This is a film of the wedding of Agnes and Eric Bentley in Toronto.
Note: footage revised 31/5/2015. It is an amazing gift for me to watch this silent footage of my parent’s wedding, July 25th 1929 at Donlands Farm. The farm stretched way back to the Don River from Don Mills Road, then a two-lane country road on the eastern edge of Toronto.
It is such fun to see all the guests arriving in their distinctive Twenties outfits.
There is my dad, Walter Turnbull, serenely happy standing beside his bride, Victoria Turnbull. As a young man he was quite a rebel. At Stoney Lake in Ontario, he would go out in the family canoe alone, give a great war-whoop and fall overboard backwards just to scare his poor mother. There was one apple tree in the backyard at the home of his parents in Peterborough, Ontario where his dad owned the local hardware store. When the Baptist minister opened the basket of apples from Mr Turnbull, he found an indignant bite had been taken out of each one.
Later my dad and his brothers built an orphanage in India during the great famine. His first wife died in childbirth after their return on the long voyage home from India. He went on foot through South America looking for locations for missions, then became Dean of men at Nyack, the headquarters of the Christian Missionary Alliance.
My grandmother still could not quite believe that this famous man – who had spoken from platforms across the US and Canada – was about to marry her rebel daughter Victoria, who wanted to wear bloomers on Sunday of all things. Grandmother, whom we see in her distinctive peaked hat, insisted the wedding be a quiet one, out at the farm, no white dress or long train for this bride. The minimum of fuss, which suited my mother to a T. Later my grandmother would go three times on that long ocean voyage to India, where she was supporting medical services for women, along with her surgeon-daughter, my aunt Evelyn.
We also catch glimpses in the film of my uncle Russell, then still a stockbroker in New York, dapper uncle Murray and their brother Goldie. There are the blissfully engaged couple, Agnes, my aunt, and her fiancée Eric Bentley.
A very special moment in time. My parents spent their honeymoon in Quebec, part of it on the Peribonka river, which later provided the name for their cottage on Lake Simcoe, where I enjoyed many happy days as a child. Mother and Dad made their home in Nyack, New York where they bought a house, and Dad continued his work as the much-loved teacher who thought nothing of the occasional pillow-fight with his students. He had found a whole radio station on a Russian ship, established it in New York, and used it to broadcast a message of faith, hope and love to South America.
Faith, Hope and Love – these themes resonate for me as I watch this film – this eternal moment in time. This footage is the closest I have ever come to seeing my dad alive, as others saw him. Ten months later, my mother was four months pregnant with me when she received the news in the middle of the night that dad had been killed instantly in a car crash.
At crucial times in my life I have felt his presence. Most notable was an occasion when I was suddenly called on to speak to a large and intimidating audience in England following my husband Neil. Shaking in my boots, I walked up the steps to the platform. Suddenly I knew exactly how dad felt – as though I was standing in his shoes. I was able to handle the microphone with ease, and was told afterwards I had riveted my audience.
Not long ago, I was shown a letter that my mother wrote her brother Goldie at the time of dad’s death. In it she wrote of her determination not to go under, and her sense of a spiritual strength being given. She ended with the words “grateful beyond measure”. I can only repeat those words as I think of the enduring legacy left to me by both my parents, faith, hope and love.
A brand new edition of In The Stillness Dancing: The Journey of John Main is now available with a tribute by Mary McAleese, Irish President (1997-2011).
This book has reached a wide audience on both sides of the atlantic – 3500 copies were distributed by an American Episcopal book club and sold by a wide collection of ecumenical bookstores.
Neil worked on the book for two years at the height of his radio career – he left with a peak audience of 76,000 listeners to finish the book. In London while he was interviewing as many people as he could reach that had known father John, I sat in a small bedsit in Pimlico dropping pennies into the old telephone, trying to track down the scottish soldiers who had been with Father John in the secret intelligence agency tracking down german spies as the allied armies advanced. The whole thing was an amazing adventure for the both us which also took us to Ireland for the first time. Discovering my own Irish heritage led to a whole transformation of my own inner landscape – and finally to the writing of the book Polly of Bridgewater Farm.
I can’t say enough about Irwin Block’s article in the May issue of The Senior Times. It’s title is. “Exposing Harper’s Silencing of Independent Voices” (page 27)
He quotes Mark Bourrie’s new book aptly titled “Kill the Messengers“, documenting the present government’s success in silencing its own experts and limiting debate on major issues.
Almost without our noticing, while economic issues have grabbed our attention, our national policy is being reoriented in radical new directions.Harper’s “New Canada”is supposed to become an “energy and resource superpower”, a “warrior nation” instead of a peacekeeper.
Most worrying, Bourrie’s describes actions of the Harper government to “lobotomize” a large part of our cultural memory by trashing archives, remaking museums, and replacing our “third way” peacemaking diplomacy. At the same time, government scientists and experts are gagged by street rules laid down at the Prime Minister’s Office. Up until 2007, a reporter could call up a scientist. Now, no one in government speaks without permission.
In the lead-up to the 1980 referendum on Quebec separation, I worked my heart out for the No side. I honestly believed from my previous experience as a speech writer for the Ontario Minister of Education that French would be better protected within Canada as a whole, rather than a weakened and separate Quebec. I still strongly believe that. My cousin’s granddaughter is now teaching in French in Ontario because she, like like countless other Canadians across Canada, loves the language for its own sake, as I have since I first heard it at the age of four.
After the referendum, however, I decided to get right out of politics, and find ways to work with people who honestly held a different view than mine on the language issue, for the benefit of Montreal children.
Now, however, I find it impossible to stay out of this national political debate. It would be so easy for Canadians to continue to go along with Harper, because he has done a respectable job of representing us and keeping us going through very hard economic times, unfortunately at the expense of ignoring environmental and other issues.
I am sure that Neil would be jumping into this debate with both feet. Can’t you just see him posting powerful questions on this blog?
May 12 is the anniversary of his death and the beginning of a new life. I can’t wait to see what he has been up to when I get there myself. In the meantime, I sense his encouragement and love alive in my own heart. What an enormous privilege for me to have shared nearly 40 years with him, during our marriage. More about that later.
In the meantime, I would encourage everyone I know to get involved in the coming federal election, one way or another.
In Mark Bourrie’s book “Silencing the Messenger” he urges concerned Canadians to vote for a party that will reverse the antidemocratic trends he is describing, to become active in groups and on social media. He also advises “Don’t wait for a saviour”. Good advice, and thank you Irwin Block and The Senior Times. This May issue also carries an excellent article about Gloria Menard, and another about the Raging Grannies, headlined “Grannies sweat it out against climate change inaction” (Info.raging grannies Montreal.ca)
Many years ago my grandfather, R.J.Fleming’s last words to his children on his deathbed, “Children — keep the family together. Children — love one another. “ I watched my mother work at that over a period of fifty years, sometimes under difficult circumstances.
During my many visits to Ireland these last few years, most especially with the Corey family, I experienced this sense of belonging many times over. Each time I arrived it was ‘welcome home’.
During the past two weeks in Kingston I experienced this sense of family in a most powerful and special way. Our beloved Patsy, wife of my cousin Bob Fleming, mother of John, and mentor/friend of countless younger people, like myself, died at the age of 92 after a long bout with Alzheimer’s. There at the wake the night before the funeral were my husband Neil’s two nephews, with John’s wife Zeta and Mike’s son Craig. What a lift of the spirit it gave me to see them.
And there was our friend Clare Hallward with four of her children, one of them from England, Peter, and the rest from far flung corners of North America: Mary, Kate, and Stoph.
At the time of my cousin Bob’s ninetieth birthday, just a month before, family and friends had converged for a memorable celebration at the Residence where Patsy was living and being cared for. Patsy was wonderfully present at that event, pressing a birthday card she had signed into Bob’s hand. A picture of the two of them will be available a bit later on this blog.
I stayed on in Kingston these last few days. What I saw in my cousin Bob is that he treats everyone he meets as friend or even family, with respect and openness. As a result he has new friends constantly appearing in his life and the lives of people around him. An inspiration to all of us.
[to be continued]
To continue with our family’s story and in response to Marguerite Van Die’s question about my family’s encounters with other cultures; a person who stands out in my mind from my childhood was my uncle Russell, with his profound connection to the Earth. Some of my happiest memories were of visits to the Whitby, Ontario farm where he and Aunt Doris and my five cousins lived. I can remember hours of haying, cows wanting to be milked and long summer days full of hard work, laughter and a good meal surrounded by family.
Here is my cousin Everett’s description of one event at the Whitby farm:
Threshing Time in the ‘Thirties.
Only those who lived on a farm in the first half of the twentieth century can have any understanding of threshing time, particularly in the eyes of a ten year old boy. It was by far the most exciting event of the year.
To set the stage, it was not economical for every farmer to own his own threshing machine, and some enterprising farmer would invest in a machine and rent it out to his neighbours. This led to threshing gangs in which all farmers would rotate their services, usually with a team of horses and wagon or a hired hand, and meet at whichever farm was scheduled for the threshing machine. Of course, the grain in the field had been cut and bound into sheaves by the ‘binder’, and then stooked into standing bunches for good draining and ease of loading by pitchfork onto the wagons.
For me the day began watching for Frank Puckrin coming along the highway in his huge Rumley Oil Pull tractor, pulling the massive threshing machine, and behind it a wagon with extra straw blowing pipes, fuel, etc. This was no ordinary tractor. It was huge, with the driver encased in a wooden shed, massive cleats on the wheels twice my height, and a great flywheel. It sounded and looked a lot like a steam engine coming up the lane, and on up the hill, where the threshing machine would be carefully positioned to blow the straw right up into the loft of the barn. Needless to say, every last detail of preparation was observed by me. Perhaps the most sensitive task was to properly line up the tractor some fifty feet from the threshing machine, so the belt providing power from the tractor would be perfectly in line. By night time everything would be ready for the big day ahead.
Next morning all the horse teams would arrive, along with the extra hands, mainly for pitching sheaves onto the wagons. There was, however, need for two men in the loft of the barn to tramp and distribute the straw. It meant a full day of dust, probably enough to shorten the life of anyone foolish enough to take it on. Fortunately there was always one old geezer who volunteered, leaving Dad for the second one. At lunch time they would come out with totally blackened faces, and red eyes hard to find. Of course their faces had been covered with a makeshift cloth to help breathing, but how much help would that be?
With all jobs assigned, off they all went. Farmers with the wagons would build the load, with one or two pitchers assigned to each wagon. When the loaded wagons came along side the threshing machine it was the job of the farmer on the wagon to feed his load into the machine. While they went off, Frank Puchrin went about getting the big Rumley Oil Pull started. No automatic starter or even a crank. No, to start this brute one had to come up to the flywheel, brace your foot up on the tractor and give the flywheel a mighty heave. First try would result in a couple of big PMMMF’s. The machine would catch on the second or third try with a frightening, accelerating series of PMMMF’s that only moderated when the governor finally cut in. Once going, that great beast would run the thresher all day long smooth as a water slide. You could hear it settle down to a steady pmmmfn, pmm pmm pmmmfn all day long. Frank’s job was to go around both machines with an oil can, and be there for any emergencies, or if necessary, to adjust the straw blower pipes. By far the easiest job, and I made a mental note that this would be job I would seek come threshing time in the future.
The threshing machine itself was a wondrous thing to behold. In full motion its throat seemed like a giant tiger with its flashing teeth grabbing any sheaf that got near it and instantly devouring it. The principle of the threshing machine is to shake the sheaf so severely that all the kernels of the grain fall down while the straw is blown by a huge fan either onto a stack, or in our case directly into the barn loft. This was probably a Massey Harris make, or maybe a McCormick. Its wooden sides were a maroon colour. In action, all kinds of levers on the sides could be seen in furious motion, while the wheat or oats fed down a chute that split in two, so that one bag could be filling while the other was being tied up and piled in a stack. This was the second best job, I thought.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, that is to say the farm house, furious activity was apace in the kitchen, preparing for lunch, which would be laid out on a huge table on tressles set up on the lawn. This was no ordinary lunch. After all, mother’s entire reputation in the community was at stake, and she could not possibly be seen to do any less well than Mrs. Harris or Mrs. O’Connor whose noon hour dinners were held in high esteem throughout the community. There had to be pot roasts of beef, chicken, mashed potatoes, turnips, carrots, beets, tomatoes, beans, peas, relishes, gravy, bread and butter, all in huge quantities. These were ravenous appetites to assuage, and they must not go unfulfilled. And then the pies. Can she bake a cherry pie? You bet she could, and apple and blueberry too, with milk, coffee or tea to wash it all down. Of course she had help. This was on top of taking care of five children.
Our threshing usually took two days, sometimes three, with some 60 acres or so to bring in. One prayed for dry weather, as rain can ruin grain for threshing until it is quite dry. I might mention my last threshing experience. It came when I was twenty years old, and working in Toronto. I volunteered to help Dad, probably on Saturday, and my job was to handle our wagon and build the load. There were two pitchers, and they saw a great opportunity to embarrass the city slicker boss’s son by feverishly tossing the sheaves at a pace I could not keep up. The basic rule in building a wagon load of sheaves is to keep the butts out. This way, any grain that shakes loose wil fall into the wagon and not onto the ground. I did my darndest, but I know that those loads of sheaves were far from properly built.
Those traditional threshing machine gangs and days are now a memory only, with combines now doing the job. Small 200 acre dairy farms such as ours are no longer economical. I was filled with emotion recently, as I investigated a subdivision being constructed on the very fields that grew that grain, and which I had cultivated in my early teen years. It seemed almost sinful, somehow, to see such productive land covered in concrete and asphalt. However, for me, nothing can erase the wonderful memory of threshing time for me.
Uncle Russell was the son who most clearly shared our grandfather R. J Fleming’s passion for farming, Jersey cows and care of livestock, a passion grandfather had also shared with his first born son Everett who died at age 20.
My own deepest connection with the earth goes back to my first ten years of life, growing up on Donlands farm, on the very edge of Toronto, on Don Mills road ( then a two-lane country road). From the time I was four, I spent hours riding on a wheel rim of the old red Massey Harris tractor driven by Angus McNab. Angus had worked as a shepherd in Scotland, came out to Canada, met R J Fleming our grandfather and became foreman of his farm. I spent happy hours in total silence while Angus ploughed perfect furrow after straight furrow of the farm’s upper fields. I can still remember the sound of the plough’s gearshift releasing at the end of a furrow, the chug of the engine as it lumbered around to plough in the opposite direction. Angus had no teeth left but there was a serene radiance in his face and smile as he worked silently hour after hour.
As an only child, I also wandered for hours across the fields, sometimes curling up in the shelter of a fieldstone, watching the clouds go by overhead as the kildeer called over the corn-fields. One day, I found a tiny nest of mother and baby rabbits hidden away at the foot of a corn stook – a moment of pure joy. In spring the farm-hands tapped the maple trees to gather the syrup that we would throughout the year, in the woods, sloping down to the Don River that defined the eastern edge our farm. Maple syrup was the order of the day whenever we had porridge, and pancakes.
Needless to say, years later, at Beauty’s restaurant on the plateau in Montreal there was no question whether I would have maple syrup while Neil insisted on using the house table syrup, thus saving a dollar.
Back at Donlands, in the spring I would hold, aged about five, the hand of my beloved granny Fleming, back from India, as she inspected her flowerbeds. And there was the first tulip bud poking its’ head up through the warm earth. One early spring day I went skipping alone down to the lower garden. There in the shelter of a single rock was a patch of earth warmed by the sun with the melting snow banked around it. A single blue flower, a cedilla, blossomed in the brown earth. I had the strongest feeling this jaunty little flower was trying to tell me something that I couldn’t quite decipher.
Some time ago, it occurred to me that it was saying, ‘Bloom for the Day’.
Eighty years later I am still listening.
Please feel free to add your own stories, poems or other thoughts to continue on with the ‘writing conversation’.
Click here first to hear Irish music as background.
My aunt Ev went to medical school in Edinburgh. Around this time she was received at the English court on the arm of Jamal, a handsome middle-eastern prince — there was a romance there until he was called back by his family.
Grannie Fleming thought her two younger daughters were leading a much-too social life, so she dragged them off to India with her along with Helen, Lloyd’s wife. This is a picture of the four of them up on the back of the elephant. The look on Aunt Ev’s face says ‘it was not my idea.’ There is also a picture of Evelyn looking quite miserable in a tent -the climate had triggered her Rheumatoid arthritis and she couldn’t wait to get back to England. One day she was staying at her favourite hotel, The Dorchester, and as she walked down along Hyde Park – a feeling like ten valiums came over her and she knew with complete certainty that she was going back to India as a doctor.
The hospital where she served latterly on the tea plantation was the only hospital for a million people. I always remember the story of a little bundle she found on the side of the road ‘- it was a small boy, ill, who had been left to die. She picked him up and carried him back to the hospital where he was brought back to health.
In California, at a clinic she went on a juice diet and the Rheumatoid Arthritis cleared out and never returned.
She lived to be 96.
How were you as children and young people made aware of international issues and of different cultures?March 31, 2015
In her remarkable way, historian Marguerite Van Die, threw out a question to myself, Bob Fleming and our cousins; “How were you as children and young people made aware of international issues and of different cultures?”
What a fascinating challenge – to boil down into a few words the experiences of lifetimes lived. I made one attempt years ago, called it ‘My Grandmother Rode Elephants’ and filled up 40 pages…
As a child, growing up on Donlands Farm for the first ten years of my life, one memorable image was; the photo of my surgeon aunt, Dr. Evelyn Fleming, standing beside a young indian girl on crutches, aged about 10 years old. Half of one this child’s legs had been cut off just below the knee, yet there she was smiling as she balanced on one leg. On her left side stood a young Indian nurse in uniform.
This child had been left by the roadside to die.
My beloved grandmother, Lydia Orford Fleming, went three times on the long sea-voyage to India, in spite of a heart murmur the doctor could do nothing about. There she actively supported the building of a village around a hospital where Aunt Ev was chief surgeon. Grandmother died in Aunt Ev’s arms there in India, on my seventh birthday, September 20th 1937.
I remember her casket, piled high with flowers, in the big living room at Donlands Farm, brought back on the long sea-voyage through the Suez canal. Watching her coffin lowered into the ship was the darkest day in Aunt Ev’s life, she told us later.
As she stood at the ship’s railing, the Captain said quietly ‘Remember she has a risen, glorified life’.
Uncle Murdoch McKenzie, now ill, came back to spend his final months of life at Donlands farm. Born in Scotland, he had gone on foot among the Chinese people, whom he loved, for 30 years. Eventually he became Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in China.
He survived the Boxer rebellion with his library buried in a pit. My mother’s sister, Aunt Stella, spent nine of her happiest years there in China as his wife. At Donlands, I remember her reading out loud to him the story of the Curie’s discovery of radioactivity.
My mother had begged granny Fleming to take her with her on her next visit to China. Mother stayed on with Stella and Murdoch for two years. Later she said to me “Ever after I knew there was a great world out there”.
She traveled down the Yangtze river in an open Sampan – their money consisted of gold pieces sewn into the ceiling of the ship’s cabin. One day at dusk, a group of armed men stormed aboard the ship, but they were only looking for food. People were starving…
On Sunday evenings during the summer at Lake Simcoe, eight to 15 of my cousins and neighbours and I would gather around the piano at my Uncle Goldie and Aunt Jean’s cottage to sing the old Methodist hyms. On Sunday mornings, my mother allowed us children to run our own Sunday school on her screen porch. We chose the hymns and had to memorize a verse of scripture. Imagine our fury when one cousin produced the shortest verse in the bible. “Jesus Wept”. We became familiar with the earliest stories from the Jewish scriptures, especially memorable was the story of the woman in the famine in the hilltop village who shared her last meal with the prophet and her son. And the oil and the meal never ran out after that. A story to live by.
In all the years those hymns have never left me and one or two have always been sung at family funerals. Nor has the 23rd psalm, which my mother used to whisper in my ear, just before I fell asleep at Donlands.
“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”
Although my dad had been killed in a tragic car accident four months before I was born, stories about his remarkable life were an integral part of my childhood.
He and his brothers had built an orphanage in India during the great famine of the 1920’s. He had gone on foot to visit the mill-owners to find jobs for the orphans. Later he traveled to South America, part of the time on foot, to find locations for missions. Later he was based at the headquarters of the ecumenical Christian Missionary Alliance at their Nyack New York headquarters. He was a much-loved teacher who on occasion engaged in pillow-fights with his students. At one point he found an entire radio station on a Russian ship which he had transported to New York and used to broadcast back to South America…
When I was four years old, my mother booked passage for the two of us on a Cunard liner to England where we were to meet Aunt Ev and Granny Fleming on a trip back from India. My mother rented a car and the four of us tootled around England. A policeman held me on his shoulders to watch the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. At Clovelly, we walked down the cliffside to the sea then found a donkey to bring granny safely back up the steep slope. Granny also rode elephants and camels to my delight. And persuaded her reluctant daughters and daughter-in-law to do the same. Over her horse-haired sofa in the living room at Donlands was a watercolour of a Bedouin praying in the desert with his camel standing silently near him. A memorable image of my childhood. That picture still hangs on my wall.
After my second year at Victoria College in Toronto, my mother and I went off to Europe to meet Aunt Ev, once again on furlough from India. This time our destination was Europe. There we met some remarkable people, including the head of the Dutch Red Cross, Madame Lotte van Beuningen. She had faced down six Nazi commandants in order to bring food into the local concentration camp near her home.
Right after graduation, I packed my bags and headed off for four years in Europe as a volunteer in Post-war reconstruction and reconciliation work. A memorable experience. Click here to read more about this.
My mother had given me one simple guideline for living “make the world a better place because you’re in it” Today I meet countless young people who are doing just that, in small groups, often with no publicity and not much money…
During those years in Europe, my mother drove the two of us down through France and Spain along often-deserted roads after the civil war to visit my uncle Lloyd who was living near Malaga. He had been a fighter pilot in WWI, had shot down 7 enemy planes — I believe saving Allenby’s camp from destruction. And returned home wounded. He married my beloved Aunt Helen, who often traveled later with my mother. Now he was living in Spain where he had founded AA and helped many people recover from alcoholism, including a young jeweller who we met. His younger brother, Murray, was also in the air force – thanks to him we were able to watch Queen Elizabeth’s Coronation cavalcade from the balcony of RAF club in London.
One missing factor in all this was any awareness of our Irish background as a family. My cousins Bob and Everett set off to try and find our family farm in Northern Ireland. Then my husband Neil was asked to write the biography of John Main (see In The Stillness Dancing). Both of us set foot for the first time in the land of our ancestors. That was the beginning of a life-changing experience for me, a shift in my whole inner landscape. (see Polly of Bridgewater Farm)
Click below to have an irish background while you read today’s post!
This weekend, once again, it is the ‘end of season’ at the Laurentian Lodge Club. Clare Hallward and I will be heading up north to celebrate this special event where old traditions continue. Neil wrote the following about another special occasion at the Laurentian Lodge Club:
It was my birthday, New Year’s Eve 1994, about six months after my depression had lifted for good and the happiest summer of my life. Catharine and I had spent the afternoon cross-country skiing and were relaxed before supper in the lounge of the Laurentian Lodge Club at Prévost, amid the soft rolling foothills.
Outside the frosted windows, the moonlight was glittering on the fresh snowfall; inside, a roaring fire flamed up the chimney of the large stone fireplace. A splendid dinner was prepared by our talented chef, André. I was presented with a birthday cake and a rousing chorus of three score years and ten. I don’t remember feeling happier. I felt connected in a way I had never felt connected before to these people who were my friends. I laughed, and it was a genuine laugh. In some measure I had become real. I was comfortable in my own skin. As I sat there in the dancing light of the fireplace and happy sounds of singing, I thought of all the people including my family and the Jesuits and my friends who had helped me on this journey. I thought of how God does indeed write straight with crooked lines. And then I thought, with Catharine smiling beside me, the best is yet to be.
The above is an extract from McKenty Live! The Lines Are Still Blazing – click on the cover below to find out more about this newly-published book.
It’s pothole time again! Especially here in Montreal. Yesterday on CJAD I heard them talking about what will happen when the ice thaws. Potholes galore! What’s your experience of potholes in your area? I remember when Neil and I were bicycling along the Lachine canal, Neil’s bike hit an invisible pothole and he ended up breaking an ankle. It didn’t stop us biking but it did slow us down for a few days.
Oh the joys of spring!
Click below 4 an irish tune