Who is Belle?

The second presentation in this series.

“Chautauqua: an adult education movement, highly popular in late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It brought entertainment and culture for a whole community, and was especially popular in rural USA. It provided speakers, teachers, preachers, and specialists in many fields, to audiences who rarely had access to such.

Religious instruction was a strong part of the Chautauqua experience. It was given without a denominational approach. People involved in the Chautauqua movement believed that secular and spiritual knowledge both radiate from God, and are equally important.

By the early twentieth century this popular movement was declining. Times and living conditions were changing. Better roads and cars and radios made rural areas and small towns less isolated, and therefore less dependent on what the Chautauqua offered.”

1909 – Mid-Summer

Belle is now a young adult of nineteen. She had started teaching part-time while in high school. After finishing school, and with a minimum of formal training, she started teaching full time. Her occupation delights her, and she concentrates on kindergarten and grade one. This age group does best with a teacher who has humour and energy, enjoys children, and has organization skills. Belle has all these qualities, as the results show.

However, teaching does not pay well, so during the summer Belle finds additional jobs to increase her income. After scouring the town for options, she returns home and announces, “Got it – a great summer job. I’ll be running the kindergarten for a Circuit Chautauqua. They’re giving me a week’s instruction; that’s all the time we have before we leave. It’s a great chance to do something different, see a new world, and get paid as well!”

The questions are flying. “Daughter, I know the Chautauqua is a well-respected institution, but why a Circuit one? You’ll be living and working in tents, and travelling the whole summer.”

“Yes, Dad, that’s what makes it so exciting. Don’t worry. I can handle it.”

For Belle, the Chautauqua adds a valuable new experience out in the wide world. She is using her training and experience as a kindergarten teacher to teach young children, while their parents attend some other learning event.

But Belle is learning more than how to run a kindergarten in a tent and with a changing student body. One day she is helping out when a classical singer is giving a concert. The manager announces the event and leaves. The singer enters and sings the first song. Unknown to her, though, her long skirt catches on a rough board, tears, and reveals her backside and underwear. Belle knows the routine is for the singer to curtsy after the song, turn, and walk off, so she runs, catches the manager, explains, and they both run back. As the song ends he walks on and stands beside the singer, and says softly, “Don’t turn around.” He makes a complimentary remark to the audience, takes her arm and they back off the stage. Belle is waiting with thread and needle, hastily tacks up the skirt, checks that the performer will be decent if she turns around, and the show goes on. Such is life on the road.

This is one of the many Chautauqua stories Belle told us over the years. It was a great learning opportunity for her, and a maturing one as well. A capable youth was now a capable young woman.

Postscript – There is one more story I want to add to this early youth period. I have decided to leave it until the next session. She made a decision that would forever change her life. It was a difficult one, but one she never regretted.

To be continued . . .


Filed under This & That

Who is Belle?

1890 – Early Fall

A heavily laden wagon filled with a family of five and all their worldly goods heads south, pulled by a team of four horses.

The air is cool, and coloured leaves are dropping. Fall is definitely here. John Bamford eyes the sky and the failing light. He is anxious to reach the next town. Everyone is tired and hungry, including his pregnant wife, Ella Belle. After working their homestead in the northwest corner of Nebraska for four years they are giving up, and going back home to Iowa.    Continue reading


Filed under This & That

Eggs and Grease

May 1942: It’s spring, and my university year is over. I’m heading for my Calgary home. From there it’s out to the farm, where I was born and raised. I love that place, the land, the life, the beauty of the prairies.

I feel very adult. Dad’s having trouble getting help this year, so I volunteered. My help can’t be described as skilled, either in housekeeping or as a tractor driver, but it’s better than no help. This year he needs someone to drive the tractor, while he sits on the machinery being pulled, and operates it.

This is a wonderful summer job and I’ll remember it forever. Things are different now. Both Mom and Dad are treating me more like a grown-up.   Continue reading


Filed under Prairie Childhood

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

At our residence dinner table, the conversation ranged far and wide. Trying to make her point one of the ladies exclaimed, “Well, you know, a picture is worth a thousand words.”

Our conversation dissolved into laughter. The attention switched immediately from the subject under discussion, to the saying used.   Continue reading


Filed under This & That

Change: The Only Constant

A year after my husband, Sheldon, died in 2010, I moved to Vancouver and am now happily ensconced in this beautiful city. Warm and loving family members live nearby, helping me adapt to this new stage of life. I live in a pleasant, comfortable seniors’ residence that is more than a place to live. It is home. Surrounded by friendly people, fed excellent food, entertained by more events than I am able to handle, I am content.

The summer of 2015 was beautiful in many ways. Warm weather, only scattered showers, wonderful weather for walking along a beach eating an ice cream cone. I had my share of enjoying these days with friends and family. My idle summer days were special treats, squeezed in as they were between visits to one doctor after another.

My memories of the past summer cover both the joy of perfect days, and learning that I have cancer and a heart which beats with an unusual rhythm, so that treatment of the cancer by surgical methods is unattractive.

Despite the cold reality of my diagnosis, I feel great. My life remains full, busy, and enjoyable. The medical specialists are treating the cancer, which is a slow-growing type, with a non-surgical method. Re-assessment will be done as needed.

So where does this leave me? After all these years, I understand my temperament. I operate best when I understand what I am facing, and what must be done. My life can be adjusted to meet the changing needs, and once done I am content. So it will be this time too.

Will you see a difference in me? Probably – but not in my day-by-day life. My writing may take the brunt of my adjustment to the new reality. Be prepared to be bombarded with my musings about approaching the end of my current stage of life, and my curiosity about what follows.

Don Blanding wrote a poem called “The Rest of the Road.” It has been a favourite of mine for years. Viewing life from where I stand now, the words of the last verse describe my feelings exactly.

How long? How far? How hard? How fine?
How heavy or light the load?
If it’s half as good as the half I’ve known,
Here’s Hail! to the rest of the road.


Filed under This & That

Listen, Understand, Act

In a church service recently, we were given a challenge. Each person was instructed to write down a short, individual, life motto on the spur of the moment. The task was simple, but overwhelming. Without warning we were asked to put into words an important guide to living our lives. Our speaker went on to say that the motto should be one that makes each of us a better person, who will be of more use in our own small corner of the world!

There was a simultaneous gasp from the congregation. Someone called out, “I can’t do that. I have no paper or pen.”

“Look around,” came the answer. “See the tables scattered at the front and sides? Go there and you will find all you need.”   Continue reading


Filed under This & That

Happy — Content

The same, different, or similar?

A family group is touring our seniors’ residence: a middle-aged couple, and an elderly lady, the mother of one of them. Escorting our visitors is a staff member, the Community Relations Manager. She is leading them around, pointing out the many lovely areas we enjoy. The middle-aged couple is delighted with what they see. Their older relative looks troubled.

As I pass them, I nod and say, “Good morning.” To my surprise, the old woman turns and says, “Do you live here?”

“Yes, I’m a resident.”

“How long have you lived here?”

“Almost four years.”

“Do you like it?”

“Certainly, I’m very content.”

“But are you happy?” she says urgently.

Seeing that we are at cross-purposes, I use her terminology and reply, “Yes, I’m very happy here. It’s my home.” and walk on.    Continue reading


Filed under This & That

Life Is A Noun: Living Is A Verb!

From the earliest known ancestors, mankind has wondered why they were on Earth, and if there was a purpose for life. My sympathy goes to these forebears. I, too, have tried to understand how best to manage my life: It seemed always to be changing course. Was I missing cues? Despite a full and satisfactory life the thought would sometimes arise, “Is there a purpose I have not yet understood or satisfied?”

I have lived a long life, and one of the lessons learned, one of the insights gained over that life may be of use to others: I don’t ask questions about the purpose of life, or why I’m here, anymore. I think I know.

One of my metaphors for life is that of a pot boiling on the stove. Occasionally I stir the contents. It’s my life, I’m responsible for what is simmering there. Sometimes I add to the contents, sometimes I pick out and discard items, as life and my needs alter.

As the end approaches, I make fewer and fewer changes. The broth is clear, I can see right to the bottom. The simmering of the pot of life has boiled away all but a small amount of what once was there. What remains are little nuggets of clarity—little gems, if you will, that life has saved for my comfort and support in my latter years. Coming vignettes will present more of the gems I treasure; this offers the first one.

“Listen – Understand – Act”

It sounds simple, but is easier said than done. Yet when I do manage to implement this motto, I am more use to those around me, and closer to fulfilling my life purpose.

Especially at my age, often the only actions required of me are to listen and to understand! Sometimes, though, I can do more. Life is good, and my purpose includes appreciating it, savouring it, and giving something to every day that is waiting for me, in the pile of days at the end of my road.


Filed under This & That

A Sketch of the Lives of Parents

Parents –
Mother, Daddy –
my world –
the centre of my life.
Comforting, supporting,
leading me
from child to adult.

They are windows to the past
connecting me
with ancestors, long dead,
who live again in stories.

The future looms, unknown to all.
Fearful, I falter. My loving guides lead on,
stop, step aside, and point the way.
Tears flow.
I say goodbye and leave, their words ringing in my ears.

“The future now is yours.
Enjoy life. Hold your head high.
Lead an honourable life.
Keep us in your heart, as we hold you.
As long as we live
the doors of home are open.
Return often
and tell of your adventures.
We will laugh, sing, and celebrate
before you leave again.
Travel far
on the journey only you can make.
May life
be full and challenging
and all go well with you.”

Memories flood over me.
The years
have flown away.
The loving guidance of my parents
has travelled with me all the way.


Filed under Poetry

Number Form: A Neurological Phenomenon

Monday, July 20, 2015

I am ninety three. It is almost unbelievable that this has happened. Today is a red-letter day, one to be remembered! I learned something about myself that for long I’ve been aware of, but never understood. My unorthodox relationship with numbers has always puzzled me.

Today I gathered two completely new pieces of knowledge. The first came from reading an article in the Facts and Arguments section of the Globe and Mail. The second was in an article forwarded to me by my daughter, Mary. She, like the rest of my brood, is well aware of the peculiar way I regard numbers.   Continue reading


Filed under This & That