Saturday, February 28, 2015

That Damned R.I.D.E. Programme!

William "Slim" Davis    1926-2015

“You say you're not special because the world doesn't know about you, but that's an insult to me. I know about you.”
― John GreenThe Fault in Our Stars


     William "Slim" Davis was my wife's Grandfather.  He passed away on February 12, 2015, at 89 years of age.   He didn't die of anything in particular; not cancer, heart attack or stroke. He simply died from having old parts that were worn out from a life time of hard use.  In many respects, it is the way to go.  Imagine, not dying of anything but, instead, simply drifting away.  That's what Slim did.        
     Surrounded by those closest to his heart, Slim relaxed his will to live, gave one last silent breath and his life ended.  It was all so sudden and peaceful that, at first, his family didn't even realize he had ceased to breathe. But, he had and was gone. Just like that.

     Most folks who knew him called him, "Slim".  My daughters called him, "Grandpa Slim,” even though, technically, he was their Great-Grandfather.  Slim Davis stood over six feet tall but never cast more than a wisp of a shadow in his life, owing to a build that could best be described as willowy.  He was a soldier for Canada in World War II and, upon its' conclusion, settled in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada. He married his sweetheart, Mary, and fathered four children; two of whom survive today; a daughter named Carolyn (who my girls call Aunt Sis) and a son, Bruce (who is my Father-in-Law and who my girls call, Poppa).  Bruce, in turn, fathered two girls; the eldest named Keri (who is my wife) and the youngest named Stacy (Aunt Stacy, we call her).

     I met Keri slightly over fifteen years ago. Although I was 36 years old at the time, it felt as though my life was just truly beginning.  Unbeknownst to me, at almost the same time as I was falling in love with Keri, Slim was losing the love of his life, Mary. She passed away a few months before Keri and I began dating. Her passing set off a series of ever-diminishing concentric circles of loss for Slim; circles around which Slim wandered for the entire fifteen years of our relationship. 
     Loss of Love (his Mary, passing), loss of purpose (he had retired from a lifetime worked at a furniture store as a mover), loss of independence (he lost his driver's license after an accident which, in turn, caused him to have to leave his home and move into a retirement residence), loss of health (he couldn't drive so, he walked everywhere. Then, he found walking hard and was forced to sit much of the time. In the end, he lay in a hospital bed almost every hour of every day, sitting up, beyond his capability.)   But, the measure of a man is not in what he loses along the way; it is definitely about what he imparts to those lucky enough to know him. I consider myself to be one of those lucky ones.

     But, before our relationship ended, it had its' beginning.   It was our first meeting that paints the memory of the man that I carry with me in my heart as I stop to mourn his passing. It is this first meeting that I will describe to you now.

     As my relationship with Keri first blossomed in Love, the time soon came to meet her family.  As it turned out, the first member of her family that I ended up being introduced to, was Slim.
     Keri warned me that Slim could be a bit prickly at times. She told me not to be thrown by the tattoo of a naked lady that adorned his fore arm nor, by the state of the vinyl flooring in his kitchen, which had torn and been patched back together with a staple gun. She said that I would be able to judge the success of the visit by whether or not Slim invited me downstairs to his basement bar which was adorned with a variety of girlie posters, mugs in the shape of a breasts, where the liquid within came out of ceramic nipples and a table lamp that had naked females stencilled into the lampshade which would, when turned out, rotate and cast shadows on the wall of the lovely ladies.

     We arrived at Slim's bungalow-styled home early in the afternoon.  He was in his living room with his dog, Pepper, watching Wheel of Fortune on the TV, as we let ourselves in the side door.  When Keri introduced us, Slim shrugged his shoulders and tilted his head in an "aw shucks" manner and shook my hand.  He immediately invited me to sit down and offered me a beer.  As he did, he called me, "Partner".  We made small talk about the weather and about the half-hour drive down to his house. As the Wheel of Fortune wheel clicked away,  Slim leaned forward in his chair and lobbed the hand grenade of a question that was really burning in his mind. He asked me for my opinion of "that damned R.I.D.E. Programme".   *(The R.I.D.E. Programme stands for Reduce Impaired Driving Everywhere and involves local police manning a series of roadside check points. They, then, check the drivers of all cars who pass by for signs that they had been drinking.  It is a very successful and important safety programme; one that has won many awards and saved countless lives.)
     This question was the real litmus test, as it turned out.  Since Mary had passed away, the widowed Slim had taken to waking up each night in the wee hours of the morning. He would dress, climb into his car and drive around the streets of Cobourg to, in his words, "see if anything was going on".  There rarely was anything "going on" except for those R.I.D.E. Programme check points which were interfering with Slim's late-night sojourns. He couldn't understand why he kept getting pulled over ("It doesn't make sense,” he would say)  That a single man, driving slowly up and down the streets of town in the middle of the night (prowling, in the minds of some), attracted the attention of the authorities, seemed lost on him. I smiled at Slim and simply said that I was glad the police were keeping dangerous drivers off of the road. But, I agreed with him that it must be a pain to get pulled over when you were simply trying to get on your way.  Slim replied, "Damn straight, Partner!"  He relaxed his body and sat back down in his chair. A few moments later, he invited Keri to show me the basement bar. :)

     Slim and I got along very well the entire time we knew each other.  He was always very respectful towards me.  Part of that was because I was a man and he was definitely a man's man. But part it was, also, that I was good to his grand daughter, a good father to my own children and that I had a respectable job that I appeared to be good at (school teacher).  As a man, I measured up.  That counted for a lot with Slim.

     As it became evident that Slim's final days were upon him, my father-in-law asked Keri and I if there was anything that we wanted of Slim's as a memento.  At first, I could think of nothing.  Slim was not a materialistic man so there were no possessions of monetary value that needed to be salvaged. But then, after some thought, there became a growing need within me to have something that could be just for me, not to be shared with Keri.  So, I asked Bruce to go through Slim's collection of flip-it girlie calendars and select the prettiest girl who happened to represent any of the pages dated May 16th, the day Slim was born.  Bruce granted my request.   The young lady in question now graces a place of honour in the room where I keep my tools, some of which I got from Slim when he left his house and moved into the retirement home.   

Slim, on the occasion of his 80th birthday.
    As a man, Slim measured up. That counts for a lot with me.
    Rest in peace, my friend.  You were unforgettable.  Thanks for everything you ever did for me and my family.  I am better for having shared our time together.  God Bless.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

These Are The Faces

Data.   The numbers.    The bottom line.

So many people have opinions about so many things in life based on data, numbers and the bottom line.

Although I teach my students about numbers, I certainly don't consider them to be numbers.  They may produce data but, they certainly are not data in my eyes.  My bottom line rests squarely on the notion that the relationship I share with my students is based on the fact that they are people....young people, yes but, people just the same.   They are never mere data to me.  Their hearts beat and their minds dream.  They are real and, that alone makes them so very special and their stories so worthy of being told.

So, when I decided to write a series of posts about my former students, I did so primarily to add a dose of humanity to the educational conversation that is so skewered toward data.  These children are the faces of education and these are their stories:    the Wedding Edition!!!!!

                Imagine that impish grin on an adorable seven-year-old face and you'll have some idea of what my every day was like the year Andrew S. was my student in Grade 2.  Here he is on his wedding day and I couldn't be happier for him.   When I think of what it means to be successful in Life, Andrew qualifies on all of the most important counts:      
               1- He is a very good worker and believes in the dignity of hard work.  Andrew has worked in many dirty, back-breaking labours over the course of his adult life but, he always sees each task through to its conclusion.  Just as he always did with whatever classroom task I managed to put in front of him.
               2- A tour through his Facebook photo albums shows a Love of family that has been consistent throughout this life.  I, also, taught his sister, Shanna, when she was in Grade 2.  She has grown into a beautiful young woman who boasts proudly that her best friend is her brother.  When my year with Shana was ending, I spoke with her mother who warned me to "get ready for the next one", meaning Andrew.  Truth be told, I couldn't have enjoyed teaching him more.  He was always that kid who would lose his pencil or report a broken lead, just as work was to commence. He'd always say it with that impish grin on his face. If he only knew how much I enjoyed his antics then, perhaps, he may have become a "handful" but, as it was, he readily accepted my direction and always got his work done in the end.
                                                                         A couple of years ago, just as supper was stewing on my stove, the telephone rang. The voice on the other end of the line said, "Hi, Mr. MacInnes. It's me, Andrew S. Do you remember me? I just wanted to call and see how you were doing."    Did I remember him?!  How could I ever forget that face and that mind!   Thanks for the phone call, Andrew.  I appreciated it a lot.   Congratulations on your wedding, as well.   You deserve all of the happiness Life has to offer.

Christine! Christine!
                  The Poetry Queen.

     Christine will always be remembered for three things that don't necessarily show up in the bottom line of anyone's educational ledger:
     1- She had one of the best laughs of any student I've ever had.....all soft and full of teehees, with the occasional snort thrown in for good measure.  I think I deliberately read more stories with funny jokes and incidents in them, just so I could hear Christine laugh.  Her laughter was like church bells to a choir.
     2- Christine was, also, one of the sweetest students I have ever had the pleasure to teach.  Sometimes, as a teacher, you have to teach formal lessons about how to be a good friend, how to display empathy and honesty, how to be a responsible citizen and so on but, with Christine, it all just came naturally.  She was that good friend to others. She was that kind-hearted soul who shared her snack with someone who had none.  If anything, the times when I had any dealings with Christine were when someone had done something to her and her little heart would break and her innocence would need sheltering from her personal storm.  It is often unreported, when discussions regarding "teacher effectiveness" are given but, there were days when the most important role I played in an entire school day was to hold Christine's hand when she was sad during recess (while I was out, on duty).  Eventually, I would tell enough jokes or make enough silly comments that she would smile....and then, snort a little. :)
     3- Finally, I taught Christine in Grade 2 and then, again, in Grade 3. Both years, Christine wrote poems that I submitted, on her behalf, to our School Board for inclusion in a poetry anthology that they put together.  Both years, she saw her work become published.  She, instantly, became the "Poetry Queen" and has been called that by me ever since.
     Christine now lives in one of the most beautiful places on the planet:  Whistler, British Columbia! Not surprisingly, on her wedding day, she and her husband, Tim, were married outdoors, with the Rocky Mountains as their backdrop.  She was as beautiful as her scenery.
     I am very lucky to have, as my Life's work, a profession that brings me into contact with hearts such as Christine's. I am the better for having made her acquaintance and I congratulate her on becoming Mrs. Poetry Queen.  :)

     This lovely young lady is named Kelci.  On her wedding day, she married a teacher!!!!!!   I would love to think that her experience with me was so enjoyable and life-altering that it played a part in her being drawn to a man who, also, strives to make a positive difference in the lives of others. But, truth being told, he is model-handsome and I am sure that this was a bit of a factor in the attraction, too.
     When I first started re-connecting with former students via Facebook a number of years ago, Kelci was one of the first that I sent a "friend" request to.  She, and her sister Madison, along with her Mom and Dad, were a presence in my life over the course of a good, four or five consecutive years of teaching.  What a wonderful family they all were and my introduction to them was through Kelci.  I remember even spending part of my summer holidays reading with Kelci in exchange for homemade chocolate chip cookies (which were delicious, I must say!)
          But, what really sets Kelci apart (and her family, too) is her incredible sense of loyalty to her friends.  Since meeting her again on Facebook, I have watched her grow up, from a child to a young woman, in a circle of true and trusted companionship with several of the girls she met in school.  Being able to provide a level of friendship to others and have it returned in kind, isn't something that just anyone can claim in their lives.  It takes a special person to love and be loved, in equal measure.  It takes someone like Kelci.
          Kelci may be model-pretty but, that isn't what truly makes her beautiful.  She possesses a beautiful soul and a loving heart which, if I had to quantify it and turn it into data, might prove a little daunting but, just the same, it proves the success of her Life beyond any measure. To find Love is to succeed in Life. To give Love, is to forever be remembered and cherished and held dear to the heart that beats along side yours.
          I wish Kelci and Darren all the best in their lives together.  I am grateful for having been able to watch her life unfold as beautifully as it has.  How lucky and rich am I!!!

          Somewhere on-line or on Talk Radio or some such venue, there is a discussion going on about the state of our schools.  Regardless of what anyone's numbers say, I say that any school system that produces the types of beautiful people I have talked about in this post, is on the right track and should be applaud, not nitpicked.  To see the smiles on the faces of these "kids" as their life stories take them into adulthood, is all that I need to know to be able to say that my time has been well-spent in the classrooms of my province.
         It is back-to-school time for me. Who knows, maybe one of my new little Grade 1 students will end up being featured, twenty or so years from now, in another "Wedding Edition" of Cobbie's World!  It wouldn't surprise me in the least!  

        As for my own wedding..........I want you to think about that moment, when the Bride and the Groom have their first dance.  The reception hall becomes hushed.  All eyes turn towards the happy couple; their bodies pressed together, two hearts beating as one.  I want you to remember the song that was played during that dance; something sweet and romantic, no doubt.   Well, at my wedding, my wife and I decided that we couldn't bear the thought of all eyes in the room watching us turn in circles for five minutes. It felt like torture to us.  So, for our song, we didn't choose something sweet and romantic. We chose, "Home For A Rest" by Canadian group, Spirit of the West.  We thought that this song choice was the perfect commentary on a wedding that had seen us married on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean in Cape Breton, with a reception to follow, one thousand kilometres away in Ontario, a few weeks later.  Much travelling, drinking and planning took place. "Home For  Rest" seemed to sum up our feelings.  So, please picture the romance of it all as you listen to my wedding song.  Enjoy!!!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Stars That Twinkle

Every day, everywhere we look, we are bombarded with the images of faces.  Faces of the famous.  Faces of the rich and powerful.  Faces of the downtrodden.  Faces.    
After awhile, it becomes easy to not pay these faces any more attention than we do to the stars that twinkle over our heads at night.

Well, I don't know about you but, I love looking up at the stars that twinkle so.   As I gaze up at the Heavens,  there are always certain stars that seem to shine brighter, that sparkle in a more dazzling array of colours and that capture my attention and hold it firmer than the others.

The same is true of faces.  There are certain faces that I love to look at; faces that tell me the story of my own life and showcase the purpose I have endeavoured to attach to it.   These are the faces of my students.   I have written extensively on my blog about the joy I derive from teaching and from the beauty of the children that I have taught over the years.   But, out of respect for their privacy, I have never publicly named a single student of mine, except for one.   Those familiar with my blog should, I hope, be familiar with my story of the little girl who wanted me to read a book called, "Hana's Suitcase" with her and how that experience turned out to be one of my favourite teaching moments in my whole career.  That little girl was named Kaicey and you can read about our adventure here.  Kaicey was a little cutie-pie when we shared "Hana's Suitcase" together.  She is still a cutie-pie but, no longer a little girl.  This is Kaicey!    Her face makes me smile every time I see it.  She has become a championship hockey player since her time in my classroom and has spoken of possibly pursuing a career in education.  She always remembers my birthday and calls me "Mr. M." these days.  I call her one of the stars that twinkle so, in my sky that is my Life.  :)

This is Courtney and her beautiful and, aptly named daughter, Sunny.    What a sweetie! (And, the baby is nice, too!)   In a career that spans 26 years, I have met a lot of students who have taken up a very special spot in my heart. Someone had to be first  and Courtney is that person.  Courtney and I met during my 2nd year of teaching which means that I have known Courtney for 25 years!  Wow!   Happy Anniversary, Nips!     One of the measures I have of how great a particular class has been is by the number of nicknames I have for the kids.  In Courtney's case, we were talking one day about vegetables and, I guess, parsnips came up.  Parsnips morphed into Courtnips and then, into the name I have called her for a quarter century, Nips!
Courtney may not realize this but, at Christmas time, during our year together, her father wrote me a note inside of a Christmas card.  The note said, "...always know that you are much more than just a teacher to Courtney."   It was the first, really, really nice note that I had ever gotten from a parent.  It meant a lot then and it still does now.    Courtney and I share the sad fate of having our fathers pass away while we were still too young to be without them.  We grew up; me as a teacher, and her as a young woman, having to rely on ourselves for our success and survival more than we ever would have thought when we first shared a classroom in Courtice, Ontario. Our common situation has caused us to recognize and appreciate the security and peace of mind that has come from being able to be in contact over the years with someone else who understands the ebb and flo of life.  Courtney has long been a booster of me as a writer, long before I ever had a blog or surrounded myself with the "writer buddies" that I have now.   She remains a cheerful presence in my Life.  As for me, I take an enormous amount of satisfaction from being able to see her find happiness with her husband, Wes, and growing so beautifully into the role of mother, to Sunny.  Nips, you were the first star I ever had that twinkled so, in the sky I call my Life.  Thanks for being there, then.  Thanks for being there, now.  :)

This handsome young man is Matt.  He has done well in university and has travelled around the world, as you can see in this photo.  Not bad for someone in his early 20s.  Can't say as though I am surprised at his success.  Sometimes, as a teacher, you can just tell when someone has what it takes to be a winner.  Matt, or Super Spina, as I call him, has always had that magic.  I have two stories that help to illustrate this.  First of all, good kids often come from good families. Matt is blessed to have super parents.  They were excellent to deal with when I had Matt is Grade 2 but, they really made their mark the following year.  The year I had Matt, I was teaching a straight Grade 2 class. The following year, I was assigned to move to a portable classroom and teach a Grade 2/3 split class.  There was not enough room on my class list to have all of the previous year's Grade 2, as my Grade 3s the following year so, the Principal asked me to pick which 12 out of 20 kids would come with me into the split class.  That is a tough position to be put in because I liked all twenty kids but, at the same time, I knew that not every parent would want their child in a split class (there was going to be a straight Grade 3 class, btw).  I didn't want to hurt anyone's feelings, either, by leaving them out but, I didn't want to arbitrarily choose someone who would be unhappy being in the split.  Being on the horns of a dilemma, as it were, I decided to simply poll my families and put it to them:  come with me and I would guarantee a great Grade 3 year, with different activities than had been experienced in Grade 2 or else, let me know that preferred the straight Grade 3 class and there would be no hard feelings.  I had thirteen parents agree to come with me (for the twelve available slots).  Matt's parents were one of the thirteen who gave me the vote of confidence and trust.  I appreciated it then and I do so still, now.  Good people, those Spinas.

Now, as for Matt himself.    He and another boy named Brock, were the best of friends. They were the sort of kids who could work together in ways that drove the other to improve and produce even better results that anyone thought possible.  Well, long story short, the boys discovered Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" speech one day and asked if they could say it in class. I told them that if they could say the speech all the way through on their own then, I would let them recite it, not in class but, in front of the whole school.  These guys were just eight years old so, needless to say, a speech of that magnitude is difficult but, as I said, these guys worked so well together that, it was not surprising at all, actually, that they managed to not only get the words down pat but, also, to get the rhythm and cadence down, too.  At our next school assembly, with parents watching, both boys absolutely nailed the speech.  There were many tears flowing from the adults, staff and parents, in the auditorium that day.  It was a magical moment of great accomplishment under pressure and is symbolic of Matt and how he carried himself through our entire relationship as teacher and student.  He is a winner and comes from a family of winners. He is making his mark in the world and I couldn't be happier for him nor, prouder of him.   The Spinas are, definitely, stars that twinkle so, in the sky I call my Life.


At one time, these three young people were just children and were merely names on my class list.  But now, the names have faces and the faces, well, they are etched with stories of accomplishment and importance.   They have all turned out so well and all continue to make my life better by allowing me to remain part of theirs.  Being a teacher is a privilege; these beautiful faces are the proof of why.

There are many other wonderful young men and women deserving of their moment in the spotlight and, rest assured, that moment will come (with their permission, of course).  I already have a second post prepared in my mind. It will be my "Wedding Issue" and should be available in the next few days.  In the meantime, enjoy the faces and the names of these three wonderful human beings and the stories they have to tell.  These are faces worth knowing.  They have stories that resonate more than any test score could possibly.  They are my stars that twinkle so.

Until next time, adieu.  :)

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Nine Weeks Lost: Part-III Coming To Terms With Me

Loss of my childhood home. Loss of school.  A loss is a loss is a loss.

With any loss, there are stages of emotions that one goes through.  For me, with the loss of my childhood home and the loss of my professional work place coming hot on the heels of each other, there was little time to dwell on the ramifications or to see rationalizations of these events; it all happened too quickly.  I was still living the losses, without having time to fully understand them.

But, a funny thing happened the very day after my school closed......summer vacation began.

In a previous post, I have written that, even under "normal" circumstances, there is a transitionary period for teachers that follows the last day of school; a time of emotional and psychological decompression that has to happen before we are can truly unwind and appreciate the beauty of the sand and surf and sunshine that awaits.  

But, this time, this particular year, the first day of summer vacation presented me, not with blue skies and soft breezes but, instead, with a sudden loss of structure to my days when I needed the crutch of routine more than ever.  Vacation time plunged me into isolation from the very people I had so deeply shared the previous two losses; my mother, my students and my colleagues at school.   Suddenly, I was faced with something that I was not mentally or emotionally prepared to deal with and that own life.

As if some cosmic entity had snapped it's fingers, my Life's purpose of service to others dissolved and into the vacuum of its' absence flooded the people, places and activities that often fail to get the attention they merit when I am busy being the "public me".   My family rushed to the forefront of my days and soon I found myself watching parades and fireworks, attending barbecues, gardening, cycling and doing odd jobs around the house.  My days filled up with obligations and invitations and I went to bed each night fatigued from the social onslaught of it all.   It seems difficult to complain about a life filled with action and frivolity. But, as anyone familiar with loss and grief will understand, until you go through the stages of loss and get to a place in your life where you can, at long last, give yourself permission to smile and feel happiness again then, it is hard to feel the joy that family and freedom should bring.

After a week or so of mindless idleness on my own time, my wife asked me what I was doing with my iPad for hours each night after the kids went to bed.  Was I reading a book?  Was I writing?   Actually, I wasn't doing much of anything.  I mainly read my Twitter feed and my Facebook newsfeed and watched from afar, the ups and downs of your lives.  But, I had no real interest in those lives.  I did not read any writing challenge entries or offer an encouraging comment.  I did not write even a single haiku.  I played no logic puzzles nor did I learn any new skills or crafts.  I simply, mindlessly, numbingly, flicked my fingers on my iPad screen and watched your world passing me by.

But, it is funny how the unexpected can change your life.  I mentioned this in Part-I when I told how the severe Ice Storms of last winter were what caused my mother to realize she could not longer realistically stay alone in her own home.  For me, in my world, in the depths of my doldrums, came an email from someone I have never met but, according to her, someone whose life I have touched with my words.

A year or so ago, I was a participant in a writing challenge. One of the other participants was a young lady who wrote a heartbreakingly angst-filled poem about the difficulty she and her husband were having trying to have a baby.  She posed the question as to whether or not she and her husband should give up trying.    After reading this, I did what any semi-compassionate, kind-hearted human being would do, I wrote her back and told her that the miracle of childbirth was worth waiting for and to keep believing that magic is possible for good people like her and to not give up because it was going to be ok.  I knew this because it was what my wife and I went through before our first daughter was conceived.  It was an anxiety-laded, tear-filled experience that wasn't very pleasant at times but, we managed to conceive in the end and having our daughter completely changed our lives for the better.

So, as I powered up my computer and saw a message from this lovely soul, I smiled my first real smile in almost nine weeks.  Following her link to my blog and subsequently discovering the nine weeks of inactivity, served as the jolt I needed.  Her email, so optimistic and hopeful and rooted in my words, has caused me to examine my angst and forced me to acknowledge that my grief was real and needed to be dealt with rather than allowed to fester as it had.  If my words could cause happiness and hopefulness in my readers then, perhaps, they could help heal me, too, in the words of singer Joe Jackson, "because my hearts' seen too much action."

I am still coming to terms with the new reality of my life in Nova Scotia and my life next Fall at my new school.  I will try my best to make the best of both situations. I will try to embrace change as being the positive and necessary force that it tends to be in all of our lives. I can't guarantee that I will be successful but, I am determined to try.  Part of my therapy is writing to all of you. You, my friends with the souls of poets, who know the power of words to heal and renew.

Thanks for reading my words. They are the first steps in the journey forward.  I know, my friends, that you "get it".  I appreciate your beautiful hearts and souls.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Nine Weeks Lost: Part -II Safe Harbour, No More.

Grant Sine Public School in Cobourg, Ontario has been my professional home for the past eight years.   It has served the community located in the north end corner of Cobourg since it opened in 1965.   At the time, Grant Sine P.S. was a school that accepted students from Kindergarten (aged 4), all the way to Grade 8 (aged 13-14).  It was named in honour of Mr. Grant Sine who was a teacher, principal and later, a superintendent of schools for our area.  It's enrollment on opening day of school in 1965 was 268 students.
Grant Sine P.S. officially closed its' doors this past June.  Pictured to the left is our entire student body (49 students) and all teaching and support staff (13 adults).  *I am on the far left, in shorts, because it was hot and because I forgot about this photo being scheduled. This photo was taken in the midst of my preparations for going back to Nova Scotia to help my mother move out of her home of 60+ years and into a retirement home.  I wrote about that experience here.
If you were sitting beside me now, I would tell you the names of every single student in this photo and a dozen different things that made them unique and special.  I could tell you about each staff member and give endless examples that would demonstrate the enormity of their hearts and minds.   Being here for the past eight years, with these kids, their families and my colleagues, has changed who I am and how I view my job.  I would not have traded my experience here for anything.  I am saddened to have seen it all end.

This is how it all ended.

School years tend to be cyclical or rhythmic in nature.   Summers end, building toward the excitement of opening day.  The Autumn harvest marks the first great period of prolonged student work, culminating in the first report cards being issued.  The excitement of Christmas in December leads into the long, cold Canadian winter, lots of substantial indoor student work and a second report card.  In late winter, Principals begin the process of staffing their schools for the following year.  Teachers indicate their desired job placement for the upcoming year. Spring arrives and school activities tend to gravitate outdoors. Final tests, exams and report cards are written. End of the year school trips are taken.  Students are divided into new classes for the Fall. Everyone looks forward to summer vacation again.  The entire process that unfolds throughout a school year is fuelled by a sense of optimism or a sense of building toward something bigger and better than what was just left behind.  It is growth; achieved in the knowledge that continuity can be expected and will be safely delivered.

This year, our school year at Grant Sine P.S. was not like that.  It was slow death, right from the opening day of the school year.  The children arrived, not full of nervous excitement for what the year and their teacher might bring but, instead, with questions about what was going to happen to them when the school closed.

As I have written in previous posts, here, here and, again, here.....Grant Sine P.S. was not what one would consider to be a "typical" school.  Our student body, coming almost entirely from a social assistance housing development, experience a distorted form of childhood, surrounded by mental illness, addiction, violence, malnutrition and neglect.  Having a sense of control over their lives was never something that any of our students took for granted.  On many days, it fell to them to get themselves dressed, fed and to school on time due to the adult in their house being unwilling or unable to provide even a modicum of reasonable parental care to start off their day.   The steady rate of attendance by our students was a minor miracle and spoke to the value they placed on coming to school each day; not just to learn but, to be cared for and accepted for who they were and treated with kindness and positive attention.  The school was their harbour in the tempest that was their lives.

And now, it was being taken away from them.  None of them seemed surprised that they were never asked if it was ok.

I arrived back, from Nova Scotia, for the final three weeks of the year.  Needless to say, the closer we came to the end, the more emotional the students became; especially, the older students in the school. They had a better appreciation for what they were losing and had a better idea of the obstacles they would face at their new, much larger school in the Fall.  There were many outbursts of tears and of anger.  Their willingness to buy into the importance of trying their best with regard to their school work, deteriorated. The noise level of the school increased.   Behavioural issues mushroomed.

The hardest pill to swallow during this final month was the "School Celebration" that was mandated by the School Board for schools that are closing their doors.  There are by-laws that state that school communities are to hold a special day to honour the achievements and history of their school before the end of the final year of a school's operation.  However, the feeling in our community was best expressed by one of my parents early in the school year.  She said, "This is not a celebration. It is a loss.  Don't they realize what a loss this is to our community.  I am sad about this".  That Mom broke down in tears and sobbed uncontrollably.    The mood was one of grief but, there we all were, putting on a happy face for members of the Sine Family, all of the Principals of the school who were still alive, Board Office officials, including our Director of Education, and so on.

We managed to get the kids to perform one song for the crowd of on-lookers who had gathered.  Among those who had come was my father-in-law, who was a member of the very first graduating class at Grant Sine P.S. in 1965.  As much as the event was a success in terms of the number of alumni and other interested parties who turned out to pay their respects, it remained a bittersweet exercise for the rest of us.

At our school, we always made a great effort to reinforce the idea with the kids that they were important and that they had worth, just because they were themselves.  We celebrated them, as fellow human beings, in many ways but, one of the most symbolic was by displaying photos of them all throughout the year.  In this photo, taken ironically enough, on School Celebration Day by my Father-in-Law, I am standing in front of a giant bulletin board that stretched from floor to ceiling and spanned four meters, easily.  It was festooned with pictures of the kids and staff, doing what ever it was that we did that made us smile and feel good about ourselves.  When my In-laws asked me where I wanted to be photographed, I chose that bulletin board because it best represented what our school was about and what had the highest value in our hearts and minds:  the people who came together here every day.  Us. Me. The kids. Everyone.

I look at this picture and am filled with an ache in my heart because, as much as I remember the moment this photo was taken, I, also, remember the second-last day of the school year when we took all of the photos down and the whole hallway emptied of our spirit and became a mere building again.

On the final day of school, we gave each student the chance to select a school sports jersey to keep.  Normally, the cycle of a school year being what it is, teachers are scrambling around to ensure that all of the jerseys are accounted for in preparation for the upcoming school year and all of the sports teams that will require those shirts.  But, no one required a team shirt for this upcoming year at Grant Sine. So, everyone got to keep one.  On that final day, the whole of the student body were clad in green and white, with the crest of the Grant Sine Gryphon, on the front.   Then we gathered up everyone's backpacks, books, indoor shoes and other personal possessions and, as a school, walked outside together into the warm summer sunshine.

That was how it ended.

Quietly.  Orderly.  Resigned to their circumstances.

Slowly, the kids and their parents drifted across the school yard and back to their homes. We turned and ordered Chinese food and shared one last meal together as a staff.  Then we completely cleaned out our classrooms and left the school, too.

Quietly.  Orderly. Resigned to our circumstances, as well.

But, when I reflect back upon how it all ended, there is one moment that I remember best.  I took my class on a trip downtown.

We had breakfast together at a local restaurant.
We walked to the library to get the kids their own library cards and to enrol them in the summer reading programme being offered.

We walked down to the beach and skipped stones for awhile.

Then, we stopped for a picnic lunch. We ended our day by having ice cream together at an ice cream shop on the way back to school, savouring every moment of togetherness as keenly as we savoured the ice cream dripping down our chins.  For on that day, we were a family. A Grant Sine family.   And for me, that was what Grant Sine P.S. was really most about:  Family.

Hard to put a price tag on that.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Nine Weeks Lost

I received an email today from a good friend. That email contained a link to her latest blog post. On her blog post was a link to my website.  Being the ever-curious chap that I am, I clicked on my own link and was whisked away to my own blog site. The first thing that caught my eye was the date at the top of the screen.  The date read, May 12, 2014.

May 12, 2014!

It is July 23, 2014 today.

Nine weeks of my life have elapsed since my last post.  Nine weeks!   63 days without creating anything that required the pushing of a "publish" button to complete it. Nine weeks away from all of you.   I haven't read much of anyone's work, proffered up many comments nor have I entered any challenges on anyone's pet projects or recommended sites.   I have been least where The Writer's Life is concerned.

But, I have been, anything but, idle when it comes to my real life.  My real life has been intensely busy and filled with dramatic moments by the score.  Emotional ends and anxiety-filled new beginnings characterize much of my past 63 days.  The demands of the human heart have consumed my waking hours and have trumped my creative desires.

The tipping point for it all came on May day after my final published post.  It came in the form of a phone call from my mother in Nova Scotia; a phone call whose impact I am only just emerging from, lo, these nine weeks later.

My mother was born in 1931 in Sydney, Nova Scotia.  She was the second-youngest of thirteen children.  Growing up in such a large family during the heart of the Great Depression and the Second World War, my mother knew plenty about hard times and going without the kinds of things that today's teenagers would take for granted.  Imagine being happy to receive an orange for Christmas!   She was.

Like many people of her era, my mother developed a hardy work-ethic and it came as no surprise to anyone that she completed her high school education and enrolled in courses that enabled her to become a registered nurse.  During her nurse's training, she met my father and, shortly thereafter, they got married and moved a short distance down the highway to Glace Bay, Nova Scotia.    My mother became a resident of Glace Bay in 1952 and remained so, until the phone rang in my house that May 13th afternoon.

Like many elderly citizens, my mother had seen a decline in the physical state of her health after she turned 80 years of age.  She had suffered three slips and falls within an 18 month time span and, along with the physical set-backs that such incidents cause, she began to lose her sense of confidence in her ability to live independently in her own home.  Being someone who had spent her entire career working in the Health industry, my mother knew, full well, that the journey from one's own home to a nursing home or retirement residence is, almost always, a one-way journey, ending in death.  So, she was in no hurry to move.

However, sometimes, unforeseen events play a role in refocussing contentious issues.  In this case, Mother Nature dealt my mother a cruel blow in the form of the great Ice Storm of 2013.  As many of you may know, from firsthand experience or from news reports, much of the eastern seaboard of North America, along with many parts of central Canada and the U.S. suffered through a series of devastating ice and snow storms last winter.  The damage to property and to roads and telephone lines was extensive.  Nova Scotia was not spared the wrath of these storms and, as a result, my mother found it increasingly difficult to safely leave her home; sometimes, for weeks on end.

Therefore, without too much pressure from my sister or from me, my mother came to her own conclusion that it was not realistic to try to cope with another winter like the one we had. So, during my Christmas visit, we discussed the various options she had with regard to assisted living retirement homes. To my great relief, she applied to a reputable retirement home, in her birth town of Sydney.  We arranged for a visit and saw that the Home was modern and well run.  The director of the Home said that my mother would be put on a waiting list and would be notified whenever an apartment became available for her.

When the phone rang on that May 13th afternoon, it was my mother.  She said that she had gotten the call from the Home and that she needed to be ready to move in two weeks!!!!

Being a teacher, I always have my summers off (unless I am taking an upgrading course).  So, when my mother had applied to move to this Home, my ideal scenario was that it would happen during the summer months so that I could go down and help her pack up her possessions in a leisurely fashion.
But, as a nasty winter of storms spurred my mother into a life-changing decision, her phone call changed all of my plans, too.  Suddenly, there was 60 years of life to sort through, pack up, discard, sell and almost no time to do it.  Luckily, my sister was able to go down the very next week.  She helped my mother clean out her closets, cupboards and attic spaces.  That was a huge help.

While she was doing that, I was working feverishly to get as much of my final report cards completed as possible before I left. Then, I booked a week off of school, just as we were preparing to start our final month of the school year (which is always the busiest month of the school year).  To get ready to be away, I had to prepare a full week's worth of work, with detailed plans for the substitute teacher to follow.   All the while, I was talking to my mother and sister almost every day to prepare for the move.

I flew down to Glace Bay on the 28th of May and stayed there until the 3rd of June.

There was still much to do to help pack whatever my sister had been unable to pack. It was depressing to see my mother's good china dishes gone and the majority of her vast china doll collection, too.  Sometimes, things are just things but, at other times, they help define a person and become synonymous with their identity.  In Glace Bay, my mother was known by many people as "The Doll Lady".  She was always willing to take her doll collection into retirement homes and allow those with Alzheimer's disease to have the tactile sensation of holding their babies again.  But now, these dolls were gone.  Sold to a scavenging collector for pennies.  Her good dishes, too.  How many meals were served on those Blossom Time dishes over the years at family gatherings?  Now, her china cabinet stood empty.

Although the house was still jammed with boxes and bags and bins, the decay was evident everywhere I looked.   My mother was still sitting there but, this wasn't her life anymore.  Events beyond her control were dictating the terms of her existence now.  It was her house but, it wasn't home anymore.

From a logistical point of view, the move went flawlessly and by the afternoon of June 1st, my
mother was securely established in her new apartment in the senior's assisted living residence in Sydney.   She has a small kitchen of her own plus, a living room, bedroom and full bathroom, too.  The window in her living room overlooks Sydney harbour which, from a real estate point of view, is a million dollar view.  However, the view she is most pleased about is how much clearer the television reception seems to be in Sydney, as compared to what it was in Glace Bay, a lifetime ago.

When I said good bye to my mother that June 1st evening, I had no home to go to for the first time in my life.  The house my mother had lived in and made so warm by her presence, was now empty.  We had turned in the keys so I couldn't have even slept on the floor in a sleeping bag. So, I rented a hotel room and looked out of my window which had a million dollar view of Sydney harbour as well.

I was born and raised by my mother in Glace Bay.  My view out of the window of her house was always the Atlantic Ocean.  I was married in Glace Bay, as well.   When I tell people where I am from, I always say that I am from the Bay!  Up until this past May, "going home" always meant a certain thing  and now, it means something completely different. I am not sure what it means, really.

After all, what does "home" mean?  Is it where your family is?  Is it where your memories are?  Is it your physical house and yard and street?   Is home where my mother is?  Is she "my home"?  Or, is Glace Bay my home, even though she is no longer there?   *(Glace Bay harbour to the left. Sydney harbour, above).

In a few weeks, my wife and two daughters are coming with me to see Nanna's new "home".  We are staying in a hotel for five days.  There is a pool with a water slide.  My girls are excited about that. Will they be as excited to visit my mother as they used to be when they could play on her back deck and run around her big yard?  Will they bore quickly and not want to see their Nanna for very long?  It is all possible.  I am hopeful that being with my mother/their Nanna will still feel like being home again.  I guess that only time will tell.   I will keep you informed.

PS:   As the drama involved in this life change played itself out, I was not out from under the heavy hand of stress just yet.  For as I returned back to my family in Cobourg, I did so with the knowledge that my school was closing its' doors for the final time and that we only had the month of June left.  I will tell you all how that turned out in a follow-up post.

       Thank you for your patience and for your continued support during my absence.  You are all wonderful people.   In fact, if it were not for the lovely e-mail (about her blog post) that I received from Laura this morning, I may not have found the impetus to screw up my courage and force myself to share my tale, as I have begun to do.  I have been away but, slowly and surely, I am coming home.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Peace At Last

Here is my first Gargleblaster post.  Enjoy.  :)

Peace At Last

Cap-sized in a tempest!
I cling to an air pocket;
chin high.

Waves crash!
The Ship groans!
Water rises,
sloshing across my face!

Soon, only lips above water.

I reach for the sword's tip
with both hands.

My lungs fill.