Monday, April 23, 2018

I'm Back!

For more than a year, I didn't upload any new posts to my blog site. Instead, I spent most of my available time transcribing and uploading hundreds and hundreds of pages of raw data to: The Silver Bowl. Before arriving in Dublin, where I am right now - overlooking St. Patrick's Cathedral, I also took several months to get somewhat fit. As the BC Lotteries Commission advises us (and as my daughters and husband kindly remind me - with great frequency): Know your limit - Play within it.

New gym created at Roberts Creek Coho -  a happening place. Photo Credit: Lee Carter.
I focused on weight training so that I would be able to heft the 20-40-pound  parchment volumes of deeds known – for good reason – as tombstones. As it turns out, hefting tombstones was not needed this time round, although given my 54-pound suitcase, a 20-pound back pack and a 10-pound bag, my new-found strength came in handy as I hauled it all up four flights of stairs to get to my Air BnB. In defense of my habitual pack-horse idiocy, I will point out that I do travel with various gifts and food. After all, there are books that I need to give to people. Plus, how can one live without kick-ass olive oil, balsamic vinegar, maple syrup and two kinds of miso?

Anyway, back to what matters. Now that most of the Registry of Deeds documents are on line, and there is no need to heft tombstones, I will simply carry on on from where I left off after last year’s research trip. I now wish that I had added another week to my stay in Dublin. I always forget how many days it takes before jet lag stops nibbling at me. Now, I have only four days left in this city before I return for a last hurrah near the end of May.

In the posts to follow, there will some breaking news with respect to the many lines of Jacksons who sport sheldrakes in their family crests. This is of more consequence than might be apparent at first blush. In other posts, I will take readers with me as I baby-step forward like a child playing Go-Go-Stop. Several steps forward, and then back to the starting line. This is the nature of this quest. Hopefully you will not have to wait another year to learn more because - yes - I do intend to write about it, and yes, I will then post it all here. 

Echoing Seamus Heaney, these blog posts are part of my way of digging with a pen.

Digging by Seamus Heaney - engraved on a wall in Dublin - transcription beneath.
The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.
Between my finger and my thumb

The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

St. Patricks City of Dublin

I am about to start blogging after a break for about a year and have a few drafts of new blogs in the pipeline.
Understandably, this one jumped the queue.
Today I went to church. This would be something decidedly unusual for me to do in Canada, unless someone had died or was getting married (or baptized), but it is quite a regular thing for me when I am in Ireland. It gives me time to pause and reflect. Without favouring one over another, I attend churches that are Presbyterian, Catholic, Methodist or Church of Ireland. What they share in common is greater than what separates them. For me, they offer time and space to consider powers greater than myself, however I might choose to frame that.

Today, I attended Matins at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin. In part, I chose this church because it is just across the street from where I am staying, but it was also because the service was going to feature boys’ and mens’ choirs singing together. It is rare to hear this in Canada. Plus - bonus – they were going to include a piece by Elgar.

The truck in front is labeled Utopia. .
Many times during the service, my friend Colleen and her nephew Sean – also a friend – popped into my head. Later today in Abbotsford, they will be putting Rhonda, Colleen’s sister and Sean’s mother, to rest. I barely knew Rhonda myself. Mostly as a painter, an amazing painter, and as Colleen’s older sister. The other part that I know about her concerned her life-long struggle with addiction, a struggle which had led to the abandonment of her children. I doubt that either – addiction or abandoning children - would have been her first choice, but addiction can be like that.

Today, when I recited the Absolution, for my (as they say) sins of omission and commission, I also thought about Rhonda. Maybe she would have laughed with utter abandon had she heard me. After I had finished reading the whole thing out loud, I noticed the instructions at the bottom telling us that the priest was supposed to be the only one to read it. I had wondered why others in the congregation were silent. Ah, yes: And we have done those things which we ought not to have done.

It is an odd thing, to sit in the kind of church where the sun glints off the rows of knights’ helmets arrayed above the choir beneath dozens of old flags and cloth standards. I wonder. When it comes to histories of churches, perhaps we should cut them the same slack that we ask ourselves to do for ourselves: And we have done those things which we ought not to have done.

The glory of being in such a place on such a Sunday is that it is possible to be part of an assembly of people who - after all - are choosing to try to do their best. The architecture and the music complement one another in support of this devout hope. The chords of Amen sung by men and boys together make it impossible – even for me - to avoid the experience of transcendence. 

As I listened to the choirs sing their version of Elgar’s Anthem, it also occurred to me that they could have been singing it for Rhonda as well as for any of those of us present.

The Collect could also have been chosen for Rhonda: They went astray in the wilderness out of the way; and found no city to dwell in. Hungry and thirsty: their soul fainted in them. So they cried unto the Lord in their trouble: and he delivered them from their distress. Psalm 107 vv5-6.

In Rhonda’s last days, there were some genuine mercies. Times of grace. Some wounds were healed. Some solace was found. What more can one hope for at the end of such a life? Blessings. To Rhonda’s sisters and to her children and grandchildren. And also to Rhonda. Blessings.

PS to Sean. After the service, I walked up the hill to the Queen of Tarts to buy a piece of apple pie. It is excellent pie, but not as good as yours. Tante Gertraut would agree.

PS to Colleen. Because of the time difference, it will be evening here when your service begins. I will raise a glass of Bertha’s Revenge as my way of sending a blessing – Devout Pagan that I am.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Crash Test Dummy

Crash Test Dummy

This post is in response to several emails from far flung readers who have been asking about my health. Fair enough. I hadn’t posted for four months, and a silent Sharon is something of an oxymoron. Going forward, I don’t plan to indulge much in what my father used to call the organ recital, but at least with this, everyone can rest assured that I am now back on my pins.

September 22nd was one of those days that had started innocently enough. In the early afternoon, I was contentedly preparing fresh ginger for a rhubarb syllabub, enough to feed about 40 people, but then I started to feel some abdominal pain. This was no big deal to me. I have lived with brief and occasional bouts of diverticulitis for at least sixty years. This time, since it was a bit more upper-case insistent, I decided to drive home, for a bathroom break and a brief rest. Home was only a few blocks away, and I expected to be back in an hour.

What happened instead was that as I drove over the speed bump at the exit from Roberts Creek Cohousing, I totally blacked out. This was a new experience for me - becoming a Crash Test Dummy. Thankfully, no one was between me and my eventual destination.

As the police later reconstructed the scene, I continued to drive a good hundred feet or so until I plowed into a ditch. From there, I continued on inside the ditch for at least another fifty feet with the car on a forty-five degree angle. (I would note that this says a lot in favour of the effectiveness of the Subaru Forrester all-wheel-drive system.) Anyway, when the ditch ended, being blocked by a driveway, I powered right on out of it, pedal to the metal, hit a parked car, and then careened across the road and was finally stopped by a cluster of trees.

When I came to, I was puzzled that there were branches and leaves touching my windscreen. From a distance, I heard a woman saying, We have called 911. Then she touched my arm, so I realized that she was right beside me and had been for some time. An ambulance is on its way. I think I said something like, I’m OK. I just need to go to the bathroom, and then lie down for a bit. That must have sounded decidedly idiotic.

Then the police showed up. I recall glancing at my rear-view mirror as one of them was asking me questions. I could see my youngest daughter sprinting towards me, parting the waters of the onlookers while repeatedly saying: Let me through. I’m family. She watches enough TV to know this is what you say. This is good.

Reconstructing the scene afterwards, the conclusion was that the seat belt had tightened as I had gone over the speed bump, causing the pain to spike. I then had a vasovagal syncope, which is a fancy way of saying that I had passed out. Had there been any warning that this could have happened, I certainly would not have been driving, but as it was, I hadn’t passed out since I was about thirteen years old. That time, I had been hanging up my coat in the closet, and had awoken to the nearby smell of boots.

This time I emerged – amazingly -- without a scratch, bruise, or a single pulled muscle, although one thing puzzled me. In the weeks that followed, I felt addled, and could barely concentrate even though nothing amiss had shown up on the CAT scan. There was no evidence of a stroke or other damage. The only observation of any interest was that I had an age appropriate brain. Fair enough. This is probably why I find it harder to have every word instantly at the tips of my mental fingers these days. That, I can live with. The little white spots look like flecks of snow.

For the next several months, and maybe it was in response to this event, I sludged my way through one respiratory infection after another. The worst part of it was that when I would try to write, even just for my blog where my standards are more relaxed, it wasn't worth the candle. I used these barren months to transcribe deeds and such. I also made plans for another research trip to Ireland.

A little over two weeks before I was due to leave, another kick to the gut. This time the onset was more intense, and more sudden than the last. One moment, I was enjoying dinner at a Greek restaurant with friends, and the next minute, one of them was with me in the bathroom, comforting me, and saying that she would help me up when I was ready. In the end, it took two people to help me out of the restaurant, across the street, and into the car. As we were leaving, one of the waitresses said, Have a good evening. Really.

After more tests and scans, the long and the short of it is that this was the same thing that had decked me in September. An acute diverticulitis attack. Apparently, now that I have reached the august age of three score years and ten, age is not my friend. Fortunately, two kinds of antibiotics, accompanied with significant down time, worked. Even so, just like the last time, my brain might as well have been parked in a room three doors over for all the good it was doing me. Right up to the day before I was due to fly out of YVR, neither Andreas nor I were sure that this was a totally brilliant idea. Then I had a good night’s sleep, the first in weeks, and then a good start to the morning. So I went for it, and am now in Dublin. Thankfully, it was the right call.

There is a John Newlove poem that Andreas and I have on the wall in our bedroom. It seems timely:

I'd like to live a slower life.
The weather gets in my words
and I want them dry. Line after line
writes itself on my face, not a grace
of age but wrinkled humour. I laugh
more than I should or more
than anyone should. This is good.

So, on this trip, unlike my usual approach, here is my plan. I will do my best to act my age. Ahem. I will take naps when needed. I won’t work my usual sixteen hour days. 

Here is where I am at. Two of the outstanding questions that are the focus of my work this week are:

Where is the farm in Co. Kildare that Sir Thomas Jackson (1841-1915) supposedly owned  in the 1890s. Finding it might clear up some other questions that I have about him and his family. My bigger question continues to be: How did this happen?

Sir Thomas JACKSON - age 23 - before leaving Armagh for Hong Kong where he became by far the most effective and compassionate international banker that Ireland has ever produced. (Some would say, there isn't much competition - but he was an exceptional person.)

My 2nd question is a bit more far flung and concerns Reverend William JACKSON (1737-1795), the United Irishman who took poison in the dock after he was convicted of treason but before he was sentenced. Was he related in any way to the Henry JACKSON of Ballybay, Co. Monaghan who had fled for his life to America after also he was convicted of his involvement with the United Irishmen? Or was he related to the JACKSONs of Coleraine? Or Antrim? Or Down? Or ….? Would he have met Barbara DONALDSON (1783-1865), the widow of William DONALDSON (1768-1815), a leader of the United Irishman in South Armagh? She was both an aunt and a significant mentor of the young Thomas JACKSON, right up till her death at the age of 82. We have some of their letters.

Rev. William JACKSON - United Irishman.

In the next couple of months, I plan be blogging about all this and more. After all, I really am a bit of a magpie. Anything bright and shiny always catches my attention. Who knows what comes next?