Monday, October 31, 2011

Thanksgiving Month, Day 31: The Purple Chairs

This month is supposed to be about people, so won't you sit with me for a moment?

One of the most deeply loved spots in the TH is the fireplace, with its antique leather-embossed card table and, on each side, the two purple chairs.
The purple chairs in a corner for a reception:
anywhere in the TH is their comfort zone!

If these chairs could talk ...

       They would tell of sisters sharing a pot of Tiger Hill tea and exchanging remembrances of their Mum

       Of two friends sipping on iced lattes with a box of Kleenex nearby

       Of a beautiful woman quietly knitting

       Of a first date, where the tea basket is brought over to break the ice -  and then, the next weekend, of a second date

       Of a minister meeting to counsel someone in pain

       Of two senior people, freshly in love, singing a hymn together just before walking down the aisle as husband and wife

       Of a husband and wife who have found a babysitter for an hour, sharing a dessert and a little time with each other late on a Sunday evening

       Of a dad drinking tea with his girl, completely present to her in her world

       Of my Dad sitting in one of them each Wednesday night sharing insights from God's word the Bible

       Of a widow, suddenly alone, taking a moment to step away from their family at the lunch table, to sit, to reflect and to gird herself for her beloved's funeral

       Of a young mother bringing her son in for his first lesson in public table manners ("now, don't forget to say thank you to Miss Karyn!")

       Of a couple whose life is falling down around them, sharing a pot of tea, saying nothing verbally but their eyes speaking despair and love despite it all

       Of one of the first preteen girls ever to come here, sitting by herself with her Jones soda untouched and with her head resting on the table, later writing in my guest book, "Today was misruble. I hope tomorow is better"

The chairs are moved around the TH quite a bit when we have private functions  - we usually try to set them up in a quiet corner and without exception people gravitate to them wherever they may be.

People come and go through Nilgiris and so the chairs see a steady rotation. But there is one person who became my friend through sitting in those purple chairs and then had to move away, a friend with whom I wish to share the chairs this evening.

I would venture to say that she loves those purple chairs more than almost anyone except for me does.

When one of them broke and we had to use its substitute cousin, a burgundy armchair exactly the same in shape and fabric but not the purple chair, she felt it deeply. I thought fleetingly that it was a snapshot of her life at the time - broken, needing to be set aside for a while until it could be mended.

Someone else had suggested that I retire the purple chairs and simply use the burgundy pair. But you don't just discard something you love and that has been of such meaning to you and to so many others. You set it aside for a while and let it rest and take a moment to figure out how to repair the splintered wood, how to brace the frame, how to stretch the fabric to cover the fraying edges.

And then, when you have a plan, you take as long as it takes to restore that loved item. You entrust it to the hands of someone with the skill and the patience and the appreciation for its value and its place in the overall scheme of things.

My friend understands all that. And though she is no longer one of the active occupants of the purple chairs because she now lives too far away, she still takes a deep interest in what goes on here. She still cares about the little TH and about me.

I had forgotten that she didn't know the chair was back until I read a note from her last week after she saw a picture of the chairs:

you fixed that purple chair!!! oh! i wish i could hug it...

i wish i could hug you. :)

K, "my K," I call her. We met by chance and then late one weekday afternoon she came over for a latte and we started to place the first stitches into the needlepoint of our friendship. We had no design planned out, no pattern to follow. We just knew that, as we settled deep into the purple chairs, we could speak and cry and laugh and be safe, and any stitches we placed would somehow work into a tapestry of beauty and memory. 

More than anyone else, my K is the living picture of my injured purple chair. The weight of the sadness she has had to bear has caused her to groan under its force. She has splintered in a couple of places. She has had to retreat for a while, sketching out a plan of how best to continue.

She has entrusted herself to the hands of Someone with the skill and the patience and the appreciation for her value and her place in the overall scheme of things. 

Someone who has been broken Himself and whose own hands bear the scars of nails that have been hammered into them and who knows the value of those nails, the worth of those scars.

And the result is a stronger, more stable chair, able to withstand weight and time and kids drumming their legs against its legs; and teenagers curled up shoeless and cross-legged, giggling and sharing confidences; and husbands and wives reaching across the table to link fingers and strengthen each other's hearts.

Oh, if you look closely you will see the head of a nail in an odd place here, a tiny metal plate screwed in there, a few extra stitches, a couple of inches of unvarnished wood.

But this chair is one of the most cherished treasures in the TH to me. I can't imagine the place without it.

Thanksgiving Month, Day 30: VIP Treatment

Bronwyn made me a boxful of beautiful "Reserved" signs to place in the little silver teapots that Doreen had given me.

As I looked through them I noticed one that said VIP GUEST. "When will I use that?" I wondered.

"You'll know who it's for," she reassured me.

Of course she was right: Murray called me up on Saturday afternoon and asked if he and Shelagh could come out with her parents for dinner on Sunday.

Could they come out?! I could hardly wait for the 26 1/2 hours to go by until I saw them again!

So on Sunday afternoon I chose one of my table cloths from India and put a Reserved sign on the table:

Yes, that sign ...

They arrived right around 4 p.m. It was the first visit for Murray, Carmel and Gerry; but my dear Shelagh had taken the trouble, way back in 2003, to make sure she drove out from Calgary to attend the opening of Nilgiris Tea House.

Things have changed for both of us in the intervening years. The TH is almost a different place these days. We've been forced to take things slower. It's not so frantic here, not so uncertain.

In a much more intense way, that's the same for Shelagh. She perforce takes things slower these days. And after years of suffering pain and seeking solutions, she is no longer frantic, no longer uncertain.

She bears her new reality with tremendous spirit and with increasing courage. When she first began her odyssey with ALS she stated clearly and firmly,

We all face the same end - I just have a shorter timeline. And because of this I really will not put off to tomorrow things that I want to do today.  I want to  be really clear regarding my position on this ugly disease : I am LIVING with ALS - I am NOT dying with ALS.  And I intend to keep the life in my living. I want laughter and beauty and all the good things life has to offer.

And just about a year into her official diagnosis, this is exactly what she has done. She has gone on vacation with her family. She has participated in a fund-raising marathon. She goes out with friends and invites them into her home. She has started celebrating birthdays, Christmas, anniversaries. (Her own and Murray's 37th anniversary was spent in ER, but that's a story for another day ...)

A fairly private person, she has made enormous adjustments to her life, as has Murray, in order to accomplish what she wants to accomplish, to keep the life in her living. Fiercely independent, she is choosing to give others the privilege of supporting her on her walk, just as she has done and continues to do for so many of us. Added to that, she has become an eloquent, elegant spokesperson for ALS.

So really, although her physical circumstances have changed, nothing has changed about her spirit and her attitude and her striking beauty.

Now here she was on Sunday afternoon, power steering her way into the TH (sorry about the ledge at the front door!).

"I can't believe you're here!" I chattered excitedly.

"Why?" she asked me matter-of-factly, as if it were no big deal to pack up a wheel chair and two elderly parents and take a jaunt out to the country. 

Murray introduced Carmel and Gerry and then I dragged out the tea basket. Gerry and Carmel chose Earl Grey and English Breakfast, and Shelagh chose Ginger Bounce, a palate cleanser and probably the only tea in the basket that can measure up to her moxie. 

Murray decided to live on the edge and drink real coffee ...

My Dad and Caite dropped by so I had the privilege of introducing them to this power couple in my life. And - the TH being the TH - people from neighbouring tables included their table in the little ribbons of conversation that tend to weave between tables on Sunday evenings.

At 5 o'clock we started serving dinner. Butternut squash soup and roast beef were on the menu, followed by sticky toffee pudding and mango mousse.

Evening fell gently and the little Tea House began to glow, but no brighter than my friend's eyes. She must have been getting tired; but she conveyed no sign of it. The two of us began arguing good-naturedly about something and she said, "You know, I can still stare you down - I've done it before!"

Later last night I received an email from Murray. Part of it read:

We were so impressed with your Tea House, not to mention the great food and ambiance.  And such warm and friendly people who patronize your establishment - it was fabulous.
It was a real treat to meet your Dad and sister, and we were certainly glad you got to meet Shelagh's parents.  Her Mom and Dad had a great time and I guarantee you they will be back. Shelagh usually struggles to be out and about for 6+ hours - but not today.  A true testament to how well she enjoyed herself today.  It makes my day when I can bring such happiness into her life. 

I have a magnet in my kitchen:

This is what Shelagh's and Murray's presence at Nilgiris did for me.

As I waved goodbye to them, my heart felt like it was going to burst from happiness. Not a lot of my city friends have the time available to visit Nilgiris; to think that these friends had gone out of their way to come to the TH was a tremendous encouragement to me personally as I take annual stock of where we are and if we should keep it up, the little TH and I, for another year ... 

And as I was getting ready to shut it down for the night I harked back to the VIP reserved sign again; I think Bronwyn was doubly right.

Shelagh and Murray, by coming out here, made me believe that the little sign was actually for me.

Thanksgiving Month, Day 29: Of Tiny Broken Elephants and Wounded Tin Soldiers

At coffee the other day you handed me a gift bag; in it, carefully wrapped, were some of my carved elephants that you had found amid your possessions.

Then you drew another elephant out from your breast pocket. "This one is broken ... I'm so sorry ..."

His left front lower leg was missing, hewed off by some unknown, unavoidable force that no one could have predicted would damage him so frighteningly.

I wondered briefly where the missing foot had ended up.

I wondered if he was scared when he heard the grinding sound as stone dislodged from stone. (Get a grip, I told myself, It's an ornament, for heaven's sake!)

I wondered where I would put this tiny elephant who was still saluting so bravely despite his loss.

"I wonder if I might have him?" you asked diffidently.

Of course - that's exactly where he belongs! I thought immediately.

"Of course you may!" I exclaimed, and watched as you carefully tucked him back into your pocket.

And I thought of the day, two years ago this month, when I received that phone call saying, "He's had a stroke - it's not good ..."

Thanks for driving out to help me with the deprogrammed till!
But today, two years later, you are still soldiering on, still with us. Your left hand and foot are sometimes a little uncooperative, you acknowledge. You get tired more easily.

But the point is, you still persevere. You still get up in the morning and do what you believe with all your heart you are called to do.

So keep that tiny elephant safe, a talisman of suffering and courage and gallantry. When you glance at him, remember that you, too, are a survivor, that you are still here for a purpose.

Keep your dream alive. And know that there are many of us at the TH who are rooting for you ...

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Thanksgiving Month, Day 28: The Saturday Morning Crowd

One of the things I love the most about the TH is our Saturday mornings. No, I'm not talking about the 5:30 a.m. staggering-down-the-stairs-wondering-if-I-fell-and-broke-my-leg-would-we-still-have-to-open-and-how-long-could-I-rest-in-the-emergency-waiting-room? part of the morning.

I'm talking about the part shortly before 10 a.m. when one of our regulars - Ed - comes in the side door and we chat desultorily about our respective weeks and discuss the tea blend he would like this morning and what music we should listen to for the day.

Sometimes his friend Dan will show up and the two of them will sit in companionable silence, for the most part, reading a book or newspaper.

Ted will amble in somewhere between 10 and 10:15. If Dan's not there, he'll sit with Ed until Brian and Char pull up, and then he'll join them and Dan or someone else will join Ed.

We all have our routine. We all know each other's ways. We all suspiciously eye "new" people coming in at that time of day (although Richard and Lana and Rebecca, Dad and BethAnne, Brenda, Alicia and kids, Don and Norma, Paul, Lorne and Rebecca and Naomi, Joanne - oh, okay, ALL of you! - are more than welcome to join us!).

Still, to go back to the original five - I know what they will want to eat, and they know I know. It's just like being at home ...

  • Earl Grey and quiche
  • Cream Earl Grey and mango mousse
  • Decaff coffee with cream and toast with peanut butter
  • Decaff Earl Grey and toast with peanut butter and raspberry jam
  • Small mug of coffee and cinnamon roll, no butter
The start of my weekend is somehow not complete without each one of them making an appearance.

See you on Saturday!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Thanksgiving Month, Day 27: Inaugural Members of the TH Family

Vernon and Sharon were at the tea house seeing if they could be of any help to us before we even opened the doors to the public! I had not met them previously; but from their first warm "welcome to the neighbourhood" visit, they have been kindness personified. Sharon keeps her eyes open for little things she thinks might work in the TH - one of my all-time favourites was the miniature tea set with cardinals on it that she gave me for Christmas 2007 ("I remember your Mom liked cardinals," she said as I unwrapped it; this tea set stays up year round on my desk ...). Vernon has supplied me with filters for my furnace (who knew I was supposed to change those things on a regular basis?!)

For the period in 2006 - 2007 that the TH was closed, Sharon would come by to visit me and even though, during this difficult time, I didn't have a lot of words, she never seemed to mind. She let me know she was there in whatever capacity I needed her.

The two of them pop in every weekend they are in town, and they always have a word of encouragement or two to share with me. They have laughed with me and cried with me. They have bussed their share of tables in the TH; and they've gone out of their way to get to know every single person who has worked here. 

They are part of the TH family and we cannot be grateful enough for the amazing neighbours and friends they have been since April 2003.

They are truly a blessing, both to the TH and to me.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Thanksgiving Month, Day 26: Tuesday Mornings with the Oldies

I must say that one of the highlights of my week is Tuesday mornings when I get to go to Robertson Manor and play the organ for three or four songs and then listen as Dad brings a study / devotional to the Oldies who have gathered there from the Manor and from the Golden Hills Lodge.

There's Dorothy, who drove through the mountains not long ago because her friend, who is in her 50s and was supposed to be driving, got a cramp in her leg or some such thing. Dorothy is 90 and sharp as a tack ...

Lester, who goes once a month to the Drumheller prison to be an encouragement and a "grandma" to those young men who need someone like her to talk to ...

Betty, our dear blind little Betty, who sees more than most everyone in the room ...

Joyce, whose mind and memory are betraying her but who can recite poetry and verses with vigour and confidence still ...

Wes, Joyce's brother, who said goodbye to his beautiful Leona not so long ago ...

Ruby, soft spoken but wielding a big stick! ...

Bill, who came late to this group but who sits on the right hand side of Dad to keep an eye on him, to get a bit of help finding the right book and chapter and verse, to bring him a cough drop each week, to be near him ...

Sandy, valiant of heart and quietly persevering ...

Brenda, my own dear Brenda,  who helps hand out the refreshments and is a great encouragement to Dad and me ...

Neil, crippled in body but strong in heart ...

Emily, who weeps for the world ...

Velma, who has shyly volunteered to play the organ when I am unable to be there ...

And others who come when their health and their memories and their schedules permit it.

And then there's Dad. Dad took this study over from Tony Hanson quite a number of years ago and he conducts it through the year. All other studies have breaks, but not the Oldies at the Manor - for some of them, it's their church service and he is not going to let them down. When he can't be there, Dave Epp, a dear friend, will substitute for him.

Right now we're learning about benedictions in the Bible, and the "good word" - which is what benediction means - we are studying is Numbers 6:24 - 26 (which, incidentally, was the reference my Mum's Mum always wrote in every birthday and Christmas card she sent us):

The Lord bless you and keep you

The Lord make His face shine upon you
and be gracious unto you

The Lord lift up His countenance upon you
and give you peace

This Tuesday we looked at the second verse.

For God's face to shine upon His people is a sign of acceptance, Dad explained. It's a sad thing when God's face is hidden from us, as it was from His people in Isaiah chapter 59, after they had strayed so far from Him. Contrast that with His words in Ezekiel chapter 39: "... neither will I hide My face from them any more." 

I for one know that I hate it when I think someone I care for is distant from me, for any reason but especially when I know it's something I have done to cause the rift. First I get a bit resentful and pouty - hey, there's two sides to this! I mutter in my head. But very soon I will feel concerned and anxious that something I have done has hurt someone I love and I want to make it right. And more often than not, the person at the other end also wants to make amends and restore the relationship and meets me half-way.

I magnify that to God-scale - except for in this instance it truly is one-side as far as the offending party is concerned! - and I am speechless with wonder that He would care enough to meet me more than half-way in restoring our fellowship.  

For God's face to shine upon His people is for God to save, Dad went on. This "make His face" is in the active voice anywhere you read it in the Bible; it's always something God does proactively, and all we have to do is accept it. Psalm chapter 30 goes through a bit of a cycle: the Psalmist starts off praising God and then gets a little too cocky, a little too self-satisfied ("and in my prosperity I said, I shall never be moved.")

Big mistake.

The next verse shows the psalmist acknowledging this in his words, "Lord, by Your favour You have made my mountain to stand strong [there's that proactive action again!]; when You hid Your face I was troubled ..."

A slightly different word but the same concept is found in the New Testament book of Ephesians, chapter 1 and verse 6: "... the glory of His grace, through which He has made us accepted in the Beloved." Some translations beautifully put it, "accepted in the Son of His love."

Dad told the story of two soldier boys in the first half of the last century, one from a fairly well-to-do family and the other homeless, without family to speak of, without roots. These two young men signed up at the same time, went through training together and then were sent out to the battle front together. By this time they had become as close as brothers; and one day the soldier with the established family said to his friend, "If something happens to me out here, and you make it, I want you to go to my home and take my place in my family." He even wrote a letter to that effect and gave it to his friend.

And, as war played out on the battlefield, the one soldier was killed and the other one survived. He was sent home and had nowhere to go, no one to welcome him back. He tried to find a job but the war was over and there were thousands just like him looking for work. In despair he suddenly thought of the letter his friend had given him those months ago. 

He made his way to the city that his friend came from and found his friend's home. He located the house and knocked on the door. A patrician-looking man answered and asked what the soldier wanted. "Would you have a room for me and something to eat?" the soldier asked.

"There are many people out there in your predicament, son," was the reply. "I'm sorry, but we have no room in this house."

Hesitantly, very humbly, the soldier slowly brought out the letter and handed it to the elder man. The man read it, almost unable to believe his eyes."You knew my son?" He called into the house, "Mother, this boy knew our son! We have a room for him, don't we?"

Accepted in the son of their love.

"[The Lord] be gracious unto you."  This statement invokes God's mercy, compassion and kindness. The book of Nehemiah chronicles some of the last events in the Old Testament where the city of Jerusalem was being rebuilt but due to one thing or another the walls were left in disrepair. Ezra and Nehemiah were there, exhorting the people to complete the work and to turn back to God, who had after all freed them and brought them back home. 

In a recollection of the history of deliverance the Israelites had experienced the priestly tribe sang this song, "... our fathers dealt proudly, and hardened their necks ... and refused to obey but hardened their necks ... But You are a God ready to pardon, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness, and forsook them not."  

Don't we sometimes yearn for mercy, for compassion, for a little bit of kindness? 

But God doesn't force Himself upon us. He is prepared to wait until we are ready. Isaiah chapter 30 verse 18 was an astonishing verse for me to read this day:

And therefore will the Lord wait
that He may be gracious unto you,
and therefore will He be exalted
that He may have mercy upon you

for the Lord is a God of justice;
blessed are all they who wait for Him

God will wait ... for me?! 

And what about the last part of this passage - I am to wait for Him too. I might not feel blessed right now - but it's only a matter of time if I wait for Him.

We are asked to wait in two ways in the Bible: to wait UPON the Lord, and to wait FOR the Lord. The first is active - we need to be doing something.

This waiting here is so very sweet. 

We simply 




Nothing more is required of us. We can breathe into this space, into this time. And His blessing will come.

This is what "my" Oldies are doing. We have lost a number of them to age, to illness, to moving away, to the ultimate parting on this earth. There is not a lot most of them can do physically any more. But they are powerful because they know the secret to being blessed. 

So they wait, quietly and patiently and without any fanfare.

And God listens to them and blesses them.

They in turn bless me, with their prayers, their hugs, their wisdom.

No wonder Tuesday mornings are such a gift to me!

Thanksgiving Month, Day 25: Ode to Zoe

(Sorry about the delay on these posts - I don't know where the time went!)

Dear friend, each time I park my car outside
Your home, you quickly run to greet me first
And when the door is finally opened wide
You show such joy, for which I sometimes thirst

You're smarter than most everyone I know
And patient with me even though I sleep
when you would rather talk. Your inner glow
Belies the thought that only still runs deep

You love so deeply and you care so much
Your beautiful brown eyes reflect the pain
you sense in others, and your gentle touch
Brings comfort and helps face the world again

You're more than just another pretty face 
You're girl's best friend, a niece so sweet and true
So what if burglars break into the place
They'll never find someone as kind as you!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Thanksgiving Month, Day 24: On Blueberry Hill

When our family came back to Canada the furlough after I had finished at Hebron School in India, we settled in Three Hills. Well, most of us did; I went to a little college in Edmonton and came home some weekends and for holidays.

Then I went to university in the States. The next time I came to Three Hills, apart from Bronwyn's and Paul's wedding, was in June 1988. 

It was a devastating time in my life. I had no idea where to turn and nowhere to go, so I came to the town that housed my sisters Bronwyn and Cathryn. 

Of course, you know the story about Don hiring me at the Dairy King. I also worked at the Food Cellar for Larry. And I tried my best to adjust and to fit in and to make some friends.

Two people who befriended me came from out of the blue - they were parents of a friend, and yet they took an interest in me, always chatting to me when they came to the Dairy King, inviting me over to their home, greeting me at church, going out of their way to make me feel welcome and part of things.

I left Three Hills in 1990 and rarely saw them for years after that.

But when I moved back to start the TH, they picked up where they had left off. 

She brought me china cups and saucers and the odd knick nack that she spotted which she thought might work in the TH. He fixed the railing on my banister and sanded down the broken surface of the mortar part of the mortar-and-pestle set I use to grind the spices for chai.

They come to the TH when they can and they always bring laughter and snappy comebacks with them. They also get into the spirit of things and are welcome additions to the evening supper crowd.

But at the end of this summer they outdid themselves: I got a phone call one Sunday afternoon before we had opened. "I have some china for you - can I drop it off?" We got to chatting and she also mentioned that they had been blueberry picking and had some extras. I told her I would buy blueberries from them if they would sell. She said we'd have to talk ...

And then they showed up that evening, blue berries and china in tow! I pretty much had to force money on them for the blueberries, which they themselves had picked and paid for at a U-Pick place in British Columbia. So what they did was they stayed for dinner, "so that we can give you back your money," is how he put it.

Ron and Elizabeth. Uncomplicated, undemanding friendship from two people with very big hearts and a care and concern for others that is rare and precious. Exactly the kind of friends a person needs in those times when the clouds loom large overhead and life gets tangled and complicated and you just want someone to say hi and give you a hug.

As Elizabeth always says to me when she hugs me goodbye: "We love you we miss you!"

Monday, October 24, 2011

Thanksgiving Month, Day 23: Giant in a Leather Jacket

You see their ranks growing smaller each time you attend a funeral in Three Hills. Here are some of them who have already left:

Mr Erickson

Mary Pettifer

Donna Thompson

Wilf Watson

Norline Rendall

Leona Davidson

Martha Wunsch

Kay Enns

Marion Warnock

Gordon Ironside

Patricia Christeen O'Halloran Ironside

There are many others, of course, quiet giants in the Christian walk of life and prayer warriors in the town of Three Hills. And as the bell tolls for each of them, as the cars wend their solemn blinkered way out to the graveyard in bleak procession, the sound gets a little fainter, a little weaker, down here on earth: the sound of voices being lifted to God for loved ones, for friends, for the community, for the country, for the world.

There is a voice that continues still, albeit a little more frail these days. That voice came into Nilgiris yesterday afternoon and there was nothing frail about it: "I'm not wearing my leather jacket - I guess it's safe for me to come in?!"

Tony Hanson!

I can't claim the privilege of knowing Tony for a long time or very well; but every encounter I have had with him has been memorable. Our acquaintance started when he came to the TH with his girls shortly after his wife had passed away. He was wearing a black leather jacket.

"Nice jacket," I commented, patting his arm.

"You can't have it," he responded, eyes twinkling. "My dear wife gave it to me and when I wear it I feel close to her."

"Well, then, you'd better not take it off in here!" I laughed, and moved on to another table.

He came in a couple of months later, wearing his jacket. "Would you like me to hang up your jacket?"

"Will I get it back?" he retorted, not missing a beat but putting his leather-clad arm around me in a hug.

He was not a frequent guest at the TH - "mobility is what keeps me away," he told me once - but every time we spoke, either here or when we would greet one another at one of the funerals of a friend of his and Dad's, we would banter about the jacket. And I always felt, especially at a funeral, that it was his way of acknowledging his dear Esther's presence.

The reason I got to meet Tony in the first place was because of Mum and Dad. Tony used to conduct the Tuesday morning Bible study at the Robertson Manor; when he felt it was getting too much for him, he recruited Dad to take his place. Then when Mum started to get frailer I would go along to help out by playing the piano or doing whatever I could do. Now it's my regular gig on a Tuesday morning when I'm in town.

Tony and my Dad have great affection and respect for each other. Each have traversed through deep waters, but each are convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt of the unchanging love and goodness of God, no matter how turbulent the waters or how desperate the situation.

At my Mum's funeral, Tony came and wrapped his arms around Dad. "You know, Allan," he said in his gentle, quiet voice, "She is with God. And God is with us. So she's not very far away." 

These words, almost above all others, have offered Dad and all of us such comfort in the time since that day.

Yesterday his daughter Sheila and his grandkids brought him into the TH. Pecan pie with ice cream - what else was new?! Why did I bother to go through the list?! - and some tea is what he chose. They sat at the table named the Island (because no man is ...) and the deep love between the three generations was apparent.

I tried not to interrupt; but there are some people who I just want to be near, whose presence I want to absorb as much as I can when I have the chance. Tony is one of those people, so I hovered around him more than I should have.

When they were ready to leave, he stopped for a few words with me as his family waited in the entrance way.

"The Lord bless you and this place," he began. "... I'm happy where I am, but I do miss this place." I made some comment as to how I go to that Bible study now and how we pray for him regularly on Tuesday mornings. "I don't know how much use I am any more," he said a little wistfully.

"Well, my Dad quotes someone who said that we are indispensable until our work is done," I replied to him. "You're still here, so clearly your work is not done yet ..."

He chuckled a little bit and stood up a bit straighter: "Your Dad's a wise man. And he's right - there's still work to be done!"

As he left that afternoon, I had his benediction ringing in my ears; I said a little prayer of thanks for this gentle giant of a man whose life has touched and influenced so many for good.

And I wonder when he wears his leather jacket if he reminds himself of the thought he shared with my Dad that bittersweet afternoon in September, knowing that some day soon his own reunion with his beloved will be complete and he'll no longer need to wear the coolest leather jacket ever to enter the TH because the one who gave it to him will be with him, never to part, and they will all - as they say in fairy tales, though this one will be true - live happily ever after.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Thanksgiving Month, Day 22: Lionheart

His Mom sent me a message: 

"You set the bar high for desserts, Karyn. We were out for dinner last night and Leo tried a sticky toffee pudding. His verdict? "It's not as good as Karyn's." Don't get him started on your banana split."

A little while later I got this one:

"Can we make it a date on the 22nd of October, around noon? Leo would love to celebrate his 6th b-day with a special Three Hills banana split.

So today, right about noon, the front door swung open and in sprang Leo, followed more sedately by his elder brother, James, and his longsuffering parents, who were willing to drive from Calgary to Trois Lumps for a banana split.

First, drinks - a peach Italian soda was deemed "too fizzy" but the root beer which replaced it was just right. The boys came to the Wall of Great China to select china cups for their parents' tea and carefully carried them back to the table themselves.

Then a visit to the bookcase to pick out a game or two. Leo was very decisive as to what was going to be played  on his birthday celebration.

Lunch disrupted the game temporarily; and after the butter chicken curry and shepherd's pies were consumed ("I'd like soup; I HATE salad!"), the all-important moment arrived.

Banana splits, of course - but did he have to share with James or, now that he was six in a matter of hours, could he have a full one for himself? 

James, tranquil James, said that he could share or have his own. Leo decreed that he needed his own; I backed him up - after all, he was SIX now!

One of the most delightful things about these two young men is that guests sitting at nearby tables have expressed their pleasure at seeing how well behaved they are and how cohesive their family unit is. One couple put it this way: "When we first saw two young boys sitting near our table we were apprehensive; but they were so polite and so quiet that it was a joy to observe them and to be near their table."

The banana split arrived and Leo blew out the "6" candle we had for him, being careful first to make a wish. And when they were getting ready to leave, he came behind the counter and got the Ovations for the family.

Alex and I were talking for a few minutes at the counter and when I was laughing about something or other Leo had said, Alex commented wryly, "Leo leads a very passionate life. He feels very strongly about everything."

And that's why I'm drawn to Leo. He has been aptly named, this child who knows no half measures. Imagine the King of the Jungle being half-hearted about something! Leo draws you into his world with gusto. He is engaged in everything that goes on around him, and you can't help but follow suit.

My wish for you on this all-important sixth birthday, my dear Leo Lion Cub, is that your heart will remain strong and true and that it will lead you in the right direction for your life. Thank you for loving the TH, and thank you for having a wonderful elder brother like James to look up to, and thank you even more for bringing your Mom and Dad back into my life all these years!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Thanksgiving Month, Day 21: What Time Is It, Brenda?

Here the two of us are, in the kitchen, just like old times again. It's been another Friday night dinner, and you - knowing that I would not have enough staff -  came in at 3 o'clock this afternoon. You peeled potatoes, helped with the jello salad and the roasted vegetables, tossed the salad and cut up the berries for it. You dished up the soup and assembled the green salads. You arranged pickles on their vintage plate.You made the punch and put cranberries in the water glasses. You boiled the kettle for tea and made pots of coffee all evening long. You heaped food in trays and helped put them in the chafing dishes. You lit the candles. You decorated desserts.

When we had a slow moment here or there, you kept up with dishes. Our other staff member left at 10 when it seemed the guests were going to be here for a while; you stayed to keep me company and to continue cleaning.

When the dining room was empty, you lugged tables and chairs around and we got everything set up for Saturday morning. You drove me over to the house I'm keeping an eye on so I wouldn't have to go into it alone at night. 

There are no words to tell you how deeply grateful to you I am, and how deeply grateful to God I am, that you were the person who started this place with us back in 2003. Remember the evening back in 2002 we had dinner at Georgiana's in Kensington and talked about our dreams for the little TH? Georgiana's is gone, but we're still here ... If it hadn't been for you none of this would have been possible. 

Apart from my immediate family, you are my greatest supporter and ally at the TH. Thank you for all your love and kindness showered on me these past eight years. Thank you for your sense of humour and your loyalty. Thank you for your amazing work ethic. Thank you for caring about how things look and taste and for knowing how things need to be done around here.

In case you don't know, it's 11:46 and you've just dropped me back home. You're still smiling and waving and you're going to come by for butter chicken curry and rice tomorrow!

All I can say is, it's a good thing you're retired: I'm having a hard enough time keeping up with you as it is!

I adore you. Now get some sleep! xoxo

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Thanksgiving Month, Day 20: Flower Girl

For the last three years my friend Doreen has given me the most amazing birthday present: she fills baskets and pots with shapeless, nameless, greenish plants and arranges them around the front and side of Nilgiris.

And it's not random planting and arranging, either. She has a picture of the final product in her mind's eye when she starts gathering plants. She knows what colours, flowers, height and depths she wants, and she plants accordingly.

Of course, those greenish, shapeless plants are not nameless to her ...

But that's not where it stops: for the rest of the spring and summer and into the fall she commits herself to watering, pruning, fertilizing, turning containers, pulling off dead heads.

And even that's not where it ends: she has taken over the care and management of Shauna Rose ("We've got to give that rosebush a chance!")and she also coaxed blooms out of the late-planted sweet pea fence. 

Oh yes, and she also cuts and arranges flowers for me in the TH because I have no time or talent for such things - and I LOVE fresh flowers at each table!

Doreen has been a true friend to me over the years. She has come over to visit or check the flowers and has ended up stirring a pot or chopping vegetables or doing loads of dishes. She listens to me, counsels me, laughs and cries with me (more laughing than crying!). She is not afraid to be vulnerable, to express herself, to show her heart, despite the fact that that same heart has been pummelled and bruised so often.

She is not afraid to be herself.

But even though she's practical and pragmatic, she gives me items that tell me she's heard me, she knows my dreams, and she wants me to succeed. She gave me a travel documents pouch before I went to South Africa. A Mad Hatter's Tea Party gift mug and tray. A beautiful green cut glass bud vase ("I was noticing that you don't have many that you can put a couple of flowers in ...").

And she gives me time with her, which is the greatest gift of all. 

She sees the potential, the finished product in her mind's eye and she encourages me toward that end.

So this month I want everyone to know who makes the initial approach to the TH so sweetly romantic with the beautiful flowers, and who encourages my own mind and soul to blossom and grow.

Thank you, Doreen! xo