I just enjoyed a delicious fish and chips supper in memory of happy times in my youth. I sometimes would have breakfast as a child with Charlie, an Englishman who kept geese on his rural property beside a river near our house. He was our guardian after my Daddy died when I was nine. Charlie was a terrific cook.
Tonight, thinking of those times, I put a piece of frozen battered halibut on a greased pan in the oven set at 400F for 30 minutes. I used fish I bought instead of doing the whole recipe from scratch. Cause that wasn’t tonight memory.
It was the French fries that were Charlie’s specialty. I peeled two potatoes and sliced them into usual long, thin shape, and then dried them thoroughly in a clean tea towel. Meanwhile, I put about two cups of canola oil in a small pan to warm up.
When I thought the oil was hot enough, I tested things with one chip, then dropped the remaining potatoes into the hot oil. Did they sizzle. They remained at the bottom of the pot until each formed a crust, and started to brown. I stirred them once in a while. Suddenly all floated to the top of the hot oil and I knew my French fries were done. Took about 10 minutes cause I wanted a lovely golden colour on the chips. The longer they stay in the hot oil, the darker they will become.
Meanwhile I had prepared a container lined with brown paper (lunch bags came in handy), and dumped the fries into it to drain off some of the grease. Charlies taught me how to do all this, about 60 years ago or so. I haven’t made any in a long time, thanks to cholesterol.
Just about then the fish was ready, and I added it to my plate and a bit of Diana Sauce for dipping, as I prefer that to regular ketchup. I also had to have a bit of salt, cause without it the taste just isn’t as good . Horrible for my diet, but hey, this was a one-time dish in memory of a happy period of my life.
On my trip to the British Isles in 2014, I had done Charlie’s family history and hunted for his family’s graves in Torquay, England where he was raised. He had died in Ontario when I was about 17. Torquay was also the summer home of Agatha Christie and family.
Memories become more and more important as you age, I discovered. I was challenged recently to think, What gives me joy?
I am recreating some of the things from my youth that do that. Without really intending to, but due to covid restriction on hair salons, I am growing out my hair again, so I can wear it in a pigtail down the left side of my neck. A pigtail at your age? Don’t you want to be fashionable? Not particularly. Anyway, long hair can be swirled up into many lovely styles. Last time I had a pigtail I was in my twenties and had just walked out of the church where I had sat in Abraham Lincoln’s pew in Washington, DC. This was a very moving moment.
Lincoln’ suffering and all the soldiers, their families, and slaves during the Civil War touched me deeply. He struggled to find a leader to win the war, and discovered it in an insignificant person in Grant, whose great leadership brought it to an end. Then Lincoln’s own tragic death, and Grant’s dying in poverty after being the President of the United States, speaks to life’s greatest challenges. Sometimes it takes a certain event for someone to find their greatest moment in life. Many great leaders have suffered terrible humiliation in their careers. I think anyone who rises above the agony of that, or any betrayal and still goes on, develops a depth of knowledge of humanity that can propel them to greater strength.
Some memories of the past can pain us too much, so let go of all that deliberately, and replace the pain through the joys of better moments. Each day is a brand new day offering new beginnings, fresh starts to find our destiny in this life.
Lincoln & Grant
I enjoyed that Washington trip, including a tour of the White House. I’d love to visit some Civil War battlefields even today. reopening.
Have you asked yourself what brings you joy?
Guilt flared up in me briefly cause aren’t we being selfish to think like that? No, not at all. It is probably left over from days when my focus was the needs of others. Many mothers struggle with that. Fathers have their strains, too. I believe there is balance for everyone so we can walk guilt free, enjoying every day life. Your idea of joy may be completely different than mine, so reach deep into your memory and see if recreating some of them might bring pleasure into today. Make sure they don’t hurt anyone. Does that statement ever define the present day crisis around the world.
This memory adventure is fun. Life isn’t all about genealogy, but one of my favourite past-times is filming tombstones in cemeteries. I also still have three boxes of tack from my horse training and showing days. My tack reminds me of that great trip riding Banner, my Morgan, in a long train ride from Niagara Falls to Toronto with a group of Americans in 1973 to celebrate the USA Bicentennial. We actually drove right up the hill to the US border to start our trip before swinging back to cross the Niagara region on back roads.
I was the outrider on the left side of the Canadian wagon that led the ride. The first day my horse, Banner saw his first cross-walk sign on the ground he balked, refusing to keep moving. I urged him on strongly. He paused, head down, then leaped over it, and nearly unseated me. He must have studied what the other animals did, cause he seemed to accept them after that.
I especially remember the tension coming down the escarpment hill into Hamilton. I expect we had ropes wrapped around our saddle horns from the wagon to help control that steep descent. Glad mine is a roping saddle with a double cinch.
There was about a mile of horse-drawn heavy wagons behind me, and ours was the first one to attempt it. Each wagon had at least two outriders. I had a lot of fun chatting with the guys behind me. I remember being jerked awake more than once overnight while sleeping under the wagon on the ground. The two horses tied to it would rub their faces against it, and shake the wagon above my head. We were at Centennial Park on the shores of Lake Ontario for that overnight.
Most Americans travelled with a RV and the comforts of home, and those vehicles moved ahead of us every day. When our approaching trail ride finally saw those vehicles at night fall, the horses would begin to nicker a greeting, looking for their welcoming oats.
A few days later, I had to calm myself and my horse at all the yells and honking horns from vehicles on the QEW passing us by, on the lane next to us on on the highway. The noise increased as we came along the Lakeshore Blvd and more people spotted us. Then there was a big swing into the CNE grounds in Toronto to meet dignitaries. My photos are packed away in old albums somewhere, but I especially remember the pioneer costumes people wore in the evenings when we had visitors at our many stops. Someone even carried a Confederate flag.
Memories can be precious, thinking of my little two year old granddaughter meeting my chickens for the first time.
Hard times do come upon us, and we have to wait out the winter of our lives as we near the end. But life isn’t over yet, and spring is almost here. Oh, I want to be out and doing so much. A few limitations to overcome yet. When trials come, remember that is the period for inner growth. Just as I ask myself, consider the hard question: Is life making me bitter or better? Then choose to look for the good around you.
Create new happy memories, especially with children and grandchildren. What about a scrap booklet to celebrate their lives, or one for them of your history? Preserving old, precious memories while having a few new ones is my focus just now. Let’s go riding again. I would need a step ladder to get on a horse now I expect, but I’m willing.
Just remember that spring inside of us, bubbling up in joy, is just as important as seeing its arrival outwardly. The birds are singing, the sun is shining, and hope and love are the wonderful messages of spring.