Tag: mentorship

Passing On the Legacy – A Post Mother’s Day Tribute

This post was originally shared on my previous blog ‘Expression Express’. Since Mother’s Day has just come and gone, I share it here again. Enjoy!

My mother was a very vibrant and eccentric individual. She was known for her whimsical ways and inspired a family phrase that perfectly described the way she lived her life. The Doreen Method is our way of saying ‘make it up as you go along’. This applied to recipes, sewing, carpentry… just about anything. Mom wasn’t afraid to tackle tasks if she had no previous experience or skill, but the outcome might not be the norm. As an artist she loved to paint on any surface from canvas to rocks to whole buildings. When my sister and her husband moved into Mom’s old house they were faced with a dilemma.  There were lots of funny little murals she had painted in obscure nooks and crannies. How could one paint over them?

Mom was also a storyteller, and some of my favourite childhood memories include listening to bedtime stories and songs. We were well acquainted with Thornton W. Burgess’ Adventures of Reddy Fox, for instance. In fact, foxes and mice were the favourite characters in her repertoire of stories and songs. She shared them with her children and nieces and nephews, and the tradition was carried forward to her grandchildren and even her great-grandchildren.

Mom passed away in 2007 at the age of 80. Unfortunately, we lost her seven years earlier to dementia. It was so difficult to see such a formerly vibrant individual reduced to the shell that she became. I had the privilege of sitting with her during the hours before she passed away. Somewhere around four o’clock in the morning on January 17, 2007, she slipped away to be with Jesus, free from the mental constraints that had kept her trapped for those seven years.

While I sat with her, holding her hand, I sang some of those old songs. One particularly special song was an old Haven Gillespie tune written in the 1930s called ‘The Sleepytown Express’. (listen here!) This is the song that ushered her into the presence of the Lord.  Strangely, my sisters and my two female cousins all woke at around four o’clock, dreaming about the Sleepytown Express…

I decided soon afterward that I would like to publish a book illustrating the song as a tribute to my mother. It took several years to do the paintings and quite a bit of  research to obtain permission to use the lyrics, but finally, in February of 2014, seven years after Mom passed, The Sleepytown Express was published.

For me this project was so much more than another book under my belt. It was about sharing Mom’s legacy with the extended family and passing it on to the next generation. This is not a book to be kept in pristine or precious condition; it is a book to be sung and celebrated as we pass the memorial torch on to the next generation.

 

The Doreen Method – A Recipe For Life

Today marks an important milestone for me. It is the tenth anniversary of my dear mother’s passing. In honour of her memory I am reposting an article I wrote several years ago on my previous blog, and which has been shared multiple others times, probably because of its impact. It is the story of a vibrant and amazing woman. So here, for the first time on this blog, I present to you… THE DOREEN METHOD. Enjoy

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The Doreen Method.  That’s what we call it at our house when I cook something strange or new off the top of my head, or sew something without a pattern, or clean in a haphazard whirlwind …. or do just about anything in a somewhat off the wall and non-traditional way. It’s a tribute to my mother, Doreen, and in a few minutes you’ll understand the full connotation of the phrase.

My mother was the most awesome, unique, creative, wild, crazy, loving, off the wall, caring, artsy, forgiving, nut case, wonderful women I’ve ever had the pleasure to know. Really. I know what you’re thinking. We all think our own mother’s are the best – or at least we say those kinds of things … especially when our mother’s are dead and gone, as mine is. It’s easy to remember the good traits and amplify them to some degree. So forgive me if my memory is somewhat biased.

But, cutting past all the platitudes and nice fuzzy feelings, my mother truly was an inspiration to not only me, but many other people, including family, friends and former students.  You see, she wasn’t perfect, but it was the way she embraced life and saw the beauty and creativity in things that I think inspired so many.  She was a teacher, an artist, a musician, a mother and grandmother, a prayer warrior, and a true and loyal friend. Somehow, she had a knack for making everything into a creative adventure. Some might even have called her eccentric. (Okay, maybe even a ‘loon’ as my brother in law so affectionately likes to say!)

Let me give you some examples. As a dutiful wife in the fifties and sixties, she managed to keep up with the expected house hold chores, but she was never one much for canning, sewing, baking … all those things a ‘good’ wife did.  She was much more apt to play with her kids – create magical forts out of blankets, or have impromptu picnics on the kitchen floor.  She never shied away from building, sewing, or painting if it meant some kind of fun and creative project that we kids could share.  I remember how she made ‘treasure’ out of tin foil (I think) and put it in the root cellar that we had for potatoes and such when I was very small.  We went down there together and with wide eyed amazement, she showed me the buried treasure that she had found! No matter what magical adventure she created, I always knew it was just a game – but I enjoyed every moment of those fun filled childhood trips invented by my mother. I wonder how many mother’s actually take the time to play with their kids any more?  Usually the best times were those that were fairly impromptu and had little in the way of preparation.  Her vivid imagination was enough to spark the ongoing ‘play’ when she had other chores. I never remember being bored as a child.

As an artist, my mother would paint just about anything she could get her hands on.  Rocks, doors, walls, stair wells – even entire buildings! She painted many murals over the course of her life, some on the sides of old buildings (long before this was a common sight) and painted every backdrop for every figure skating carnival/church concert/school play for decades. Of course, being the creative free spirit that she was, making a mess was just a hazard of the job. She was not known for being pristine!  So what was her solution?  Well, if there wasn’t anything else suitable, she could be found wearing a pair of under-panties on her head to keep her hair clean!  (True story on more than one occasion!)

She was also ‘famous’ for her fabulous bedtime songs.  Bedtime rarely took place without a story or a song or both.  One that she was especially renowned for within the family was an old thirties song called “The Sleepy Town Express”.  It was this very song that I sang to her as I sat by her bed during her last hours on earth.  She fell asleep to it’s tune at around four am.  The next day both of my sisters and my two female cousins reported being awakened at that hour ‘dreaming’ the song.  I painted a series of pictures based on this song that was later published as a children’s book.

I could keep rambling on and on.  As a teacher, History, English, and Science all came alive with her imaginative projects. She loved putting on class plays and musicals at both school and church.  She continued to invent stories and imaginary worlds with her grandchildren and great grandchildren and always came to visit armed with a new craft or some other fun and messy project.

Somehow I feel as if I am not truly expressing how truly individualistic and inspiring she was. She was a maverick for her day – into health foods and yoga (standing on her head each morning) back in the sixties and seventies long before either of those thing had become mainstream. Her artistic nature and creative talents inspired me to pursue my own life of creativity, although I will admit that as a teenager I was sometimes embarrassed by her free spirited and artsy ways.

I’ve long since gotten over that, obviously. As I get older I recognize that the old saying ‘You get more like your own mother’ is true. In my case, I say ‘bring it on’. I would be honoured to be like her in any small way and to carry on the legacy of creativity that she embodied. Even more than that, however, I want to be that kind of woman of faith.  When she came to Jesus, after searching and experimenting with all kinds of other religious philosophies, she embraced her faith wholeheartedly and set such a high standard that I am sure I can not ever measure up.  I’ve talked about all the fun and freedom that she projected, but hers was also a life of great sorrow and personal pain. (Another story for another time perhaps.) Despite her own tragedy and mistreatment, she was steadfast, loving and forgiving. She was an uber-prayer-warrior if ever there was one, and I know for a fact that it was her tenacity in prayer that brought me to faith in Christ, as well as my then boyfriend. (Who later became my husband.) He always cites her as his spiritual mother and one of the most influential people in his walk with Christ, and I know it’s true.  She was a shining example – all cliche and fluffiness aside!

So, to end this post, let me just say, “Long live the Doreen method!” This is our family’s affectionate way of saying, “If you don’t have a recipe, make it up; if you don’t have the directions, experiment; if you like something, do it; if you feel like singing/painting/ whatever – go for it.” This is a tribute to her – Doreen – that fearless woman of faith that paved the way with a life of creativity and inner joy that still stands above the crowd as an example that I am proud to emulate.

a page from ‘Sleepytown’

Thank You Mr. Meginbir

Sometimes i am asked when I knew I wanted to be a writer. There are probably several instances, but here is one that I remember quite vividly.

The typewriter I used back then

The typewriter I used back then

I was writing a short story in my Grade Twelve English class about a man who lost everything in the 1929 economic crash known as ‘Black Monday’. I have no clue what inspired me to write that story – perhaps we were learning about it in Social Studies, but I do recall how frustrated I felt during the writing process.

I recognized the need for more research but didn’t have the time (or the inclination…) to dig into the history beyond what I already knew. I was also frustrated with the chore of editing and moving various parts around to better say what I wanted to say. In those days there were no computers, so it was a matter of scratching and scribbling with pen until the pages were riddled with arrows and big bold instructions to INSERT HERE. Typing the final draft wasn’t much better, since whiteout could only go so far before one was forced to start over.

The story was good, but the real version in my mind was so much better. Despite my lack of personal satisfaction, my teacher, Mr. Meginbir, praised the story and asked my permission to read it aloud. I grudgingly agreed, feeling embarrassed to have my thoughts on display. Later that year he gave me a brochure for a writing camp. He thought my writing had potential and suggested I check it out. I remember looking at that brochure and wishing… 

I did not go, but the pull was strong. The voice inside my head that said, “You’re not good enough,” was probably the thing that kept me home. 

However, I think Mr. Meginbir’s encouragement was the first inkling that writing was actually a possibility for me. I went on to university that next fall and majored in visual arts, which remained my primary creative outlet for several years. Still, the writing seed had been planted. When I finally gave in and started clacking away, the soil was already ready. It was many more years before I felt brave enough to share my writing with anyone and even more before I saw my words in print. But I see that time in Grade Twelve English as a turning point in how I viewed myself. 

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