Short, Pithy and/or Pissy Posts: A new feature

Short, Pithy and/or Pissy Posts is a new feature on this site devoted to well … “Short, Pithy and/or Pissy Posts” about Parkinson’s, gardening or anything really … but uncharacteristically for me, I have to say it in 750 words or less!  It is all explained in the first post which you can find here:  Short, Pithy, and/or Pissy Posts

Have a great weekend!

DIRECTIONS PART II: Stories of Halloween, outhouses, potatoes, pesticides, Parkinson’s and mea culpa

DIRECTIONS PART II: Stories of Halloween, outhouses, potatoes, pesticides, Parkinson’s and mea culpa

Prior to my last post, DIRECTIONS PART I: Stay werr you’re to, ‘til I comes werr you’re at, B’y!, which is the first in a planned series, it had been over four months between posts. My instinct, even though I wasn’t raised in a family with a strong religious tradition, is to confess my sins i.e., apologize for my tardiness and seek your forgiveness. However, as I was reflecting on what words would be suitably contrite, I realized that this same lax religious upbringing permits me to conclude not only that I have no obligation to confess but equally I have no reason to apologize. I have done nothing untoward. Rest assured that I say none of this out of any disrespect for you, dear reader.

In November 2016, I wrote a piece that is truthfully a “Last Post” in that it was my reportage on the Celebration of Life for John R. Mills, a man who warranted the many accolades that were thrown his way at the best wake I have ever attended.  I know that learned intellectuals and professionals studying death and dying within all types of societies have researched, interpreted, analyzed and written about the grieving process identifying its stages and concomitant behaviors of the mourners. For the last four months I have been trying to come to grips with the reality that the strikes of the hammer on the anvil were hailing the blacksmith and farrier, beloved by all, to come home.

John’s death affected me in ways that I did not anticipate. He and I shared some quite personal moments in the months (even years) before he left us – moments that gave me insights into his life and his person; moments that give me the strength to face my own future with Parkinson’s, a progressively degenerative neurological disease; moments that help me better understand my own person; and moments that bring calmness to my spiritual self. Most of those moments will remain private and confidential but there are one or two that I feel I can share.

Sometimes there is no ‘option’ in option

During the last months of John’s life, there were many decisions to be made, difficult decisions; decisions no man or woman should have to face. He had sage and respected advice from physicians, health professionals, family and friends so he did not face the decisions or their consequences alone. Still, the final burden was disproportionately his to bear.

What turbulence is created in your intellectual and spiritual self when too much ‘hard’ medical data competes unfairly with too little ‘real’ time?  Some are tempted to call this problem a “quandary,” a ”puzzle,” or a “dilemma” for which there is no correct answer. Others see it as a kind of cost – benefit analysis where the positives and negatives (upsides and downsides) are totaled and offset to inform the decision – making process. Characterizing the problem as having a binary answer (yes/no) disguises the fact that the options under consideration are most often ‘options’ in name only and each option could be equally unthinkable e.g., living longer with a medically assisted but vastly diminished quality of life or dying more immediately from the ravages of your disease on your body and mind.

Here lies W. C. Fields. I would rather be living in Philadelphia”

The language of “options” also implies that we have a say in the matter; that there is ‘free will’ and we can, not change the course of history but, choose the course of history. The heading above is the epitaph (several slightly different versions are often quoted) that W.C. Fields proposed for himself in an article in Vanity Fair (June 1925.) I guess if Fields had the final say he would be alive in Philadelphia rather than in a grave beneath a headstone in Glendale, California.  Wouldn’t we all?  More likely, he would still be in a grave but in Philadelphia rather than California.

I do not deny the existence of free will for many actions we take, or do not take, in the course of life, but does free will always exist for life and death actions/inactions? If free will does exist are we fortunate or are we fortunate if it doesn’t? If there is no higher power than you, then to whom are you accountable? What if you, as the highest power, do not wish to die but your body and spirit can no longer sustain life? What if, at the very end of life, at that moment when our Soul is to be released from its material casing, we have no choice? How does that happen; who makes that decision? What if we do not have a Soul? The list of questions is interminably long.

Living with the dying and dying with the living sucks, doesn’t it? Or does it suck only if dying has greater importance or gravitas than life? The problem is that ‘not dead’ means ‘alive’ and ‘not alive’ means ‘dead.’ In relational terms each condition should be equal; each dependent upon the other being not present. As I only know and experience “aliveness,” that is the only condition about which I can speak and it turns out that I don’t know very much about it at all.

On the positive side, I know nothing about “deadness” and I am not even certain I ever will. This is not to imply that I will live forever but that there may be no consciousness for me after death. It is all very confusing and is very much a “black hole” into which the secret code of life is absorbed after death, never to be relinquished. Perhaps, being prepared to live and to “not live” (rather than “to die”) is the best we can do.

“Tell me a story”

What could I possibly say to John that would be at all helpful? The mind often boggles at times like this but John took the lead and on two occasions he lifted one hand slightly off the hospital bed to signal that he wanted to “say” something and although he was unable to speak without great effort, he signaled that everyone except me should leave. The first time was very private and personal and shall remain that way. The second time he wanted me to tell him a story. I had been sending John copies of my blog for quite some time and I knew that the stories resonated with his own experiences and that he appreciated the humour and context. So I stood by John’s bedside and spun a few stories that had been tumbling around in my brain but hadn’t yet made it into written and more polished form. Today, you are privy (pun intended, you’ll see) to some elements of those stories in a more organized form.

Nothing says Halloween like outhouses … and a potato?

I knew that John would appreciate the particular time period within which the stories are set as well as the many threads within the stories themselves. For me though, the significance of the stories lay in the telling and in the non-verbal responses they drew from John. In those brief few moments, I was thrilled that I was able to remind him of what it is like to be an eight year old boy – a boy who plugged Bob Lang’s sump pump hose with a potato on Halloween night, causing a minor flood in his basement which thankfully was unfinished and unfurnished.

I am sure those of you with sump pumps would like to take that boy and wring his neck, as water in the basement is not what any homeowner wants and a plugged drain pipe could overheat the sump pump motor and blow a fuse or trip a breaker. (See note 2) I suppose it could also start a fire if there was no thermal relay switch. My recollection is that the potato plug in Bob Lang’s sump pump hose caused only minor flooding. I heard no talk of fire or other damage.

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Who plugged the sump pump hose with a potato anyway? Photo: S. Marshall 2017

It is well known that boys over the age of nine, teenagers and immature adults look forward to playing the “trick or treat” game on Halloween night. The idea is simple; if a residence or business did not give you a treat then they could expect a trick to be played on them. Sometimes the older tricksters did not even give the “treat” part a chance; they just went directly to the trick. Tricks came in a wide variety of forms: soaping windows was quick and easy to do but slow and labourious to remove; throwing hay or straw bales on a roof top required the strength of young men; anything that wasn’t tied down and was smaller than a car got moved; but the most common trick was to tip over the outhouse. Almost every house in Altamont had at least one outhouse; likely a “two-holer” but there are many with only one hole. I remember seeing a three-hole outhouse on my grandparents’ farm when I was a kid. I thought it was hilariously funny but you never know, perhaps the number of holes is determined by the size of family … or some other social or economic variable. I am sure someone has done an analysis and with power of Google I could find out but this not the time to wander too far from the subject matter.

Cottage outhouse

A “one-holer” outhouse was common for a residence  Photo: S. Marshall

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A typical outhouse for a business with separate entrances for “Men” and “Ladies”   Photo: S. Marshall

Humour and Horror in the ”honey pit”?

Halloween is not all Hollywood, horror movies and Freddie Krueger. The horror of the “honey pit” predates the Nightmare on Elm Street movies and seems to have persisted over time. One recurring story is that a specific someone e.g., Ed Bulmer, Oz Jackson or Bob Hetherington, was in his outhouse when it was tipped over on its front, blocking the door. These images produced roars of laughter at each telling. Whether it is true or not is hardly the point. Strangely, I do not recall any women being named as someone, pants down, struggling to get out of an outhouse lying on its door in front of its “honey pit.” In fact, there are very few visual sightings of women entering or leaving the outhouses at any time and certainly none at Halloween no matter how strong the call of nature might be.

Sometimes the perpetrators got their comeuppance and one or more of those (no names will be provided here) tipping the outhouse inadvertently found himself (it was always a male) in the “honey pit,” having slipped during the deed. Even though I had been present at a few tipping events when I was young, I never witnessed such misfortunes – and it certainly never happened to me!  Still, it could not have been that hard for someone to nose out the truth after you have fallen into a pit of human excrement and piss, but perhaps like a cat that failed in its leap onto a precarious perch, you just preen for a second or two after falling and walk away nonchalantly as if nothing happened.

It is a safe bet that at least once in the last 130 years someone in Altamont was in the outhouse when it was tipped over and at least once a trickster did fall into the pit after giving the outhouse that one last mighty shove to break the centre of gravity.

The origins of Halloween go back thousands of years and bear resemblance to traditions of the Celtic harvest festivals. Interestingly, in the 1880s and 1890s many Irish immigrants passed through the Ottawa Valley (Merrickville, Carp) and other parts of southern Ontario (Lucan) on their way to settle in southern Manitoba around Musselborough which was founded in 1884 and later renamed Altamont. Undoubtedly, their Irish humour was fertile ground for tricks at Halloween and they relished the opportunity to regale one another with tales of forays on this night when the authorities turned a blind eye to minor infractions. It is not hard to see how stories of falling into the “honey pit” or of being in the outhouse when it was tipped over on its door, the only exit being over or through the foul smelling and disgusting looking pit, would become standard fare whenever they gathered.

I tend to think there is a kernel of truth in most stories that persist over time and the rumours associated with outhouse tipping are no exception. As if to prove this very point, the following entry in the book of memories for the 100th anniversary of the founding of Altamont was written 33 years ago and speaks to the general nature of these outhouse capers at Halloween.

“Halloween was always an exciting time in Altamont, especially in the days before in-door plumbing. It could be a dangerous time too. You had to be careful where you walked. More than one in–a-hurry, prankster found himself the victim of a fate worse than death, having fallen into an uncovered toilet hole.”

“Those outhouses must have been built well to survive the annual “pushing over.” Sometimes they were hauled out into the road and used to block traffic.”

“The most famous back-house in Altamont was also the most fortified. In fact, it still exists today. Bob Lang secured his one-holer with barbed wire. Most years he was successful in keeping his out-house at home.”

“Just when the boys were making some progress in getting his toilet over, old Bob would come running from his house waving his hockey-stick cane in the air. Everyone would scatter only to try again later.” ~ Allan Dawson in Memories of Altamont, 1984 -1994, compiled by the Altamont Centennial Committee.

Yes, Mr. Dawson identifies the same Bob Lang I referenced earlier in the sump pump potato plug incident. Bob seemed to be a target for many on Halloween. Perhaps, it was the challenge of his fortified outhouse and, appropriately enough, the danger of being ‘slashed’ by that hockey stick cane.

Memories of Altamont 1884 -1984 cover

Fire??!!

John was a great fan of stories that had action and he loved it when the characters were hit quite literally over the head as part of the story line. It goes almost without saying that when I was fully engaged in the stories of the outhouse tipping shenanigans, John was more animated and his eyes were visible under their closed lids. I am not sure what he enjoyed the most: the idea of a general assault on outhouses at Halloween; the tipping and dragging of outhouses onto the street to block traffic; the possibility of someone actually being in the outhouse at the critical moment when its centre of gravity was breached; the irony of a perpetrator falling into a cesspool of piss and shit; or the idea, which I heard more than once during the outhouse raids, “Let’s set fire to the fucker.”

Fire was no stranger to Altamont and I am researching a number of fires over the 130 years of Altamont’s existence. As my research is incomplete at this stage I cannot delve into those events too deeply but let’s consider the following questions: What if the Halloween tricksters did set the outhouse on fire? What if the idea caught fire, so to speak? Would there be a conflagration of “shitters” the likes of which the world has never known? Not likely, but even though Altamont was small, setting fire to one or more outhouses in the community would make a statement far beyond the usual Halloween “pranks.” Flaming outhouses are sure to hit the news – even though cell phones were not yet in widespread existence and video of such events would be difficult to find. Rest assured the concept of mens rea would be applied and charges would be laid.

Environment, outhouses and Parkinson’s

In the 1950s and 1960s small villages and unincorporated Local Urban Districts (LUDs) such as Altamont did not have public utilities such as water and sewer. Only a few houses had septic fields and the “water utility” was an electric pump drawing water from a well on the property. But in truth most houses had no electric pump; no running water; no flush toilet; no septic field; and the waterworks was an old creaky hand pump drawing water from a well directly below.

Most people had outhouses where they went to “do their business” or “honey pits” into which they emptied a “honey bucket” from the house, a task I was given when I was about 8 years old, once a day, every day after my sisters had gone to bed. I can still recall the weight of the honey bucket in my hands, stink trailing behind me as I walked through the kitchen and back porch out into the back yard – the air fresh and clean until I passed through. The honey pit was located at the northwest corner of our lot beside our rhubarb and as far as possible from our well but still only a distance of 10 – 12 meters. Cleverly disguised as a squat wooden square box, the honey pit sat there innocuously and surprisingly stench free with a padlock securing the trap door entrance on its top. I always fumbled with the lock and opened it with trepidation as it was usually after dark and there were no lights in that corner of the yard. I don’t know, maybe I expected a monster with extremely foul breath and dripping with soggy toilet paper and excrement to jump out the moment I opened the hatch! I think dad must have tossed in copious amounts of lime to cut the smell and reduce fly and pathogen problems, as I was always surprised that the smell didn’t knock me over and there were few flies when I opened the door

Drinking water and water for bathing was drawn from wells that were dug only a few meters from the outhouses and honey pits. So how far should an outhouse be from a well? I thought this should be an easy question to answer. Turns out that it is not. At the one extreme, some municipalities in Canada prohibit outhouses outright. At the other extreme, unorganized townships have no restrictions or regulations whatsoever … build your outhouse wherever you want – and better yet, don’t tell anyone even if you do build one. It is the best thing about unorganized townships, ‘don’t cha know’ (facetiousness is dripping here). Other people argue that a “few feet” is OK as long as the pit is above the water table. I agree that deep wells accessing  underground aquifers far from the surface pits of outhouses would be quite safe.

Surely, the juxtaposition of drinking water sources and the storage and disposal of human waste does matter and close proximity does not make for a healthy environment. When I was first diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, I wondered if sanitation issues and/or contaminated well water might be factors contributing to the development of Parkinson’s in an individual.

Well … what about the well?

The well in our house in Altamont was directly under the kitchen. It was a hole about five feet in diameter and about 15 feet deep. There was cribbing for the first five or six feet and the whole thing was covered by a large piece of 3/4 inch plywood forming a landing at the bottom of a set of stairs made from rough-hewn timber, leading to an unfinished basement. Occasionally my father would take the cover off to peer into the depths to determine the water table. About three feet to one side a separate hole about three feet deep housed an electric sump pump to keep the basement from flooding should the water table rise too high.

I have no idea how often a well should be cleaned if ever, or what should be used to clean it. I do recall one time my father cleaned our well. It happened one July when I was about 14 years old. It was a hot Saturday evening during haying season (it’s beginning to sound like a country and western song here) when I returned home from a long day of riding the hay rack behind a baler spitting out alfalfa bales in rapid succession. [Interestingly, the sway and rock of the hayrack across the field is not unlike the feeling that I currently experience with my Parkinson’s balance and peripheral neuropathy proprioception issues.]

I arrived home hot, sweaty and thirsty, thirsty, thirsty! I grabbed a tumbler out of the cupboard, went to our water pump in a small alcove just at the top of the stairs to the basement. I worked the pump handle up and down a few times to fill the tumbler with water that was not extremely cold but as cold as I was going to get. I tipped the tumbler up and let the water drain into my throat. About half way through the last gulp, a very big gulp I might add, I sensed that this glass of water was not all that it promised… or maybe it was more than it promised. I could feel something disturbing in my mouth. I suppressed the urge to swallow and I suppressed the urge to gag, although I don’t know how. Instead, I willed my self to spit the contents of my mouth out into the porcelain sink. A three to four inch long worm began wriggling across the slippery surface. I don’t know how I hadn’t spotted it before tipping the glass all the way to vertical but rest assured that I have pre-checked every glass of water I have ever had since then. It is something I will continue to do into the future. The worm in a glass of mezcal repels me and I can hardly look at it never mind have a sip!

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A word to the wise: always check the bottom half of your glass  Photo: S. Marshall

Of course, my mother was extremely distraught by my account of the worm in the drinking water. The very next day, dad and a neighbour took the cap off the well, pumped it dry and with a rope around his waist dad descended into the well with a brush and sponges. He scrubbed the walls and cleaned the intake on the pump. It seemed to make my mother much happier if nothing else.

I doubt that a worm or two in your well causes Parkinson’s but I do recall that dad was concerned about high levels of arsenic and other contaminants in well water in the area. Even so, I don’t remember our well water ever being tested although I do recall dinner table conversation that it should be. In the end analysis, I think we were too poor to pay the test fee plus the shipping cost to Winnipeg. Dad likely relied on the tests that others in the community had obtained as being indicative of the readings that our well would have. In any case, I don’t think the arsenic was much of a problem but I cannot say the same for the chemicals and/or metals the ground water may have contained, although studies are inconclusive as to the consequences.

We lived in an agricultural area and the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s were times of intensive usage of pesticides on farms, and I know that our father used these same practices in our gardens. (See Note 3.) As always there is considerable difficulty in obtaining reliable data for pesticide usage and funding for research on the health impact of pesticides on the population is relatively scarce. Still, since 2003 seven provinces including Manitoba have passed legislation banning the use of pesticides for cosmetic (non-essential) use. Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia are the holdouts. The definition of “cosmetic use” ranges from use on lawns only to use in all elements of landscaping. Most provinces have some exceptions.

Those initiatives and laws are all well and good but the 60 years between 1940 and 2000 were pretty freewheeling when it comes to pesticide usage. The current legislative bans and regulations come far too late for those of us in our 50s and 60s who are just now being diagnosed with Parkinson’s as we could have been exposed to the pesticide as many as 50 years ago. Indeed, it is much more likely that we were impacted by pesticide use than by the proximity of outhouses and honey pits to well water.

There is also a possibility that some metals, oil and petroleum products seeped into the ground from nearby industry. Whether it (whatever “it” is) ever reached the water table in our case I cannot say as the details were buried forever when our house and the industrial buildings were torn down and the area redeveloped.  In other words, none of these possibilities can be verified, no conclusions can be drawn and all speculation will remain just that, speculation.

I suppose that every Person with Parkinson’s (PwP) has asked two questions: what causes Parkinson’s disease and why me? Do you know that this year, 2017, is the two hundred year anniversary of Dr. James Parkinson’s famous work, An Essay on the Shaking Palsy, which established the disease as a medical condition named after Dr. Parkinson. After 200 years of study the question as to what causes Parkinson’s has yet to be answered.  Scientists are coming ever closer as they research proteins such as alpha-synuclein that misfold and form Lewy bodies that are present in the brains of all those with Parkinson’s disease. Nevertheless there are gaps in the research indicating that perhaps they  are not isolating the precise genetic factor and protein or that the cause is more multifaceted than we care to believe e.g., other factors such as environmental exposures may be complicating or confounding features of the cause(s).

Is there a link between poor sanitation and Parkinson’s disease?

There are many references in the literature to the links between environmental factors and Parkinson’s disease. Could there be a link between poor sanitation and Parkinson’s disease?  I suppose that anything is possible given that a definitive cause of Parkinson’s has not been isolated, but it is not probable. I have not seen research reports showing a correlation between the presence of outhouses or “honey pits” and the incidence of Parkinson’s or other neurological diseases. I am certain that it is not desirable to have human waste “honey pits” in close proximity to wells providing drinking water as it increases the likelihood that insects can pass diseases back to the human population. Nevertheless, I don’t think such proximity was a contributor to my Parkinson’s.

Pesticides are a trigger

Researchers have long suspected a correlation between the incidence of Parkinson’s disease and the presence in the agricultural environment of pesticides. The authors of a newly released (April 2017) literature review and meta-analysis conclude

“ …there is now strong evidence that exposure to any pesticide involves a ≥50% increased risk for developing Parkinson’s disease.” (Gunnarsson and Bodin, 2017)

Let’s be clear though, most research and considered academic writing on this matter is careful to highlight that environmental exposure to these toxins is not sufficient in and of itself to develop Parkinson’s. In order to develop Parkinson’s a person must already possess a genetic marker for Parkinson’s that is then triggered by the environmental factor. Neither exposure to toxins nor possessing the genetic marker is sufficient to result in Parkinson’s but together they may result in Parkinson’s. Not very convincing is it? But, on the other hand it is encouraging that we at least have some leads.

“In conclusion, this meta-analysis provides evidence that pesticide exposure is significantly associated with the risk of PD and alterations in genes involved in PD pathogenesis.” – Ahmed, H. et al. in Biomed Pharmacother. 2017 Apr 13;90:638-649.

“As a neurogenetecist, I’m prejudiced to say that people have a certain proclivity that resides at the genetic level which predisposes them to environmental insults—whether they be pesticides, well water, living in rural areas, or trauma, possibly.” – Northwestern University neuroscientist Teepu Siddique as cited in The Atlantic, “The Brain of a Fighter” by James Hamblin, June 2016

There is also research, although not as strong as the chemical toxin research, that supports the conclusion that well water with high levels of iron, mercury, manganese, aluminum and other by-products of industry are linked to the increase in incidence of Parkinson’s disease. These metals leach into the water table or enter underground streams and aquifers to be drawn on through wells and consumed by the population as drinking water.

Summary offence (misdemeanor) or indictable offence (felony)?

Before I forget, we do need to return to the sump pump potato plug case to tie up a few loose ends. One of those loose ends is the question of whether the perpetrators of Halloween pranks were “mischievous” or “rotten to the core?” I prefer to think mischievous, as it was a different time then, a different morality. Pranks were expected on Halloween. Still, is a potato stuck in the sump pump hose a prank of a different order than an outhouse tipped or moved into the street to block traffic i.e., was the potato incident an “indictable offence” (felony) and the outhouse tipping a mere “summary offence (misdemeanour)?” I have bracketed the terms “felony” and “misdemeanour” even though those terms have been abolished in the Canadian legal system because they still evoke an intuitive understanding of the relative severity of the offence. I have my own view and when I asked John for his opinion his face brightened a little and I knew that he had experience on both sides of this question and there was a discussion to be had, if only he had the strength and ability to talk. I like to think that we wouldn’t be far apart in our interpretation.

Bob Lang's house front view 1982

Bob Lang’s house (front view) Photo: S. Marshall 1982

It seems that Bob Lang spoke to the parents of a different young boy (let’s call him “H”) accusing “H” (wrongly) of the prank. In keeping with their values of respect for elders and discipline for their children, the parents believed Bob and punished “H” accordingly despite his wailing and vigourous protestations that he was not guilty.

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Does this look like a kid who would plug your sump pump hose?

At this point I could tell by some slight movements of John’s mouth muscles and the gentle squeezes from his hand in mine that he could identify with the first young lad who was in truth guilty not only of the potato caper itself, but also guilty of not confessing to the deed (a mischievousness but cowardly act of omission) after his friend (“H”) was wrongly accused and subsequently punished. I knew that John empathized with “H” who was wrongly accused – although I know also that John would find the fact that the wrong boy was punished to be tremendously funny especially if he (John) was the true guilty party.

Bob Lang's house back view 1982

Bob Lang’s house (rear view) where the sump pump hose was located. Photo: S. Marshall 1982

Straw bales burn better than outhouses

To my knowledge no one ever acted on the suggestion to set fire to the outhouses in Altamont at Halloween. However, I do recall that a number of straw bales were set on fire about a half-mile south of the village. It is a strong memory for me, not because I actually saw the bales blazing, but because an RCMP Constable later interviewed me as to my whereabouts on Halloween and whether I could say for certainty that I was nowhere near the burning bales. I was sitting in the driver’s side backseat of the RCMP cruiser while the Constable sat in the passenger side front seat with his clipboard (no computers on those days.) We were well away from others and thankfully well away from my father and his failing hearing – hearing that could be cured with faith-healer-like speed if the conversation was interesting enough.

A second Constable was rounding up a few other local lads to be interviewed in the search for the straw bale pyromaniac. I had no problem in convincing the Constable I was not in the vicinity of the fire … as I was busy sticking a potato in Bob Lang’s sump pump hose. The Constable laughed and said he had no report on such an incident and that I shouldn’t do that sort of thing.  At that moment I knew the policing arm of the state, rightly or wrongly, ranked a potato in a sump pump hose at Halloween to be similar in severity to outhouses tipped on their sides, stinking up the neighbourhood. i.e., they were summary offences at worst and forgivable on Halloween with no charges laid. Fire and arson, on the other hand, were clearly matters of a higher order – indictable offences –  and the RCMP were looking to lay charges.

The Constable dismissed me from the cruiser and called the next kid in line to jump into the rear seat. As fate would have it the next kid was “H,” the very same kid who was punished by his parents for the Bob Lang sump pump hose potato plug caper even though he was innocent. It is a good thing that ”H” did not know who was actually guilty of “his” crime and it seems that the Constable never mentioned it to him.  Perhaps “H” has been searching for the real potato prankster for the past 60 years?

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This kid probably plugged the sump pump hose. He looks like a hood to me!

I never heard another word about the potato plug in the sump pump hose caper or the straw bales which “spontaneously combusted” in Fraser’s field. The petty pyromaniac pranksters (if alliteration for effect can be overdone, this is probably an example) were never found. If there are any outhouses remaining (and I believe there are many,) they continue to be “at risk” each Halloween. On the other hand, the risk of a potato in the sump pump hose attack is relatively low.

Is mischievousness only a children’s thing?

On Halloween nights there are acts of commission and acts of omission which fly beneath the radar of the legal system because they meet a reduced community standard on Halloween. The more that these actions bump against the outer edges of that community standard, the more humourous it is until there is a breaking point. Remember how your mother admonished you to stop waving that sharp stick because you will take someone’s eye out? It is exactly like that; it was all very much fun until Tommy lost an eye.

John R. Mills was a man who loved stories where the action is on the edges of acceptable community standards and/or legality – and the subject matter didn’t have to be as serious as murder either.  He had a keen sense of small-scale mischievousness and that mischievousness fuelled his ability not only to maintain a boy’s view of the world but also to engage in adolescent behavior from time to time during his adult life. I sense that we shared this connection.

On the other hand, what if I read John’s non-verbal responses incorrectly? After all, as a young man he was a member of the mounted force of the Toronto constabulary and he was a superior horseman and rider all his life, winning cutting championships in Kentucky and Kansas. Perhaps he was imagining himself in the role of a mounted officer with the power of a trusty and fearless police horse snorting underneath him as he provided crowd control on Halloween night. In the end it matters not as John was not one-dimensional in any respect and I know he would have revelled equally in a detailed account of police horse vs prankster on Halloween.

A larger moral message?

As I looked at John’s face, eyes alert under the closed lids, a slight smile on his lips, I knew that I had transported him to a different place, free from the weight of medical evidence, medical procedures and medical consequences – all of which pointed to him becoming a medical and demographic statistic of the worst kind.

I sense that some of you may be looking for a more meaningful lesson in morality to emerge from these small town shenanigans and my telling of those stories to John. Sometimes in life there isn’t an obvious moral lesson. Sometimes, when the conditions of life warrant, it is just a matter that we, like John, deserve a few short moments away from the serious (sometimes life and death) decisions men and women have to make. We should be granted that respite.

I could end this post here except for the fact that the end is not here … for those who wish to argue over whether actus reus (the act) and mens rea (you meant the act to have the consequences it did) were both present in the potato plug sump pump case and that a “duty to act” was breached in the act of omission (not confessing) such that a crime was committed… but because I cannot “plead the Fifth” in Canada I am just going to mutter “mea culpa” under my breath and move on … and I would suggest you move on with me except that …. the questions about Parkinson’s go unanswered if we do.

Afterword

What causes Parkinson’s? It seems obvious to me that outhouses and poorly located “honey pits” are not high on the list of suspects. More and more the research data is leading us to the conclusion that pesticides, insecticides and fungicides are prime suspects as co-conspirators and should be investigated with increased vigour and resources. Think of it this way: the environmental violations of outhouses located too close to a water supply are summary offences or misdemeanors compared to the indictable offences or felonies that are negligence and misuse in the development and application of chemical toxins in the environment.

I am no lawyer but it seems we are closer to establishing that, at least for some portion of the Parkinson’s population, there is an actus reus but is there no agreement that there is mens rea by those who develop, manufacture, sell and use the toxins i.e., they did not intend that the chemicals to contribute to an increase in neurological diseases of which Parkinson’s disease is one. But should they have known? After all, they were developing chemicals that work by attacking the nervous systems of those pests they were trying to kill. Would that not twig someone to ask the question, what does this mean for human neurological systems? If it did, then did they find that it was without cause for concern? Did they downplay the consequences? Did they willfully ignore the signs? Is there an act of omission? Did someone breach a duty to act? Are we confident that there is no corporate interference with, and influence on, the research process?

There are so many questions, so little real time and so few resources. The weight of the evidence is beginning to accrue towards a conclusion that exposure to pesticides is related to Parkinson’s disease but don’t hold your breath for chemical corporations to step up and say, “mea culpa”;  to start making amends (reparations is probably too strong) through financial contributions to independent Parkinson’s research; and to defray the costs of pharmaceuticals and medical/therapeutic devices and programs which enhance quality of life for Persons living with Parkinson’s.  That would indeed be a radical change in direction.

NOTES

Note 1:

Definitions:  An “outhouse” is defined as a permanent private privy used as a toilet and situated on a permanent privy pit usually 3 to 6 feet (1 to 2 meters) deep within which human waste is kept, maybe forever. The outhouse is located on private property or at a private residence and serves the sanitation needs of the owner and/or tenants. For further clarity, an “outhouse” is not equivalent to a temporary, transportable, commercial “port-a-potty” used on construction sites and at outdoor entertainment sites and fairgrounds. Such port-a-potties as the name suggests are built to be transported and have an internal waste holding tank that is designed to be emptied at a sanitation facility.

Disclaimers: 

I do not advocate that outhouses be tipped at Halloween or any other occasion nor do I condone such action as serious injury and/or property damage may result.

I am aware through social media sources that port-a-potties are overturned as a prank from time to time. I do not condone such behaviour.

I do not condone the blocking of sump pump hoses in any manner. Serious property damage may result.

Note 2:  As I write this post we are experiencing very heavy rains in eastern Ontario and western Quebec. Many homes have been flooded and their residents evacuated. It is not my intention to diminish the severity of these events by making light of the consequences of the potato plug in the sump pump hose. The situation as described, in Altamont at Halloween of that particular year is not comparable.

Note 3: I follow the convention used in most of the research literature and government documents where “pesticides” is an overarching concept that includes insecticides (insects), herbicides (plants and weeds), and fungicides (fungi.)

APPENDIX: Outhouses are a serious measure of health and sanitation

WaterAid reports that in 2015 there were over 65,000 Canadians (0.2% of the population,) mostly in rural areas who do not have safe reliable access to toilets inside their homes. The UK has over 500,000 (0.8% of the population) citizens without proper inside toilets. Interestingly, WaterAid claims the USA is approaching 0% of pop with just slightly over 36,000 citizens without adequate toilets, bettering both Canada and the UK.

Only 17 countries in the world – including Australia, Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Saudi Arabia – have reported that just about every single household in the country has a safe, private toilet. (WaterAid 2015)

These numbers probably represent the best-case scenario and unfortunately we will never know the actual numbers as the question on indoor toilets is no longer asked routinely on census forms in Canada and other countries. The Washington Post puts the 2014 estimate as considerably higher at over 1.6 million households in the US without adequate indoor plumbing facilities i.e., they do not have one or more of the following: a toilet, a tub, a shower or running water. In any case, many thousands of outhouses are still in use as the primary toilet facility for households, and many more outhouses serve as secondary or back up facilities for use when the indoor toilet is otherwise occupied.

When my parents moved to an apartment in The Pas, Manitoba in the early 1970s after our father got a job at the pulp and paper mill there, I recall how excited my mother was that they were on town water and sewer. In fact, it was the very first time (ever!) that our mother had lived in a home with running water and a flush toilet. Needless to say, she was thrilled!

REFERENCES and RESOURCES

Ahmed H, Abushouk AI, Gabr M, Negida A, Abdel-Daim MM, “Parkinson’s disease and pesticides: A meta-analysis of disease connection and genetic alterations.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmetd/28412655

Alberta Environment and Parks, http://aep.alberta.ca/water/programs-and-services/groundwater/documents/AlbertaWaterWellSurvey-Report-Dec2010.pdf

Backcountry Canada Travel, http://www.backcountrycanadatravel.com/outhouse-culture-canada/

Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, Fact Sheet on Pesticdes http://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/chemicals/pesticides/general.html

Canadian Journal of Neurological Science https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/canadian-journal-of-neurological-sciences/article/geography-drinking-water-chemistry-pesticides-and-herbicides-and-the-etiology-of-parkinsons-disease/B8A09AAE44121012B905C358CCE9A8EF

Cosmetic Pesticide Ban Manitoba https://cosmeticpesticidebanmb.wordpress.com

Cottage Life http://cottagelife.com/environment/10-things-you-probably-didnt-know-about-outhouses

Grandpa Remembers: Tipping over Outhouses, July 25, 2010. http://grandpa-remembers.blogspot.ca/2010/07/tipping-over-outhouses.html

The Guardian, “Can you catch Parkinson’s?” https://www.theguardian.com/education/2002/apr/04/medicalscience.healthandwellbeing

Gunnarsson, Lars-Gunnar and Bodin, Lennart,“Parkinson’s disease and occupational exposures, A systematic literature review and meta-analysis,” Scandinavian Journal of Work, Health and Environment, online first, April 2017

Hamblin, James, “The Brain of a Fighter” in The Atlantic, June 8, 2016 https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2016/06/ali-and-parkinsons/485798/

Kashatus, William C, “Outhouse has faded from region’s landscape,” in Standard Speaker, June 26, 2011 http://standardspeaker.com/outhouse-has-faded-from-region-s-landscape-1.1165644

Law Lessons, http://www.lawlessons.ca/lesson-plans/2.1.definition-and-principlesb

Mayo Clinic, http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/pinworm/basics/causes/con-20027072

Parkinson, Dr. James, Essay on the Shaking Palsy, originally published as a monograph by Sherwood, Neely, and Jones (London, 1817). Republished by J Neuropsychiatry Clin Neurosci 14:2, Spring 2002.

Parkinson’s Disease Foundation, http://www.pdf.org/environment_parkinsons_tanner

Parkinson’s Saskatchewan, http://www.parkinsonsaskatchewan.ca/pd/nd.html

Popular Mechanics, http://www.popularmechanics.com/home/how-to/a3896/4305543/

Small Cabin, http://www.small-cabin.com/forum/5_781_3.html

Summers, R. (2010). Alberta Water Well Survey. A report prepared for Alberta Environment. (University of Alberta: Edmonton, Canada).

Survivopedia, http://www.survivopedia.com/waste-disposal/

Warick, Jason, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation News, Saskatoon, “U of S, prof under fire for Monsanto ties,” May 17, 2017 http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatoon/u-of-s-prof-under-fire-for-monsanto-ties-1.4100399

Washington Post, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2014/04/23/1-6-million-americans-dont-have-indoor-plumbing-heres-where-they-live/?utm_term=.42d2da15b8dd

WaterAid, IT’S NO JOKE: The State of the World’s Toilets 2015 Its_No_Joke_2015_the_state_of_the_worlds_toilets.pdf

Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/W._C._Fields

© Stan Marshall (The PD Gardener) 2017

 

LIST OF POSTS IN THIS SERIES

DIRECTIONS: Taking the Scenic Route to Parkinson’s and Beyond

DIRECTIONS Part I: “Stay where you’re at ’til I comes where you’re to, b’y“

DIRECTIONS Part II: Stories of Halloween, outhouses, potatoes, pesticides, Parkinson’s and mea culpa

COMING SOON!

DIRECTIONS Part III: (Working title) Detours and your GPS 

 

DIRECTIONS: A Series of Posts on Taking the Scenic Route to Parkinson’s and Beyond

DIRECTIONS: A Series of Posts on Taking the Scenic Route to Parkinson’s and Beyond

Foreword  

This post is the first in a series called Directions: Taking the scenic route to Parkinson’s and beyond. I explore some of the ‘things’ that have changed, are changing and will change the ‘direction’ of my life. I know, ‘things’ is a very imprecise word and is overused to refer to almost anything (well, there you go, eh?).

Do you know that delay and equivocation in decision-making is one of the many non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s? I kid you not. I am not going to blame all my procrastination on Parkinson’s but the title of this post eluded me for a very long time. It did not come easily. It rarely does but this time it was doubly difficult. I kept delaying a final decision and even now I am not convinced I have hit the right chord. You see, words are tricky things – double entendre, multiple meanings, concepts nested within concepts, different levels of discourse with different intellectual and cultural origins. Sorry, but lately I just can’t help but be amazed by words and language. It is as if I have been near-sighted all my life and then thrown abruptly into a world where my micrographia, an early symptom of Parkinson’s disease, makes it impossible to read my own handwriting but is also, quite magically, a feature of enlightenment. It is all a matter of perspective.

At one point it occurred to me that perhaps I should follow journalistic practice and task someone else with the responsibility to decide on a title. I remember being amazed when I first learned that journalists don’t (at least in those days) write their own headlines. That explains why over the years I have noticed a few headlines that are out of sync with the text of the article. One of my favourites is an article reporting on the government of Sri Lanka sending a representative to an international meeting. The headline read, “Lanka plans to attend.” It is so nice to know that Ms. Lanka has sent in her RSVP.

Eventually, I settled on the title: Directions: A Series of Posts on Taking the Scenic Route to Parkinson’s and Beyond. Of course, that was some time ago as I went through further periods of procrastination and indecision about the content and order of publication for the first few posts. Stay tuned as this is still a work in progress.

The idea of exploring the many different directions of my life has been tumbling around in my brain for quite some time. It should be simple enough, don’t you think, to articulate how I got to be the person I am … at this moment…. in this place… with a traceable historical timeline complete with events and documents? You would think so but it is never that straight forward, is it?   My research and rough drafts started out smoothly enough but it soon became evident that the process of uncovering, analyzing, interpreting and communicating the direction of one’s life is a daunting task and, dare I say, disorienting, unless you have a reliable metaphorical gyroscope to stabilize the entire endeavor.

Unfortunately, the temptation is to write a chronological account and that turns out to be deadly boring and resembles an application for life insurance. I quickly scrapped this approach. I once worked for someone who would comment on my work by saying, “I don’t know what I wanted… but this isn’t it.” There was never a reason given as to why it didn’t meet the grade or what I should consider doing to correct the shortcoming. The lack of feedback meant that I had to become skilled at listening, guessing, extrapolation, and interpretation in order to survive. While these are very useful skills they are quite inefficient as tools. Am I being reduced once again to a guessing game, but this time it is trying to figure out the nuances of my own life so that I can understand myself? Whoa, that sounds like I should be booking some couch time with a professional. We’ll leave that for the moment.

Taking a small step back, I can safely say that a chronological “listing” or cataloguing of ‘things’ that I think are important is not my primary objective. Oh, there will be ‘things’ and ‘events’ but they must be accompanied be “the ‘stuff’ of life” i.e., by whatever makes the static, dynamic. My trusty thesaurus suggests that “stuff” is a synonym for ”things” but that is not how I see it. For me “stuff” is what gives “things” life but you should also know that: “stuff” can lay dormant for years and be resurrected with one fortuitous nudge or change in ‘direction’.

While I am at it I may as well clear up a few other potential ambiguities. When I say the “direction” of one’s life, I do not mean ‘achievements,’ ‘goals,’ ‘legacy,’ or ‘good deeds,’ which can sum up one’s worth on earth. Neither do I mean ‘destination,’ or ‘defining moments.’ I am not trying to reach nirvana, to go to Mecca, or even to see Altamont, Manitoba one more time. And if I wait until I win the Nobel Peace Prize or equivalent before I consider my life to be worthy enough to bring into the spotlight, I will be waiting a long time. That doesn’t mean I won’t go places or that I won’t live a full, useful and worthy life such that people will speak well of me after I am no longer physically present; it just means that in as much as these form part of the ‘direction’, they are not influencing agents with the ‘stuff’ necessary to alter course, those ‘things’ (positive and negative) that have ‘nudged’ the ‘trajectory’ of a life onto a slightly different ‘track.’

Marshall house  in Altamont Manitoba

The house of my youth – both are now gone Photo: S. Marshall 1982

Being astute readers as you are, you know that the word “direction” has many meanings and nuances. For the sake of clarity, I rarely use the word “directions” to mean “instructions” so I will not be issuing recipes for matrimonial cake; or shop instructions on how to build a three – story 15 unit wren house; or instructions on how to make a snowflake quilt. When it comes to matters of life, each of these approaches would be tantamount to telling you how to live your life. No matter how much I might want to tell you how to live your life, I won’t. Rather, in this series I am content enough to expose the vectors of my own life such they convey a more complete understanding to me … and to others whose eyes may pass over these words.

The ‘things’ and ‘stuff’ I find most intriguing and insightful are usually small and maybe insignificant to others. Why they are intriguing may not be evident immediately and might be revealed only upon focused reflection at a much later time, but know this, the consequences of ignoring a small error in measurement in carpentry can be monumental when you get to the corner or to the top of the wall. The old saw (no pun intended), “measure twice, cut once,” has broad metaphorical applicability to all areas of life.

In sum, life is not a curriculum vitae or a compendium of artifacts; it is a force inherent in every aspect of being, no matter how exciting or how dull and insignificant it appears. This force is integral to every life as it establishes the ‘tendencies’ within the ‘direction’ of life. Or put another way, “I didn’t know that the little ‘things’ would turn out to be so big and that so many ‘factors’ can influence and change the parameters of the original course.” We shall leave aside the question of how the original course is set in the first instance for the moment. Right now, my task is to illustrate ‘stuff’ in the comings and goings of everyday life.

Altamont MB gallery_128_2013_75075

Altamont, Manitoba 1985 Photo: United Grain Growers

There is a Buddhist saying, ”Happiness is a journey, not a destination.” It has been echoed by many others including Ralph Waldow Emerson, Aerosmith, theologian Lynn H. Hough substituting slightly different words for “Happiness” e.g., love, religion, success, etc. I believe we should indeed enjoy the journey as life has a rather inhospitable destination (dead is dead) for those who do not believe there is a Heaven.

I prefer to think of this post as a journey along the Red or Assiniboine Rivers in Manitoba, especially in the spring and summer. In spring they overflow their banks seeking to breach every dam and flood every unprotected low-lying land with free flowing and often-undefined waters that carry danger as well as richness. Once the flood subsides and summer arrives there is no need to spend the rest of the journey treading water just to keep our noses clear. The rivers are now within their channels and meander with a lazy habit and we have time to contemplate the rush of earlier times. I have found that one of the most important questions we have to ponder is whether the river has determined our destination or have we navigated the river?

As regular readers know, neither my process nor thinking is linear. In keeping with that approach, I often do not have a self-evident point of beginning but begin we must, so read on to Part I.

DIRECTIONS Part I: Stay werr you’re to, ‘til I comes werr you’re at, B’y!

“Stay werr you’re to, ’til I comes werr you’re at, B’y” is a saying that has almost become synonymous with Newfoundland and Labrador. [See Note 1) When you look at the words sitting rather alone and limply on the page, it doesn’t seem all that funny or profound. Still, when you catch it mid-monologue, swimming in a stream of consciousness and slang tripping off the tongue of a fast talking (not slick, just talking fast) descendent of the original Indigenous people and the Irish, French, Scots and English who came to the shores of “The Rock” in the early 16th century, the oratory is theatre, comedy, music and gospel with a smear of blasphemy and a nod to graffiti.

Near Cape St. Mary's

Near Cape St. Mary’s, Newfoundland and Labrador Photo: S. Marshall 2015

At my former workplace we employed highly trained and very skilled professional interpreters (English to/from French interpretation primarily) for our National Executive Board meetings. Occasionally the interpreters would apologize that they could not provide proper interpretation into French when Brother O’Leary from Newfoundland and Labrador was in a jocular mood and in full swing in English with his Newfoundland accent and slang. It had less to do with “salty” language than it had to do with Brother O’Leary’s version of the “English” language. Neither the interpreters nor the rest of us English-speakers could understand a word he was saying. We often joked that we needed a third interpreter for the English spoken in Canada’s youngest province. [See Note 2]

Now, the language and the accent on “The Rock” is such that some people recommend that you travel with an interpreter if you are a “Come from away” i.e., someone who is not local and therefore without a family heritage in Newfoundland and Labrador. However, my lover and I found the locals to be quite tolerant and accommodating and would switch to an understandable form of central Canadian English, especially if a commercial transaction was imminent.

Near Cape St. Mary's NL

Do sheep and sheep dogs understand the language of Newfoundland? Maybe they are smarter than I am …. Photo: S. Marshall

Maybe it is my inquisitive nature but I find that the instruction, “Stay werr you’re to ’til I comes where you’re at, B’y” is one that begs the question…. well, what was the original question that spawned this response? The question undoubtedly was, “Where am I and how do I friggin’ get out of here?” The Newfoundlander is kindly offering assistance by coming to get you. I hope so because if you have ever tried to follow directions given by a Newfoundlander, you might inadvertently go “out on da neck” instead of “down da arm” or “up da shore”… or is it up da arm and down da bay? …. Oh, never mind. [See Note 3]

Of course there may be extenuating circumstances. For example if you are “some stunned” or are recovering from a “Screech In,” you might be a little foggy on how you got to be where “you’re to” or exactly where “you’re at.”  I don’t consider myself to be particularly dense and I have always gotten along well with the sisters and brothers from Newfoundland and Labrador but the night that I was “Screeched In” is indeed a little foggy in places and I am at the mercy of anyone who has a better recollection of what transpired that night than I do.

Is the “Screech In” a rite de passage?

An argument can be made that from a cultural anthropological perspective the “Screech In” is the celebration of a “rite de passage” which confers a new status on selected candidates. How and why the candidate has been selected is of no great relevance except that the selection is not random i.e., each and every citizen does not have an equal probability of being selected. This means of course that if selection is not random then it must be determined in some manner. For example, in many societies age is a determining factor and these ceremonies mark important moments as a child becomes an adult and accepts responsibilities as an adult. In this case, it appears that the candidate must have already achieved the age of majority (19 years old) in Newfoundland and Labrador in order to fulfill the requirements of the ceremony. Another determining factor is that the candidate must be a “Come from away (CFA),” i.e., a resident of someplace, any place, other than Newfoundland and Labrador, and you must have wandered by design or by accident into the territory of the Newfoundlander, and been selected (or even self-selected) to be a participant in a Screech In.

The significance of the CFA designation cannot be overstated. Newfoundland and Labrador is similar to many other unique social groupings – it is very difficult to penetrate from the outside. Once a CFA, always a CFA or so the saying goes. Even if you lived on “the Rock” for 40 years, it is likely that you will be identified as a CFA. With any luck, your children will not carry the designation but they might. I am reminded of a woman who lived in Altamont, Manitoba for over 50 years. She initially moved to this small village as a schoolteacher and when she married a local farm boy, she stayed. Together she and her husband built a successful business and raised a family. In spite of the lengthy time spent living in and participating in community activities, she could never quite escape that somewhat derisive moniker, “city girl.” If her ways didn’t quite mesh with the locals or if she didn’t know how to do something, it could be explained by saying, “Oh, she’s a city girl, ya’ know.”

The “Screech In” carries the promise of a change in status from a pure “Come from away” to “Honourary Newfoundlander.” Cultural anthropologists tell us that there is a period of ambiguity or disorientation called “liminality” when the subject has moved on from her/his old status and has not yet accepted her/his new status i.e., s/he is on the “threshold.” Everyone who has been “Screeched In” reports that they experience this period of fogginess and disorientation as they shed the pure “Come from away” status and accept their new status as an “Honourary Newfoundlander” or a “Screeched In Newfoundlander.”

All that for an asterisk?

The problem is that the whole “Screech In” thing is bit of a fraud if you stack it up against the measure of a bona fide rite de passage. It seems that in the mid-1970s a St. John’s nightclub owner named Bill Walsh and a few of his cronies cooked up a fake tradition and called it “The Screech Club” to attract out of province business. It was pure genius because what better way to attract tourists than to give these “Come from Away” a chance to become something they desperately wanted to be but could never become – a member of a unique, quaint, welcoming society where its citizens carry a sense of humour 24/7 for 365 days a year.

“Lard-Tunderin’ Jeezus B’y!” The clubs on George Street in St. John’s are usually packed with tourists all too willing to be screeched in – all too willing to be called to the altar of cod in a rite de passage which confers honourary status but no actual rights. Funny thing that; the ceremony provides the candidate with a sense of inclusion in a culture that specifically excludes her/him. The “Screech In” rite de passage admits you into the “Royal Order of Screechers,” a club to which native Newfoundlanders would never belong … and can never belong. The “Screech In” leaves you almost exactly where you started – as a CFA with an asterisk for the official statistics (CFA*) – a “Come from away, Screeched In.”

Armed with your certificate attesting to your status as a “fake” Newfoundlander, you are now welcomed with generous and open arms in all ports and as an added bonus you can watch with a new appreciation the many fine comedians from “The Rock” who have dominated Canada’s comedy venues and television shows for decades. Andy Jones, Rick Mercer, Greg Malone, Cathy Jones, Mary Walsh, Tommy Sexton, Shaun Majumder, Mark Critch, Bob Joy, John Sheehan, Jonny Harris, Diane Olsen and many others have established Newfoundland – style comedy and political satire not just as entertainment for the masses but as mandatory education for the elite.

My God, there is no cod

I personally was “Screeched In” at an odd ceremony 20 years ago in Marystown in the Burin Peninsula late on the night of the “scoff n scuff” (dinner and dance) of the annual convention of our Newfoundland and Labrador Division. An “appointed” representative (a native Newfoundlander) of all that is good and wholesome in NL ushered us into the dance hall, accompanied by suitable music (“I’s da b’y wha builds da boat…”) and a huge outburst of hands clapping, boots stomping, and voices hollering and hooting. Those of us who were “Come from Away” were directed to form a circle holding hands as we did so. The Officiant, wearing the traditional yellow sou’wester and slicker, solemnly called the congregation to order and began the liturgy of the “Screech In.” I don’t recall everything about the service but some elements still wash through my memory banks at high tide.

Officiant (addressing all who are “Come from Away”): “Do ya want to become Newfoundlanders?”

“Come from Away” (collective response): “Yes B’y!”

At this point each “Come from Away” is called forward individually and his/her name clearly stated for the record. The Officiant proceeds to tell the assembled crowd a few amusing “lies” or stories that must have been true because no one could ever make up such ridiculousness, about that particular person (clearly, the Officiant had been briefed in advance.) At the time I was an Executive Assistant to our National Secretary Treasurer so there was much joking about how important it is to “follow the money” [little did they know how close this jesting was to the truth about some practices within the National Secretary Treasurer’s Office – more on this at another time perhaps.] Also, a few shots were taken at my “landlubber” and “mainlander” origins in Manitoba and the Canadian prairies.

Officiant (addressing each “Come from Away” by name): “Are ya a screecher?”

Come from Away: “ ‘Deed I is, me ol’ cock! And long may yer big jib draw!” [Translation: “Yes I am, my old friend, and may your sails always catch wind.”]

Newfoundland Screech

The bottle was full like this one when I started…. Photo: S. Marshall 2017

At this point the liturgy directs that the Come from Away must to kiss a cod. Sometimes the cod are not in plentiful supply so there are a few acceptable substitutions e.g.,“Newfy steak” (baloney,) the rear end of a rubber puffin, or any other ugly non-cod fish that can be found. In this particular case, a helpful Newfoundlander with a warped sense of humour had located a package of frozen capelin (a small fish that spawns on the shores of Newfoundland.)

Officiant (getting into the spirit of things): “I decree the capelin to be sacred for the purpose of this Screech In.”

Officiant (after a brief pause to consult with a group of locals acting as advisors): ”The absence of a proper “Host” (the Cod) and the sanctification of the capelin can only be granted if the “Come from Away” not only kisses the capelin but also bites its head off.”

There was uproarious laughter and hooting from the assembled throng. I suspect that alcohol was a major factor in this decision but as the Officiant decreed it, it must be done, and it was done.

One of the Officiant’s more thoughtful advisors provided a tin bucket into which the “Come from Away” could spit the head of the capelin if s/he chose not to swallow it. The bucket also proved to be a suitable vessel for depositing anything else that came up to accompany the head of the capelin.

To my knowledge not one “Come from Away” actually swallowed the capelin head but to our credit (I think) each of us did bite the head off. It should be noted that each “Come from Away” was given a shot of Screech, which s/he was required to down before kissing and then biting the head off the capelin. The Officiant’s advisors, being naturally helpful, were ready with a second shot of Screech so that the taste of the capelin could be washed from our sophisticated “Come from Away” palates immediately after spitting the capelin head into the bucket – and after we finished gagging of course. The bucket again proved to be handy for a few of the “Come from Away” group immediately after the second shot of screech hit her/his gullet.

Certificate of Screech In Stan Marshall 1997

Kept my certificate just in case ….

Officiant: “You have honoured the body and blood of our ancesters and the great God of the Cod so by the grace of the ghost of Joey Smallwood [the last founding Father of Confederation as he was premier of NL when they joined Canada in 1949] and the authority vested in me by the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador, you are hereby enrolled in the Fraternity [and Sorority] of Screeched In Newfoundlanders.”

Once you have received your certificate it is advised that you carry it with you whenever you return to Newfoundland and Labrador as proof of your “Screeched In” status. Failure to have your certificate on your person is equivalent to revoking your status and it is mandatory that you experience the “Screech In” ceremony once again to bring your status up to date.

If you are an astute critical thinker, and not too foggy, groggy or stunned, you will know that come the morning there are questions that will need to be answered – no, not the questions that I usually ask in sequence after a night of celebrating e.g., “Where are my glasses? Where is my wallet? Is there any money in my wallet? Where are the painkillers?  But first things first, before you go to sleep or fall down where you are, your most important task is to remember that there are important questions that need to asked. I enumerate only a few of them here to start the process because I find the more that I think about these questions, the more questions I have.

  • Does it really matter if a rite de passage originated as a crass marketing tactic to fill the pockets of nightclub owners and the distillers of Screech and other beverages?
  • Is it possible or even desirable to be a candidate in the same rite de passage more than once e.g., can you pass into adulthood twice?
  • Is it possible that the “Screeching In” ceremony is more for the amusement of the native Newfoundlanders than it is for the Come From Away (CFA)?
  • Does a steady stream of CFA celebrants kissing cod (or biting the heads off capelin), drinking screech, singing, dancing and otherwise being made to look the fool tickle the Newfoundlander’s funny bone (that place at the back of the elbow where the ulnar nerve rests against a prominence of the humerus.)
  • Can a “Come from away” ever learn the language of Newfoundland?

So many questions, so little time … for a chucklehead like me to learn a new language and hatch a plot to exact revenge by dressing up like a mummer at Christmas… wait I am getting carried away. One thing I know is certain; it is pointless to try to get the last word in with a Newfoundlander.

Still flappin’

The celebration of the “Screech In” for the newly minted Honourary Newfoundlanders in Marystown continued for at least another four hours. I recall the President of our NL Division (let’s call him Wayne because everyone else in NL does and they wouldn’t want us to stand on formality) dancing a little jig as he stepped to the Convention podium first thing the next morning, all bright eyed and bushy tailed with not a hair out of place while the rest of us were “all mops and brooms” and looking like we had been “hauled through a knot hole.”

Wayne addressed the assembled delegates at 9 a.m. sharp with an informal report on the dance the previous evening. He had supervised the entire event personally to ensure it was a huge success and to win a bet with the National President at the time (let’s call her “Judy” because everyone else does) that he could keep her dancing until the band “gave’er up” and that was at 4 a.m. Wayne relayed that he was glad he hadn’t taken his shoes off when he went to bed because when he woke up in the morning, he looked down and his feet were “still flappin’.” I dies at ‘im [translation: he is some funny guy.]

I didn’t know it at the time but Wayne’s professed experience of continuing the dance all night even after going to bed, was to be my future. I wake up often to find one or both of my feet “flappin’” as my medication has worn off.  These involuntary muscle movements are more than mere tremours which many of us identify as being Parkinson’s; they are strong, constant, persistent, repetitive and painful muscle contractions over which I have little or no control without pharmaceutical assistance. I sometimes use some meditative techniques but they are successful only to a limited degree in some speciifc instances.

Don’t get me wrong; Wayne’s little joke is still very funny in context but it is not quite as fun or funny if you consider what a Person with Parkinson’s (PwP) feels and faces upon waking with feet ‘flappin’.” Nothing is absolute, as they say, and thank goodness there is room for humour in many things that we may think to be sad, painful or grim. Sometimes flappin’ feet can be funny and fun and it makes us laugh when our two kittens think it is a game and pounce on my feet as I kick and wriggle under the covers.

As long as the arse isn’t outa ‘er

You know, the highly expressive language of the Newfoundlanders is exactly what I needed to help me identify, clarify and sum up my objective for this series of blogs. My goal is to begin to understand of how I got ‘here’ from ‘there.’ What happened along the way? Have I passed through the requisite rites de passages on my journey to my present status in society? How many of those events were real and how many were fake and does it matter if they were ‘meaningful?’ What kept me on course and what threw me off course?

Usually when a Newfoundlander says that the “arse is out of ‘er,” s/he is referring to the fact that the economy is in hard times and that things have gone wrong, very wrong and probably out of control. I hesitate to think of what that means when applied to the direction of a person’s life. I am counting on not hearing, “The arse is gone right clean outa ‘er,” when I continue my journey to explore the factors that hold my life together.

We’ll continue the quest in these and other questions in Directions Part II: No mea culpa here, coming soon to thepdgardener.wordpress.com.

NOTES

Note 1: On December 6, 2001 the Constitution of Canada was amended to change Newfoundland’s official name to Newfoundland and Labrador. In keeping with that change, I will use the full Newfoundland and Labrador assignation when referring to the political entity, the province. However, when I reference the cultural entity that is Newfoundland, I will use the short and original form, Newfoundland.

Note 2: It is nice to be referred to as young and I bask in this moment as Newfoundland came into Confederation as Newfoundland in 1949, the year in which I was born. It became Newfoundland and Labrador in 2001, see note 1 above. For those who are asking: Nunavut became Canada’s youngest Territory, not a province, when it separated from the Northwest Territories in 1999.

Note 3: Shaun Majumder is a comedian of note and a native Newfoundlander. He has a very funny bit on what happens when you ask for directions to a pharmacy in Newfoundland and Labrador. Be warned that this clip does contain mature language and explores some mature themes. It can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vxR6YPW24X0

RESEARCH AND REFERENCES

Martin Connelly, ”Why I won’t be screeching” in The Morning News https://www.themorningnews.org/article/why-i-wont-be-screeching

Encounternewfoundland.com http://encounternewfoundland.com/newfinese-101-words-and-phrases-youre-likely-to-hear-on-the-rock/

en.wiktionary.org https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/arse_is_gone_right_out_of_%27er

Explorenewfoundlandandlabrador.com http://www.explorenewfoundlandandlabrador.com/newfoundland-words-and-sayings.htm

Joebattsarm.ca http://www.joebattsarm.ca/Old_Sayings.html

Shaun Majumder, Newfie Directions, on YouTube.com https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vxR6YPW24X0

newfoundlandlabrador.com http://www.newfoundlandlabrador.com/AboutThisPlace/PeopleCulture

© Stan Marshall (The PD Gardener) 2017

_____________________________________________________________________

LIST OF POSTS IN THIS SERIES 

DIRECTIONS:   Taking the Scenic Route to Parkinson’s and Beyond    

DIRECTIONS Part I: “Stay where you’re at ’til I comes where you’re to, b’y“    

COMING SOON!

DIRECTIONS Part II: Stories of Halloween, Outhouses, potatoes, pesticides, Parkinson’s and mea culpa

LEARNING TO WALK AGAIN … OR … READING BETWEEN THE LINES

Learning To Walk Again … Or … Reading Between The Lines

Author’s foreword

Readers of this blog know that I have been accused of (and admit to) writing extremely long blog posts with content that takes many twists and turns before finally arriving at some evident, or not so evident, conclusion. Now, I am aware that many people neither like, nor read, lengthy posts and they have articulate reasons for their inaction and inattention.

Equally, I am aware that there is a long and honourable tradition among those who love newspapers (and especially among those who impress upon others that they read their broadsheet newspapers from cover to cover,) to read the headline, a few of the sub-heads and first sentence and then move on to the next article. Naturally, they look at the photos – in a kind of reverse approach to how many men say they read Playboy or Penthouse. 

Today, I acquiesce to this reading style by writing in a form to match i.e., this post will consist of one headline with five sub-heads and respective opening sentences mimicking the content many readers would actually read even if the article were thousands of words longer.  I approach this project fearfully as it is a major departure from my usual style and so many words will have to die in the editing process. Read on to see how this works out.

PERSON WITH PARKINSON’S RENDERED IMMOBILE

The PD Gardener, having walked and cycled almost all of his life was understandably shocked at becoming almost completely immobile i.e., not able to walk without assistance, over a very short time span (4 – 5 days.)

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The PD Gardener doing what he does. Photo: Anne Marshall 2014

Looking for answers (in all the wrong places?) 

“Doctor, Doctor, Mister M.D. Can you tell me what’s ailing me? “ (Endnote 1)

and

Knee bone connected to the thigh bone

Thigh bone connected to the hip bone

Hip bone connected to the back bone (Endnote 2)

The above lyrics sing to me as I struggle to understand the crisis that currently engulfs my body and brain but unfortunately the answer seems locked forever in a “song that never ends.” (Endnote 3)

‘Advance’ and ‘progress’ are positive words, aren’t they?

It is a sobering moment when you realize you are ticking off the progress of your new and/or worsening Parkinson’s symptoms on a mental score card of scientifically established, empirical milestones signifying the intractable advance of Parkinson’s.

Symptoms defy explanation say medical specialists

“Appointments with various physicians, surgeons and other health professionals have left us confused and frustrated.”

The new normal 

Physiotherapy, Pilates and exercise show definite promise to lead the way back to a new normal … but why does the new normal feel like walking on bubble wrap?

IMG_2389

Better take provisions if the journey is 1,000 miles like this first mile.  Photo: The PD Gardener 2015

Next step
“It is often said that ‘a journey of 1,000 miles starts with a single step’ (end note 4) … but the importance of finding the start line and the correct direction should not be underestimated,” the PD Gardener notes sardonically.

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Perhaps the answer is just around the corner and down the hill…. Photo: The PD Gardener, 2015

End Notes

  1. “Good Lovin’ “ lyrics by Rudy Clark and Arthur Resnick. Number hit for The Young Rascals 1966.
  1. “Dem Bones” is a spiritual written by James Weldon Johnson circa 1920.
  1. Origin of “This is the song that never ends” or “This is the song that doesn’t end” is unknown but seems to have been made popular by Shari Lewis and Lamp Chop.
  1. Attributed to Lao Tzu, a contemporary of Confucius and a major figure in Chinese philosophy.

© Stan Marshall (The PD Gardener) 2016

In Altamont, Living to be 100 is Old Hat or Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m 64?

Author’s Foreword

hat Thepdgardener IMG_0608

It happens sometimes that people are overlooked. They shouldn’t be but they are. I was looking at some old photos the other day and it occurred to me that in my last blog post I unintentionally neglected another centenarian, a remarkable woman who just happens to be my daughters’ great, great aunt (my ex-wife’s great aunt to be precise.) So it is that Jean Madill joins Jemima (‘Aunt ‘Mime) Wilson, Mary Anne Scoles and Mary Armitage as centenarians I have known.  Jean was not only a contemporary of these three women but she shared that same four-mile geographic proximity to Altamont, Manitoba. The probabilities of a convergence of people (all women in this case) who live to be 100 or more years old within the same locale must be pushing the boundaries of something more than mere coincidence. If living to be 100 years old is getting to be “old hat,” then I would like my old hat to join that select grouping in another 33 years!  It seems a little premature to celebrate that occasion just yet given that I am a Person with Parkinson’s (PwP) and have other health problems… but you never know.

This post has taken me eons to write. I thought it was going to be a quick exercise to correct an oversight but it has turned out to be an excursion into social and health policy on care and care giving for those with chronic conditions. Many of these thoughts were sparked in a round about way by memories of Jean Madill, some were honed with the assistance of my friend Selma Garten and some were rekindled in recent days with the passing of my cousin, Bob Marshall, after a long battle with Parkinson’s and dementia.

But I have to start somewhere so let me give you the lowdown on Jean Madill and how her story relates to the importance of family, ideology and public policy in determining how and where we live out our “golden years.”

Jean Madill

Born: December 14, 1905 in Altamont, Manitoba

Died: November 6, 2006 in Notre Dame de Lourdes, Manitoba (100 years 325 days.)

Father: R. W. (Wes) Madill. Born February 5, 1871 in Ontario. Died: July 3, 1944 in Altamont

Mother: Jane Elizabeth (née Maloney) Madill. Died: June 15, 1955.

 

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Jean Madill (L.)  Sadie Wilson (R.)  In Sadie’s grocery store. Photo: S.Marshall c. 1982

Why have I been thinking about Jean? Is it that she joined that select club of being a woman centenarian who lived in Altamont?  Partly I guess, but that is not the whole of it. Jean was a unique individual who lived a unique life in unique circumstances. To be blunt, she was a character who would have had to be invented if she did not exist in real life. She deserves to be accorded a special place in the recorded annals of Altamont, Manitoba. Unfortunately though, I don’t find much of her in those records.  Maybe I am not looking in the right annals?

Please bear with me while I think this through a bit. You see, I knew Jean mostly during the 25 year period after she turned 50 years of age.  Minor arithmetic will tell you that while I am able to relay some of my own personal memories and thoughts from the time period I knew her best, I can only touch indirectly upon her first 50 years and her final 25 years.  Still,  Jean’s life has me thinking about care for the elderly, disabled, mentally ill and those with chronic health problems.  She provides a springboard for a discussion about the ideology, values, and the evolution in treatment for those with mental health problems and the pressing need in today’s society for care of the elderly with or without chronic health complications.  Prior to retirement my job required me to be knowledgeable about health policy and the politics of health care.  Now, I am a Person with Parkinson’s (PwP) and these matters are much more in my face in a very personal way.

No memories are insignificant 

I feel it is only fair that you should know that my recollections of Jean and others have been processed, filtered and stored in my cerebral cortex waiting for the appropriate stimuli to unlock them.  I am not certain how memories are for others but mine do not flow over my brain like a smooth, soothing stream of healing water.  No, any particular memory making its way through my brain crashes against the folds of my cerebral cortex  and against other memories. The energy released from these collisions is what I call ‘gray energy’ inasmuch as it emanates from the intersection of the gray matter of my brain and the gray areas in my memory.  This ‘gray’ energy has an irradiance and illuminance enabling the “mind’s eye” to detect subliminal images within the darkest recesses of the cerebral cortex.   [Sorry to disappoint you but ‘gray energy’ in this context has nothing to do with the burning of fossil fuels, and ‘subliminal’ has nothing to do with whether you are unknowingly being tempted to buy popcorn at the concession in the movie theater.]

Memories are critical to how I interpret the world and releasing them is sometimes a curious procedure.  Although the process I outline above seems rather ad hoc and perhaps chaotic, I don’t believe that ‘Chaos Theory’ plays any role in the formulation of my beliefs i.e., in my brain there is no equivalent of a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil, creating (or preventing) a hurricane in Texas.  While my heart may flutter from time to time for good reason (perhaps romantic, perhaps physiological) and my dopamine deprived brain will challenge my equilibrium, my perception of the world remains firmly rooted in whether ‘facts’ and memories line up. You see, I don’t believe that my memories, even seemingly insignificant ones, are ad hoc.  Memories surface in a never ending human quest to understand and explain our existence, and in our innate drive to improve our lives (not just individually but also collectively.)

The more memories of Jean Madill rise to the surface, the more I realize that these particular images lead to substantive questions of social policy and social change. How does society care for those who have chronic and long term illnesses?  Who has the financial resources to meet the level of care required –  the state, institutions, communities, families?  Who has the capacity to ensure that the burden of care giving does not weaken and destroy the structure of support around those who need care?   Can a rose with a cloying name assist in understanding the values of a caring society?  What does the stigma of mental illness have to do with anything?  Some of these questions may appear to be unconnected but often the circuitous ‘milk run’ is the best way to see the incredible beauty of the countryside … or if you love train travel you will have the advantage of observing the backbone or the back side (some say backside) of every community.

Altamont 1906 IMG_6001

Altamont 1905   Photo from Memories of Lorne 1880 – 1980.

The photo at the left shows the main street of Altamont in 1905, the year Jean Madill was born. Only the United Church building (white A frame building at left) remains today. The train tracks cross the photo at the bottom.

Children of the 1950s

I will begin my journey with a brief look at children in 1950 rural Manitoba. When I was a child we would tease Jean Madill. I don’t recall it being malicious teasing and there were many occasions when I remember Jean laughing at a trick or two she played on us.  Still, you know how seven and eight year old boys behave sometimes – fuelled by a mixture of underdeveloped (not undeveloped) testosterone, a surfeit of bravado, boundless mostly misdirected and misguided energy, powered by a brain roughly equivalent to that of a chimpanzee, making for unpredictable and borderline acceptable social behaviour.

In the 1950s these chimpanzees … er … children were set loose to run unsupervised up and down the main street in Altamont on a Saturday night, the night when both farm and town families ventured into the stores to shop for groceries, get a haircut, skate or curl in winter, visit with friends and those acquaintances who lived farther away, and for the men to disappear into the Altamont Hotel slaking their chapped lips and dusty Souls with a few drafts of beer, away from the prying eyes of wives and other busy bodies. [Hey, I am just calling it like it was.] In other words, the adults were busy and the chimps … er … children had slipped their minders. A friend of mine used to categorize children as being “rug rats” until they could run and climb at which point they became “yard apes” or “street monkeys.” I guess we were the latter.

Sometimes the street monkeys would hurl taunts at each other and tease anyone who was different or appeared vulnerable.  Animal behaviours can rise to the surface in uncontrolled situations.  Jean Madill was one of the vulnerable and we (I am admitting my culpability here) would race past her chanting

Jean, Jean made a machine

Joe, Joe, made it go

Art, Art blew a fart

And blew the whole damn machine apart.

I guess you have to be in Grade 2 or 3 to appreciate how close this is to genius poetry for a seven-year old … well, a seven-year-old boy anyway.  Obviously, this little rhyme has been around since the 1950’s as I personally recall using it during those years. It was reprised with widespread attention in 1987 as “Zed’s Poem” in Police Academy 4: Citizens on Patrol. However, the rhyme is a variation of this older version originating in the 1920s.

Gene, Gene, made a machine

Joe, Joe, made it go

Frank, Frank, turned the crank

His mother came and gave him a spank

Sent him over the river bank. (See note 1)

Of course, as we were chanting it directly to our Jean Madill, we always thought the rhyme referred to “Jean, Jean” and not “Gene, Gene.”

Mental illness or mental health?

Why were we teasing Jean Madill?  That is a very good question with a not very good answer, I am afraid. Today, we would probably say that Jean had a mental illness or disability. It may even have a name although I don’t know that it does.  In the 1950s such conditions were described in common parlance as crazy, loony tunes, nuts, crackers, whacko, or some other not very helpful appellate. Not very adult I know, but at what age does adulthood begin? [When do street monkeys become sentient human beings?] As a corollary, is it too much to expect children to be adult? Whatever the answer, it is never too much to ask adults to be adult and the fact that many adults also said these same insensitive things is telling of both the “adults” and the times. Very often, people of that day did not address mental illness openly or compassionately and it was almost impossible to escape the stigma attached to it.

Looking back on it, I do sometimes think that maybe we children were a slight bit more adult than I give us credit for being.   To the best of my recollection, I never heard children say Jean was a “retard,” an “imbecile,” a “moron,” an “idiot,” or a “lunatic.“ Ironically, these were names we reserved for our close friends or those with whom we wanted to be friends, but weren’t.  It turns out that sociologists and criminologists studying deviant behaviour and government social policy experts and administrators had already reserved these names for use in their professional studies. Individuals were placed in “lunatic asylums” or “insane asylums” because they were “criminals,” “dangerous,” “maniacs“ or better yet, all three.  I cannot imagine that any of these descriptors were seriously applied to Jean Madill.  I certainly never saw her this way.

Most likely, we did not call Jean those names because Jean, 45 years older than we were, was not in our cohort.  She was of our parents’ and grandparents’ generations. We knew she was “different” but none of us perceived her as a threat. She was a benevolent figure from another dimension in our dramatis personae.  I have to be careful here not to leave the impression that we somehow were “enlightened” and should be applauded. Save your applause.  Consciously we weren’t but underneath our chimp behaviour lay a child’s inherent trust – not always to be relied upon but in this case a good barometer.

I have not read extensively on the subject of mental health but what I have read indicates that “mental health” as a concept was not in vogue at the turn of the 20th Century.   Put another way, mental illness had not yet been re-branded as mental health.  In fact, the first Mental Health Week in Canada was declared only in 1951, a full 46 years after Jean Madill was born. At the time Jean entered this world,radio was still two decades away from being the latest craze and the widespread use and ownership of television sets was even further away. Social media campaigns such as Bell Let’s Talk Day were unheard of and it would be almost fifty years after the first Mental Health Week before the Internet and social media would provide a platform in the struggle to end the stigma of mental illness; to highlight the need for access to care and services; to provide guidance for workplace mental health initiatives; to fund research on treatments and cures; and to support community organizations in their local programs and services.

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The 2016 Bell Let’s Talk Days raised an astonishing $6,295,764.75 from 125,915,295 calls, texts, tweets and shares. Since 2010, the total contribution is approaching $100,000,000 to mental health programs. We should be encouraged by the support this campaign has received but we have to wonder why, more than 110 years after Jean Madill was born, the conversation about mental health remains so difficult and illusive.

The language of mental health

As a child the most charitable thing I recall hearing in relation to Jean Madill’s situation is that she had been studying to be a nurse when she had a “nervous breakdown” (see Note 2.)   I was eight years old and I was not exactly sure what this phrase meant. I am not sure I know even now. I do know that the term is not a medical one and it does not refer to a specific condition. In general, it describes a period of stress (usually temporary) where a person is not able to function normally in daily life. Everything just becomes too overwhelming. (See Note 3)

What is mental health anyway? About 30 years ago some friends were visiting with their precocious five-year-old daughter. Let’s call her Abigail.   Abigail and I had been dispatched to the corner store for some milk and as we walked she started a rather serious conversation about how she was feeling. She suddenly stopped walking, stood back, put her hands on her hips, looked me straight in the eye and announced quite pointedly, “I have had several mental breakdowns, you know.” It took me by surprise and I snorted a little laugh before recovering quickly to say sympathetically, “That’s too bad but I understand that you grow out of them.” Almost immediately she switched to another subject and nothing more was said about her breakdowns. When I relayed this story to her parents later that evening they laughed and explained that “temper tantrums” in their family are referred to as “mental breakdowns.” It seemed reasonable at the time but now it has me wondering where temper tantrums fit in the typologies of disorders in relation to depression or anxiety, and whether ‘tantrums’ could ever constitute an inability to function in daily life, or at least be a symptom of mental illness, an indicator of things to come.

I can only imagine that my own parents and other family members must have wondered about my early childhood behaviour at times. Some of my very earliest memories involve throwing temper tantrums when I didn’t get my way. I recall one occasion when I threw a huge tantrum, a performance worthy of an Oscar – full out crying/wailing, foot stomping, yelling, and screaming. I don’t recall pitching anything but I may have.  To make matters worse we were at my aunt and uncle’s house and I am certain my parents were mortified by my behaviour.  I recall being banished to a quiet room from which I escaped to hide in the car because my parents were going to go into the city and weren’t going to take me!  The forgoing “drama”unfolded but I feel compelled to reserve more specific details for another blog posting – or maybe for the next time I have an opportunity to occupy a therapist’s couch!

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The PD Gardener c. 1952   Photo: R. B. Marshall

My point is that the language of mental illness and mental health is tricky and in Jean’s case categorizing the problem as a “nervous breakdown” seemed carefully designed to project 1) an impression that Jean had been “normal” but had some sort of mental collapse from which she was not able to recover; 2) that she was intelligent and studying to take on a respected and important professional career; and 3) she was to be treated with kindness and respect.  Aside from some teasing and mild harassment by unthinking, uncaring, and unaware chimpanzees/children, I perceive this to be the case but I am certain there were undercurrents through the community that were not as innocuous. You would think that something unsavoury had to have happened in the 100 years of Jean’s life, but if it did, I don’t know what it was.

The changing landscape of mental health

When the Manitoba Asylum at Selkirk, Manitoba was built in 1886, it was the only facility on the Canadian prairies with separate facilities to care for the mentally ill.  It shouldn’t surprise anyone that overcrowding was an issue almost immediately.  As a result, a “Home for Incurables” was established in Portage La Prairie and in 1891 a second asylum opened in Brandon. By 1914 there were about 1,500 patients in the three Manitoba facilities combined. While it is true that more attention was being given to mental illness, care for patients was not well understood and both psychiatry and psychiatric nursing in Manitoba were still at rudimentary stages. The nurses’ residence did not open at the Selkirk Hospital until 1926 and it wasn’t until 1960 that Psychiatric Nursing was established as a separate professional entity in the province. But by 1950 the number of patients in psychiatric hospitals in Canada ballooned to over 66,000.

The distinction between a mental health concern and a mental illness [a mental health concern becomes a mental illness when ongoing signs and symptoms cause frequent stress and affect your ability to function, see Note 4] was not well understood nor were the wide variety of symptoms and behaviours. People did seem to understand that stress, a traumatic life experience, an abusive relationship, brain damage, chronic medical conditions, or drug an alcohol abuse might cause mental illness.  Even so, there was often disagreement on treatments and availability of treatment was not guaranteed.

Have mental health matters become more clear in a present day world?  I am not sure, as there is a bewildering array of concepts joining the aforementioned “nervous breakdown” and “mental breakdown,” challenging the layperson to keep abreast. Just what are the differences and similarities among concepts such as mental illness, mental disability, mental impairments, mental retardation, learning disability, psychiatric disability, intellectual disability, anxiety disorder, mood disorder, depressive disorder, affective disorder, seasonal affective disorder (SAD), schizophrenia disorder, dysthymia, obsessive compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, to name a few?  I do understand that specificity in definition is required to advance science but sometimes in the interests of awareness, simplicity works. Mental illness comes in many shades and shapes and when a mental illness interferes with the performance of major life activities, such as learning, working and communicating, etc. it is a disability.  (See Note 5)

So it was that Jean Madill was a young adult in the 1920s with a mental illness/disability. Available facilities for the treatment and care of mental illnesses were nascent and poorly equipped to classify patients, never mind actually treat them.

The changes in the name from “Goal” (sic) [I assume it should be Gaol,] to “Manitoba Asylum”, to “Selkirk Insane Hospital” [1910], to “Selkirk Hospital for Mental Diseases”, to “Selkirk Mental Health Centre”, reflect the changes in attitude, philosophy and function that mark the course of progress in the care and treatment of the mentally ill. (See Note 6)

These name changes coincide with a policy to shift care from institutions to community in the 1950s in an attempt to eliminate or at least soften the negative effects of institutions. New and better medications, approaches that stressed rehabilitation, and a program of foster care for children during the 1950s and 1960s, dramatically reduced patient populations in institutions. Institutions did however pick up the pieces when families and/or communities failed or where the patient was not suitable for placement in the community.

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Genevieve Evangeline (Eva) Marshall   Photo credit and date unknown

[Interestingly, my Aunt Eva Marshall played a key role in many children’s lives as a foster parent during this time period. I recall meeting several of her foster children when I visited with my cousins during summers at the Brandon Experimental Farm. While there was some “drama” from time to time, I do not recall any interaction as being upsetting … or uplifting for that matter. It just was.]

Two cases from the mental hospital grounds: Jessica and the King of Prince Edward Island

In the late 60s and early 70s, I played hockey in Brandon and Selkirk which coincidentally were the locations of mental hospitals in Manitoba.  In Brandon my teammates and I would often go to the grounds of the mental hospital to play soccer, Frisbee, baseball or just hang out on nice warm spring days.  Often, we would encounter staff and “inmates” as we called them from the hospital. I was totally ignorant about almost every dimension of mental illness. I recall being very surprised to encounter the teenage granddaughter (let’s call her Jessica) of some people I knew. I met Jessica on several previous occasions at her grandparents’ house. Apparently she was well known to my friends as someone who was being treated as an outpatient at the Hospital and liked to engage in sex talk.

The few times I saw Jessica on the Hospital grounds we were with our respective groups of friends – all girls in her group, all guys in mine. I recall the encounters as hyper – dramatic, foul – mouthed displays of aggression graphically punctuated with shouted litanies of various sex acts and behaviours.  It was not the innocent, humorous and flirtatious banter between teenage girls and boys intent on striking up friendships and romances or even temporary sexual dalliances. Jessica and her gang never escaped the collective persona of a slut. What was the collective persona of the gang I was with, you ask?  Good question. We were probably closest to a tormentor, willingly providing the stimuli, the mean teasing, and the suggestive contexts for the sluts to hurl the filth that we wanted to hear.  I don’t know if we took Jessica’s gang down to our level or vice-versa but the fact is that we were both at the same low-level level – so far down that no lower level could be achieved without physical contact.  But to my knowledge, no relationships, sexual or otherwise, ever developed between members of our groups. It seems weird but we always parted somewhat amicably as our ‘fuck you’ and ‘fuck off’ goodbyes and other creative invective hurled in both directions were pinned in the air like corsages and boutonniere to be cherished forever as keepsakes.

I was accustomed to crude behaviour as it is the norm among young hockey players but I have to say that these experiences with Jessica and her friends rattled me a little. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t a saint by any means but I was fresh off the farm so to speak and had never encountered such explicit behaviour in girls. I suppose Jessica might have been concerned that I would rat her out to her grandparents but I doubt that this was a major issue. She needn’t have been concerned anyway as I didn’t know them well enough to broach this topic, and I can’t imagine what I would have said to her grandparents that would have been helpful to keep the conversation going. “Oh by the way, I saw Jessica on Saturday and she asked me to …. “ I don’t think so! Besides, it has taken 50 years for me to even let it rise to the surface. I never saw Jessica after those few encounters that summer.

In Selkirk, several of my friends worked at the Selkirk Mental Hospital. Sometimes a few of us would go to the manicured green spaces of the Hospital to beat the summer heat. Often we would encounter a friend who was on the grounds working with a patient or two. I don’t have very fond memories of those occasions. From my perspective there was always an element of the unknown, a concern for safety, and there was an undercurrent of ridicule and nastiness of staff and visitors towards patients that sometimes surfaced in ways that were seemingly innocuous, but were anything but innocuous. At the time we thought it was funny to ask one particular patient repeatedly, “What is your name?” And when the patient answered just as predictably and repeatedly, “The King of Prince Edward Island,” we would laugh uproariously. Like small children we, including the patient it seems, never grew weary from the repetition and only stopped when the orderly ordered us to stop. While hospital staff was complicit in these exchanges, to their credit they were the ones who knew to draw the line when our games became too harassing.

I am not sure if either the Selkirk or Brandon Hospitals were options for the Madill family in their search for treatment for Jean. I would be surprised if there were not inquiries and/or consultations. However, I am not privy to this information and while I am interested from both an academic and a personal perspective, these details are not germane to the story I recount today. Suffice to say that by the mid 20th century the paradigm for the delivery of mental health programing had shifted from institutions toward community and family.

The importance of family

The Madills had roots deep in the community going back to the early 1890s.  R.W. “Wes” Madill married Jane Elizabeth Maloney in 1894 and went to Altamont from Austin, Manitoba to manage a retail store owned by his uncle John Sampson.  Wes would buy the business in 1902 and run it for the next 28 years.   On the Maloney family side, Elizabeth’s father, Henry, came to Altamont in 1890 and was Postmaster from 1907 – 1920.  Prominent in business and public service, both families were well known and respected throughout the community.  [Coincidentally, my own father was the Postmaster from 1955 – 1972.]

Those deep roots and the relationships that grew from them would cement Jean’s path in the future. In essence, the family pulled its own ‘safety net’ tightly around Jean such that she was able to live her long life in relative dignity in the same small community where she was born – a claim few others can make.

Jean had three brothers. Clifford married Jessie Skinner; Gordon married Fanny Acaster; and her twin brother Ken married Elsie Snowdon. Her two sisters were Mabel, married to Jim Dean, and Grace who married Jack Shellard. Cliff and Gordon continued to live locally and I recall the others were in contact regularly.  Over the years these siblings, their partners, extended families, and other community members provided a safe haven for Jean – one that permitted her not just ‘to survive’ or ‘to exist’ but ‘to live’ with some form of dignity.

To be blunt, providing care for someone with a long term illness requires considerable financial resources irrespective of whether the care is provided in an institution, the community or by the family.  My understanding is that one source of financial support for Jean was her parent’s estate. Her father, Wes Madill, died July 3, 1944 at age 73 when Jean was 38 years old and she was 49 when her mother, Jane Maloney Madill, died on June 15, 1955.  No one could have guessed that Jean would live to be almost 101 years old, outliving her immediate family members and most of her contemporaries in the community.

The Madill estate included some income-generating property such as the “Madill Block” established on Altamont’s Main Street at the turn the 20th century. Unfortunately the store was destroyed by fire early in the morning of December 3, 1905. The loss of the store and stock was valued at $10,000 and was insured for only $6,700 but Wes continued to operate the store out of the Maccabbee Hall [another interesting topic for a future blog post] until 1907 when a new building was completed. The risk of fire must have been very high in these communities [I plan to explore this theme of fire in future blog posts] as on a Sunday morning in May 1923 fire levelled Madill’s store once again. And, once again Wes Madill operated the store from another property until he could rebuild. The business was finally sold to George Bishop in 1930 but I believe the Madill family retained ownership of the Block.

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Photo showing the Madill Block in early 1950s. Fire would soon destroy the hardware store at the left. Photo: unknown

In the 1950s the Madill Block had two competing grocery stores coexisting side by side on the street level. (I remember my dad telling me that we should patronize each store to an approximate equal amount.) There were also three or four apartments on the second floor. The Block has specific memories for most children of my generation. It certainly does for me. The very first time I watched television was in Orville Bishop’s apartment in the Block. Orville was a bachelor farmer who moved to town and he owned the first and only TV in the community at the time. Along with his farming and bridge playing buddies, he watched hockey on Saturday nights but on Saturday afternoons, Orville’s apartment became the local cinema as his door was open for us to watch Horse Opera.  We huddled around the small black and white screen where Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Zorro, Rin Tin Tin, Wild Bill Hickok, Hopalong Cassidy, Wyatt Earp, The Lone Ranger, Maverick, My Friend Flicka, The Rifleman, Texas Rangers, The Last of the Mohicans, and others were central to our socialization into a culture where good guys wore white hats and bad guys wore black hats – and women played subordinate roles …. and everyone used guns. How did we escape this experience to become enlightened adults? … or did we?  Another topic for another day …. but right now we should return to the key figure in this story.

‘Stick it where?’ money

Jean Madill also lived in an apartment in the Block for quite some time; her small quarters piled high with papers and magazines. She subscribed to one of the Winnipeg papers – I am not sure which one but it was clear later in my life that if you were a Conservative you subscribed to the Winnipeg Free Press and if you were a Liberal you subscribed to the Winnipeg Tribune and maybe the Star Weekly. If you were NDP, you subscribed to the Toronto Star Weekly, and maybe the Tribune. I remember my friend R.W. and I reviewing the results of the Altamont poll after an election. We discovered that three people in the poll had voted NDP. We knew who two of them were but couldn’t place a name beside the third NDP vote. I think I know who it was but without absolute proof, I leave it a mystery. Anyway, I am not sure how much Jean knew about, or cared about, politics but I do know she read the papers – and then kept them in her apartment.

Family members dropped by from time to time to take Jean to a neighbouring community for lunch. She enjoyed such outings but before she returned other family members had swooped down upon her apartment, taken the reams of paper and cleaned up. Her place was nice and tidy again. Jean of course would be mad as a hatter and would curse at everyone involved. She sometimes remembered from one time to the next and would refuse to go for lunch at the next invitation … but mostly she liked to lunch and the ritual would continue – swearing and all. I like to think that she played the game and played her family, but who knows? Whatever the case, her family was doing its best to look after her interests.

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Desolate winter view to the west. Post Office is on right. The “A” frame building is United Church.  Photo: S. Marshall 1982

When Jean began to receive Old Age Security, she enjoyed the freedom of having money over which she had some control. In fact, she occasionally offered money to family members for cleaning her apartment or for inviting her to lunch or dinner. Sometimes she left the money later, under a vase or lamp, upon visiting that person’s home. Of course, family members would not take Jean’s money, and Jean, feeling the power of her independence would retort indignantly, “Well, stick it up your ass then!” Others are in a better position to confirm this story but I understand the money was kept to offset Jean’s unforeseen expenses and/or future needs. The money accumulated and it was commonly known among family and friends as “Stick it up your ass money.”

Cookies and commerce

When a new friend Bruce and his family moved to Altamont from Winnipeg, we played at their apartment and in the hallways of the Block, and Jean would often invite us into her apartment or sometimes a group of kids would knock on Jean’s door. We would crowd in when she answered and stand in a small clump (there were no chairs or couches free of papers or boxes) and she would offer us cookies, or bread with uncoloured margarine the same as Aunt ‘Mime would, except the bread was not as appetizing. In fact, Jean was most often very apologetic as she proffered treats, “I am sorry that I don’t have much to give you but take some of these cookies, they’re going mouldy anyway.”  My recollection is that we always ate what was offered and none of us suffered any negative consequences.

When I was about 10 years old, dad put me to work in the confectionery which was separated from the Post Office by a thin half wall of 2 x 4 studs and plywood with wire mesh to the ceiling. To get from one side to the other you used an interior particleboard door which had no lock. I remember my father laughing after the Post Office had been burgled (it was robbed more than once) that the crooks took time to smash the door down when all they had to do was turn the handle. Before I get side tracked on the history of burglaries in Altamont (fodder for another blog), let’s return to Jean Madill.

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Altamont Post Office, Confectionery and Bus Depot    Photo: unknown

Jean usually made the short walk (about 75 meters) to the Post Office each day to pick up her mail after which she would often purchase a treat in the confectionery. In order to pay, she would search through a big shopping bag pinned to her sweater or coat to retrieve another smaller bag containing a smaller purse, and inside the purse was a small plastic change squeeze. She would dig out her 25 cents for payment and then patiently return any change (yes, change from 25 cents!) to the squeeze purse that was then returned to its assigned space deep inside the succession of bags. Sometimes, there were more bags than at other times and it may not have been the height of fashion but it was a security system that seemed to work, as I don’t recall her ever being burgled.

Squeeze change purse

Squeeze change purse

Fashionista meets the fashion police

Jean was also a bit of a fashionista – maybe a “victim of fashion and accessories” (with a nod to Carol Pope and Rough Trade.) Given the multi – bag design of her purses, you might think that Jean is the classic homeless “bag lady.” You would be wrong.  She did not carry an excessive number of bags, just enough to keep her money safe and she lived in her own place in the Block and in the iconic Altamont Hotel after the Block succumbed to a declining rural economy, losing its tenants, and falling into disrepair and disuse.

Jean was rarely in accordance with fashion trends and charted her own course. She loved interesting clothes and different colours. As I recall she particularly liked to wear leggings, pants, skirts, blouses, sweaters, scarves and jewelry in any combination or number, in colours that were appropriately gaudy and outrageous, incorporating dots, stripes, checks, paisley or any other pattern, the permutations and combinations of which were seemingly limitless. This was haute couture a la Jean Madill.  I am not sure where she purchased her clothes but there has to be a story there. In the end though, the colours per se were not the problem. No, it was her style and the way she wore clothes that led to most of her transgressions with the Altamont fashion police.

In the mid 1960s she caused some consternation when she began to wear maternity tops – much cooler in the summer she reasoned. Fair enough, but generally speaking unless you were pregnant, it was not acceptable to wear maternity clothes, reasoned the local fashion police and others who had influence in her life.

Hott pants

Don’t forget though that this was the late 1960s and early 1970s (I never liked the exactness of defining cultural eras according to the precise numerical value of any decade i.e., 60s or 70s) and “fashion” for teenage girls ranged from headbands to hot pants and ponchos to peasant blouses. I waffle (not the NDP waffle) back and forth as to whether fashion was always a year or two (or ten) behind in rural Manitoba compared to the big centres or if some fashions just bypassed us altogether. In any case, I recall a group of local teenage girls headed “across the line” to Fargo and Grand Forks, North Dakota for a little shopping trip one spring. The teenagers returned with peasant blouses that to the entire world looked just like maternity tops … and they weren’t pregnant … were they? … Well … I am pretty sure they weren’t…. Maybe Jean was ahead of the curve on this fashion trend…?

Fly-fishing

The fashion police worked overtime to watch Jean even as others made fashion faux pas after fashion faux pas. I have to say that the attention was not always unwarranted. Somehow this question arose in Jean’s mind: Is it acceptable for a woman to wear men’s jeans with the fly undone during the summertime?

“A lot cooler,” Jean reasoned, and she was the first to sport this fashion statement on the streets of Altamont.

“Likely true,” the norm setters (if not trend setters) replied, “but it does fly (so to speak) in the face of community standards.”

Jean, I have to agree with them on this one. It doesn’t matter who you are, you don’t go around with your fly unzipped. Why do you think men have developed surreptitious ways of checking to see if the fly is all the way up? And even then we miss it sometimes and have to be reminded by someone who walks up with a big smile on his/her face and says, “What does an airplane do?” That is your clue to surreptitiously place your hand on your belt buckle, let your fingers drop ever so slightly as to sense the openness or ‘closedness’ at the front of your pants. Some people call this manoeuvre “fly fishing.” If it is open, you abruptly execute a pirouette (if you are very adept) or a demi – rond (if you are not so adept) pulling the zipper up as you do so, your whirling body providing diversionary cover for the covert action of nimble fingers. However, if your zipper is closed, someone has played a trick on you. Embarrassing one way but funny the other way, although it is infinitely more embarrassing when they don’t tell you and you walk around for a large portion of the day with your fly wide open as if airing the family jewels. As I grow older and more forgetful, the more important it has become for Anne to take seriously her duty to give me the once up and down every time I come back from the restroom or leave the house. I believe that all men need a zipper monitor. It was recently reinforced to me that if I slip up and don’t zip up, I am left to walk around the Christmas craft show most of the afternoon looking like Baaaad Santa. Remember: “Zip it” is more than just code for “keep your mouth closed.”

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Belt Buckle commemorating Altamont’s Centennial  Photo: The PD Gardener 2016

What can we draw from these observations about fashion? Oh boy, I might find myself in trouble here. I offer some possibilities: 1) Fashion is not fashion for everyone; for one thing it has to be age appropriate. If that is the case, Jean, you are out of luck. You were on the wrong side of the age watershed for clothes that can double as maternity as well as peasant blouses. 2) Perhaps those who had influence over Jean didn’t have the same influence over teenagers. After all, the 1960s is noted for teenage rebelliousness. 3) These teens knew that their parents would disapprove of hot pants so they erred, ironically, on the conservative side by choosing hippie peasant blouses. (Is a ‘conservative hippie’ an oxymoron?) I am not sure it matters much as all the teenage girls were right in style in hot pants a year later anyway. I am glad Jean who was well into her 50s by this time never picked up the hot pants fashion. At least, I never witnessed it. I only wish that some other women of her age group were as sensible. … I am stopping this line of thinking now… in the interests of self-preservation. 4) Finally, we can conclude that the only safe way to ensure you are zipped up is to wear clothes that have no fly, giving whole new meaning to that traditional campfire song (possibly written by Pete Seeger,) “There ain’t no flies on us.” Nevertheless, it does beg the question of whether men can wear jeans that have no fly? I wonder what Jean would think?

‘Jeannie from the Block’

Let’s leave Jean’s jeans and get back to a more serious look at ‘Jeannie from the Block’ (apologies to J. Lo.) I know very little about the ownership and management of the Madill Block. It generated income I am certain but how much I cannot say and it is not a matter of great concern to me. I do believe however that there was a concerted family effort to provide Jean as much independence and the best quality of life possible, and the Block was central to that goal at least in the early days. I am pretty certain though that for a large portion of Jean’s adult life, the resources of the extended family were called upon to meet basic needs. Knowing the Madill family as well as I do assures me that Jean was in good hands.

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The Madill Block in 1982 looks much the same as it did in 1950.  Photo: S. Marshall 1982

If Jean lived in a larger urban setting, would she have fared better? Some will argue that she would have better access to programs that would meet her specific needs. Others will say that family and a close knit rural community was all that Jean needed. Of course, we will never know for certain. Was the reality of her life a success or a disaster? On balance, I would say that it was a success; it certainly wasn’t a disaster. There will never be unanimous agreement on the benefits and shortcomings of rural life but Jean spent most of her almost 101 years living among family and friends in the same small community into which she was born. There are many who will be envious of her achievement. As people approach end of life they often express a desire to return to their families and spend their final years “at home.” You know the saying “It takes a village to raise a child.” Perhaps the parallel credo in this instance is “It took a village to ensure quality of life for Jean.”

Jean’s relationship to others in the community, family or not, was a symbiotic one. In many ways, Jean was an unofficial ambassador for Altamont providing a warm and friendly greeting to all who came within its boundaries. No event held in the community was really ‘official’ until she graced it with her presence. In villages you get used to the fact that everyone knows everyone’s business. That is certainly the case in Altamont but it is not always a bad thing. It meant people were watching out for Jean, and conversely she was watching out for them. And if they weren’t watching out for each other, they were just watching each other. Jean would raise her voice if we children were stepping out of line or if other strange “doings” were in the works. She also tidied up around the village keeping common spaces free of garbage. I believe she was compensated in some manner but I don’t know how much or who paid. I do not believe that she was exploited in this arrangement.

It all seems a little idyllic and idealistic, doesn’t it? Is the secret to providing care for someone with a chronic illness or disability that simple? Family and community to the rescue! Well, not exactly, but before I digress into some political theory, it is time to stop for a moment to smell the roses.

A Rose for Jean

In my previous blog post I recommended a specific rose to represent each of the other three centenarians I have known. Keeping with that theme, Jean Madill deserves an appropriate  rose.  I thought long and hard about which rose I would chose, not just to celebrate her long life but to represent her story.  Inevitably, I gravitated toward the Hope for Humanity Rose developed at the Morden Research Station by Lynn Collicutt in 1984 in the Parkland series and introduced by Agriculture Canada in 1995 in honour of the 100th Anniversary of the founding of the Canadian Red Cross. This compact rose might be overlooked except for clusters of very dark red roses that bloom continuously in the growing season and through which she shouts, “Hey! I am here! I am beautiful!” It is a truism, I suppose, that everyone has detractors and some claim that Hope for Humanity requires extra care and pruning and is therefore “high maintenance.” Some say they hate the name … too cloying, an excess of liberal sentiment that almost makes them gag … but purchase the rose anyway for the beauty of the blooms.

In truth, neither the rose nor Jean Madill is “high maintenance.” All roses do require some regular care and pruning and Jean required familial oversight and a safe haven to thrive … and perhaps a little fashion advice and assistance with housekeeping along the way. Roses bloom with an ethereal beauty that is difficult to capture even with the latest technology. Similarly Jean Madill’s personality, nurtured by family and a caring community, carried a sparkle that shone through the gray of mental illness. 

Hope for Humanity: More than meets the eye

From the moment I first heard it, I was smitten by the phrase “Hope for Humanity.” Some would say my infatuation is just the “bleeding heart liberal” or the “social democrat” in me coming to the surface. Maybe that is the part of me that makes others gag?  Whatever, I do find the name “Hope for Humanity” thought provoking and uplifting.

We forever have Hope – a concept that I find somewhat mushy in the abstract but extremely sharp in its realism. For example, I hope for a cure for Parkinson’s disease. I carry that hope with me always even though it seems a bit vague, more like wishful thinking for something, anything, to happen. Hope is put into sharp focus though when the reality of what the fulfillment of wishes, prayers, and hopes actually means for persons living with Parkinson’s, their spouses, lovers, family, caregivers, and friends. It means a release from a complex of motor and non-motor symptoms that may range from annoying to unbearable, from predictable to unpredictable, from inconvenient to debilitating, from muscle movement irritants to excruciatingly painful cramping, from mildly intrusive anomalies to completely dominating regularities, from optimism to pessimism, and from joy to depression – all on any given day, at any given time, sometimes repeating with a relentless ebb and flow throughout every 24 hour period … forever. I witness that reality in myself and in my Parkie friends every day. When you understand the magnitude, the depth and breadth of this existence and the enormity of the joy that a cure would bring to our hearts, the relief it would bring to our minds, and the release it would bring to our muscles and brains, then Hope is no longer mushy; C’est clair!

Humanity” appears to be a straightforward concept meaning “mankind” or “humanness.” A literal interpretation of “Hope for Humanity” would be that we have “hope for mankind,” a lovely thought in its generality but it leaves too much unsaid for my liking. Ironically, I have to seek the abstract before I can understand the concreteness. Abstractly, humanity embodies qualities such as “benevolence,” “compassion,” “generosity,” “charity,” and “kindness.” You might argue that these are merely synonyms but I maintain that they form a package, reinforcing and strengthening each other to create an invincible mesh, a “social safety net,” the concrete manifestation of the altruism necessary for social and economic security.

“Social safety net”

Please excuse me as I continue my digression from roses per se to reflect on the fact that liberal democracies provide some form of “social safety net” for citizens. The term “social safety net” has many definitions ranging from minimal economic support or welfare (provided by governments, charities, informal social groups, and churches to citizens who have fallen on hard times) to the comprehensive supports provided by the modern “welfare state.” I truly dislike the term “welfare state” and I am in a mild state of shock that I have even raised it here.  I guess I would prefer ”social democratic state” in recognition that social responsibility is at its core.

In a social democratic state, the “social safety net” expands to include universal health care, unemployment insurance, public education and social services, state pension plans such as the Canada Pension Plan (CPP,) among other things. It springs from an ideology of an equal playing field to achieve success and redistribution of wealth occurs primarily through progressive taxation and access to services on the basis of need. My own personal beliefs fall very closely to these ideals. The state has a mandate to provide the structures of economic and social security for its citizens, intervening with various supports where necessary. No one should be left behind. (See Note 7)  It occurs to me that the values of a ”social democratic state” mirror the qualities in our earlier definition of “humanity” e.g., “benevolence,” “compassion,” “generosity,” “charity,” and “kindness.”

It should come as no surprise then that the “Hope for Humanity” rose has a complexity of her own being a hybrid of Prairie Princess, Morden Amorette, Morden Cardinette, R. rugosa and R. arkansana giving it a deep, almost blood red bloom to separate it from the landscape, a hardiness to cold weather, a resistance to disease, and all with a fragrance that does not overwhelm. For me, the heritage of the rose and the intricacies of “Hope” and “Humanity,” confirmed the Hope for Humanity rose as most appropriate to accompany Jean Madill.

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Two blooms on recently acquired Hope for Humanity Rose in our garden.  Photo: The PD Gardener 2016

Is family the answer?

I would not blame you for saying; “The PD Gardener has led us through a small, quite simple maze where the last turn opens into a clearing where all becomes …well … clear.” We could, quite correctly I believe, conclude that mental illness in Manitoba was not well understood at the turn of the 20th century and treatment was primitive within asylums and hospitals. This approach began to show its cracks and by mid-century treatment was shifting to community. Sadly, small communities such as Altamont (population ~200) within the Municipality of Lorne (population ~ 3,000) were unable to provide mental health and disability programs that would aid Jean’s treatment and care. Moreover, she did not have a disability that prevented her from participating in activities of daily living so there was an expectation that she could live with a certain independence outside of an institutional setting.

“Aha!” you say, “Then it is the family’s obligation and duty to care for the family member.”  You conclude that this is a story about how family provided for Jean and all was well. You are correct to a certain degree.  I believe Jean’s family did indeed ride to the rescue – out of love, duty, obligation, responsibility or whatever you might call it –  in the interest of choosing a reasonable option for Jean in a society with few options at the time. The family and many others from the community are to be commended for the role they played in Jean’s integration into community life. Altamont provided the environment Jean Madill needed and with family financial resources, the ‘safety net’ was in place.

Normally, I might be comfortable to let this observation be the end of our discussion but not today because a key question is prodding provocatively at my political core. Does it naturally follow that if we have a mental illness, disability or other chronic condition such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s, then family is the preferred social unit for provision of care?

I fear that I have now opened up another can of worms and my moral and political compass must withstand intense interference as I pass through a very dangerous highly charged magnetic field.   My good friend Selma Garten states unequivocally  that the only real safety net for anyone requiring care is family.  Put bluntly, families are reservoirs of love and do not permit family members to be abandoned.  Selma speaks from much experience having cared for parents beginning at a very early age, and for her sister as they grow older. Her thoughts speak volumes to me in that one of the greatest fears I have as a PwP is the fear of abandonment as Parkinson’s advances and takes a greater and greater toll on my body and mind, as well as on the bodies and minds of those I love and who love me.  I don’t believe that this is an unreasonable fear on my part, not because I do not have faith that Anne and my family love me (I believe with all my heart that they do and I return that love unequivocally) but because the crushing weight of the care giving function in terms of time and resources may be just too much for any family to shoulder if a ‘social safety net’ is not in place to enable and assist the family to play its role over an extended period of time.

It is probably safe to say that the ideal scenario has us spending our last years with our families, secure in the knowledge that these years will be the ‘best’ years of our lives.  Equally, I believe  that it is safe to say, “That ain’t going to happen for many of us.”  I say this not because I am depressed ( I am not) or because I do not have confidence in my loved ones, but because the cards are stacked against us as we try to reach the ideal. For families to be the ideal, our society (social, political and economic life) must provide families with the capacity to meet the demand and their mandate. To date, social democratic states have not been able to meet the test of the ideal although they are working to fund and deliver “humanity” in long term care and end of life care.  Institutional care is most often described as cold and impersonal whether provided by the state, charitable organizations, or for profit entities. In 1977 Daniel Jay Baum characterized the nursing home industry as Warehouses for Death to warn us against the institutionalization of care for the elderly. The warning continued the move started in the 1950s and 1960s toward community care – not to be confused with family care. Nevertheless, recently I heard an interview on CBC Radio with Kay Parley, a psychiatric nurse who was also a patient of that era and she claims that the move to community care was not always the best move for patients – that they would have received better treatment in institutionalized settings such as mental hospitals where patients were “pushed to do things” instead of getting treatment under the “medical model” where the focus was on curing and looking after the patient.

Now 40 years later, the warning  about nursing home care is as salient as ever and few would agree that institutional care is to be preferred over care provided by families.  In fact, it is difficult to argue against family values when they are posed as compassionate and progressive ideals in contrast to institutions. But I am about to do just that. You see, the problem is that families most often can’t meet the test either.

If we assume that family is best suited to provide care for those who are mentally ill, it should also be best suited for other critical societal responsibilities. “Home schooling” would be the norm instead of public and/or private systems of daycare, kindergarten and grade school. At the opposite end of the age spectrum, elder care would be a family responsibility and government run care and private, for profit care would be least desirable. However, I have a gut feeling that some people are less likely to situate elder care in the family than they are to situate early childhood education there. Elder care has a different labour intensity and is, considering the cost of medical devices and pharmaceuticals etc., more expensive than childcare and early grade school.  The shorter duration of elder care may offset some of the cost. To be very crass about it, youth represent ‘future value’ and while the chronically ill elderly are ‘treasured’ for past contributions, the cost of care discounts their current value.

I want to be clear that I am not ruling out family as a legitimate option in individual cases. However, I am ruling out family as the primary and most effective provider for a complex set of societal needs e.g., health care, care for the mentally ill and disabled, all levels of education, unemployment assistance, pensions and retirement income, and many other responsibilities.

Even if family values and the family unit were extremely strong in our culture (and I am not sure it is that strong) the tensile strength (See Note 8) of the family cannot be infinite. There is a point at which the ability of the family to withstand stress fails. Oh sure, the strength of each family is different resulting in uncertainty and unpredictability when one or more of its members require care outside of the norm. How a society identifies and deals with situations requiring care are important questions.  Can family be the backbone for all health, and social and economic welfare or, asked slightly differently, can family be the ‘social safety net’ from first report to last resort?

Please bear with me. You see, I can’t get it out of my head that the different types of care required for the wide array of health and mental illnesses alone places huge stress on families. Over the century of Jean Madill’s life, the identification, classification, psychological and psychiatric therapies, drug therapy treatments, and social and education programs changed significantly. These changes were both qualitative and quantitative, and included new and better therapies as well as different locations for the responsibility, administration and delivery of programs. These changes require financial resources and human labour to navigate and implement successfully – resources most families do not possess. In truth, the modern family unit is not designed to accept these obligations on an individual basis never mind on a societal basis

Two critical stressors

Families are never exempt from the stresses of having to care for someone with a chronic condition.  Financial burden is one such stressor and is most acute when the family is not able cover costs of care. This burden is somewhat less if you live in a functioning “social democratic state.” The more complex the care and treatment, the more costly it is. The longer the duration of care, the greater the financial burden. The good news is that if you are very wealthy, maybe you can manage. However, it is likely the threat of bankruptcy or significant loss of wealth is omnipresent. Bankruptcy resulting from the cost of health care is common in the United States even if the family has some type of health insurance. It is not so common in Canada, which has more public and subsidized health care.

Caregiver burden is a second stressor and accrues to family member(s) over time. The longer the family member requires assistance and the more complex the care is, the greater the caregiver burden. However, the good news is that the more responsibility for care is spread across the extended family, the more caregiver burden can be ameliorated for any individual family member.

Today, families are faced with a rapidly increasing incidence of neurological conditions e.g., Alzheimer’s which is a common form of degenerative dementia and Parkinson’s disease where an estimated 50 – 80 percent of Persons with Parkinson’s (PwP) will develop Parkinson’s dementia within ten years of diagnosis. PwP will require increasing levels of care even if there is no dementia present as its advanced symptoms and the side effects of the drugs are extremely debilitating.

Usually a person newly diagnosed with Parkinson’s will have a high degree of physical and mental functionality permitting independence on matters of daily living including continuing to work in many cases. This independence diminishes as the disease advances but the life expectancy of PwP, while shorter than those without Parkinson’s, is still a good long time depending on the efficacy of the pharmaceutical treatments and physiotherapy/exercise programs followed.

While the family will remain at the core of activities of daily living and non-medical care for a lengthy period of time, there will be an increasing reliance on professional support including neurologists, family doctors, nurses, pharmacists, psychologists, psychiatrists, physiotherapists, speech pathologists, social workers, Parkinson’s organizations, exercise coaches, gym instructors, support group volunteers, and a whole raft of others. Many PwP will develop dementia and be forced onto a path of complete dependency. The cost of care and therapies increases almost exponentially as the disease progresses. If there is no extended health insurance coverage, the cost can be crippling for the family.

As Parkinson’s is a progressively degenerative disease, caregiver burden also increases as the disease progresses although not necessarily in a linear relationship with time. It may progress quickly, slowly, or not at all during some intervals, but know this; while it may take a hiatus from time to time, it will inevitably advance.

Along with that inevitability, PwP will eventually require more care than most families are capable of delivering at a cost that is much greater than most families can afford.

Very few families possess the tensile strength to fulfill the needs of family members who have significant health needs. In other words, in general the family is not well suited to be the ‘safety net of last resort.’

Long-term care is a vital component of the Ontario health care system. While most seniors can expect to reside in the community throughout their later years, a significant number will require institutional care to ensure safety and well-being. The need for long-term care services and supports is often greatest for those who are considered the most vulnerable – those who are frail, or have complex health conditions, or psychiatric disorders. (See Note 9)

What is my advice? If you believe that family is your safety net, then accumulate wealth and establish financial stability as quickly as possible and never relinquish it. At the same time get busy with making a large, cohesive, extended family, one that doesn’t suck up all your wealth. I say this tongue in cheek as liberal democracies are trending toward greater inequality between the top earners in the population and everyone else. According to Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives researchers

The richest 1% of earners in Canada accounted for 32% of all income gains between 1997 and 2007. That is four times their share of total income gains during the 1960s (another period of rapid growth) and almost double the share of gains of the 1% during the Roaring Twenties. (See Note 10)

I wish you good luck in making the top 1 percent of earners as not everyone can or will. At the same time the nuclear family is getting smaller not larger.

The average number of children per family decreased from 2.7 in 1961 to 1.9 in 2011. During the same period, the average number of people per family declined from 3.9 in 1961 to 2.9 in 2011. (See Note 11)

I think it is clear that it is not possible for financial and caregiver stressors to be alleviated solely through generation of wealth and increasing family size.  Policies designed to redistribute wealth are essential but run counter to policies of wealth accumulation. Decreasing family size means that care is less likely to be spread across the family. Add to that an unwillingness to sacrifice earning potential i.e., to leave the labour force to provide care, means that caregiver burden will continue.

Finding The Foyer

But have I convinced you that institutions are the best alternative?  Not likely.  As I said earlier, ideally we all would like to be with loved ones until the very end … or put another way, do not want to be abandoned.)  In the end though, our receptivity to, and acceptance of institutional care probably is conditional upon specific circumstances and we must prepare ourselves to make this decision.

I believe that Jean Madill’s family came as close to meeting the tensile strength test as any family has … but Jean lived to be over 100 years old, a wonderful achievement! She outlived most of her immediate family and contemporaries placing considerable responsibility and stress on extended family.  Altamont served as the secondary safety net for most of Jean’s life and certainly played a key role in ensuring that she was able to live out her life in dignity in a personal care home in the neighbouring community of Notre Dame de Lourdes.

The Foyer Notre Dame is an accredited 60-bed personal care home that provides continuous quality client care and service in both official languages. It’s (sic) health care team is composed of physicians, nurses, a social worker, a registered psychiatric nurse, an occupational therapist, a recreation worker, a dietitian and a large support staff. Other services such as foot care, hairdressing, companion and clothing sales are available. Residents may access the spiritual care and guidance of their choice. In addition to these various services, the Foyer also operates an Alzheimer Unit. (See Note 12)

It is tempting to wax poetic and become soft and fuzzy about family values but I caution against romanticizing the role of the family.  Some think the family is, or ought to be, the safety net of last resort but the reality is that it is unlikely to be. Jean’s century long journey to The Foyer highlights the necessity for governmental programming for those who require it. When caregiver burden and financial burden are just too great for families to handle independently, it is time to find the Foyer (not just metaphorically speaking.)

We all need a Foyer in our plans. I trust that if I am compos mentis, I will know when the time is right, for me and for my family, to take appropriate action. If I am not, then I trust my family to help me find The Foyer.

Still you are correct if you think there is a ‘feel good, soft, sweet centre’ to Jean’s story but it is not found in a proof that family is the best avenue for success.  To the contrary, Jean’s case is one of the exceptions and attempts to duplicate her experience, as an example of effective social policy for mental illness, are likely to fail. Membership in family and community is contingent upon relationships and characteristics that are rarely transferable and are almost never duplicated. In other words, we can marvel that it works in one instance but we can know that it will occur only rarely, if ever, in another. It is rather like counting on successive individual mutations every single year to improve your crop yield.

Finally …

Whew! That last section was rather serious, wasn’t it?

Initially, the objective of this post was to include Jean Madill as another remarkable woman from Altamont who lived to celebrate her 100th birthday. I am fortunate to have known her and to know something of her life and circumstance.

I also wanted to address some of the realities of life for those with mental illness and disability, partly through the eyes of someone (me) with minimal awareness and understanding of mental illness never mind the care, treatment and responsibilities for costs. I have exposed my gross ignorance more than once in the previous pages.

As I reflect on my encounters with Jessica and the King of Prince Edward Island, it is clear to me that the stigma of mental illness is incredibly hard to shed because we do not speak of the mental illness or the stigma directly.  Rather,  we camouflage both in euphemisms and stereotypes that mislead us.

I am not defending my own actions or denying culpability on my part in these exchanges but they were enough to make even me (a person who desperately wanted to fit in) feel ill at ease. Any encounters with patients who were allowed to be on the mental hospital grounds were awkward to say the least, partly because we had only the perception of the mentally ill as being “crazy” to inform our expectations and behaviours.  Needless to say, the “crazy” stereotype was (and is) a very poor basis for developing awareness about mental illness … because labelling them “crazy” allowed us to take away their dignity. It is with some degree of consternation that I realize that even the way I have recounted these two stories contributes to the stigma.

I have also used some humorous stories involving Jean Madill in this account. Some may argue that these accounts contribute to the ongoing stigma of mental illness and trivialize both the condition and the lessons to be learned.  My view is that these stories are evidence of ‘humanity’ – perhaps the most valuable contribution that Jean herself brings to this discussion – illustrating that those with mental illness and chronic health conditions have a right to both dignity and quality of life. I have done my best to blend humour with eccentricity in a manner that respects those rights.

One last, less serious, question

Finally, I have one last niggling question: If I live longer, will I know more people who reach 100 years of age i.e., will I know more than the four I have already identified? Hmmm… maybe the probabilities do increase [How is that for using a probability of probabilities hedge?] but I think the more intriguing question is, “Will other people live long enough?” For those who are older than I am right now, I wish you good health so we can party at your 100th birthday and you can party at mine in time! For those who are younger than I am now, I wish you good health so that we can party at my 100th birthday before we both celebrate yours! Of course, I gratefully accept wishes for good health from everyone so that I may fulfil my end of the bargain.

 

Santé! Happy 100th Birthday everyone!

Emojie birthday image

NOTES

  1.  Playground Jungle http://playgroundjungle.com/2011/09/gene-gene-made-a-machine.html
  2. The term ”mental breakdown” seems to be synonymous with “nervous breakdown.”
  3.  Mayo Clinic http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/expert-answers/nervous-breakdown/faq-20057830
  4. Mayo Clinic http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/mental-illness/basics/definition/con-20033813
  5.  Boston College Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation https://cpr.bu.edu/resources/reasonable-accommodations/what-is-psychiatric-disability-and-mental-illness
  6. Selkirk Mental Health Centre History, From “Manitoba Insane Asylum” to “Selkirk Mental Health Centre” http://smhc-archives.com/History%20of%20SMHC.pdf http://smhc-archives.com/History%20of%20SMHC.pdf August 2009.
  7. Some political parties and movements oppose the welfare state and derisively refer to governments that provide extensive state sponsored programs and services as the “nanny state.” These groups want to minimize the role of government in the everyday lives of citizens, leaving those who are on the margins to fend for themselves, and if they fail, so be it.
  8. Defined by Collins English Dictionary as “a measure of the ability of a material to withstand a longitudinal stress, expressed as the greatest stress that the material can stand without breaking.”
  9. Canadian Mental Health Association Ontario
  10. Klein and Yalnizyan 2016
  11. Statistics Canada
  12. Southern Health Regional Health Authority

 

SOURCES

Alzheimer’s Association http://www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_1973.asp

American Senior Communities, Mental Illness vs Dementia in the Elderly, http://www.ascseniorcare.com/mental-illness-vs-dementia-elderly/

Daniel Jay Baum, Warehouses for Death, Burns and MacEachern Ltd. 1977.

The Beatles, When I’m 64

Bell Let’s Talk Day 2016, http://letstalk.bell.ca/en/

Canadian Mental Health Association, Ontario http://ontario.cmha.ca/network/minding-our-elders-mental-health-in-long-term-care/

CBC Radio, Interview of 93-year-old former psychiatric patient and nurse on lessons from LSD, Tuesday June 14, 2016

The Clinique: a monthly abstract of the clinics and of the proceedings of the Clinical Society of the Hahnemann Hospital of Chicago, 1923.

Canadian Rose Society  http://canadianrosesociety.org/CRSMembers/Resources/RosePhotos/ParklandRoses/tabid/71/Default.aspx

Collins English Dictionary

Dutch Growers Saskatoon http://plants.dutchgrowers.ca/11040002/Plant/1333/Hope_for_Humanity_Rose

Diane Franklin, Dementia and Mental Illness: Is Dementia a Psychiatric Disorder? Our Parents, March 26, 2015 https://www.ourparents.com/care-topics/2015/03/26/dementia-and-mental-illness-is-dementia-a-psychiatric-disorder/

Klein, Seth and Armine Yalnizyan, Better is Always Possible: A Federal Plan to Tackle

Poverty and Inequality, CCPA Alternative Federal Budget Technical Paper, February 2016. https://www.policyalternatives.ca/publications/reports/better-always-possible

Parliament of Canada, Interim Report of The Standing Senate Committee On Social Affairs, Science And Technology Report 1. The Honourable Michael J.L.Kirby, Chair. The Honourable Wilbert Joseph Keon, Deputy Chair. November 2004

Parliament of Canada Mental Health, Mental Illness and Addiction: Overview of Policies and Programs in Canada Report 1 http://www.parl.gc.ca/content/sen/committee/381/soci/rep/report1/repintnov04vol1part3-e.htm

Playground Jungle http://playgroundjungle.com/2011/09/gene-gene-made-a-machine.html

Selkirk Mental Health Centre History, From “Manitoba Insane Asylum” to “Selkirk Mental Health Centre” http://smhc-archives.com/History%20of%20SMHC.pdf http://smhc-archives.com/History%20of%20SMHC.pdf August 2009.

Southern Health Regional Health Authority, Manitoba http://www.southernhealth.ca/healthsite.php?id=147

Southern Health Regional Health Authority, Manitoba, Annual Report, 2014. http://www.southernhealth.ca/data/publications/35/2014-15%20Annual%20Report.pdf

Statistics Canada, Fifty years of families in Canada: 1961 to 2011

Nicole Zahradnik, Minding Our Elders: Mental Health in Long-Term Care
Network, Winter 2007, Ontario, Canadian Mental Health Association, http://ontario.cmha.ca/network/minding-our-elders-mental-health-in-long-term-care/

© Stan Marshall (The PD Gardener) 2016.

AN ‘ANNOYANCE’ OF NIGGLES, THREE REMARKABLE WOMEN, AND A DASH OF COLD, HARD REALITY

AN ‘ANNOYANCE’ OF NIGGLES, THREE REMARKABLE WOMEN, AND A DASH OF COLD, HARD REALITY

hat Thepdgardener IMG_0608

Author’s Foreword: Some readers will be relieved to learn that today’s blog does not involve any fiction. The Devil, having been vanquished one more time, has left the building.   Today I explore some ‘niggles’ that go back a very long way, reveal some of my memories of three remarkable women, leave me thirsty for more knowledge and finally, force me to face facts about the life expectancy of Persons with Parkinson’s (PwP.)

Niggles

Have you ever had a little ‘niggle’ in your brain – a thought or thoughts so persistent that you end up spending far too much time and attention to seemingly inconsequential details?  Well, I have. In fact, I have several niggles at the moment. I am not sure what the collective noun for a niggle is, or ought to be. Perhaps it is an ‘annoyance’ or a ‘persistence.’ (See Note 1)  Anne, the person who knows me best (too well I would argue) undoubtedly would affirm that I need no encouragement to pursue the most inconsequential of niggles.

Today, I reveal a few niggles that seem to form a straight line – a rare thing sometimes. I consider none of them to be totally inconsequential but they are hardly breaking news either. This ‘annoyance’ of niggles have been sitting in my mind in various forms for a long time and now, finally, it is time to examine them in the cold hard light of day, as they say.

Regular readers of this blog know that I frequently write about a small community called Altamont in southern Manitoba – a place that I often call home even though in many respects “there is no there, there” anymore as a former colleague is fond of saying. It is probably more accurate to say that it is really a “time and place” that I call “home.” In any case, I carry a few niggles from that time and place and the ones that carry the greatest weight reference one or all of three remarkable individuals. I guess there is no better way to begin than to introduce the first of these three people – a woman who influenced at least three generations of students in Altamont’s school – Miss Mary Armitage.

Mary Isabel Armitage

  • Born: March 12, 1902   New Haven District, Manitoba
  • Died: February 21, 2005, Manitou, Manitoba
  • Taught in Altamont: 1924 to 1962. Lived there most of her life
  • Awards: 1970 Manitoba Centennial Medal for her many years in the teaching profession and her activity in community affairs.

In my last blog on The “Stuff” of Curling I incorporated a highly fictionalized role for Miss Mary Armitage as the neutral arbiter in resolving a matter with the Devil. You will be relieved, I am sure, to know that this piece contains no fiction and no reference to the Devil beyond the fact that the Devil has left the building. However, since I wrote the curling series some particular memories involving Miss Armitage, the erstwhile long time teacher in the Altamont School and my teacher for three years, have re-surfaced.

Where to start? Well, Miss Armitage was my teacher for Grades 1 – 3 and she was the teacher for everyone who attended Grades 1 – 3 at Altamont School for 37 of her 41 years of teaching. There was no kindergarten (junior or senior) so Grade 1 was a very big deal. Come to think about it, there was a very long six-year waiting list to get into the program. Once I got there, I remember liking school well enough in those early grades but there were two or three situations that still niggle.

Mary Armitage

Mary Armitage  Photo: Unknown

Our desks were double desks, intended for two students. The gray painted wooden desktops opened to reveal an unfinished interior cavity into which we thrust our textbooks, foolscap paper, pencils and sometimes lunches and snacks. We were not allowed to write with fountain pens or ballpoint pens until much later. The interior cavity always smelled like… well … like an interior cavity – a mix of wholesome natural fibre goodness and musty, stale fibre badness with just a hint of carrion. Interior cavities seem destined to be the spaces where a process of transformation from goodness to badness happens. In any case, the desktops and seats held together by designer metal desk frameworks would be prized items today.

Gender stuff

I am not certain how many children rested their bums on those seats before I arrived but the evidence indicates that the number was much higher than I could count in Grade 1. While the desk tops and seats had been sanded and painted regularly the evidence of earlier children persisted in the vague outlines of their initials and other personalized scratching.

I was in Grade 2 when Bill and I were assigned to sit together in one of those double desks. By the way, being able to sit with Bill was a huge relief to me because the previous year, on my first day of school in Grade 1, I lined up outside the main entrance to the school with the other Grade 1 pupils and we were ushered into the classroom to sit in our “new” desks. It was a bit scary for a shy young lad and I remember not remembering anything I was supposed to remember and getting into some trouble. It was either just too exciting and I freaked out over the pressure of not knowing what the expectations were, or alternatively, I was just another dumb kid who couldn’t retain anything in his distracted mind. I still haven’t figured out which one is the most apt description of my mind on that day. Okay, maybe some of that state of mind continues today, as I seem to have rambled a bit.

The classroom was large enough (or the class sizes were small enough) that Grades 1 – 3 were all taught in the one room. On that first day of Grade 1, Miss Armitage was careful to segregate us by gender, two boys to a desk and two girls to a desk, as she made seat assignments. I know that many of you are gasping at this arrangement and I fully recognize that in the present day world the class would have been divided into gender equal desks with one boy and one girl per desk promoting a new comfort level and equality between genders. But this was not the case in my early schooling – hey, I didn’t even know the meaning of “gender!”   As it turned out that there were an odd number of boys and girls in the class. Oh no! A boy and a girl would have to share a double desk and (foretelling much of my life, if there was any chance that something would happen to embarrass me, it would happen,) I was one of the chosen. My desk mate was Shirley May.

I hasten to add at this point that Shirley May must have been totally horrified at the prospect – no, reality – of spending the year next to a shy, stinky fellow such as me. In any case I recall her as being a pretty little girl, delightful in every respect. I don’t recall being mean to her in any way but I might have suppressed those memories and if I was mean, I make my apologies now. Equally, I am certain that any embarrassment to me in any other interaction(s) with women over the years is purely coincidental and unrelated to the seat assignations. [And I am not going to pay high figures to a shrink to figure this one out, both literally and figuratively speaking!]

My engraving career

Now, back to Grade 2 where my desk mate was Bill. Not nearly as cute as Shirley May but more my type if you know what I mean. Bill was always Bill and never Billy or William or Willie. Bill was Bill … until he became “Skull” that is. Bill and I sat in that double desk and proceeded to contribute our own pungency to the interior cavity. It’s “nose” might have been described as aged oak with a dark undercurrent of fountain pen ink tinged with fuzzy salami sandwiches capped with blackened bananas. In any case, it was a cavity worthy of commemoration.

Bill and I (mostly me though, I am afraid) proceeded to use some implement – I am not sure what we used but we were as creative as the most hardened lifer in prison when it came to handcrafting shives and other necessities away from the prying eyes of the guard (Miss Armitage) – to carve our initials into the painted desk top. Gasp! Even though Miss Armitage did indeed have eyes in the back of her head, she found it hard to keep those eyes on 35 or so children at once. Or perhaps, she just prioritized. Nevertheless, we were found out of course. Not only was the artistry in plain view but we had signed our work. We were roundly chastised and punishment was meted out. It is funny but I don’t remember exactly what the punishment was. Nonetheless, a lesson learned and this effectively marked the end of my engraving and graffiti career – that and the fact that I never developed an attractive stylized tag line.

The Plasticine Age

But there are more niggles when it comes to Miss Armitage and my own shortcomings. There was an occasion in Grade 1 when Miss Armitage had to step out of the room for a brief moment. It happens, I guess. Is it even a question that the class would take advantage of this unforeseen moment to engage in some tomfoolery?  She was not out of the room more than 10 seconds when erasers and pencils were flying, punches were delivered to the shoulders of our desk mates (but not to my desk mate Shirley May.) I had a long rope of Plasticine rolled out at our desk.  I took the opportunity to twirl it like a lariat and it was then that I learned that Plasticine does not have the physical proprieties of good sisal. In fact, it is a very poor substitute. A chunk of Plastiscine broke loose and flew with great precision into the crockery vessel of the water fountain at the back of the room.

[Note: Plasticine is the trademark name for a type of modelling clay invented over 100 years ago by William Harbutt in England. Artists, engineers, architect, model builders, children and many others use it for various purposes. To my knowledge, lariat making is not one of them. Play dough was not yet in widespread use in schools and Plasticine was often the only option.]

Plasticine

Plasticine, ours was mostly gray. It all ended up gray anyway.

I am not sure who snitched but in a room of 30 or so pupils in Grades 1, 2 and 3 there is a least one snitch, and that one snitch snitched. Well … s/he half – snitched and told Miss Armitage that there was a piece of Plastiscine in the water fountain. Somehow Miss Armitage knew it came from the Grade 1 class and she marched us all back to water fountain and demanded to know who put it in there. It was the most pressure I have ever been under! It haunts me to this very day – maybe this is not just a niggle after all? Maybe I should be on the psychiatrist’s couch trying to interpret my action… well… inaction really. You see, I never owned up to the fact that I tossed my lasso into the water fountain. She repeated the question several times and each time I retreated farther away from the truth. Maybe I was incorrigible. Maybe I couldn’t accept responsibility. Maybe I was embarrassed. No matter, I never let on and no one openly named me. Miss Armitage, probably sensing that there was no useful outcome from this standoff, retreated. Those of you who know me (and for that matter those who don’t know me) will undoubtedly pass some judgment on this showdown at the water fountain. As for me, I have come to terms with the fact that while it is a niggle, it does reveal that I was not as honest as George Washington was about cutting down the cherry tree. But who among us is that honest?

[Note: Now I learn that the cherry tree story about George Washington is a myth invented by Mason Locke Weems, one of Washington’s first biographers. Hmmmm… I think that just means that George Washington and I are equally honest – he (if he were alive) would now deny cutting down the cherry tree just as I did not own up to the Plasticine incident.]

I would like to say that this ancient history from the Plasticine Age is the last niggle about Miss Armitage, but it is not. Somehow, I passed through the lower grades with little further difficulty. I must have kept my nose clean as they say and Miss Armitage must have seen fit to cast a blind eye toward my indiscretions. (I don’t recall that there were any, but let’s be realistic; there likely were a few.) Everything was uneventful until sometime in Grade 4, I believe. In 1958 the Sylvan School merged into the Altamont school and students from Sylvan began attending school in Altamont. The Sylvan schoolhouse was moved and positioned behind our two-story four-room school to create a new ”portable” although it wasn’t called a “portable” in those days. Miss Armitage’s Grades 1 – 3 classes were moved into Sylvan.

Knock a Door Ginger

Sylvan School IMG_5753

Sylvan School before it was moved to Altamont as a “portable.” Photo: Memories of Lorne, 1880 – 1980

I am not sure what got into us but a few of us guys (no girls were involved) decided it would be fun to run up to the side door of Sylvan, knock on the door and then run away, repeatedly. This was a game we often played in Altamont under the cover of darkness. We called it “Knock a Door Ginger.” Why we called it that I am not sure but in retrospect it was appropriate given my red hair. [I have heard it called ”Knicky Knicky Door Bell” in other places.] In any case, the key words here are “under cover of darkness.” We seldom got caught in town because we knew every little nook and cranny within which to hide and every little interstitial space to run through even in the pitch dark. But at school, we hadn’t figured out that the bright, sunny sky and wide-open spaces of the schoolyard did not provide much protection from detection. Indeed, we were detected and apprehended without much difficulty and marched unceremoniously (or maybe it was with great ceremony) up the large wooden staircase of the main school, our shoes making a conspicuously loud “thump, thump, thump,” to the Principal’s desk in his home classroom on the second floor.

I really don’t remember who the other culprits were but I could guess if I had to name them … but I won’t. I am certain that facing the Principal was daunting but I don’t recall much except that time seemed to pass quickly from the reading of the charges, to the pleas from the alleged perpetrators, to the verdict and subsequent sentencing. At the plea stage there was a brief opportunity to offer explanation or other pertinent information. As I recall there was no explanation or information of any pertinence and certainly none with any impertinence. It was a two-part sentence: three whacks of the strap across the palm of the hand administered individually (not so bad, I thought) and an apology to Miss Armitage, delivered individually (Whoo boy! Mortification!) The strap was of no consequence and no further mention of that event need be made here.

On the other hand, the apology to Miss Armitage was one of the more difficult moments of my life – right there with the earlier Plasticine incident. But I knew I wouldn’t be able to duck this one. I am quite sure Miss Armitage was not in favour of corporal punishment so I don’t think she smiled over the meting out of that part of the sentence by the Principal. She was not in attendance at its execution. However, I am quite certain she allowed herself a wry little smile as I exited later after my clumsy, yet sincere, apology about the Knock a Door Ginger incident, in the confines of the Sylvan schoolhouse.

Is that the last niggle involving Miss Armitage? Almost. I can hear you saying, “What?” Please be patient. A little more water has to flow under a few other bridges before we can close out the last niggle about Miss Armitage.

We need to meet a second remarkable individual, Mary Anne (Straube) Scoles – a person who survived and lived to tell of a good life. Aside from gambling she had few vices but she loved Las Vegas and made many trips there over the years. Her son reports that in the wee hours of the morning on a such a trip when she was in her nineties, she was heard to mutter, “I didn’t come to Vegas to sleep!”

MARY ANNE SCOLES (née  STRAUBE)

  • Born: December 25, 1896 at home in Treherne, Manitoba
  • Married: Mike Scoles
  • Died: July 23, 2007 at the Treherne Personal care Home
  • Mother Bridget Straube died from tuberculosis 10 days after Mary Anne’s birth.
  • Father: Joseph Straube

When I was quite young, we would often visit the Scoles’ homestead (1902) farm a few miles north of Altamont just before you made the turn to St. Lupicin. I notice on some maps that this road north from Altamont is named Scoles Road. We never referred to it as such but it makes sense that it would be. Mike Scoles and his wife, Mary Anne, lived there with their four sons (Joe, Jack, Pat and Ted.) I also have this vague recollection that the reason dad would go to the Scoles’ farm was to give someone a haircut and possibly a shave. Perhaps, there was an elder Scoles in residence as well or maybe it was that Mike was a wee bit older than Mary Anne.

I must have been under ten years old as Mike and Mary Anne Scoles retired off the farm in 1960. While I have only snippets of memory about the Scoles’ farm, some things stand out clearly such as the almost secret nature of their farmyard. You had to watch carefully as you searched for the left hand turn into their lane. The brush and trees seemed to be perpetually overgrown, forming a canopy through which you pushed your way to gain admittance to a clearing. It took another second before you noticed the house tucked discreetly into the brush on the right hand side, forcing you to relinquish the idea that this was an abandoned farmyard. Mrs. Scoles always seemed to be there and greeted us openly and kindly – and the oatmeal cookies always met with my approval.

In those days, my father and mother often took Sunday drives weaving their way across the back roads. My mother was seeking some respite from one overly energetic son and one newly arrived daughter. My father, true to the central character traits of the Marshall family, loved to look at the crops, wildflowers and other vegetation, and the natural land forms of the area. A stop at the Scoles’ farm was often on the route. Even after they retired to Treherne, we would sometimes stop at their little house on a Sunday afternoon.

It was apparent that dad and mom were fond of the Scoles’ family. I believe that dad and Joe Scoles were friends of a sort. Joe would arrive on the bus from Winnipeg and Dad often drove him home. I recall dad loved to have discussions with Joe that were more “in depth” than most discussions he had with others.

But the real story in the Scoles’ family is the story of Mary Anne Scoles herself. She weighed a mere 2.5 pounds when she was born on Christmas Day 1896 to Joseph and Bridget Straube. Bridget had tuberculosis and died 10 days later. Remarkably for the time, Mary Anne survived both her small birth weight and the possible complications of the tuberculosis. Perhaps, this survival was facilitated by her parents who were devote in mind and spirit. Bridget and Joseph Straube, after learning of the pregnancy and the risk to their child, travelled by train to the miracle shrine at the Basilica of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré near Quebec City (established in 1658) to pray that their child would have a long and healthy life. The Straube’s prayers were answered.

Mary Anne Scoles passages WPG FP

Mary Anne Scoles  Photo: Winnipeg Free Press Passages

Mary Anne was educated in Treherne and Winnipeg but moved to the Scoles’ farm north of Altamont when she married Mike Scoles. I am not certain of the date of their marriage but it was likely around 1918.  They farmed the Scoles’ original homestead at SE 5-6-8 established in 1902 until 1960 when they retired to Treherne. Mike died in 1981.

So, what is niggling me about Mary Anne Scoles? Is it that she lived to be 110 years, 6 months and 28 days old? When she died she was the oldest Canadian living in Canada. This was quite an achievement – especially given her less than weighty entrance into the world! No, that is not what is niggling me although it is related.

I must make one last introduction, meet Jemima (Holliston) Wilson, the third remarkable woman in this story.   She was known to everyone outside of her family as “Aunt ‘Mime.” Within her family circles, she was addressed by her proper title.

Jemima (née Holliston) Wilson aka “Aunt ‘Mime”

  • Born: May 16, 1862 Merrickville, Ontario
  • Died: January 9, 1965 Manitou, Manitoba
  • Married: 1886 in Merrickville to Robert Wilson
  • Robert Wilson died: 1896
  • Father: George Holliston
  • Mother: Catherine (Katie Mussell]

Aunt ‘Mime was an old woman from the time that I first remember her. I know that when we are young we think everyone between 30 and 90 is in the same category of “old.”   But Aunt ‘Mime really was old. My first memories of her are from when I was about five years old and she was nearly 91 years young. In her nineties, she lived independently in a small house at the northwest corner of town almost beside my friends, Kelly and Terry. Often, we would find ourselves over at Aunt ‘Mime’s scrounging a biscuit, or better yet, a slice of fresh baked bread liberally spread with margarine (uncoloured white margarine as its producers and distributors were not permitted, by law, to colour the margarine to protect the dairy industry) and with any kind of luck, some jam. Funny how I didn’t like uncoloured margarine when we had it at home or when local bachelor and retired farmer Ed Bulmer served it up in his little house, but there was just something about Aunt ‘Mime’s bread and margarine that appealed. Maybe it was the ambiance of her kitchen and the smells emanating from her old wood cook stove.

To be clear though, any niggle I have about Aunt ‘Mime has nothing to do with my inherent nature as a child terror or brat. We would never play “Knock a Door Ginger” on Aunt ‘Mime. We just knew that not only was she old, she was ‘special old’ and that particular status of old was enhanced with each passing year. Living independently until one is almost 100 years old is a remarkable achievement indeed. I recall that she was always spry of mind as well as body.

Aunt ‘Mime passed away January 9, 1965 just short of her 103rd birthday. In the course of her lifetime she witnessed major societal changes e.g., the advancement in transportation from horses to stagecoach to horse and buggy to locomotives and trains to trucks and automobiles to airplanes to space travel. Technology in communications grew from pony express and stagecoach to telegraph to radio to television to the beginnings of a wireless Internet age.

Remarkable as the magnitude of these changes may seem, there were other social and political developments that are just as remarkable, not for speed of implementation or for the magnitude of change achieved during a short span of time, but for the tortoise-like speed with which they were introduced and accepted.   Here, I am referring specifically to the introduction of rights of democratic citizenship for women, and racial and ethnic groups. Political and social change involving Canadian women’s suffrage, economic equality and human rights over the 100-year period coinciding with Aunt ‘Mime’s life, and indeed for fifty years after her death, plodded along at a snail’s pace.

Recall that Aunt ‘Mime was born in 1862, five years prior to Canadian Confederation. One niggle I have is really a questioning niggle: What were things like for women in this pioneering time? The answer is not straightforward obviously but I have constructed a timeline set against the milestone markers of the lives of Jemima Wilson, Mary Anne Scoles and Mary Armitage to assist in telling and visualizing  part of the story. (See Appendix I for the detailed timeline.)

Jemima and Robert Wilson IMG_5738

Robert Wilson (1895) a year before his death. Jemima Wilson as a bride in 1886. Photos: Memories of Lorne 1880 – 1980

Jemima Holliston was 24 years old when she married Robert John Wilson (age 28) in 1886 in Merrickville, Ontario. In 1889 they ventured west to join some of the Wilson clan at Plumas, Manitoba before purchasing (See Note 3) a quarter section of land (NW 21-5-8) about one half mile north of what was then called Musselboro.   On November 1, 1891 Mussellboro would become Alta. Station before being renamed officially as Altamont on July 1, 1894.

Homesteading

Unfortunately, Jemima’s husband died in 1896 from causes of which I am not entirely clear. When working from secondary sources it is best not to ascribe accuracy to data or to jump to conclusions too quickly. I prefer to have two or three unrelated sources to corroborate the data before proceeding tentatively. Consequently, I have not been able to verify the cause of Robert Wilson’s death but I am certain that it was tragic as he was only 38 years old at the time. Nevertheless, Jemima at age 34 had to carry on and she applied to homestead the NE quarter of 21-5-8 in 1898. The question is: how was she able to do manage this?

At the time, there was very little legal protection for women under British common law and married women could not own property. Indeed, in 1885 the Manitoba government actually eliminated the need for the wife’s permission before a husband could sell or give away farmland. Even so, the Dominion Land Act (1872) had created a Homestead Act where for a fee of $10.00 a person could claim a quarter section (160 acres) of land provided that the homesteader would establish a permanent residence and reside on the land for at least six months of the year, breaking 40 acres over three years. A second adjacent quarter costing $2.00 or $2.50 per acre, could be reserved for a total of a half section or 320 acres.

Fortunately for the widowed Jemima (if one can be fortunate in such a situation) the Act allowed widows, divorced women and separated wives with children under 18 to homestead land although married women were prohibited from doing so. As I review the facts, she was one of the few women pioneers who had her name on title of a homestead quarter section near Altamont.  Martha Castle (of whom I know nothing) is also listed as homesteading NE 22-5-8 (1893) about a mile to the east of Jemima Wilson. They are the only two women owning property (both homesteaders) in that particular Range of the Township. They may have benefited from this little bit of ”good” fortune, but these women, with no husbands, must have found it challenging to say the least in a world designed in general to favour men and to discriminate against women. And homesteading was no easy challenge for anyone, man or woman.

At the time of her husband’s death in 1896 Jemima was 34 years old and raising five children who were twelve years of age and under, (her husband’s niece Sarah Evelina Rathwell b. 1884 in Merrickville; Howard Franklin b. 1888 in Merrickville; Mabel Winifred b. 1890 in Altamont; Mary Edith b. 1893 in Altamont; John Robert b. 1895 in Altamont.) I wager this must have presented a daunting future and undoubtedly speaks to the resourcefulness and tenacity of her personality and the strength of her spirit.

Her grandson Gordon credits the support of her kin and neighbours as being critical to survival for Jemima and her children. In addition, the entire area was being settled and immigrants from France, Brittany and Normandy arrived to farm near St. Lupicin, a few miles to the north. She made friends with many of these families and they exchanged goods as need be. Jemima and her children benefited from bread baked in the French tradition and in return she provided an indoor haven from the elements when the St. Lupicin families walked past her farm in all weather conditions on their way to St. Leon for church services.

Aunt ‘Mime farmed the original homestead until 1925 when her son, John (“Jack”) Robert, returned with his wife, Eva Lyle and family to work the farm. Aunt ‘Mime moved into a small house in Altamont soon after. The farm served as a base from where Jack worked at different jobs in mining and construction in Northern Ontario, and trucking and grain handling around Altamont. In 1964 at age 69 and just before Aunt ‘Mime passed away, Jack retired and his son Glen took over the farm. Jack and Eva raised seven sons and one daughter on the original homestead

I have only just scratched the surface of Jemima’s life. I have written this piece very much as a personal retrospective reliant upon my own memories and secondary source material. As such, I do not have (nor have I asked for) access to papers or documents or other original communications that provide insight on social, political or economic life from Jemima Wilson’s perspective. This blog piece was not conceived originally to be a research piece. But I am getting ahead of myself as usual.

Final niggles about three women

I have some final niggles, about Aunt ‘Mime, Mary Anne Scoles and Mary Armitage – ones that stem from my curiosity being piqued as to what the three of them would say (individually and collectively) if they were asked to participate in a discussion (the three of them) about their lives, their experiences and their views regarding  technological, social and political changes over their collective lifetimes. Mary Anne Scoles and Mary Armitage were more closely contemporaries and Aunt ‘Mime was the elder pioneer, so to speak. It almost makes me shiver to think of the richness of such discourse.

The first niggle is that it would be amazing to have the opportunity to interview Jemima Wilson, Mary Anne Scoles, and Mary Armitage – individually or ensemble. I have so many questions I would like to ask. Impossible I know. Aunt ‘Mime died in 1965; Mary Armitage in 2005; Mary Anne Scoles in 2007.

The second niggle is to be able to have access to original documentation from these three remarkable women such that we could understand their perspectives on surviving as women in those times, and their thoughts on the social, economic and political directions that were unfolding around them. Who knows? Perhaps in the future I will be fortunate enough to access such documents or accounts. Or perhaps someone else will have the good fortune to do so. I hope so.

The third and biggest niggle

Map Altamont red dots 2 IMG_0184

Mary Armitage lived in Altamont; Jemima Wilson farmed 1/2 mile north; Mary Anne Scoles farmed about 4 miles north. Red dots indicate the locations.

But the biggest niggle I have is that these three Manitoba centenarians resided for a large portion their lives on a 4-mile straight line of each other. And I knew each of them – not as a close family member would have, or even as a close friend would have, but well enough to have personal memories. I find this astounding. I asked earlier: How many of us can say we have ever known someone who lived to be 100 years old? Not that many, I wager. How many can say that they have very personal memories and ‘niggles’ about three such remarkable individuals? Not that many I wager, but I am one.

Three roses for three prairie women

As we come marching, marching, we bring the greater days.
The rising of the women means the rising of the race.
No more the drudge and idler—ten that toil where one reposes,
But a sharing of life’s glories: Bread and roses! Bread and roses!  – 4th  verse Bread and Roses, lyrics by James Oppenheim, circa 1911.

I have no reason to believe that Jemima Wilson, Mary Anne Scoles or Mary Armitage would have supported trade unions as the political vehicle for achieving women’s democratic rights, economic security and equality. After all, Jemima was born in and grew up in Merrickville in the heart of conservative Ontario. Mary Anne Scoles and Mary Armitage were born in and grew up in the heart of conservative Manitoba. Still, I believe that they would agree that the goals of the women’s movement were worthy of the struggle and would have counted themselves as part of the wave of women who fought not only for bread but for roses in the 19th and 20th Centuries.

Just for fun, I have chosen three roses that I think are appropriate to accompany these three remarkable Manitoba women in this story.

1) Adelaide Hoodless

Adelaide Hoodless (February 27, 1857 – February 26, 1910) worked, after the death of her young son, to reform education for new mothers to include hygiene, cleanliness and frugality. Hoodless is credited with being the co-founder of the Women’s Institute, the National Council of Women, the Victorian Order of Nurses, and the YWCA in Canada. Her educational reforms led to the formation of faculties of Household Science (later called Home Economics and then Human Ecology or Family Studies.) The proof of the magnitude of her legacy is in the fact that these organizations still exist today.

hoodless1

Adelaide Hoodless (Dr. Henry Heard Marshall, 1972)  Photo: unknown

The rose, Adelaide Hoodless, is a very vigorous shrub introduced in 1973 by Dr. Henry Heard Marshall as a tribute to the founder of the Women’s Institute on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the Institute.

2) Morden Centennial was introduced by Dr. Henry Heard Marshall in 1980 to commemorate the centennial anniversary of the Town of Morden, Manitoba. It seems appropriate to include it here as each of the three women in this story lived to be more than 100 years old and Morden is a near neighbour to Altamont in modern day terms. Morden Centennial is one of my personal favourites and we have it as a mainstay in our garden. It flowers repeatedly throughout the summer with amazing, almost florescent flowers.

Centennial IMG_0426

Morden Centennial (Dr. Henry Heard Marshall 1980) Photo: The PD Gardener 2013

3) The Manitoba countryside is dotted with patches of wild roses (Rosa woodsii, Rosa acicularis or Rosa arkansana) with their prickly branches catching your clothes as you scramble through the fence line on your way through a “shortcut” from one place to another. The three heroines in this story would be attracted to the mass of flowers on display and the simplicity in the structure of each blossom. The complexity of hybridized roses we know today was not only far into the future but would have been out of budget range and practicality for someone like Jemima Wilson and Mary Anne Scoles for certain and likely for Mary Armitage as well.

Wild roses though live on in unlikely spots around the prairies and the three women I have highlighted today exemplify their beauty and tenacity.

Wild rose cwf -300px

Wild Rose  Photo: Canadian Wildlife Federation

 Life Expectancy: The dash of cold, hard reality

As I said, I have had the privilege of having personal memories of three quite remarkable women who each lived to be more than 100 years old. Of course, this inevitably leads to the question: can I expect to live to be 100 years old?

It seems that the average age of the population is on a slow but steady increase. Each generation can expect to live longer than the previous one. Technological advances in medical diagnostic equipment; improved and more efficacious drug therapies; improved medical devices enabling us to have a better quality of life; a better understanding that ‘quality of life’ really means attention to the wholeness of body, mind and spirit;  mutually supportive relationships with family and friends; and social participation in community life along with respect for Nature, have all contributed to positive outcomes. Still, the challenge will be to continue the trend to increased longevity.

But, can I expect to live to be 100 years old? The short answer (also called the realistic answer and the pessimistic answer) is “no.” The equivocating answer is “not likely.” The cheer leading, supportive, optimistic and the ‘you are a fighter’ answer is “of course we can live even longer.” My answer is that we need all of these answers to support us, as the occasion demands.

In Canada only 0.8% of the population is over 90 years of age (0.4 % for males and 1.1% for women.) So, how many of us will ever get to say, “I am 100 years old?” Becoming a centenarian is really quite an exclusive club. In 2011, there were only 5,825 people in Canada who were 100 years of age old or older and for this year (2016) it is estimated that 7,900 people, more women than men, will be in that illustrious group. As I write this post, the oldest Canadian living in Canada is Ellen “Dolly” Gibb of North Bay, born Ellen Box in Winnipeg on April 26, 1905. She is 110 years 351 days.

So, I ask the question again, slightly differently this time: What is the probability that I will live to be 100 years old and would I bet on the outcome?  Silly me, when it comes to my own life, I am betting on the outcome every minute of every day. I am betting I will live. I know there is a way to calculate that probability but in the end that is a matter for actuaries and gamblers. I am sure that this is a gross oversimplification of what actuaries do but they make estimates of probable outcomes using available relevant data, extrapolating from past patterns. In order to do that, they have to make assumptions. Believe it or not, I have participated in some extremely interesting debates and arguments on these assumptions in real life collective bargaining situations. I guess it wouldn’t surprise you that actuaries are mostly quite conservative in their assumptions and their estimates. On life expectancy they know, quite correctly, that you will die, and they will assume that you will die sooner rather than later but later than others died previously, if you know what I mean. They are pessimistic in an optimistic kind of way – you might say they see the glass as being half full except for the fact that they know that for any given individual, the glass will be bone dry empty at some point.

Gamblers, the good ones at least, employ much the same fundamental process. They look at the available information and make some informed choice (educated guess) as to the outcome of an event e.g., Smarty Jones to win the Kentucky Derby in 2004 (he did) or the North Carolina Tar Heels (2.5 point betting favourites) to win the 2016 NCAA Championship – they didn’t as they were upset by the Villanova Wildcats. You can gamble on anything e.g., lottery tickets (the odds are very high against winning the big prize) or whether the next child born to the Royal family is a boy or a girl, or whether it will rain in Birmingham, Alabama on October 21, 2016. I haven’t actually checked this last one out but I am sure you can find a bookie somewhere who will take that bet, one way or the other. For the record, it did not rain in Birmingham on October 21, 2015 and that day was the 11th day of a long dry spell.

Okay then. So both actuaries and gamblers will agree that I will die. But if they are betting on when I will die (the actuary because she works for a life insurance company and the gambler because he has a gambling addiction and will bet on anything if someone will take the bet and give him odds,) they will want more information. Life expectancy is one such piece of information. And because I have Parkinson’s disease they will want to know if the life expectancy for someone who has Parkinson’s is different from someone who does not have Parkinson’s.

Life expectancy with Parkinson’s disease

Put most bluntly, if I have Parkinson’s disease, is my life expectancy shortened? Well, theoretically a Person with Parkinson’s (PwP) can live a good long life after diagnosis. As Parkinson Canada says

Depending upon your age of onset, how you manage the symptoms, and your general health, you can live an active life with Parkinson’s. In most cases, one’s life is not shortened. However, as you age and as the disease progresses, there will be increased risks. For example, impaired balance can lead to falls; swallowing problems, if not managed, can lead to pneumonia. Parkinson’s is known as a chronic (long term) condition that will require ongoing monitoring and management to maintain one’s quality of life.

It seems that the best that can be said is that whether you have Parkinson’s or not, there are always risks in life, aren’t there? In other words, there are many variables and while having Parkinson’s is just one such variable, it is a variable that brings more associated risks with it. Doesn’t that mean that your life expectancy is decreased, or put another way, the probability of dying increases? It seems to me that it does. I wish it didn’t, but it does. So, let’s not beat around the bush.

cards stacked against IMG_5773

How badly are the cards stacked against me? Photo: The PD Gardener

But don’t misunderstand; it is not defeatist to say that I am in a higher risk group. It would be defeatist though if I were to say that I am no longer going to strive to live as healthy and as long a life as I possibly can, just because I am in a higher risk group. I do not mean to say that anyone living with Parkinson’s should not try to achieve the best quality of life possible. It is at this point that we need the cheerleader to jump in (Zis, Boom, Bah – Two, four, six, eight; who do we REALLY hate? Parkinson’s, Parkinson’s, Go PwP!)

I am not going to get hung up on semantics or matters of definition here. I believe that because I have Parkinson’s, my life expectancy is lower. Empirical research seems to support my position.

The calculations showed that LE (Life Expectancy) and AAD (anticipated age at time of death) in PD are reduced for all onset ages but this reduction is greatest in individuals with a young onset. (See Note 3)

Similarly,

Our findings confirm that PD is associated with increased mortality in both men and women. Unlike the majority of other mortality studies, we found that women have a greater reduction in lifespan compared to men. We also found that patients with early onset PD (onset at the age of 50 or before) have reduced survival relative to PD patients with later ages of onset. A final important finding is that survival is equal in PD patients treated with levodopa early (within 2 years or less of PD onset) versus later. (See Note 4)

However, the good news is that if you have Parkinson’s and do not have dementia and are not in the young onset group, life expectancy and age at time of death are more likely to approach that of the normal population.

The survival, LE and AAD in patients with PD are much lower compared with the general population, apart from those patients who do not develop dementia, who appear to have near normal population mortalities. However, dementia and younger onset of PD appear to be important determinants of survival, LE and AAD. (See Note 5)

So, there is a bit of good with the bad … but not that much.  Is there anything to be done except be depressed? Of course there is!  We have to get on with the task of living.

We need to be careful not to assume that each of us will follow precisely the same pattern. Probabilities are probabilities because they are not certainties. A tautological argument sure but no one can accurately predict when any given individual will die under normal circumstances or even under circumstances where the individual has Parkinson’s. The wonderful thing about statistics is that there will always be a mean or an average (it keeps shifting as the population changes and there will always be people who are far away from the mean.) Yes, I know this means both to the negative and to the positive sides. Some people will live longer than expected and some people will not live as long as expected. These facts will never change. Our challenge is to do everything we possibly can to shift the statistical result to the positive for our own individual selves.

Think of Mary Anne Scoles who, in 1896 in a home birth, survived her low birth weight (2.5 pounds) and the fact that her mother had tuberculosis. How high would the odds have to be for you (assuming you could live long enough to collect) to bet that she would live to be 110 years, 6 months and 28 days old?  But she did. I can’t help but wonder how successful she was in her Las Vegas trips, and if she would have lived longer if she slept more in Las Vegas? I doubt it. Fun is a key criterion for longevity – at least I am betting that it is!

In some ways we must be selfish. Treat each day as a personal best and do whatever is necessary to reach the new personal best tomorrow.

When I die, no matter how or how soon, I fervently want my family and friends and those who knew me in any capacity to understand that my passing will not be a personal failure but merely the end of a long stretch of personal bests. On the statistical side, when I die I hope that my string of personal bests will have pushed (however slightly) the overall average or mean upward and that I have left some mark on the world to assist others to reach and surpass my goals, setting their own high watermarks. At the macro economic, social and political levels, the capacity of all systems, (economy, heath care, social security, social policy, political advocacy, etc.) must be strengthened and expanded to support an enhanced quality of life for Persons with Parkinson’s, their families and caregivers.

And, finally: No, I am not depressed.

APPENDIX I

Timeline of Women’s Rights in Canada referencing the Lives of Three Remarkable Women: Jemima (née Holliston) Wilson aka Aunt ‘Mime , Mary Anne (née Straube) Scoles, and Mary Armitage

1862 Jemima Holliston is born

1867 Jemima Holliston is 5

  • Canadian Confederation

1871 Jemima Holliston is 9

  • Manitoba’s Act Respecting Married Women allows a married woman to keep ownership of her property, but any wages she makes goes to her spouse.

1872 Jemima Holliston is 10

  • Dominion Land Act and Homestead Act is passed entitling a person to claim, for a $10.00 fee, a quarter section (160 acres) on even numbered sections provided that the homesteader reside on the land for at least six months of the year, establish a permanent residence and break 40 acres over three years. A second adjacent quarter costing $2.00 or $2.50 per acre, could be reserved for a total of a half section or 320 acres.

1884 Jemima Holliston is 22

  • The Married Women’s Property Act gives married women in Ontario the right to make legal agreements and buy property, the same as for men.
  • Women in Manitoba gain the right to vote in municipal elections but are not eligible to run for municipal office until 1917. This is one small step forward with a more than offsetting large step backward.

1886 Jemima Holliston is 26 and marries Robert John Wilson in Merrickville, Ontario

1890 – 1920 Jemima Wilson is 28 – 58

  • This is a period of intense activity by the Suffrage movement. Women such as Emily Murphy, Nellie McClung, Irene Parlby, Henrietta Muir Edwards and Louise Crummy McKinney (the “Famous Five”) as well as Agnes MacPhail, Erland Lee, Adelaide Hunter Hoodless among others were active advocates for women’s Suffrage and other rights.

1890 Jemima Wilson is 28

  • Women ratepayers in Manitoba can vote and hold office at the school board level.

1896 Jemima Wilson is 34. Mary Anne Straube is born in Treherne, Manitoba

  • Jemima Wilson’s husband, Robert John Wilson, dies.

1898 Jemima Wilson is 36. Mary Anne Straube is 2.

  •  Jemima Wilson applies for a homestead on NW 21-5-8 north of Altamont.

1900 Jemima Wilson is 38; Mary Anne Straube is 4.

  • Manitoba passes its own Married Women’s Property Act giving married women in Manitoba the same legal capacity as men. [See Note 6]

1902 Mary Armitage is born

  • The Scoles’ homestead was established at SE 5-6-8.

1908 Mary Armitage’s family moves to Altamont from New Haven. Mary (6) is the second oldest of 4 children. Five other children are born after moving to Altamont.

1914 – 1918 Jemima Wilson was 52 – 56; Mary Anne Straube was 18 – 22; Mary Armitage was 12 – 16

  • World War I

1917 Jemima Wilson is 55; Mary Anne Straube is 21; Mary Armitage is 15;

  • The Military Voters Act allowed nurses and women in the armed services to vote.
  • The Wartime Election Act extended the vote to women who had husbands, sons or fathers serving overseas.
  • Women in Manitoba are the first in Canada to gain the right to vote and run for office in provincial elections.

~ 1918 Mary Anne Straube marries Mike Scoles

1920 Jemima Wilson is 58; Mary Anne Scoles is 24; Mary Armitage is 18

  • Dominion Elections Act is amended permitting every eligible Canadian over 21, male or female, to vote in federal elections, excluding Aboriginal peoples, Inuit or anyone barred from a provincial voters’ list, including Asians and Hindus.

1924 Mary Armitage age 22 begins teaching in Altamont, Manitoba

1929 Jemima Wilson is 67; Mary Anne Scoles is 33; Mary Armitage is 27;

  • The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in England overturns a decision of the Canadian Supreme Court’s “Persons” case and recognizes Canadian women as persons under the law.

1930 Jemima Wilson is 68; Mary Anne Scoles is 34; Mary Armitage is 28

  • Montreal’s Cairine Reay Wilson becomes the first woman appointed to the Senate.

1939 – 1945 Jemima Wilson is 77 – 83; Mary Anne Scoles is 43 – 49; Mary Armitage is 37 – 43

  • World War II

1940 Jemima Wilson is 78; Mary Anne Scoles is 44; Mary Armitage is 38.

  • Women in Quebec gain the right to vote through The Act Granting to Women the Right to Vote and to be Eligible as Candidates – the last existing province to make it legal for women to vote and run for office. However, women from a racial minority already banned from voting in other provinces are still disenfranchised.

1948 Jemima Wilson is 86; Mary Anne Scoles is 52; Mary Armitage is 46;

  • A parliamentary committee recommends that Aboriginal people receive the vote, and Inuit are enfranchised. First Nations refused the right to vote as it was conditional on their relinquishing both status under the Indian Act and tax exemption rights accorded by treaty.

1950 – 1960 Jemima Wilson is 88 – 98; Mary Anne Scoles is 54 – 64;   Mary Armitage is 48 – 58

  • Fair wages, equal pay and fair employment practices legislation begins to be implemented in various provinces

1960 Jemima Wilson is 98; Mary Anne Scoles is 64; Mary Armitage is 58.

 

  • Mary Anne Scoles and husband Mike retire off the farm to live in Treherne
  • Canada’s Aboriginal Peoples, including Aboriginal women, are finally granted a ‘no-strings-attached’ right to vote.
  • The Canadian Bill of Rights receives Royal Assent

1962 Mary Armitage age 60 retires from her teaching career in Altamont

1965 Jemima Wilson dies a few months short of her 103rd birthday

1969 Jemima Wilson died 4 years earlier; Mary Anne Scoles is 73; Mary Armitage is 67

  • Québec became the final province to grant its Aboriginal residents the vote, Canada was no longer denying voting rights to anyone on the basis of racial or ethnic criteria.

1970 Jemima Wilson died 5 years earlier; Mary Anne Scoles is 74

  • Mary Armitage age 68 awarded the Manitoba Centennial Medal for her many years in the teaching profession and her activity in community affairs.

 

 

 

1982 Jemima Wilson died 17 years earlier; Mary Anne Scoles is 86; Mary Armitage is 80

  • The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is enacted as part of the Constitution Act.

1984 Jemima Wilson died 19 years earlier; Mary Anne Scoles is 88; Mary Armitage is 82.

  • 100th Anniversary of the founding of the Mussellboro Post Office, the predecessor of Altamont.

1986 Jemima Wilson died 21 years earlier; Mary Anne Scoles is 90; Mary Armitage is 84

  • The Federal Employment Equity Act is passed.

1992 Jemima Wilson died 27 years earlier; Mary Anne Scoles is 96; Mary Armitage is 90

  • Canadian Roberta Bondar flew in the Space Shuttle Discovery

1993

  • Conservative Kim Campbell becomes the first Canadian female prime minister, for about four months

2000 Jemima Wilson died 35 years earlier; Mary Anne Scoles is 104; Mary Armitage is 98

  • Beverley McLachlin appointed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court

2004 Jemima Wilson died 39 years earlier; Mary Anne Scoles is 108; Mary Armitage is 102

  • Rosalie Abella appointed as the first Jewish woman to sit on the Supreme Court.

2005 Jemima Wilson died 40 years earlier; Mary Anne Scoles is 109; Mary Armitage dies at age 102 years, 344 days

  • Canada became the fourth country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide with the enactment of the Civil Marriage Act

2007 Mary Anne (Straube) Scoles dies at age 110 years, 245 days – the oldest documented Canadian living in Canada at that time.

2010 Jemima Wilson died 50 years earlier; Mary Anne Scoles died 3 years earlier; Mary Armitage died 5 years earlier

  • Women in Canada still earn only 75% of what men earn in full and part time employment.

2016 April 2016

  • Jemima Wilson died 51 years ago. She would be 151 years old this year
  • Mary Anne Scoles died 9 years ago. She would be 119 years old this year.
  • Mary Armitage died 11 years ago. She would be 114 years old this year
  • 100-year anniversary of Manitoba granting women the right to vote in provincial elections
  • Employment equity, pay equity and fundamental human rights for women remain as major issues in Canadian and world affairs.

NOTES

  1. The word “niggle” has several different connotations. My preferred meaning is  “a small minor concern usually over a long period of time, or a slight feeling of misgiving.” However, it can also mean
  • Spend too much time on inconsequential details (Dictionary.com)
  • Spend too much effort on minor details (Miriam Webster)
  • Give too much attention to details usually over a long period of time (Cambridge)
  • Find fault continually or to be preoccupied with details (Collins English)
  • Cause slight but persistent annoyance (Oxford)
  • Screw someone or weasel your way into something (slang – Urban Dictionary

2. In the context of this blog, I would rule out this last definition. I do not have sufficient corroborating evidence to confirm that Robert and Jemima Wilson purchased the NW quarter of 21-5-8 in 1889. One map of Township 5 Range 8 shows James A. Fraser as the owner of NE 21-5-8 (1880.) It may be the case that the sale of this land to Robert and Jemima Wilson was just not noted on this map as there are some oddities in the manner in which names were recorded e.g., they only note the name of the first person to purchase the land from the Crown or Hudson Bay Company, or CPR, etc. Henry Mussell is listed as the owner of SE 21-5-8 (homestead 1879) and SW 21-5-8 (purchased in 1884.)

3. Lianna S Ishihara, Anne Cheesbrough, Carol Brayne, and Anette Schrag, “ Estimated life expectancy of Parkinson’s patients compared with the UK population,” J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 2007 Dec; 78(12): 1304–1309. Published online 2007 Mar 3 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2095626/

4. John C. Morgan, Lillian J. Currie, Madaline B. Harrison, James P. Bennett Jr., Joel M. Trugman, and G. Frederick Wooten “Mortality in Levodopa-Treated Parkinson’s Disease,” Parkinson’s Disease, Volume 2014 (2014), Article ID 426976, 8 pages http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2014/426976

5. Hobson P1, Meara J, Ishihara-Paul L. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 2010 Oct;81(10):1093-8. doi: 10.1136/jnnp.2009.198689. Epub 2010 Jun 22. “The estimated life expectancy in a community cohort of Parkinson’s disease patients with and without dementia, compared with the UK population.” http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20571039

6. The Married Women’s Property Act [1900] gives married women in Manitoba the same legal capacity as men. Previously, a woman living in Manitoba lost most of her legal rights respecting property when she married. All her property, for example, became legally vested in her husband. The Married Women’s Property Act allows a wife to own her own property separately from her husband and to control her own wages and profits. She is also jointly responsible for the support of their children. (Nellie McClung Foundation)

SOURCES:

Adelaide Hunter Hoodless Homestead http://www.adelaidehoodless.ca/

Agriculture Canada, Winter-Hardy Roses from Agriculture Canada, publication 1891/E

Canada: A Country by Consent http://www.canadahistoryproject.ca/index.html

Catalyst http://www.catalyst.org/knowledge/womens-earnings-and-income

Morris Deveson, The History of Agriculture in Manitoba (1812-2007) October 2007 http://www.manitobaaghalloffame.com/history2.php

The Dominion Land Act, http://manitobia.ca/content/en/themes/ias/6

Folk Archive  http://www.folkarchive.de/breadrose.html

Friesen, “Expansion of Settlement in Manitoba, 1870 – 1900” Manitoba Historical Society, Series 3, 1963 – 1964 season. http://www.mhs.mb.ca/docs/transactions/3/settlementexpansion.shtml

Histori.ca Voices, http://www.histori.ca/voices/page.do?pageID=316

Hobson P1, Meara J, Ishihara-Paul L. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 2010 Oct;81(10):1093-8. doi: 10.1136/jnnp.2009.198689. Epub 2010 Jun 22. “The estimated life expectancy in a community cohort of Parkinson’s disease patients with and without dementia, compared with the UK population.” http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20571039

Lianna S Ishihara, Anne Cheesbrough, Carol Brayne, and Anette Schrag, “ Estimated life expectancy of Parkinson’s patients compared with the UK population,” J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 2007 Dec; 78(12): 1304–1309. Published online 2007 Mar 30. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2095626/

Manitoba Digital Resources on Manitoba History “Immigration and Settlement 1879 – 1919” and “Women in the West.” http://manitobia.ca/content/en/themes/ias/6

John C. Morgan, Lillian J. Currie, Madaline B. Harrison, James P. Bennett Jr., Joel M. Trugman, and G. Frederick Wooten “Mortality in Levodopa-Treated Parkinson’s Disease,” Parkinson’s Disease Volume 2014 (2014), Article ID 426976, 8 pages http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2014/426976

The Nellie McClung Foundation, “Canadian History of Women’s Rights” http://www.ournellie.com/womens-suffrage/canadian-history-of-womens-rights/

Parkinson Canada http://www.parkinson.ca/site/c.kgLNIWODKpF/b.5000693/k.812F/Progression_of_Parkinsons.htm

Kirsten Smith, Women in history: A timeline, Postmedia News March 3, 2011 http://www.canada.com/technology/Women+history+timeline/4367539/story.html

George Washington’s Mount Vernon, Digital Encyclopaedia http://www.mountvernon.org/digital-encyclopedia/article/cherry-tree-myth/

Wikipedia, List of Canadian Supercentenarians  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Canadian_supercentenarians#Living_Canadian_supercentenarians

Winnipeg Free Press http://passages.winnipegfreepress.com/passage-details/id-122676/name-Mary_Scoles/

© Stan Marshall (The PD Gardener) 2016

 

 

 

 

 

IN SEARCH OF THE “STUFF” OF CURLING Part III: Down to Last Rocks; The Devil made them do it

Author’s note: This story employs a mix of fiction, fantasy and fact with references to real persons. It is not difficult to recognize the differences. I hope you enjoy it ~ The PD Gardener  hat Thepdgardener IMG_0608

IN SEARCH OF THE “STUFF” OF CURLING

Part III: Down to Last Rocks; The Devil made them do it

Last time: The Devil burst through the doors to the Altamont Rink and issued a most serious challenge to the Altamont Curling Club who had no choice but to accept the challenge. The many machinations of negotiating the details and fine print are now over. The selection process is complete. The curlers representing the Altamont Curling Club and the Idle Rocks are the Devil’s Curling Club are now in place and the game of “Dunbars” has commenced. The first two stones from each team have been thrown and the Devil is in a slight lead.

The last rocks are about to be thrown in the thrilling conclusion to one of the greatest curling confrontations ever!

Can the Altamont Curling Club keep the Devil from capturing the Soul of the draw master of the Altamont Bonspiel?

Will the Altamont Curling Club know to keep the “stuff of Curling” safe from contamination by the Devil, and how will we know what “stuff” is, even if they can keep it safe?

Can the Devil avoid eternal embarrassment by not losing to this team of hicks curling out of a tin shack?

Does Bert Marshall sell out to the Devil and does it make any difference anyway?

What is a double Gordon?

Can Neuro de Generative throw a “Dunbar” worthy of the name?

With answers to these questions and more, let’s get back to

IN SEARCH OF THE “STUFF” OF CURLING

Part III: Down to Last Rocks; The Devil made them do it

Let’s pick up the action where we left off in Part II with the DEVL 666 Radio play-by-play as might have been provided by Cactus Jack Wells and Bob Picken.

The broadcast leads with a verse of “Devil or Angel,” The Clovers 1956 original pop hit playing in the background. Note: Bobby Vee covered this tune in 1960 taking it to the top of the charts once again and it was fresh on all minds, even curlers’ minds, in 1961.

Network Announcer: DEVL 666 Radio now takes you to Cactus Jack Wells and Bob Picken at the Altamont Rink for a real treat – Idle Rocks are the Devil’s Curling Club vs Altamont Curling Club in a winner take all, no holds barred, Devil may care, hotter than Hades, curling shoot off….

Cactus Jack: Well, it turned out nice again, didn’t it?

Bob Picken: It sure did Jack and it is such a privilege to be invited to the historic Altamont Rink to witness this unusual curling challenge. As you know, space is limited and people are having a devil of a time finding tickets even though it was put together very quickly.

Cactus Jack: Right you are, Bob. I am often high in the Winnipeg Arena and Blue Bomber Stadium… hmmm… perhaps I should phrase that differently, but we are really up in the rafters here at the Altamont Rink!

Bob Picken: Yes we are, and we have ice level seats!

Cactus Jack: Those people who have found a way to squeeze in here are witnessing one Hell of a battle. Hope I don’t get fired for saying that, Bob.

Bob Picken: I don’t think anyone is going to be fired today Jack. The Devil Himself is here with his team and they make everyone else look very innocent.

Cactus Jack: The score is Devil 3 Altamont 4 with last rocks from each side still to come. We want to remind listeners that under the rules of this event the lowest aggregate score is the winner.

Bob Picken: That’s right Jack. Think of it in the same way you think about your golf score.

Cactus Jack: It’s a lot easier to throw my Goddamn sand wedge into the pond than it is to throw a curling stone…. Hope I don’t get fired for that, Bob.

(Bob Picken remains silent)

Cactus Jack continues: The unpredictable Nero de Generate [real name is Neuro de Generative – remember Cactus Jack often mispronounces names] is to throw for the Altamont Curling Club and the Devil has the hammer so I guess that He who is all sin shall cast the last stone, to misquote the Bible. Hope I don’t get fired for that, Bob.

Bob Picken: I don’t think you can get fired for telling the truth, Jack.

Cactus Jack: Look, I am just going to call Neuro, “Neuro” or “de G,” to save me from further mispronunciation and confusion. Is that OK with you, Bob? The book on de G is not good, is it?

Bob Picken: Yes, it is, and no, it isn’t, to answer both your questions. But sometimes people should just take a pill and get over it. Neuro has been anxious about this appearance today but he looks as calm as a cucumber out there, doesn’t he? Cucumbers do freeze very easily though so he might not dare to move if he has found a warm spot. I don’t think that he will freeze in any case, as he is a veteran and knows his capabilities better than anyone.

Cactus Jack: It is a surprise that Neuro was even selected for the Altamont team but that is how it unfolded and we now await his shot.

Bob Picken: Just a reminder Jack, Neuro must throw a “Dunbar” defined as throwing the rock as fast and as hard as he can.

Cactus Jack: Has anyone ever clocked de G’s takeout weight?

Bob Picken: Well Jack, you know that the norm is to use hog line to hog line or tee line to tee line times in seconds. The word is that de Generative’s times have been clocked using an hourglass (chuckle) on a good day…and a calendar on a bad day. (Several low chuckles)

Cactus Jack (laughs:) Then the question is: Can Neuro “turn back the sands of time?” to misquote another great line from somewhere.

Bob Picken: Let’s not get all caught up here, Jack, because throwing a “Dunbar” is not like winning the Nobel Prize for Literature… and misquoting an ‘idiom’ is… well … idiotic (more chuckles.)

[It is not clear what happened here but there is brief 12 – 15 seconds of dead air – a play-by-play broadcaster’s nightmare – and then Cactus Jack breaks the silence.]

Cactus Jack: I hope I don’t get fired for that, Bob.

 [There is no response from Bob Picken]

Cactus Jack continues: You can hear the murmurs from the crowd as the gentle giant Lynwood Graham has gone to the home end of the sheet to hold the broom for Neuro de G. after that huddle with the Altamont curlers at the far end. You know, it is very hard to see or hear what is going on in those huddles. Perhaps the Blue Bombers could learn a few things on that score.

Bob Picken (breathless): Sorry Jack, I missed some of that as I was tending to some… uh… personal business. It is awfully close quarters here and somehow your elbow hit me on the nose.

[2-second pause]

Bob Picken (determined to continue a battle of idioms): You never miss a trick, do you Jack? Maybe the Devil was at play?

Cactus Jack: Well, this certainly is a surprise Bob. Do you see where Lynwood Graham has placed that broom? It is about a foot, a mere 12 inches, from the right wall looking out from the house. And it literally is the wall of the building folks.

Bob Picken: I don’t think that I have ever seen such a dramatic placement of the broom – at least not since the Wicked Witch of the West in the Wizard of Oz, or perhaps Cinderella.

[Remember, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer produced The Wizard of Oz in 1939. Disney produced the animated version of Cinderella in 1950 but did not make Mary Poppins until 1964 and Bedknobs and Broomsticks until 1971.]

Cactus Jack: And Altamont would certainly be a Cinderella team if they can pull this off. The excitement is building and the building is dead quiet. Neuro de G. is in the hack and he begins his back swing very deliberately, his corn broom out in his left hand providing him some semblance of balance.

Bob Picken: Jumpin’ Jehoshaphat Jack! They are calling for the out turn, which under normal circumstances would curl the rock right into the wall! They expect this rock to back up against the turn!

Cactus Jack: Holy Hannah! They must know something we don’t, Bob.

Bob Picken: That was a pretty amazing back swing for de Generative – about 8 inches off the ice surface. [Probably less than a 1/10 Watson, not named after the legendary Ken Watson who perfected the long slide, but after Ken’s brother Grant who had a very high back swing.]

Cactus Jack (his voice sounding as if he was jumping in his seat – a jumping Jack): Yes! And his rock came crashing to the ice! The shot stayed on course only by his amazing ability to prop up his left side with his corn broom during his slide! He must have practiced that maneuver!

[It is true that de Generative came out of the hack in a crazily precarious position but he did so with a devilishly, determined grin as he mustered up every ounce of strength to overcome Bradykinesia and rigidity. There was no question that all of Neuro’s neuropathways were focussed on powering that stone down the ice, dead on target. It wobbled, trembled and shook, not from speed but from an uncertain centre of gravity transferred to it by its propellant.]

Cactus Jack again picks up the play by play: Holy Hell, that shot is a long way out there on that untested, frosty ice. I hope I don’t get fired for that Bob. I don’t see anything good from this shot. Bert Marshall is the sole sweeper, tickling the ice with his old corn broom. No slap, slap slap of raw power there.

Bob Picken (in a deliberate understatement): Bert is known for playing the quiet game.

Cactus Jack: Lynwood Graham is coming out from the house to lend a hand sweeping. The other Altamont sweeper, Charlie Taylor, is on the sidelines barking out instructions on sweeping technique. That stone is still very close to the wall, a long way from the centre line and from that first stone it must strike, … and still with the wrong turn.

Bob Picken (incredulously): You know Jack, I think that rock is starting to bend. … Against the turn! … Yes it is, and Bert Marshall is really starting to put his back into the broom. His tickle has become a massage and he is kneading the ice with renewed fervour. Lynwood Graham’s forearms are bulging and literally popping!  His broom seems close to snapping! That rock is speeding up and moving across the ice as if going downhill!    

[In the background, de Generative’s voice can be heard yelling as he follows the rock down the ice, focussed and following but not falling]

Neuro de Generative: HURRY HARD HAAAARRRRD! SWEEP YOU CRAZY BASTARDS! HAAAAARRRRRRDDDDDERRR!

Cactus Jack: I hope he doesn’t get fired for that, Bob.

Bob Picken: Maybe he knows their ancestry better than we do, Jack. (pause … then raising his voice) That rock, as improbable as it seems is now on a line and has the right weight to hit that front rock and start a domino sequence that may well clear the house!

Cactus Jack: Let’s listen….

[Sounds are heard: Crack!crack/crack, crack, … bonk, bonk, bonk … tap.]

[silence… and… “ecnelis” which is silence played backwards specifically for the Devil … then pandemonium breaks out!]

Cactus Jack (now yelling to be heard above the din): All Hell has just broken loose! I know, I know… but I don’t think I will get fired for that.

[Sounds are often deceptive and may outright lie if the sound effects staff are good at their jobs. Be it known though, that there was no need to augment or embellish the sounds of Neuro’s stone reaching its target.  Smoothly and more quickly than most human eyes could comprehend, Neuro de Generative’s stone seemed to have cleared the house with the possible exception of one rock at the back of the rings. It appears to be out but the Devil’s third Darth Vader disagrees and in his usual breathy, ominous, sonorous voice calls for a measurement.]

Cactus Jack: Who would have thought that Neuro de G’s rock would have such an impact, so to speak? The Devil’s team has called for a measure. If Neuro’s rock is in, then Darth Vader will have a two shot cushion and Vader can afford to leave one stone in the rings to win and two for a tie sending the game into an extra end. Under that scenario Altamont can win only if Darth Vader leaves at least three stones in the rings. If de Generative’s rock is out, then Darth Vader must clear the house to win.  One stone left and its a tie.

Bob Picken: It is still an enviable position for the Devil, Jack, as they have control of their own destiny…. Come to think of it though, no one has ever seen Darth Vader throw a curling stone. What do you think he will do?

Cactus Jack: We’ll have to wait and see, as we’ll be back with the result of the measurement and Darth Vader’s throw after these messages.

Network Announcer: This special broadcast of Devil Challenge Curling on DEVL 666 is brought to you by Devil’s Food cake, equally perfect for birthdays and midnight snacks; and by the Dirt Devil “Broom Broom” Vac, great for cleaning up cake crumbs. Both items are now on sale at all DevilMart locations. Now back to Cactus Jack Wells.

Cactus Jack (not knowing he is back on air): I hope there is seven – minute frosting on that Devil’s Food cake, Bob.

Bob Picken (also not knowing they are on air): I prefer dark chocolate ganache myself.

Cactus Jack (still oblivious): But neither of them is as good as a cold Blue.

Cactus Jack: We’re back! Holy cow Bob! The measurement showed that the rock was indeed counting so another point is added to the Altamont score. Darth Vader needs to clear seven rocks with his last stone to win outright. If he leaves two rocks, it will be a tie.

Bob Picken: Yes, that rock counted against the Altamont team as it was a biter after all.

Cactus Jack: A real nail biter, you say? The crowd didn’t like that much but they are going crazy here supporting the Altamont squad! 

Bob Picken: Yes, it is a bit brighter for the Devil’s team. It just shows you how important it is to measure those rocks when it is not clear if they are counting. In this case, there seemed to be white space between the hitting surface of the rock and the edge of the ring. However, trying to ascertain the exact position is difficult because the rock is beveled and round, and the ring is round.  

Cactus Jack: Don’t be bedeviled by the bevel, eh Bob?

Bob Picken: You know Jack; so much depends on the accuracy of those who paint the rings. If the ring painter is having a bad day or is a little “under the weather” from too much cake or too much Blue, if you know what I mean, then the rings themselves may be a little off centre or not perfectly round.

Cactus Jack: I don’t think that would ever happen here in Altamont, Bob.

Bob Picken: chuckles

Cactus Jack: The Altamont team and supporters have now realized that they are so very close to upsetting the most feared team in Curling. Only a very few know just what is at stake but they know the Devil doesn’t fuck around. I hope I don’t get fired for that Bob, but it does describe the seriousness of this situation.

Bob Picken: You might get fired for that Jack, but you can hope that the brass in Toronto are sleeping.

[Remember, (this begs the question of whether you can remember something that you can’t remember but we will leave that for now) neither Cactus Jack nor Bob Picken know that they will not remember anything because the Devil wipes all cerebral hard drives clean after the event… except for Dick Mussell’s that is… and Dick really doesn’t care about the language, having heard it all before. Anyway, Dick wouldn’t fire anyone even if he could.]

Cactus Jack: (…static…) So, what the Hell is going on here? Darth Vader was to throw last stone for the Devil’s rink but he now seems to be holding the broom…er…light sabre… (static)… for the Dev… (breaking up static) … not much… (static)… ice… (….bbbbbbbbzzzzzzzzz… silence.)

[Voices fade and strangely modulating static is the only sound]

Network Announcer (breaking in): We apologize as we are having problems with the transmission from the Altamont Rink. Our trouble shooters tell us that relay transmitters near Somerset and Homewood, Manitoba are temporarily out of commission. We will return to the broadcast as soon as possible. In the meantime, we take you to Stewart McPherson and the Political Pundit Panel (P3) discussing why the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) will never form the government in Manitoba.

Stewart McPherson: Hell will freeze over if the CCF ever….

[Note: the CCF would become the New Democratic Party (NDP) 6 months later and form the government in Manitoba for 32 of the next 55 years. There is no word on whether Stewart McPherson is in a warm or a cold place.]

At this point the broadcast breaks off. For those who care, Stewart McPherson did not get fired.

We learn later that a mysterious gravitational wave of unprecedented proportion and unknown origin caused the radio signal “to skip” into the upper atmosphere where it bounced off an asteroid and was picked up by a transmitter in Tasmania on its return to earth. Apparently, the broadcast caused much concern that Tasmanian Devils were at risk of being stoned by “Dunbars.”

Does the ‘evil’ in Devil mean anything?

It has taken over 40 years of research and study but I have finally been able to piece together from a variety of sources the following account that, I believe, presents the facts fairly.

You may recall that Darth Vader was to deliver the last rock for Idle Rocks are the Devil’s Curling Club. So, why was the Devil heading toward the hack and Darth Vader was standing in the house with the rocks? Something was afoot…. or ahoof.

Bart IMG_4822

Bartholomew knows more about the Devil than he cares to admit.  Photo: The PD Gardener  2015

The Devil pulled a fast one, as they say. Deep in the Good vs Evil Rule Book is a little known provision, “The Devil you say? Rule” that permits the Devil to change His mind and insert Himself into the line up at any time in a Devil’s challenge game. This is precisely what he did. The Altamont team protested at length (Lynwood Graham’s ears turned red, Murray Stockford uttered a strong Gaaarrrrsssshhhh! Charlie Taylor almost swallowed his lit cigarette, ash and all) but the Devil’s argument that there is no point being a Devil if you can’t do things that are devilishly sinister and outright bad, won the day. How would you know the Devil was evil if He had to follow the rules all the time?

“That makes no sense,” argued the Devil. “And rules are for sissies,”He added for good measure.

Besides, the Devil threatened not to fulfill His end of the bargain if they didn’t agree. This threat is really a variant of the old school yard threat: “If I don’t get my way, I will take my bat and ball and go home.” Put that way, everyone understood and the Devil was allowed to throw the last stone – a result no different than the result from the schoolyard threat where ownership of the tools of the game are key to the continuation of the game. Everyone had too much invested in the game at this point to let it end at this point, if you get my point.

I doubt if there was anyone in the Altamont Rink at that moment who didn’t think this move ended any chance for the Altamont team to win. The Devil could muster furious speed and stupidly outrageous power to his throw – “sick” as my daughter would say. The chances that any rock would remain in the rings after the Devil threw were “slim and none, and Slim left town” as I always say to irritate my children.

The Devil looked down at the hack, a hole in the ice with a short piece of wood frozen into it at the back.  Instinctively He tried to settle into the right side hack with His left foot (His strong side) but it was not designed for His cloven hoof. He rooted around the hack until enough ice had been chipped away too accommodate His hoof and then grasped the stone’s handle with His left hand. For thousands of years left-handed movements have been attributed to the Devil and I am not saying that His comfort level with left handed throwing of a “Dunbar” is proof of anything.  I am merely describing the scene.

The Devil stared down the ice at Darth Vader who was using his light sabre as a broom indicating the ice necessary to make this shot. It was laughable. At the speed the Devil was planning, the rock would be unlikely to move more than 0.000001 mm between the hack and impact. Nevertheless Vader waved his light sabre (zzzmmuuubzuhzzzzzzzuhzzzzzuhzzzz) over all the rocks in the house to emphasize the obvious: he wanted all the rocks removed. Vader then carefully placed the light sabre just off the centre of the target rock. It would be a slight in turn for the left-handed Devil.

The Devil took the rock back slowly as if His back swing would be a short one, but it gained momentum as it approached vertical over the Devil’s head in what appeared to be an exaggerated Pee Wee Pickering delivery. Just as the rock reached the optimum point at the apex such that its weight, combined with the Devil’s stupendous Satanic strength, pulled it back down through the same arc in reverse, the force and speed caused the air in the rink to rush ahead towards the spectator end with a loud “BOOM” (perhaps, the sound barrier had been broken?) rattling the windows and breaking a few panes in the viewing area.  The spectators ducked and gasped, “WHAT THE ….? “

The Devil still managed to hold the rock handle lightly with what looked like two bony fingers. Smoke trailed off as an intense heat spread through the stone exposing and melting impurities and threatening to turn the 44 lbs of granite into lava. The Devil’s cloven right hoof scraped out across the ice in an awkward yet strangely powerful slide causing spectators’ teeth to curl, and more than one set of false teeth hit the floor beneath the bleachers. The Devil’s fingers were still lightly touching the rock handle and His eyes were lasers fixed on Darth Vader’s light sabre. His aim was deadly accurate as His fingers left the handle just before the hog line. (He wouldn’t want to break any rules now, would He?) The rock sailed down the ice with a wobble and a tilt every few feet, the ice not just melting under it but catching fire even though the rock never touched its surface. Its velocity was fearsome and it was still accelerating as it crossed the far hog line towards its target. In spite of the forces of physics being applied to it, the rock stayed on its precision course and struck the intended rock with a blinding flash, an ear splitting release of energy as fragments of rock flew like shrapnel through the walls, roof and windows. The Devil’s eyes shone red illuminating the rink with a queer, pinkish glow as icy crystals in the frosty night air melted into watery strawberry Kool-Aid.

The viewing area benches were vacant… but the bathrooms (primitive as they were) were full. Both teams remained on the ice although they had retreated a respectful distance away from the anticipated impact. Darth Vader breathed several deep electronic breaths before diving way down for those basal tones (not as good as James Earl Jones but acceptable) to intone, “Take that, Willie MacCrimmon.”

Smoke and stone dust slowly drifted away. All eyes turned to the house to assess the damage, to witness first hand the carnage, to determine the number of stones (if any) that remained in play. The vice-skips of both teams gathered at the button, their curling shoes sloshing through melted puddles marking the trail of the Devil’s rock. One stone remained in the rings – a biter barely touching the twelve-foot ring at eleven o’clock. No one had to count on his or her fingers. The Devil had won by that count!

The Altamont squad sat in stunned silence.

There was no cheering, no shouts of congratulations, and no pats on the back by the Devil’s team, but they stood together in cocky silence and in awe, themselves, of the sheer magnitude of the phenomenon they had just experienced. Neither Mother Nature, nor any other Supreme Being worthy of the name, could have delivered such sound and fury.

It is too bad for the Devil that He did not read up on “sound and fury.” If He had He would have known that

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing – Macbeth Act 5, Scene 5.

The erudite Altamont curlers and fans still held out hope that the “signifying nothing” part meant that the Devil was s— out of luck. [I think the quotation is accurate although the interpretation may be not be as intended.]

In the meantime, the Devil took a moment to reflect on the accomplishment. He was so proud of Himself. The Devil had been plagued (normally He liked plagues) by a very long losing streak and He was thrilled to get that monkey off His back. The Devil’s defeat to Willie MacCrimmon was avenged and His defeat at the hands of Johnny the Fiddler documented in Charlie Daniels’ The Devil went down to Georgia would not hurt quite so much now.

The list of defeats the Devil has suffered is just too long to chronicle; many have been clouded by the passage of time; some have been invented and misrepresented by those with a vested interest to promote themselves as vanquishers of evil; many have been embellished beyond belief; and some are pure fiction, plain and simple. But the Devil’s victory in Altamont – a match of skill, ability, intelligence, and strength in a game played extensively by the good God-fearing citizens of this fair-minded community where few denizens of evil dared to tread – was as close as the Devil had ever come to defeating a contingent approved by the Heavenly Spirit Himself/Herself (or Heavenly Father if you must.) No small victory in the Devil’s eyes.

In that moment, the moment where no one had jumped for joy and come down upon a rock still in question, a move that could be called a “LaBonte” after Bob LaBonte of the United States who burned a rock while jumping for joy in an apparent victory over Orest Meleschuk of Canada before the total count in the end had been agreed by both teams. It was the final game of the 1972 Air Canada Silver Broom (World Championships) in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany and the LaBonte miscue left the game tied after the 10th end. Canada would go on to win the Championship in an extra end. Labonte, it is said, placed a curse on the Canadian team and Canada would not win another world championship until 1980, eight years later. I relay this happening to provide descriptive context only, as neither team would have been aware of this event during their 1961 tussle because the Altamont team was human and the LaBonte event was just outside of the Devil’s 10-year prescience factor.

The Devil wins?

But, where was I? Oh yes, in that moment, a quiet somewhat squeaky voice piped up on the boardwalk separating the curling ice from the skating ice. It was none other than Gordon Holliston, that long time resident of Altamont, a member of one of the pioneering families of the district, a member of the first Altamont team to win the O’Grady Challenge Trophy, and the first person to address the Devil when He burst into the Rink earlier that evening. Gordon, afflicted by osteoarthritis in his hip, had walked quietly with his characteristic limp, to a spot just beside the curling rings. He looked straight at the Devil and said,

“By jjjjove, I don’t… I don’t think… I don’t think you have… c.. c.. c.. ccounted… counted all the stones… No Siree.”

Upon seeing Gordon Holliston beside the rings, that old feeling of unease and creepiness the Devil always felt when He was in the Altamont Rink (except in the restrooms)  returned. His blood was beginning to run cold again. The good citizens of this community were just too wholesome and not vain enough to be enticed into corruption.

Devil enraged IMG_0003

The Devil’s blood pressure was spiking! Photo: unknown

Like all brats, the Devil held His breath and strained until His face turned red (not blue but redder than red) and His blood pressure began to rise to a reading that would have blown the cuff of the arm of any mere mortal.  Steam slowly seeped up from the scales on the Devil’s neck.

 

 

Darth Vader’s light sabre cut threateningly through the air as he breathed in his most irritatingly breathy voice, “What do you mean, old man?” (vvvrrroooommbzuhzzzzzzzuhzzzzzuhzzzz)

“M… M… Mr. Holliston … to… to… to… to you,” Gordon replied and pointed out two quite small but noticeable chunks of granite still remaining in the house. These chunks were in addition to the biter previously counted. The Devil’s shot had wreaked havoc as it collided with its intended target and careened off other rocks in the ring. ‘Smithereens’ may be the operative word here. The question was: Are those chunks counting stones?

Gordon Lowry, a contemporary of Gordon Holliston’s, pulled out a well thumbed copy of the Rules of Curling for General Play and went immediately to Rule 4 (2) [later to be Rule 4 (4)] which states

If a stone is broken in play, a replacement stone shall be placed where the largest fragment comes to rest. The inside edge of the replacement stone shall be placed in the same position as the inside edge of the largest fragment with the assistance of a measuring stick.

That seemed to answer the question but was it the whole answer?

If chunks count, how many chunks count?

As is often the case, one answer just leads to another question: Were the chunks from the same stone or from two different stones? The implication is obvious. Different stones meant two additional rocks in the rings and the Devil loses. If it were only one stone the game would be tied and an extra end (or ends) would be played.

Darth Vader and Lynwood Graham surveyed the chunks and it became apparent that it would be time consuming and finicky work to reconstruct the stones to a state where they could determine the origin of both chunks. As curling is often left to the fair play of the competitors (even if one team is the Devil’s), the teams huddled and agreed to appoint one person each to resolve the matter. They also agreed to appoint an independent fair-minded arbiter as a third person. By the way, this approach is consistent with the general rules of curling.

Although he seemed to be a bit of a know it all, the Altamont team nominated Bert Marshall as they perceived (rightly or wrongly) that he did know more than the rest of them on this matter.

The Devil wanted to be nominated but His team rejected Him as being a hot head and a wild card in such situations. The Devil didn’t object too strenuously as the Altamont team had already nominated Bert Marshall and the Devil was sure that Bert was on His side so it would not be necessary for Himself to be there as well. With that, the Devil’s team nominated Magnus Djävulsson as he had both Icelandic and Swedish ancestry that made it seem that he was closer to the granite of Ailsa Craig than the other players were.

Now, all that was left was to agree upon the third, independent party. But time was matching on and “time stops for no man” to misquote another proverb [Time and tide wait for no man.] It was rapidly approaching morning and first light would burn away the “stuff” that was happening and a resolution would be held in abeyance. Both teams abhorred abeyance and jointly agreed to invoke curling’s virtually unheard of Unusual Measures Rule No. 0.666. In this case, they appealed to the Devil to implement Central Suspended Time (see Part II Appendix A.)   Believe it or not, that is what happened that … longer than usual… night in Altamont.

Who is not afraid of the big, bad Devil?

Both teams looked over the individuals who were present at the rink and there was no agreement on a third party who met the “independent” criterion and was deemed honest enough to be trusted. It is not clear how her name came up but someone mentioned “Miss Armitage” and heads all around nodded agreement. No one, not even the Devil could disagree. Miss Mary Armitage was beyond reproach. Thirty-seven of her 41 years of teaching were in Altamont and she had taught two or maybe even three generations of some families.  A few “little devils” might have even passed through her classes. She lived to be just shy of 103 years old but was a very youthful and spry 59 at this time.

Altamont School

Altamont School enlarged in 1924. Photo: G. H. Robertson. Source: Archives of Manitoba, School Inspectors Photographs

Bessie McDonald was dispatched to awaken Miss Armitage from a deep sleep and summon her to the Altamont Rink. Interestingly, I have no image of Miss Armitage attending many functions at the Rink previously, or since, but no matter, she knew immediately and instinctively that her responsibility was to ensure fairness in determining the final outcome of this curling competition. And make no mistake, Miss Armitage had no fear of the Devil! A card table was pulled out into the waiting room nearest the kitchen. Miss Armitage pulled up a chair and joined Magnus Djävulsson and Bert Marshall to begin what turned out to be a tedious process.

To make a long story somewhat shorter (I am certain you are relieved to hear this) the question that needed to be answered was quite clear: Did the two fragments of curling stone left in the rings come from the same rock or from two different rocks?

Bert Marshall took out his handkerchief, blew his nose, and then folded it back into his pocket and started to explain the geological origins of Ailsa Craig granite and why some types are better than others, how the granite was harvested, how it was honed and made into curling stones and… (yawn, yawn)… it wasn’t long before Miss Armitage suggested that they better get doing what people in Altamont are very good at doing … and that is putting together jigsaw puzzles. As there were no smart phones to take photos, she instructed the carpenter Jim Sharp (the Devil bristled at the mention of his occupation) to use his carpenter’s pencil and drafting paper to make a sketch of the rings, the stones, and shards of stones left in the rings after the Devil’s shot.

Neuro de Generative and Severus Snape were dispatched to gather up every splinter and shard of granite they could find on the ice, in the spectators’ area and even outside where some shards lay, still steaming, in the snow after they were blown clean through the wooden walls and tin roof. Severus reluctantly agreed to go outside to look in every nook and cranny, under every rock, and to leave no stone unturned in his effort to find any fragment(s) of stone. Snape must be commended as the Slitherin part of his Soul was not enamoured with sliding through snow and ice. He found that it induced rigidity and Bradykinesia or slowness.

Neuro shuffled off to navigate precariously the ice surfaces of the single sheet of curling ice and the skating rink. Clearly, neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s, and the limitations that those conditions placed on individuals, were not well understood in the early 1960s. It was comical, heartbreaking, and heart warming all at once to watch Neuro on the ice but he did it. Neuro invoked “mind over matter” concentration and did not fall once, but undoubtedly his application to the Flying Wallenda’s troupe would be rejected out of hand.

Remarkably, Severus and Neuro found every last shard.

Every crack and crevice IMG_0652

Snape searched every crack and crevice Photo: unknown

The verdict

As the pieces came in, Miss Armitage, Magnus and Bert worked systematically to piece the stones back together. Bert is convincing in his argument that the stones were made from two different types of granite, one was Keanie granite and the other was Common Green granite. Both stones had been reconditioned (badly) at some point in their existence. This was not unusual as it was expensive to transport heavy curling stones to the prairies from Scotland in the early 20th Century. There was little money to purchase new stones so reconditioning, while not recommended, was a less expensive option to keep the stones in play given normal club playing conditions. But, as we know this match was far from normal.

The Keanie granite and the Common Green granite each had major flaws weakening the stone at the outset but to make matters worse, the stones had been sent for reconditioning to a knock down wholesaler, a new untried and now bankrupt Toronto firm, Devil in Disguise Rock Reconditioning (D2 R2 Ltd) of which, not surprisingly, “Broom Broom” GeoFreeZone was the principal shareholder. It all added up to the two stones not having a ghost of a chance to remain intact upon impact from the Devil’s stone.

More importantly though, the two different types of granite meant that shards of each rock were easily identified and the reconstruction went quickly. It actually wasn’t necessary to piece the stones together as it was already determined that each chunk was from a different type of granite ergo there were two stones. But Darth Vader, like most losers, insisted well past the point where he should have conceded. As expected, the reconstructions told the story. The two shards in the ring were from different rocks and two points were added to the Devil’s score making the Altamont team the winner with the lowest aggregate score.

What if there is a winner and no one celebrates?

I apologize if this news seems a bit anticlimactic but the fact is that it is quite consistent with the way the winning team and their fans felt at that moment… enervated… spent… sapped… weary… exhausted… drained… fatigued… well, you get the picture.  The Altamont Rink was stone dead quiet. The Altamont team did not move as they let it sink in. They had defeated the Devil!

But the Devil was furious! [There are no words to describe the Devil’s state of mind at this point.] His losing streak continued and He would have to suffer this blow forever in order to make good on His side of the bet.

The sssssspoilssssss of the Devil’s wager

Remember the Devil’s challenge specifically stated that to the victor would go the spoils. The Devil promised some hitherto unknown specifics in His side of the wager (Lynwood Graham negotiated the fine print sensing the Devil was outrageously overconfident of the outcome) including:

1) Curling would forever have a Gravitational Force Field drawing and holding communities together for common purpose and for the betterment of all within the community;

2) The “Stuff of Curling” would, in perpetuity, be located within the walls of the Altamont Rink and may be accessed only in the presence of a member of the Altamont Curling Club, should it be necessary;

3) Good Gravitational Force Fields will always

a) Be greater than Evil Gravitational Force Fields;

b) Include soup;

c) Have a place for trading curling pins

d) Include appropriate libations, dispensed in discrete moderation, in appropriate venues, contributing to the convivial atmosphere of Curling

e) Ensure the Beneficial Innovation always outweighs Disruptive innovation

4) Mathematical, scientific and theoretical proofs of the “Stuff of Curling” shall be elevated to the status of Natural Law.

It is not clear that the Devil had the authority to carry through with #4 but He was so cocksure that He would win, He promised it anyway. I personally think that He has that power but that He doesn’t have the obligation to divulge the specifics of that proof. So, there is more thinking to be done on the mathematical equation for “The Stuff of Curling”and it is left to us mere mortals to complete that work.

In any case, the Altamont team was exhausted and sat quietly with their fans on the benches and bleachers of the viewing area and let the magnitude of what happened slowly massage their muscles and brains into a supersaturated state of satisfaction. Debris and detritus left from the explosive end to the match slowly returned to normal on its own accord. Central Suspended Time returned to Central Standard Time. The good citizens and children of Altamont began to stir as a new day dawned.

As happens with all such encounters with the Devil, everyone would leave the Rink with their cerebral hard drives wiped clean of all knowledge of the events of the night – everyone that is except for Dick Mussell who had escaped a complete hard drive wiping in a previous encounter, and having an exceedingly plastic brain was able to harness neuroplasticity to develop new neuropathways allowing him to avoid the Devil’s neurological tricks. Dick rode Queenie back to his shanty, wondering who would ever believe this story. He continued to curl but with a new respect for the game.

Dick never told anyone about the Devil’s Challenge for many years until one night on the anniversary of the Challenge, the Altamont Hotel was empty except for him, and three guys named Scotty, Buster and Phil. They believed Dick. And they told me. And I believe them. Indeed, I stake my personal reputation on the fact that they are unassailable as characters

AFTERMATH, AFTERWORD, AFTERTHOUGHTS AND ANALYSIS (4A)

As always, after a hard fought competition between two combatants steadfast in their determination to vanquish the other, there is a need to analyze what transpired and tidy up a few loose ends. Have you ever noticed that after any sporting event whether it is hockey, baseball, curling, football, soccer (football,) cricket, track and field, swimming or any other Olympic sport, the broadcasters always schedule time for highlights and analysis?

With that in mind, let’s join Cactus Jack Wells and Bob Picken who will be joined by Winnie (farmer, sportsman and old time fiddler, Winston ”Winnie” Simpson of Deerwood, Manitoba) and Windy (farmer and sportsman, Lloyd “Windy” Orchard of Miami, Manitoba) for a foray into 4A. Now, you need to know that Winnie was a jovial kind of guy, a decent athlete, and he would become a moving force in old time fiddle music in Manitoba. Windy, equally talented and respected as an athlete and umpire/referee, came by his nickname honestly as he loved to talk, and he particularly loved to talk to Winnie. I don’t know who put them both on the same panel but it had to be someone who did not want any dead air.  In the interests of brevity, what follows is a somewhat abridge version of what the post mortem on the Devil’s defeat might have sounded like with Cactus Jack, Bob, Winnie and Windy.

Cactus Jack: Welcome to the Foray into 4A Panel with Bob, Winnie, Windy and your host, yours truly, Cactus Jack.

[Rustling sounds in the background – no, not cattle rustling!]

Cactus Jack: Well, it turned out nice again didn’t it?

Bob Picken: It turned out nice for the Altamont squad anyway, Jack. The citizens of Altamont are certainly ecstatic. Ooops, I didn’t mean to say “static.” Hope we don’t lose any listeners because of radio transmission problems.

Cactus Jack: I don’t think you will get fired for that, Bob.

Cactus Jack (continuing): let’s get the views of our local experts, Winnie and Windy. Winnie, what are your thoughts?

[It was a mistake to ask Winnie for his thoughts as he proceeded to outline his plans for an old time fiddlers’ festival, a new weekly music program on CFAM Altona and his views on the Chicago Blackhawks’ chances to win the Stanley Cup before Cactus Jack could get a word in edgewise.]

[There are some scuffling sounds.]

Cactus Jack: Wow Winnie! You sure can talk fast and you have a strong grip on that microphone, don’t you?  I don’t usually have to say this but let me be a little clearer, what would you say is the one thing that appeared to tip the balance in this match?

Winnie: Well, I arrived a little late because I had to load some pigs to be shipped to Winnipeg in the morning. I had to find some of my young hockey players to help me out. Slippery little devils they are – the pigs that is, not the hockey players.

[A few chuckles from Bob and Windy]

Winnie: The turning point – you know, that would make a good ballet movie – was when the Devil thought that Bert Marshall had agreed to sell his Soul. The Devil seemed to be overconfident after that conversation.

Bob Picken:  I agree with you Winnie, there should be a venue for old time fiddlers to fiddle their old times away in Manitoba. Glad to see you are working on that – the Devil is a wicked fiddler, you know.

Cactus Jack: Well, we won’t fiddle with the facts.  Windy what’s your point of view on the turning point?

Windy: I never excelled in ballet, Jack – unless you count the time I did a grand jeter across a large of pile of bullshit spread by my friend Winnie here! [Outright laughter from several individuals.]

Windy continuing: Seriously though folks, the turning point was when Neuro de Generative threw his Dunbar with the out turn and it fell away from the turn into the house. That shot, was one of the most remarkable shots I have ever seen. I think there is a story to be told around that one – and I hope that I get to hear it because I have already thought of a dozen ways to make it a better story.

Winnie: You know, I heard that Neuro is taking ballet lessons – he is able to avoid tremor and is better coordinated and flexible because of it. This is a real breakthrough in the treatment of neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s. [How Winnie knew this is anyone’s guess, but he never ceased to amaze as to the vastness of his knowledge and opinions.]

Windy (jumping in): I heard the Soviets are teaching ballet to their elite hockey players.

From left, Russian forwards Pavel Datsyuk, Sergei Gonchar and Evgeni Malkin, seen here at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, are expected to attend the team's Aug. 23-24 camp in Sochi, Russia, site of the 2014 Winter Games. Three little maids from school (Mikado)? or Four swans minus one (Swan Lake)? Photo: cbc.ca

 

Cactus Jack (somewhat naïvely it turns out): The Ruskies will never be dancing around our professional players and you can take that to the bank.

Bob Picken: Winnie might be on to something here. I thought that Neuro performed a marvellous allegro at the end of his delivery – it was assemble, changement, entrechat, sauté, sissone, soubresaut, if I am not mistaken.

Cactus Jack: Let’s not get carried away here. The glissade is what it’s all about in curling. Unless of course, I can get some of that Devil’s food cake with glaçage fouetté.

[Oh oh, Jack, Bob, Winnie and Windy have gone massively off script into some world I would never have dreamed they ever visited. I would ask them to do an about face but About Face is a ballet documentary of a woman who has forgotten who she is, originally commissioned by the Sydney Opera House. I am also afraid that continuing on might spark a discussion of tours en l’air and they would just keep facing the same direction irrespective of how many they performed. I doubt if they could do more than Vaslav Nijjinsky who was known to perform triple tours en l’air. I think it is best to put a halt to this pas de quatre and return to regular programing. I wonder if they got fired for this? Or maybe they were just demoted to the corps de ballet.]

Before they adopted an attitude not well understood by curling aficionados, Winnie and Windy did identify the two key elements of any post mortem of the clash of the Dunbars, Idle Rocks are the Devil’s Curling Club vs Altamont Curling Club. Did Bert Marshall sell out? And why was Neuro de Generative’s stone so effective? Let’s address each of these in turn.

What was Bert thinking?

Probably the biggest question I have and this is a question I was not able to ask our father before he passed, is whether he sold his Soul to the Devil for an elusive 8 – Ender?

It is clear that there was a conversation between the Devil and father and an 8 – Ender was part of that discussion. 8 – Enders are that difficult to achieve. If you recall, my father was in conversation with the Devil at the conclusion of the second end. I secretly hoped that it was just dad giving a long-winded answer to some question the Devil had asked. Dad was notorious for giving the complete encyclopedic version rather than Readers’ Digest version on any topic of interest. His Saskatchewan grandchildren, when directed to ask him for assistance with homework would say impatiently, “We don’t want the grandpa answer, we just want the answer. [Some say I have inherited this trait myself, but I don’t see it.]

With the benefit of hindsight and the fact that any written documentation on the Devil’s Challenge and other happenings that night have been unsealed and released to the public, we are able to piece some things together. Law stipulates that all such documents are sealed for 50 years at which time they are made available to the public. The Devil has never really worried about the release of the documents as He wipes the cerebral hard drive of all participants (except other worldly ones) so they never remember that the event even took place, much less look for incriminating information against the Devil. But recall that the Devil was not successful in fully wiping the memory of Dick Mussel in a previous heated encounter, such that Dick’s brain developed alternate neuropathways as a defense mechanism, accommodating and enhancing this new modus operandi. For example, Dick began to think the same thoughts as the Devil but trained his neuropathways not to act as the Devil acted, nor was he subject to the Devil’s will to command such action. Still, Dick remembered this vaguely and only when the Fahrenheit and Celsius scales converged at minus 40 degrees which is an interesting phenomenon in and of itself – very cold, but interesting.

 

Snow 2213 Webster IMG_5673

Is this where Fahrenheit and Celsius converge? Photo: The PD Gardener 2016

So, what was the conversation between dad and the Devil after the second end? It is a bit complicated but I will try to simplify it. The rocks at the Altamont Curing Club were a matched set and I believe were owned by the Club. There were a few other sets of stones around and they were owned by some of the early settlers e.g., Fraser, Holliston, Madill, Lowry, who came predominantly from the Ottawa Valley in Ontario. These stones were not always as well matched or as well made but they served when extra stones were required at bonspiels.

It appears that the Devil’s Challenge curlers had to agree on the stones used for the set arrangement in the house but each curler could choose his own shooting rock. Bert noticed that two of the stones in the set array in the house had flaws – actually several quite serious flaws as it turns out. Someone, we are not sure who, had chosen two rocks – one made of Ailsa Craig common green granite and the other was made by the Keanie Company of so-called Keanie Granite. The strike bands of both rocks had several nick’s, potholes, and some deep, large, flat spots and big chips, some in the middle of the flat spots. These rocks had only a stem handle and not the full cap cover that you see today so they were much less sturdy and were prone to split. How these rocks were selected is not clear. Perhaps someone (or more than one someone) on either side hid them deliberately; perhaps they were entered into play surreptitiously after the match started; perhaps they were simply oversights or the result of carelessness. No matter, they were there after the second end and Bert spotted them.

Bert always had an interest in plants and vegetation but he also was very interested in geology – rocks and land forms. Don’t forget he was also the former proprietor of a pool hall with a keen sense of the angles necessary to ricochet and bank balls into the appropriate pockets, or to play billiards, that game of angles and deft shot making mastered by the old timers such as Gordon Lowry and Gordon Madill in Altamont. [In billiards, these two Gordons plus Gordon Holliston constituted a “triple Gordon!”]

The Devil had last shot in the third and last, barring a tie, end. He had been observing keenly the success or lack of success of all previous shots re: first rock struck and the resulting outcomes. He was seeking a new path as no one was perfect in the first two ends. Of course, Bert couldn’t help himself and he was analyzing it six ways from Sunday as well, voicing his opinion out loud from time to time.

So, the Devil situated himself quite close to Bert and whispered, “if you give me an idea I use, I will make it worth your while.”

Bert took out his handkerchief and blew his nose because … well because that is what he always does. Bert just looked a bit off to the side and whispered, “I always wanted to score an 8 – Ender.”

The Devil looked incredulous – and snorted a warm little snort ending with, “That seems like a chance I can’t afford to pass up because I can reject your idea at no cost if I disagree.”

Bert laughed a similar low laugh but without the Devil’s snort and said, quietly but firmly, “the angle on that there rock in the front 12 foot is best if you” (and here Bert screwed up his mouth a little bit and sort of forced the words through his lips) ” just tick it with your very best Dunbar weight – but you have to throw it like I have never seen you throw it before!” At these last words, Bert’s nostrils expanded outward like little bulbs, his lips pursed tensely and his cheeks were all puffed out as he pushed the words out emphasizing the extreme weight the Devil would have to throw. [How my father knew how hard the Devil had ever thrown before is a mystery to me.]

The Devil was pensive for a moment. His tail swished slowly back and forth and it seemed like he was in another world … or maybe in the nether world. I am certain that He was reviewing my father’s penchant for being detailed in his analysis; his knowledge of angles and deflections from his days as a proprietor of a pool hall; his strong desire to be known for an accomplishment in sports where he had not excelled historically; and his apparent knowledge of scientific formula re: effect of speed and force on impact with stationary objects.

The Devil breathed a smoky response, “The shot you propose makes a lot of sense and is worth the risk. You have a deal. You shall score an 8 – Ender, regardless of whether my shot is successful.” The Devil was also feeling a certain degree of confidence because Bert had just reminded Him of the enormous magnitude of speed and force with which He actually could propel a rock – and He had not yet thrown at his maximum. This potential would surely clear the House He reasoned and He had no reason to let the Altamont team think anything other than Bert had sold them out, sold his Soul to the Devil and defeated them. The Devil was content for the moment because the expenses (location fees, de-commissioning and de-consecration fees, administrative costs, storage fees, applicable Soul transfer taxes, and re-stocking charges) of collecting Souls from those who had sold them was often more than the price the Soul would fetch at market. The market for Manitoba Souls was soft at that moment, so the Devil did not make the deal conditional on Bert selling his Soul.

Bert blew his nose again, folded his handkerchief and put it in his pocket and barely audible through his little chuckle laugh told the Devil, “Dash it all, I just knew you would be up for just this type a thing.”

Interestingly, Bert knew that the market in Souls had been depressed for some time and if I asked him now, he would say something like this, “the dash darned capitalists” (as he was fond of saying) “like that fool guy who was a Canadian and became a Brit and now wants to be a Canadian again, are up to their gosh darned necks in flooding the danged market with cheap Souls, just to keep the Devil from driving the price of Souls through the roof, and to let the Devil know that He isn’t the only game in town when it comes to buying Souls.” [At this point Bert would blow his nose into his handkerchief.] He would then add, “And the gov’nmint is up to its neck in covering this type a thing up, you know.” [As an aside, I am fairly sure of what Bert would say about Donald Trump and cheap Souls.]

To make a long story short, it seems that the Devil and father did indeed make a deal in which father would score an 8-Ender within his lifetime if father could convince the Devil to take the shot he recommended – if the Devil had not thought of it first.   Just like that – there was no Soul on the line and Bert would score his prized 8 – Ender.

Not so fast you say? What was the Devil getting in the deal? The Devil got the recommended best shot from my father who had been studying all the angles and physics of the situation. But what Bert didn’t tell the Devil and what the Devil didn’t know and was too overconfident to waste time exploring, was that two flawed stones were now in the set array in the house. Bert was certain they would self-destruct upon impact from the Devil’s stone. This made it a very low risk play from Bert’s perspective.  Shards of stone would undoubtedly remain in the rings causing the Devil to count at least two more than He wanted.

Our father was not a risk taker although he had taken some calculated risks in his lifetime. He had also faced up to some frightening experiences. In WW II he was Stoker First Class in the HMCS Uganda which saw action in the South Pacific. A farm boy from the prairies working out of sight of the sun and away from the fresh air of the outside world in the bowels of a steamy engine room (temperatures could reach 130ºF or 54.44ºC ) of a massive ship with 6-inch guns, loaded with munitions and torpedoes, must have been a surreal experience indeed. In some ways he must have felt as if he was close to the Devil’s quarters in those engine rooms. Maybe that is why he never “sweated it” when in close contact with the Devil. [Our father always wore a sweater even before he became an “old man.”]

HMCS Uganda stokers For eng rm IMG_5662

Stokers in HMCS Uganda forward engine room. No flames but Hell in other ways. Photo: B. Marshall circa 1945

Is it coincidence that the HMCS Uganda (renamed HMCS Quebec) was on her way to Osaka, Japan on the very night (January 28, 1961) of the Devil’s Challenge? The Uganda would arrive in Osaka on February 6, 1961 to be scrapped. Ironic, isn’t it that it was only a little over 15 years earlier that the Uganda was shelling Okinawa? Perhaps, that is why Bert was able to recognize an opportunity to play the Devil’s own game and entice Him into taking a shot that would target the weaknesses and flaws in the stones, ending with the Devil defeating Himself.

In the decades to come our father made a gutsy decision to return to community college in his mid-forties to retrain as a stationery engineer. He found employment in the power plants of the pulp mill in The Pas, Manitoba and at CFS Dana radar base in Saskatchewan. He was always respectful of the sheer power harnessed within those boilers and I have to believe this made him a prime candidate to understand the fiery Hell where the Devil made His home.

Fiery entrance to Hell IMG_0646

Fiery entrance to Hell  Photo: unknown

The deal with the Devil was a low risk play and I guess Bert figured if he was only going to get one chance at achieving such a low probability event as an 8 – Ender, this was likely it. So he grasped it.

Of course, I have no definitive proof that my father ever made such a deal with the Devil but the raconteur in me says that this makes for a better story than simply saying, “my father once scored an 8-ender in curling.” That seems a bit anticlimactic to me.

The inside story on Neuro de Generative’s last rock

Lloyd “Windy” Orchard correctly identified a second mysterious area for analysis. The rock thrown by Neuro de Generative defied all logic. It is not too hard to figure out though. Natural ice always has its quirks and there always was a little rise (a “hill” or “hump”) about 10 feet in front of the house and to the right on the home end. I seem to recall it always being there. Perhaps, it was a drainage issue from the roof or a small underground stream that ran when the water table got a little higher. Who knows? We just played around it so to speak. Sometimes, if the rocks in the house were situated just right you could use it to your advantage by having your stone slide right off that hump into the rings under cover. I was in Grade 5, I believe, and I was on a rink skipped by Doug Warsaba. We were playing for third place in the school bonspiel and rather than this being cleverness on our part, our opponent caught this slope on a takeout shot and slid by our stone giving us the victory and my first ever curling prize – a funky photo album with a rock and roll theme cover. Funny what you remember over the years, eh?

In fact, the take away (not the take out) from this event is that the “stuff of curling” is as much about losing as winning. For every winner there is a loser and vice-versa. It is not for one to gloat, as it may well be just good or bad fortune as to why you sit in one place or another, rather than skill, knowledge and ability.

But, know this, in the case of the last rock thrown by Neuro de Generative, every last member of the Altamont Curling Club knew about this “hump” and they knew Neuro would throw that stone, with the wrong turn, “banking” so to speak on it sliding down that sloping “hump” at the optimum angle and speed to effect the maximum damage on the rocks in the rings.   No Altamont player threw it earlier because they did not want to reveal the strategy to the Devil who would instruct Magnus and Johnson to follow suit. In addition, Altamont was certain that the Devil would find a way to throw last rock and they knew that he would not play such a conservative shot if de Generative played immediately ahead. The Devil was just itching to unleash His supercharged, nuclear warhead, curling “Dunbar” – a shot that would give rise to the words “shock and awe” years ahead of their time.

So it was that a wrong turn rock sliding off the “hump” made Neuro de Generative and all members of the Altamont Curling Club team unlikely heros that night, preserving Curling’s integrity.

It is here that you discover that curling is equal parts craft, art, science, sport, and other “stuff” ranging from the ephemeral beauty of a well played shot or game to the quality of soup in the bonspiel kitchen.

Last words (best words?) from some of our characters

The Gravitational Force of Curling is the greatest Force on earth. May the Force be with you – Darth Vader (gracious in defeat)

What will you do when you don’t have Me to kick around any longer? – The Devil (not so gracious in defeat)

“I am not a crook” – Bert Marshall (a bit defensive in victory)

It was…It was…  nnnever, never in … in … in ddddoubt – Gordon Holliston (half of the double Gordon)

What, me worry? – Charlie Taylor (half of the two Charlies)

I still think it is all about the soup! – The PD Gardener (with apologies to my mother)

My memory isn’t what it used to be though… – Dick Mussell (but still remembering what others can’t)

Dick would never lie to us about something this important … and we would never lie to you. – Three guys named Scotty, Buster and Phil (taken at face value)

SWEEP YOU CRAZY BASTARDS! – Neuro de Generative (best sweeping yell ever)

I hope someone writes a fiddle tune about the Devil. – Winston “Winnie” Simpson. (The Devil went down to Georgia was written by Charlie Daniels in 1979.)

Well, it turned out nice again, didn’t it? – Cactus Jack Wells (a familiar signature line)

You can say that again, Jack. – Bob Picken (always a team player on the broadcast)

Well, it turned out nice again, didn’t it? – Cactus Jack Wells (I don’t think he will get fired for this)

Afterword

I had a great deal of fun writing this three part series. From its earliest moments as a foggy idea, it has both entertained me (if no one else) and challenged me to meld fact, fiction and fantasy in a way that, I hope, provides insight into life at a very particular time, in a very particular place, in the context of a very particular activity. I am usually not so particular about things.

Have I defined “The stuff of Curling?”  Sort of, and sort of not. That is not the point. The point is that anyone who has thrown more than a tonne of rocks knows that there is such a concept; it is tangible and palpable in any curling setting. You can’t fully comprehend what it entails unless you have put in your time on the ice or in the viewing areas. Try it. You’ll see.

Normally, I would never compare curling and Parkinson’s disease in this manner but you can also never know Parkinson’s unless you are a Person with Parkinson’s (PwP) or you have put in your time in a direct way with PwP e.g., spouse, lover, family member, partner, caregiver, health professional (neurologist, research scientist, physiotherapist, speech pathologist, pharmacist, psychologist, psychiatrist, dietician, etc.) home care services, health policy analysts and advocates, personal and group exercise trainers, fundraisers, and volunteers – and many more.

I have four wishes (is that too many?):

  1.  That each of you has an opportunity to curl in your lifetime.
  2.  That no one (but especially you and anyone you know) becomes a PwP.
  3.  That you (as many as it takes)  contribute to finding a cure for Parkinson’s.
  4. That you contribute (however you are able) to enhancing the quality of life for PwP, their families and their caregivers.

SOURCES

Archives of Manitoba, School Inspectors Photographs, GR8461, A0233, C131-1, page 37.

Bonspiel! The History of Curling in Canada

http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/curling/

http://www.cbc.ca/archives/entry/a-curling-community

http://www.CBC.ca/sports

The Clovers, Devil or Angel, 1956

Curl Canada, Rules of Curling for General Play, 2014 – 2018.

Charlie Daniels, The Devil went down to Georgia, 1979.

W. O. Mitchell, The Black Bonspiel of Willie MacCrimmon, McClelland and Stewart, 1993

William Shakespeare, Macbeth.

http://www.worldcurling.org/history-of-curling

Brier 2016 IMG_5622

Tim Horton’s Brier, Ottawa Canada Photo: The PD Gardener 2016

© Stan Marshall (The PD Gardener)