February 24, 2010

Someone would have to pay dearly

The Advocate's Devil – Historical Flash Fiction

As published in The Erin Advocate

"This newspaper has to hit the street first thing Wednesday morning," said Wellington Hull. "Nobody goes home until it's done." The publisher of The Erin Advocate was a big fish in a very small pond, and tolerated no lollygagging.

"How long 'til we put this one to bed?" he said to Robert, the weasel who runs our new Linotype machine. To look at McNair, you'd wonder if he could even read, but he makes that machine fly, laying down six lines o' type per minute.

"Two hours, Mr. Hull, sooner if Ethan gets off his arse and fetches more type."

"Let the boy be. I'm going out. Auction's at one. Now get to work."

Hull bought the newspaper 16 years ago, two years after I was born. Here at the Advocate office above the Union Bank, at 128 Main, he also issues marriage licenses, runs his farm machinery auction business and takes pleasure in the influence he wields.

My name is Ethan Callaghan, born in County Cork but shipped to Erin; a papist in a village named for Ireland, but run by Protestants, mainly Scotsmen. A Roman Catholic church will never be built here in my lifetime. Not that I care. The meek take comfort in sermons and incense; I prefer mine straight from the bottle.

I'm what they call a devil – a printer's devil. A lowly apprentice. Hands blackened from mixing tubs of ink. Emptier of the Hell Box, filled with broken lead type for the furnace. Whipping boy if ads appear upside down. Mark Twain was a printer's devil, and I'm going to be a writer too, if I can escape this godforsaken place. Until then I'm just the Advocate's devil, trying to stay warm and well-fed.

Finally, Wednesday, Feb. 23, 1910 has been set, proofed and locked down for printing. Nothing too exciting. An obituary for old man Sutton, 89, a loyal Methodist. Township council met at the Grand Central Hotel in Hillsburgh and paid its bills, including $7.84 for gravel from Robert W. Tarswell, the sawmill operator and Mormon preacher from Cedar Valley. The cost of living is up. Elephants have run amuck in San Francisco. Egyptian premier Boutros Ghali was shot by a nationalist student.

On Page 2, another dreary chapter of "Maude De Vere; or, the New Mistress at Laurel Hill". Fiction has no place in a modern newspaper. Almost as offensive as our weekly bible lesson.

Back on schedule, McNair and the crew have slipped across the street for "lunch" at the Globe Hotel before starting the press run, leaving me alone to tend the shop. Ben Mundell walked in. "Yes, Mr. Mundell. No sir. Yes sir, I will tell him." Like Hull, he had the swagger of a wheeler-dealer. I thought of the mansion he had built for Dr. Gear.

My older brother Connor works among the flapping drive belts and whirling blades at Mundell's planing factory, down where the Credit turns. Maybe we could both get work swinging a hammer this summer. With so many fires, there was always building to be done.

Hull's daughter Ella came by with her friend Edna Campbell. Both were 16, and unable to finish a sentence without breaking into fits of giggling. Ella had a mischievous glint, but kept herself prim. Edna had a wild streak that was barely concealed. Like me, she was of a lower class – but unlike me, she was content with it.

I went down to the press, all set up with a sheet of paper up on the platen. I rolled some ink over the raised type on the flatbed. I wasn't supposed to touch it on my own, but I had seen the pressmen work it hundreds of times, and helped with preparation and cleanup. Just a few copies. Just a little fun on a boring day.

I turned the drive wheel and the paper flew down, was pressed against the type and whipped up again. One poor copy. A few more, as I fed paper and the rollers automatically laid fresh ink. Clackity-clack. Clackity-clack. Then a clunk and a low grinding.

The press was jammed, and the crew would be back soon. I tried to reverse it, to no avail. I put a crowbar to the gears, and they moved a bit. I reached with my right hand to lift the platen, while pressing the crowbar with the left, and suddenly the mechanism came free. Off balance, I stumbled towards the gears as the press finished its cycle. A lightning bolt of pain shot up my left arm.

Lying on the grimy floor, I saw my hand had turned from black to red. I was lucky. Only the baby finger was missing. Slipping into shock, I wasn't thinking about how reckless I had been. I felt only a rage against this place and the people who put me here. I comforted myself with a vow that someone would have to pay dearly for this. Then I slept.

* * *

Meanwhile, back in 2010...this has been an experiment in flash fiction, also known as the short, short story. It is a mix of real people like Hull, a real newspaper from exactly 100 years ago, imagined characters like Callaghan and events that might have been.

February 17, 2010

Health Team helps people fight diabetes

As published by The Erin Advocate

When diagnosed with a life-threatening condition, you may be motivated to do some things you should have been doing all along.

With diabetes, both prevention and treatment revolve around the good lifestyle habits that everyone knows about – eating healthy food, getting regular exercise and losing excess weight. Easier said than done of course, but the urgency may be absent because many people do not even know that they have diabetes.

"You cannot go by how you feel," said Pat White, a Registered Dietician and Certified Diabetes Educator with the East Wellington Family Health Team (EWFHT). Even if there are no symptoms, people with specific risk factors should speak to their doctor about diabetes testing.

"Doctors are more aware and are very proactive," she said. "Once you know, you can improve your lifestyle."

She hosts sessions for Erin and Rockwood residents on Diabetes Prevention, Learning to Live with Type 2 Diabetes and Meal Planning (not just for diabetes). These events are free (your tax dollars at work), and open to all residents, even if they do not have a doctor at the local Health Team.

The Canadian Diabetes Association calls it an epidemic, with 285 million people affected world-wide – including 3 million Canadians. That is expected to hit 3.7 million by 2020, costing Canadian healthcare $17 billion annually. A US study projected that a North American child born in 2000 stands a one in three chance of being diagnosed with diabetes during their lifetime.

People in wealthy nations are living longer, and obesity rates are climbing. Lifestyles are more sedentary, and we fall prey to the marketing of food that provides inadequate nourishment.

Type 1 or "juvenile" diabetes occurs when the pancreas fails to produce the hormone insulin, which regulates how the liver releases sugar to the body. Type 2 diabetes (90 per cent of cases) is a lack of insulin developing over time during adulthood, but now starting more often in teens. Preventive measures are especially important during the borderline state of pre-diabetes.

Here are the risk factors. Get tested if you: are more than 40 years old; have a parent or sibling with diabetes; are of Aboriginal, Hispanic, South Asian, Asian or African descent; are overweight; have high blood pressure, high cholesterol or glucose problems; have had diabetes during pregnancy; have had a baby that weighed over nine pounds at birth; or have been diagnosed with a hormone imbalance called polycystic ovary syndrome, with acanthosis nigricans (darkened patches of skin), or with schizophrenia.

Also get tested if you have: unusual thirst, frequent urination, unexpected weight gain or loss, extreme fatigue, blurred vision, frequent infections, slow-healing cuts, or sexual impotence.

Because high blood sugar is toxic to blood vessels and damages nerves, complications can happen throughout the body, increasing the risk of heart and kidney disease, vision loss and serious circulation problems. Smoking accelerates the complications. Visit www.diabetes.ca.

When diet and exercise cannot control the condition, it may be necessary to take insulin, or other medications, which can be expensive. Self-testing with a glucose meter and other regular testing, plus specific diet control is often needed to keep glucose levels in a safe range.

The good news is that a long and healthy life is an excellent possibility for diabetics – all the more reason to deal with the reality of a problem in its early stages. Do not wait until serious damage has occurred.

Local seminars are held at the EWFHT office in Erin, 18 Thompson Cres., or at the Rockwood clinic. Call 519-833-7576 or go to www.ewfht.ca for details.

February 10, 2010

Nash makes a splash at downtown concert

As published in The Erin Advocate

People look at me kinda funny when I tell them I'm a fan of folk music. Sometimes I think it is a look of pity for an old fart whose musical tastes got stuck in the '60s, which is of course totally untrue. More often they just have no clear idea of what folk music is.

Mainstream radio stations will not play even the best of it, since they do not believe there is a large enough audience, and even CBC Radio 2, which is sympathetic, steers more towards pop on its morning and afternoon commuter shows.

Folk has been known for centuries in Europe as music of the lower classes, played with simple instruments and passed on by tradition. In North America it now encompasses a wide range of acoustic instruments, avoiding high-tech production and often giving emphasis to thoughtful lyrics.

It is actually the lack of clear boundaries that endears the genre to many fans, who are willing to go out of their way to hear today's top performers. It is a special pleasure when one of them comes to your own town.

Jory Nash has six albums to his credit, is well-known at many Toronto clubs, gets airplay on CBC, plays events like the Hillside Festival in Guelph and takes his show on the road across North America. He was the main act at a January 29 concert held at the Paul Morin Gallery, sponsored by Erin Radio.

Julian Petti from Palgrave started the evening off with some strong, rhythmic guitar, and bluesy finger picking on songs like, Leave the Light On. You can check him out on myspace.com and see his Echo Bay recording sessions in Algonquin Park on YouTube.

A lively instrumental set was provided by WhirlyGig, a dance/celtic band from the Guelph area, based at Celtic College (riversidecelticcollege.ca). With Irene Shelton on piano, Carolyn Buck on fiddle, Jakob McCauley on bodhran and Eva McCauley on mandolin, fiddle and concertina, we were treated to a wide variety of jigs, reels and even polkas. Unfortunately, with about 65 people in attendance, there was no room to dance.

Jory Nash is an independent who labels his style as a mix of folk, acoustic, country, jazz, pop, blues, soul and storytelling. He plays the guitar, piano and five-string banjo. His fingerpicking style is confident and precise, without being flowery or overbearing.

From the second he presents himself, you get an upbeat feeling. His sound is happy and friendly – even when singing about the recession in It Don't Add Up. And although he has plenty of good songs of his own, he recognizes the appeal of covering old standards, like the jazzy Fly Me To The Moon, or Smokey Robinson's Tracks of My Tears.

The audience was chatty as they sipped their wine and snacked on apple bread cheese from Spirit Tree Cidery in Caledon. But with a combination of funny stories, a light, soaring voice and a guitar style that was often spare and haunting, Nash ultimately had everyone's full attention. He had people laughing with Spaz Loves Weezie, singing along with My Girl, and thinking hard with Sam Cooke's A Change is Gonna Come.

It is always worth the effort to seek out talented performers who have not yet struck it rich with commercial hits. They are never just coasting, and are not stuck on one style. They are willing to play in small towns, and are working hard to provide good entertainment. This was an excellent event, and here's hoping Erin has many more like it.

Here are a few more websites to check in your spare time: myspace.com/jorynash; jorynash.com; and maplemusic.com.

February 03, 2010

Stirring up memories of the 1940s

As published in The Erin Advocate

Erin's Main Street has seen many changes in the last 66 years, and Eleanor Lougheed has had a good view of the progress – all through the same front window.

I sat down with her last week to find out what village life was like in the 1940s, and she had many fond memories of that era. She was born in Toronto, but later moved to a farm near Grand Valley, where she married Cliff Lougheed.

The couple moved to Erin in 1940 when Cliff went to work at Bob Lang's creamery, located with an egg grading station on the property now occupied by the LCBO outlet. They lived in the apartment above the creamery for four years, then moved across the street to the house where she still lives, just south of the river.

They put a lot of work into the place and there was never a good enough reason to move. They raised their son and two daughters there, becoming an integral part of the village.

"You knew everyone, and everyone knew you. I wouldn't want to live anywhere else. I live in the best place in the world, as far as I'm concerned," she said, though she does miss the days when the Advocate reported all the details of village social life.

In the morning, she would head out with a pail to pump good drinking water from a communal well. Many homes also had cisterns to collect rainwater for washing needs.

Outhouses were common in small-town Ontario, and it was not until 1957 that their family had an indoor bathroom, with water piped in from a well they shared with two other homes. A few years later when the road was torn up to build the water works, they were not pleased to learn they would have to pay for municipal water whether they hooked up or not.

"It was progress, and definitely needed – things can't stay the same," she said.

Cliff passed away five years ago. He preferred to work in the village, though he did haul poultry to Toronto for about ten years. He was well-known as an ice cream maker at Steen's Dairy, an ice maker at the Agricultural Building arena and a sharpener of skates.

Eleanor stays active with her flower and vegetable gardens, does her own housework, walks her dog Shadow twice a day, and keeps up on the news of the day.

She remembers when milk was delivered to the porch – you just left out your empty bottle, with money in it. As a member of the United Church congregation, she would not think of calling a minister by his first name – until the Reverend Jeff Davison changed that tradition.

In the '40s, they did not have a phone, so they would walk down to the phone company office (where the Valu-Mart parking lot is now) and pay to make their calls. During the war, families got a booklet of ration coupons that allowed them to buy limited quantities of meat, butter and sugar at the three grocery stores.

There was a blacksmith shop across the street, and where the Village Fish shop is now, there was a car repair garage on ground level, with shoes and boots manufactured upstairs. There was a bakery shop where the Mundell's parking lot is now, and a small library was set up in the front of the Mundell's store.

Erin's electric power had been generated at Church's Falls in Cataract since 1899, and Eleanor recalls paying their bill to the Caledon Electric Company, which was bought out by Ontario Hydro in 1944.

The Lougheeds had a grass tennis court behind their house, and their property extended to the top of what is now called the Water Tower Hill – they sold some land there so the tower could be built. The old village dump was on the other side of the hill.

For entertainment, there were plays and musical performances at the auditorium in the Village Hall at 109 Main Street (a village choir was open to all), but for movies, people had to drive to Guelph or Orangeville.

Of course, the Fall Fair on Thanksgiving Weekend was the event of the year, just as it had been since 1850. Fortunately, some things don't change.