Saturday, November 27, 2010

The colour red

This Christmas, Santa is giving me the colour red.

Ever since childhood I've enjoyed wearing this bright colour, but recently I've become aware of its connotations. Of course, red always had connotations. When I was a young child, words and phrases like "Red menace" and "Red China", and "Reds under the beds", were commonly used, but I was oblivious to what was meant, and certainly wasn't making a political statement when I wore my red T-shirt.

Currently, red is associated with the political right in the United States. I believe this association began during election coverage some years ago, when a TV network assigned the colour red to designate the states where the Republicans won, and blue for states where the Democrats won.

This assignment of colours was jarring to me at first, because here in Canada, blue has been the Conservative Party's colour for many years, and red, the colour of the Liberal. I realized that this association has become deeply ingrained one Friday night when my husband and I were invited by some senior friends to have dinner with them at their retirement residence. On entering the main door, I was startled to see that most of the older adults in the main foyer were wearing red. What was the occasion? A Liberal Party fundraiser? Somehow I doubted it, since the M.P. and M.P.P. who serve that part of the city are both Conservatives.

It wasn't Valentine's Day or Canada Day either. Nor had Christmas taken me by surprise. The seniors in the residence made it a practice to wear red on Fridays to "support our troops." And there I was in my frequently-worn black T-shirt and black slacks. I murmured to my husband that I looked out of place in my Johnny Cash outfit.

Later, thinking about the evening, I recalled some of the words to Johnny Cash's song "The Man in Black". One line is, "I wear the black in mourning for the lives that could have been," and although I wore black just by chance that evening, I fit right in, for, like all Canadians, I support our troops and grieve for those who have died or have been injured, and hope that the time will come when our costly mission in Afghanistan will end.

The festive season brings with it much symbolism. Santa Claus, for instance, comes from the story of St. Nicholas, who is legendary for his generosity to the poor, and who is usually depicted in the robes of a bishop - red. So during this season I can feel good about wearing red - in honour of Santa.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Remembering Friends

Like many Canadians, what I know about World War II is from history books,film, and first hand information from those older than myself. Today I wear a poppy in honour of my uncles, George and Joe, who served in the Canadian army in World War II. Both went overseas. Joe was a prisoner of war. Both survived the war,came home to their wives and raised families.

More recently, in teaching writing courses, I've met many people who have shared their memories of World War II with me. Today I think of the women who contributed memoir excerpts to my 1992 book, The Memory of All That: Canadian Women Remember World War II (Renfew, General Store Publishing House) Some of these women were in the armed forces; others were civilians; all of them were profoundly affected by the Second World War.

Among my writer friends were Lorne, who served as a mechanic in the R.C.A.F. and wrote of test-flying large aircraft on airfields in England, Glenn, a navigator in the R.C.A.F, and Ray, who was in the wartime Canadian Navy. They have passed on now.

Still alive and currently revising his memoirs, is Ernest, who was in the Canadian army in Europe.

Valerie, who was with the British Women's Auxiliary Air Force and served in the Middle East, has written of her wartime experiences for the Memory Project, and today is reading "For the Fallen" as part of the Remembrance Day observances at the retirement residence where she lives.

I have learned so much from all of them!

To quote John Lennon's In my Life: "Some are dead and some are living. In my life, I've loved them all,"

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Excerpt from "Keeping Faith."

My new book, Winter Moon, (Ottawa, Baico, 2010, $18.95 ISBN 1-926596-92-1), a collection of my short stories, has just been published.

Some ideas are big enough for novels. Others can be developed in 2,000 to 3500 words. I take time out from working on a novel to write a short story when I get a suitable idea.

I'm always pleased when a story gets published, or wins a prize, but the thrill is temporary, as all too soon the magazine publishes the next issue, or the organization invites submissions to the next year's contest. Stories and poems are like autumn leaves, noticed in all their glory for a moment, but quickly turning into compost. Collecting the best into book form is one way of making them available to prospective readers for as long as the book is kept in the National Library.

Here is the first paragraph of one of the stories: "Keeping Faith."

"He kept a picture of his first wife, Faith, in a silver frame on a chest of drawers. For a long time I refused to admit even to myself that it bothered me. After all, Faith was dead. She wasn't an ex, always on the telephone nagging about child support payments and repairs to the house. As Wife Number Two, I should have considered myself lucky, judging from my colleagues' stories at work. Faith was out of the picture - at least, in one sense."