrassment of singing alone in front of the class, the teacher, and Mr. Earl, I somehow had hoped to win (which I concluded in after thought when I remembered the disappointment I felt when I got second). Aubrey Earl was very kind, and I was surprised at the pleasure I found in discovering that Robert Jensen sounded so excellent and was even a little ashamed to have felt disappointed at being beaten by him. Gary Anderson, if he hadn’t been so timid might have beaten me also, but I already knew that he was musical, being a son of Brother Irvine Anderson, the Ward Chorister. At any rate, I discovered the joy of sound as music, and soon began adding to my joy in whistling, by learning to play the harmonica, and then the piano, and even appeared home with a violin I had talked the second hand store man into letting me take home to try out. He must have trusted me because I don’t even remember giving him a deposit: I had no money and I was from Barnwell and his business was five miles away in Taber. Now there is a strange mystery! Mother didn’t treat it like the stereoscope, but I did take it back when I discovered how difficult it was to play, and I had no one to tell me who could give me help—I’d have been too embarrassed to ask. I think I must have figured that playing the violin should be as natural as whistling, and if I couldn’t do it without help, I was stupid (i.e., not blessed with that talent). I took it back and never talked about my limitations: I did discover that a teacher of the piano came to teach students at Mary Lebaron’s home once a week. Mother had given Sharon the chance to take lessons and to practice on a neighbor’s piano, so I could now see the way open to learn how to play. I talked Mother into letting me take lessons when Sharon got discouraged and wanted to quit. Mom was using the family allowance to pay the cost, so she let me try. I soon got adjusted to the embarrassment of playing while strangers had to be quiet, eventually had several pianos available to me including the school piano. The school janitor became a friend and supporter who gave me free access to that building at any time. I spent many hours learning to play difficult pieces, but short changed my self on the technical exercises because I didn’t like their melodies. A very poor decision as far as a musical career was concerned, which I began to desire in a dreamy but impractical way and even tried to compose music. By the end of High School my studies had introduced me to the world of Mount Royal Music and Speech Diplomas and to the parallel Toronto Royal Academy of Music Diplomas, and even to the London Royal Academy, all of which I entered and was examined up to the Grade eleven level where I failed because of inadequate technical skill. Shortly thereafter I abandoned my dreams and my ambitions and gave away most of my music books and dealt with the grim reality of life.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Landmarks and Geography – Part Two.

Besides the landmark of my home and the two or three houses of our nearest neighbors, I now had the complex of buildings called the School to add to my world map. As to familiar sounds and smells that also characterized my expanding world, my introduction to Joe Krizan came about the time that I first smelled goose berry bushes: Dad was transplanting some when he and Mom had the beet worker conversation. It was the characteristic smell of the bushes not the fruit that I was taken with at the time: the harvest smell of the fruit of course was a duplicate of it, but that came later. When I walked the half mile to school holding the tugging, squeezing hand of my sister Nadine, I was in no reflective mood. It was a long scary unfamiliar trek, but when I got there and was seated right in the middle back alphabetical cluster of names I was happy to see Joe Krizan behind me and his catholic friend Ella Tiechner beside me in the next row. Friendly, loquacious Ella! The excitedly whispered chatter gave little time to attend to the smell of new Eaton’s catalogue school beginning clothes that barely dominated the smell of oiled hardwood floors and chalk-dusty blackboard ledges,

Ella could never quite get everything said and I was cooperatively attendant while she never finished. It wasn’t long until Miss Cogland took time away from teaching a spelling lesson to call me to the front blackboard to demonstrate the rule she had been explaining; under those circumstances I was bound to fail, even if I had been listening, which she frankly doubted, and felt ethically compelled to point out to the whole class before allowing me to return to the now lost privacy of my desk. I became more clandestine in my weakness, but Ella didn’t get the moral to the story; furthermore she was way ahead of me in appearing innocent. We remained friends all through school, but never broke the Mormon/Catholic barrier to romance, even though I sometimes went to sing with her and Joe in the Catholic Church choir. Some of my readers might wonder if I ever sang with the choir in Sunday Mass services. I wish I had; I have become so interested in Renaissance music and have attended Christmas Midnight Mass in hopes of hearing some of the great musical compositions written for it over the ages, but even on these annual celebrations, it is hard to find a local Catholic choir that does these famous pieces. Just before retiring from teaching, I was invited to go hear a catholic mass that was being sung under the direction of the music teacher at Western Canada High School. I was thrilled to hear his group of music graduates sing mass: he had been paid by the Church to sing for the parishioners even though none of the performers were Catholic. The director even professed to be an atheist!

I may not have memories of the smells of the prairie grass and plant life on the way to my first day of school, but on the trips home after school I certainly became fascinated with the marvelous variety of the wild grasses growing under my feet. When the endless sky is infinite blue and cloudless, the eyes are drawn to the steps that a child takes, to the plants and insects in their surprising variety. In the warm September I was intrigued by the gopher berries, which looked so delicious to a hungry schoolboy even though they were identified by Grant or Nadine as poisonous. They grew along the train tracks, especially. They were plump and grape-tight, sometimes red striped and sometimes gooseberry green stripped, and they tasted guiltily bitter. In the springtime what intrigued me were the buffalo beans, so beautifully daffodil yellow and growing along the railway right of way and the uncultivated massive road allowances. In the wind troubled dust of the prairies it was only with concentration and care that you came to recognize their fragrance.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Landmarks and Geography: Part One

Mary said she would like me to write about some of my favorites landmarks/geography from Southern Alberta.

The landmarks that I remember when I go home for a visit to Barnwell are slowly, inevitable disappearing. The old ten acre strip of irrigated land on which I spent much of the first 19 years of my life is still identifiable by the cluster of cottonwoods that surrounded it. Our farmhouse grew from a two roomed dwelling without a foundation to a rambling complex of occasional additions. The east end of the original structure was the living room with one window facing the rising of the sun, and the other looking south towards the CPR rail line running East and West generally.

The west end of the building was separated from the east by a wall with a brick chimney in it that began its climb from a little platform at about my three year old eye level. It disappeared into the ten-test ceiling and reappeared coming out of the peek of the roof, blowing smoke into the blue sky. When I was preschool age, this west end of the building was the bedroom. I have a visual memory of lying on a very high-from-the-floor mattress. I think I had just come home from Cardston where I had been sent when mother was about to give birth to Sharon. That would make me about three going on four. I was up on that bed getting the burn bandages changed on my right buttocks and thigh—Aunt Roberta had tried to bathe me in a pan of water on top of the stove, and I had backed into the hot stove pipe chimney in Grandmother Thomas’s two room home on the prairies west of Cardston. The bed might‘ve seemed high because of several mattresses piled one on top of the other for daytime storage. I remember mattresses being laid out on the floor come bedtime in those days.

As for a kitchen, the west room may have served as a two function room: there were black stove pipes elbowing out of the east and the west sides of the brick chimney, reaching for the front room stove and the kitchen range. I remember the extended Thomas family coming and spending several Christmases sleeping out on the living room floor close to the little potbellied stove that heated the front room. We slept in the living room on those relocated mattresses near the decorated spruce tree watching the flickering red glow of the burning coals through the mica windows of the pot-bellied stove. Other than this light the room was dark and snugly warm. This communal Christmas sleep is securely written in my Christmas memories.

The first extension of the house must have happened about this time: there would have been six children by the time Sharon was born; but maybe it was built during my first trip to Grandmother Thomas’s when Bev was being birthed because he would have made the fifth child. A seven member family must have made a pretty crowded home, since the whole house couldn’t have been much more than 12x24 feet. The lean-to-addition was on the northwest corner or the home, an extension of the kitchen-bedroom, about 10x12 feet.

I remember two things about that room: Bev and Sharon and I slept in the furthest west bed, the other bed that filled the rest of the north side of the room was Mom and Dad’s.
There was a long low sliding window that gave starlight to both beds, and it was close enough to the height of the mattress for an angry bull to look in. I always heard the bull snorting and growling in the night; and I had seen it in the daylight too, as it bothered the cows grazing along the grassy road allowance. It was ferocious the way it butted the gentle cows quietly minding their own business. It would rise on its hind legs and pound the cows on their backs. When I shared that childhood memory with my siblings years later, Bev explained that the growling and snorting was Dad snoring.

I was still sleeping in that room when I started Grade One (with the stern Miss Cogland,) chaffing at the fact that the three oldest children got to stay up late to listen to Mother read stories while I had to go to bed early with the little kids. I was six by then, in Grade One and about to have my appendix taken out.

The third and fourth additions to the house came after the Second World War had started.
The Canadian Sugar Factories, looking for land on which to build bought our ten acre farm, and Dad began building a duplicate of the first one. He had been carpentering on airport buildings for the new RCAF training centers. Now, and with his new carpenter tools he went at it with gusto. My father’s brothers and some of their wives came up to Canada from Provo, Utah. It was the first time I had seen Uncle Gurn, Jesse and Grant. I hung around while they visited, fascinated at their joy and animated conversation. I had never known this side of my Dad. The quietly oppressed, sometimes severe, always stern father now acquired several new dimensions of personality, and I became several years more confident, and suddenly felt more adult.

The third building was about six feet south of the first but parallel with it. The door to the new building faced the door to the west half of the first, so dad made a shed between the two. This eventually contained a third stove, the heat from which was encouraged to spend some time in the two new bedrooms. However, I remember sleeping many a cold night in the easterly room, me on one side, Bev on the other and Jack (Preston) sandwiched in between. He was always too warm; Bev and I were always cold and trying to get our share of the quilts. Preston, struggling for cool fresh air was always planted at right angles to us forcing us apart. By that time, Grant had been conscripted into the Army, Nadine may have been in Garbbut’s Business College, and the three other girls had claimed the new southwest bedroom. I remember that it was before Grant went away, or perhaps when he came home on leave, that he slept in the East bedroom with his younger brothers. As we went to bed one night, he discovered to his surprise that I got in bed without saying my prayers. A few enquiries later and he had me kneeling down beside the bed teaching me how to pray. I remember that with respectful gratitude.

The allocation of rooms varied over time. At about the time Molly left for University, I remember discovering in the damp dingy root-cellar Dad’s abandoned correspondence school lessons on Radio and TV Repair. What a treasure! I set up my scientific bench in the new west bedroom; The school Principal gave me War Surplus electrical equipment including a big cathode ray tube (my introduction to the heart of the TV) that he could not find use for in the school curriculum; Uncle Glen Thomas made me a multi-meter with which I could measure voltage and amperage and resistance and trace circuits in the old radios I collected. Of course, we had no electricity in our home. We had only one battery powered radio; so I was happy to start my scientific career with batteries. For light I depended on our trusty old high-test mantle lamp, lots of light and a fair amount of heat. However, the lamp was usually in high demand, so I expanded the flashlight concept with some “bell wire” and spare flash light parts. This was the kernel idea of what came to be my tree house in the most westerly lone cottonwood tree on our property, half way down our field on the way to Uncle Ollie’s house, which stood on the south side of the north section-line road across from Uncle Leonard’s. These men were not truly Uncles, but being in the “group” of Mom and Dad’s very close friends, we children were taught to call them uncles and aunts. It was Uncle Leonard and Aunt Beulah’s first son Marvin who was my childhood playmate, run over by a farm wagon when we were no more that three years old. But that was many years before I built my Tree House.

That landmark wasn’t in existence when the younger children of the family, standing on the lower strand of barbwire fence while grasping the top strand to get more elevation to see the funeral procession go west on the north section-line road and north up the dusty cemetery road to bury my playmate in the grave yard that overlooked the coulley that drained Horsefly Lake during the spring run-off.

It wasn’t for three more years ‘till I found a new friend who moved in to the beet worker’s one-room shack on Uncle Ollie’s land at the foot of our ten acre farm. He was a shy friendly Eastern European boy my age. He was this strange thing called a Catholic. It was 1938, the upheaval the war was in the air, and beet workers were moving in to take up the jobs on farms abandoned by young men joining the army. The beet workers were to benefit from the end of the Great depression and the flourishing of the expanded sugar beet industry. I remember watching Mom and Dad planting crab apple and potawotami plum trees as well as gooseberry bushes when they talked about the Catholic beet workers.

It was the first time I had heard the word, and the mysterious way they talked about them made me anxious to go and get a look at them. It couldn’t have been long before I made the trek. What I remember was the three boys: Joe, Johnny and Emil, and their slightly overweight mother who was sitting on the bed surrounded by a very thick comforter. I found later, because none of the bedding was so luxiuriously thick in our house, that it was stuffed with feather down. The other thing was the heavy odor of garlic that came to be characteristic of all my beet worker friend’s houses. The other thing that was totally strange was the stereoscope that they let me look through at pictures of Jesus and the Virgin Mary: the pictures looked real but strangely unreal. I wanted to borrow the machine and the pictures. When I got it home my mother made me take it back: she made me feel that I had done something very wrong. Joe and his mother had no objection. I remember how embarrassed I was taking them back. I was soon to be in Grade one with him and his immigrant friends.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Beginning at the End

President Monson, in his Easter morning, concluding address of the fourth session of the 180th General Conference of the Church chose to remind us of Job's profound question, "If a man die, shall he live again?" I have always loved the book of Job: all the questions about life it raises; and all the conversations between the sufferers and mourners , and the moralizers, accusers and justifiers of cynical wisdom.

Enclosed as it is within a parable of a happy ending, the Book of Job yet captures a profound example of the dilemma/paradox of mortality. It captures both the the cosmic detached view of life from the outside, and the engaged human view of life from the inside: the suffering and grief at the centre, and the almost unfathomable concern at the circumference.

This Easter Conference communion of the tentatively redeemable candidacy of believers and the authorized interpreters of God's answer to Job's questions was a testimony of the Creator to the created, to all the sons and daughters at the centre of his Divine purposes in sending his Son to redeem the suffering. We were reminded that "God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved."

Ever since Arta plead with me on Saturday morning to write about my life, it has been on my mind; and, reinforced by many of the speakers , I have prayed that I might be strengthened in my desire to preserve the best of my life in writing. I have asked my Father in Heaven to help me tell my family and friends of the most valuable experiences in my struggle to return to Him.

I was especially moved with compassion for my own children and grandchildren by Sister Lant, the just released General President of the Primary organization. She reminded us how much Christ loves every one of his Father's children, and draws them to him, especially in their mortal childhood; and when I reflected on the record in the scriptures, I felt an urgency to help my own grown children draw their children into that circle of love the Saviour has provided for all of us.
Arta has done such a devoted job of drawing all of our own sons and daughters into the circle of her love that I feel filled with hope for all of us.

And so I would like to start by sharing my testimony, by writing about an experience I had a few years ago. While I was pleading with God in prayer, I heard his voice. I knew I was hearing his voice. What I recall now is the feeling of peace. I could say I felt a remission of all my sins, but, although true, it seems to fall short of capturing the heart of the experience. In the tone and timber of his voice there was no accusation or condescension. The implicit message seemed to speak to an unexpressed concern I had long been troubled with, a question raised by the pulpit imperative, "Follow the Brethren." I had felt embarrassment in the thought that I was denied the dignity of thinking for myself, in being considered a mindless robot. But now in the very essence of his voice, in its authenticity, I had the answer: I knew why.

It wasn't until the next day that I became aware of evil temptation again, and I was so surprised that I spoke aloud as if in direct address to God, and said "How long am I going to have to fight this fight?" The voice heard earlier spoke quickly and firmly, "Until the day you die." I felt disappointed but justifyably rebuked. I had sounded whiney!