A Kelowna childhood in the 70’s: Fall

There is a melancholy comfort to the fall season. There is the return to school and the reassurance of the cyclical nature of daily life and the seasons: the first weeks of school, the slow and steady twinges of yellow and red in the trees that lead to Thanksgiving and then Halloween. There is the colder grey chill of Remembrance Day and the eventual childhood promise of snow and Christmas. The laughter of children playing at the beach in the sun is over. What did my mom used to say about autumn? “It has something very special, something sad mixed with beauty…”

An early sign of the season, in the past, was the arrival of apple crates alongside the various orchards dotted throughout the Kelowna and Rutland area: large reddish-brown pallet boxes stacked with anticipation of a bountiful harvest. So much has changed since the ’60s and ’70s. Many orchards around the city are gone now, lost to development. The cycles of change on a bigger timescale. So it goes…

In the OK

“In the OK” by Fonseka [flickr]

Kelowna in the fall back in those days was flannel, checked shirts, the last hurrah of lake fishing, and the allure of hunting season around the corner. There was a large agricultural community alongside suburban residents clearing up for winter. The sound of a chain saw in the distance buzzing through the chill in the air and the clear blue skies of mid-September.

20171010_104025

Mission Creek (2017) by the author

The land-locked Kokanee salmon begin to return from Okanagan Lake and swim up the dark brown molasses of Mission Creek as the leaves along the rocky sides turn to brilliant gold. The dark red fish are hard to see in the water brown as tea. They come, they spawn, they die. So it goes. Year after year…

I help my mom and dad rake leaves in our yard. At first it is fun in the early autumn days when things are cool and crisp and dry. The rake combs through the lank, dying grass with a brsssk, brsssk, brsssk, while the bigger leaves tumble under the rake like ultralight clothes in a dryer, spinning into colorful webs of bigger and bigger piles for jumping in.

Autumn in the Garden 8

Autumn in the Garden 8, by Darrel O’Neill [Flickr]

Time is fun, sad, and mixed with beauty.

The skies darken, colder and greyer, and the rain, softly, starts to fall. Around mid-October and Canadian Thanksgiving, we make a bonfire of those leaves. The grey of the damp-leaf smoke blending with the grey of the sky. The grey of my dad’s pipe smoke. It seems everything has turned a pale brown grey,  blending with the smoke and the sky, blending the days that move slowly forward towards winter.

By Halloween the trees are skeletons. I come home from school but my mom is not home from work yet. The routine is for me to get two particular bowls from the cupboard and pour out some candy: the small chocolate bars in this one, and the orange pumpkin gumballs in that one. It is dark by five o’clock and once everyone is home from school and work we rush through dinner; the doorbell starts to ring as the little ones come first. “Trick-or-treat!” You open the door to costumed children blinking in the porchlight, outlined in the dark of night, so cold you can see their breath.

do we, do we know when we fly? /soad

“do we, do we know when we fly” by Differenced [flickr]

It gets darker and colder as November progresses. The frequency of rain increases, but children like me look at the clouds eagerly as the month lengthens.  Although nature seems dead around us, there is a promise of a childhood winter thrill to come. One day the sky will be a woolly white, and muffled quiet, a secret of snow to come…

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A Kelowna childhood in the 70’s: Summer

Lying in bed at 9pm and sunlight still peeks through my bedroom curtains. Is that the sound of children laughing, perhaps muffled by a lawn mower buzzing, a busy bee making the most of extended daylight? Eventually it quietens, and all that remains is the sound of  a garden sprinkler in a nearby yard: chik-chik-chik-chik-chik-chik-chik, cshhhhhh; chik-chik-chik-chik-chik-chik-chik, cshhhhhh…

The morning dawns bright blue and cool, the heat at bay for at least for a few hours. In the distance an electrical substation hums quietly to its new subdivision. A dog barks. The children are up already, playing and laughing again.

Everything is bright and new and feels like California. Indeed, my friends and I will surely grow up to be scientists or engineers and work at JPL in Pasadena. Or Caltech or Stanford…maybe even Laurence Livermore. It must be so, we read our futures in Omni Magazine. Even the street names around us reflect sunny, bright California: Hollywood, Monterey, Cactus. The present and the future look bright.

And it’s hot. Through late June and into August, the average daily temperature is over 90 degrees. It does not rain, until a sudden thunderstorm the long weekend in August that marks the halfway point of summer vacation. A warning shot across the carefree bow, but then it is sunny again, the tall twisted pine trees scenting the arid Okanagan air, the grasslands and sage of the surrounding hills turning a golden brown in stark contrast to the bright blue sky. Those hills cascade in terraces down to Okanagan Lake, a long silver-blue ribbon cut through the middle of British Columbia.

Postcard: Okanagan Lake Bridge, Kelowna, BC, c.1960

The Kelowna Floating Bridge circa 1960 (Postcard)

The tourists come. Many from the coast, many more from Alberta and the prairies. Yellow and black license plates swarm like metallic bumblebees, visiting to smell the flowers and buzz the beaches.

Our extended family visits too, and my mom spends Sunday morning busily preparing potato salad for an afternoon picnic at the beach. Being locals, we go to quieter beaches like Sun-Oka in Summerland, across the lake, a half-hour drive along the winding two-lane highway towards nearby Penticton. The water is only cold at first, in stark contrast to the blast-furnace air, and I play with my cousins until my mom begs me to come out before I shrivel up into a prune. Once I am in the water, I don’t want to come out. When I do, the sand is so hot from the all-day sunshine, I burn the soles of my pudgy 10-year-old feet.

The cousins leave from the beach asking about nearby fruit stands, for no one leaves the Okanagan in the summertime without stopping at a road side shack to buy the latest orchard crops: cherries, peaches, apricots…The bounty seems endless.

The long summer days with the extended evening light, seem endless, as a child, lying in bed listening to the citronella-lit, murmured conversations of adults on the patio,  the later-summer breeze stirring the leaves of tall cottonwood into whispers, and the sprinkler in the background: chik-chik-chik-chik-chik-chik-chik, cshhhhhh; chik-chik-chik-chik-chik-chik-chik, cshhhhhh…

 

 

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Book review: The poetry of Kin Types

Kin TypesKin Types by Luanne Castle

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I don’t normally read poetry, but as a follower of Luanne Castle’s blogs where I have enjoyed her writing and her thoughts on genealogy immensely, I decided to take the plunge. Well! I was not disappointed.

The big thing that struck me about Luanne’s chapbook was the ingenious idea of writing about one’s ancestors in poetic form. As a non-family member, it can be difficult to read straight-up family memoir, but Luanne has found a way to make these unknown characters come alive for us, give us a glimpse into their lives and thus remind us of our common humanity. As the avid genealogist she is, it would have been easy to write a prosaic family history of who-did-what-when, but this is so tantalizingly different. Luanne has gotten inside the old photographs and behind the family stories and gives voices to the women and men in her family’s past. She digs up their hopes, their fears, their feelings, exposing them vividly via some event in the family’s past…and the effect is extraordinarily haunting. It is like catching a glimpse of an actual ghost.

Check out this sample describing both the early, chaperoned dates of one couple, to the very end of their lifetime:

Their beginning
Pieter scrubbed before he visited Neeltje on the porch, but the oil smell of herring clung to his skin and hair, to his coat and boots. He left at ten every night. Later, she would press her hands, the ones he held as they sat turned toward each other in the small chairs, to her face and inhale. It had the effect of smelling salts or a burnt feather, reviving her from the dullness she felt when he was not around.

Their ending
When he felt invisible cold vines cold vines wrap around his ankles and calves, he saw her more clearly than he had in twenty years. His son Karel whispered that he would be seeing Mother soon. Pieter thought he meant the mother he had never known, but then realized it was Neeltje and smiled at the image of her standing before the light.

This is inspiring to me, as I have been struggling to find a more creative way to write family memories on my own blog for some months now. Luanne seems to have found a way to bring one’s family ancestors to life for others. I want to go back and look at Luanne’s genealogical blog again because I have a greater sense of emotional connection and indeed curiosity to these Dutch-American ancestors on whom the poems are based!

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