A Restless Fall Wind…

It’s October 1, and a restless fall wind is stripping dry leaves off the trees and throwing them by handfuls up into the air.  The ravens are ridge-gliding up and over the ever intensifying colour that is lighting the woods in the valley below us.

I wanted to tell you about a guest we had a week or so ago–one of my dearest friends from our years on the Alberta farm. Elsie Jones is 92 now, & she braved a solo flight here from Calgary to visit with us as well as with her granddaughter-in-law and great-granddaughter who live in Halifax.  (Her grandson is a doctor with the troops in Afghanistan.) 

Elsie’s is one of the  three women’s stories I have been trying to finish as a book for far too long–she is as much a life-force as a friend, with an amazing vitality still animating her days.  Despite being frailer than the last time I saw her, and feeling the effects of a long flight and three-hour time change, she  still found the energy (& the ingredients–a small miracle in my kitchen!) to make cinnamon rolls one day, cookies another, and brown buns still another.  She brought along hand-made gifts:  a hand-painted box for me to add to my collection of hand-painted items she has given me over the years–a footstool, a wooden spoon, a “Velkommen” sign I keep just inside my door–all done with the blue-black background and blue and deep rose scrolling typical of the Norwegian style she has learned to do in more recent years.  For her great-granddaughter, she brought a hand-knitted sweater in Nordic colours of yellow with dark blue buttons.  All “so Elsie,” so true to the energetic kindliness of a woman whose friendship was a source of great strength through all my years as a prairie farmer’s wife.

These days, one of my major thinking project is to grasp a more broadly human vision of the meaning of ageing than our culture, addicted as it is to youth and beauty, understands.  The collaborative papers my friend Arlette Zinck (of The King’s University, Edmonton) and I gave at the International John Bunyan Society Conference in UK this summer a part of this much larger inquiry. 

My friend Elsie is unusually blessed in intellect and the genes that determine good ageing; but she is blessed, too, by having developed a strong social network made up of friends, neighbours, and close family; by having a set of life-attitudes that, having served her throughout her life, now serve her exceptionally well in old age–frugality and generosity, energetic engagement, a continual thirst for knowledge and experience.  She is  an unusually strong model of old age lived well.  So, as she has done ever since I arrived in Dewberry, Alberta in 1962 as a very young high school teacher and new bride, Elsie continues to challenge me and light a path for me. 

And, by the way, her brown bread is just as good as it was when, that first time, she came to our teacherage door and offered Cam and me a loaf of her homemade bread: bread that was so good I made sure that every time Cam took a slice, I took one too, so that we shared the loaf evenly, down to the final crust.

Maxine

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