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We Should Have Named Him Pierre.

My husband, Walter, and I were total innocents when it came to travel when we ventured out on our very first really big trip. This was the era of travelling around Europe in a camper van and that’s what we were going to do. We had no clue about what to take, where exactly we were going, how to get there or anything else remotely involved with travel. We only knew that we had sold almost everything we owned, that we had made arrangements for our house and business for the time we were to be away, that we had a new VW Westfalia camper van awaiting our arrival at Tillbury, England, and that we were heading into the unknown for eight months.

We had booked berths on a Transatlantic passenger ship, the SS Alexander Pushkin, and I had illusions of grandeur. In my mind, I could see myself in my ball gown (ask me how many of those I owned!) elegantly descending the ship’s golden staircase to the ballroom. Well, reality certainly differed from my imaginings. The Alexander Pushkin was definitely not a luxury liner but was adequate especially for first-time travellers with nothing to compare the experience to.

What I remember of that shipboard experience:

  • that we could never find anything to eat on the ship. We had set times for our three meals but there was absolutely nothing available for any between meal snacks.
  • The food was not that great–when we started the voyage, we had roast beef; when the trip ended, we were eating hash. I did find out what profiteroles were, though, because they were the only dessert offered.
  • There may have been no snack places on board, but there was an incredible number of bars, at least one on every deck and sometimes two. I became quite taken with a cocktail called a Russian Special which varied in colour, strength and taste at every bar we tried.
  • The entertainment was pretty bad as it mostly consisted of passenger participation.
  • The terrific three-day Atlantic storm we went through which confined both Walter and me to our berths.

There were good things about the voyage:

  • We met really nice people that we stayed in touch with and visited later in our trip..
  • We took Russian language lessons and I can still say “thank you” in Russian.
  • The entire experience, good and not so good, was new and exciting.

We spent the first month of our trip touring the British Isles and then crossed from Dover to the mainland of Europe. September and October of 1972 saw us cruising around Holland, Germany and Switzerland. We experienced Oktoberfest in Munich–I can still see those barmaids slinging fistsful of beer steins onto tables inside the huge beer tents and taste the delicious curls of pretzel bread strung with ribbon that we wore around out necks. From Germany we travelled into France and spent several wonderful days in Paris at a campsite close to the Bois du Boulogne. And those patisseries! We always stopped at one particular one and bought a delicious goody on our walk back to our campsite.

After our last day in Paris, before we headed south into Spain, we decided to spend a few hours at Versailles and tour the palace. As I stated earlier, we had no idea of what to pack for this trip and we ended up taking way too much stuff, mostly clothes. We had packed up the extraneous stuff we realized we’d never need into a couple of suitcases and had securely strapped them to the top of our van. Being trusting Canadian neophyte travellers we didn’t give a second thought to parking our van in the public parking lot at Versailles and leaving it for the time we toured the palace. When we left the palace and returned to the parking lot, you guessed it, the top of the van had been totally cleaned off. The only things the thieves didn’t take were Walter’s cowboy boots!

We were devastated and felt so violated as one does when one has been robbed. We lost luggage, clothes, presents and souvenirs we’d bought but, by far the worst, we lost the entire photographic record of our trip. We had decided to wait until we got home to print our photographs so had stored the exposed film in one of the suitcases. We also lost 6 months supply of my birth control pills—Walter has always said we should have called our first child Pierre.

Not to be Outdone, I Rode a Wild Cow in a Rodeo

The sponsor of our high school rodeo club arrived in the staff room one late spring morning looking extremely dejected. He slumped in a chair and when someone asked him what was wrong, he said, “The rodeo is this weekend and not one single girl has signed up to ride a wild cow.”

My brain was definitely not engaged when I piped up and said, “Don’t worry, put me down to ride a wild cow.” What on earth possessed me to say that, I will never know, but I did (do?) have a well-developed tendency to speak before thinking. The only thing I’d ridden at that point in my life was a very gentle old horse a few times on my cousins’ farm.

I didn’t think much more about that staff room exchange until I heard the noon hour announcements: “Come one, come all to the the high school rodeo this Saturday. Mrs. Wigmore is going to ride a wild cow!” All eyes in my English 9 class turned to me and the looks on the kids’ faces ranged from horror to amusement to outright disbelief and I’m sure the most horror-stricken face in that classroom was my own.

I thought about getting out of it but could think of no way that could happen without me losing face or disappointing that rodeo club sponsor. I knew without a doubt that he would make my life miserable if I backed out. So, that Saturday morning of the high school rodeo saw me posing outside our house wearing my cowboy gear, ready for my debut appearance of rodeo rider extraordinaire. I had on my precious cowboy boots, I had the appropriate hat and I was wearing one of Walter’s pearl-buttoned cowboy shirts. I looked the part and I was ready, sort of.

I don’t remember very much about my performance, just little snapshots in my mind. I remember seeing the area around the arena quite crowded with spectators, probably most of them being my own students. I remember being behind the chute and being helped onto my cow, I remember being instructed on how to hold on and what to expect. Then I heard the bell and the chute opened and off my cow and I went, off being the operative word!

I have no idea how long I lasted on the back of that cow but for sure it was only a very few seconds before I bit the dust. I do remember feeling her bucking and twisting under me and how uncomfortable it was, my bum bouncing on her bony back. My husband had given me a pad to wear inside my jeans but that did nothing to alleviate the pain of those bounces on my tailbone. I knew my cowboy hat went flying just before I did.

The outcome of that ridiculous debacle was that I chipped a bone in my pelvis and ended up spending the night in the hospital. As a side note, our hospital was full and the only bed for me was on the maternity ward. You can imagine the rumours that tore around the school when that fact was revealed.

I was okay and only spent the one night in the hospital and for the next couple of weeks I had to use crutches. I think the very best part of that experience was listening to Walter on the phone with my mother: “Oh no, Helen, rodeos aren’t dangerous. Judy was the only one who was hurt.”

Icarus

A very long time ago my husband built a hang glider; this was before hang gliding was a popular or even a well known sport. He read an article in Popular Mechanics about a Rogalo, which was the very first hang gliding kite. There was a picture of it but no directions and he says he clearly remembers the sentence at the end of the article which stated, “Never fly higher than you are willing to fall.”

It was a warm fall day and business was quiet when he took himself down to our local Co-Op and bought his supplies: three 10′ by 1 1/2 inch dowels and one 6′ dowel, a 10 foot square piece of water barrier plastic and a length of 1/4″ rope. The kite in the magazine article was made with aluminum tubing and sailcloth fabric but Walter bought materials that were available in our store and what, probably more to the point, were affordable. When he got home, he began the assembly which didn’t take long. He tied the dowelling together with Boy Scout knots and stapled the plastic to the dowelling and, voila, one Rogalo constructed!

Now, I came into the picture. There was one steep hill with little traffic close to our house and the plan was that Walter would stand on top of our VW van and I would drive down the hill, he’d get liftoff and off he’d fly.

I drove slowly from our house to the top of the hill with Walter and his young helper, Darcy, sitting on top of the van holding the Rogalo. When we got to the top of the hill, Walter tied his broken horse-throwing rope to the centre of the Rogalo and sat in a loop that he had tied so that he could hold onto the crossbar of the Rogalo and steer it.

I started driving down the hill, and according to Walter, the kite had too much lift so he yelled, “Whoa!” I heard “Go!” and stepped on the gas. Apparently, on top of the van, as everything was lifting off, Walter told Darcy to let go, which he did. Meanwhile, in the van, I was happily barrelling down the hill, expecting, any second, to see Walter flying above me.

Once I got to the bottom of the hill, I could see no sign of Walter or the Rogalo, which was a little concerning. Looking back up the hill, I did see him–crawling out of the ditch, covered in dust, dragging his partially intact kite behind him.

Also, at the bottom of the hill, were two old guys strolling along. One of them said to the other, “What the hell was that?” and the other replied, “Oh, that was the local vet. He’s nuts.”

Never Stop Learning

In my paid working life I was an educator. I was really lucky in my career in that what and who I taught was extremely varied. I started out as a primary teacher and I taught Grade 1 in my first year; two years later, I taught most of the same kids in Grade 3 and was so thankful for the opportunity to right every wrong I had done as an inexperienced new teacher. At the end of my first year teaching I went back to university and took a fifth year so I could qualify to teach English in secondary school (English had been my major). I have always thought that if I could teach Lit. 12 to 6 year olds I would be totally happy. I think that age would love stories such as “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,” “Beowulf,” and “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” On second thought, maybe not–some of them could be completely traumatized for the rest of their lives.

In my 30 years of teaching, I taught just about every age and grade group, and, as I was a school counsellor for many years, I also dealt on a different level with so many different kids. Close to the end of my career, I had the position of Faculty Associate for Simon Fraser University, so for 6 years I taught and supervised student teachers. I guess my career ran the gamut of the education system as I also participated on an English curriculum committee at the provincial level. For me, though, there was nothing as satisfying as the classroom experience.

I remember so many kids and experiences from those years of teaching, the great, the good and the not-so-good but I would way rather concentrate on the good. I had one student teacher who was amazing. It was easy to tell when I observed her first lesson that she was made for teaching but, with that, came the worry that she would put so much of herself into her teaching life, that she would be a prime candidate for burnout. One particular lesson that I observed is etched in my memory.

She was teaching a Grade 7 french class. it was almost the end of the last period on a Friday so it wasn’t the easiest time of day and the group she was dealing with were definitely not the easiest bunch of students. I sat in the back of the classroom in a desk with my notes in front of me, jotting down my observations. How many times she said “gonna,” whose hands she responded to, what was going on in the class behind her back. In this lesson, she was teaching french vocabulary associated with family and she had the students in groups of three working on collages. They were looking through magazines, cutting, pasting and labelling in french all the pictures they found which would illustrate family concepts. Directly in front of me sat a group of 3 boys having a hilarious time. Their work spaces and the floor around them were covered in paper and discarded pictures and magazines they had finished with. It was 5 minutes before the bell was to ring.

“Okay,” I said to myself, “this is going to be interesting. I wonder how she is going to deal with this situation.”

At that moment she was making her final rounds of the classroom, stopping here and there, encouraging students, chatting with them and looking at what the groups had produced. She made her way to the boys in front of me and I thought, “Ha, here it comes.”

She stopped, looked at the boys and said in a totally conversational tone of voice, “You guys have made quite a mess and I’m sure you’re not going to leave it for me to clean up,” and passed on to the next group. You should have seen them scramble to get everything cleaned up before the bell rang. I couldn’t help considering, as a teacher, how would I have dealt with that sort of situation. I’m afraid I would have reacted totally differently; I wouldn’t have so calmly and positively encouraged them to clean up, I would probably have ordered them to do it and, by the end of the day, they would have been mad at me and I would have been frustrated with them.

I realized that day that the most important lessons we learn are varied and come from all different experiences and we have to be open to them. I will never forget what I learned that day in that classroom. Thanks, Michelle.

Skiing at Stubai

I spent many years teaching English in high school and one thing I learned is that those literary terms I taught so often to so many kids were coined because they first described or illustrated something from real life. Anyone can give real life examples of foreshadowing as well as describe experiences of irony, chance and coincidence.

Several years ago I was working on a quilt, ironing fabric pieces, to be exact, and listening to a morning program on CBC. I was particularly intent on this program because it was an interview by Kathryn Gretsinger who I considered an extremely talented interviewer. She was speaking with Lynda MacPherson, a woman who was relating the tragic disappearance of her son, Duncan MacPherson, a professional hockey player. The interview was compelling both for the content and because both women were so articulate.

In 1988 Duncan MacPherson was released by the New York Islanders and a year later agreed to take a job as coach-player for a semi-professional hockey team in Dundee, Scotland. For the summer of 1989, before his job started in mid-August, Duncan travelled in Europe, sightseeing and visiting friends. All contact with him ended for his parents in early August which alarmed them because he’d phoned them once a week from the beginning of his trip. In this interview, Lynda MacPherson related how they had traced Duncan’s last known presence to a ski resort, Stubai, close to Innsbruck, Austria, and their subsequent frustrating search for their son.

At the close of the interview Kathryn Gretsinger said that a CBC TV show, The Fifth Estate, would be featuring the story of Duncan MacPherson on their program that evening. My interest was definitely piqued and later I settled down in front of our tv to watch. About halfway into the hour long program I had an unsettling thought—we had been in Austria that same summer with our four children and a friend of our oldest son’s. As a special treat we had also gone summer skiing in August on the Stubai Glacier, the place where Duncan MacPherson was seen. As soon as there was an break in the program, I searched for a record of that summer’s trip. I found the notebook I had used to make rough notes of our trip and, sure enough, on August 9, 1989, we had been skiing at Stubai Resort.

My record for that day:

  • got there (overcast–could hardly see mountains) about 9:00 & got gondola to the top–really nice ski shop & restaurant.
  • were outfitted & on the slopes by 10–bit of a schmozzle getting stuff–sort of self-serve.
  • conditions were pretty awful–mostly whiteout & slushy snow.

What I remember mostly about that occasion was how terrible the ski conditions were, how disorganized everything in the ski shop was, and the difficulty we had in getting everyone outfitted and on the hill. I’m positive that if it hadn’t cost us so much for the day, we would have given up our plans to ski.

I could hardly believe that we had been at the very place on the very day that Duncan MacPherson had been last seen. The next morning I sent an email to a contact person for The Fifth Estate program explaining what I had discovered. Very soon after I sent it, I received an answer saying that my email would be forwarded to Bob and Lynda MacPherson. Shortly after that, I received an email from Bob MacPherson who said that he and Lynda were really interested in what I had to say. In my reply I explained who I was and what I remembered about being on Stubai on August 9, 1989. It turned out that Bob and Lynda, who lived in Saskatoon, would be in Vancouver at the same time I would be there for work and we made arrangements to meet.

We met for coffee in a popular restaurant, Slickety Jim’s, on Main Street in Vancouver about a month later. I had photos that I had taken on the ski hill to show Bob and Lynda and they had brought maps and photos to show me. There was one photo that was really significant that I ended up giving them because it showed so clearly the conditions of the day and the main ski hill where Duncan had taken snowboard lessons and had been last seen. I had spoken to my oldest son and his friend who were both 15 about that day and they remembered meeting and chatting with a young Canadian man who could have very easily been Duncan MacPherson.

Bob and Lynda told me something so disturbing that they had found out about the ski resort that, had we known, we never would have taken 5 kids, one of them not our own, skiing on that glacier. Apparently, the weather had been much warmer that summer and the conditions on the ski hill were such that it should have been closed. The snow was slushy, as I had noted, but more critical, the entire hill was riddled with crevasses, some extremely deep and most covered with a skiff of snow so they were not evident. There was not a single cautionary sign posted anywhere! Nobody should have been skiing on that hill that day.

I think the fact that Bob and Lynda met someone who had been in the same place as their son on the last day he’d been seen brought them a tiny bit of comfort. As well, I had been able to give them a first-hand descriptions of the conditions of the day and show them the photos I’d taken.

Bob and Lynda MacPherson spent years and thousands of dollars trying to solve the mystery of their son’s disappearance but were met with frustration, denial and lies in their attempts. Finally, on July 22, 2003, nearly 14 years after he vanished, the mystery was solved.

You may be interested in watching this:

I have continued to be in touch with the MacPhersons through the years and their story is one that will stay with me.

Taking Stock of Some Things in My House

I love making lists, all sorts of lists. Mainly I make a “to-do” list because I find that helps me sort what’s in my head but, particularly, it motivates me to do the stuff I’ve been putting off. I really like to see my list with items crossed off–I use highlighters to do that and usually I start my list with something I’ve already done so I can cross that off immediately. It’s so satisfying to look at my totally crossed off list at the end of the day, you know “little things satisfy little minds.” I make Christmas gift lists, cleaning lists, what I’m making for dinner lists if I’m having company, things to shop for in Prince George, packing lists for travel, writing topics. Making lists is the perfect way to procrastinate because I really feel like I’m accomplishing something when I’m list-making.

Important Things Around My House:

  • Knicknacks we have collected over the years. The Lladro statue we bought in Spain 47 years ago. It was a splurge and I felt so guilty spending money on something so frivolous when we had so little. But I love her and I’m glad we did splurge. I looked at Lladro pottery when were were recently in Valencia and was appalled at the cost today and my lady is even more valuable to me because they don’t seem to be making pottery in this elegant style anymore. I display the Highland cow I bought for my husband in Scotland and the iconic marble Chinese lions I bought for him in Beijing.
  • The photos and art I have on my walls. I have 2 main categories of photos: family pictures and photos I’ve taken that I’ve deemed good enough to enlarge and frame. The art, and there’s not much of that, are pieces done by friends or family and pieces we’ve bought ourselves. And, of course, the quilts I’ve made which I hang on the wall or put on tables.
  • Things that remind me of special people. I have a beautiful cut glass bowl that belonged to my grandmother which I display and use. I have a bone china teapot that had belonged to my friend’s mother. I loved Branwen and using that teapot bring back memories of her and the times we shared in Wales. I have a battered old leather briefcase of my mother’s that she used for all the Sunday School and church stuff she needed. After my mother died my brother and I were going through her things and deciding which went where and what we really wanted to keep. It turned out that we didn’t want the valuable stuff–I wanted that briefcase and he wanted the battered suitcase that we always called “the little brown suitcase.” And my jugs, the vessels, I mean. I decided years ago that I would collect jugs–I think because my best friend had some really nice ones–and for awhile, jugs were all anyone ever gave me. I managed to end the collecting when it was obvious I had run out of space for them.
  • And, lastly, the material things I couldn’t do without: my camera, my sewing machine, my iPad and laptop, my yarn and knitting supplies. (You might notice that in that list there is nothing remotely resembling anything that belongs in the kitchen!)
  • I used to collect books and had bookcase upon bookcase stuffed with books but a few years ago I decided to donate most of my collection to friends, family, secondhand bookstores, thrift shops mainly because I rarely reread any of them. I loved being surrounded by books but there comes a limit. Now, I usually buy books from secondhand bookstores or books that are on sale, and I do buy books for my Kobo. And my local library is definitely a go-to place.

Looking back on my list, it strikes me that there is a common theme of what matters to me–people, travel and things to occupy my hands and mind. I know that there is more to add to this list, but I think I’ve touched on what’s most important to me.

P.S. My husband said, after reading this, “You missed the most important thing–me!”

“Snowflakes that cling to my nose and eyelashes…”

Knitting is one of my major go-to activities. Like the really old saying about your credit card, “Never leave home without it,” I can’t imagine being stuck waiting in the doctor’s office or on a plane or car journey without my knitting. My daughter gets panicky if she doesn’t have a snack for something to eat in her backpack, I get panicky if I don’t have a book to read or don’t have my knitting bag with me. I make sure that I have an unfinished project hanging around in case I finish something and don’t have another item to knit. At this very moment the “never ending scarf” is sitting in a bag beside my chair.

The never-ending scarf

For me, knitting is much more than a hobby. I knit when I attend meetings because I know that I will be way more focused and attentive if my hands are occupied. I have been known to be disruptive and unruly when I’m not interested and knitting has definitely alleviated that sort of behaviour. I bet I would have been much better behaved in school if I could have knit. I love to binge-watch (mainly British murder mysteries) in the evenings and if I knit while I watch, I don’t feel guilty.

Baby blanket for a special baby

Knitting is also an important social activity for me. I have a knitting group and we meet every Monday evening–I’m waiting for them to arrive at my house tonight. I went on a knitting train to Smithers a couple of weekends ago with a group of about 38 women and on my bucket list is a knitting tour of Ireland. As well as having social benefits, knitting is apparently good for one’s health.

https://sheepandstitch.com/6-unexpected-benefits-of-knitting/

Easter present for my granddaughter.

Mainly I knit for my family and friends. I have knit for myself but when I do I rarely am happy with what comes off my needles so I usually give the scarf or shawl or sweater away. For several years now I’ve knit “going to kindergarten sweaters” for my grandchildren or those of my friends. I knit afghans, toques, fingerless gloves, scarves, cowls, sweaters, toys and I even knit a skirt for my daughter. Lately I’ve been knitting shawls.

I have taught two of my granddaughters and one of my grandsons to knit.

My sister-in-law gave me a pin which I have attached to my knitting bag which says “I knit so I won’t kill people.”