Ethics versus life

Carol Off reading at Blue Heron Books & Brunch event, Nov. 12, 2017.

Last Sunday morning, I watched a seasoned journalist get uncharacteristically emotional. Previously a foreign correspondent, a reporter who’d covered hostilities in the Middle East and a long-time current affairs radio host, Carol Off’s eyes welled up. She recalled, in 2002, convincing Asad Aryubwal, an Afghan father of five, to go on-camera to expose the warlords the U.S. military was courting to overthrow the Taliban.

“Asad’s courage in speaking out was rewarded only with the calamity when, in response to (my) documentary,” Off told Zoomer magazine, “Afghanistan’s most powerful warlord sent a death squad to kill him.”

Simple actions. Astonishing results.

Leslie M. Miller, lieutenant in the Canadian Corps.

The padre stepped up to the lectern this past Sunday morning in Shedden, Ont. The audience at the community centre for the Remembrance service settled into silence. The clergyman unfolded his papers, that I thought would contain a prayer, a piece of scripture or perhaps the words of a hymn. But, no, he looked out at the assembly of cadets, veterans and the public in the audience and introduced his Nov. 11 thoughts this way.

“From simple actions, come astonishing results,” he said.

Retail apocalypse

A few weeks ago, I sat down with an old friend. He’s retired now. But when we met 30 years ago, he was a happy, enthusiastic and very upbeat employee in a Canadian retail success story. But when we chatted recently, he shook his head in amazement.

“I cannot believe that Sears is going under,” he lamented. “When I worked there, it seemed as if we’d go on forever.”

Teach our sons

It’s not just about showing sons and grandsons … but about teaching them too.

The young man was showing off in front of some of his buddies. The conversation shifted from small talk to basketball – one of his favourites – and then to some of the women in his college class. At the time, I was one of his instructors, and he didn’t know I could hear pretty much everything he was saying.

“Oh, you know what they say about women,” he joked. “They’re like city buses. If you miss one, there’ll be another along in a minute.”

A Legacy of Liberation

Fog obscures the Saar River that U.S. troops crossed in February 1945.

We got up to the historic site early that morning. And the sun was out. There was a clear sky up where we were on the hilltop overlooking the Saar River, in Germany. But the air below us, immediately above the river itself, was so clogged with fog we couldn’t see the spot where the historic river crossing had happened. I wondered out loud what it looked like beneath the fog.

“Here. I’ll show you,” said a man who’d stopped by to watch us look into the valley. And he pulled out a map of the river valley and he pointed. “The Americans came from the far side, crossed the river, and attacked up these slopes.”

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.”