Talents & Frustrations

Today is my dear husband’s 75th birthday. Quite a milestone! We celebrated officially last Sunday night after a church function, and are looking forward to a dinner out with the family tomorrow. Of course he blogs about it on his site, mentioning all the things that have changed since he was a boy.

What really scares me is the thought that the next twenty years will go by just as fast as the last twenty. Whatever happened to “old age, when the hours would drag by”? We find the flight of time incredible!

I can assure you that in his youth Bob was a studious lad just like the young fellow below. I don’t know if there was ever a “Willy Brown” in his school to be jealous of, though. Hope this poem gives you a smile.


My teacher says that I’m the best
And smartest boy in school;
I’m never careless like the rest;
I never break a rule.
If visitors should come to call,
She has me speak a piece,
Or tell what makes an apple fall
Or binds the coast of Greece.
You might expect that since my brain
Holds such an awful lot,
I’d be extremely proud and vain;
But, oh–I’m not.
For Willy Brown’s a cleverer lad
Than I could hope to be;
Why, I’d give anything I had
To be as smart as he!
He can’t recite, “Hark, Hark, the Lark,”
He’s not the teacher’s pet;
He never gets a perfect mark
In ‘rithmetic — and yet,
Could I be he, I’d waste no tears
On foolish things like sums;
For Willy Brown can wag his ears
And dislocate his thumbs.

Author’s name unknown to me.


Carl Was A Curiosity

Continued from yesterday…

One day an ambitious little spider made its way down from a ceiling, slid down a wall, crept over an old fashioned roller blind, then down the cord one might use to pull the blind down or up. But this blind, hanging in the living room of an old red brick house, was never pulled down or up. It had hung part-way down for a decade or more and no one moved it. No one removed the spider, either.

Sensing itself secure, the spider began to make its web. Swinging from the end of the cord toward the nearby window frame it attached one of its silky threads to that. Then it repeated the process until it had completed its web. And this web, as it was fashioned, eventually pulled the cord sideways.

Neighbours going by smiled when they saw the cord hanging at an angle. This was Carl McNeil’s house and we all knew that, though he kept his garden in good order, he wasn’t bothered with housework. He occupied two rooms, his kitchen and his bedroom upstairs. Since he never invited anyone into his house, no one really knew what it looked like inside but we judged a lot by that one cord hanging crooked for years — and the fact that the half a bucket of water Carl got from Giff Pomeroy’s pump once a week wouldn’t be cleaning very much. That was Carl’s bath water.

Carl was a faithful attender of the United Church in Fullarton. Town folks said it with kindness and a smile, but they admitted it took an extra bit of charity to sit near Carl on days when the church building was especially warm. Soon Marguerite would be telling him, “Carl, it’s time to send your clothes to the cleaners again.”

At the end of October, as the town children prepared to go trick or treating, Carl would go down to the store to buy a bag of treats to hand out. For years he bought a bag of marshmallows and gave one to each of the children that called at his door. Then one year he discovered mini-marshmallows so he bought a bag and generously gave each child several. Since this worked so well, he continued to shell out this way. Was he such a miser, or did he think most children at the time were getting enough sweets?

Carl’s only known health problem was his need for a pacemaker. The first one installed did him for years but when he was 85 the battery needed to be changed. As I recall, he was feeling odd for a few days, so a neighbour took him to a hospital in London, ON, where he had the procedure done. He was supposed to stay there for a couple of days and properly recover after the surgery. However, he wanted to be home, so the next morning he signed himself out, walked downtown to the bus depot and caught the bus for home.

He got off the bus at Russeldale, a village along the highway and the nearest stop to home; from there he walked the three miles to Fullarton. But when he got home he found his neighbour had locked the door and Carl didn’t have the key with him. So off he went to Giff Pomeroy’s shed and borrowed Giff’s long wooden ladder, which he carried to his house and set up to reach his second-storey bedroom window. He climbed up, pushed his window open, and crawled into the bedroom. Then he went back outside and returned Giff’s ladder.

Carl rarely left his home, but once or twice a year he took the bus to Kitchener, a city about an hour away, for the day. Of course it gave the villagers lots of opportunity to speculate on what he did there all day. Once an acquaintance saw him being met at the Bus depot by a young woman, which gave rise to even more speculation. He had no known family other than MacDougald cousins. A bit worried in case Carl might be victimized somehow, his friends raised tactful questions but Carl was secretive about those trips. Perhaps he simply liked to have a bit of mystery about his life, something to keep folks guessing.

When Carl died and his will was read, he made national news. He’d calculated what each citizen’s share of the National debt was and had bequeathed the government of Canada a check to pay off his portion.

John Richardson, MP for Perth-Wellington-Waterloo, praised Carl’s actions in the House of Commons with these words:

“Mr. Speaker, today (Oct 31, 1994) I was fortunate to take part in a presentation ceremony during which a cheque for $37,634.61 from the estate of Carl McNeill was presented to the Government of Canada.

Mr. McNeill was a 100-year old resident of my riding who was worried about the legacy of debt that had been left to the younger generation. Mr. McNeill left specific instructions in his will that the money be given to the federal government in order to pay off his share of the national debt to ensure a better future for others.

Walter and Marian MacDougald, long time friends and neighbours of Mr. NcNeill, presented the cheque to the Minister of Finance this morning. In addition to Mr. McNeill’s donation to the government he also left a substantial amount of money to the University Hospital in London and the Salvation Army.

Carl McNeill set a tremendous example of the kind of patriotism and national loyalty for which all Canadians can strive. I thank him on behalf of all Canadians for his generosity and concern for our great country.

Carl Was A Character

We came to know Carl McNeil back in the early 80s when we moved into the small village of Fullarton in southwestern Ontario. A neat, pleasant, soft-spoken, still-quite-robust man in his 80s, he lived alone in a huge old house on the main street of this village that grew up along the intersection of two important roads. (I think we counted about 26 homes in total.)

Our next-door neighbour, Marie Hoppenrath, told us about the time she was out mowing their lawn and Carl stopped to chat. A bit of background here: the H’s lived in a bungalow on a large property at the edge of the village. They had a small garden in their backyard, but otherwise over an acre of lawn to mow. Most of this they did with the riding mower, but had a push mower for the narrower bit around the house.

Anyway, as Marie was working around close to the house with her push mower, along came Carl McNeil. He watched her for a bit, then told her, “You know, if you’d dig up all this lawn and make it into garden, you’d have a lot less work.” I’m sure Marie was tactful enough not to laugh right then, but she did later as she told us about this bit of advice he’d given her.

Whether said in good humor or if he was totally serious, Carl lived by this principle himself. Though he didn’t have such a huge lot, it was indeed all spaded up and planted every spring. He grew a few potato plants and I remember seeing a few raspberry bushes near the house, but most of his yard was planted with white beans (or navy beans. The kind used for pork & beans.) Carl, ever a home-body, spent his summers puttering around keeping the garden weed-free.

Every fall he’d harvest his crop of beans and during the winter he’d “combine” and sort them on his kitchen table. Then he’d take his bags of perfect beans to Thompson’s, a big grain elevator in Mitchell. Rumor had it that the owner himself bought Carl’s beans for the Thompson family’s use. He dug up his yard by himself until he was in his 90’s, then consented to let his next-door neighbour till it up for him, but he made a garden right up until he went into a nursing home at the age of 98.

Carl was Mr & Mrs McNeil’s only child and I gather his mother was rather a doting one. He apparently had a girl-friend when he was 20-ish, but she didn’t meet Mother’s ideals so the romance never got off the ground. Too bad! When he was young he went to business college but no one ever talked of him holding a job. If he did, it couldn’t have been for long.

When his father died, Carl inherited the farm. The land in this part of Ontario needed to be tiled or the heavy spring rains would drown the crops out, so farmers trenched their land and laid down clay tiles. This was mostly done with a some kind of trenching machine, but Carl, being an ambitious sort with a strong back, dug in every foot of drainage tile all across his farm. Little wonder he was so hunched over in his old age. (Farms in SW Ontario were typically 100 acres.)

When his mother got old, they bought this two-storey red brick house in the village and moved in. Apparently as long as she was alive things were kept in running order but after she died Carl didn’t have much idea about housekeeping or mechanics. Likely there was a working furnace in the house when they bought it, but by the time we knew him, Carl was heating only the kitchen in the winter, by means of an oil-burning space heater, and sleeping upstairs in his unheated bedroom. Brrr…!

Folks say the plumbing system worked, too, when mother and son moved in but in time something went wrong — a washer wore out or the pump needed repair — so Carl had no more running water. Fortunately, Giff Pomeroy, who lived a few houses down, had an old hand pump out in his yard and it still worked. Once a week Carl would take a bucket down to Giff’s and get his weekly ration of half a bucket of water. (About 3 gallons.) This did for all his washing and cooking needs.

He told my husband once that he’d never tasted tea or coffee, so he wouldn’t have used up his precious supply for that. He may have drank some of it, but his main liquid refreshment came through the bottles of orange pop he’d buy a couple times a week at the village store. As for doing laundry, every now and then Marguerite, owner & clerk at the store, would get a whiff and tell him, “Carl, it’s time you sent your laundry to the cleaners.” So he’d bring some clothes to the store and Marguerite would send them off with the dry cleaning van.

Carl had made quite a name for himself by the time we moved into the village and folks had some interesting stories to tell about his doings. Maybe I’ll write more tomorrow, and you can read more about him here: A Man of Simple Tastes. Apart from needing a pacemaker, Carl enjoyed good health all through his senior years. As I said earlier, he went into the nursing home at age 98 and lived there only about 18 months, if I recall correctly. He celebrated his 100th birthday there, then died not long after.

The SILENCE of the APP

I tried to shut my computer down last night — and found that I couldn’t. The button I’ve clicked on heretofore was there, but it didn’t bring up the usual. In its place popped up some new screen with a number of little boxes, some of them quite puzzling; of course none of these said a simple, “Shut Down” or “Turn off computer.” I did some clicking here and there, but alas, no “OFF” did I find. So I left my computer to blip away in the silence of the midnight and went to bed.

I was awake early this morning and came to check how my computer had fared while I was away. I clicked on the box that brought up this new screen and had a good look. At one point I clicked one spot and got an audio introduction to what is supposedly the 10th Anniversary Windows update “Activity Center, showing two sections. (I’d go back and listen to this again to confirm the name but I can’t remember now which button to click to bring it up again.) I didn’t find the second half of the control panel that the video said should be there, but maybe someday…

Anyway, here I was facing this one half of the “Activity center” and I did actually finally find the button that would shut down my computer. So the thing can get a good night’s sleep from now on.

I wasn’t thrilled with all these icons for computer games. Apart from Lumosity, which is supposed to improve my brain and thinking ability, I don’t play computer games and don’t need all these clutter-some apps. So I poked around and discovered I could delete the icons.

From then on things took a bad turn. I clicked on a little icon that said PS in a square. I thought I’d move it over because my deletions had made holes. Instead of it moving, it somehow “fused” to my computer screen. From then on I had a “PS in a square” staring silently, reprovingly at me from every screen I opened. From the middle of my Desktop wallpaper. From the middle of a WordPerfect document. “Just try figuring out how to get rid of me and I’ll short circuit your brain!”

I clicked on this and that but of course I found no buttons for “Help” or “Tech Support” or “Contact.” I thought to myself, “Oh, dear. Now I need one of those young men with an earring.”

This refers to an older very conservative Mennonite man and a customer service rep he’d dealt with one time. Charles ran a small business in a rural area of northern Brazil, plus he put out a small newsletter sharing community news. Back circa 1980 he found himself in need of a new copier so he contacted one company and they sent out this young rep — a personable young man with an earring in one ear.

Charles frowned. A man with an earring? Not done in his world. This suggested a lack of taking life seriously. More like, “Yeah, yeah. Right on, man. Whatever.” Charles wondered how much this hippy-type fellow would know about his product line, or how much would he care about Charles’ particular business needs?” But as he sat down and listened, the young man clearly explained their product line and in particular which models would best suit which of Charles’ needs the best. Finally Charles had to conclude this young rep really knew his stuff, that in judging the man’s ability by his earring, he’d jumped to a foolish conclusion.

So it goes these days: seniors calling out the tech support may find themselves opening their door to someone with orange spiked hair or a nail through their nose, but the service rep fiddles his or her fingers half a dozen times on the keyboard or remote and voilà! Problem solved. And they are usually quite personable sorts or they wouldn’t be sent as tech support in the first place. The only fault I have with these young folks is they often talk too fast for a slower older brain.

Back to this morning’s computer woe: PS in a square. In the silence of the morning I pondered my dilemma. I did discover the PS stands for Photo Shop, but since I couldn’t find that one in the list of apps, how could I control it? Clicking on the icon did nothing; for some reason the whole activity center screen was paler and sort of fuzzy.

I finally shut my computer off, with a prayer that God — who understand all the inner workings of everything He’s created, either electronic waves or human minds — would come to my rescue and undo whatever I’d messed up. And when I turned it back on, the square with the PS had evaporated. Thanks be!

Since then I’ve taken several more exploratory trips through this activity center and discovered how to log onto Saskatoon weather, and how to operate the alarm. Success! This went off at 9:30 am sharp to remind me to take my pill. And in another small corner I discovered the control for the volume of the computer’s speaker. It’s been annoying not to know how to control that.

Now maybe next time I’m in town, if I see some tech-savvy reps — with or without earrings — at one of the cell phone booths in the mall, I can get them to show me how to set up my phone up to receive my incoming e-mails. So much to learn!

Daily Prompt word: Silence

Golden Oldie Computer Trials

HOPE for the Technologically Illiterate

“Hello. You’ve reached No-Woes Computers technical support hotline. How may I help you?”

“Oh, yes I have woes! This Computer you sold me isn’t working.”

While I was taking my chemo treatment on Monday — an all-day affair — my dear hubby visited his favorite bookstore and came back with a book he thought I’d enjoy. The book is called:
My Senior Moments Have Gone High-Tech
© 2016 by Karen O’Conner,
Harvest House Publishers in Eugene Oregon

I’ve been chuckling my way through it ever since. The book consists anecdotes about golden oldies who take up using a computer in their senior years. As well as humor, she offers hope, advice, and encouragement for those who feel their offspring are tossing them into this sea of new technology without a life jacket.

Like the lady who took a Computers 101 evening course to learn the ropes. The first lesson was how to find info by using Google.com. When this patient young instructor told them to use their mouse to move the cursor to the google.com icon and click on that, the other students managed, while this particular senior sat in the back row totally puzzled.

The instructor came along to check how she was doing and she told him her cursor wasn’t moving anywhere. When he asked to have her show him exactly what she was doing, she picked up her wireless mouse, set it on the monitor screen and said, “See. Nothing happens.” Though the instructor quickly covered his mouth with his hand, his twinkling eyes gave him away.

Then there was the lady who set her mouse on the floor, thinking it should work like her sewing machine foot pedal. And the irate fellow who ordered tech support to come and figure out why his printer wasn’t working. The company rep dutifully showed up, checked things out, and asked how long the printer had been unplugged.

Which reminds me of my first attempt at using our computer. Bob had purchased one three weeks previously, so he and our daughter (who worked at a computer store) were messing with it and babbling this strange language. This made me all the more dubious and determined not to touch the thing. However, we’d been on a Family Reunion trip to Boston and I wanted to write up a long letter to his mother plus half a dozen penpals. Rather than hand-write all those pages, I typed it into the computer, thinking to do a long one for Mom and shorter versions for friends.

Starting with “Dear Mom, We had this great trip to Massachusetts…” I went on for eight pages giving her all the details. Then I hit PRINT. Nothing happened. I hit it again. Nothing happened. After the third try I called our daughter at work. She asked, “Are you sure it’s plugged in?”

I checked. It wasn’t. I plugged it in. Out came the eight pages. Then another eight. I couldn’t stop the thing! I unplugged it again, then plugged it back in. Out came another eight. I’m thankful my two penpals didn’t seem to mind an eight-page letter that started with “Dear Mom,” accompanied by a handwritten note of explanation on top. And when hubby got home, he showed me how to cancel a PRINT order. ☺

I took my book along yesterday for my second chemo treatment, which was to last only a couple of hours. However, after the first treatment Monday, in the evening when I got ready for bed I noticed a blotching on my torso and some on my upper legs and arms. No itch, thanks be.

Yesterday when I showed the nurse now now-quite-pink rash, she called the doctor to see what he thought. The result was, instead of giving me the chemo dose, they gave me a shot of Benadryl antihistamine and a few pills of the same to take later. This made me so dopey we came straight home after.

It’s kind of a disappointment because I’m sure I’ll have to make up that missed chemo, which means an extra trip to the city and one more IV insertion sometime. Maybe I’m a wimp, but I hate those IV needles going in! Thankfully Benadryl has helped the rash, plus I’m well rested and feel quite perky this morning.

Maybe since I’m feeling ambitious I should get out my new cell phone and figure out how to access my voice mail. I’ve had it for several months now and am finally getting a handle on how to turn the thing on and answer incoming calls. (I’m still mourning the obsolescence of my old cell phone. It worked so well; to answer a call, you just flipped open the lid. 😉 )


Impersonating A Seasoned Cook

Today’s prompt asks if we have always been confident, or if we’ve ever suffered from “Imposter syndrome” so I’ll share my experience at putting on a cook’s hat that didn’t at all fit.

Stepping in Clueless and Learning from Scratch

We moved to Alberta in June of 1975, and things just didn’t work out for us — and especially for Bob job-wise. So we came back to Sask, moving back in with Bob’s Mom & Dad, with whom we’d lived before we went west. By February Bob hadn’t found work and things were pretty tight, so I started looking for part-time employment.

One day I replied to an ad for the position of kitchen help at Capilano Court Retirement Home. I wasn’t sure what this would all involve, but I figured I could peel potatoes and toss salads as well as anyone.

When I got there and met the owner, James Watson, I soon learned that he was from the Herbert area, west of Moose Jaw. So I told him Bob’s Mom was originally from that area as well. When he realized that I was daughter-in-law to “one of those Letkemans” he was quite enthused. He was needing a weekend cook and convinced that if Agnes was my mother-in-law, I could easily do that job. (Plus he’d already hired someone as kitchen helper.)

I was hesitant, seeing as my cooking experience was next to nil before I got married, and not a lot better after that. From the time I was nine years old I was on my own — no more babysitters. Mom worked steadily at the hospital all those years, first as dietary aid at RUH in Saskatoon and then as nurse’s aid at the Gray Nuns Hospital in Regina. (We moved there when I was eleven and starting Grade 6.)

Mom would usually leave a quarter on the table so I could buy something to eat for dinner. For 25 cents I could get a can of some veggie, or a bowl of chicken noodle soup at the tiny Chinese restaurant near our house in Saskatoon. (Or if it was winter and Dad wasn’t working, he’d do the cooking for us.) Thus I grew up buying cans of peas and beans and corn from the corner store to heat up for my noon lunch, especially when we lived in Regina. Not your balanced diet, I guess, but I survived.

However, one day when I was twelve my dad came home after work grumbling that there was no supper. He was disgusted with me and announced that, “Your cousin Sylvia can make a whole meal for her family. What (words omitted) is wrong with you?”

Mom was home and standing nearby when he said this. Years later, looking back on this incident, I wonder if it wasn’t said as much for her benefit as for mine, but I was the one he got the brunt of his comment. And he was right; I was totally clueless.

His expectation came right out of the blue. It didn’t strike me as very logical or fair at the time, either. No one had ever even hinted that I should know anything about cooking except for heating up cans of veggies. I kept my mouth shut so as not to get a smack cross the head, but my attitude at the moment was resistance. Like, “hey, I’ve always had to shift for myself as far as food was concerned, and so could he.” Years went by before I could imagine what it was like for him to come home from building houses all day and have to make his own supper.

Mom didn’t say much but she took things in hand, sort of: she showed me how to make scalloped potatoes. I even made them once for Dad, but neglected to tell him they were in the oven. So there they sat while he made his own supper. Poor guy!

As you may have gathered, we were not a “doing things together” household, especially not at mealtimes. We mostly ate in front of the TV. After we lived in Regina I can’t remember sitting down at a table with my folks and eating an ordinary meal together, except for a few special holiday meals.

Once we were owners of Mom’s Place, I was shown how to fry burgers. Sandwiches weren’t a big problem, either. I learned when to take the french fries out of the deep fat fryer. That’s about it. Of course I did some after I was married, but Bob never was fond of meat, so I rarely ever cooked anything in that line except hot dogs and hamburger.

And now Mr. Watson was wondering if I’d slip into the role of cook. Talk about impostering!

But he was quite sure I’d manage — because he knew my mother-in-law could cook. He told me, “If you’re related to those Letkemans, you’ll do fine. (Except he pronounced the name with a P instead of a T.) Those Lep-kemans are all good cooks,” he assured me.

So I agreed to give it a try. Talk about learning as you go! I worked for several years there, cooking on weekends, doing laundry and other basic cleaning during the week. Mrs. Guillaume, a lively lady of seventy, was the full-time cook for the thirty or more residents.

By the time we moved away from Moose Jaw, I’d learned a lot about basic cooking — which is what the seniors there wanted anyway. (I find most seniors still do.)