I found Christmas over in Port Perry last Sunday afternoon. I wasn’t alone. And, no, there wasn’t a sudden conversion in my life. But I was in a church. A few minutes after 3 p.m., last Sunday, I was invited to a lectern to initiate a fundraiser with these words:
“Marley was dead, to begin with. There was no doubt whatever about that. … Old Marley was as dead as a doornail.”
It was following their second or third song, that the two youngest members of the acoustic country and bluegrass band, The Griddle Pickers, paused. The two brothers in the band were enjoying the relative peace of the moment, performing in a church sanctuary in front of a capacity audience.
“Gosh, it’s sure different singing and playing in here,” commented banjo player Sean Patrick.
“Yeah,” his brother Dale, the guitarist and lead vocalist, agreed. “Most of the time we’re trying to play over a noisy crowd, or a bar fight.”
I wouldn’t have known that she was my neighbour. But it turns out that in more ways than one, she and I have been connected. First, we have both supported the arts and those who create them. Next, we are both the children of immigrants. But for me the surprising aspect of our neighbour connection is that Aileen Hill and I both have Scarborough roots.
“I was born here,” she told me, “then, moved with my family to the Caribbean, but have now come back to Scarborough.”
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.”
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”