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Tossing Pebbles in the Stream

This blog is my place to sit and toss pebbles into the stream. The stream of Life relentlessly passing before us. We can affect it little. For the most part I just watch it passing and follow the flow. Occasionally, I need to comment on its passing, tossing a pebble at it to enjoy the ripple affect upon Life's surface.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Echoes from the Past

This week a couple of people from my youth died. It has left me feeling a little vulnerable. Could my time be not far off. I mentioned to my son that I felt like I was "on deck" to use a baseball metaphor, (I have been following the Toronto Blue Jays on radio this year. I have not done this for years). This is a rather alarmist response, I admit. One would even be exaggerating to say I was "in the hole". More accurately, I am still down in the minors waiting to be called up. For the Toronto Team that is the Las Vegas 51's, their farm team in that town of decadence and hotter than Hell heat. I have feelings for dread and anticipation, I guess.

The two people from my past that died were a former teacher and a neighbour chum who I knew before I went to school and have not seen since I left to go to University. We each lived our adult lives without knowing anything of each other. Sad in a way, althought we were not that friendly by the time we went to Junior and Senior High School.

My former teacher was Arnold (Arne) Eurgene Forde. He was a much admired and eventually beloved teacher who spend his whole teaching career in my home town's school system. He came to teach in our small town rural high school, right out of University, I figure. He was only a 7 to 10 years older than the student he taught. He came from the Maritmes as a graduate from Acadia University. He was an African Canadian from that region where there was a historic presence of African Canadians who orginally fled the United States. For those of us in our small school, he was the first African Canadian we had even seen let alone met. I have often wondered why he came to our small white ghetto of a community outside Toronto. He was in fact the first African Canadian ever hired by our school board. I believe shortly after he became one of our teachers we got our first student who was an African Canadian in our school. In those days, the largest ethnic group we were aware of were Italian. I would have loved to have asked Arne why he came to our community, I never did. He ended up making a remarkable contribution to generations of students lives.

To our community's credit and as a tribute to him as a person who carried himself with authority and yet was open and generous with the students, there was little negative comments about him at a time when racial struggles south of the border filled the news headlines. He quickly was accepted and soon became a favourite teacher of many of us. He coached a lot of the sports team although I remember clearly that he always said he was a classroom teacher , first, (physics, I think) and a volunteer to help out with the sports.

Years later, when I returned to Canada from my years in the United States I met him at the hockey arena. He had three boys playing hockey around the age of my son. It was then that I was aware of what few years there were between us. His career saw him teach and become the principal of two other high schools in our growing town, now a city. No longer is it the white community of my youth. It is a very diverse multicultural city with the largest visible minority being South Asian althought I suspect almost every ethnic group is represented. This transformation is representative of the changes in Canada over these years such that now urban Canada is the most ethnically diverse country in the World. Our government policy of bilingualism and multiculturalism built upon aboriginal values ( read A Fair Country by John Ralston Saul to understand these enduring values) has brought about this change in our country. For me, awareness of visible minorities began with Arne Forde. It was an easy transition for me for I was raised by a mother who taught us that all people were equal and that all people are interesting and not to be feared. In some ways, our family views were a little ahead of our neighbours. I remember the Forde's considering purchasing our house the first time my father tried to sell it. No sooner had they viewed it with the agent that our neigbours were calling wanting to know all about it. They were anxious and I suspect had visions of their properties being devalued if a "coloured " family moved it. As it turned out the Fordes could afford a better house than ours about a mile away , where they continue to live.

Arne Forde might very well have been the most effective and loved teacher in the city over all the years. Many of his former students kept contact with him. He also contributed to the community thoughout his life coaching many community teams. I shall remember him always with great respect and fondness.

The other person who died was Richard Dinning. He lived down the street from me from the time we moved in when I was about four. We were the same age. His mother and mine became fast friends for the rest of their lives. They were the only Catholic family we knew and it was not until I was an adult that I learned that Mrs. Dinning was a French Canadian. Such was the white protestant ghetto we lived in.

I played with Ricky before we went to school and for a few years after we began school. He was somewhat a strange person with whom I later was not very compatible. He was one of those students who would have been teased. I guess now a days he would be called a Geek. He had strong ideas which he forced on you and he wore his affections on his sleeve. I remember when I made my mother a wood turned ashtray on a stand in shop class at school (smoking was the norm back then) Ricky made a plaque for his mother that said "There is no other like my dear mother". He took some teasing for this for several years and it hung in the family home from then on. I don't think he ever understood how other students viewed this. His mother loved it and for him this was most important. This was the way he was. If your read his daughter's tribute to him you can read into it some of these qualities of being a "know it all" and a very loyal and devoted person to those he is close. His daughter remembers these as virtues.

I believe he had a career in IT as a consultant and he developed a consuming hobby for riding scooters. He died when his scooter left the road and landed him in a ditch. It seems he may have had a medical event that made him lose control. He remains a vivid memory of my youth. I suspect as adults we might have once again found some common interests. Unfortunately, I let the chance to reconnect go by.

The death of these two people from my past made we aware that I am entering the years when I will see many friends and acquaintances die, causing me to recall the times and lessons from years past. The last time I had death teach me lessons was when I was a late teenager and had about 6 close friends die. Those being the years when I spent a lot of time trying to sort of the meaning of life, these events may have contributed to my eventual decision to study philosophy and become a minister. It certainly added food for thought. Once again, deaths may find me revisiting and reevaluating my religious notions, may it be an enriching experience.


At 2:10 p.m., Blogger Owen Gray said...

Like you, Philip, I had one of those events recently. One of the first students I ever taught died of cancer.

A student's death is not unusual. Almost every year of my career, a student died in a car accident.

This was different, though, and it reminded me of my own mortality. May she rest in peace.

At 3:48 p.m., Blogger Ginnie said...

Hi Philip: I leave tomorrow morning to go to Vermont for a memorial service for my oldest sister Mary. I am the youngest of 5 girls and she's the first to go. It really brings it home and I understand where you are on this matter.
I think it's good to stimulate the thought process this way.

At 7:51 p.m., Blogger KGMom said...

Philip--of course, we feel vulnerable when contemporaries or those we emulated when we were young die.
And, as for being "on deck" we are all always aware of mortality as we grow older.
I mused on a similar vein in my most recent blog.

At 8:00 a.m., Blogger Anvilcloud said...

It's only natural to reflect like this as we age, whether we have lost "friends" recently or not. Judging from the lifespans of parents etc, I am somewhat hoping for maybe two more decades.

At 2:56 p.m., Blogger possum said...

Oh how I identify with this post! At the ripe old age of 68, I, too, wonder how much time is left... and especially when I get those damned chest pains. Both of my sisters are gone, but they died at the ages of 48 and 49. My mother died in her 40s. So I have done real well by those standards. My dad, however, is 95.
Having taught a gazillion kids, I have almost, but not quite gotten used to losing some of them. So many have died young. The first few left me stunned. They were but kids.
There is a Memorial section of our high school's blog. We were "brats" - our school in Ankara, Turkey. 12 of our class of 57 are gone. Or i should say 12 that we know of as we are scattered all over the globe.
My college room mate died of cancer years ago.
I am the oldest female in my generation... that is scary, too, somehow on those days when I don't feel so good.
But, the thing that I appreciate the most about this post is how much Arne was respected... the lives he touched. I have taught a couple thousand kids or more... from time to time I run into one and they thank me. What a gift!

And last, I have cancelled my order for a scooter.

At 12:39 p.m., Blogger K said...

I will always see my father's individuality and devotion to those he loved as virtues; the fulfillment achieved by those who follow their heart is preferable to the mundane acceptance offered to those who merely follow the crowd.

Thank you for sharing your memories of him - as I ride my motorcycle and think of my Dad your stories provide another piece of the puzzle that was his life. Geek he may have been, but one who is remembered fondly by many who were touched by his knowledge, kindness and unique spirit.

At 10:35 a.m., OpenID goodnightgram said...

Philip - interesting post. I'm sorry to hear about the passing of the people you knew. I know that religious notions are personal journies, but I'd be curious where your reevaluation and revisiting leads you. Losing my only child and my husband certainly caused a lot of revisiting. I enjoyed reading the comments folks left for you. Though not direct dialogue, it's intersting to me to read other's input. Hope this finds you well.

At 4:35 p.m., Blogger judie said...

Too many of those kinds of thoughts put me in the doldrums Phillip. Although ill health and impending death are all around me affecting friends, family, neighbors, I try to think positive, thus keeping my spirits above ground. Well, it sounds good anyway, hmmmmm?? Take care of YOU dear man. xoxo

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