Tag Archives: Hereditary

Only child’s take on dining out(side)

Only Child with Mom in the backyard

In the stifling hot days of summer, my mother would haul out the whole paraphernalia for our family of three to eat outside in the summer. This was back in the late 1950s and early 1960s when air-conditioned homes were not the norm. But at suppertime, our backyard had shade.

So, with some help from Dad and me, and several trips – from the kitchen, down the side stairs, out into the driveway to the backyard went a small card table, three chairs, table cloth, serviettes, cutlery, plates, and all the dishes of food – depending on what we were eating. And yes, it was often hot food. But the entrance to the backyard was inviting – an archway of red roses.

Only Child’s Dad under the backyard entrance

It was enjoyable eating outside in the breeze. But when even the temperature in the shade rose too high, mom used her backup plan – eating in the basement. Before the basement renovation, we would sit in our own private dining room with black floors, huge cement pillars, a furnace turned off for the summer, the old coal bin (which remained after the switch to oil heat) and mother’s pride and joy – her root cellar where all her canned jams, pickles, green tomatoes and the like were stored.

You could say it was all a labour of love combined with necessity – either roast or eat the roast, be cool or sweat.

But Mom had a dirty little secret, one which was shared among some of the women on her side of the family.

Except for cooking, canning and sewing, my mother hated housework.

I don’t recall her even doing a weekly housecleaning, except for laundry and it got hung out (even sometimes in winter) until she purchased a clothes dryer. But vacuuming and dusting, cleaning bathrooms, etc.? Only if company was coming.

Then it was the big hustle to make everything neat and clean. Put away in closets and drawers were all her sewing paraphernalia – including the portable machine. You see, the home for all of that was the dining room table. And we needed that for the dinners for company. Company was mostly family and some friends. Mom did love to cook and bake and our family loved to eat.

But cleaning the house. Not in our genes.

And I think this dislike, even hatred for doing housework, is in the genes. I can’t find any scientific proof, so I will use anecdotes. My mother’s youngest sister , my godmother, was the same – loved to cook and bake, garden, and can, but clean? However, my godmother was a farmer’s wife, so there was lots else to do that your average housewife of the 50s and 60s didn’t do. But that doesn’t explain one of my Detroit Michigan cousins – who loved to sew and cook but hated to clean.

Are you getting the picture?

As for me – well I love to cook and garden, but freeze and dry garden vegetables and fruit (sometimes from the Farmer’s Market, not just my garden). I used to like to sew but lost interest over the years – I blame that on other interests taking over, lack of sufficient time, but also bad eyesight. When I am forced to mend an item of clothing, I can take more time threading the needle because I can’t see the hole, than actually mending. And this from a woman who made all her maternity clothes and used to quilt by hand.

As for the weekly housecleaning – some of it gets done – the laundry, changing bed-sheets, clean kitchen counters and sinks, and vacuum or mop. Dusting? Maybe every six weeks – to borrow a friend’s phrase “too much work.”

But nothing beats going outside on the veranda or in my backyard patio to eat my meals. I have it easier than Mom. Sure, for the backyard, I have to use a side door like Mom. But there is a patio table and umbrella already out there, so it is just bring out the food, sit down and eat. And breathe in, feast my eyes and nose on the flowers and veggies in my garden.

Top of my patio table up close


And try to keep the wasps away. I’m allergic to them. But it’s my patio and my garden.  So when it’s not raining, I’ll sit, eat and enjoy.

Looking from the patio at fresh lettuce, rhubarb and oregano


So, do you regularly clean your house, condo or apartment?

Or do you have better things to do? And if so, what are they?

I’d like some comments about this.



Only Child Writes



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Filed under 1950s, 1960s, Family, Garden, Gardening, Heat summer, Hereditary, Home and Garden, Mom and Dad, Only child

Only Child searches for Dad’s history

Only child's Dad when he worked for the railway

Only child’s Dad when he worked for the railway

I am trying to piece together my late father’s history – his ancestors and his life in Toronto before I came along. Not too easy when Dad was born in Montreal and the family moved to Toronto when he was a child.

A year ago I began this quest – one of my cousins had started a trace on the Langevin (and Verey – the latter her direct family connection, not mine) ancestry on www.ancestry.ca. I’m not on there yet but one of my friends is and she offered to do some checking there. She found my cousin’s partial family history and also an anomaly – further digging by my friend found another last name (maiden one) for my paternal grandmother. Which is the correct one?

I am not close to my Dad’s side of the family and it has been over five years since I talked to some of my cousins. But I emailed the family genealogist using an old email address. You guessed it – the email bounced back as no one at that address.

However, life jumped in, including dealing with the horrible boarder living here last year, house and house-related problems, plus one pleasant thing – finishing rewriting my first mystery novel Beyond Blood (published fall 2014 – Warning: plug coming. See my publisher’s website www.bluedenimpress.com for more info and my other blog www.sharonacrawfordauthor.com).

As 2014 drew to a close and 2015 rushed in, I feel much urgency to continue on this quest for Dad’s history. I have been spending some Saturday afternoons at the Toronto Reference Library looking in old City Might Directories to find where Dad lived and to try to nail down when the Langevin family did move to Toronto. (I had some idea what street so that was a start.)

And found myself on a very enjoyable but puzzling journey.

Picture me sitting at a table on the library’s second floor with Might Directories piled up in front of me. The shelves where they are stored are behind me, but I can only carry four books at a time. It is difficult with my health issues to get down to the floor to pick out the directories on the bottom shelf but I am compelled to do so.

You are not allowed to photocopy the contents – not a copyright issue but the delicate nature of the pages. These are old directories, circa early 1900s (Dad was old enough to be my grandfather) and the pages are amazing. Almost like parchment with back to back pages which appear glued together. Back then, the “technology” did not allow for any other way to do this. The print is around the same size as print telephone directories, perhaps a smidgeon larger. With my bad eyes and old glasses I have to use a small magnifying glass to read the type.

It is worth it – this going back and forth from the street listings to the name listing and I finally find my late grandfather. Thanks to my cousin’s information on ancestry.ca I now know his first name. But another Langevin surfaces in the Might Directories – a Charles Langevin and I have no idea where he fits in, except my grandfather and grandmother and their offspring lived with him for a few years. My grandfather (Eugene Langevin) shows up in the street address listing at some point and then in a later year, Charles has disappeared. Then my aunts and uncles and my dad show up living at the same addresses, including my cousin’s great grandfather (she is a cousin once removed to me). And it lists where they worked and the position they held. The listing criteria seems to be it didn’t matter if you were male or female as long as you held a job.

I find my father not only worked as a clerk at Canadian National Railways but that previouslyhe worked with the Grand Trunk Railway before CNR gobbled it up. I finally find where his office was located – as I suspected right in Union Station in Toronto. One of his brothers, Uncle Paul also fought in World War 1, which I never knew. The directory has him still at the address but they classify him as “away on service.” And yes, he came back from the war. I also discover the Langevin family moved to Markham St. (where my cousins, their parents and my late maternal grandmother lived when I was a child) many years earlier than I suspected.

Then I get carried away and start to trace my mom’s time from when she moved to Toronto from the family farm near Mildmay, Ontario. Not sure which year so I’m working back from 1938 the year before she and Dad married. The address she lived at then (renting in a house) is in the area of Toronto where she and Dad lived when they were first married. Next investigation is to find out if the addresses are the same. An old photograph I have might give me the answer.

I can see my memoir will need some changes.

And I finally realized why I am compelled to do this family history investigation now. 2015 (November) is the 50th anniversary of Dad’s death.


Sharon A. Crawford

Only Child Writes

Only Child and her late dad on the veranda of 139 in happier times

Only Child and her late dad on the veranda of 139 in happier times


Filed under Beyond Blood, Beyond the Tripping Point, Canadian National Railway, Dad, Family, Hereditary, Libraries, Memoir content, Mom and Dad, Nostalgia, Only child memoir, Railways, Research memoir writing, Toronto

Only Child looks (again) at seniors and happiness

Only Child in one of her happiness situations - the garden in summer

Only Child in one of her happiness situations – the garden in summer

Are today’s older adults happy? If so, what makes them happy, or not? The more I googled for information, the more widespread information I found. The one I heard on the radio earlier today (and it doesn’t seem to be online) is the one I’m going to talk about.

According to this one, older adults’ happiness is based on four areas – each one “worth” 25 per cent.  After considering the genetic factor for pre-disposition for happiness or unhappiness, the areas are: environment, debt-free, relationship, passionate about something.

According to that survey, I’m about 50 per cent happy in winter and 60 to 75 per cent from spring to fall. Here’s my breakdown (pun intended):

  1. Environment: This is the variable one. It’s practically 0 in winter because I hate winter – the snow, ice, cold, even the rain, but mostly because I can’t get outside and garden or attend outdoor events without freezing. In the summer it goes to 20 to 25 percent because of the outdoor/gardening factors. The fluctuating 5 per cent is if there are house repairs and the like.
  2. Debt- free: Not me. I live the proverbial “hand-to-mouth” no matter what I do. So far I’ve managed to pay regular bills – including credit cards as payment comes due (except for the line of credit one – it gets the minimum payment and a bit more when I can afford it), even some house repairs (for the biggies I’ve had some help from my ex-husband) and for some unexpected bills. I’ve told my son that my estate will have to pay off my line of credit debt after I’m gone,  but that’s what small life insurance payouts are for. Unless I win the lottery or my book(s) reach best-seller status or no. 3 below happens, that’s the way it is. So this category rates 0 per cent on this happiness scale.
  3. Relationship – also 0 per cent for obvious reasons. After a few years of online dating, in-person singles events, and yes, even the see who is available at groups sharing your interests, I’ve come up with less than slim pickings. This doesn’t mean I’m not interested; I’ve just given up wasting my time looking.
  4. Passionate about something in my life – definitely a full 25 per cent – with my writing, teaching writing, gardening, reading, and a few others, even watching favourite TV programs. I can get transformed out of my misery (albeit temporarily, especially if a telemarketer phones) when doing any of those things.

So there you have it. But the survey/study organizers forgot one big factor here, especially for us older folks – good health. Sure, some of that is genetic and maybe some could come under “environment.” But I think health should be a factor on its own, changing the happiness factors to 20 per cent each.

Comments anyone? What makes you happy or unhappy?


Sharon A. Crawford

Only Child Writes


Filed under Debt, Gardening, Gardening health benefits, Happiness, Health, Health Seniors, Hereditary, Money, Only child, Passion, Seniors, Seniors and Happiness, Sharon A. Crawford, Zoomers

Only Child contemplates worrying

Only Child in worry mode

To worry or not to worry that can be the question. Some of us live a life of worrying. I’m one of those and I come by it with good genes. Both my parents worried, especially my late mother. She could easily have won the Worrywart of the Year Award – if such an award existed. Worrying is inherited –if your parents were worriers so are you.

I remember when I was 15 my mother tried to get me to stop worrying. She handed me Dale Carnegie’s book How to Stop Worrying and Start Living and told me to read it. Apparently it didn’t help me. Many, many years later I still worry on a daily basis and I could win the Worrywart of the Year Award.

But I don’t plan to try to stop worrying despite the implications to health. My worrying history is testimony to that, despite 40 per cent of stuff we worry about never happening (see 12 Techniques to StopWorrying by Cindy Holbrook http://www.pickthebrain.com/blog/stop-worrying/ Statistics came from studies. Ms Holbrook didn’t get them out of the air). Some of our worries do happen. A personal example is the incident with the new freezer delivery and removal of the old. I told a friend that I was worrying about problems with the latter. The freezer was a big old heavy upright and although the stairway was open from the basement to the side door, there was a steep turn there. My friend said it would all go okay.

It didn’t. The company (an independent, not a chain) whom I’d done business with before without any problems delivery or otherwise, balked at moving the freezer outside to the end of the driveway (that after I’d arranged with them in the store to do so, including paying a fee, and also to send a junk dealer to pick up the old freezer). The delivery duo were full of excuses – and one of them had helped remove my big old fridge upstairs three years before so should have known better. I went into full persuasion mode and pulled out all the stops from crying to yelling at the owner on the other end of the phone about the promise to remove the freezer. He finally sent a third fellow to get the freezer out. They did and it wasn’t too bad.

I didn’t thank them. But when the junk dealer showed up within half an hour and was collecting, I stepped out on my veranda and thanked him.

As for the premise that it is needless to worry about something because it probably won’t happen, I’ve had the rug pulled out from under me so many times here. I’m not talking about acts of God (read your insurance policies – these are not called “acts of nature”) – floods, tornados, hurricanes, etc. I refer to the unexpected – the bad unexpected. Two recent examples: when I arrived home from my holidays I found my air conditioner no longer sent out cold air; it has to be replaced and I can’t afford it. The other example I blogged about two weeks ago – the train stalling with power outage on my way home from my holidays. In retrospect I probably should have worried about train problems, especially when the train arrived an unprecedented 10 minutes early where I boarded it – that should have been my warning. As for the air-conditioner, I put it out there every day (to God, the universe, etc., take your pick with your beliefs), to have all go well with my house and the stuff in it. And I give daily thanks for what works as I am truly grateful here.

Count your blessing is one of those 12 techniques to stop worrying in Cindy Holbrook’s article. I don’t agree with all 12 – but this one I do – with an addition – I also put it out there what I am not grateful for in my life.

And that latter brings about some interesting points related to worrying. The percentage of what I’m grateful for/not grateful for runs at about 70% for grateful to 30% not grateful (my health problems, not enough money coming in, for starters). The latter percentage runs close to the percentage of worries that don’t happen but way above the 4% for our worries that never happen, but is dead on for what we worry about that has already happened (30%).

Should I stop worrying about this 30%? Not my health – worrying motivates me to do something to improve my health. Ditto for the money situation. Maybe I need to focus my worrying – perhaps one worry a day. I also like to get the problem solved as quickly as possible or it tends to hang around in my mind. Factor in being an only person with limited help resources and not always enough money to hire people to fix things, and I have more worrying obstacles.

There is a silver lining to all this worrying. Another study has linked high intelligence with worrying a lot (Worrying and Intelligence – Scientists Find Link by Lee Dye, April 18, 2012 http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/worrying-intelligence-scientists-find-link/story?id=16158908#.UE9i7a5wBJE).

So, does that make me an intelligent worrywart?


Sharon A. Crawford

Only Child Writes

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Filed under Anxiety, Health, Life demands, Mom and Dad, Only child, Sharon A. Crawford, Stress, Worrying

Transferring skills – hereditary or not – into work

Teenage Only Child with her Mom

Times are tough and everyone, especially those of us who are self-employed, has to stretch  his or her creativity to find new areas of work, especially if we fall into the “older” age brackets. Should be easy for us creative types. Well…maybe. But it got me thinking, not just about my underlying skills, but about my late Mom’s. And just how much have I inherited from her?

First, Mom, although a widow for six years, never made it to age 65. But she inherited from my dad when he died. Her skill here was financial acumen, something I definitely don’t have except in the area of budgeting. My financial inheritance came early (age 23) and at the expense of my mother’s death. Not really a fair trade. I’d rather have had my mother around a few years more. But on a practical basis, at that age and newly married, much money went into buying a house and later for our son. Later when my husband and I separated, I needed what was left to top up alimony and earnings from my writing for daily living with a growing son.

Mom was also great at organizing things. She had files related to her business of living stored in a dresser drawer. I’ve inherited that skill (although no files in my dresser drawers) as well as her attention to detail – both very important for a writer, editor and writing instructor and speaker. She was also a bit of a pack-rat – and so was I until a few years ago when I started the big purge. I still continue in this vein. Less is more.

My mother was creative in her own way – we share the gardening and cooking creativity and used to share the sewing one. She made many of my clothes and I made all my maternity clothes and my son’s first sleepers (years ago, but not quite in the grey ages). At that time I also quilted a lot (mostly by hand), something my mother never did. Instead she knitted. I gave up sewing around the time I sold my sewing machine at a garage sale just prior to moving back to Toronto. Now, my sewing is confined to mending…and only “kicking and screaming” about it. But you can’t present yourself to clients, prospective clients, etc. with holes in your clothes or missing buttons.

My creativity lies in coming up with ideas and following through with some of them, writing – personal essays/memoir, profiles of quirky people, businesses, gardens, health stories, book reviews, and fiction. I also find it helps when I edit other writers’ book manuscripts. No, not creative editing, but seeing what isn’t working in the story and the possibility for what might work, presented as suggestions for my clients. And as I’ve blogged about before, I love to teach and speak in public. Somehow from being completely tongue-tied and frozen as a teen debating in class, I’ve evolved into someone who likes to get up in front of people and not only provide knowledge, but entertain. Must be the frustrated actor in me. Although Mom wasn’t a teacher per se, she did teach me something by her help and acceptance when I practiced teaching for my grade 8 history class and when I had the audacity to teach her to play the piano – both when I was 13.

My point is that in these tough economic times, to find work we need to look beyond the obvious. What hidden skills do we have that we can transfer from parenting, volunteering, hobbies, etc. into ways to earn a living? If we are great at fund-raising for a community organization, can this skill be transferred to promoting ourselves and our work skills?  Or possibly teaching others to promote their business. If we have a cooking or baking expertise, can we transfer that into a business? Last month I met another writer on the same panel who is baking cupcakes and plans to turn that into a business. Still stuck? Think about your parents’ skills. Have you inherited any of them? Can you put them to use to expand how you make a living?

In these tough economic times, it’s worth a try. You know the old saying, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”

Comments anyone?


Sharon Crawford

Only Child Writes


Filed under finances, Hereditary, Life learning, Only child, Self employed and cash flow, Skills transferable, Teaching

Only Child wants to garden outside now

Only Child's memories of garden past summer of 2010

It’s cold and gray outside and the date is APRIL 19, not NOVEMBER 19. Some places, such as Calgary, Alberta, have snow. What happened to spring? I want to garden outside and am weary of contenting myself with almost daily tours to see if the tulip and hyacinth plants have grown another fraction of an inch and if there are  any bulbs (a few, not open). The chives started poking above the ground late last week and I grab hunks of it to add to baked potatoes and  other culinary creations. Then I do a tour of the inside-the-house plants – the coleus and others that I hope to place outside sometime this spring. It might have been the best year for my indoor plants but the jungle inside isn’t good enough for now.

I am my late mother’s daughter and it’s in  my genes, in my nature to garden. When I was growing up we were out in the garden planting seeds now. As I write in my memoir:

In April, when the first tulip showed its face in the flowerbed under the living room window, Mom had to get out in her garden and do her vegetable, fruit and flower business….

So on this April day in 1952, “Princess Sharon,” age three and a half, with arms crossed, stands between the hedges overseeing the family garden. Dad planted those hedges to separate garden and lawn, and I, his princess, am raring to go gardening. At my shoes, rhubarb sprawls to the left and right, like flat green feet extending from the bottom of the hedge. I’m wearing a cotton dress with large flowers scattered throughout the material and Oxford-like white shoes and socks. The garden itself appears bare and white like sand on a beach except for the couple bent over their shovels, turning the soil from back fence to hedge. I cart out my small shovel and dig in, but I make only small dents compared to Mom and Dad’s efforts. Mostly I hover, watch, and listen.

(Excerpt from You Can Go Home – Deconstructing the Demons, copyright 2011 Sharon Crawford).

In this April of 2011 I am certainly doing a lot of hovering, watching and listening. The latter for the birds – few and far between but I did see the first robin in late March. I also have the excavation by the side of the house (to fix the basement leak) to “hover, watch, and listen” over. But that work is almost done. And maybe I should be thankful the weather has been awful (except for a couple of days of warm grace) – otherwise I might have been ranting about not being able to get at all my gardening because of the mess of earth and tools all over my patio and some  spreading out onto the back lawn.

We were definitely spoiled last summer – the most perfect summer with weather beginning hot in April and lasting into the fall. Thanks to El Nino. What do we have this year? No Nino? Last summer I knew it wouldn’t last/couldn’t repeat itself and to savour it day by day.

Maybe that’s the key. Find something special about each day and enjoy and savour it – one day at a time. After all I did start my tomato, pepper, nasturtium, marigold and peony poppy seeds indoors over the weekend. They and other plants will eventually get outside. And the tulips, hyacinths, pansies and chives are growing (slowly) outside. Patience is a virtue – one I never cultivated.


Only Child Writes

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Filed under Gardening, Only child, Only child memoir, Spring, Tulips

Only Child on aging eyes and writers’ healthcare

Only child struggling to read while wearing those old glasses

Last week I got the green light on my eyes. In December I  had finally, after six years, had my eyes tested by an optometrist. It’s not that I hate wearing glasses. I inherited both Mom’s and Dad’s bad eyes – the duo of myopia and astigmatism and have been wearing glasses since age 21. You see, when you get into bifocals (add the reading glasses part) the cost of glasses increases. As a freelance writer, editor and writing instructor, I am faced with a dilemma – I need glasses to see to work but I also need the money to pay for them. With house repairs, new computer equipment, professional organization fees, and other bills pouring in, eyes and glasses hit the bottom of my “must do,” list.

Until late last year. When I stood up in front of other Canadian Authors Association Toronto branch  members to read from my novella (Fire Underneath the Ice, co-authored with Rene Natan under the pseudonym R.S. Natanevin and yes, available at amazon.com) and had to remove my glasses to see to read, I knew it was time. I could no longer function with these badly-designed glasses (the reading part covered only one-sixth of the lens at the bottom and the left lens was scratched). So, I got new glasses and cool sunglasses which did wonders for my sight but not my purse. However, the optometrist found something disturbing – white clouds in the cornea or cornea opacity in both eyes. He arranged for an appointment with an opthamologist but the earliest date available was March 28, 2011. Three and a half months to worry about whether I’d need laser surgery, pills, prescriptions or a corneal transplant. And listen to some of  my friends’ opinions, including I needed to see an opthamologist now.

We freelance writers getting up there in age have to consider our health – and what will pay for it. When my father had his surgery for lung cancer in 1958, there was no healthcare in Ontario, Canada. Mom had to foot the bill for his surgery and hospital stay. Today, there is healthcare in Canada (since the mid 1960s). Coverage is supposed to be universal across Canada but isn’t. In many provinces, some medical options once covered have been kicked out. Some, such as eye examinations kick in again when you are 65, but not the glasses – they’ve never been covered under universal healthcare. And if you have feet problems, forget it. Orthotics are expensive and visits to podiotrists add up. There are supplemental insurance plans, including for freelance creative people, but have you looked at the premiums? And the coverage is only 80 per cent. Everything is a la carte and when you tally up dental, eyes, feet, back, etc. you might as well do what my dentist once said, “The insurance is too expensive. Better to visit the dentist and pay the cost once a year.” That was over five years ago and the dentist is on my “health waiting list,” waiting as in when I have the money or hit emergency – whichever comes first.

So I do this looking-after-my health in levels based on biggest need. I have nine  health problems (the ninth is stress over the other eight). The latest biggie, the eyes, I had to face last week. And I was scared. Many times I considered cancelling or postponing the appointment and when I lost the opthamologist’s business card I wondered if that was a sign to do so. But I’d bookmarked her biz info on the Internet, so a quick call to the office  confirmed time, date and yes, it was covered by OHIP. So I showed  up – late – I got lost (that’s another story for another post) but despite the crowded waiting room and the ranting patient ahead of me to sign in, I decided to keep my politeness – unless I got bad news.

I didn’t. After waiting 45 minutes (I brought a book to read) I got in for the first check. Then the dreaded drops were put in my eyes and I had another half hour wait (this time not reading). After going through my eye history with the opthamologist and her checking my eyes, the verdict was some scarring on the corneal but it doesn’t affect my eyesight (thanks partially to those great glasses, no doubt). She figured I had some injury or infection – maybe as a child (I don’t remember) and that has caused the scarring. I have to see her every two years and the optometrist annually, but the rest of the “prescription” is to always wear my sunglases when out in the sun, wipe over my eyes with a wet washcloth each evening ( to remove any bacteria) and of course, keep the glasses clean.

Whew! Now, I have to save up to pay for the two pairs of glasses. I got on a plan at the optician’s; I have until December to pay. And they had a half-price sale when I purchased my glasses.

Some medical obstacles  you can work around. I’ve learned the importance of not giving up no matter what the chatter from others.



Only Child Writes

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Filed under Health, Health Seniors, Healthcare coverage, Hereditary, Insurance, Only child, Vision

Only child gets gardening gene from mom

Dad standing under Mom's rose archway

I’m convinced I got the gardening bug from my mom – with a smidgeon from my dad and his proprietary outlook on lawns and trees. In spring, summer and fall I live for my garden so you can imagine how I feel in the bleak days of winter when everything is dead outside. Sure new-fallen snow is beautiful but it is nothing compared to the colours of flowers, the fragrance of herbs and the yummy vegetables and fruit in my garden. Right now I am above head level in black raspberries and I don’t even mind going out in the heat (well, early morning and late evenings) and picking them. I give away some of the extra raspberries  to my friends and also freeze some raspberries. My neighbour’s six-year old son has developed a fascination for picking berries and it is not uncommon for him and his friends to bang on my front door and ask, “Can we pick some raspberries?”

It all started when I was little -maybe around three and a half when I remember Mom and Dad digging in the garden in spring and I would watch…

On this April day in 1952 Mom and Dad are halfway through their spring ritual of turning the soil from fence to hedge. I cart out my small shovel and dig in, but I make only small dents compared to Mom and Dad’s efforts. Mostly I remember hovering, watching and listening.

“Albert,” Mom says. “Be careful around the strawberries.”

She thrusts her shovel, no nonsense-style into the soft sand. Her black oxfords sink deep and the once-white socks are splattered with sand. She hides her body under a flowered housedress. Having a baby at 41 and the indignities and intricacies of middle age has remodelled her into Fraulein Frump.

You couldn’t blame her for taking precautions when digging. The boys behind us, including Tom in my class who defended me against The Bully, stole the strawberries and raspberries, or so mother said. She never caught them in the act, but the remains not present the day after added up to more than a hungry posse of black birds or sparrows. And years later, when Tom and I reconnected, he admitted to the deed.

Then the planting begins. My clumsy digits bury the tiny carrot seed in the row of sand, which my mother carefully indents using the rake handle. When she hauls out the bean seed packet, she has her instructions ready.

“This is the top of the bean.” She pats it with her index finger. “See, it’s curved in. That’s where the bean plant will sprout. You plant that part up or the bean will grow down.”

And so, I swallow my impatience and become the obedient daughter – please the parent and the world will bow to you. I have a lot to learn but I suppose my young age and the results of my gardening actions could excuse my naïve expectations in life. The beans usually grew…up, up towards the heavens, if you believe in fairy tales like Jack and the Beanstalk.

(Excerpted from You Can Go Home, Copyright 2010 Sharon Crawford)

I guess it was Mom’s farm background that pre-disposed her to growing a lot of vegetables and fruit. And yes, she had many raspberry bushes but hers were red raspberries and she just knew how, when and what to prune. Me, I know when (fall) and sort of know what (the dead branches, obviously) but whatever I do or don’t do the bushes seem to increase the next spring –  not complaining – I am grateful. I don’t know where Mom got the original raspberry bushes, but mine grew wild in my Aurora backyard and when I moved back to Toronto, a friend helped me dig up three plants and transplant them to my Toronto backyard. The strange thing is these bushes grew to below my knees in the Aurora backyard but here, well as I said above, they are giants. What do I expect living on a street with the word “garden” in it? I have truly come to my calling, my avocation.

My Mom didn’t just grow edible plants. Sometimes I think her rosebushes were her babies.

The rosebushes spread everywhere – front, back and if Mom could nurture roses through asphalt, the driveway would no doubt harbour a rosebush. Below the veranda, in the corner by the driveway, Mom has installed a trellis. When I sprawl in the green Muskoka chair on the veranda, my nose inhales the sweet aroma of the yellow roses poking through the trellis.

In the ‘50s, we could hold a wedding in our backyard at 139 – the deep red roses climb and entwine around the white archway attached to the white picket fence beside the driveway. As I yank open the gate, the fragrance overwhelms me. But my kid eyes absorb the colour, and as I skip through the backyard, I count the rosebushes winding through trellises against the back of the house, the side of our garage and the neighbour’s garage. My mother’s roses grow high and their scent permeates my nose, skin and right into the core of my heart and soul. She constantly frets over a hybrid tea whose blossoms exemplify the species name, although I don’t recall the actual name of the rose, just Mom standing by the fence and fingering the rose-coloured petals.

“The leaves have too much blackspot,” she says. “And this rose is finished.” Snip, snip go her clippers.

(Excerpted from You Can Go Home, copyright 2010 Sharon Crawford)

My garden is a mixture of perennials, including roses, vegetables and herbs and like my mother’s garden, my garden is all over. But I mix. One of my tomato plants grows next to a rosebush in front; I have lamb’s ears, yarrow and black-eyed Susan in with my vegetables. Although I have a herb garden with lavender, parsley, sage, oregano, echinacea, basil, blue flax. chives and rosemary, I also have chives and sage growing in my flower bed at the bottom of my veranda and basil, rosemary and leaf lettuce growing in a big pot on my veranda just outside my front door. This makes it quick pickings for dinner garnishes, especially on rainy days.

I think I’ve expanded this gardening gene I inherited from Mom. But the fruits of this inheritance may have stopped with me. My son has no interest in gardening. That is left to his girlfriend – she has the potted plants on their balcony, including a nasturtium and pepper plant I gave her.

As for Dad’s proprietary gardening, let’s just say he kept the lawn cut and watered and gave my girlfriends and I “hell” when we yanked the leaves off the trees for “food” for our dolls. At least we didn’t steal the strawberries.

Pink Yarrow and Red Rose by curb



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Only Child Faces Alzheimer’s or Senior Moment?

The last few days I’ve been forgetful and scattered and I’m worried. Especially when I just read about a University of Toronto study on elderly authors (some dead, some alive) whose novels in their advanced years show if they had or have Alzheimer’s. P.D. James, still alive and writing prolifically at 89 has no dementia showing.  One of my favourite mystery authors when I was growing up and a young(er) adult, Agatha Christie, did.

So, when I lost a pendant, but not the chain, somewhere while out shopping and didn’t realize it until I went to remove it that night, “forgot” to buy a new shower curtain, “forgot” what  the original thing was for returning a call to a friend (she forgot, too),  plus a few other little things (which, horrors, I can’t remember now), I began to wonder: has the Big A finally entered my brain. Especially as I see I’ve use the word “thing” three times in this paragraph, one of the specifics noted in this Alzheimer’s study.

Some of my Strauss relatives on my mother’s side of the family had Alzheimer’s, my maternal grandmother, my godfather, my godmother. and a first cousin once removed (I hate that classification; sounds as if she’s been booted out of the family).  My mother, who died at 63, didn’t live long enough to be diagnosed with the Big A, but she showed a few signs. As I write in my memoir:

“What do you want for dinner tonight?” Mom asks me.” She’s been home from the hospital for a few months. “Steak ok?”

“Sure,” I reply.

“Okay. I’ll take the steak out of the freezer.”

Instead she takes out the bacon and I have the nerve to scold her about it. But I’m not all bad. I’m giving her part of my salary to pay for the food and with her help, I’m learning to plan menus and do a grocery list, based on the specials at the different grocery stores.

(Excerpted from You Can Go Home. Copyright 2010 Sharon Crawford.)

But what did I do this weekend but leave a dish of tuna on the kitchen counter beside the fridge while I went out for a few hours. Is my brain following my mom’s or is this just yet another “senior moment?” As for that U of T study, Ian Lancashire, an English professor, Graeme Hirst, a computational linguist, and graduate student Xuan Le, with knowledge from Dr. Regina Jokel, a researcher and language pathologist at Toronto’s Baycrest Hospital, used computer  software to study the cognitive functions of authors who wrote in their later years. They studied the earlier and later works of Iris Murdock, P.D. James and Agatha Christie. Before this study, it was known that Murdock had Alzheimer’s, but Agatha Christie? That was a revelation.

The writings of authors who have Alzheimer’s show a huge decrease in vocabulary and a huge increase in repetition, plus overuse of non-specifics such as “thing” and “something.”  You can check out more information on the study at http://www.research.utoronto.ca/headlines/study-claims-agatha-christie-had-alzheimers/

As for my forays into forgetfulness, I’m blaming it on too much going on in my life and only me to keep track, plus not enough sleep. And I’m calling it a few “senior moments.” At least that’s the thing I tell myself. The thing of it is, I’m going to check and re-check my writing several times using the Flesch thingy reading scale.

That should do it.



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