The story of my friend Oran

Have you ever thought about living to be 100? What it would be like to see all the changes in the world over a span of one hundred years? Would you even want to live that long? A lot of people say they most certainly wouldn’t want to, although I wonder if it’s because most of us really don’t expect to live that long so it’s an easy judgment to make. Some people look at old age as a disease of the body and mind, and I suppose for many it is. But I’m just not sure it has to be that way. I’ve heard about some pretty remarkable centurions. I can’t help thinking that much of it had to do with their attitude and their determination to age yet never grow “old.”

My next-door neighbour lived to be 100. She was a remarkable lady. She’s been gone for about 7 years now, but I think of her so often. She was a feisty lady with a twinkle in her eye and a fierce determination to do things one way or the other. Many times it was that “other” way, but it never made a difference in the end result.

I spent many hours at her house being entertained by her stories of long ago, totally enthralled in that way of life she so vividly described in her yarns. There was so much for someone like me to learn and my love for local history deepened with each story she told. I loved hearing her stories about the first time she remembered ever seeing a woman smoke (probably a big deal at the time!); her days in a one-roomed schoolhouse; the very first doll she ever had that she won in a raffle but ended up giving it away to a little girl she thought wanted it more; and even her memories of the rumble they heard the morning of the Halifax explosion in 1917 and when word finally reached them in the Forties Settlement that “Halifax blew up.” I once asked her why she didn’t write down her stories but she told me she didn’t want to because there had been so much sadness. She often spoke of her father’s death during the flu epidemic after the First World War and how she went to work as a hired girl shortly afterward. She never complained about any of these things or the sadness she spoke of, but simply stated them as fact.

More than her stories, as if they weren’t enough, she helped teach me that I was capable of doing things I normally wouldn’t even have attempted on my own. I like to think that a little of her determination kind of rubbed off on me over the years.

cupOne spring she decided we’d paint her bedroom. She’d chosen a soft lavender colour for the walls. It was her favourite. Painting I can do… no problems there. But while I was in the middle of rolling on the lavender I heard a strange sound coming from the kitchen. I went off to investigate only to find that my friend had her skillsaw out and was cutting a piece of wood to make a shelf for her newly painted room. Just so you know, she was about ninety at the time.Together we put up the shelf. Now, I’m not a shelf-putter-upper person by any stretch of the imagination. When I need a self put up in my house I get Hubby to do the job. But not that day. That day I was a shelf-putter-upper. While I put up brackets for a brand spanking new shelf, Hubby was nowhere to be found.

Meanwhile, as I painted the walls and put up the shelf, my friend kept speculating on who would lay the cushion floor she’d bought. (Yes, she wanted the room to have a complete makeover.) Did I know anyone who could do it? she asked. While I couldn’t think of anyone, apparently she had someone in mind. And really, I should have known better. I really, really should have.

I’m not sure if my face gave way my surprise when she handed me a pair of scissors and told me to start cutting but it certainly should have. I stared down at the scissors, took a deep breath and started. There was no question about it. I was in for the whole deal. Cushion floor does NOT cut easily with scissors, but skin sure blisters easily—just so you know! And now that I think of it, she probably had me pegged for the job right from the start. She could be cagey that way …but cagey in an endearing way that always made me smile. Thank goodness the room was small with no strange and unusual cuts to make. It was no good for me to say I can’t do this, she’d have just said to give it a try anyway. She never worried that her expectations would not be met.

Like so many women in her time she was a quilter. I helped her with a few quilts one winter. I didn’t know how to use a thimble let alone quilt, but I did it. I love quilts, absolutely LOVE them. “Have you ever seen an ugly quilt?” I asked her one day as we stitched away. “Yes,” she said quite seriously, “this one.” But “ugly” or not, it keeps me warm, and I absolutely love it. Yes, she gave it to me when we were done. Of course it’s more than just a quilt, it’s pieces of coloured fabric stitched together with heart and soul and laughter and love and memory—and all those things makes it absolutely beautiful.

One thing I loved about doing things for my friend was she never expected perfection. (Good thing for that!) She was always just happy to have it done…and always grateful to have company.

IMAG0584One summer, when she was further into her nineties, she decided she wanted to finish one of the bedrooms upstairs in her house. Ignoring what others said about why she would decide at her age to tackle such a job, she went ahead. Her niece helped her. Saturday mornings we could hear the tap-tapping of hammers from down the road. “Oran must have got a pet woodpecker,” my husband would joke. It used to make us giggle as we imagined the two of them working away. But you know what? She got ‘er done. And I’m not sure if I’m more impressed that they did it, these two women with no carpentry skills, or the fact that at 90+ years she wasn’t too old to hope or wish or want or dream. And while I’m not absolutely sure, I think that her “I can” attitude had much to do with her longevity.

There is so much more to this story than I could possible post here, more than a lifetime if I were to dig deep enough. But more importantly, I think this story, this story of my friend, Oran, who lived to be 100 years young, is a story we can all learn from. Life is so much more than the number of years we’ve lived but the number of years we’ve filled with love and laughter and memories, not only for ourselves but for others.

Have you ever thought about living to be 100? Has anyone in your life made it that far?

The Author Behind That Book You Hate

As young reader I can’t recall ever reading a book and thinking it was horrible. I was much more accepting, much more willing to read a book with open eyes, not critically looking and examining what I believed to be faults in the story or the writing. I just read for the love of reading. I accepted the story for what it was. But then, that’s the beauty of youth, the way we keep our minds and hearts open, and simply allow stories to entertain us without judgment or malice. Weren’t we just the cutest things back then?

Today, it doesn’t seem to be that way. People are reading and reviewing and rating (they have every right to of course) but a part of me can’t help but wonder what happened to plain old reading for enjoyment. Why does everything have to be rated and what it the purpose behind these ratings? Some argue that it helps them decide if they want to read a book, but with so many varying opinions how could you possibly decide if a book is beautifully written or not and worth your time? If twenty people rave on about a book, there are bound to be some who absolutely hate it. Guaranteed.

Having your work out there to be scrutinized by others isn’t the easiest thing in the world, people. Ask any author. But it’s part of the territory, like it or lump it. We write the best story we can and, God willing, we might be able to share it with others. But there’s always going to be someone who won’t care about the work you put into it or what it means to the author to be able to express themselves with the written word. I’m not sure there is any other craft out there that comes under fire the way writing does. People can get nasty. I’ve seen it, myself, in the reviews of some of my favourite books and I wonder what would cause another person to write such nastiness. I’m all for honest reviews. If someone didn’t like a book they didn’t like it.

Behind every book, good or bad, there is a person. Someone who put their heart and soul into the story they want to tell. Hopefully, people will one day read it. And when/if they do, they’ll form opinions. They’ll either like it or they won’t. One thing I know for sure is, we won’t like every book we read, no more than everyone will like the book we write. It’s a fact of life. But being an author, I try to be as objective as I can and while I won’t like every book I read, I certainly respect the writer for creating it. Many, many hours goes into the writing of a book. We write and then we rewrite. Then rewrite some more. It’s a craft worthy of respect.

Honestly, I never used to think about the author behind the book until I became an author myself. I never wondered who they were or what kind of life they had. I only ever thought of them as an author, as if writing was their entire life. Of course, today, an author bio is on the back of books and we can get a small glimpse of who that person behind the book is. But that doesn’t tell a complete story. No bio I’ve read has ever told me that an author is trustworthy, honest or loyal. Or that they’re warm or caring and have a heart as big as the outdoors. I’ve not read a bio that told me how the author worked at perfecting his/her craft, working through the pain of rejection to produce something they truly believe in. Nor would you read in an author bio that someone’s nasty review was so hurtful that the author never wrote that second or third book because they stopped after number one. Nope, you won’t find any of those things in a bio. Although I’m not sure many people would even be interested in any of that and I’m sorry for sounding a little bit cynical at the moment

So while I don’t expect you all to love every book you read maybe you might stop for a moment and consider the author behind that book you either loved or hated.

 

Have you ever given any thought to the author behind the book you loved or  hate? Do you consider the idea that the reviews you write might be read by the author? Would you care?

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