Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Garden Report #113

Sunday, December 30th, 2012

This rose is being trialed in my garden.  It is labelled No. 291.
 • Writers write: The new year approaches and there are so many topics that I can choose to write about. I tossed and turned over this one all week and now it is Saturday afternoon and nothing encourages a writer to perform his trained seal tricks more than an impending deadline. The winner is gratitude. It is an easy topic because if I do not have gratitude then I have an empty heart and a deluded brain.

This year, I have a brand new granddaughter, one that has not been seen before and she is still under warranty. I have held her, bottle fed her and so far, I have not broken her. I told her who I was, who my mother and father were and she appeared quite interested. We all have to come from somewhere. I am grateful for this new one.

I am grateful for my family. I have friends who no longer have families and I often say to myself “but for the grace of God, go I.” My family is not perfect but they are still my family.

I have a dialysis machine in my bedroom and while it is a love/hate relationship with the machine, it keeps me alive. Prior to 1965, kidney patients died. End of story. Given a choice, and I do have one, I would rather be here on earth for a few more days. For all those who work to keep me functioning, I am grateful.

Can you spot Murphy's tail?
 Last but not the least, a well inserted cliché, I am grateful for all those who read The Garden Report. John Huston likes to say that “without an audience, actors are neurotic people speaking to an empty room.” Without my audience, I might as well be writing ‘Dear Diary’. I started this blog as a way of connecting with the outside world, as my universe shrank due to illness. It allowed me to converse without having to leave the comfort of my writing room. It keeps my skills set sharp. Thank you for getting the humour and not insisting that I include an LOL. Imagine, any writer from Shakespeare onwards, being required to include an LOL when pulling the reader’s leg? Thank you for all of your reader comments. They create a stimulating dialogue. I have written here before, I have no idea where this is going and how long it will last. Rather, I have taken the Buddhist approach and accept that it is here right now. I am grateful for all of you, both old and new friends.

• Readers write: My weekly mea culpa includes it is Alistair Sim not Sims from ‘The Christmas Carol’.

• We start out this week with a bit of controversy, which is always good for stimulating debate. Our long time friend and reader, Ed Heidt starts in on an issue. Keep in mind as you read, that Ed taught English at The University in Saskatoon in addition to being a parish priest. “I rarely weigh in and now that I know there are three thousand readers, eek! I am tired of the grammar police - there is something to your writing that is beyond grammar. I suppose style, personality and content are what I mean.” Rod’s note: I don’t mind The Grammar Police as they make me a better writer but I understand Ed’s thoughts.

• Jackie Arnason cracked me up with this comment. “Rod - I am so happy that the world did not end yesterday because now I have another Garden Report to cherish. Thank you for making my Christmas even better. Merry Christmas to you and your family and may 2013 be wonderful for all of you.”

• Nancy from The Marian Center sent this report of Christmas day along for the readers. “We had 110 people on Christmas day...mostly our men, only 11 women and 3 children. It was a very cold day and I think that's why our numbers were a little down. People were happy to be here, it's always a special day. One treat was that the Semple family came to play and sing along with our other musicians. A great day.”

• It is always lovely to hear from June Mayhew. “Merry Christmas to you both. Once again, Rod, your Garden Report was informative and entertaining. You made me laugh aloud with your description of attributes that let you know your granddaughter was yours. Thank you for taking the time and for making the effort to connect with your global community God bless us everyone.”

• Robert Stedwill tells us how he reads this blog. “Just sitting here in the early hours of the Sunday before Christmas with my cup of coffee and reading The Garden Report. It makes one feel warm inside reading it, especially knowing we will again be shoveling snow this afternoon/evening if the weather report is to be believed; only to have the mercury drop out of sight on Christmas Eve!”

• Jean Freeman has a favourite teacher and she shares that memory. “Sincere thanks for your memories of Miss Shirley Covey. You have brought back fond and happy memories of my own Miss Covey, at Weyburn Collegiate during the 1950s. She was Miss Andrea Eckel. She was my Latin teacher (also English and Drama), who gave me the road map for an appreciation of my birth language, its origins, its uses, and its possibilities, and also for my life's interests and the several careers which I have been privileged to pursue in the half century since then. I'm sure that most of us have at least one teacher in our histories who had a profound effect on us and influenced in some way the adults that we have become -- mostly for the better, I'd like to believe. Love and thanks to all teachers, who are struggling against more challenges than ever before to shape the next generation and the world.”

• From Joanne Brown, “My wish this year is no more snow, please. But keep The Garden Reports coming.”

• Donna Burton has been missing in action, out in Vancouver. She checks in with us. “Well, I will tell you, life is just great on the West Coast. The best move I ever made. The gardening has been great. I love the temperate zone and there is so much to do, all of the time. The difference between gardening here and Regina, is that you have to keep cutting back to keep most plants from taking over.”

• You just don’t slip too much past David Calam these days, unless he is at The Lawn Bowling Club. He spotted this one. “Rod! Really! CD's? In The Garden Report of all places! And I bet I'm not the first to let you know. And yes, I know about the judicious use of exclamation marks, but extreme situations demand extreme measures.”

Amish country in Ohio
• Reader Dianne Palmer had a sojourn to Ohio and took some great photos. I have included one of an Amish buggy being driven along a country road.

• Roberta Nichol shares this bon mot. “I do not get tired of you writing about community. I am so thankful, that in only my third year of living here on Rae Street, I can readily say that I have the best neighbours around. We had a Christmas pot luck supper at my place. We had turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy- the 'full meal deal.' Trimmings and all. It was just phenomenal. The Christmas spirit was alive and well that evening! After dinner and cleanup, we sang Christmas songs, and as the music got louder and more enthusiastic, out came the percussion instruments: tambourine, bongos, shakers..... it was so much fun! I've been blessed with these good folks and the man across the alley, occasionally shovelling/snow blowing my sidewalk.”

• Cheryl Ann Smith remembers when my boys and I would come over to spruce up The Marian Center, early on Christmas morning. “I did love it when you came over and helped decorate - this beautiful, bear of a man, taking time to help us make the place beautiful for the poor. Incredible - kinda fun, too, to see your sleepy sons dragged out of bed to help!”

• Gayle White points out that without grammar, things are different. “Let’s eat Grampa - versus – let’s eat, Grampa.” The comma makes a difference, at least to grampa it does.

'Thunderchild' in bloom
• A Christmas classic story: For many years, my family decorated the dining hall at The Marian Center. We would get up early on Christmas morning, load up the van with plants and greens, and head downtown to the soup kitchen. In 1992, my mother accompanied me. She was always a good sport about getting up early to help. We finished what we had set out to do and climbed back into the van. It was 9:30 a.m. on the 25th. There was fresh snow, the sun was shining and for December, it was mild. In the distance, we could hear church bells ringing. Almost a post card scenario. As I was about to pull away from the curb, two men were walking towards us. They were street people, waiting for The Marian Center to open their doors for Christmas. My mother said “Stop. I want to wish these men a merry Christmas.” She rolled down her window and said in her cheeriest voice, “Merry Christmas boys!” The two men walked over to the van and one responded “thanks lady. What are you doing here so early?” Mom talked to them for a minute. They were delighted that someone had taken the time to chat. She did not divide the world into those that were worthy of a bit of friendship and community. I learned a lesson that morning. I would have driven away without so much as a wave.

• Garden Tip: If you have insects crawling around your house plants, Trounce is a safe, organic insect killer that you can use. Read the instructions. It is not suitable for all plants.

• Garden Tip: I do rag on people to read the instructions. How many times did I have people come in with self created problems, due to not reading the instructions? More than I can count. I had a fellow show up at the garden center complaining about ‘Weed and Feed’. He said he did what he was supposed to: “I spread it and then turned on the sprinkler.” The instructions are very clear: ‘No water for twenty-four hours.’

• Garden Tip: A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. When Roundup, a non selective herbicide was new, it was sometimes misused. A fellow I knew had a sod farm. He used Roundup, here and there, wherever he had couch grass. It was the only chemical that would kill this noxious weed. An employee swiped some from the shop and gave it to his father, explaining it was “the best weed killer ever.” He did not know that it killed anything and everything. The dad sprayed it over the entire lawn. On the plus side, there were no more weeds.

• Déjà vu comes true: When Patrick was eighteen, I took him on a ten day trip out to B.C. We had a wonderful time, father and son hanging out. I drove. He ate. Prior to leaving, he asked why we were going. I told him “soon you will be establishing yourself in a career, getting married and starting a family. I can’t see your wife letting you go off to B.C. with your old man for ten days, what with all your responsibilities at home.” He laughed. After all, he was eighteen and the future was far away. He now has a career, a wife and a baby and if I want to go on a trip, it won’t be with him.

Reader Neil Vandendort, Stella and the grandkids
 • It worked: I heard this one. A woman was tired of her husband and kids sneaking down to the freezer, eating the Christmas baking. She solved the problem by placing the goodies into a Tupperware container labelled ‘Liver Casserole’. No one ever opened it.

• A Christmas classic #2: It was the 24th of December, 1995. I was getting ready to leave the garden center and head home to be with my family. The phone rang. The caller was a nurse from the Infant’s I.C.U. She had an eight month old baby on her ward and he had kidney disease. He had been there for months, struggling to stay alive. She asked if I could bring over a small Christmas tree, a few greens and perhaps a poinsettia to decorate his room. “It would help his family,” she said. I told her that if she sent someone over right away, I would put together a box of those items. She said she couldn’t. “Sorry, but I am on my way home to be with my family,” was how I left it.

That night, I tossed and turned. It bothered me that I had balked at doing one more thing, but I was burnt out, big time, by Christmas eve.

The morning of the 25th arrived. It was still dark when Patrick, Maxwell and I got up. We were heading down to the Marian Center to decorate the hall. To appease my guilt, we swung by the greenhouse and picked out the requested items. We stopped out front of The General Hospital. It was a little after seven a.m. I told the boys I would be a couple of minutes and took the box up to the ward. The nurse was surprised that I had made it. She asked if I would like to see the baby whose room would soon be made cheery for Christmas. “Sure,” I said.

Now here is the part of the story where we shift gears. I try to regard myself as being rough and tumble. A man amongst men. I bark, I snap, I growl. Your job is to tremble. The nurse led me into the baby’s room. There was this small thing in his crib. For an eight month old, he was radically undersized due to his illness. There was an I.V. in his arm and tiny breathing tubes in his nostrils. His color was not pink. More of a jaundiced yellow. You would wonder if he was going to make it. The nurse motioned towards the wall. There was a photograph of a fat, healthy baby posted. She said “this is how baby Henry looked before he got sick.”

This is my new screensaver -'Tulips in my kitchen'
 I said nothing. I walked out of the room, heading towards the exit, rather quickly. The nurse was a little surprised by my sudden departure. She called out “merry Christmas!” I kept walking. Tears were streaming down my face as I thought of my own two babies, close to 160 pounds each, sleeping in the van. Their size fourteen runners, untied. The sleep left unwashed from their faces.

Thanks for reading....Rod McDonald in the winter, wonderland of Regina.

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