Coutts Centre for Western Canadian Heritage

My friend, Pat, has an astonishing way of discovering new and wonderful places to visit around Calgary.  My tendency is to always say “YES” when an invitation comes my way from Pat because, in the end, I learn something new and see something fascinating.  So, when I received an e mail to travel south to Nanton and to see the Coutts Centre for Western Canadian Heritage, I was keen.  Included in the experience would be a lovely and reasonably-priced brunch served up by Brown’s Catering and live music under a tent (although we all agreed the musician of the day might have turned down the mic…just a little).  As well, we then strolled about and admired the gardens and the buildings.  Delightful!

We could not have had a nicer day…a huge open sky and golden canola fields in full bloom created a backdrop of magic. The drive was filled with our usual enthusiastic banter and that always makes the miles fly by.  Gail, Mary, Pat and I embraced the visit and the views.  It was an exceptional time.  I’ve been digging myself out of a period of sadness, despondency and disconnect.  I am grateful for dear friends who have stuck with me through the malady, and anticipate, as I do, better days.  What can be more healing than amazing sky, flowers and forever-friendship. Thank you, Pat.

Click on individual photographs, in order to have a better look.

 

Thanks to Gail who hosted a further debrief at her home in High River.  I appreciate the hospitality and it was so wonderful to see you again.

A Fruitcake Tradition

Why fruitcake?  A lot of people don’t even like the stuff…

To be honest, last evening, after cutting cherries (green and red) in half, following a really different and physical day, I was suffering a bit of a martyr complex that can sometimes hit women if they do too much in preparation for the Advent season and Christmas.  I say ‘women’ simply because my observations tell me that women value the traditions  and rituals of the kitchen and appear to do a lot of preparation for holiday seasons.  (I also know a gentleman who prepares hundreds of perogies, in the tradition of his mother, prior to Christmas…so, I’m not meaning to make this a story about who-does-what.)

In my family of origin, my mother did a lot of work in the kitchen and sat many hours, sewing our clothing at her sewing machine.  My father participated…for example, he told me that he remembered cutting the cherries in half. (news to me…and as a result, this is the first year that I cut them in half)   The reason for starting this blog post.

I set my alarm for 6:30 this morning.  I decided before I went to bed that I would get up early, mix up the batter and fruit and put it all together to rest in order to bake it this evening.  (I’ve got lots I want to do today).  Well, it turns out that I woke at 4:00 in the morning.  Wide awake.  I made a decision to rise and SHINE…shine, being the operative word.

I put the coffee on and let Max out in the back yard to pee.

I looked up Gordon Lightfoot on Spotify, after listening to one short album of The Tallest Man On Earth.  For some reason, I woke with the lyrics of Wherefore and Why on my mind.  I made a choice to enter into the fruitcake prep with happiness and with a sense of nostalgia.

Some things came to mind as I worked and I wanted to write them down before I get on with the day.

First of all, the smells of Christmas are really important.  Allspice. Molasses. Cinnamon. Nutmeg. Mixed Peel…evergreen…mincemeat.

I remembered my family while making fruitcake.  My grandparents.  My parents.  My brothers and sister.  And through the last many years…my children.

When I opened the small carton of molasses, I remembered my Gramma Moors.  A dessert treat would be to soak up molasses with a piece of white bread.  I remember her doing this while sitting at her small kitchen table.  The table was covered with a piece of floral vinyl.  I remember her soft yellow bath robe.  I remember that her feet didn’t really touch the floor when she sat at that table.  I miss my Gramma.

My kitchen is small, by today’s standards.  I realize this.  But, I have no desire for a larger kitchen.  My dishwasher hasn’t worked for almost two years.  I wash my dishes by hand. But, as I worked in my kitchen this morning, I remembered the kitchens where my mother toiled to make turkey dinners and dozens of butter tarts and fruitcakes and, for the most part, they were small kitchens.  I liked the intimacy, this morning, of my kitchen.  I enjoyed the idea that this kitchen is in a home that I have made, along with my children, all on our own.

I haven’t got a hankering to purchase or use mandolines or food processors of any kind.  I use a knife, a glass lemon squeezer, a grater…those sorts of tools.  In our family fruitcake recipe, for a single batch, we require one lemon and one orange; zest and juice.  As I squeezed these this morning, I remembered my mother’s knuckles…her hands…doing their work at the kitchen counter.  The image was as clear as day.  She pressed so hard that I remember her knuckles being red.  Every last drop of juice was won by her efforts.

Having no bowl large enough in my kitchen, I used my roasting pan and combined ingredients there.  Mom and Dad used their turkey roaster, also.  I remembered the large batch of batter resting in the family roaster.

I had a beautiful start to my day, preparing our family fruitcake recipe.  Thanks to Dad for sending me grocery money, I will be baking these up tonight, wrapping them up with the help of my girls tomorrow evening and posting them to my family, for the holiday.  Even if my brothers and sister just open the wrap and take in the smell of brandy and fruitcake, it will be enough…to remember our shared Christmases, our history and our Mom.

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When I woke this mornin’, something inside of me told me this would be my day
I heard the morning train, I felt the wind change, too many times I’m on my way
Come on sunshine, what can you show me
Where can you take me to make me understand
The wind can shake me, brothers forsake me
The rain can touch me, but can I touch the rain

And then I saw the sunrise above the cotton sky like a candycane delight
I saw the milkman, I saw the business man, I saw the only road in sight
Then I got to thinkin’ what makes you want to go, to know the wherefore and the why

So many times now, oh lord I can’t remember if it’s september or july

Then all at once it came to me, I saw the wherefore, and you can see it if you try
It’s in the sun above, it’s in the one you love, you’ll never know the reason why

Come on sunshine, what can you show me
Where can you take me to make me understand
The wind can shake me, brothers forsake me
The rain can touch me, but can I touch the rain
So much to lose, so much to gain

Wood Carving Amazement

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One of the cherished afternoons I shared with my father, this past summer, was a visit to Al Gerritsen’s studio and wood shop.  Something I really admire about this artist is his humility about his craft.  He is selfless.  Just recently I had a conversation with a couple of my artist-friends and more and more we notice the self-absorbed ego that gets a tad too large in the role of ‘artist’.  It’s almost as if a particular type of narcissism has taken hold.  Is this the only way that a person can be ‘known’? Or if this is the only way, is it best to be unknown? Something to think about.  Al is one of the most inspired and prolific artists I know.

With his particular connections with and history in Saskatchewan, it ended up being a bit of an exchange of memories between the two men.  That was lovely to see. I know there are many wondrous art spaces and experiences that can be had in this city, but sometimes it comes down to sharing time with artists in their modest, but inspiring spaces…their studios.  I like that nothing is staged in Al’s studio.  A person is able to get the true sense of the production happening…how the tools are stored and used…and the evolution of amazing works.  There is no room here for candles and fairy lights.  It is a working space that is filled with energy and love.

Again, I want to express my gratitude for the work of Al Gerritsen.  His work surrounds us and his skill is exceptional.  Thanks for your willingness to share some time with Dad, Al, and to give us your stories.

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Lisecki and Remnants of a Past

Darcy Lisecki and I shared a short conversation while I pulled out my paints last evening.  He passed these two photographs over to me and likely saw my eyes light up.  He had found them tossed…garbage.  We shared a few words about that and then he gave them to me.  I’m pretty grateful.  These will be added to my treasures of a past conversation, mostly between Gordon and Eddie.

P1130257 P1130258Sunday, August 24, 1938

(Gordan’s photo, not mine)

Taken up the infant Elbow R. into Rockies from a car (Eddie’s) at nightfall. Very typical.  But here the ‘ranger road’ ie. really only for use of fire wardens in land rovers, got so rough we wondered if we’d even get back.P1130259 P1130263Eddie wading thro Bragg Creek nr. where we picknicked. (taken by Gordon)

When I asked him when he first began to make art, Darcy told me that he sold his first piece of art to his Grade four teacher.  It was a drawing of a chair in perspective.

This got me thinking about a recent project…

Meeting J. Bernard Bearshirt: An Exchange of Goodness

I had been looking for Jordan. I just had a drawing he did for me in 1980, reframed and wanted to get it back to him…or find out if he was still making art.

This meeting was inspiring and was so chucked full of wisdom and goodness, that I’m going to let the two photos I post speak for themselves.  I passed Bernard his son’s drawing in the Denny’s parking lot.  He passed me this beautiful feather.  I wept.  He kept saying, “Jordan did that.”  We shared a prayer, a meal and shared a world of ideas.  I am blessed.  This was proof again that a person’s life goes on.  Watch what the Creator God has for you today.  Try to notice instead of rushing past the lesson He has for you.

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Bernard and I shared tears about his son.  I continue to think about Jordan, an exceptional artist and I’m glad that I treasured his drawing for all of those years and that I was able to return it to family.

BEARSHIRT, Jordan Bernard – May 26, 1968 – May 29, 2013 Jordan Bernard Bearshirt of the Siksika Nation passed away May 29, 2013 to be with our creator at the age of 45. Jordan was known for his sense of humour and kindness. He is survived by his father, J. Bernard Bearshirt; Uncle Rodger (Patti), Uncle Victor Starlight, Terry Krueger, Aunt Elizabeth, Alice Spence, Auntie Pauline Little Chief; Grandmothers: Gertrude Turning Robe, Rosellam Manyshots, Irene Favel; Sisters: Sharon, Josie, Marie (Josh), Tammy, Robin, Loretta (Darin), Lori (Max); Brothers: Gordon, Sheldon (Jaylene); Traditional Siblings: Darcie Brertton, Jerry Hill, Jade McHugh, Jocko McHugh and numerous Nephews, Nieces, and Cousins. Relatives: Sunwalks, Manyshots, Breakers, Wolf Legs, Sitting Eagles, Yellow Suns, Crowchiefs, Many Guns, Little Chiefs, Sam Pelletier (Heather), Axes. We apologize if we have missed anyone. Jordan was predeceased by his Mother, Nancy Bearshirt; Stepmother, Linda Bearshirt; Grandparents: James and Helena Bearshirt and Uncle Ronald Bearshirt. The family would like to acknowledge The Grey Eagle Casino for their support. Wake Service will be held at Sister Celine Memorial Parish (Siksika Nation, AB) on Tuesday, June 4, 2013 at 6:00 pm. Funeral Mass will be celebrated at Holy Trinity Catholic Church (Siksika Nation, AB) on Wednesday, June 5, 2013 at 11:00 am with the Rev. Gerard LeStrat, Presider. Graveside Service to follow at Old Chief Crowfoot Cemetery (Siksika Nation, AB).

My Mother’s Hands Have Made…

Advent…and I think of my mother and father every day.  This morning, before setting out on my hill-walk with Max, I have uploaded just a few photos of things that my mother has done with her hands over the years.  I have some other items to share…her sewing and her crafts, but this is a beginning.  My mother’s hands have been busy…and the fruits of her labour have been beautiful, enriching all of our lives.  Little did she know as she made these things, that her children would be treasuring them always.  As I lit my first purple advent candle this Sunday, I thought of Mom, Dad and my sister and brothers.  I love you, dear family.

My Mother's Letters 1970s

 My mother wrote me beautiful descriptive letters.  In this letter, dated September of 1974, she described the changes in the Catholic church, St. Patricks, in Sherbrooke, Quebec.  She described my little sister as she was the flower girl for my auntie’s wedding.  Mom had a way of bringing me close to her heart, even though I was at such a distance.

Detail

 Mom described how she was preparing for yet another bazaar for her church…something that she did each and every year right about this time.  She ‘worked herself to the bone’, she would say…and she did.  Now days, surprisingly enough, I almost feel that her urgency was coming from a place deep within her.  I didn’t know that at the time.

Cross Stitch Reflections

 Mom’s stitches were so even, so careful.  She did several cross stitch pieces…it was a phase she went through.  So many years ago, when we were very young, she did very tiny petit points.  I marvelled at her patience.

Loom Weaving

 It broke my mother and father’s hearts when Mom had to let go of her weaving loom.  It represented better times…it represented Mom’s joy of weaving…of good health.  Mom’s weaving was very special to her.  I still marvel that she could figure out how to set the warp strands.

Detail

 Mom was ALWAYS knitting.  She knit each member of the family an irish knit sweater, toques, scarves and winter hats of every variety!  Some of her patterns for hats were so bizarre that I used to really wonder about them! I remember one that was like a latticed pumpkin pie and another, a vertically striped stocking hat…just where did she get these ideas?  I did not appreciate or treasure these objects enough and would give anything to still own one of them so that I could give them to my daughters.

By My Mother's Hands

 This is a profoundly complicated pattern…but something that my mother gifted to me.  I will treasure it always!

Sleeve Detail

 While most were going to the wicker store to purchase their baskets, my mother was weaving her own.  She learned several different techniques and then work shopped and taught others.  While Mom and Dad lived in Brampton, Ontario, I remember visiting and having Mom teach me how to prepare, soak and weave in this manner.

Authentic Weaving By My Mother's Hands

 This was Mom and Dad’s Easter gift to me…

Detail

 Corn husk dolls were something that my mother created, with a flourish.  These little ladies, as well as many other folk art pieces filled her home and provided generous gifts for family and friends.  While there are many other hand-crafted items that Mom created, these photos capture a wee taste of my mother’s abilities.  I love and cherish my mother’s hands!

Corn Husk Doll