Please know, my experimentation with joy during a deep valley experience is not restricted to these few sharings or physical, material items. Joy can just as easily come from standing out on my side porch in a snow storm, as I did last night, letting the windy snow drops lightly sting my face for 5 minutes and breathing in the sharp, fresh night air. It is then that I feel New Brunswick and my grandparents and uncle’s farm, Hill Hurst, over looking our Kennebecasis River. I can imagine walking home from the brook with my sisters just before the sunset, early, past the cow barn, down towards the horse barn where only a work horse, Sandy, remained, sloping towards our grandmother’s old house, past the apple orchards silvery topped with white frost, silently, as siblings can because there is nothing needed to be said then that they do not already know, to our home, to our supper. Or we could be dragging our sleds down from Ryders Hill, biting our snow encased mittens, trying to sound cool for the few boys, our cousins, our neighbours, more like brothers, on our fearless, careless, carefree, future-full life, with no thought of cold, in the biting snow now rising up in the air to greet us. That is joy, too.
On Christmas Day, my grandson Luke Jr., arrived a bit early with his girlfriend, Kristen, driving up from Antigonish, where they had spent a couple days with her family. Luke Jr. I noted a different look on his face, one of anticipation. Luke Jr., is in his second year of NSCC in the Welding and Sheet Metal Fabrication Program. Just reeling from an odd flu bug, feeling even weaker than “new norm”, with my current inability to enjoy a Christmas Dinner as once I could, and having pared down Christmas this year, I felt badly for any of my kids or grandkids who may have felt compelled to spend a portion of their Christmas Day with us. However, here was Luke Jr, happy and positive. He asked if I would like to open his gift to me. Again, I “felt” awkward because I do not expect ever, my grandchildren to get or buy me anything (smiling a grimace of annoyance towards myself here!). I took the gift and opened it. Inside the gift bag was a beautiful, personally, hand created long stem steel rose, welded, molded into it’s silver beauty. I surprised myself with the tears and “heavings” that followed. He and the rose targeted a place in my memory bank and my heart that was veiled for some time. His gift was similar to his grandfather’s gift of creating beautiful tin, copper or pewter things in his spare time in his last 10 yrs of life. Luke Jr never met his Grandfather Jefferies as he died when his dad, my son Luke, was ten yrs old, but here was a perfect sample of a gift passed down genetically or spirit to spirit decades later. Beyond all of that, was a young man taking a chance to create, on his own, to think of another and calmly using his talent, just to give to his grandmother. Tears, but “unexpected happiness”.
Lighthouses created by grandson William and grand daughter, Jewel. Neither grandchild knew what the other was doing- one in Ottawa and the other in Edmonton. One, Saxon’s son aged 4 then and the other, Grace’s daughter then aged 5. Along with those home loving treasures have come an amazing, Big Hug William card, and a painted bench, both offering much joy, the latter from Ava, Issy and Jewel. They all have created special art work, as have some of my kids when little through the years, to my little great grandson, Jalen and his Cow picture to me. I love cows. It is situated close to his mom, Kyla, grand daughter’s painting of a horse created a good 12 or 15 yrs prior. You will notice a picture or 2 of many of these as well. All happy distractions of Joy.
My grandson, Terrance’s faithful observation yard work or snow piling up or the need to shovel and clear walkways for me and grampy. he is a hard working and kind young man. This brings joy, gladness, and relief in the day to day.
The happy offer to trim our little Christmas Tree this year from grand daughters Alya and Ky. What a nice, simple evening. ALS has limited the use of my hands to work in unison with many fine motor skill actions, but in my presence, Kyla and Alya, with Christmas music gave a gift of joy and fun.
After Christmas, son Jesse returned to spend another week with his dad and me. During that time, a mini miracle occurred with Jesse’s little son, Landen, now living in Alberta, able to come home to NS, Eastern Passage, specifically for a 2 week visit ! This was lovingly arranged by his mom, Trina, for the benefit of both sets of grandparents, many extended relatives, for Landen himself who misses his fam here, and for Jesse, Landen’s dad. At first it looked as if Jesse had to return to Gagetown at the appointed time, due to a specific ,scheduled task for which he was slated, and therefore would only have a portion of a day with him. This was bleak, after a moment of Joy. He tried to get an extension with his superiors but to no avail. We got serious, fed up, and made it a matter of prayer as it had almost been a year, despite Facetime and phone calls , that they had been in each others’ company. It was an ache never leaving in Jesse’s heart, I know. Suffice to say, after a wait, Jes was granted three more days. It was joy unspeakable. ” It may not come when you want it but it will come right on time.” We had some special added times as grandparents alone later in the visit. There are a couple photos of both occasions.
Time this Holiday Season included more “unexpected happiness” with the arrival one day of two more grandchildren, Lorenzo and Lyrique. When we get together, we usually plan a movie at home, baking, a craft or an exploring walk by the water. This time, again, half of this I could not set up. Boring grand mother, again, I feared. Soon, I said to myself, my kids and grand kids will feel forced to spend an obligatory visit to a nanny, a shadow of her former, semi fun self. However, with their dad, they assisted in making a tasty meal that once blended, I could swallow. We quietly sat down and peacefully painted little House Banks together, and the accepted solitude with painting gave us smiles, nods and peaceful moments together. There are a few photos of those moments of simple joy.
This past week, my grand daughter, Isabella, visited with her mom, my daughter, Grace from afar! Much of joy could be written here, but to focus on grandchildren, Isabella brought paintings and cards from her sisters Ava and Jewel. Isabella ‘s first full day was full of special tasks and jobs she did that specifically accomplished to assist with grampy and my “situation”. Over the week, she created a binder of words and phrases that I can point to, as my speech limitations have increased. She compiled literally a thousand plus old photos into coordinated albums. She walked with me all the way around the boardwalk, a jaunt I no longer could fully manage since mid December, and constantly aided her mom, grampy and me. For our light entertainment, she happily watched some fun or silly shows that help with little needed distractions such as my Coronation St., The Real Housewives of Atlanta, certain portions, ( confession time – that one and RHW of New York are my ” favs ” now that I have had time to discover or do light, very light entertainment, every once in a blue moon), or The View.
Issy read more serious books to me of the Devotional nature, and showed her acceptance quietly to me, as I am. She researched Bulbar Onset ALS, as have most of my family now and purposefully comes from a level of awareness that creates some ease for me. A picture or two of these efforts, resulting in joy, will be posted.
Lastly, and with more difficulty, is the summary of an act of love, sacrifice and joy from my youngest brother, Mike. How to do this, is the question. Mike is far from a grand child and it is a slice of the grandkids that part I of this blog is centred but with Joy as the over riding theme, this lengthy Reflection is the appropriate place for this acknowledgement. Mike is the youngest of five children in my family of origin. When our mom died a month after her cancer diagnosis, both my younger brothers were in their 20’s. As the youngest of the three girls, I was situated to be quite close to Nealon and Michael, and spent large portions of my late elementary years up to high school taking care of the, babysitting, making up imaginative games and stories, forcing them into my projects about Glooscap, Lois Reil, or The Coureurs de Bois, or seeing if I dressed them up in my old fancy Sunday School dresses, crinolines and all and sent them out of the lawn to play, how long would they see the fun in that? Not very nice, I know. They gave me a run for my money too. We were stuck together a lot but that was the natural lay of the land.
Our father was a WWII Vet, as many fathers were in the 1950’s and ’60’s baby boom generation. After dad married our mom, who was only 17 yrs, a graduate from high school that year ( not uncommon for war brides back then), dad ended up overseas for literally four years. It was not until the war was over and dad returned home, did our parents start a family. Sharon Anne arrived first. Three years later came Jane Irene. Three years after that came a third girl, Susan Helen. An absence of eight years before another baby arrived, The Crown Prince, Nealon Conrad, ( just teasing but Neal was the first Wyman male in decades, and we all were happy.), and three years after that, when I as eleven years old, along came The Spare, second son, Michael Christian. He was a joy to behold. Mom, at 41, retired from the baby business.
Our father, Kenneth Conrad Wyman was striking to us. He held a place of respect, fear, at times, humour, discipline, determination, compunction, with compassion, with some inner angst, high, exceedingly high standards, joy of the beauty of the countryside, dedicated church worker, Deacon, Member of the School Board, Post Master, Post Office Superintendent, loving father, steadfast husband, Work Alcoholic, perhaps, but he never wanted to speak about his service during the War. As some of our uncles marched in Remembrance Day parades, or joined The Legion, dad would not. As a little girl, with my mom’s help I practiced a few songs to sing to him upon his return from work. My homage fell flat, despite the fact thy ended up being WWI songs my grandmother sang, and not WWII. My father firmly told me to stop and to never sing those songs again. Obviously, the memories held no cherished reminders.
We knew our father was shot during the war in the back, but it was by far not a debilitating wound. A skin graft was there that we could see when he was shaving. We learned later one day he was shaving outside his jeep or truck when he was shot at another time by German fire. He escaped without a hit but his buddy next to him within a few feet was shot dead. His brother in law, his sister, our Aunt Hattie’s husband, another young man in his 20’s was killed just a couple days after he and dad met up in France on a mini break. Dad let it slip how too often he would see the dead piled up like cord wood whenever something on the radio or TV came on to glorify war- or the American Movies gave a lop sided view of how the war was won and their heroism cult grew. He was attached to a medical unit on the front, doing reccee , scout work, to set up camp for the unit, to fight the enemy found. In his bottom drawer in his dresser was a German Revolver and on our fireplace, a hearth he made himself, was the German Officer, Fancy dressed dagger. Little was said on that, ever but we knew our father killed others in the war but it was best to say nothing. Dad took no joy in war. He did his best to banish the memories from his skull and not to welcome them. From my aging perspective of a mom with a son injured in war and two more serving in the Armed Forces, our father fought heavily with this significant part of his psyche and war time experience. The inner demons, so called, surfaced, but he fought hard against them in order to live the new chapter of Post War Canada and raise forward looking children, untroubled with that pain or impact of war.
I say all this, to simply say, I took a keen, intuitive and outward interest in my dad and this part of his young history. He knew it. In later years, as I suffered loss, he began to share bits and pieces with me, and some to others quietly, of those years. I kept them as treasures from him in my heart, knowing they did not come easy. During the last 10 years of dad’s life, he began to go to Remembrance Day Services in his church. Several times, I was honoured to attend with him. Tears were visible in his eyes, as they now are to me. At one time, dad gave me his medals. I took great care of them taking them to every Remembrance Day Ceremony.
One day, he asked for them back. I complied but felt stung and hurt. He did not handle that part as sensitively as perhaps he ” should”. I began to focus on old wounds between he and I, for a short bit, but I loved him too much to “go on and on” or damage the love and respect, ultimately I had for my dad. He was a good, albeit, sometimes a hard dad, yet have mercy and generosity aplenty. Besides, these were my father’s medals. Our relationship and his commitment towards me and my children did not suffer. We just kept growing closer through the good, bad or ugly of life. Happily, dad confided and shared with me a lot over the phone and in person. If advice was warranted, he’d give it.
In any case, for whatever reason, he was fully entitled to them. Something on his inner map of life, I now surely can see, made him ready to accept his 20 to 25 yr old Ken Wyman and join the few remaining WWII vets who were willing to sacrifice the ultimate sacrifice, and even with mixed feelings, honour his buddies, the unknown soldiers, the households who never had their brother, son or husband return home and to stand for that. maybe it is just one of the ways we come home to ourselves.
Dad would joke with us as kids and adults, that when he died to just roll him up in his old army blanket, dig a hole and put him in. He was always digging holes, landscaping, adding on, discarding the old, repairing the broken things or making something new and modern. We can remember that khaki army blanket dry cleaned, in it’s plastic wrap, in his closet, during the last few years of his life, after going with us to the beach, on camping trips, or covering us if we fell asleep in the back seat of the car. When he died, we did not dig a hole but we did bury him with his old army blanket folded up, and laid on his chest.
Prior to my son, Saxon being deployed to Afghanistan, my father died at age 87 years, in February. Knowing Saxon was enlisting about 18 months before dad died, gave him serious concern, as it did me. Parents are caught between supporting their young adults with such challenges, often counter-intuitive for a protecting parent. We try to communicate our concerns, without alienating them. or loading them down with our apprehensions and worries. It is both frightening intermingled with hope, against hope, with pride in their discipline and youthful courage. Dad shared his hesitancies with me, yet he wisely shared that there was nothing he or I could do to dissuade him, but to be supportive, realistic and to pray. Psalm 91, which my father had memorized for years, and one of my favourites, became our families’ anchor. It is commonly called The Soldier’s Psalm.
Now, all three of my sons are in the military and do face many challenges, and due to their areas of expertise, they face dangers unknown to most. My son in law serves so often alone daily as an RCMP Officer and my daughter within Civilian Management in DND. We never set out to be so, but something beyond me, flowed that way. Dad has given us a guidepost with the highlighting of Psalm 91 and daily prayer. He provided a realistic view of war without the bravado but with pain of combat, of uncertain emotions after, yet doing all you can at the time. He also, finally demonstrated the importance of accepting your service humbly, with honour after a, for others never able to live out their lives, as well as the importance of survival in or out of military duty.
This section started out to be about joy and my brother, Michael. Well, I said all this to say that. As our mom often said when I was nervous or faced something challenging or something I did not want to do, ” Be a brave little soldier, Susie”, for better or for worse, she said it. I accepted it. Today, I face a battlefield, a ” front” of a different kind unknown to me. I prefer not to go to this theatre of war. I prefer not to be taken prisoner by the enemy. I prefer peace- a peaceful homeland – without an enemy at the gate. Michael knows that.
A week before my birthday, Mike, my eldest sister, Sharon and Mike’s partner, Ann visited again. They had something special gently wrapped up, recently prepared, ready for a new battle, adorned with medals for me. It was our father’s Army Jacket from WWII, with each medal properly affixed, sparkling. He unveiled it and brought it to me with love and joy. I held it and cried and cried. It symbolized so much. It stood for strength, life, battle, perseverance, courage even with great uncertainty, all of which I need and must have now. More so, it brought my father’s words, his life, my strong memories back to me and my sense of missing him, particularly at this time in my life. Michael, and his family dug deep into their wealth of love, private moments of his own reflections on this matter and me. With lessons, and directions from the heart meeting with my tears and sadness, he brought joy. The note inside said this was for my comfort now and when I no longer needed that comfort, would take it back as then, he would need comfort.
Thus ends my very long blog post on the story of joy. Thank you for taking the time. Thank you for your patience. It will be a week or more before I lay more wordiness on you. That is a certainty, but I trust you’ll check Low Tide Reflections out again in the future.