Shedding Light on the Family Tree: A Magical Connection made by Music

The second in a series of posts about my family tree.
Inspired by Amy Johnson Crow’s 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks

Prompt: Favourite Find

~*~

Part of the thrill of shedding light on the family tree is discovering who’s hanging out on its numerous branches. During my meanderings I’ve located many interesting people and stories, and so far this is my favourite find. It relates to my mother’s story and a magical connection made to an ancestor through music.

Let’s start with some background on my mother, Lois Jeanette McDonall:

Dimings and Sparklings
Mom was born during the night of a frigid February 7, 1939, in a one-room log cabin in the middle of nowhere northern Alberta. By all accounts she was a “miracle baby,” born three years after her mother, Alice, had suffered a traumatic event giving birth to stillborn twins and been told by her doctor it was unlikely she would ever have more children.

Still, she was an only child raised among adults, encouraged to read whatever was on the bookshelf (Voltaire!), and to sing. Music was a vital thread in the family fabric. Everyone sang and played at least one musical instrument, so on many an evening her parents (Alice and Stan), paternal grandparents (Steve McDonall and Mary Belton), and uncles Joe and Earl, gathered around the old upright piano and made music. The harmonies of old hymns; parlour songs and Irish folk tunes filled the air and were among the happiest of times for a family beset with challenges while recovering from the trauma of losing everything after the Dust Bowl.

These lamplit musical interludes left an enduring impression on young Jean. “I fell in love with singing the moment I knew what it was,” she told me recently. “It spoke to my heart like nothing else.” In fact, she loved it so much that at the tender age of four she announced to her mother that she was going to sing on the stage one day wearing “dimings and sparklings.” Her mother’s response: “Hitch your wagon to a star, darling, hitch your wagon to a star.” And that’s precisely what Jean did.

A little more than 20 years later Jean was married with two small children and attending the Opera School at the University of Toronto. After graduating she had a chance to get her professional feet wet by fulfilling a one-year contract in some of the smaller German opera houses. This necessitated a difficult separation from her two young children (who stayed with their grandmother Alice) and from her husband (foreshadowing divorce). During this time she adopted the professional name, Lois McDonall, and secured a one-year contract with Sadlers Wells Opera (soon to become English National Opera) in London’s West End. In 1970 she moved to London with her children and raised them as a single parent while pursuing her career. The initial contract was renewed for 13 more years and she enjoyed an illustrious career as a dramatic soprano specializing in the Bel Canto repertoire. Among her major roles: The Feldmarschallin (Der Rosenkavalier, R. Strauss); Countess Rosina Almaviva (The Marriage of Figaro, Mozart); Miss Jessel (Turn of the Screw, Britten); Rosalinda (Die Fledermaus, J. Strauss); Violetta (La Traviata, Verdi), and more. In addition, Lois was a regular guest on BBC Radio’s Friday Night is Music Night, and toured Britain’s many opera houses and concert halls.

Lois McDonall at centre stage as Rosalinda in
Die Fledermaus (J. Strauss)

Just as she’d dreamed the little girl from the middle of nowhere Alberta grew up to sing on the international stage. Naturally the story is far more nuanced than this and deserves further scrutiny, but it sets the stage, as it were, for what follows.

Expect the Unexpected
When I felt prompted to take another look at our ancestry last year I hooked into FamilySearch.org, plugging in our family information until it linked to related lineages already uploaded by other researchers. There ensued hours of ooh-ing and ahh-ing as I traced back through the maternal ancestral line. The Fairchild name (my 5th great grandmother, Ruth Fairchild, married Daniel Springer in Delaware, Ontario in 1794) proved to be the most fruitful. During my exploration, (and without going into detail about all the generations that made this possible ~ that requires a book!), I was transported back to the American colonies and beyond to Britain and Western Europe. As it happens many of the lines reach back to royalty. One name in particular caught my eye, Maria Juana de Padilla.

There are many sources of information on this colourful woman, however for simplicity’s sake the following is taken directly from the entry under her name on the FamilySearch.org website.

~*~

“María Juana de Padilla (c. 1334-Seville, July 1361), mistress of Pedro I “el Cruel” Rey de Castilla (1334-1369)

Maria Juana de Padilla

Maria was a Castilian noblewoman, daughter of Juan García de Padilla (died between 1348 and 1351) and his wife María González de Henestrosa (died after September 1356). Her maternal uncle was Juan Fernández de Henestrosa, the King’s favorite between 1354 and 1359 after Juan Alfonso de Alburquerque fell out of favor, and the mediator in an apparent pardon for Fadrique Alfonso, King Peter’s half-brother. She was also the sister of Diego García de Padilla, Grand Master of the Order of Calatrava. María’s family, members of the regional nobility, originally came from the area of Padilla de Abajo, near Castrojeriz in the province of Burgos.

She is described in the chronicles of her time as very beautiful, intelligent, and small of body.

Relationship with Pedro I “el Cruel,” Rey de Castilla
King Peter met María in the summer of 1352 during an expedition to Asturias to battle his rebellious half-brother Henry. It was probably her maternal uncle, Juan Fernández de Henestrosa, who introduced them, as mentioned in the chronicle of King Peter’s reign written by Pero López de Ayala. At that time, María was being raised at the house of Isabel de Meneses, wife of Juan Alfonso de Alburquerque, a powerful nobleman. They became lovers and their relationship lasted until her death despite the King’s other marriages and affairs. The Padillas were raised to various offices and dignities. Her uncle, Henestrosa, became Alcalde de los fidalgos.

In the summer of 1353, under coercion from family and the main court favorite, Juan Alfonso de Alburquerque, Peter wed Blanche of Bourbon, the first cousin of King John II of France. Peter abandoned Blanche within three days when he learned that she had an affair with his bastard brother Fadrique Alfonso en route to Spain, and that the dowry was not coming.

Children
María and Peter had three daughters and a son:
Beatrice (born 1354)
Constance (1354-1394)

Isabella (1355-1394) [our ancestor]
Alfonso, crown-prince of Castile (1359-October 19, 1362)

Two of their daughters were married to sons of Edward III, King of England. Isabella married Edmund of Langley, 1st Duke of York, while the elder, Constance, married John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster, leading him to claim the crown of Castile on behalf of his wife. Constance’s daughter, Catherine of Lancaster, married Henry III of Castile in order to reunify any claim to succession that may have passed via Constance.

Death and burial
María de Padilla died in July 1361, possibly a victim of the plague, although Pero López de Ayala does not specify the cause in his chronicle of the King’s reign. She was buried in the Real Monasterio de Santa Clara de Astudillo which she had founded in 1353. Shortly afterwards, however, her remains were taken, following the orders of King Peter, to the Cathedral of Seville where she received burial in the Royal Chapel with other members of the royal house.

Depictions in fiction
Gaetano Donizetti composed Maria Padilla (1841), an opera about her relationship with King Peter.”

FamilySearch.org

~*~

Lois McDonall graces the original cover for the 1980 recording of Maria Padilla

The Magic Unfolds
In 1980, Lois McDonall was signed by Opera Rara, a music organization whose mission it is “to rediscover, restore, record and perform the lost operatic heritage of the 19th and early 20th centuries,” and the Donizetti Society, for whom she’d already made a number of recordings, to sing the title role in Gaetano Donizetti’s dramatic opera, Maria Padilla. (This link takes you to a platform featuring snippets and options to download. For an initial preview I recommend tracks 7 and 8. The full recording is also available on Spotify and other platforms. ) When asked about the experience of doing the recording mom shares how she loved the music of Donizetti and was thrilled to be asked to do it. As with all 45-plus major roles she’d performed during her career, she familiarized herself with the character of Maria by researching her story and the times in which she lived. “Beyond that,” she notes, “I gave it no further thought. It was an easy production that went off without a hitch. This made all involved immensely happy.” It was, indeed, well received. The New York Times called it, “A fascinating and valuable recording.”

Here’s where it gets trippy … Imagine our delight last summer when mom and I discovered that Maria Juana de Padilla is her 19th great-grandmother!

“It makes me giggle,” says Lois, now in her 80s and astonished by the synchronicity of it. “First of all that an esteemed composer of 70 operas would find Maria’s story worthy of a musical retelling. Secondly, that I should have the opportunity to record it. And lastly, because never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that such a blood connection existed to this remarkable woman to whom I’d loaned my voice. And that I’ve lived long enough to know about it? Simply marvellous!”

As I muse about this favourite find it occurs to me that it isn’t until we allow ourselves the curiosity to peek beyond our perceived realities that life’s magic can truly begin to unfold. Shedding light on the family tree is one of the ways to uncover that magic … and maybe it even involves a little music. ❦

Related posts:

Shedding Light on the Family Tree: Beginnings

Shedding Light on the Family Tree: Beginnings

The first in a series of posts about my family tree, and my part in it.
Inspired by Amy Johnson Crow’s 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks

Prompt Week One: Foundations

~*~

Every journey begins somewhere, and so it is with the climbing of the family tree.

My interest in family history began early with my Scottish maternal grandmother, Alice McDonall (nee Gordon). Our visits with her always included at least one drive to the old homesteads not far from the town in northern Alberta to which she gravitated for most of her life. She had roots there, planted when she, her parents and six siblings emigrated from Glasgow, Scotland in 1927 as part of Canada’s Soldier’s Settlement Act. Though they endured many hardships she spoke fondly of those difficult early years. Pioneering in the northern climes was no picnic.

It was in that remote farming community that her British roots knitted with American; where the first generation of our 20th century Canadian family was born. During those car rides with Granny she would share her childhood memories and reminisce about community chicken suppers and dances where her father often played the accordion. It was at one of those suppers that she met and fell in love with a young American farmer, Stanley Lewis McDonall, a man seven years her senior and a masterful, self-taught musician. They tied the knot after a short, intense courtship.

It proved a difficult marriage and ended in divorce  27 years later (the subject of a novel I’ve been working on for some time.) Grandpa Stan was an irascible character (to put it mildly). His temperament more aligned with the tortured artist than the weather-toughened farmer, his unfulfilled creative dreams only exacerbated his miserable outlook on life. The reasons for this will not be explored in this missive ~ there’s plenty of opportunity to go down that rabbit hole later. The focus here is how this rather unlikely character, whom I’d met only a few of times as a young child, managed to fuel my interest in family history. 

The answer is quite simple: Grandpa Stan loved his rich heritage, and saved stuff.

My mother relates how she would listen to her paternal grandparents retell the stories and lore passed down the generations. There was, for instance, the family’s trek from Michigan to Montana at the turn of the 20th century while employed in the construction of the Great Northern Railroad; tales of our United Empire Loyalist ancestors who were among the earliest settlers of Southern Ontario, and the ongoing lament of the family’s great loss of farmland and businesses in Youngstown, Alberta, following the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. 

Beyond the stories, however, what other evidence demonstrated Grandpa Stan’s affection for his heritage?

Grandpa Stan died in 1987 at the age of 78 in Libby, Montana, and it was while we were in his house cleaning up his affairs that we unearthed a large and rather beaten-up leather railroad bag. It was stuffed with old documents and photographs he’d inherited from his great aunt Margaret Cox (nee Belton) and was all that remained of the family’s documented memories after his mother had burned all her records under the mistaken belief that future generations wouldn’t care. That weathered railroad bag and its precious contents came to me. Hand-written letters and tattered photos offered a glimpse into the lives of our Irish-Canadian, UEL and American ancestors, and opened my mind to periods of history I’d not previously entertained. Perhaps the most exciting find was this document:

This Statutory Declaration drawn up for Mary Jane Belton, my grandfather’s maternal grandmother, in response to what turned out to be the Springer Heirs hoax,  provided the impetus I needed to shed light on our family story. For a while I was the proverbial sleuth, working with professional genealogists and doing my own personal research to gather as many resources as I could. I also widened the search to include other lineages. The whole experience was exhilarating and I became eager to learn about the times and places in which my ancestors lived so I might get to know them. I imagined the strength, resilience and ingenuity it would have taken to survive, never mind thrive, under difficult and ofttimes perilous circumstances. Strange as it may sound I felt the more I got to know them the more I understood myself, for their blood and DNA ran in my veins. I am not here without them.

Eventually a change in life circumstances forced me to put my research to bed. Years later I sought counselling for a variety of issues and the subject of family surfaced. Who were my people? What were they like? How did the traditions, prejudices and conditioning of the generations impact my own experience of  life? During our conversations I began to realize that to understand myself and heal old wounds I needed to acknowledge the lives and experiences of those who’d laid my foundation. I needed to decide how much I was going to allow their stories to impact mine. My family history was going to help me help myself … and it did.

Fast forward to 2021, thirty-plus years after finding that beaten-up black leather railroad bag full of musty old documents, and I’m nurturing the family tree once again. When I started down this road in the late 1980s it was my intention to leave a legacy for future generations. As it happens I have no children and therefore will be an ancestor to no one. Turns out I plod the ancestral path for my own enjoyment and without agenda except to acquaint myself with those whose love for one another made my life possible.

Though my grandparents had their differences they certainly had one thing in common ~ a love for family roots. Through them began my ancestral path, and for that I shall always be grateful. ❦

Lest We Forget: Sacrifice and the Ultimate Price

Another November 11; another Remembrance Day and sometimes I wonder if we’ve dropped the ball. I certainly hope not.

Am re-sharing this post from a year ago as a remembrance of the young man my maternal grandmother’s family sacrificed for the cause of responsible freedom and democracy.

Lest we forget …

~*~

When I was a little girl I loved to hear the stories my Scottish granny, Alice Gordon, would share of her parents swapping the civilized life of gentry in Glasgow for the pioneering life of the wilds of northern Alberta.

My great grandfather, William Alexander Gordon, had served as a member of the Black Watch for many years, and when he retired was eligible to take advantage of the Canadian Soldier Settlement Act which provided returned WWI veterans who wished to farm with loans to purchase land, stock and equipment. And so, in the early 1920s, this man of middle age with his wife, Jane, and seven of their 13 children (six had died in childhood) abandoned everything they knew of their life in Glasgow and traveled by boat and train into a great new adventure.

Little did they know what that entailed. Their 200-acre parcel was situated about 100 miles north of Edmonton, Alberta, near a sparsely populated hamlet named Pibroch. The mists and rains of a Scottish city winter hadn’t prepared them for the long, bitterly cold months of the open prairies. Nor were they accustomed to the bombardment of large, angry mosquitoes in the depths of a hot summer. It was a rude awakening. Of the seven children, five were girls between the ages of three and 18. Of the boys, one was an early teenager, the other was five years old. So, this retired soldier was left to clear the land of tree stumps and boulders by himself with nothing but an axe, a rope and a horse. Meanwhile, Jane focused on turning an abandoned pioneer log cabin into a comfortable home for their large, confused family. The whole experience was such a shock that had they the means they’d have returned to the old country after the first year.

Still, they prevailed and granny was proud to tell of their sacrifices, hardships, and the ultimate satisfaction of taming a hostile environment that provided a foundation for future generations to grow and prosper. She was also proud to call herself a Canadian.

In defense of freedom and to serve their new country both boys, Frank and the youngest Archie, joined the war effort of WWII. The latter, at 21, paid the ultimate price. Frank lived with survivor’s guilt the rest of his life.

I am reminded that nothing of value comes without a price.

Here, in my late granny’s own words from a memoir I discovered and typed up a couple of years ago, is a short account of Flight Engineer, Archibald Don Gordon RCAF, Squadron 405 Bomber Command, and the family’s experience of his loss. Though her thoughts are personal it feels appropriate to share, especially in these times when we appear to need to be reminded of the value of a life. May her words be a poignant reminder to us all.

~*~

Archie Gordon

Archibald Don Gordon was born December 15, 1919, in Dundee, Scotland ~ the 12th of 13 children (seven made it to adulthood) and the first after dad’s (William Alexander Gordon) return from the war. He was named for a superior officer who was killed. The officer’s name was Archibald Don. Dad wrote to the family in England and asked permission to do so. Archie came from a proud family of soldiers. Indeed, our father was a member of the Black Watch and served out his time in WWI as a Sergeant Major.

He was a chubby, sturdy little boy with hazel eyes and red hair who grew into a good looking young man with a ready grin. He had a sunny disposition and was popular with everyone who knew him. Archie was always ready for a prank. Always willing to go along with his friends in all of their various and, sometimes, daring activities. When he was angry it never lasted for long. However, he had lots of grit and his temper, when roused, was something to see. As he grew up he was very well liked by the girls. He was wonderful dancer and very sociable.

When he joined the RCAF he had been training as an electric and acetylene welder in Edmonton. Frank, his older brother, and he enlisted as volunteers at the same time. Before doing so they set aside a few weeks at home and travelled with dad and sort of did the town. Then they went their separate ways into the services. One Army; one Air Force. Frank tried later to get a transfer to the Air Force, but was unsuccessful.

The war got very grim as history books will tell. Archie started out as ground crew, but studied to become air crew. He was very happy when he made it. He flew in a Halifax Bomber as a Flight Engineer. Those bombers were big and awkward and had very little maneuverability. They were really sitting ducks for enemy planes.

Of course, it happened. He and his crew were shot down over the Bay of Biscay while on a mine laying expedition. Six fellows in the crew. Some bodies were washed up on islands in the Bay. He was reported as missing in action for six months, then he was officially presumed dead. The bodies that washed up, including Archie’s, were buried by the French civilians in a cemetery in La Rochelle. Later, after the war was over, they were gathered up from their various burying places and laid to rest in a big military cemetery. Archie’s body, along with those of his crew companions, was reburied at Pornic cemetery in France.

The correspondence regarding these events were thrusts of sorrow and pain to my mother and father, and to the rest of us. So many tears. Archie had met a girl in Brandon, Manitoba, who was in training as a nurse and became engaged to her. Her name was Dot Hurle.

Who can write sorrow? Those who feel sorrow can hardly tell it. It is a leaden weight ever present in the heart. The night Archie was killed, April 6th, 1943, I dreamt I was a way high up in the sky. It was very dark. Then I felt a great crushing on my chest, and I woke up. I felt very strange, but went back to sleep. I then dreamed I was in a great field of very beautiful white lilies. I was desperately searching for a coloured lily, but I searched and searched and didn’t find one. Word came the next day that Archie was missing in action.

Can you imagine my mother’s sorrow; my dad’s sorrow?

My mother was alone when the telegram arrived. She ran to a neighbour who got to my dad at his work. Such a dark day. My mother couldn’t eat or drink fearing that Archie was a war prisoner, or that he had no food or water. I cannot tell all details here of the agony of it. My mother had been listening to the news on the radio the night before. The results of raids and which planes had not come back to England were broadcasted. She heard that the Bomber “P for Peter” had not returned, and said she sort of knew that Archie had been on it. He was 23. My mother didn’t sleep for nights on end. The darkness that descended on us when the dreaded telegram came never did leave. Words cannot express the very depth of our sorrow. Hearts were broken never to heal. Our big, tough dad wept until the tears rolled down his cheeks when his face, he thought, was hidden behind his newspaper. But I saw those tears. We all did, and turned away and wept. I don’t believe (and some others feel the same) that Frank ever got over the loss and the grief.

Trips were made to the Red Cross headquarters in Edmonton every day to find out if anything had been heard. My family were not the only ones who made these sad trips. There were many families hoping against hope.

Anyway, after six months they were all presumed dead. Archie’s clothes came home in a box. Not many. No uniforms. All the shirts and socks needed washing. He’d had some of his pay sent home each month and deposited in my mother’s name in a bank. She didn’t spend a cent of it for many years, until my dad urged her to.

I never forget them, the hosts of the great volunteers. They unselfishly and bravely and willingly offered their all. Their all was taken, but the spirit is beyond harm and death, so triumphantly they live. I know they live. I know Archie lives.

These boys were great. They gave their lives for a great cause. Read about Hitler and concentration camps and the Holocaust of that time and realize that these boys knew why they were fighting and they didn’t die in vain. Read of their joking and laughing as they boarded their bombers for the raids knowing that the big thing was to do the job, and knowing they were facing almost certain death. Archie and his great host of fighting heroes are forever alive and forever with Almighty God in a safe place. Because God loves the ones who give their lives for a good cause. And did not God’s own Son set them an example? Believe me I know that they are all ok and safely home, and we shall all meet again as sure as the sun rises each day. I look forward to seeing Archie. I long to see him. And I will see him. I’ll also see all my loved ones who have gone on before me. Each of us are spiritual and alive and better off than ever, and I know that Christ was with the men fighting for right and that He gave them all a welcome home to their new and spiritual life. He was on the shore at La Rochelle and He guided them in to a safe harbour.

Time goes on and time does heal.

Dear reader never forget these boys and men who paid the full price for the freedom of Europe and for us, too, as had Hitler not been stopped he would have been in England (he already had France and Holland and Belgium and many other countries). These boys had a saying. If crews didn’t return after a raid they said that the crew had “bought it,” or so and so had “bought it,” and so on. So Archie and his crew “bought it,” too. The “it” being our freedom. They considered they were buying our freedom, and that they certainly did. And Jesus also “bought it.” You see? They paid the price. Out of my family of seven raised, one paid for the freedom for the rest of us. And for many others.”

To conclude, Granny penned this beautiful poem tribute to the lads who lost their lives in defence of freedom. It appeared in the Edmonton Journal some time in the 1950s during a Remembrance Day feature. Sadly, I don’t know the specifics, still her words live on.

~*~

A Lad and a Lark

Alice Gordon McDonall

Upon the death of Flight Sergeant Archibald Don Gordon, RCAF,
405 Squadron, killed in action April 6, 1943, over the Bay of Biscay.
Buried in Plot 1, Row AB, Grave 5 Pornic War Cemetery, France

1
From far off shores they wrote and said,
“Your boy lies here among the dead
With softest care and gentle hands
We laid him with Canadians.”

2
See how the grain is bending low.
See how the rivers cease their flow.
The wild flowers drop their saucy heads
The winds hide in their mountain beds.

3
Silent and sighing the whole land
Grieving my lost Canadian
Bowed in sorrow and despair
Broken my heart beyond compare.

4
The land, the sky so very dark,
But, what is this? A meadowlark?
Hear it! Hear it! Through the haze?
“I love dear Canada,” it says.

5
“He is not dead!” he bravely tells,
“He’s here! He’s walking in the dells.
He wanders by the river wide
He’s here! He’s here! He has not died.”

6
His little voice, so sweetly true
I must believe! Oh, wouldn’t you?
The meadowlark my laddie loved
And deathless Life to me was proved.

7
Oh, leap you rivers, run you fast.
You flowers lift up your heads at last.
Blow, blow you winds and toss the grain
I know my lad is back again.

8
I raise my head and bow no more
Lift up my heart and am quite sure
He is not dead. He walks the land.
For is he not Canadian?

9
Oh, meadowlark you little bird
Who in my darkest night was heard.
Love you my Canadian lad?
“I love all Canada,” he said.

~*~

Lest we forget …

My grandmother’s generation is gone now, and with them the terrible burden of memories they carried of a most brutal time in our world’s history. I pray, for all our sakes, that the price paid by those who gave their lives in pursuit of freedom, and the sacrifices and sorrows of those who loved and lost them and had their lives forever changed because of it, shall not be in vain.

Thanks for visiting …

Dorothy

©Dorothy Chiotti … All Rights Reserved 2021 … Aimwell CreativeWorks

Lest We Forget: Sacrifice and the Ultimate Price

When I was a little girl I loved to hear the stories my Scottish granny, Alice Gordon, would share of her parents swapping the civilized life of gentry in Glasgow for the pioneering life of the wilds of northern Alberta.

My great grandfather, William Alexander Gordon, had served as a member of the Black Watch for many years, and when he retired was eligible to take advantage of the Canadian Soldier Settlement Act which provided returned WWI veterans who wished to farm with loans to purchase land, stock and equipment. And so, in the early 1920s, this man of middle age with his wife, Jane, and seven of their 13 children (six had died in childhood) abandoned everything they knew of their life in Glasgow and traveled by boat and train into a great new adventure.

Little did they know what that entailed. Their 200-acre parcel was situated about 100 miles north of Edmonton, Alberta, near a sparsely populated hamlet named Pibroch. The mists and rains of a Scottish city winter hadn’t prepared them for the long, bitterly cold months of the open prairies. Nor were they accustomed to the bombardment of large, angry mosquitoes in the depths of a hot summer. It was a rude awakening. Of the seven children, five were girls between the ages of three and 18. Of the boys, one was an early teenager, the other was five years old. So, this retired soldier was left to clear the land of tree stumps and boulders by himself with nothing but an axe, a rope and a horse. Meanwhile, Jane focused on turning an abandoned pioneer log cabin into a comfortable home for their large, confused family. The whole experience was such a shock that had they the means they’d have returned to the old country after the first year.

Still, they prevailed and granny was proud to tell of their sacrifices, hardships, and the ultimate satisfaction of taming a hostile environment that provided a foundation for future generations to grow and prosper. She was also proud to call herself a Canadian.

In defense of freedom and to serve their new country both boys, Frank and the youngest Archie, joined the war effort of WWII. The latter, at 21, paid the ultimate price. Frank lived with survivor’s guilt the rest of his life.

I am reminded that nothing of value comes without a price.

Here, in my late granny’s own words from a memoir I discovered and typed up a couple of years ago, is a short account of Flight Engineer, Archibald Don Gordon RCAF, Squadron 405 Bomber Command, and the family’s experience of his loss. Though her thoughts are personal it feels appropriate to share, especially in these times when we appear to need to be reminded of the value of a life. May her words be a poignant reminder to us all.

Lest we forget …

~*~

Archie Gordon

Archibald Don Gordon was born December 15, 1919, in Dundee, Scotland ~ the 12th of 13 children (seven made it to adulthood) and the first after dad’s (William Alexander Gordon) return from the war. He was named for a superior officer who was killed. The officer’s name was Archibald Don. Dad wrote to the family in England and asked permission to do so. Archie came from a proud family of soldiers. Indeed, our father was a member of the Black Watch and served out his time in WWI as a Sergeant Major.

He was a chubby, sturdy little boy with hazel eyes and red hair who grew into a good looking young man with a ready grin. He had a sunny disposition and was popular with everyone who knew him. Archie was always ready for a prank. Always willing to go along with his friends in all of their various and, sometimes, daring activities. When he was angry it never lasted for long. However, he had lots of grit and his temper, when roused, was something to see. As he grew up he was very well liked by the girls. He was wonderful dancer and very sociable.

When he joined the RCAF he had been training as an electric and acetylene welder in Edmonton. Frank, his older brother, and he enlisted as volunteers at the same time. Before doing so they set aside a few weeks at home and travelled with dad and sort of did the town. Then they went their separate ways into the services. One Army; one Air Force. Frank tried later to get a transfer to the Air Force, but was unsuccessful.

The war got very grim as history books will tell. Archie started out as ground crew, but studied to become air crew. He was very happy when he made it. He flew in a Halifax Bomber as a Flight Engineer. Those bombers were big and awkward and had very little maneuverability. They were really sitting ducks for enemy planes.

Of course, it happened. He and his crew were shot down over the Bay of Biscay while on a mine laying expedition. Six fellows in the crew. Some bodies were washed up on islands in the Bay. He was reported as missing in action for six months, then he was officially presumed dead. The bodies that washed up, including Archie’s, were buried by the French civilians in a cemetery in La Rochelle. Later, after the war was over, they were gathered up from their various burying places and laid to rest in a big military cemetery. Archie’s body, along with those of his crew companions, was reburied at Pornic cemetery in France.

The correspondence regarding these events were thrusts of sorrow and pain to my mother and father, and to the rest of us. So many tears. Archie had met a girl in Brandon, Manitoba, who was in training as a nurse and became engaged to her. Her name was Dot Hurle.

Who can write sorrow? Those who feel sorrow can hardly tell it. It is a leaden weight ever present in the heart. The night Archie was killed, April 6th, 1943, I dreamt I was a way high up in the sky. It was very dark. Then I felt a great crushing on my chest, and I woke up. I felt very strange, but went back to sleep. I then dreamed I was in a great field of very beautiful white lilies. I was desperately searching for a coloured lily, but I searched and searched and didn’t find one. Word came the next day that Archie was missing in action.

Can you imagine my mother’s sorrow; my dad’s sorrow?

My mother was alone when the telegram arrived. She ran to a neighbour who got to my dad at his work. Such a dark day. My mother couldn’t eat or drink fearing that Archie was a war prisoner, or that he had no food or water. I cannot tell all details here of the agony of it. My mother had been listening to the news on the radio the night before. The results of raids and which planes had not come back to England were broadcasted. She heard that the Bomber “P for Peter” had not returned, and said she sort of knew that Archie had been on it. He was 23. My mother didn’t sleep for nights on end. The darkness that descended on us when the dreaded telegram came never did leave. Words cannot express the very depth of our sorrow. Hearts were broken never to heal. Our big, tough dad wept until the tears rolled down his cheeks when his face, he thought, was hidden behind his newspaper. But I saw those tears. We all did, and turned away and wept. I don’t believe (and some others feel the same) that Frank ever got over the loss and the grief.

Trips were made to the Red Cross headquarters in Edmonton every day to find out if anything had been heard. My family were not the only ones who made these sad trips. There were many families hoping against hope.

Anyway, after six months they were all presumed dead. Archie’s clothes came home in a box. Not many. No uniforms. All the shirts and socks needed washing. He’d had some of his pay sent home each month and deposited in my mother’s name in a bank. She didn’t spend a cent of it for many years, until my dad urged her to.

I never forget them, the hosts of the great volunteers. They unselfishly and bravely and willingly offered their all. Their all was taken, but the spirit is beyond harm and death, so triumphantly they live. I know they live. I know Archie lives.

These boys were great. They gave their lives for a great cause. Read about Hitler and concentration camps and the Holocaust of that time and realize that these boys knew why they were fighting and they didn’t die in vain. Read of their joking and laughing as they boarded their bombers for the raids knowing that the big thing was to do the job, and knowing they were facing almost certain death. Archie and his great host of fighting heroes are forever alive and forever with Almighty God in a safe place. Because God loves the ones who give their lives for a good cause. And did not God’s own Son set them an example? Believe me I know that they are all ok and safely home, and we shall all meet again as sure as the sun rises each day. I look forward to seeing Archie. I long to see him. And I will see him. I’ll also see all my loved ones who have gone on before me. Each of us are spiritual and alive and better off than ever, and I know that Christ was with the men fighting for right and that He gave them all a welcome home to their new and spiritual life. He was on the shore at La Rochelle and He guided them in to a safe harbour.

Time goes on and time does heal.

Dear reader never forget these boys and men who paid the full price for the freedom of Europe and for us, too, as had Hitler not been stopped he would have been in England (he already had France and Holland and Belgium and many other countries). These boys had a saying. If crews didn’t return after a raid they said that the crew had “bought it,” or so and so had “bought it,” and so on. So Archie and his crew “bought it,” too. The “it” being our freedom. They considered they were buying our freedom, and that they certainly did. And Jesus also “bought it.” You see? They paid the price. Out of my family of seven raised, one paid for the freedom for the rest of us. And for many others.

To conclude, Granny penned this beautiful poem tribute to the lads who lost their lives in defence of freedom. It appeared in the Edmonton Journal some time in the 1950s during a Remembrance Day feature. Sadly, I don’t know the specifics, still her words live on.

~*~

A Lad and a Lark

Alice Gordon McDonall

Upon the death of Flight Sergeant Archibald Don Gordon, RCAF,
405 Squadron, killed in action April 6, 1943, over the Bay of Biscay.
Buried in Plot 1, Row AB, Grave 5 Pornic War Cemetery, France

1
From far off shores they wrote and said,
“Your boy lies here among the dead
With softest care and gentle hands
We laid him with Canadians.”

2
See how the grain is bending low.
See how the rivers cease their flow.
The wild flowers drop their saucy heads
The winds hide in their mountain beds.

3
Silent and sighing the whole land
Grieving my lost Canadian
Bowed in sorrow and despair
Broken my heart beyond compare.

4
The land, the sky so very dark,
But, what is this? A meadowlark?
Hear it! Hear it! Through the haze?
“I love dear Canada,” it says.

5
“He is not dead!” he bravely tells,
“He’s here! He’s walking in the dells.
He wanders by the river wide
He’s here! He’s here! He has not died.”

6
His little voice, so sweetly true
I must believe! Oh, wouldn’t you?
The meadowlark my laddie loved
And deathless Life to me was proved.

7
Oh, leap you rivers, run you fast.
You flowers lift up your heads at last.
Blow, blow you winds and toss the grain
I know my lad is back again.

8
I raise my head and bow no more
Lift up my heart and am quite sure
He is not dead. He walks the land.
For is he not Canadian?

9
Oh, meadowlark you little bird
Who in my darkest night was heard.
Love you my Canadian lad?
“I love all Canada,” he said.

~*~

Lest we forget …

My grandmother’s generation is gone now, and with them the terrible burden of memories they carried of a most brutal time in our world’s history. I pray, for all our sakes, that the price paid by those who gave their lives in pursuit of freedom, and the sacrifices and sorrows of those who loved and lost them and had their lives forever changed because of it, shall not be in vain.

Thanks for visiting …

Dorothy

©Dorothy Chiotti … All Rights Reserved 2020Aimwell CreativeWorks

Giving Thanks

It’s Canadian Thanksgiving. The hills around our home are splotched in orange and red and gold; the palette of autumnal splendour. The sun burns white to the southeast and the sky is lined in wisps of silver, a veil to soften that burning light.

My studio window looks out over an almost naked birch, faintly adorned in the fading gold of last summer’s dress. Beyond it the valley gently falls and rises in a wave of glacial remembrance, golden light bouncing from burnished maple to burnished maple. The great celebration of life before the big winter sleep.

Autumn … the season of letting go; of surrender.

I surrender.

I am in the autumn of my life. The great letting go. Releasing the toxic need to be perfect; to please everyone; to be anyone other than myself.

I embrace my non-manicured working hands, toughened by hours of labouring on the farm. Hands calloused from mucking stalls and cleaning paddocks and raking grass. Stiff and sore from weed whacking almost every day all summer to keep the edges on 20 acres of paddocks tidy. Hands charged with gentle muscle memory from finessing my feel of the reins while training my feisty mare, Sophi. Hands no one would call pretty. My wedding rings are married to that finger now. These are working hands.

I am thankful.

My hair, burnished by summer’s sun, is at least four inches longer than it was in March. It falls idly down my back or gets tucked in a pony tail as it hasn’t done for years. It’s ever-longer layered mass is silvering, my own non-chemical ombre created with what remains of last March’s salon colour. Somehow I look more myself than ever with this messy, care-free mop.

I am thankful.

The summer of Covid was harsh and yet kind. I’m down two dress sizes and fit from all the hours of farm labour. I sleep well. My health is more resilient. My mind is clear. My spirit buoyed. I have felt no need, nor desire, to be exposed to situations that might compromise that. I know what debilitating illness feels like. Adrenal fatigue is an ever-present ghost prompting me not to take unnecessary chances. I listen ~ for my own sake and for the safety of those around me. I feel healthier than I have in years.

And I am thankful.

The months have seen the passage of many people out of my life as they negotiate these unprecedented times in their own way. And yet I have also been gifted with new friends who choose to travel this path of uncertain times with like heart and mind. Supportive in spirit and community. On the farm with the horses this is important. We help one another so together we thrive.

And I am thankful.

Our journey through the pandemic these past few months has endured its own challenges, but we have chosen the path of faith over fear; of gratitude over greed. To experience the joy while honouring the sorrow. Some days are easier than others, still the intention is to thrive not merely survive. And so it is. Solution-oriented rather than problem solving. There is a difference.

And so, I give thanks for all that is. For a big-hearted caring husband of integrity who loves me; for family and good friends who support me; and for a plethora of four-legged furry kids who keep my feet firmly planted on the ground.

For Canada, the country I call home, I give thanks.

We cannot know the end from the beginning. We can only determine our attitude as we negotiate the path and surrender to the experience of it. There is great power in letting go.

Be well.

Happy Thanksgiving …

Dorothy

~*~

©Dorothy E. Chiotti … All Rights Reserved 2020 … Aimwell CreativeWorks

A Lesson in Thrival

Choice 1200

~*~

This past year has been a lesson in thrival. Yes, I have just invented a word. From survive and survival we go to thrive and “thrival.”

You’re welcome.

This time last year instead of setting new year’s resolutions as I would normally, I set the intention to thrive. 2019 was going to be the year I stepped out of my kick-ass survival boots and replaced them with comfortable thrival shoes.

It’s been interesting, because in setting that intention all my survival moves have been challenged.

February proved a jumping off point, first because I was re-introduced to the work of neuro-scientist and author, Dr. Joe Dispenza, who challenged me, through video and the written word, to fire and re-wire neural pathways in my brain. Basically, to replace old thought habits with new ones so I could create my desired reality based on new, more holistic information, rather than continue to struggle (a survival mode strategy) doing it based on old patterns of being. So illuminating!

He then challenged me to raise my awareness by starting each day with a 20-minute meditation. (“Rest and Renew” on YouTube). I’d meditated before but not with the commitment I now felt to thrival. So,I turned my Ikea footstool into a meditation spot and made it a practice to go their early every morning to quiet my mind and connect to my heart. With each passing day it became easier. In fact, I looked forward to it and enjoyed it so much that it very quickly it became a habit, one I’ve committed to every day to help establish and maintain equanimity. It has served me well. Getting into thrival mode has created a good deal of chaos as the people and feelings that were a product of my survival scurry out of my life. It’s like I just don’t have room for them anymore and somehow they know it.

Believe me, it’s a thing. Look at the people around you. Are they a crutch in your desperate need to survive and let you down when you don’t fulfill their agenda, or do they lift you up to a higher understanding of yourself and support you in your quest to thrive, no strings attached? There is a difference, and I learned that in spades this year.

Indignation be gone!

Part of my learning has been understanding the part indignation has played in my survival strategy. Indignation, or reacting in the heat of the moment, is rarely our friend. How often has someone or something annoyed you so much in the moment that you’ve risen to defend yourself against a perceived injustice and then regretted it? Or it backfires on you?

For me it was another moment last February when my husband and I were walking on our property and watching one of the current trainer’s horses making a meal of a spruce tree in its paddock. Horses don’t eat trees unless they’re hungry. It was mid morning and as I looked around the snow-covered paddock I noticed there wasn’t a speck of hay to be found. My back was instantly up. Horses need access to hay when there is no grass. Without realizing it I started ranting at my husband about winter turnout and how horses need hay and why don’t these horse people know this, and on and on. When he’d finally had enough, and after I’d texted the person in charge in as calm a voice as I could muster (please give this horse some hay so she’ll stop eating our tree) he forced me to look at myself and my reaction. Why was I so quick to react instead of simply observe and then respond? Why was I so hot under the collar about something that a simple conversation could fix?

This new awareness gave rise to a personal commitment to get ahead of this triggered reaction. Over time I realized that my indignation was born of a sense of injustice and this was related to the survival mode in which I’d been living my entire life. With years of therapy under my belt I already knew the whys and wherefores, now I needed to deal with the ingrained coping mechanism ~ the propensity to lash out to protect my personal and emotional space.

So, it’s been interesting. With lots of triggers on and off the farm this year, never mind out in in the world-at-large, I have had to learn to get in front of my reactions. To take stock of the moment and choose my response rather than get lost in my reaction. Wow, is that ever hard. But it’s been such a valuable lesson. I now know the moment my indignation is about to rise. I can feel it first in my chest like a thud. And then my mind clicks in and the wheels start to turn and my heart rate elevates and my mind spins and … and … and … if I don’t get ahead of it BOOM! it’s out there. And the funny thing is, it’s no kind of release, it just ramps things up even worse so that in the end I’m actually doubting what I did and then beating myself up for being reactive. In the end, I lose!

Observe . Breathe . Wait

Getting ahead of my reactions means observing, breathing and waiting. When I wait I give myself time to even consider whether or not I want to dignify the perceived offense or injustice with a response. I give myself the choice of ignoring it or responding to it later from a more solid, less volatile place. One of my strategies is to write everything down to get it out of my system. Journaling. A personal record from the heart that I can then put away and not think about again unless given a very specific reason, say, as evidence. (It also provides great resource material for other writing projects.)

You see, to live in thrival mode we must release all the survival instincts that have kept us stuck in old patterns of behaviour and re-program our vast intelligence to function more efficiently and dynamically. Interestingly, living in thrival mode is less energy sapping than survival. In survival mode we’re always alert and waiting for the other shoe to drop and believe me, that’s an exhausting and debilitating way to live. The Complex-PTSD and adrenal issues I’ve experienced did not appear by accident. However, in thrival mode we have the option to live a more edifying and enjoyable life without placing conditions on everything and everyone to be exactly as we need them to be so we can survive. Isn’t that the bane of our world right now? The fact that many of our leaders are so burrowed down in survival and fear that they must control everything to the point of utter destruction in order to make themselves feel better and more in control?

Thrival is impossible as long as we allow ourselves to be influenced and buried in the deep fear and survival mentalities of people we can’t control. This has proven a difficult challenge for me. Survival mode made me a terrible control freak and I’m still working on letting this part go, but at least I’m aware of it. At least I can get ahead of my negative momentum and stop it before it impacts another. I can thrive on my own terms, in my own happy heart, and there’s nothing you or anyone else has to do to make it happen.

In thrival mode, we claim our power at no one’s expense. In survival mode our power flails to the detriment of all.

As we head into 2020 I set my intention to Thrive 2.0. The next, more advanced level of living a full life ~ flourishing, growing, prospering. Even more comfortable thrival shoes.

May I wish you the same. Happy New Year!

Be well and thanks for visiting …

Dorothy

©Dorothy E. Chiotti … All Rights Reserved 2019

 

Mirror

Water abstract

And if the view’s not to your taste …

Don’t blame the mirror.

~*~

Image: Dock relic in large pond … Tylney Hall, Hook, Hampshire, England

~*~

©Dorothy E. Chiotti … All Rights Reserved 2019
Aimwell CreativeWorks

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fallow

 

Under the Rainbow

~*~

Fallow soil,

Hallowed ground.

Nothing grows here ~

Not yet.

The seed planted

Rests peacefully

Within a fertile

Bed covered by

Hope; fed with

Dreams.

Awaiting the

Moment

To rise; to greet

The sun.

Its day will

Come.

In the meantime,

Fallow.

~*~

Sometimes there is absolutely nothing to be done to create forward momentum. In those times, rest.

Thanks for visiting,

Dorothy

©Dorothy E. Chiotti … All Rights Reserved 2019 … Aimwell CreativeWorks

Sunshine Maiden

Golden Glow LR

She glowed upon a soft horizon,

The Sunshine Maiden.

A warming, golden light

That shone o’er

Shivering hills and

Truth bare-boned. No

Hiding from the glint

In her amber all-seeing

Eye. And yet, no judgment

There. Simply a place

Holder shedding light

On dark corners of

Spirit. Healing.

De-mystifying the

Mysterious. Revealing,

Through her bright beam of knowing, the

Bounteous beauty born of

Bleak internal landscapes.

Her light; her love, radiating and

Conquering the dark.

~*~

In Memorium

Wendy Golding, mentor and friend. Recently deceased lover of life and co-founder of
Horse Spirit Connections in Tottenham, Ontario. A guiding, healing light, and force for good, to all who knew and loved her.

wendy and thor copy

Always in my heart.

~*~

©Dorothy E. Chiotti … All Rights Reserved 2019