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Every Day, A Gift

A couple hours north of Toronto, the winter has been harsh. For days on end, my friend Deb and her family were snowed in.

Blog Photo - Snowed IN

“This week it was minus 36 degrees celsius,” she wrote, “not counting the wind chill! It was so cold that the trees sounded like they were exploding; like shotguns firing nonstop.”

But something sacred is taking place inside this home.

Deb’s mother Gladys, who lives with her, is declining in health. Week by week, something else fails. Two weeks ago, her feet swelled to the point where her shoes couldn’t go on. Gladys is getting weaker.

“Every day is a gift”, Deb wrote recently.

I know what this means. When time is limited, when every day is a gift, one uses time differently.

Every day, mother and daughter try to create – or simply appreciate – moments that bring joy.

Joy comes in many forms.

It comes from listening to music that Gladys enjoys. “We try to fill the house with her favorite songs from opera to Frank Sinatra.”  She particularly enjoys  Maria Callas and Andrea Bocelli.

Blog Photo - Gladys Painting 2

Doing things together brings a special kind of joy. Gladys, an accomplished artist, still loves to paint.  “Sometimes,” Deb says, ” Mom has enough energy to sketch with me or show me how to paint a picture. Sometimes it means just sitting quietly together in front of the fire and reading.”

Blog Photo - Gladys paints

Joy comes from simple things like deciding what to cook. “I pore over the recipes and ask her opinion. Then I try to tempt her to have a little, though her appetite has waned.

“I still offer her a glass of wine or a hot chocolate spiced with something special.  And Mom still enjoys her peanut brittle, though she has to suck on the pieces rather than bite them (90 year old teeth)!!!!”

Blog Photo - House overlooking Lake

They take joy in nature. Gladys often sits in a comfortable chair beside a large window. On the other side of that window is a bird-feeder and beyond that, acres of woods and a snow-covered lake.

Blog Photo - Bird at Feeder

“We watch for the many different birds that come to the feeder right by her chair,” says Deb. “We watch the snow swirl around the house and whistle through the trees. We are amazed at the snow sculptures — also known as snow drifts!”

There’s also joy in laughter. The two women watch funny movies together.  Like “The Heat”, with Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy. They laughed so hard, they cried.

When friends drop in, they enjoy tea, cookies  – and laughter.

Blog Photo - Tea time

And then there’s the kindness of others. “The nurses that come every second day have been so kind and are gentle in spirit.”

Gladys faces each day with a mixture of hope and acceptance. She points out that the doctors are experimenting with a new injection that seems to be helping to give her some strength back. And she also says: “My bags are packed and I am still waiting for a clearance on the runway of life…… That is what snow blindness can do to you.  Illusions??? Think positively! Spring is coming!”

Indeed, there are signs of rebirth in the air. Just days ago, a new baby was born – Gladys’ third great-grandchild.  It’s a joyful occasion, and Gladys looks forward to meeting the newborn soon.

There’s much sweetness in this time. And sadness. And wonder.

Deb notices that, whatever they’re doing, Bailey, the family’s pet retriever, “spends a lot of time at Mom’s feet as if he knows something.”

Blog Photo - Bailey in Snow

As her mother nears the end of her life, Deb finds herself reflecting. “I take Bailey out for a walk every day to breathe….to catch my breath, and pray. To find solace in nature….. to marvel at the snow. I spy two moose in the forest, a mink sliding across the driveway. I tell myself that all I can do is my best. The rest is up to God…the when – and the how –  of how this will come to an end.”

Blog Photo - Moose in Snow

She says Gladys is “calm and brave”, her sense of humour and memory still sharp.  She surprised Deb recently by reciting a quote from a book she received on her tenth birthday, 80 years ago:

“Deem it not an idle thing

A pleasant word to speak

The words you use, the thoughts you bring

A heart can heal or break”.

It’s moments like this that bring tears to Deb’s eyes.  Some days, all it takes is “a word, a song, a story Mom tells.”

But there’s a lovely sense of grace in this home, perhaps reinforced by the words from a prayer by St. Francis which Deb frequently recites: “Make me a channel of Your peace”.

Dedicated to Gladys and Deb, and to all those who’ve had a similar experience.

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Afternoon Tea with Anne Bergman, The Kitchen Director

Afternoon Tea with Anne Bergman, The Kitchen Director.

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The Essence of Home

What does home mean to you?

I’ve spent a lot of time at home these last two weeks. Yes, I went and overdid it with all the book stuff and landed myself in bed — again.  But, hey – I’ve got a bed.  And I’m safe at home.  These days, that’s something to be VERY thankful for.

I asked a few writers to be guest-bloggers – to contribute very short stories, which I’ll post  every so often.  Here’s the question each had to answer:  “What does home/belonging mean to you?”

Georgeina Knapp sent this lovely story:

THE ESSENCE OF HOME

Home.

The word is a floodgate that releases memories and emotions — at the most unexpected moments. Sometimes, all it takes is a sound, a smell, a sensation, a sentence, or even the sight of a simple household item.

And before you know it, you’re swept back. Home.

Home is an image. The image of the blue and white mixing bowl and the brown pitcher embossed in a basket- weave pattern, passed down from my grandmother. The sight of these objects brings me straight back home.

Grandmother's Bowl and Pitcher
Grandmother’s Bowl and Pitcher

Home to my childhood, and to my mother making pastry. I’d watch her measure the flour and lard into the bowl. Beside it, the pitcher held the ice-cold water that she slowly added, creating the basis of delicious pies of every kind.

The building that held the  essence of home was an old farm house, its exterior covered in cream clapboard with green trim. It stood apart from neighbouring houses and faced open fields across the street, giving it a feeling of country although it was at the edge of the village. On the front lawn, there was a swing on each of the two large maple trees, a place for happy summer hours. In the back, there was a huge garden where my mother grew the vegetables she would preserve for us to eat all winter.

Home is sound.  The sounds from our small barn.  The white Leghorn chickens, the pigs and the cows.

The cows mooed softly as though having a conversation with each other, and called more loudly to get our attention when they decided it was time to be fed or milked. The pigs sounded like someone with a bad cold. They snuffled and snorted until one offended the other; then there was a loud squeal of protest. The sounds from the chicken coop ranged from the gentle clucking and chirping of contentment to the loud squawk of excitement.

Image courtesy of Jacobs Farm, UK
Image courtesy of Jacobs Farm, UK

Home is smell. The outdoor smell of animals, the damp earthy smell of the garden after a rain, and the sweet smell of flowers growing around the house.

The inside of our house was fragrant with the vegetables, fruit, jam and pickles my mother preserved during the summer, or food cooking in the oven on cold winter days.  In the dark cellar downstairs, there was a different, but no less distinctive smell: a somewhat damp, musty odour which filled my nose whenever I ventured down there for coal or a jar of the preserves crowded on the concrete bench along one wall.

At Christmas the house was filled with the spicy aroma of special cookies baking and the fresh pine scent of the real Christmas tree we brought home from my uncle’s farm.

Google Images
Google Images

Home is sensation.  The warmth of family and friends who gather for a cozy evening, and the warmth of the big kitchen range that burned coal and wood.

In winter, we loved the heat from that big range. We put our wet mittens to dry on the open oven door and set our boots under the stove.

In summer that same heat could be unwelcome: even on the hottest days, the fire would have to be lit to cook our meals.

On summer nights when the upstairs bedrooms were too hot to sleep in, my mother would spread some quilts on our front lawn and we would sleep there for a few hours until the house cooled down enough for us to return to our beds.

Home is a single sentence: words from my father.

I’ll always remember how my father summed up the feeling of home one winter evening. He and I were coming back to the house from the barn and he lifted me up to look through the kitchen window. He asked me what I saw. I told him I saw mom taking something out of the oven. And that the table was set for supper and a freshly made pie was on the cupboard.

My father said, “That’s the best thing of all: coming home and there’s somebody there”.

I was just a small child, but I knew what my father meant, and I agreed.

Note from Cynthia: Thank you, Georgeina!!