Federal Election 2021

As in the last federal election, we arranged a mail-in ballot for my mother. Her ballot arrived quickly, so we three voted a couple of weeks ago, all by special ballot.

This is at least the second federal election where not one candidate has come to our door, and I think it has probably been longer than that. They just can’t cover as many houses in a day out here (and political affiliations are not a big secret in West Prince!).

It’s kind of like Halloween: even the kids from the country head to the villages and towns because you can visit more houses and get more candy in densely populated areas.

Trick or treat also sort of sums up my feelings on this election.

Hummingbirds 2021

We still have two of our three feeders up for ruby-throated hummingbirds, but it’s been a week since I’ve seen one, so will take them down tomorrow.

The first hummingbird arrived on May 12 and the last departed on September 12. We seemed to have more hummingbirds than usual this summer, though they are nearly impossible to count! I counted about a dozen around one feeder.

I’ve only tracked how much white sugar I’ve used to make the syrup feed since 2018, but the first three years I used an average of 13.75 cups of sugar and this year used 27 cups! There were a couple of weeks in July that I was filling one of our one-cup-capacity feeders three times a day, something I’ve never had to do. Must have been ideal breeding conditions.

I think of them often, so tiny, making their way to Central America. Those born this summer flying on their own, drawn by who-knows-what to keep flying forward just because that is the thing they should do.

Bits and pieces

My mother was asked if her RCAF uniform could be used in a display in connection with the upcoming publication of a book by PEI historian Katherine Dewar about PEI women who served in the Second World War. Katherine and Lois Brown, who was with the Canadian Women’s Army Corp in the Second World War and is a lively 97-year-old, came up last week to take the bits and pieces my mother has.

My mother’s air force blue uniform is nearly complete, except for stockings and shoes, which she used after the war and wore completely out. Her khaki uniform has always been a bit of a mystery to me. She always called it her summer uniform, but I believe it was what she was wearing when she ended her service on January 9, 1945, as her last meal card and clearance certificate (incorrectly dated as 1944) are still in the inside jacket pocket. As she ended her military career in Halifax, in January, it would have been far from summer weather! I hope to get more information from PEI Regiment Museum curator Greg Gallant about that uniform.

I also gathered up various pins that were scattered around the house in different little boxes. She would have received or bought most of them during the war, the General Service Badge would have been worn after the war (probably by my father, but not sure), and another is one of many pins she’s been sent periodically by this or that group honouring different battles and anniversaries.

RCAF (WD) poster

I imagine Katherine’s book will touch on the fact that women who had served weren’t regarded as real veterans immediately after the war. Women had been recruited to supporting roles to free up men to assume combat roles, so their service wasn’t considered to be the same.

While both of my parents were in the RCAF during the Second World War, neither of them served in Europe, spending their time in Canada or Newfoundland, which was considered an overseas posting as a British colony. My father was always viewed as being the “real” veteran in our family, even though his role as an RCAF mechanic put him in no greater danger than my mother. They were both involved in the background of the Battle of the Atlantic during their time in Newfoundland, he at Gander and she at Torbay, and I’m sure both of those stations were on the German hit list for a possible invasion of North America, which thankfully never happened.

My father mistakenly wore my mother’s medals all his life, and it was only after his death, when I was asked to help with an award nomination for my mother, that I found out she had been given an extra medal (The Defence Medal) because of the length of time she had spent in Newfoundland, and my father’s time there hadn’t qualified.

I don’t believe for a second that my father even knew what he had done. I suppose when the medals arrived in the mail (ex-service members applied to get them after the war and they were mailed in a little box, no dramatic presentation by a senior officer as portrayed in movies), he just assumed the three were for him as he served for nearly 5 years and my mother for less than 2.

So my mother had worn my father’s two medals, never knowing the difference. When I brought this error to her attention, I didn’t think she would bother to start wearing her real ones, but she did, and still proudly wears them to Remembrance Day services and other official events. And now, because she is one of the few veterans left, people sometimes thank her for her service.

2021 is the new 1946

It didn’t say what they did at the Georgetown PO to keep the mail-seeking crowds away, but a polio outbreak meant strict public heath measures were in place across PEI 75 years ago. Vaccination has nearly eradicated polio worldwide, but there are still a few cases every year in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

I had a great-uncle who had polio, which left him with with he called a “crooked foot” and unable to do many things. He would have an interesting perspective on COVID-19 anti-vaccination protests.

Charlottetown Guardian September 12, 1946

Certified

The first computer I remember using was a Commodore PET circa 1981. When I say using, I mean I watched as my male junior high classmates used it to play a very slow flight simulator in our Industrial Arts class; it was the late 70s, and girls couldn’t be trusted with high tech gadgetry. I did operate a plastic moulding machine in that class to make a small screwdriver I still use, so it wasn’t a complete waste of time.

When I was in high school, I took an introductory computer evening course at our local community college, and most of it was spent learning some of the BASIC programming language. I sort of forget, but I guess there weren’t any computer courses offered in my high school at the time, or at least not for my academic stream.

I found it difficult and never programmed anything after that course. It would be 5 or 6 years until I ever touched a computer again. At the time, computers didn’t seem like anything that would ever become important in my life, but rather something that someone smarter than me would study for a specialized career as a programmer.

END

Don’t mess with me, I’m certified!
Some of my industrial art (I did not make the pen, but I bet that was next on the course!)

The Plan

Even before the Canadian federal election was called, the leader of the Conservative party sent each of us in our household a separate letter outlining his recovery plan to fix everything that is wrong with Canada (except, it seems, our relationships with Indigenous peoples, the climate and the electoral system, my top three issues this election). Three more letters arrived this week. Waste of resources, waste of beautiful trees.

Thought I’d at least mine this dreck for art, so here are three found poems. I did try to construct a jolly sounding poem, but it wasn’t possible from the doom and gloom bricks I was given.

Mr. Vivian
Holding Heavily
Economic Vision

Digging clams

Our river once had abundant soft-shelled clams, and you could dig a bucket in a few minutes. There was no fishing license required, but you could only take ones over a certain size, so we carried a homemade gauge to ensure we only took legal ones.

I wouldn’t eat them as a child, but grew to love them later, and I spent many hours swimming and playing in the water while my mother dug them. Most people dig on the beach at low tide using a garden fork, but this wasn’t my mother’s method as she said too many get broken that way, and that’s true. Another less common method was to use a homemade plunger made from a section of a car tire attached to an old broom handle, and dig them in the water, which was less destructive. But she was the only one I knew who dug them the way she did.

At our favourite spot, just a 5-minute row from our house, my mother would walk with bucket in hand in knee-deep water, looking for the holes that clams make with their siphons. She would then sit in the water and pat a hole with her hand, creating a vacuum that moved the sand and would start to excavate a larger hole. When she felt a clam, she would pull it out, examine it to see if it was alive and the right size, and then put it in the bucket beside her that was kept in place first by the volume of seawater it contained and then, little by little, by the clams.

Once her bucket was filled, we would return home, but we never ate the clams right away as they were gritty with sand. My mother would tie the bucket to the railing of the stairs that went down the bank in front of our house and leave the clams submerged in the bucket in the river overnight to clean out, expelling the sand that was in their system.

The next day the clams were placed in a large enamel pot with no water or anything else, just steamed as they were until they opened. Those that didn’t open were discarded, and the rest piled into a big bowl and placed in the middle of the dining room table. Everyone got their own bowl of melted butter, fresh homemade rolls and maybe potato salad.

We might dig a feed of clams every couple of weeks in the summer, and there never seemed to be any fear of them being overfished. Then commercial fishers started working on our river using mechanical vacuums a couple of decades ago, a similar idea as my mother’s manual method except they could dig out an entire bed in a few minutes. The last time we tried digging clams would be over 10 years ago now, and there weren’t any left, just empty shells. It will probably take decades for them to return in the numbers that existed before the commercial harvest.

You can buy clams, but they never taste as good as my memory of them. It was the whole process: rowing to the digging spot, having a swim, hearing the neighbour’s cows or dog, watching the clouds passing overhead, waving at a neighbour in a dory coming home from fishing oysters, looking back at our house, the little waves lapping the shore, the birds, the sun. The tang of our river, deeply salty and briny, alive with eels and lobsters and crabs and fish. The feeling that this harvesting had been done forever and would go on forever.

Mom and I digging clams somewhere on Foxley River, 1969

99

Not many get to decorate a cake for a 99th birthday, but I was fortunate enough to do so for my mother’s birthday today. I made the buttermilk birthday cake from Nigella Lawson’s How to Be a Domestic Goddess as it is foolproof, deliciously moist, and works well with gluten free flour.

I’m definitely not the baker that my mother, Vivian, was and still is. She is known for many culinary treats: butterscotch pie, lemon meringue pie, coconut cream pie (any pie, really!), orange chiffon cake, fudge, and lately, cookies, because they are easily made and just as easily given away. Any estimate of how many items she has produced over eight decades of baking would probably never come close to the true number. And, as we were only three in our immediate family, the majority of her baking was given away to our huge extended family, friends and neighbours, and for bake sales. At least once a week during my childhood, my mother would be baking for some charitable event or other, making sandwiches and sweets for a meeting, having people over for supper.

My mother has never complained about having to cook a meal, ever, and that’s not an exaggeration. True, she hasn’t worked outside the home for many years, but even when she and my father owned a general store, where she worked just as hard as he did, she cooked a hot noon meal for the two or three clerks they had working with them, six days a week. Dining out has never been a big thing for my mother, probably because we just never had many restaurants close by, so she has cooked most of her meals, and she prepares generally healthy things, which is probably how she has reached 99 without diabetes or high cholesterol!

She has been an effortless cook, an enthusiastic hostess, and a generous lady, even today sending a relative off with some brownies made yesterday. She baked cookies for a children’s event at her church this week, and next week has offered to make cookies for our local environmental group’s day camp.

Always looking outwards, finding a purpose for every day, never idle, always grateful, day by day by day for 99 years. It all comes back to her on days like today, with a steady stream of visitors showing her so much love, joining in the magic of a long and impactful life.

Hot enough to fry an egg

Finding our hens panting in their nesting boxes on this sweltering day reminded me I was going to make a screen door for the henhouse. Kind of late to start today, so found this mysterious screen from heaven-knows-what and stuck it in the door with clamps.

The henhouse started life as a smelt shack about 60 years ago and was my playhouse from about 1968 until I was probably far too old to be playing. It has been a henhouse for the past four years. It is in remarkably good shape for something that was basically ignored for three decades, with only a tiny bit of rot in one corner that I easily fixed with my basic carpentry skills. It could use a fresh coat of paint. And it still needs a screen door.

What comes after

I think the true nature of an elected official shines through not while they are running for office or holding a seat in a governmental body, but rather what they do after they have finished their elected role, especially if they have been an elected official for many years. That person who was a keen community volunteer just before they decided to run for office does not always drop off the other end of the political conveyor belt the same engaged individual.

Former United States President Jimmy Carter has been out of office for 40 years and has been busy writing books, promoting Habitat for Humanity, and working on many peace and health projects through The Carter Center that he and his wife, Rosalynn, founded a year after he left office. A recent episode of the BBC World Service podcast People Fixing The World looked at how the battle against Guinea worm disease is progressing (that section starts at the 14:00 mark). The answer is very, very well, and it is in large part due to The Carter Centre, who took the lead on the eradication effort when no one else wanted to deal with it. They are soooooo close:

In 1986, the disease afflicted an estimated 3.5 million people a year in 21 countries in Africa and Asia. Today, thanks to the work of The Carter Center and its partners — including the countries themselves — the incidence of Guinea worm has been reduced by more than 99.99 percent to 27 provisional* cases in 2020.

The Carter Center

The Guinea worm is a parasite that enters the body as larvae in drinking water and then a year later the three-foot-long worm emerges through a lesion in the skin. The condition doesn’t usually kill people outright, but it is debilitating and the emergence of the worm sounds terrifying and painful.

I have read about and heard programs about this disease before and remember a scientist saying that but for Jimmy Carter’s involvement in directing The Carter Center to take the lead on this huge eradication project, the Guinea worm would still be causing wide-spread suffering. It is far from being a glamorous cause, but Carter was told it could be eliminated, and they went to work to try to do just that.

I think Jimmy Carter has used his post-political years better than almost any other politician I can think of in my lifetime. I understand he and Rosalynn live quite modestly, and he has used his influence and energy to help others and not himself. A true hero.