Lest We Forget

Once a month I meet my friend Bob Parkins at the Naked Café for an elder’s chat about the local news and views. Our last meeting was a melding of minds over the results of the last municipal election, the joys of backyard hens, and our upcoming Remembrance Day.

Bob began to reminisce about growing up in England during the bombings of the Second World War, about raising chickens and growing their own food for basic rations. Besides food shortages, rural Wirral Cheshire, where he lived, was also not immune from the bombs that plagued London during the blitz, as the bombers would drop their loads anywhere to save fuel for the trip back to Germany.

I told him the story of my Dad, an RCAF Hurricane fighter pilot who got shot down over France in 1941 and spent the next three and a half years in prison camps. The first night of captivity, however was spent in a Chateau in Lilliers, France being honoured in the company of young Luftwaffe pilots who wanted to know all about Canada, and hockey, and canoe trips in the wilderness. He often told me this story, reflecting that if they had met under other circumstances, they would have just been friends.

Then Bob shared this story with me, and I will leave it in his own words. It is the story of Alfred Utsch, a German POW being held in England during the Christmas of 1946…

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“Alfred Utsch served in the Luftwaffe as a ground crew technician. He was Initially captured by the Americans and interned in a POW camp in Mississippi. He was transferred to the UK after the war ended to await repatriation back to Germany.  In 1946 he was one of a large group of POWs based in an old Royal Air Force training camp about 5 miles from where my family was living in Wirral Cheshire (north west England, west of Liverpool)

The prisoners in the camp were trusted and reliable and were allowed to leave the camp during daylight hours but had to be back by nightfall as there was a curfew in effect.  It was about this time of year when the authorities at the camp contacted the local churches to ask if any families would be willing to invite one of the prisoners into their home for Christmas Day.  My mother after some thought, volunteered to act as a host.

Our relatives thought she was crazy but my Dad thought it was a nice thing to do and I was 11 years old at the time and couldn’t wait to meet whoever it might be. Alfred was dropped off by car at around 11 am Christmas morning and we were told he would be picked up by 5 pm.

Right from the start we all liked Alfred.  I thought he was in his 40s but on reflection now I think he was probably in his early 30s.  he spoke very good English and told us that back home he was a plumber (He pronounced it plumBer).  Before long it was as if he a was a friend who had just turned up after a long absence.  He played our piano and could sing very well.

The high point was his rendition of Silent Night in German and English.   Having Christmas Dinner with our family was very emotional for him and he looked forward to being back home the following year with his wife and young son.  They lived near Cologne and fortunately had survived the war.

After Alfred went back to the camp that afternoon, we all agreed what a wonderful experience it had been and although he was a German and had been the “Enemy” he was really just like us.  Just wanting to get on with his life.

In the months following in 1947 up to the time he was repatriated, Alfred visited us many times.  He did some plumbing work for my Dad but he was also handy with a paint brush and helping in the garden.  My Dad even loaned him a bicycle so he could get back and forth from the Camp to our home. My uncle had a car and we would include Alfred on trips into North Wales for a picnic.  We really missed him when the time came for him to go home.

Later, after he had arrived home, his wife sent us a beautiful letter thanking us for the kindness we had shown Alfred.”

***

Peace on Earth to beings of good will. The way I see it.

Skid Crease, Storyteller

Ordinary Miracle

The year was 1969, my second year of teaching with the North York Board of Education, I had been promoted from a portable to an actual classroom inside the school. On the day the miracle took place, I was reading E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web to my Grade Five class. A story about a young girl’s love and a pig and a spider and a  rat and life on a farm. And when I finished the story, I burst into tears.

The whole class gathered around me, crying too. “It’s OK Mr. Crease. It’s OK.” And what they were really saying was, it’s OK for a teacher to be real to care to show genuine love to cry to smile to get ticked off to be human. It’s OK Mr. Crease.

Charlotte’s Web is really a story about friendship and life. We live and grow and die and maybe along the way we get to have a friend. Now, keep in mind that I was not a big fan of spiders or rats at the time I started reading this story to my class. By the time I burst into tears I was converted. Spoiler alert: as all pregnant spiders do, Charlotte the spider lays her egg sack and dies after having saved her humble friend Wilbur the spring pig with her eloquent web spinning.

When I cried in front of my students that day, it confirmed both the power of story and the power of friendship. As E.B. White wrote at the conclusion of the story, “It’s not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.”

My salary that year was just under $5000, so I was living in an affordable little basement apartment near the school. Later that fall, a spider laid an egg sack on the side door of the house where I was staying. I protected it. One warm morning in the spring as I was leaving for school, I checked on the egg sack and noticed it was vibrating and little spiders were starting to crawl out. I ran back into the house and called Mrs. Besso in the school office. “Please have someone cover my first class, I’m having babies!” I ran back outside and watched.

I watched for over an hour as hundreds of tiny spiders sent their silks into the air and floated away just like in the story. It was all true. They were little aerialists like Charlotte and her children. I remember calling out, “No, don’t leave!” But soon they had all gone and I had to go to work. My Principal forgave me. He thought it was “the teachable moment” and the class ran with it for the rest of the day – Charlotte and Wilbur and even Templeton the rat became their heroes – be a good friend and a good writer.

A few weeks later as I was checking out the garden at the back of the house, I noticed several little spider webs. Just like in the story, a few had stayed at home to keep me company.

At the end of a movie based on the book, Sarah McLachlan sings a beautiful song that captures the wonder of it all as only her voice could bring to life:

It’s just another ordinary miracle today.

The way I see it.

***

Skid Crease, storyteller

 

The Environment of Fear

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First it begins with condemning the “others” be they liberals, conservatives or caravan migrants.

Then it moves to protecting us from “the others” with armed guards. We rename the others as “invaders.”

Then it becomes necessary to declare a state of emergency with military rule until the “invaders” are caught and imprisoned and deported.

Because there are so many armed guards we are afraid and do not speak out. And those who do are rounded up and imprisoned for the sake of the safety of “The Nation” that we once were.

We put the armed guards at schools and places of worship and shopping malls and everywhere. And we are afraid and do not speak out.

Then the armed guards become the security police for the dictatorship that replaced the democratic government that we elected.

And we thought “The Handmaid’s Tale” was fiction?

Not the way I see it.

***

Skid Crease

The Day After the Night Before

Caledon appears to be safe for another four years! And considering that six (nearly seven) out of nine picks on my Dream Team were elected – a pretty reasonable prediction – I would say that my research was of a passing standard. Plus, most of those on my Scream Team list were defeated.

We returned our sitting Mayor and three solid incumbents, several bright new lights, and an old wisdom. If the paddlers can take Canoe Caledon in the same direction we may just make it to our destination. We have rid ourselves of one of the most divisive and disrespectful politicians who I have ever witnessed, and that alone should improve the atmosphere on Council. And we have a new Mayor in Brampton who may be more respectful of our place in Peel Region.

My work here is done and I am returning to do what I love best, environmental literacy and storytelling. There are so many sacred spaces and species in this world that need protecting and illuminating, and there are so many of their stories to tell. We have issues to resolve from reconciliation for residential school survivors to the consequences of half a degree more of warming on Turtle Island, and we’re complaining of traffic calming in our downtown core. Really?

Our backyard is safe; now it is time to get back to looking after our Home Planet.

The way I see it.

***

Skid Crease, storyteller

p.s. I’ll be watching …

Skid’s Caledon Dream Team 2018 to 2022

 Tomorrow is municipal election day in Ontario and in the Town of Caledon. Advance polls are all done, and Sunday should be a day of rest and reflection as Caledon citizens of voting age ponder the impact of their choices Monday on the next four years of their lives.

We should also be tuned in to what is happening in Brampton and Mississauga given the rough ride that politicians in those two cities gave to the Town of Caledon last year.

I had the opportunity over the past year to sit at the media desk at Caledon Town Council and observe and record the words and behaviours of politicians and public delegations. Based on that experience, interviews with candidates, and research into the full slate of possible future captains of our ship, I have come to conclude that we have a chance to elect either a Dream Team or a Scream Team for Town of Caledon Council.

Since I only want to acknowledge the positive, eliminate the negative and leave out those in between, here are my choices for a positive, respectful Council. In some cases, the choice was simple. In others, with several strong new candidates running in some of the wards, the selection is much more difficult. Picking the best of some really good draft choices is a lot tougher than when there is only one Gretzky standing on the ice.

So, here is, my Town of Caledon Dream Team 2018:

Mayor: Allan Thompson

Ward One Area: Lynn Kiernan or Mauro Testani

Ward One Regional: Jim Wallace

Ward Two Area: Sandeep Singh, Chris Gilmer, or Christina Early

Ward Two Regional: Johanna Downey

Ward Three/Four Area: Nick DeBoer

Ward Three/Four Regional: Jennifer Innis

Ward Five Area: Steve Conforti or Joe Luschak

Ward Five Regional: Angela Panacci

Monday, October 22nd, 2018 – if we don’t vote, we surrender our voice and the purple wool pulled over our eyes will be testament to our apathy and gullibility. Either way on Tuesday Morning, Caledon citizens will have exactly the Council we deserve. Hope it’s not a nightmare.

The way I see it.