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Monday, July 27, 2009

burning the chaff

she was 8 years old. in grade 3. not the most popular kid in a small school that considered 'religion' of more importance than the 3 r's. kind of skinny, and sometimes a bit of a smarty pants, but she had a lot of friends.

till the fire.

there weren't many kids, or teachers in the building that early in the morning, but her mum had to be @ school herself, on the other side of town, so she was always early. the fire was in the girls' washroom. she'd just come out of the girls' washroom a few minutes before anyone noticed smoke. it was a major incident, of course, because, on closer inspection, after the fire dept left, and the screaming and wailing died down, it was abundantly clear that this was arson.

there weren't a lot of suspects. the teachers weren't even considered. aside from them, just a handful of kids were there at the time, so it couldn't be too hard to nab the culprit. no one who didn't belong there had been noticed entering or leaving the building.

she mentioned there had been a fire at school, over the evening meal. "nobody hurt, i hope." was all mum said. the school hadn't sent anyone home early, or missed much in the line of classes, and they both had homework to do, so, after they ate, they just got busy doing it. till the police officer showed up at the door. he needed to talk to them. it seems there was no question in the minds of the Powers That Be who the little firebug was. Not that the nice young cop seemed convinced. he was just following up on info from teachers and parents and the principal. he wasn't making accusations. he spoke kindly. he listened carefully. he took notes in a little pocket sized notepad.

after official interrogation, mum sat on a chair, took the hands of her frightened girl child, looked her calmly in the eye, and said, "you need to be straight with me. if you did this, then we'll have to deal with the consequenses, together. if you didn't do it, i will do everything in my power to prove your innocence. but if you tell me you didn't, and it turns out that you did, we're both going to look really stupid, so be straight with me. did you do it?"

"no, mum. i didn't."

"ok then. we need to get to work."

the next week or so was a special kind of hell for both of them. the child learned her real friends were extrememely few. two, to be precise. those two, both girls, and very small for their age, who steadfastly stood by her, came close to being beaten up by a gang of righteous vigilantes during recess one day. 2 sisters, we'll call them Willy and Nilly, members of the 'in crowd,' who the child had thought were her friends, claimed to have seen very incriminating things. they basked for a brief moment in the glory light. the pricipal called this frightened little 8 year old woman into his office and told her she might as well confess; everyone knew she was guilty. ostracised and shamed, but not quite alone, she firmly maintained that she had not set a fire in the garbage can of the second floor girls' washroom. she had not run into her classroom and hidden a cigarette lighter in her desk just before the fire was discovered. and she was, most adamantly NOT lying about it.

mum spent hours cornering teachers and students, cross examining those who were there on 'the morning in question'. she felt like a low caste Agatha Christie. teachers didn't actually refuse to speak to her, but answers were terse and often sarcastic. during her conversation with the principal, he straightened his tie and, looking uncomfortably away when she met his eye, said, in a quiet voice like the edge of a knife, "one can have no respect for someone who refuses to admit their child can do wrong. Parents have a certain responsibility to their communities, to the laws of the land, and to their faith."

that comment didn't score the points he'd hoped it would. having begun the school year, due to being a single parent, at just about zero, she knew all about not being respected by parents of 'proper' families. and she knew, without his advice, that she was now working with a deficit, with regards to respect, from any of them. after two weeks, things had settled to a semblance of normalcy, with no resolution. if you can call being an 8 year old pariah normal.

in time, there was another of those conversations, hand to hand, eye-to-eye. "i believe you sweetie, but hardly anyone else seems to, and we can't seem to prove that they're wrong. it's not right, and it's not fair, and i wish i could change it, but i can't. life isn't always fair. i want you to know how much i admire you for how you've behaved through this. you've been more grownup than most of the grownups, and i'm very proud of you."

"it's alright, mum."

it wasn't alright. it was heartbreaking, and unjust, and cruel, and she was ashamed and angry that she had no power to change that. when the nice young police officer appeared at their door once more, she nearly didn't let him in.

he came to tell them that the case was closed. they both stared at him stupidly. well, he said, with a somewhat puzzled look on his face, they'd caught the culprit.

"who is it?"

another quizzical, awkward glance. seems the school administrators and educators had known this for some time. no one had thought it important to tell the students, or the parent of the wrongly accused child. or least of all the injured party. there would be no repercussions, as the perpetrator was the foster child of a ministerial family with prominent positions on the school board. she was a troubled child, who needed everyone's compassion. no 'official' statement was ever made by the school, clearing the name of the innocent. the purjors were never reprimanded, or even corrected. it was, after all, a small thing. not important.

but these things have a long life in impressionable minds.

"do Willy and Nilly play with you now?"


"i'm sorry to hear that"

"it's ok mum. i don't want to play with them. they're not nice people. now i know who the nice people are."

Sunday, July 26, 2009

work continues

..... on the ReStore.  i'm now filling the 12th rollaway bin with stuff that litters the yard and buildings, that's so useless or damaged or out of date that no one will buy it.  

this photo is of a group of volunteers dismantling a shelf that was too heavy to move.... without a forklift.   the thing must have weighed 300 lb!!  two of the volunteers are high school boys whose parents want them to keep busy over the summer. they get credit toward ReStore purchases for volunteer time worked.  so far they've each taken home a cool chair for their bedrooms.  3 more (not all in pic) are summer students hired by a business that supports Habitat.  they didn't have a job for the students for 2 days, so 'volunteered' them over to me.  not what the kids had signed on for, exactly, as the firm that hired them does accounting.... but they were pretty good natured about it all.  

this building currently has a greasy dirt floor and a very old wood burning stove in the corner for heat.  i'm beating the bushes for a furnace and donations of building materials to put in a sturdy (and clean!!!!) wood floor.  then it'll house the ReStore's appliance and furniture sales.  

volunteers have been stupendous, and i have a summer student on staff now.... till fall.... then?   ....sufficient unto the day are the troubles thein.   i'll worry about that when it comes.   

just had a fellow bring in two beautiful old pump organs yesterday.... will post a picture when i have one....  

had my first kayaking lesson a while ago... am now the proud owner of my very own wetsuit (no pictures forthcoming... it's not a pretty sight)  and am going for a second run this evening.   

Monday, July 13, 2009

Summertime, and the livin' is..... complicated

'twas the most gorgeous day here yesterday. we've had a long, cold spring, and cold windy summer so far. just in the last week we finally started to get the rain local grain farmers have, for many weeks, prayed would come. and it's warmed up to weather that feels like it's really summer. i hope it hasn't come too late for the grain crops and the hay fields.

so last evening, after a lovely, lazy day off, reading a trashy book while the laundry washed and dried, sipping a glass wine as i took my turn cooking the evening meal (butter chicken, with naan bread and salad - ta die fer, if i do say so myself) i took my poor neglected bicycle out for a spin on the walking trails in the city's green space. along the creek valley that bisects the city. initially, it was a business trip. i wanted to know how long it would take me to ride my bike to work. my ReStore is right on the banks of the creek, and my daughter's home, where i'm staying, is also near the creek. fifteen minutes, exactly.

but business very soon melted into pure pleasure. the air was thick with heat and humidity following an early afternoon thunderstorm. sweet and rich with the nectar of rose scent. thousands of wild roses in full bloom, everywhere i went. they're Alberta's provincial flower. they grow everywhere here. many think of them as weeds. gentle honeyed sunlight slanted through the incredibly lush green of overhanging trees... like warm water pouring on my skin. Every person i met, pedestrian or fellow cyclist, smiled a greeting. many commented on what a beautiful evening it was. i think my own smile, as Rudyard Kipling said of the Parsi Man who helped the rhino get his wrinkled skin, wrapped around [my] face. Twice."

so i continued on past my destination, grinning from front to back. i'd begun at the northernmost extremity of the trail, and sailed throught the heart of the city on a warm thermal that stroked its underbelly... to the southernmost extremity. it wasn't enough. i was intoxicated, and wanting more. so, as i turned round to head back, i determined to take the long way home.

which took me through the park @ the city's centre. there's a kind of natural ampitheatre there, where concerts are held. they've built a stage @ the bottom of it. i could hear music from far up the trail. and i thought, "that voice. i know that voice." a dark truffle of a voice, rich and strong and true. i was a moth drawn to the light. and sure enough, there she was, on the stage, belting it out as she strummed her guitar. bongos in the background, a bass guitar and a keyboard weaving soundwaves around her. a highschool girlfriend, moved away years ago, back in town for the reunion her church was holding that weekend. and there were others too! many others! in particular, a very gifted pianist i used to do a lot of gigs with back then, and for years afterward. she now has MS and is in a wheelchair. hasn't been able to play her piano for nearly a decade. as i approached this second friend's wheelchair, pushing my bicycle through the throngs of people dancing, singing, swaying, milling in front of the stage, calling greetings to each other and to me, i felt somehow ashamed that i could ride that bike, and walk alongside it, and push it. my healthy body was an embarassment.

there was a man standing beside my friend's wheelchair.

my hearing, after a lifetime of being in the middle of loud music, is not good. especially with a lot of background sounds, no matter how gorgeous they are. it wasn't till i was right beside them that i could hear what he was waxing so passionately on about, to my friend. it was the same old stuff. she's been hearing it for nearly 30 years now, since she was first diagnosed with MS. the same old fundamentalist Bible-thumper insolence and cruelty.... how she's in charge of her body, and how sickness is only a state of mind, or of spirit, and if she can just get it right, she can be healed. she's a gentle woman, a staunch Christian who rarely says a cross word, but i could see the strain on her face as he poured his poison over her. she was a captive audience. couldn't even walk away. couldn't so much as get a word in edgewise to tell him that she's already heard all that stuff. And poured her heart into believing it, and trying it. to no avail. many times. and beat herself up over it every time, till she was bleeding internally.

i wanted to hit him. if good health was really all about faith, there'd be hardly a healthy person on the planet.

instead, i kissed her cheek and asked her if she'd like to go for a walk. so i pushed her wheelchair off to the edge of the noise, where i could hear her, and we had a long visit. she's still waiting for some understanding of what god's plan in her illness is. still trying to believe in a miracle. and it still breaks my heart to hear, because i stopped beleiving that a long time ago.

some things are beyond our control. and life isn't fair. maybe i'm just old and cynical.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Canada Day parade

Canadian, Eh?
a gaggle of cute little girls with hardhats, paintbrushes and hammers charmed the crowds. (and there WERE crowds) the sweetie here is my grand daughter

our ReStore float in the Canada Day parade. Shoestring budget. The lady on the left is chair of the board of directors.