Memories of the Past

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.

fried fries

It was the French fries that was Charlie’s  specialty. I peeled two  potatoes and sliced them intothe 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 researched 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, my favourite authoress. I also got on a local bus and let it take me around the community. That is always an interesting way to see a place.

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, and the 1864 Election - Lincoln Home National Historic Site (U.S. National Park Service)

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 Sheba,  in a long train ride from Niagara Falls to Toronto with a group of Americans in  August 1978 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.

The Wagon Train Ride 1978
Copyright Norma Gillespie 2023

I was the outrider on the left side of the Canadian wagon that led the ride. The first day my mare, Sheba. saw her first cross-walk sign on the ground she balked,  refusing to keep moving. I urged her on strongly. She paused, head down,  then leaped over it, and nearly unseated me. She must have studied what the other animals did, cause she seemed to accept them after that. Here is the photo of the lead wagon. I was outrider for the left side of wagon as we travelled.

Lead wagon on trail ride
Copyright Norma Gillespie 2023

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.

Train Ride Pause
Copyright Norma Gillespie 2023  That is Sheba and I front left,  in photo

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. From here the trip ended and folk left to head home. Yes, I am a cowgirl at heart. Here is a photo of Sheba  and I on the trip.

Norma & Banner on Wagon Train Ride
Copyright Norma Gillespie, 2023


Yes, memories can be precious, thinking of my little two-year-old granddaughter meeting my chickens for the first time. I added that video already on this website in an earlier year.

Hard times may 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.


Geese Aloft: Flock Voices of March | BirdNote






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