Free? Or merely out on parole?

Many years ago, at the end of a two-day blizzard, my brother and I exploded out of the house. We had been trapped inside all that time, driving each other (and our parents) crazy. I can’t recall if we left of our own volition or if our parents kicked us out, glad for the reprieve from our bickering. The temperature was way below zero. The air was brittle-cold; our eyelashes froze up; our lungs balked at breathing the frigid air. We didn’t care. We ran around the yard. We had a snowball fight. We made snow angels. We stomped on every drift in the trees to see which were hard enough to dig tunnels and caves. Two hours later, we staggered into the house, our energy all run off, much to our parents’ relief.

I felt like that again last month after my husband and I got our second COVID vaccine. We didn’t exactly explode out – we’re too old for that, – but perhaps now we could go grocery shopping at a reasonable hour rather than at “seniors’ hours” of 7:00 am. Perhaps we could expand our bubble to visit some of our relatives and friends – outside, of course. Perhaps life could start its slow return to life-after-COVID.

Or perhaps not.

Our premier declared Alberta “Open for Summer” as of July 1 and removed all restrictions. And I do mean ALL. No masks (except on public transit, including taxis). No limits on indoor or outdoor gatherings. No limits on numbers in mall or gyms or restaurants or bars or casinos. Social distancing – out the window. And people exploded out, glad to be out of months-long lockdown, glad to expand their bubble to whomever they wanted to include, glad to go where they wanted when they wanted.

Alberta is not the only place removing restrictions. Other Canadian provinces are relaxing theirs. Most American states have completely removed their restrictions, as have other countries. Their reasoning? Infection rates are declining. The numbers of people in hospitals and ICUs are declining.

Wait! Didn’t this happen last year this time? Case numbers fall? The number of people in hospitals and ICUs decline? Yes, there were still restrictions, and some cities had imposed mandatory mask bylaws when indoors or on public transit. Major events – the Calgary Stampede, music festivals, theatrical productions, even the 2020 Summer Olympics – were cancelled but otherwise, people gathered outdoors, they partied, they met at bars, they celebrated their freedom. Some went so far as to protest (and some still do) these restrictions as impingements on their rights and freedoms, apparently oblivious to the fact that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms states that these rights are not absolute, that the Government can limit them if the limit is reasonable, legal and justifiable. Can you think of anything more reasonable or justifiable than a pandemic?

Then came autumn. Numbers went up, and up, and up, and, well, you know the rest.

And so, I wonder: are we headed for the same fate come this autumn? Yes, we now have vaccines, and large percentages have been vaccinated – in Canada, 79% of those 12 years and older have one shot; 56% are double-vaccinated. As with most averages, those numbers are misleading – vaccination rates vary among provinces, and some areas are dangerously under-vaccinated. Moreover, the rate of vaccination has slowed, slowing our progress to “herd immunity” which may require as much as 90% of the population to be vaccinated, as recommended in an article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

More frightening, the Delta variant has raised its ugly head and is becoming a “pandemic of the unvaccinated,” according to Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Director of the CDC. That is already happening in the USA, in England and elsewhere. These places are experiencing Delta-fueled infection rates equal to this past winter, and not just among the unvaccinated. So-called “breakthrough” cases among fully vaccinated people are increasing, too. Here in Alberta, case numbers are showing a slight “uptick,” and we have yet to see what will happen two weeks after the end of Stampede. Another surge, perhaps?

On top of that, large portions of the world have received no or very little vaccine, creating a primordial stew in which more (and more lethal? more contagious?) variants can develop – we’re already up to Lambda.

Fortunately, not everyone is throwing caution to the wind. Festival organizers are limiting attendance, requiring (or encouraging) mask-wearing, imposing assigned seating and social distancing, or even requiring proof of vaccination for entry. Staff in many businesses still wear masks. Many people (including us) continue to wear masks in indoor locations. Some of us still practice social distancing and limit our bubbles and excursions. Will that be enough?

So I ask: Are we really free of COVID, or merely out on parole? Our behaviour over these next few months will tell.

#COVID #Pandemic #NotesFromIsolationWard #Vaccines #OpenForSummer #DeltaVariant #CanadianCharterRightsFreedoms #MargaretGHanna

Saying Good-Bye

I wandered through the silent house, my footsteps echoing in the empty rooms. I heard a creak in the living room floor I had never heard before. Otherwise, nothing.

I checked every cupboard and closet. Had I forgotten anything? Yes, there was a bowl that Mom had bought from a local potter. How had I missed that when packing up the kitchen? Oops, still some garbage under the sink. Better get rid of that.

I gathered everything together then stopped and looked around.

The house was empty, empty not just of furniture and “stuff” but of life itself. These rooms once vibrated with energy. Family gatherings filled with food, laughter, stories and, quite often, hi-jinks, everyone sitting elbow-to-elbow around the huge table. Friends for supper and a movie in the “Lower Level Repertoire Theatre,” as we called the TV room downstairs. Raucous visits from grand-nieces and nephews. Sitting on the deck, enjoying coffee or a glass of wine, a decadent dessert and the view of the garden resplendent with Mom’s flowers. My brother and I working under Mom’s directions – “Today I think WE should do . . .” – trimming the hedge or pruning rose bushes (“Ouch!”) or moving some perennials (“Oh, my aching back!”). The whir of the sewing machine as Mom sewed yet another dress or skirt. The smell of cinnamon buns or chocolate cake or peanut butter cookies or roast beef. Laughter as we tried to interpret Grandma Higham’s enigmatic dark fruit cake recipe. My brother setting up his HO scale “Davy Crockett” train under the Christmas tree, and the cat chasing it. The living room in chaos as Mom sorted through her fabric stash searching for the perfect combination of colours for a quilt top as requested by a niece or nephew. Just sitting quietly in the evening, watching the flames in the gas fireplace, remembering, enjoying each other’s company, no need to talk.

And now, it was all over. What had once been a home was now just another house, an empty shell.

I patted a door jamb. “Good-bye, house.” I picked up those few things and left.

Someone else lives in that house now. Someone else is transforming it from a house into a home. Someone else will bring life into it. Someone else will create memories there.

The good thing about memories is that they are easily transported. No matter now many you have, you don’t have to worry if you have enough boxes or wrapping paper. You don’t have to worry if they will get lost or broken in transit. All it takes is the phrase, “Do you remember when . . .?” and instantly we are transported back to that place, to that house that once was home to my mother and brother.

#Memories #Moving #EmptyHouse #SayingGoodBye #LeavingHome #MargaretGHanna

Yet another rhubarb tale

One of our neighbours says she can’t grow rhubarb – it always dies on her. That must take a special talent. We can’t kill it. Not that we want to.

My Dad, age 6, and the giant rhubarb.

At every prairie homestead, occupied or abandoned, you can find caragana, honeysuckle and, yes, rhubarb. We had one long row of rhubarb in our farm’s garden. It was one of the first fresh foods, along with asparagus, that we harvested each spring. It was “heritage” rhubarb – the extremely sour green-stalked variety that my grandparents planted ca. 1917. My brother and I dipped stalks in sugar to eat it raw (doing so gave you bragging rights about how tough you were). Mom stewed it and made pies and puddings with it. She froze bags of it for winter use. There was never enough rhubarb to satisfy our longing for that delicious tart-sweet taste.

This spring we decided to move our rhubarb, in part because it was desperately in need of being divided and in part because it was in the shade of a large laurel willow tree. Also, we had plans for that corner of the garden which meant we would be unable to get to our precious rhubarb.

Rhubarb roots are not delicate, fragile, fibrous things. Oh, no. They are tough and thick as your forearm. They twist and twine around each other. They go half-way down to the molten core of the earth. No wonder it’s impossible to kill rhubarb (unless you are our neighbour). The roots were a mangled mess by the time we finished digging. Would the plants survive? Would they grow? Would we ever have fresh rhubarb again?

Foolish questions. Of course they survived. More to the point, they flourished. Last week, I picked our first crop and made rhubarb pie. Oh, that wonderful tart-sweet taste. There’s nothing like it.

Here’s my favourite recipe for rhubarb pie from Carol Acoose, a friend from my Regina days:

Rhubarb Custard Pie
4-1/2 cups of rhubarb, cut in 1″ pieces (more or less)
3 tbsp flour
3 eggs, beaten
1-1/4 cups sugar
1 tbsp soft butter
nutmeg to taste
pastry for single-crust pie

Mix all ingredients well. Pour mixture into pastry-lined pie plate. Bake at 400F for 15 – 20 minutes. Reduce heat to 350F and continue baking for 20 – 25 minutes or until rhubarb is tender, custard is set and top is golden. Let cool. Salivate! Smack your lips! Enjoy!

#RhubarbPie #Gardening #Cooking #HannaHistory #MargaretGHanna

The Promise

Twenty-five years ago, I made a promise to my father (he was dying of cancer). As Robert Service wrote in The Cremation of Sam McGee, “a promise made is a debt unpaid.” I made a substantial payment on that promise/debt these last two months (the reason why I have been absent).

My promise was to look after my brother. This entails more than the older sibling (me) keeping an eye out for the younger one. My brother has some brain damage acquired at birth (he was a breech baby). The obvious effect is a serious speech impediment. What is not obvious (until you get to know him) is that he seems oblivious to so much. It’s not a matter of being lazy – give him a task and he will attack it with gusto and humour. It seems he just can’t see what needs to be done or, if he does see it, he doesn’t know what to do about it so does nothing. Otherwise, he is a friendly, outgoing, chatty guy with several friends in town.

The “promise made” became urgent this past year. My brother was unable, financially and physically, to maintain the large house and yard that he and Mom had bought 23 years ago in a town just outside of Regina (Mom died 6-1/2 years ago). As a seasonally employed farm labourer, his income is variable and his meager savings are slowly dwindling. It was time to sell the house and find him an apartment and, given the lack (so I thought) of apartments in town, it seemed he would have to move to Regina.

My brother resisted, and understandably so. He did not want to abandon 23 years of memories accumulated in the house. He did not want to leave a place he knew for a place he did not. He did not want to leave his friends and work.

With the help of his employer, we found an apartment in town so he did not have to move to Regina. His friends all encouraged him: “Smartest thing you could do.” “You should have moved years ago.” And my brother, grudgingly, admitted that maybe, just maybe, he wasn’t a spring chicken any more, perhaps it was time to move into an apartment where he wouldn’t have to worry about shingling the roof or mowing the huge lawn or cultivating the garden.

He had no idea how to prepare for a move. It fell to me to make all the arrangements – power, natural gas, telephone, TV, town office, insurance agents, the movers, the lawyers, the investment counselor. It fell to me to pack and sort – what to move, what to go into the garage sale, what to throw out. It fell to me to sell the house. It fell to me to assure my brother that all would work out, although there were times when I wondered if it would.

Like Robert Service’s narrator, there were times when I “cursed the load.” The move did not always go smoothly. My brother and I had words several times – he wanted to take everything; I said there wasn’t enough room. Neither did selling the house, although in the end it did sell at a loss due to its condition.

He’s mostly settled in and starting to feel at home. I drove back to Airdrie, exhausted.

The debt is only partially paid. How I will make future payments remains uncertain. Eventually, I will not be able to make the 8-1/2 hour drive to see him. Eventually, he will have to move to an assisted living situation. And what if he outlives me? Who will help him then? Who will take on the promise?

What the future will bring, I do not know. I know only the promise remains, a promise I will try to fulfill as long as I am able, not only out of duty (to my father as much as to my brother) but also out of love.

#Promises #SiblingLove #MovingResidence #BreechBaby #MargaretGHanna