I have always enjoyed a good party.

Last fall, my friend Margi McKay interviewed me as part of a Kingston Public Library project to have people select an old photo from their past and talk about it.  You might enjoy listening to the 22 minute interview.  I am happy to have it preserved.  Some day my grandchildren or great grandchildren will be able to hear me talk about my childhood.

And how things have changed in my lifetime.  I feel like a bit of a pioneer.  The TV set in the photo was the latest technology.  Now everyone has this in their pocket.

There is a link below to an edited version of the interview but if you have the 20 minutes, the longer interview is better as it is more thoughtful and complete.  You can access it by clicking on the photo below or here.

2016-09-14-1315_GEDDES-Halloween-party-recto

For the shorter edited version you can click here.  It is a bit more rushed and the editing sounds like I have had about 4 cups of coffee prior to the interview.  But in these days of shorter attention span, this works well.  Click here for the abbreviated version.

I talk about 448 Mornington Ave, London in the interview.  It is where the party took place. Here is my brother Bob and I on the front porch of that house about the same time.

2016-09-14-1315_John-and-Bob-Geddes-circa-1953

James Stevenson – mixing his metaphors in a letter – 1880

This is a letter from my great great grandfather, James Stevenson ( b.1810 ) in July 1880.  He died  in September 1880. I think it is to his brother-in-law James Crinklaw who lived in Marietta Nebraska.

Sand Creek, 24th July 1880

Friend James,  Your letter was received …time and thanks for the information which was contained in it. Janet paid us a visit 2 weeks ago and I showed her your letter, as those you sent to her were all short ones. I got through taking the cures for a good  time but I have been sick ever since; in fact I was not well when I began it.  But you know that “need makes the wife trot” _ I wished to calm a little to keep the wolf from showing his nose at the door.  If we sit all day with our hands folded it is not to be expected that the Almighty will put a piece of bread into our mouths. He helps those who help themselves. This waiting, for “something to turn up” has been the rumination of thousands. Looking to the top of a ladder will never get one to the top of a building. So if we wish to surmount difficulties which may be in our way, we must not listlessly look at them as obstacles which it is out of our power to overcome; but with a firm resolve and a disposition which will stand no opposition, trample them down one by one as they approach as mountains in appearance will make them dwindle down to the size of molehills; and with health of body and God’s blessing added, success must ultimately follow. _ My liver is badly affected, and I have been taking medicine for 2 weeks. It has helped me somewhat, but the pain in my side is not gone yet.  My strength and what ambition I had, seem to have left me.  I have a sluggish feeling and am inclined to sleep. Bess has stood out all summer hoeing + weeding. I could get no one to hire. Not a potato or any other vegetable would we have had is she had not seen to the garden.  We will have more potatoes than will serve us, if they are a good crop.  Besides working in the garden she has all along seen tot he watering, feeding and pulling weeds for the hogs, which have done well under her management.   She is in good health being able to eat her breakfast between 5+6 every morning.  There is some talk of Ellen Fleming going west in September to take up hadn’t in Holt Co where her brother Andrew and John Gaiene are going. She told Bess that she was going your way to get a carpet wove and offered to take Bess + her carpet along with her.  I have no doubt but what she will go , provided my health Improves any, as she is anxious to see all who are connected with her.Harvest has just commenced, Wheat is late this season but will be a better yield than was expected some time ago, _ Corn will be an abundant crop.  Bess wished Georgina to tell Ellen that she is well and will perhaps see her before too long.  I send you a “Face Press” along with this letter,  I should like to go to Knox Co to see the folks, giving you a visit as I passed along, but I must wait for more strength to undergo the journey. My respects to Georgina and all your family, in the meantime believe me to be yours truly,  

 

James Stevenson

P.S. write when you feel like it.

*** Linda D. Crinklaw,  who has done extensive research about the Crinklaw family adds this information about James and the “James” to whom the letter is addressed:

“I believe the letter was sent to Neligh, Antelope Co., Nebraska to James Bainard [1817 Coventry, England- 1894 Neligh, Antelope Co., Nebraska] , husband of Georgina Spiers (Crinklaw) Bainard, half-sister of your Elizabeth (Crinklaw) Stevenson, wife of James Stevenson.   Georgina (Crinklaw) Bainard is Family #9 in George Fraser’s book.  Note that the letter ends, “My respects to Georgina and all your family.”  I think the Janet to whom the last letter from the James (person being sent this letter by James Stevenson) is Janet Elizabeth Bainard, daughter of Georgina (Crinklaw) and James Bainard.  In other words, James Stevenson showed her the letter written to him by her father, James Bainard, who wrote her only short letters.  Janet Bainard was a school teacher, and after teaching in Illinois in the 1870s, she taught by 1879 in Saunders Co., Nebraska four miles from the home of her uncle, Walter Crinklaw, Sr., in Marietta, Saunders Co., Nebraska.  Her aunt, Janet (Crinklaw) Gilchrist and her husband, James Gilchrist, also lived in Marietta, Saunders Co., Nebraska in 1880. Your Stevensons were living in Sand Creek, Saunders Co., Nebraska in 1880.  The Bainards (James and Georgina) moved from their farm in Illinois to Neligh, Antelope Co., Nebraska in 1880.  James Crinklaw, Jr. had apparently from your letter left the Stevensons after setting up the garden for them in 1879 according to my letter. He must have been gone in 1880 and not there to help your Elizabeth.  James Crinklaw, Jr. had his own homestead in Antelope Co., Nebraska by 1885, but left it c. 1886 and disappeared for awhile. “

Looking back at 2014

Facebook has been offering photos from the past year as a rehash but it only uses photos that were posted on my Facebook page.  Anyone who knows me also knows that I like to do things my way.  So here is my version of 2014 in review.

In addition to these photographic glimpses, there were many more moments/hours with family, medical residents, friends who share my passion for helping in Africa, the cast and crew of Fault, Starbucks chatters and my KIngs Town Players Brew Pub buds – lots of friends and family to hug and laugh with throughout the year.  Thanks to all of you who were part of this.  And for those who missed out in 2014… we are starting a new year if you want to be in next year’s collection of happy memories, I am always willing to have coffee or a beer or dinner or lunch or just a chat.

My best wishes  for a healthy and satisfying 2015.

Where is this heading?

I am worried about Ebola. It is rapidly spinning out of control.

Photo from internet

Photo from internet

I can’t imagine what it would be like to be a four-year old African child whose mother is dying of Ebola and I can not hug her or comfort her as she is dragged off by people looking like space travellers. I can not imagine what it is like to be a health care worker in a facility where there is no clean water supply, limited resources and few beds and knowing that just touching someone who is infected to provide care for them or make them more comfortable is risking my own life.

It annoys me somewhat when I see the panicked response of the U.S. or Spain when they get one case that is treated in health care systems that have funding many, many times that of the West African countries that are struggling to manage it. When the outbreak affects thousands in Liberia, far away, the response is muted. When one person in North America is treated with it, the response is a cascade of protective efforts, likely costing billions in the long run. I am not saying this is wrong, just imbalanced and so self-absorbed.

It frustrates me to know that the international community has dragged their feet in responding to this outbreak … until it becomes obvious that, with international travel, it is only a matter of time that the disease reaches us. It worries me that other African countries will soon be at risk and that their health care systems will do their best, but are woefully inadequate to cope with the anticipated exponential spread of this virus.   It troubles me to know that economies in many African countries, already struggling with poverty, will be decimated. Tourism is a major source of income. What traveller is going to pick an African vacation for their family with all this negative press and uncertainty?

When I graduated from medical school in 1974 there was no AIDS. Well, there were a few cases, scattered somewhere, but we didn’t know about it. Now millions have been infected and died of AIDS and although we have medications to manage it, we do not have a cure, nor effective immunization against it. Will Ebola be the next AIDS? Or worse?

What can we do about it? What can I do about it? So far the Canadian government has allocated about 5-6 million dollars to this crisis. They have also just approved an air bombing campaign in Iraq of undetermined cost but with estimates of 100 million dollars or more.   It costs close to $17,000 per hour to operate a CF-18 and each JDAM-equipped bomb that is dropped costs about $25,000. Can we get our priorities straight? Or at least balance them? How do we influence these decisions?

I have worked for the past five years to help to provide infrastructure improvements for schools, clinics and communities in East Africa through the CanAssist African Relief Trust. Will this be at all helpful if Ebola spreads eastward in Africa? I would like to think it will help. Education about spread of the disease and protection from it is essential to avoid infection and schools are a resource to help with that. CanAssist has supported clinics in several communities and has provided improved water and sanitation to communities and schools. Hopefully this will help if the need arises. Without adequate sanitation or access to clean water, how can anyone avoid contamination? CanAssist’s work involves only a few communities – we have limited resources despite a never-ending need. But hopefully, by preparing some communities a bit with infrastructure to help manage any possible outbreak (of Ebola or any other health threat) we can, in fact, save a few lives.

I plan to return to East Africa early in 2015. In addition to continuing to monitor and support new and existing projects through CanAssist (at no cost to our donors, by the way) I will be thinking about helping to provide some medical information about Ebola to the communities that I visit in preparation for what I fervently hope does not happen there. I have often felt that if Africa was educated about HIV/AIDS early on that this scourge would not have taken hold the way it did. Maybe with some warning and information, countries neighbouring those currently affected by Ebola can prepare to prevent it from engulfing in their communities. Not a panicked, emergency response but a practical preparation for a possible threat. It is worth a try.

“If I am only for myself, then what am I? And, if not now, when?” Rabbi Hillel, 50 BC

Slums in Africa house millions of people with little access to health facilities, clean water or sanitation. How would you contain it if an Ebola strikes here?

Slums in Africa house millions of people with little access to health facilities, clean water or sanitation. How would you contain it if  Ebola strikes here?

1957-58

John 57-58

My post about 1953 seemed to be a popular one.  I have another school photo from 1957-58 so I will tell you about that year, too.

Our family had moved from Mornington Ave to Victoria Street in London and I was going to Ryerson Public School. I would have turned ten that year.  I have a granddaughter older than that now.

When I look at the class photo (Grade 5) i can name all the kids in the photo. Some are just first names but 57 years later I still remember these names. Some of us stuck together through high school. Last  week, on Facebook, I saw a photo of some (I initially put the word “old” in here but took it out as they all looked pretty good and I was referring to the duration of our friendship, not the ladies themselves)  friends from high school and the girl with the ponytail and the white dress near the middle of the class picture was in the photo.  1957

I wonder what became of these schoolmates.  One of them became an Ontario Member of Parliament for several years. His brother was Premier of the province for some time. Where are you now, Alan Cotton, Sandra Hansford, Mina Orenstein, Phillip Somerville, Nancy Lamon, Diane Kendall, Susan Sherlock? I could list them all.

I think it may have been in grade 5 that I started my acting “career”.  I wrote, directed and starred in a class production of “The Emperor’s New Clothes”.   Sort of the Kevin Costner (or maybe more like the Woody Allen) of my school.

I also remember one of the girls in the middle row putting her tongue on a metal pole in the winter on our way home for lunch and having an episode very similar to  Flick in A Christmas Story.  She left  little shards of tongue on the pole as she tore it off.

What else was happening in 1957? It seems that Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly were popular – Elvis hitting it big on Ed Sullivan and then with his movie, Jailhouse Rock. That year he bought Graceland. When he appeared on network television they would only show him from the waist up, even when he was singing songs like Peace in the Valley. His pelvic gyrations were the 1957 equivalent of twerking and definitely not meant for children to see.

Queen Elizabeth visited Canada to open parliament. John Diefenbaker (Dief the Chief) was Prime Minister of Canada. The USSR put the first orbiting spacecraft into space – a two-foot big satellite called Sputnik. It was a big deal.

That summer I cut my foot on a piece of glass in Gibbons Park that summer. My Dad took me to a doctor friend of his to get stitches and I was pulled around in a wagon for a week and sat by the garage making Plaster of Paris frogs and cars and little soldiers.

dodge 1957 canada (7)At some point we had a 1957 Dodge – white with turquoise strip and huge pointed fins on the back of it. My mom, who used to sing in a band during the war years, got an advertising gig on CFPL radio singing about the “daring new Dodge”. I thought my mom was famous.

 

With Grandpa Vardon (often in his undershirt) in the Grosvenor Street yard in 1957. The infamous fire pit was off to the left.

With Grandpa Vardon (often in his undershirt) in the Grosvenor Street yard in 1957. The infamous fire pit was off to the left.

My Grandparents lived a few blocks away on Grosvenor Street.  They were lots of fun.  Grandma Vardon played the accordion – earlier in her life she was a piano player for silent movies.  She also liked to have bonfires in her back yard barbecue pit – something that perhaps was not welcomed by the neighbours as evidenced by the occasional arrival of the fire department. I remember vividly roasting marshmallows over the fire as a hoard of firemen with hats and coats and hoses burst into the yard around the garage.

Bosnian Post(ers)

When I visited Bosnia in the spring the weather was particularly cool and damp. I wondered if my photos would be a bit dreary. I was looking through my pictures last night and realized that many of them held vibrant colour and they cried out to me for a poster treatment. So here are a few of my photos, posterized. I don’t usually tart my photos up this way but I kind of like these.  Enjoy a brief visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The hill behind Inat Kuča.

The hill behind Inat Kuča in Sarajevo.

The Mostar Bridge

The Mostar Bridge

Street in old Mostar.

Street in old Mostar.

This building in Mostar near the river was heavily damaged during the war. It has been shored up with timbers. Snapdragons grow between the bricks  on the window ledges.

This building in Mostar near the river was heavily damaged during the war. It has been shored up with timbers. Snapdragons grow between the bricks on the window ledges. In fact, I didn’t alter this photo. This is how it looked. Dramatic.

Mostar

Mostar

Sarajevo Market

Sarajevo Market

Coffee time.

Coffee time.

The old bridge - Stari most - from which Mostar gets its name.

The old bridge – Stari most – from which Mostar gets its name.

The Neretva River on the very scenic drive between Sarajevo and Mostaf.

The Neretva River on the very scenic drive between Sarajevo and Mostaf.

 

Me in ’53

I came across a couple of photos buried deep in my computer’s hard drive this week that were taken in 1953. I was six that year.

Halloween party 1953. I am on the chair by the TV.

Halloween party 1953. I am on the chair by the TV.

I remember the circumstances of one of them. We lived in at 448 Mornington Ave in London, Ontario and this was a Halloween party for me and my friends in the neighborhood. It looks like we were all dressed as hobos. Hobo costumes may seem to be a bit unimaginative but they  were not expensive to create.

image

 

 

A television was a new item in Canadian homes. The first CBC television stations opened just the year before, in 1952. The local station had only 4 hours of programming per day and the rest of the time it was a black and white test pattern.

BookI am not sure if I had ever been to a movie. Play was in a sandbox in the back yard. My imagination would have been stimulated by picture books like Winnie the Pooh, Peter Pan and my favourite of all – Nursery Tales That Children Love.   I still have that book. I smells a bit musty but I treasure it as something from my childhood.  Inside the front cover is an inscription – “TO JOHN, FROM GRAMP.”  And I did love those stories. The Gingerbread Boy, Peter Rabbit, The Three Little Pigs.Sambo crop My favourite was Little Black Sambo – probably now banned as being politically incorrect.  But maybe it set me dreaming of Africa even then.

My mom (anyone who knew her will be able to image this)  had decided that to liven up the Halloween party we would all go down into the basement in the dark and she would pass around little bowls of stuff that were supposed to represent body parts. Cold spaghetti was brains. Peeled grapes were suppose to be eyeballs. My Mom was not as creepy as this now sounds. In addition she had decide to make the basement dark and spooky by tying a piece of colored cloth around the bare light bulb that lit the basement stairs. Mid way through the ghost story, the cloth caught fire. We abandoned the bowls of body parts and scrambled upstairs and outside to safety. I don’t think Mom tried that trick again.

This photo of the newly crowned Queen Elizabeth II hung in every school classroom.

This photo of the newly crowned Queen Elizabeth II hung in every school classroom.

Earlier in 1953 Queen Elizabeth was crowned, her father, King George having died the previous year. I remember playing in the back yard on that June day and admiring the wooden nickel that we had been given at school to commemorate the occasion. I layed on the grass watching the clouds whiz by and knowing that something historical was happening that day but having no real sense of what if was.

I was the same age as Prince Charles.  I used to think that maybe some day we could be friends.  I did shake hands with him and chat ever so briefly when he and Diana visited Kingston in 1991.  That was as chummy as we got. Charles probably doesn’t remember the moment as vividly as I do.  His hand was not soft and princely but rough and more like that of a gardener. Mine was probably sweaty like so many others he had encountered.

 

The first stage of the Stratford Festival in 1953

The first stage of the Stratford Festival in 1953

The Stratford festival opened in 1953. My grandparents had friends in Stratford named Helen and Bob, who were somehow involved with the festival and  they attended early performances that were done in a big tent. They went to parties with the likes of Tyrone Guthrie and Alec Guinness who starred in the first production of Richard III.

 

Although I was only six, I walked to school myself. It was about eight blocks away and over a level railway crossing for the main CP line. Today parents line up in the schoolyard to scoop up their kids as they emerge from school. Innocence (or at least the feeling of innocence) lost and replaced now by paranoia and suspicion.

Johnny and Bobby  late summer 1953.

Johnny and Bobby late summer 1953.

My cat was named Tippy. My brother was/is named Bob. Both were about 18 months old. My grandparents were ten years younger than I am now and I thought of them as old.  I now have five grandchildren of my own.

I  was probably having fun at that Halloween party and have had a lot more fun over the past 60 years.

Time flies when you’re having fun.

100 Years Ago Today

Last month I stood on a Sarajevo corner and tried to imagine the day 100 years ago when, on that very spot, an event changed the history of Europe and the whole world for the upcoming century.

Today this corner looks very much like it did 100 years ago. In May I stayed in a hotel that was just at the end of this historic little street.

Today this corner looks very much like it did 100 years ago. In May I stayed in a great little hotel  (Old Town Hotel) that was just at the end of this historic little street.

Today, the intersection is unremarkable. People stand waiting for the next tram. Traffic pushes by.  A small plaque in the wall of a building on the corner states “From this place on 28 June 1914, Gavrilo Princip assassinated the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophia.”  

That’s it.  Nothing mentioned that within a month after this shooting, all of Europe was drawn into the war that became World War I, a global conflagration that apparently claimed over 16 million lives and wounded another 20 million — staggering statistics that have ranked this as one of the most deadly conflicts in human history.

Earlier that spring, while Austrian Archduke Ferdinand planned his trip to Sarajevo, proud to have his pregnant, commoner wife, Sophie accompany him, a group of Serbs who were disgruntled with the Austrian control over their region plotted to assassinate him.  Knowing that Ferdinand would be exposed in his motorcade through Sarajevo streets and inflamed by recent Austrian military activity in Bosnia, the seven Black Hand conspirators hatched their plan.

They smuggled weapons, guns and grenades, into Sarajevo and seven of them traveled individually into Bosnia from Belgrade.  Their plan would position them at several spots along the motor route to the town hall.  Each would have a chance to kill the Archduke and all had vials of cyanide to kill themselves afterward if captured.

imageIt was a bright sunny Sunday morning and crowds lined the streets to greet the Archduke and his wife, both decked out in regal finery and waving from the raised seat of their open car.  Part way along the street that ran beside the river, Nedeljko Cabrinovic threw a grenade at the royal vehicle.  It bounced and rolled under the Archduke’s the car and toward the car behind.  It had a ten second delay on the fuse so when it exploded it damaged the vehicle that was behind Ferdinand’s, injuring the occupants.  Ferdinand’s car sped up and proceeded to the city hall.

After the official function was done, local officials persuaded Ferdinand to make a speedy exit from the city due to the obvious danger to him and Sophie.  Ferdinand agreed but first wanted to go to the hospital to check on the members of his entourage that had been injured earlier in the day.  They got back into their car and set off down the street.

Here is how the story goes from there.

The driver is uncertain of the new route and makes a turn up a small street, not far from the city hall. The local governor, also in the car, shouts to the driver that he has taken a wrong turn off Apple Quay.  The driver stops the car and tries to reverse onto the main thoroughfare.   The car stalls.

Nineteen year-old Gavrilo Princip, one of the Black Hand seven, thinking that chances to carry out the assassination had passed has stopped for a something to eat at Moritz Schiller’s Shop near the corner of Franz Joseph Street and the main Appel Quay.  He looks up to see Ferdinand and Sophie perched in the stalled car only a few feet from him.  From his waistcoat he pulls his revolver and fires two shots, almost at point blank range.  One hits Sophie and the second hits Ferdinand in the neck.  Both stump forward, utter a few words to each other and die shortly thereafter.

Gavrilo Princip is arrested shortly after shooting Ferdinand and Sophie in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914.

Gavrilo Princip is arrested shortly after shooting Ferdinand and Sophie in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914.

Princip and Cabrinovic both took their cyanide but if was outdated and only made them vomit.  Cabrinović also jumped into the river but it was only a few inches deep. Princip was quickly apprehended.  Both were convicted and died in prison of tuberculosis before 1918.

For its day, this was a terrorist event that equates in political significance with the 9-11 attack in New York.  It is deemed to be the spark that ignited wars that involved Europe and the globe for the 20th century and beyond.  June 28 also happens to also be the date of the famous Battle of Kosovo in 1389  — one that was often mentioned by Slobodan Milosović in partial motivation for the conflict in Kosovo at the end of the century.

When I was a young student this assassination was the only thing that I knew about Sarajevo.  I also knew that my grandfather went to war in Europe as an indirect consequence of this event. It always surprises me when I walk past this Sarajevo corner, how little official notice has been given to mark the spot where this world-altering event happened.

But the fact that so much about that fateful corner is unchanged, allows one to stop and just imagine how it unfolded and reflect on the consequences of the place where you are standing. A more striking remembrance than a huge cenotaph, perhaps.

 

*** Published in the Kingston Whig Standard – June 17, 2014.***

 

Meet Edward and Christopher

Edward 500

This is Edward. He is the oldest of three kids living with a father who is intermittently ill and absent from the family. For much of the past three years he and his siblings have had to manage on their own.

Christopher and his older brother, Edward at the Hope for Youth School in Uganda.

Christopher and his older brother, Edward at the Hope for Youth School in Uganda.

Edward and his brother, Christopher, are just finishing up their studies at the Hope for Youth School in Uganda – a school that has been supported in several ways by the CanAssist African Relief Trust. Fortunately the staff and administration at the Hope for Youth school have been there to offer an element of stability to the lives of these kids and a bowl of porridge mid-day when food was scarce.

I have visited the school three or four times and have watched Edward and Christopher grow up. They both are involved with the traditional dancing and drumming entertainment that the school.

Christopher serves up some posho for lunch to visitor, Dave Kay, at Hope for Youth School

Christopher serves up some posho for lunch to visitor, Dave Kay, at Hope for Youth School

When I visited the school in September I asked the boys if they planned to go on to Secondary School. Their response was downturned eyes and shrugged shoulders. Their family has no money for them to attend secondary school (it would take about $550 for each boy to provide tuition and books for a year).

Their final exams are happening in December. The teachers at the school imagine that both boys will qualify for secondary school entrance.  (This little school is leading the pack in terms of grades for their district.)

Prossy

Prossy

I also met a girl named Prossy who has received top marks at the school but who has no money to continue her education. The teachers report that her academic performance has also been good but she lacks the resources to go on to secondary school.

What will become of these kids, I wonder.

This is a familiar story. African kids may get through elementary school but to go on requires some tuition, books and uniforms and this is often out of reach for a family living in poverty. Even fewer go on to post-secondary education. Most rely on outside support to continue their education. But there are so many pupils in this circumstance all desperate for some assistance.

Enjoy Christopher, Edward and some of their classmates as they do some Ugandan Traditional Dancing at the Hope for Youth School in Uganda. And realize how lucky we are that most of our students are able to complete secondary school with public funding regardless of their background or family situation.