Wounds a dressing can’t heal

Al Theobald was raised in a home in Borg, Germany, used in 1945 as a first-aid station for U.S. medics.

We walked in single-file behind our guide. The street in Nennig, Germany, opened into a market square as the young man leading our tour painted a wartime picture of this town 72 years ago. He pointed to the homes tucked neatly around the intersection. Then, he said because of the battle being waged between German and U.S. forces here during the Second World War, that civilians had been evacuated.

“Well, that’s not entirely true,” a quiet voice said behind me. I turned and a man I didn’t know, but who was travelling on the same tour, added, “Some of the civilians refused to leave.”

Adding a chapter

Alex Barris’s ID card when he was 21 years old and at war.

On my last day of classes in 1964, with nothing left to teach us, my Grade 9 phys-ed instructor just gave us a bat and a ball and told us to go play some baseball work-ups. I loved playing shortstop, the position my dad liked most too. Not long into the game, however, the catcher and I chased the same infield fly and we collided head-on. I broke my nose, lost some front teeth and was knocked out cold. I spent several weeks recuperating at home in bed. My father happened to be writing in his office at the house, so he spent time trying to distract me from my pain by telling me stories. It wasn’t long before I popped the big one.

“Hey Dad, what did you do in the war?” I asked.

Stitch in time

Royal Flying Corps aircraftman James Armishaw, in 1917 tunic tailored by Beauchamp & How.

First, they told me to stand still. For an hour. Then, a man I didn’t know except through my father ran a tape measure across my shoulders, down the length of my arms, around my waist and chest. A little later, when he needed a measurement down there, he ran the tape measure from my ankle up into my crotch. I kept on smiling even though, at about age 10, I had never done this sort of thing before. The man with the tape measure finally smiled and gave me a pat on the back.

“Ted, you’re going to love this,” he said, “your first ever tailor-made suit.”

Harbinger of fall

Shelley Macbeth at her Blue Heron Bookstore

Some of the last few nights, when I took the dog for a walk, I noticed that I had to wear a sweater. On other walks up our street, it became pretty obvious that the trees were starting to turn. Then, a couple of weeks ago, Shelley Macbeth’s email arrived.

“Just confirming that you’re all ready for Books and Authors,” she wrote.

That’s when I realized the season had changed. If it’s time for Blue Heron Books’ Books and Authors night, it’s truly the beginning of fall. For those of you who have lived here and have followed Uxbridge’s incredibly lively arts scene over the past 30 years or so, it’s no surprise.

Hammers, nails and words

Writer’s garret.

It was a few weeks after summer had officially begun. I was up in my writing roost – a.k.a. my upstairs office. With the start of summer, I had just started writing a book. I’m not being presumptuous. It’s often what I’ve done over the past 15 or 20 years – I’ve taken the summer to complete a manuscript, I hope for publication soon after the summer is done. Anyway, I heard an SUV pull up next door and a man stepped out and began assembling his survey equipment. I asked him what was going on.

“They’re going to start building here,” he said. “They’re just waiting for this survey.”

Making news unfake

David Carr, photo Chester Higgins Jr., New York Times website.

When 911 happened, he was working at a magazine in New York. He called it a party magazine. Not particularly substantial. And he was a recognized media critic covering the arts. Suddenly, one morning in September, long-time newspaper reporter David Carr got a call from his editor just after 9 o’clock. The editor told him what had just happened at the World Trade Center and he was assigned to the story.

“Some of the staff are going uptown, some downtown,” the editor told him. “Carr, you go cover the firemen.”

Statue of limitations

Col. Henry King Burgwyn Jr. – photo University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The basics of the story were chiselled into the brass plaque in front of us. It described the heroic advance of a young colonel in the Civil War. More important, beside the plaque, in this little gulley known as Willoughby Run in the middle of Gettysburg National Military Park, one of my dearest historian friends, Paul Van Nest, described the final charge of an officer with the 26th North Carolina Regiment on July 1, 1863.

“His name was Henry King Burgwyn Jr.,” Van Nest said. “He was just 21 years of age, the youngest colonel in the Confederate Army. It was his last charge.”

Health care with character

My wife and I arrived at the downtown Toronto hospital just in time to see the patient we were concerned about transported from an ambulance into the hospital Emergency ward. Then, we saw the crowded waiting room, and knew it was going to be a long stay. Within a few minutes, however, the paramedics who’d wheeled our patient in, got a heads-up and we were suddenly on the move.

“Express Six,” the paramedic said. “We’re going to Express Six.” And right away the paramedic team had cradled our patient onto a bed in one of those Emergency room cubicles where curtains gave the only privacy.

A soldier’s voice

Tim Isberg. Visualz photo, Isberg website.

He was supposedly the warm-up act. He was Tim Isberg, a singer-songwriter from Fort Macleod, Alberta. And I was supposedly the main event, offering a talk about veterans’ stories, and how I came by them. But, as I sat there waiting for Isberg to finish his set, I was mulling over a problem in my head. I wasn’t quite sure where to start my presentation. Suddenly, I paid attention to what Isberg was singing.

“Listen to the voice,” he sang in a calming sort of way. “Listen to the voice calling me … calling you.”

Summer camp 101

A summer camp by any other name.

It was just a few minutes south of town. And I was the taxi driver, transporting our granddaughter to the summer day’s activity, her day camp. Only this day was different. She had her cap, her bug spray and a big sports bag packed with stuff. And added to the luggage was a pillow.

“We’re having a sleepover tonight,” she said.