Friday, January 23, 2015

The Lansdowne Letters: The Government Strikes Out ~ Again!

Northern Ontario Bush

It's Friday, 
and time 
for my latest 
Northern post.

It took me a while to be able to write
these posts on a consistent basis.
At first it was very painful for me
to even read my father's letters,
and I have a lot of 
complicated and distressing memories 
from the time my family was in the North.

Northern Ontario
Stairway to Heaven ~ JLH3Photography

But now 
I am finding some peace
floundering around 
in the muskeg of my memories.

I've just finished and am rereading
Jodi Picoult's Leaving Time,
a phenomenal and surprising book.
A sentence one of her characters thought 
keeps running through my dreams at night:


               If you think about someone 
               you've loved and lost,
               you are already with them.

Now, when I handle my Dad's letters,
and I work with his words,
it's like he's here with me,
and that eases the pain 
of missing him for over thirty years.

The letter I'm sharing today
is just about an ordinary day,
but it makes me laugh,
especially as I had Dad
as a teacher a number of years.

Life is mostly ordinary days,
but the older I get,
the more I realize
what a gift an ordinary day is.
They fly by ever faster.

Thursday, October 6, 1960 
My father wrote:

Hello Everyone:
I have to make tonight’s effort a short one, 
because I have to get the monthly report 
ready to send into the department.

I am sorry that this week’s letter 
had to be short and not as good 
as some of my previous ones, 
especially since this is the first issue 
that two of my customershave received.
We will try to have something interesting 
or exciting to report next week, 
even if we have to 
go jump off the dock to make news.

We put up the swings today at the school 
and discovered that the government had goofed again.  
The chains for the seats were much too short.  
The seats came up to my chest, 
and these were supposed to be 
seats and swings for little children.

I had two of my older Indian boys 
assemble the swings, 
because I would not have had the faintest notion 
of how to go about doing it.  
The Indians, on the other hand, 
are quite knacky at this sort of thing.  

I had to laugh at them, 
and incidentally at myself, 
when I was listening to them talking 
while they were putting it together.  

I never realized it before, 
but I have a habit of saying, 
“There now, that’s done correctly,” 
whenever one of them finished his work.  

Well, they were chattering away 
in Ojibway to each other, 
when one of them finished tightening a nut 
and said, “There now, that’s done correctly.”  

The funny part of the whole thing was 
that he wasn’t trying to be smart.  
It just slipped out as naturally as Ojibway.  
It sounded so queer that I just howled.  

Oh well, they say that imitation 
is the truest form of flattery.

As I said at the beginning, 
I have to make this one a short one, 
so this is my swan song for tonight.  
See you all next week.

Bye for now,
love, Don

George (left) and Simon (right)

I am quite certain
that the two older boys
who assembled the swing set
were my future friends 
Simon Atlookan 
and George Jacobs.

I have happy memories of those two 
and of swinging on those swings.

When I taught, I often took
my third graders out for an extra recess.
It was my rage against the machine,
against the system that cut recess 
for more time to practice bubbling answers 
for the excessive testing of young children.

Much to the delight of my kiddos,
I nearly always took a turn on the swings.
They always wanted to swing higher than I did.
Ha!  Good luck with that!

I'm a veteran swinger,
and I honed my competitive skills 
at 40º and 50º below zero2
with Indian kiddos long ago.

wikimedia ~ edited

1  As Dad became more experienced at typing with multiple sheets of carbon paper,
    he added more sheets and was able to send copies
    to his mother-in-law Ella MacDonald and his maternal Aunt Maude.

2  - 40º and - 50º Fahrenheit  or  - 40º and - 45.5º Celsius (below zero)

Till next time ~
Fundy Blue
Swings at Uno's School
The Father's Island


  1. What a great post, Louise! I can certainly understand how painful it was in the beginning to do this. I just look at photos of my dad who is no longer amongst us and my heart feels like it's being squeezed. Thank you for sharing all these lovely memories. Have a wonderful weekend!

    1. Thanks, Martha! What a perfect description of how it feels! It gives me a lot of pleasure to know that people are enjoying my Northern posts. You have a wonderful weekend too!

  2. I really loved the quote from. Picoult. Your dad's letters prove that it is not those eventful moments in life that matter but all of the small everyday days passing by that mean the most. I look at old pictures of special occasions and then wistfully wish that I would have had one of us just sitting at the breakfast table or playing cards.

    I didn't know that you also joined your dad. That' same new turn of events...and a whole other story.

    1. I don't think I'll ever forget Picoult's book, Peggy. And that sentence hops into my mind all the time. It's very comforting. And I get what you are saying about old photos. In my extended family taking a photo was a special occasion. My family couldn't afford to buy and process photos, let alone go to a studio photographer. So, for us, photos were mostly taken at Christmas. My father's mother's family was well to do (by Prince Edward Island standards), and I do have some old photos of them doing more ordinary things. At some point I'll have to do a post or two on PEI over a 100 years ago. And yes, Mom, we five, and our dachshund Gretchen did go north to Lansdowne House, and my Northern posts will track that turn of events too. Have a happy day, Peggy. And remember, when you think of your friend, she is already with you! Hugs!

  3. That is a great quote indeed from the book. Wow, that is cold. No way would I be swinging or even outdoors at that temperature, freeze everything off lol

    1. HaHa, Pat ~ Out we kids always went at recess! We wore thermowear under our regular clothes and big fat socks in our boots. Only once, in Sioux Lookout, when it hit - 62º F (- 52º C) were we ever allowed to stay inside for recess. Believe it or not, you get used to the cold. Have a warm day at your bay!

  4. Louise, not only do I find your posts fascinating and enjoyable, but I like the way you present them. I remember using those old swings and the aluminum slides that would get pretty hot under the hot sun. Even though I would get a bit burned I still enjoyed that slide. Thank you so much for sharing.

    1. Thanks, Linda! I loved slides, too. And teeter-totters and merry-go-rounds. I have so many fun memories of playgrounds. I had forgotten about how the slides got hot; but, like you, I went down them anyway. Of course, we all tried to climb up them too. Have a lovely weekend!

  5. Positively frigid by NZ standards, I think the coldest on record here was about -26C, many years ago in Central Otago .I now wish I had kept my Mum's letters to me,from the 1970's, she had a wonderful way with words, as did my Dad. But photos bring so many memories, I have a few of Dad's Mum, some of my Mum's Dad, a few of her Mum, as I remember my maternal grandmother the best, she died when I was 15.Do you have photos of you in those early days? Wrap up warm, specially if it gets that cold ever again. Hugs,Jean.

    1. Hi Jean! Thanks for your thoughtful comment. Those family photos mean a lot now, don't they? I'm lucky to have quite a few old letters from different family members. I wish I had Mom's letters from our time in the North, but those have vanished. I have some black and white photos from both sides of the family, but there really wasn't a lot of money to spare for photographs. Once I started earning a little money, my picture taking took off because I spent most of my spare money on film and processing ~ what I wasn't spending on batteries for my transistor radio, 45s, and albums. I'm wrapped up in a blanket now and near the fireplace. Hugs back to you, Jean! Have a great weekend!

  6. I won't try to beat you on the swings.
    Funny they adopted that saying of your father's.
    Glad you are finding peace through the letters and sharing them with us.

    1. Thanks, Alex! I thought it was funny how the boy picked up that saying, too. Have a happy weekend!

  7. It's true what you say about 'ordinary days' and the treasure that exists in simplicity
    I think it's wonderful you have these letters from you Dad. I can imagine how difficult it must be at times, and the memories it evokes.

    1. Hi Dawna! I am grateful to have these letters and others. I'm driven now to preserve everything for those who come after me. I'm "the ancestor" now! Which is really weird! Have a great weekend!

  8. That's right -- at minus 40 and minus 50, it doesn't matter whether it's Fahrenheit or Celsius -- it's damn near the same temperature on either scale. And you might want to be careful who you tell that you are a "veteran swinger" -- that might get taken the wrong way, LOL!

    1. LOL! I've spent too much time in the company of third graders. I've become very literal! Your comment has me cracking up! Enjoy your weekend in the Great White North!

  9. This is truly a beautiful post. You have such a lovely, elegant way with words.

    1. Thank you, Kay. It's encouragement like this that keeps me going. Have a happy day!

  10. Has been my wish to see these marvelous northern lights someday. Must be magical to witness it.
    I've read one Jodi Picoult although not sure of the title, can't remember. About a girl who's found a place for everything lost. Ms. Picoult writes provocatively in the sense that you have to make your imagination work double time.

    How's your weekend so far? Enjoy!

    1. I'm enjoying a lovely weekend, SL! Thank you. Seeing the northern lights is magical, mystical, unearthly. I have never forgotten their beauty, and I long to see them again. I've read two Picoult books now, "Leaving Time" and "My Sister's Keeper." Both were awesome, but they are very different from each other. I hope that you are having an enjoyable weekend too!

  11. Well, I know what you mean. There are some of my Dad's things that I just can't look at the pain is still so great, I must look for that book and thanks for such a lovely post!

  12. Thank you, Francie! It's wonderful to see you back in the blogging world! Have a happy weekend, my friend!

  13. Ordinary days are under-rated. These are the things that have importance in our lives. I am learning to appreciate them more as I grow older. We miss so much of our lives caught up with the extraordinary things that really, for the most part, don't mean too much.
    I understand what you are saying Louise about talking about and missing our passed loved ones. I had a very hard time initially when my mom died. Then one day I realized I 'am' my I am my grandmother and everyone else in my line that has come and gone before me. Once I realized that they are all part of who I am, I felt better and embraced them all. They are always with us because we and they are one.
    It makes sense to me. I hope this helps.

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Jim. You're right, our parents and others are part of us, and that is comforting. I'm learning to love ordinary days and to be grateful for every one. Stay safe!

  14. I love his idea for "making news!" :)

    Forty to fifty below - that's a little too cold for me to be outside more than a few minutes! I guess we're a bit wimpy here in Wisconsin compared to you true northerners....

    I love to swing too, and sometimes infuriate my small great-nieces by swinging higher than they do. What is the point of going to a playground if you don't get on the swings? I still think that someday if I try hard enough I'll be able to go higher than the frame.

    1. TeeHee, Sue! I love your comment! I can never pass up a swing. I'm probably more of a wimp than you now. I've been ruined by decades in a kinder climate. Have a good one!

  15. I stumbled upon your blog today, and I was so touched by it. Goosebumps! And as a teacher, I appreciate your extra recess :-)

    1. Thank you, Jamie! I'm glad that you found my blog and left a comment. It made my morning! As a teacher, you deserve a great day! Have one! :)

  16. A couple of quick "first-responses" here. First, I am glad that you are finding peace through this. Second, the "complicated and distressing" memories feel important to me. Or perhaps, I am simply curious. It is the heart inside the impulse that drew you to record your father's daily thoughts - such beautiful ones to me - that keep me coming back for more. This project is Important - there's that word again. You are not only documenting a history of a time and place in a way that is unique and wonderful for all of us, but you are working through personal memories as well. I feel like I know and understand a little of what made your father tick, and in some way, that is precious. Finally, I don't know if it is because I've missed posts along the way, but I find myself wondering about your own childhood timeline. How long was he away from you? When did you join him in his school? How many schools did you attend? That sort of thing. Ignore as much.. even all.. of this comment as you feel inclined to do, except for my overall emotion of being fully engaged in your dad's and your story.

    1. Hi Carol! Thank you for your thoughtful response, Carol. I've been slow in responding. I don't want to make a deal of this, but the cold that has been plaguing me for weeks deepened into bronchitis in the past week, and I've been struggling somewhat. But I'm feeling a little better now, and so here I am! The "complicated and distressing" memories will be coming out as I continue with this blog series. I'm letting events unfold as they happened in the North. It's taken me for a while to confront some of the things in my past, and I am working on the memoir. I can tell you that we joined my father in late February. Thanks for always being so supportive! Have a great day, Carol!

    2. P. S. I am most intrigued by the human heart, and I can see that you are a "heart" person too!

  17. Yeah.. have to come back and say i was just pumped when I read of your extra recess :)

    1. This cutting and/or eliminating of recess for young children in favor of more time to get ready for testing is, in my not-so-humble- opinion, child abuse!

  18. Replies
    1. Hi Peaches! Thank you for visiting and following my blog! Happy Friday to you!


Thank you for your comments! I appreciate them very much.