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Monday, November 28, 2011

My Uncle Mike

Today, November 28, would have been Uncle Mike's 100th birthday. He was my mother's oldest surviving brother ( a first born boy had died at the age of one). He was strong and tough, worked in coal mines and farmed, never buttoned up his shirt and coat unless it was 30 below, and was a natural mechanic. Although he had been born in Edmonton and lived there until he was 13, he loved to plow and till the land.  He was often in the shadow of his younger brother Nick (who will be 97 in December) because Uncle Mike wasn't an academic, book learning type of guy and consequently thought he was dumb.  Nick helped that along by telling him that he was dumb. Nick is not a nice a person. But this blog post isn't about him!

My grandparent John and Katherine Kowalski and their sons. Uncle Mike is leaning against my grandmother.  He was named for his paternal grandfather.
Before I was born, Uncle Mike came to see my parents and find out why there was no word yet about a nephew (I was 5 1/2 weeks late)!! My mother promptly told him, that the baby might well be a niece, you know.  He considered that for a moment, and then figured, yeah, that would be okay too.  When I finally did arrive, it was as if he was born to be an uncle.  I should mention that neither one of my mom's brothers got married.  There was a special bond between him and I and he never let my being a girl get in the way of things he figured I should learn how to do. When I was 9, he showed me how to work the levers on the caterpillar tractor and I happily rolled up and down the pasture.  When I was about 14, he showed me how to drive a tractor.  As I got into my later teens, but didn't have a driver's license yet, he let me drive his brand new cars!!  Around the fields of course, not on the highway...but still!!  He had such confidence in the whole driving thing himself, that I in turn felt far more confident. When I got my license and bought my first car--affectionately known as Blue Belle--I gave him the honor of being the first in the family to try out my car.  It seemed only fitting.

Dressing up my uncle!!
When I moved to Saskatoon, he was sad.  He used to say to my mom, when they would be out at the farm having a meal, that he missed his partner--we sat on the same side of the table, side by side.  When I came back to Edmonton, he always commented that he had his partner back.  One day I was helping out during combining time and I was to move the end of the auger while he lined up the top end at the granery window. If you have ever lifted an auger, you will know how heavy they are.  Well, the first try, I couldn't lift it. Uncle Mike said, "Oh, you need more kapusta!" Kapusta means cabbage in Polish/Ukrainian--actually it's the sauerkraut. This started me laughing, but I was able to lift up the auger and move it over!!  Just before I moved to Red Deer to teach in 1987, I went out to the farm . He and I were in the kitchen--he had just finished washing the dishes and we were having tea.  I knew he wasn't too happy that I was moving away again, but at least Red Deer wasn't as far as Saskatoon. Then he said something that turned out to be prophetic," Maybe you will meet a cowboy down south." He was right--I met a cowboy turned welder and married him in 1989.

Good looking snowman!! This was c. 1975/6.  Uncle Mike never fussed about his clothes!

Sadly Uncle Mike passed away 6 months after Dave and I got married, and just 2 weeks before his 78th birthday.  He hadn't been feeling well for at least a year, hadn't been able to eat, and was passing blood.  It turned out he had a huge hole in his stomach and on top of that he had lung cancer.  He was a heavy smoker and although we all had tried to get him to cut down, if not stop, he didn't.  Working in coal mines for years would have already weakened his lungs and smoking didn't help.  The ulcer--I think it was partly from drinking coca cola all the time, and partly living with Nick, who caused him a lot of worry over the years and in the last years was always threatening to sell the whole farm.  Uncle Mike just wanted to live out his life on the farm that he loved. Uncle Mike ended up in Sturgeon Hospital in St. Albert--he never went to doctors and didn't want to be in the hospital. On Sunday, Dave and I came up from Olds, picked up my mother and went out to see him.  He said he wanted to see everyone--I think he knew the end was near. He had clasped my hand and held it so tight.  I couldn't help but feel that he was holding on to me for dear life--literally.  And I gave him all the strength I could, to hold on until everyone was there. I sat on the bed, and even though I was in an uncomfortable position, I didn't care and wasn't going to move. Mother phoned my dad to come and Dave went out to the farm to get Nick.  Nick didn't want to come and Dave had to be quite stern with him, telling him that his brother was asking for him, so he'd better get his coat. Everyone arrived, and Uncle Mike fell asleep and after about 2 hours, let go of my hand. By supper time, we all decided to leave and let him sleep. Dave and I drove home to Olds.  I slept very poorly that night and had a pain in my abdomen.  The next morning Mother phoned to tell me that Uncle Mike had passed away that morning around 9 AM.

In 1947, The Edmonton Bulletin did a story on the Samis Coal Mine at Namao, where Uncle Mike worked in the winter. This picture was part of the article--I have always loved the picture. My grandfather was a coal miner/farmer too.  So I'm a coal miner's granddaughter and a coal miner's niece!! And proud of it!!

I lost not only an uncle, in fact the only real uncle I ever had (Nick is a strange one and never talked to me directly until I was in my 30's, and as Mother didn't like my dad's relatives, I never met my other uncles or my aunt), but I also lost a friend. He was the one in person in my family who had loved me unconditionally, even when I made choices that he didn't think were a good idea, he never reproached me or railed at me.  If you know my family at all, you know that unconditional love was rare.  I miss him more than anyone else who has passed away, I think even more than my mother, in some ways. For these 22 years, I have cried more for him and wished he was still here. But I have also always felt his presence very strongly--he is with me, looking out for me as he always did.  Happy 100th Birthday Uncle Mike!! One day your partner will see you again. ♥♥

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Lights of Hope

This evening, at a ceremony in the Devonian Building, across the street from the Edmonton General, Covenant Health's initiative, Lights of Hope, was officially turned on.  It contains a number of Christmas light displays and rings the EG and also the parkade. The displays come from the now defunct  Brightnights display that the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce put up in Hawrelak Park at Christmas from 1998-2010. I don't quite recall why it was cancelled---one senior attending today's event mentioned that some of it had been damaged--maybe a wind storm/blizzard?  If anyone recalls the specifics, please let me know! I do know that it was the largest drive through Christmas lights theme park event in Canada and boasted 375 animated and static light displays. In addition to the public driving through, bus loads of seniors were taken through the display too. One year Dave and I went and were quite impressed. If you are interested in seeing what it looked like, here's a Youtube link:

Anyway, a staff member at the EG had the idea that it would be great to set up some of the displays at the EG. They were purchased from the Chamber of Commerce and in the last couple of weeks, crews have been working hard to get them in place in time.  The 2 blizzards of last week, followed by a couple of very cold days over the weekend, slowed things down, but they got it done!!

Those who were invited to the official ceremony (including yours truly) were treated to wine and cocktails as well as hot canapes cooked by Earl's Restaurant chefs, and the inevitable speeches. Luckily we couldn't hear much of them, because someone neglected to get a microphone and an unfinished concrete space is not ideal for speech making without one!  We were on the 5th floor so we had a good view when they turned on the lights. They are quite lovely and I think the residents are going to really enjoy having these displays, and I also think the Lights of Hope will help the inner city community experience the joy and spirit of Christmas.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Happy Birthday to my Dad!!

Today is my father's 89th birthday! A few weeks ago I wasn't sure he was going to be here for either his birthday or Christmas. But he rallied and for that I am very grateful. I hope he makes it to 90. His grandfather, James Roderick Stretch lived to the age of 89, dying in Port Coquitlam, BC in 1931. He had been born in Upper Canada, then moved with his wife, parents and many of his brothers and sisters to Minnesota to homestead, then in 1899 he came back to Canada to the then Northwest Territories to homestead at Ponoka with his sons, and he made one final move to the west coast in 1907. I think it's amazing that he traversed most of a continent and crossed the 49th parallel twice in his lifetime! I would love to have been able to talk to him about it all!!! My paternal grandmother's 2 sisters both lived into their 90's--Aunta Della lived in Portland, Oregon, and Aunt Minnie lived in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. And their grandmother, my great great grandmother, Mary McWilliams Jamieson died at Ponoka at the age of 94. So there are some long lives and good genes in the family. My dad has already lived longer than any of his brothers or sister did--I think 81 is the longest they lived. So with a little luck, he can make it to 90, at least!! And I can continue to hear him lament that he hasn't found a wife yet and that he has no children. I guess I'm Mother's child! Hahaha! But I love him anyway!!
Proof that I am his child!!!

Surfer Daddy--taken at the Hawaiian beach party in July

The chocolate chiffon cake he gets this afternoon!
Happy Birthday Father!! ♥

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Duffy Takes Charge!!

Duffy and Kylo

Duffy and Chance
While Duffy was down in Olds with Dave for 9 days, he had the opportunity to dispense some discipline to another dog. Dave's friends Rick and Les were over, along with Les' black Spaniel Kylo and Chance who may be a Pug or Pug mix, who was not wanted by some family member and Les took him.  Duffy has known Kylo since Kylo was a little puppy and they get along great.  But Chance--he's a dog that snarls, snaps, tries to bite other dog's faces, and is generally aggressive. He treats Kylo like this too.  Well the 3 dogs tore around the garden and the back patio, but Chance was always nipping and snarling, etc.  Duffy put up with this for 3/4 of an hour--Duffy is very tolerant of all kinds of animals.  When we meet other dogs who are snarly, he whines, like "Aww, what's the problem, I just want to be friends!" Magpies sit on his back, pull his tail, he does nothing except maybe move a little. But I guess he has a threshold for bad behavior after all, because he put his paw on Chance, held him down, put a little weight into it, and went "WOOF" in Chance's face! Like "ENOUGH, you little squirt!" Chance stayed down, didn't struggle and when Duffy took his paw off him, Chance was a changed dog.  No more snarling, growling, snapping, biting. And he has stayed that way--Les says he's so much better behaved!! Yeah for Duffy!! I am so, so proud of him!! He has never snarled, growled, or snapped at another dog and he showed in this case that he could get the message across without violence!! Did I say that I am very proud of him??!!! ♥♥♥♥ Unfortunately Dave didn't get a picture of the disciplinary action, but he and his friends witnessed it and all were amazed!

A well-deserved rest!!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

November 9

Today would have been my mom's 89th birthday.  Happy Birthday Mother! I love you and miss you. ♥♥ 

Monday, November 7, 2011

RIP Hickstead ⊰ A Champion

Yesterday, November 6, one of Canada's finest athletes, Hickstead, died of a heart attack in the jumping ring at a competition in Verona, Italy. I can't imagine how heartbroken his pal and rider Eric Lamaze must be feeling. Hickstead was a Netherlands born Dutch Warmblood stallion, born March 2, 1996. He and Lamaze had a wonderful career together, culminating in their winning a gold medal and a silver medal at the Beijing 2008 Olympics. In 2010 they won 1st place at the World Equestrian Games in Kentucky, and after completing the feat of 4 clean rounds, Hickstead was named "Best Horse in the World". This year at Spruce Meadows, the pair won the $1,000,000 CN International, for the 2nd time in their career. Hickstead joins Ian Millar's fabulous Big Ben now, who died in 1999. May they keep each other company until their human best friends join them.

Friday, November 4, 2011

A little hectic...

The past month has been a difficult one and a busy one. My dad has been quite ill, in fact 2 weeks ago, I thought we were on the final road.  But he has rallied somewhat, but is much weaker and less able to do things like feed himself, or talk.  It's sad to see and of course reminds me of my mother's decline all over again. I have been going to the General nearly every day and that in itself is exhausting and it's so hard to get anything else done in a day. I haven't bothered much with emails or FB or even blogging all the things I could have--just don't have the energy or sometimes I don't really care. There are a few people I try to keep up with though. If a person has never gone through care giving for an elderly loved one, or a terminally ill person, it's really hard for them to understand how draining and emotionally and physically exhausting it is.  There is nothing harder to do in this world.

Duffy has had increasing digestive issues--often I am awakened to let him out at 1 or 4 or 5:30, and consequentially don't get enough sleep.  I simply have to get with a homeopath to work on Duffy's vaccine damaged gut :(  My damaged leg still bothers me and lying on my left side (which is my favorite) is hard to do.  For those of you without FB, I sliced up my leg in July with a weedeater, when the cover flew off.  Major ouch, let me tell you!  And what I thought were lateral cuts, have turned out to be a lot deeper than I thought.  As Dave put it, I pretty much turned my leg into hamburger! Eeesh!

But life goes on, and Second Wind Dreams put on a Christmas Craft and Gift Show yesterday and today, so I was there all day yesterday and a couple of hours today. We had a 50/50 draw and a raffle with nice donated prizes from the crafts people. Here are some pictures from yesterday.

Crafts people rented a table for $30 for 2 days--which is a pretty good deal--money going to SWD

I managed to spend some money too!

Wooden roses/flowers

Priscilla, Diane, Doreen (standing), some lady who's wondering if she should actually drink from that cup, and Claire

Dianna, Kay--talking on the phone--and moi

Dianna and Kay, looking at the camera this time, but Kay still talking on the phone, and moi!!

Farmfair starts tomorrow and the Canadian Finals Rodeo starts next Wednesday and today I was down at Northlands stuffing Aggie bags for the schools kids coming in next week.  That's why I was only at the EG for a couple of hours.We are going to have almost 1000 kids, Grades 1-3, coming next week. We worked like dogs from 10-1:30 getting those bags ready--2 of us (there were 8 volunteers) didn't even take a lunch break.  The little stuffed cows arrived late so all the bags that had been done had to be stuffed with them and then counted into groups of 10 and tied. On Monday I get to help register the school groups and hand out those bags!!  Save-on is a sponser for the Abert'a Own Agriculture so we stuffed Save-on plastic bags--we don't want to see them for a long time!!

Tomorrow is the River City Round-up in downtown Edmonton with a caravan of 30 wagons and 25 outriders, all coming right to Churchill Square.  I am working as a games assistant, but hope to get some good pictures to post tomorrow!!  Dave took Duffy down to Olds yesterday, because with me being away from the house so much, it wasn't going to be fair to Duffy to be alone.  But they will be back next Friday, and we are going to the matinee performance of the rodeo!! Yee Haw!! By the way, I bought a genuine cowboy hat!! Lammle's Western Wear is a sponser of Farmfair and the CFR, and is offering 20% off their merchandise to Northlands volunteers, so voila, time to get a hat. Maybe I can find someone to take picture of me in it!!!