I took liberties, borrowing this title…Grateful Dead’s title for a tune on their album, American Beauty. My brother was listening to Grateful Dead and Gregg Allman (RIP), when I was listening to Three Dog Night and Gordan Lightfoot.
Over the years, I’ve kept some excessively sentimental journal entries, scattered, some in notebooks and some typed up. I’ve belonged to Brat Newsgroups and followed writing by other children of military fathers. An excellent novel is based on a very similar life experience during the Cold War: Anne-Marie Macdonald’s Where the Crow Flies.
In The Way the Crow Flies, Ann-Marie MacDonald takes us back to the early 1960’s, a time of optimism infused with the excitement of the space race and overshadowed by the menace of the Cold War–-a world filtered through the imagination of Madeleine McCarthy, a spirited nine-year-old. Unaware that her father, Jack, is caught up in his own web of secrets, she at first welcomes her family’s posting to a sleepy air force base in southern Ontario.
The base, however, is home to some intriguing inhabitants, including the unconventional Froehlich family, and the odd Mr. March, whose power over the children is a secret burden that they carry. Then tragedy strikes, and a local murder intersects with global forces, binding the participants for life. As tension in the McCarthy’s household builds, Jack must decide where his loyalty lies, and Madeleine learns about the ambiguity of human morality–a lesson that will become clear only when the quest for the truth, and the killer, is renewed twenty years later.
As Father’s Day approaches and I’m thinking a lot about Dad and my family, but especially Dad, I’m putting together a bit of a reflection. I am proud of my Dad. I’m also pleased, in looking back, that I lived what I imagine is an unusual life, with very unique experiences. As you dwell a bit on your father, you will think the same. I’ve snapped some photos of bits and pieces and put them in chronological order here. The writing is sappy and poorly executed for the most part, but, I’m glad that I’ve documented some things.
Sherbrooke, Quebec and my parents met and fell in love. My parents knew and loved the Fortier family. We made trips to visit my Gramma and Grampa once we moved away. I remember my Grandmother’s home and her gardens.
Falconbridge, Ontario (Sudbury)
Ste. Sylvestre, Quebec…50 miles from Quebec City. Brutal winters with banks of snow up to the tops of our windows. The birth of my brother, Stuart. Playing in a creek bed some distance from the house. Back yard clotheslines. Mom, alone, a lot. I watched my mother sew the dress that she is wearing in the photograph below. I remember it.
Ste. Margaret’s, New Brunswick...some miles from Chatham.
I guess we didn’t have a camera to snap photographs in Ste. Margaret’s in New Brunswick. I haven’t any archive for this period, apart from a few bits of ephemera. An old fashioned bell rung outside of the school for my kindergarten and grade one year. I remember my coat hook. I remember faking that I could play the notes on my recorder. I remember secretly loving Holmer Berthiaume. I remember clam digging and clam chowder. I remember neighbourhood fun. And, my brother, Cliff, was born. I broke my collar bone.
Battle Creek, Michigan
North Bay, Ontario…three different postings and some very special years. The dock, Chief Commanda, Expo ’67 and a field trip to Montreal, Winter Carnivals, fishing…
Trout Lake, Cabin stays and learning to play Cribbage, Mr. Carlin and the first inkling that I loved art, hiking through the gully, Gus.
My sister, Val, was born.
I have reconnected with many of the people in this photograph over the years. Social Media has been a blessing for Military ‘Brats’.
On I went, during our second posting, to Widdifield High School, grade nine. My friends were lunch time friends, including Kathleen and Susan. Debbie Harris took the bus with me to Hornell Heights. We were walking-to-school friends. I have since, lost her. Later in life, I painted Miss Mitchell, the librarian, and the Library Club, using a photograph in the 1969 Pendulum as a reference.
I treasured, most, my time in the art room. I still have some of my sketches from that time. I reconnected with David Carlin some years ago as he had an exhibit in Callandar when I was on one of my Trans Canada migrations.
Great Falls, Montana for Grade 10, 11 and 12. Ramona and I have done well to stay in touch all of these years.
The thing about military people is that they DO have attached to them, many group photographs and records. I will spare you this collection, but for the sake of my family members, I have photographed Dad’s collection and accessed several that he did not have from on-line research. If ever you want these, please be in touch.
Dad, you mean the world to me. I’m grateful for your love.
Last evening I wrapped up a panel that I’ve been working on over the past few weeks. I was thinking a lot about the act of painting someone’s story and the privilege of that opportunity. I think that it’s important to be true to the story, but also to incorporate your own style and approach. It’s a balance.
The greater themes here are father and child, service to country, sacrifice, connection and transcendence. I received excellent biographical information from the little girl in this photograph…a young lady now. Her story is a potent one and initially, it brought me to tears.
Text comes from Walt Whitman’s preface to Leaves of Grass…these were adhered to the panel through transfer. As well, the words Blood and Memory. To say that Lawrence Hill did not impact this piece would be a fib. I began painting the commission after listening to him speak of universal truths…I see an artist’s images like he sees the written word and so there is a true responsibility in the marks that I make.
“But I have long loved the written word, and come to see in it the power of the sleeping lion. This is my name. This is who I am. This is how I got here. In the absence of an audience, I will write down my story so that it waits like a restful beast with lungs breathing and heart beating.”
― Lawrence Hill, Someone Knows My Name
“This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem.” Whitman
I painted on a Masonite board while in Mr. Carlin’s class…I still have the original sketches for the painting, “Adam”, that I worked on independently through his grade nine class in 1969. They were tucked away in my portfolio. The oil painting has long since disappeared; likely on one of our military moves it didn’t make it onto a truck. A muscular Adam had his leg wound up tight by a serpent…a very symbolic piece for such a young girl. It makes me smile today, to remember.
It wasn’t long ago that I re-connected with ‘Mr.’ Carlin (amazing how we find difficulty attaching first names to our forever-teachers) through social media and was very excited to acquire one of his amazing pieces, ‘Jester Trickster’, through a 2011 exhibit/fund raiser where he sold his collection in order to generously support his daughter, Sarah, in a new treatment protocol offered in Albany, New York.
Mr. Carlin was such an inspiring mentor! I will never forget him and his ways. Particularly, I will always remember his sense of humour! He was so encouraging. As I journey back in blog-time to the visit with Dad in Ontario (wanted to blog away the poignant moments that held so many lessons while home…but Dad’s computer was too darned slow at the time!), I find myself remembering the decision to miss my 40th high school reunion in Great Falls, Montana and focus, instead, on what it was my Dad and I had to learn together through our grief. That didn’t mean there weren’t going to be a couple of side trips though. The trip to Hamilton had been such a blessing later in June.
I knew that my sister was a health nurse at Camp Tawingo again this past summer. One of the joyful memories of my life was the magic of bumping into Val some years ago at a hotel parking lot in North Bay. I was on my fourth night of driving east, pulling in from Thunder Bay and she was having her 48 hour break from camp. It was a fortunate and very serendipitous moment.
Why not repeat it? We decided to combine the opportunity to enjoy an exhibit, Intransit, of David Carlin’s new works with a reunion at the same Super 8 Hotel. It was a dream to step into the Alex Dufresne Gallery in Callander and have the art work sing out the way it did. It was spectacular, as was the feeling of excitement that was going on inside me.
As I signed the guest book, Mr. Carlin stepped up behind me, recognizing me immediately. What a spark of magic that was! I will never forget it…A drum ceremony opened the event and I felt washed over by good will and creativity. It was an event I will not soon forget. It was very quick…very spontaneous…but I needed Mr. Carlin to know that I have never forgotten him. I also needed to see his work up close. If ever my readers have the chance to see his art, please do! Thank you, dear Mr. Carlin, for having been my teacher.
The thing about being raised in a military family was that it was within me to BE Canadian…I didn’t grow up with a sense of having a home town, but rather, considered our beautiful nation my home. When I drove the Trans Canada highway recently, each new province held its memories of camp fire singing, of water gazing, of miles of “I Spy” and warnings from the front seat to behave. I was the person in my group of friends who had to look up my own telephone number in the phone book. My brothers, sister and I fall into a group of Canadians aptly referred to as Military BRATS (Borne, Raised And Transferred Somewhere). As a result of five of us having similar, but different, experiences of military life, we settled across the nation, raised our families and missed one or the other at every single event since those Christmas festivities of 1973, forty years of together-apart and apart-together.
After 40 years, we stood together, a tribute to our parents,late…but at last.
It is possible to see a list of abandoned and partially abandoned sites here. Thanks to Bruce Forsyth for his research.