September 21, 2017

     

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From Point Douglas we moved to Transcona. This was a significant change. For the first time it was beginning to feel that we were at home. Our immigration experience was fading. We were starting to feel ordinary in our new context.

Our poverty stayed with us. We rented houses that were generally old and somewhat broken down. I remember our house on Harvard. A coal burning stove in the living room. A wood burning stove  in the kitchen. Mum used to have it warm when we came home from school in the winter. We would thaw our boots and mittens on the open door. Added a very nice sense of cosy.

At age eight, I was the oldest of six siblings. We were generally close. This probably came from mother's habits of prayer before meals and open conversation during them. We shared our childhood joys. Also our worries and fears. She listened in a way that strengthened us. We were not alone. We were loved.

My first day of school left a lasting impression. We were lined up in the playground. As our names were called we were to join a class. Then proceed into the school. I waited to hear my name. It was not called. There I stood in the field alone. A teacher took me in hand. She discovered that I was at the wrong school. The matter was sorted in short order. The next day I was at the right school and admitted to grade one. I found myself in a very new kind of world. Sitting in small desks facing a chalkboard and the teacher's desk. Our names called from the roll every morning. The singing of O Canada.

Every evening, just before bedtime, I would go out to the coal shed. Sometimes mother would come along to help. Once we noticed soft waves of green light in the night sky. We stood spellbound. Joined in a sense of awe. An appreciation of the surprising goodness of life. It was not until many years later that I learned we had seen the Northern Lights. In my young imagination it was a wonder. An inspiration.

Life was not easy. A pattern had set into the life of my father. He grew increasingly absorbed with the pursuit of his own dreams. This led him into all manner of adventure. Sometimes for a weekend. Sometimes for months. Leaving mother and us kids to get on as well as we were able. There were many times when it seemed we would not make ends meet. Mother would sit us round the kitchen table. She would pray as we held hands. Asking for that which seemed out of reach; our daily bread.

Our prayers were answered in a great variety of ways. Almost always rooted in the kindness of family, friends, and neighbours. The church community was very supportive materially. This while their glances and whispers evoked a clear awareness of our poverty. And the shame of that poverty. No doubt one of the influences shaping me to advocacy for the poor at our doorsteps.