A Good Home

Change What You Can

Timmy Fletcher was five years old. He lived with his family in a small town in Ontario.

He was bright. Charming too, in that confident way of young children who are loved by those around them. He zipped around in his wheelchair, beaming.

Timmy had one big wish: to go to school, like the other kids.

A new law allowed children with disabilities to attend their local schools. But the school and Timmy’s teacher didn’t think they could handle a paraplegic child.

I empathized with the teacher’s concerns.  But the law was clear. And so I went to the school and kept asking: Why won’t you let Timmy into school?  

I was one of two journalists who wouldn’t let up.

When the school finally changed course and Timmy went to school, my cameraman and I were there.

Timmy was back on the news that evening, a big smile on his face.

~~

Journalism came alive for me when I realized the power of “Why?”

“Why” and “why not” are powerful questions, especially when posed on the local evening news. Traffic lights get installed at a busy intersection; care improves in a senior citizens’ home; regulations are changed or followed.

Asking “why” can actually change lives.

~~

One of my last stories as a TV news reporter was about the lack of female firefighters in Toronto and most of Canada.

Asking “why” led me to two women at City Hall – Mary Bruce and Pat Henderson. They ran the Equity office.

They would love to see a woman firefighter, they said. What’s more, the fire chief did too. But all candidates failed the physical test.

Hmmm… I thought. 

“With weight training, could a woman ever become strong enough to be a firefighter?” I asked the woman who ran my weight-training gym.

“Don’t see why not,” she replied.

“Is there an applicant who has come close?” I asked Mary and Pat. “Could you ask the chief?”

Before I knew it, the three of us were having lunch with Diane Oland, a smart woman who had repeatedly aced the written firefighting test. Diane was physically strong, but not strong enough.

~~

“I know a woman,” I told my weight trainer. “She wants to be a firefighter. Could you train her?”

“I’ll do better,” she replied quickly. “My husband runs our other gym nearby and he used to be a firefighter in the UK.  I’ll call him.”

My trainer’s husband felt he could get Diane ready to retake the test within 6 months or less — if she really wanted it. She did.

“We’ll all support you,” pledged Pat, Mary and I. 

So she did, he did and we did.

The day Diane aced the test, I wasn’t just a journalist. I was undoubtedly one of her supporters.

~~

I always tried to keep my own emotions out of my stories. But “why” and “why not” are dangerous questions. Sometimes, after asking them, your sense of justice gets seriously triggered and before you know it, you’re invested in the outcome.  

~~

Someone called my TV news station.  A cameraman and I rushed to the scene.

The landlady showed us the disheveled room.  “I kept screaming that they had the wrong man! They got the wrong room. They wouldn’t listen to me!”

Ronald Jackson.

It’s been three decades, and I ‘ve never forgotten him. 

This was a case where “Why” and “Why not” were simply not enough.  

~~

That afternoon, Ronald, a Black man, lay on his bed in the rooming house where he lived, reading his Bible. Ronald Jackson was a practicing Christian.

A group of strange men burst in and attacked him.

Ronald did what any reasonable person would do: protest; fight back; try to save himself.

But by the time the plainclothes policemen stopped attacking Ronald, he had been badly beaten.

Meanwhile, the guy the police were really after made a swift escape.

~~

 My cameraman and I saw Ronald ourselves – his white undershirt stained with blood, his skin bruised. He looked dazed.  But he did not get an apology. He got arrested instead. 

A lawyer who saw my report on the evening news offered to represent Ronald, and he got his day in court. Or should have.

Just before the court date, Ronald’s lawyer told me, police officers in Toronto shipped Ronald off to Montreal, supposedly because of an old traffic ticket. He was in jail there when his case came up.  

I had lost touch with this case, and only learned the above years later when I called the lawyer to ask how it had all turned out. He bluntly added: “He’s not the same man you met. He’s gone crazy.”

I could have wept.

(Ronald Jackson is not his real name.)

A Good Home

What to Send My 84 Year-Old Uncle?

Even the funny birthday song I normally inflict on loved ones didn’t seem to cheer my uncle when I called him in London, England last week.  He usually laughs loudly as I croak and warble my way through it in a fake British accent.

Because of the COVID lockdown, Uncle G. was spending his 84th birthday entirely alone this year.  His two beloved brothers could not visit and he couldn’t leave his flat.

Loneliness and sorrow sounded in his voice.

I screwed up my courage to ask something I’d hesitated about.

“Uncle G,” I said. “I wanted to send you flowers but wasn’t sure you’d want that.”

“Good thing you didn’t,” he replied promptly. “I’m not one for bouquets.”

“Or maybe money.  Or… a hamper of food and goodies!” I ended, sounding slightly desperate.

“The hamper,” he said immediately, his voice brightening up. “I’d like the hamper.”

“Anything special you’d like?”

“Let me see… I like Canadian cheese. Aged cheddar.”

Success! I thought. I had finally asked the question and received an answer!

2 years ago, my British cousins had sent our family a huge Christmas wicker hamper filled with fine foods from Fortnum & Mason, the British company famous for their food hampers since the 1700’s.  That’s what gave me the idea. So I searched first for Canadian companies who deliver gift hampers overseas, but their stock had been depleted by the Christmas holidays and pandemic lockdowns.

Hmmm. What do to?

Back to Fortnum & Mason.  Their hampers didn’t include Canadian cheese, but there were some good aged cheddars.

The Winter Feast Hamper

It would have to do.

Once I got going, selecting a hamper for my beloved uncle became an adventure.  There were so many to choose from, and no single (affordable) package included all the items I wanted.  

The Anniversary Hamper

On F & M’s chat line, I met “Stephanie”, who guided me through the process with ease.  Turns out I could send the basket I selected and additional items. 

The bill was adding up, though – and that was before converting the hefty British pound to Canadian dollars. (1 pound = $1.73 Canadian.) 

The phone rang – my sister checking in. “How are you?”

“I’m putting together a birthday gift hamper for Uncle G,” I said. “Can’t believe how much fun I’m having.”

“What a great idea,” she replied. “I’ve been wanting to send him something. Okay if I contribute?” she asked.

“Of course,” I replied.

“Maybe the other siblings will want to contribute too. Just let us know how much.”

“Okay!” I said, feeling even happier. This was going to be a birthday gift from not just my branch of the family, but the others as well.  Together, we could afford a hamper with aged cheddar, wine, a small ham, smoked salmon, crackers, biscuits, tea and preserves of various kinds and a few condiments too.

The Fortnum's Foodhall Hamper

Two boxes arrived at my uncle’s flat in London, just 5 days after I made the order – fast delivery during a pandemic lockdown.

“Thank you very much,” he said on the phone. “Please tell everyone I said ‘Thanks and God bless’.”

“I will, Uncle G,” I replied. “I took a few chances. Wasn’t sure if you eat ham or smoked salmon…” 

“I like both ham and smoked salmon very much,” he quickly replied. “I put them in the fridge right away.”

“I’m sorry we couldn’t send Canadian cheese,” I apologized.

“Everything you sent will be eaten and enjoyed,” he assured me. “There’s nothing you sent that I don’t eat – or drink.” 

Best of all? The excitement in my uncle’s voice. It filled my heart with joy. And when I passed on his message to my siblings, they were happy too.

A Good Home

Myrtle and The Big Mistake – It’s not political!

Recently, interviewers have asked us whether the main themes of the new Myrtle the Purple book were taken from the ongoing headline stories about political misinformation and fake news in the United States.

The quick answer is “No!” The longer answer is: “At least, not intentionally!”

Co-author Lauren and I created Myrtle and the Big Mistake from the same source that inspired all previous books in the series: stories we heard repeatedly from children themselves. This one just happened to be about an untrue story being repeated till many people believe it’s true. 

But perhaps children in school playgrounds and adults have more in common than we know.

Myrtle and the Big Mistake starts when someone is hurt by a fast-circulating lie.  Myrtle and a small group of intrepid ‘investigators’ track down the source.  Once he realizes that he mistakenly started a lie that has hurt someone else, Garrett the parrot does the right thing. He apologizes to the person he has hurt. Then he goes back to everyone and corrects his mistake.  

If only it were so simple in the real world.  The very people who should correct their mistakes are often unwilling to do so – or they simply refuse to accept the facts.  As you read this, your mind may turn to American politicians, but remember this: it’s not just American politicians. 

Why is acknowledging our wrongdoing, apologizing and taking steps to correct it so difficult for so many of us to do? Is it pride? Fear that we will lose something? Or worse?

In Myrtle and the Big Mistake, Garrett the parrot does the right thing.  In response, Myrtle and Snapper, her friend who was wronged, forgive Garrett. Then, assured of his goodwill, they show their forgiveness by inviting him to play with their group.

Lauren and I write stories for children that show children solving a problem – often a problem that takes place on the playground or among friends in the neighbourhood.  Children, like adults, sometimes make mistakes and do something wrong.  We believe it’s never too early to pass on certain values. 

But we’re also hoping it’s not too late for some adults to remember these lessons themselves.

 

A Good Home

On the 4th day of Christmas…

Although my family focuses most on Christmas Day itself, Christmas, the season, starts on December 25.  It continues for 12 days till  sunset on January 5th.

So, in the spirit of celebrating the 12 days of Christmas, I share my harrowing search for the perfect Christmas tree. It’s the first in a series of Christmas poems and stories aired on 89.7 FM in Northumberland County, Ontario recently:
https://wordonthehills.com/2020/12/15/happy-holidays-1/

Stay safe and well, my friends!

Cynthia.