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Vivian Shapiro, a Woman Who Loves Books

The little girls in this photo are Vivian, on the right, and her sister Roslyn.

Their childhood home had a vast library and Vivian loved reading books.

Classics for Junior Readers, the eleven volumes of The Foundation Library for Young People and the family’s encyclopedia were among her childhood favorites.

“My father was a very accomplished man (lawyer, Member of Parliament for Ontario, the founder and first President of the Mt. Sinai Hospital, first violinist with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra)  and he always encouraged my reading and learning as a child.

“So reading was something I always did.”

Vivian was so bright that she skipped grades in school.

She graduated from the University of Toronto with a bachelor of household science degree and worked as a dietitian till shortly after her marriage.  She and her husband Bud had three daughters.

Blog Photo - Vivian's Portrait

Daughter Arna, a retired English teacher and now  a writer and proofreader, read A Good Home and gave a copy to her mother.

“When I asked my Mom how she liked the book, she said it was one of the best she had ever read! And considering she had been reading for a good 90 years, that would be a lot of books!”

I gulped with delight and asked: “Why?

Vivian replied: “I can picture all of her houses – her descriptions are so vivid. I can still see the house up on a hill. It brought back memories of travelling in the Caribbean and different stages of my life.”

Vivian and Bud
Vivian and Bud on their 70th anniversary

“Two of the best things about books are that we can travel to different times and places through them, and we can learn something new with each one.”  

Vivian, Arna and granddaughter at 96th birthday party
Vivian at 96th birthday party with daughter Arna and granddaughter Heather

Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is still one of Vivian’s all-time favorites.

Bud died a few years ago. At 96, and no longer able to walk, Vivian spends much of her time in her room.  Reading, she says, is “a wonderful diversion at this stage of life when outings and new experiences are limited.” 

While Arna was proofreading the manuscript for my second book (Beloved Gardens) she asked my permission to read the book to her mother. Of course, I agreed.

Arna reported:

“It gives me great pleasure to look at my Mom sitting in her wheelchair with a big smile on her face. Or sometimes she nods her agreement to whatever Cynthia wrote. 

“Sometimes she closes her eyes (still smiling) and I know that she is visualizing the scene. When I told her that the finished book would include lovely photos, she said that it didn’t really need pictures as she could see everything clearly just from the words. The book takes her on a journey in her mind.”  

Blog Photo - Vivian at 96

“These are the kind of books you can read over and over again,” says Vivian. “They make you smile and they make you cry. Because the book is so picturesque, I can think back and the memories are lovely.”

And you are the kind of reader authors love, Vivian!  Thank you most kindly for loving books, including mine.

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Please Read to Me

Lee Gowan, author of Confession and other novels,  lives in Toronto, while his mother lives in western Canada. Time spent with her is very precious to Lee.

One day several months ago, Lee and I were part of a small group of writers invited to read excerpts from our books and chat with an audience in a large Toronto bookstore.

Photo by Hamlin Grange
Photo by Hamlin Grange

Out of the blue, Lee said something that moved me nearly to tears. (That’s Lee, extreme right, and that’s me, third from left, trying to compose my face — and failing.)

Lee told the audience that he’d read A Good Home to his mother.  She’d loved it, he said.   Day after day, he read the book to her.  They laughed together at some of the comical parts.  And at certain points, Lee said, he and his mother were both so choked up with emotion that he had to stop reading for a bit.

As Lee spoke, the image formed in my mind: of an adult child reading to a parent.

agoodhome_cynthiareyesWhy did I find that a remarkable thing?  Well – for one thing –  my relationship with my own mother is one of the major themes in A Good Home. But she died before the book was completed.  As Lee spoke, I realized that I’d never get the chance to read the book to my own beloved mother – who’d always encouraged my writing.

I also knew that Lee’ s mother’s health was already declining — and I felt happy that he had been able to read my book to his mother while she could still enjoy it.

**

We know that children love to be read to.  We read books to our children when they are young.  They clamour for more, even when their eyes are full of sleep.

via childcarealgoma.ca
via childcarealgoma.ca

But sometimes we forget that many adults – especially elderly people – like to be read to as well.

Letters and cards from readers of A Good Home have reminded me of this fact.  It turns out that a good many people have read my book – or parts of it — to a parent, other relative or friend.

Reading is a cherished past-time for many people.  Mother’s Day in Canada, the US and many other parts of the world is just around the corner and Father’s Day follows in June.  If your Mom or Dad (or favorite older relative or friend) is still alive, you might consider buying them a book.

Most people prefer to read a book by themselves — and it’s great if they are still able to do so.   Others would like to, but can no longer do so.  Whatever the situation,  consider offering to read a chapter of a favorite book to a relative or friend. Whether or not they need the help, the sound of a beloved voice reading to them might just be a balm to a person’s soul.

 **

 This post is dedicated to everyone who loves reading, or being read to.  And to those who read to others.

 

 

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Almost There – John’s House Pt. 5

Ever get the impression that this blog is my way of living vicariously through others?  That I write stories about people who do things I wish I could do — or used to be able to do?

If so, you’d be partly right.

But what John Garside is doing – almost entirely by himself – blows my mind.   And now, as he nears his self-imposed deadline for moving Ann and himself into their house in Prince Edward County, I find myself holding my breath every time a new email comes from John.

Blog Photo - John Yellow Room and Scaffold

Will this be the email where John finally confesses that he needs a break from all this work, and that – promise or no promise –  the idea of moving in this spring is ridiculously un-do-able?

But it never is.  Not when he has to repair major cracks in the coach house foundation (below).  Not when he undertakes the delicate restoration of original ceiling medallions.  Not even when he is clearing out the basement.

Blog Photo - Johns Coach House

Blog Photo - Johns House Medallion

A lot of the work has been onerous.  As for the basement, John says it “was very crowded — 100 years of clutter — and cut up with old wooden partitions etc.  This was totally removed by me. 6,300 lbs. of stuff!!”

Right now, John’s working on finishing up the library.

Blog Photo - Johns House Library in Progress

The more John restores the house, the closer he feels to it, and the more he learns about its past.   He’s made a few intriguing discoveries.  Like the original signatures of the first owner and his young son, written in concrete.

“William W. Bedell,” explains John, “was the father.  Willet V. Bedell was his only son.  The boy would have been only 7 or 8 years old when he did it.”

Blog Photo - Johns House  Signature in concrete

Sadly, Willet died as a young man.  It was during the First World War, “on a Troop Ship in 1917 en route to France”.

The second family to own the house were the Wards, though John doesn’t yet know who exactly “Envers” was.   There’s still a lot to learn about the home’s history.

Blog Photo - Johns House Name on wood

John’s original move-in date was April 30.  But life follows its own course.

Just a few weeks ago, John’s mother’s health declined suddenly.  She died within days.

This spring is a time of change for John, Ann, and family.

It’s also a time of renewal.

After a rough winter, a flock of tiny blue scilla flowers is blooming in the garden.  It’s one of the first flowers of spring.

Blog Photo - Johns House Blue Scilla

And inside the house, John keeps repairing and restoring.

Another room done, one left to go. Then, after all the cleaning up, comes the big move.

The movers are now booked for May 7.

We’re cheering you on, John!

Photos by John Garside.

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An Extraordinary Letter

Remember Debbie and Gladys, from the story titled “Every Day, A Gift“?

Blog Photo - Tea time

It’s about a daughter’s efforts to bring joy to every remaining day of her 90-year old mother’s life and it touched the hearts of many of you from around the world.  Late last night, I got an extraordinary letter from Debbie.  I asked and got her permission to share it with you.  It’s simply titled:

MOM

There is a Holy bathroom here at the hospice.

You go in to use the toilet ( please forgive the graphics here), after days of not being on a normal routine, when – suddenly – you find yourself shouting out to God that what Mom is going through is not fair!  That you are mad  — at God!

And then you get an answer.

You’re told that you have been on a journey and now it is ending.  You cannot micro manage any of this like you have been…. appointments, drug refills, nursing care, then hospice care, micro managing the nurses here, mom’s injections … the when and the how and the what kind of everything!

You’re  told that YOU ARE DONE!

It is out of your hands.  She is about to start HER personal journey with God WITHOUT ME.

Gladys creates one of her last paintings
Gladys creates one of her last paintings

I have done my job….a job well done….but a job that has finished.  I cannot, no matter what I do, change the when or the how.  I have to let it all go.

I have said my goodbyes each time  in the past day that we thought mom was dying .   I know she loves me and she knows that I love her.  We had the opportunity to say all the important things. And yet I have said them over and over again.

When I flushed my troubles down that toilet, with the realization that I am NOT IN CONTROL, and that it is totally in God’s hands, I felt a huge relief wash over me… a letting go… a handing of a precious package in to His care.  I left that washroom feeling tremendous relief and with a smile on my face that has not been there for a long time.

Back in her room, I wished Mom a wonderful journey.  I told her to have fun.

I told her as my guardian angel that I was going to keep her busy and see some of the world that she didn’t see.   I told her to do the same.

“What the heck …  take a spin around the world in the arms of the angels and have them show you the mountains and oceans, fly over the jungles , spin around the Eiffel Tour, buzz over Europe …see it all.  Have the angels soar through the heavens….have a blast.”

She told me to look for her in the first dandelion that I see.   I will wonder at that gift.

Often Mom and I would think of something at the same time and say it at the same time.  I would joke with her as to who really had the first thought.  Before Mom and Dad moved in with us,  quite often I would pick up the phone to call Mom and find that she was on the line.  The phone didn’t even have the chance to ring.  We had timed it at the same instant.

So maybe when I’ll be doing something and think of Mom, maybe at that very instant mom is up in heaven thinking of me.

She is very peaceful now as she has been put into a medically-induced coma.  She won’t feel the anxiety as her body fails her.

So my friends, grab a glass and fill it with something like a fine wine and raise your glass in a toast to my Mom.  Here’s to a life well lived, to a job well done.  Here’s to all the love she gave and received back tenfold.

May we all be as blessed.

Deb.

Thank you, Debbie, for sharing this loving letter with us.  I am asking everyone who’s read your letter to raise a glass to Gladys. “Here’s to a life well lived, to a job well done.”