Celebrating Three Special People

Cue the herald trumpets! Those of you who have been reading my blog for some time will know that October 1 is a special day of celebration for me. It is the birthday of three people whom I admire, who have directly or indirectly provided guidance, example, wisdom, and strength. As is my custom when October 1 falls on or near a blogging day, today I want to celebrate those three very special people. (Parts of this tribute were originally posted on October 1, 2012, but the post has been revised and expanded for today’s tribute.) This delightful little girl reading a story to her doll has grown up to be a delightful woman who still has that lovely smile, and who now not only reads books but also writes them (she’s also an oral storyteller, poet, all-round wordsmith). It is as a writer that most of you know her. Her name is Beverley Brenna, and I’m privileged to know her as a dearly loved cousin as well as one of my favorite authors. I’ve blogged about her writing often, and will include a few links at the end of this post. Today, though, I want to focus on another aspect of her life — her love of nature. In fact, it is that aspect that I will focus on as I reflect on each of the three people I’m honoring today. Bev’s parents, who also had a great influence on my life, loved to go out and ramble in the countryside, searching for wildflowers (including rare wild orchids in Waskesiu — it is one of Uncle Arthur’s wonderful wild orchid photographs that adorns the cover of Wild Orchid); canoeing across Waskesiu Lake to Grey Owl’s Cabin; and through their own enthusiasm and example, teaching their three children (and their nieces) to share their love of the natural world. This love of nature shines through in all Bev’s writing, since there is always an undercurrent of taking joy in nature and of environmental concern in her writings. Just one example from many I could have chosen is taken from the short story Finding Your Voice from Bev’s anthology of varied stories, Something to Hang On To. “Janine remembers how it felt to shout across the water and listen to her voice as it swept all the way to the sunrise and back.” Mmmmmm… that is so evocative and real. *    *    * October 1st is also the birth date of Julie Andrews, a woman whom I have long admired for her innate optimism, her resilience, her work ethic, her love of family, her imagination, as well as for her writing and her dramatic and musical talents. When she was growing up, her dad, Ted Wells, imparted to her his deep love for nature, and for noticing the amazing detail in the natural world around us. From her autobiography, Home: A Memoir of My Early Years, “Throughout our childhood, he exposed us to the wonders of nature. One of my earliest memories was his taking me outside to view a large ants’ nest, which he had discovered under a stone while gardening. … we pored over this nest for a good hour or more.” The book in which this early influence is most evident is The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles, in which the children are urged to look closely, to notice every detail of what is around them, to really see beyond a surface glance. I have celebrated that way of seeing in my blog post about this book, which you may find here. Ted Wells’ nurturing led to a lifelong love of, and delight in, the natural world for Julie Andrews. In one of the introductory passages in Julie Andrews’ Collection of Poems, Songs, and Lullabies, she mentions a game she played with her own children. It sounds much like the Look and Listen Walks I often exhort people to do, and would be a great way to get children to really notice and celebrate our world. She says, “When I became a parent, I would take my children into the garden and we would play games of ‘discovery’ — what colors, even in the winter, could we spot? What sounds? What smells?” What might you discover if you went into your back garden today? *    *    * The third person in this triumvirate of October 1 birthdays is former US President Jimmy Carter, who is 94 today. I first became aware of Mr. Carter when he was running for President back in the mid 1970s. (In a happy coincidence, I learned years later that he had announced his candidacy on my birthday in 1974!) I admired him from the get-go, but came to understand and admire him much more deeply when I began reading his books in the 1990s. Most of his books, of course, are focused on politics or diplomacy, or on the Christian faith, but he has also written about his love of, and experiences in, the natural world. Many people know of his diplomatic efforts, his election monitoring around the globe, and his hands-on work with Habitat for Humanity. Fewer are likely aware that he has climbed mountains such as Kilimanjaro in Africa; as a former farmer, he is still keenly interested in agriculture; and he and his wife Rosalynn are avid birders, often building in time in their international travels to go out with an experienced local birder to search for birds to add to their life lists. Reading his book Sharing Good Times opens one’s eyes to the many facets of this vibrantly active man’s life. It is from a poem in his poetry collection Always A Reckoning that I wish to quote, however. From his poem Light Comes in Turkey Country: I know the forest on my farm best at breaking day when birdcalls seem to draw the darkness back that cages me. Can’t you just feel that cage of darkness and the joy of being released from it by …

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With gratitude to a teacher and mentor

“Bonjour, mes amis!” Those were the words that greeted our Grade Seven classroom that early September day in 1968 when Monsieur Pugh strode into our first French class. Little did I know, the first time I encountered the sandy-haired recent arrival from England that he would have an impact on my life that continues to this day. I quickly discovered that I loved learning French. When I think about it now, I probably would have enjoyed anything this man taught. (Well, he would have had to work hard to get me to enjoy math…) I don’t quite know why I felt the connection with him that I did. Perhaps it was because I felt he truly valued my abilities and my contribution. That was so important for a kid who usually felt as though she was on the outside looking in. I didn’t really fit in with most of the others in my class, but I knew somehow that Monsieur Pugh accepted me for who I was, and encouraged me to be the best “who I was” that I could be.

D is for … Dorothy Lawson — Wednesday Worthy

You’ve likely never heard of Dorothy Lawson — unless you’ve been part of the Manitoba classical music/voice world. Dorothy was a voice teacher par excellence, as well as an accomplished pianist, organist … the list goes on. A cello and a violin “lived” beneath the grand piano in her living room — she and her sister played duets in their youth. She taught out of her home in Winnipeg, and for years also traveled to Brandon University (which has a top-notch music program) to teach there. Many Manitoba singers who have gone on to great things list Dorothy Lawson as one of their teachers. She was from my mother’s hometown. She taught my mother (who had a beautiful warm, rich mezzo-soprano voice) and my uncle (who had one of the purest tenor voices I’ve heard) … and years later, she taught me. And I will be forever grateful that she did.

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