The Bible, jackpine, and the bean pot

Posted on: August 30, 2011

Two weeks ago. In a field of wild yellow grasses wanting to lean on legs like a loving cat, a crowd stood, most in the shade of tall ancient jackpine. Beneath one full-leafed tree, rare for the area, wider than the rest, cooler, its branches reaching out in a hug, a hole had been dug to accept the remains of my mother. 

Some of those standing on the yellow hillside had driven for two days to get here. Some faces were older, but familiar. Some faces had stepped out of childhood memory. Some faces I could not recall. Some faces had known mom as a uneducated logger’s wife, a mother of five. Others, who knew her much later, knew her as a teacher of First Nations children with a Masters in Curriculum Development. There had been tensions and there were even now. Some wanted a smudge done, one had brought sweetgrass, others were offended by it. Some were so wounded by my mother’s death they had not yet healed. The bagpiper finished, and introduced me. 

A few people were offended by comments made by some after the news Jack Layton passed, Christie Blatchford most particularly, who, as a journalist, with a journalist’s eye, called it like she saw it. As she should have. That is what journalists do.

I did as well. I was very much offended by the audience in the Roy Thomson Hall, during the Layton state funeral. Listening to the eloquent eulogy given by Stephen Lewis, the flag-draped casket bearing the remains of Jack Layton beside him on the podium, the crowd in that venue of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra burst in ovations as he spoke. It wasn’t that they applauded that offended me. It was the tone of the applause. At first I was puzzled why it all struck me as offensive. The understanding came to me later in a tweet.

“We are here, each of us, with our own special memories of Gen. Some remember as a brother. Some remember as a sister. Some as a son, some as a daughter, some as a cousin, some as a neighbor, some remember as a co-worker, some as a fellow teacher, some as a student, some as a friend. We understand your grief and that your memories are precious.”

One of those in the Roy Thomson Hall for the Layton state funeral, CBC broadcaster Jian Ghomeshi (of CBC’s Q) who was a friend of Layton, tweeted from the Roy Thompson Theatre, after the end of the service, including the musical afterward:

I thought Stephen Lewis knocked it out of the park today. Strong. Sensitive. Powerful. Mood in the room was electric. #Laytonfarewell

In my offended state, I rattled off a tweet in response:

@jianghomeshi “Mood in the room was electric” Give your head a shake. It wasn’t a concert. It wasn’t a convention. It was a funeral.

But actually, my tweet was unfair. Ghomeshi, who was right there, was calling it as he saw it. As he should have. That is what radio-journalists do. As they should.

It was actually the same mood of the audience I’d picked up on but was offended by. I’d also tweeted:

I just realized what was missing at Jack Layton funeral. Mourners. Plenty of enthused ralliers, though. Mucho applause. #Laytonfarewell #jl

Ghomeshi was right about another thing. Lewis did indeed hit it out of the park. I listened to the live televised eulogy, then reviewed the printed version of his speech to really discover what had offended me. It wasn’t Lewis. I agreed with every damn thing the man said, and he said it so impressively.

Lewis didn’t encourage or pander to the rally-like applause. He was a man genuinely grieved, catching himself emotionally more than once. He was obviously dismayed by death, its unfairness, its swiftness, and the by loss of someone he knew and cared about. It must have been a difficult time on that podium, even for him,  one of the very best orators Canada has, with a vocabulary impressive enough, and a knack unique enough, to hit the nail on the head with such grace you want to listen to him. There was no one in the country that could have been better chosen to give the eulogy for Jack Layton.

(My favourite Lewis line- from some years ago- his talking about the mistake Americans make while addressing former premiers as Premier or former senators as Senator. That’s how it’s done in the U.S., but in Canada it’s viewed as very odd. Lewis had fun with it, skewering the American custom. I’m quoting from memory here, but it went something like: “Once a president, always a president. Once a senator, always a senator. The whole country is based upon titular self aggrandizement.” He sparked an immediate and appreciative roar from his audience with that.)

Beside me, on a hand-woven blanket, the beautiful box my brother, a carpenter, made to hold mom’s ashes. She had chosen her own urn. He built the box to carry it. 

He thought about how he was going to build that impressive wooden box for a week before he actually picked up a tool. The result was pure beauty. Old wood and new wood was included. Beautiful blonde grains shone from reddish hand-rubbed planks. A wooden cross decorated the top of the box that he curved for just the right effect. 

“A more feminine edge,” he said.

The mood of the crowd was as dry as the jackpine. As I spoke, Uncle Bob, mom’s last remaining brother, so long a young and healthy rancher, moved slowly, with the help of a new cane, from the hot harsh sun to the soothing shelter of shade. 

“Mom had asked me to choose something from her house. I said I didn’t want anything. She said, Choose something. So I looked in the kitchen and saw the beanpot. That old brown beanpot had been around since the early 60s, perhaps longer. I remember a bag of beans cost us 17 cents. She soaked them, then cooked them with tomato and pork or beef or game or whatever we had and I couldn’t think of anything more fitting to have than that old brown beanpot. 

“She said you can’t have it.

“I said why not?

“She said, because I’m going to be buried in it.”

The crowd, a moment ago as dry as the yellow grass, loosened, chuckled.

“I said, well, your use trumps mine. I was going to bake beans in it.”

Laughter. Friendly laughter, appreciative. In one moment, with one line, everyone was one. As we should have been. 

Aiming at the crowd at the Roy Thomson Hall, I tweeted:

I just realized what was missing at Jack Layton funeral. Mourners. Plenty of enthused ralliers, though. Mucho applause. #Laytonfarewell #jl

There is not one kind of applause.

There are as many kinds of applause as there are moods. The applause in the Roy Thompson Hall was holier-than-thou, angry, in-your-face applause, the kind of applause that says “yeah!” and “So there!” The flagged-draped coffin was not a focal point of sadness for mourners. It was a political prop, a piece of theatre furniture.

I was more than upset with the Roy Thompson Hall audience. I was disgusted. How dare they turn a funeral into an NDP rally? Once before I was nearly as offended as this time. In the Carter years, following a failed rescue of American hostages by a fleet of helicopters flying over the desert, but crashing into each other, an Iranian mullah stuck a knife or skewer into the body of a dead American would-be rescuer, and appeared to raise a bit of his uniformed, burnt crispy flesh on it as he made a point in a street-speech to a crowd.

I took out my grandfather’s Bible and read aloud his pencil marking on the inside. “Enlisted, August 18, 1940.” The aged, brown paperboard-covered Bible I held in my hand, he had carried throughout his service in World War Two. 

Born in times when horse and buggy were more common than cars, (in fact my mother’s very first memory was a horse-and-wagon ride from house to barn), he farmed, served his country, died after watching Apollo 8 astronauts circle the moon. He was buried nearby, as were so many other of our relatives here, generations of them. I had a passage marked in grandpa’s Bible. I read it aloud. 

After my blurb, a tweet response defended Ghomeshi. It was from a Halifax-area professor named William McMurray.

@jianghomeshi @wordbeeps With due respect to joining a convo, I need to 100% support Jian. You don’t like someone felt, back off & unfollow.

Back off? I beg your pardon? I called it as I saw it. McMurray disagreed. He belched back:

@wordbeeps @jianghomeshi There was nothing honest about your snip, nor could it be considered discourse. You dislike his feelings, disregard

He taunted in a further tweet:

@wordbeeps @jianghomeshi Then build up your voice & position. Don’t attack others for theirs. That’s not the Cdn way. Enough time on you.

“My mother was nine, on a Fernie street, and someone called to my grandmother in Kootenai, a language commonly called Ktunaxa now. My grandmother pretended not to notice. The woman called again and my grandmother, unable to ignore her again, answered her, and they spoke. There, for the first time, at the age of nine, my mother heard her mother speak the language she had never before spoken in front of her. Her first language, Kootenai. 

“We have come from a time when people were ashamed of their First Nation heritage and tried to hide it, even from their own children, to a time when people are proud of it, as my mother was, and spent her life learning about it and teaching it. She made a life of it. 

“How far we have come. 

“We are so glad Wilma is here, and come so far, for her presence aknowledges that part of mom’s life.”

A professor- a professor, for God’s sake- intolerent of dissent, even going so far as to say dissent isn’t Canadian? I’m glad he said it. I’m glad he tweeted those words. It put everything into focus. In that one intolerant tweet I finally understood the tone of the applause in the Roy Thompson Hall and what had disgusted me. McMurray had expressed it exquisitely, one flute perfectly in tune with that theatre orchestra. In one tweet the professor had erased letters to the editor, erased all protests, erased every idea or expression different than the majority view or or any dissenting viewpoint that gives challenge. And, what’s more, the professor did it in anger. With dismissiveness. With a school yard bully’s sensibility, with an in-your-face so there.

In one tweet Professor McMurray had also erased the purposeful role of the New Democratic Party as the Conscience of the House- and guess who led that party of late? Someone obviously wasn’t listening the eulogy given by Lewis. It also begged these questions: Do we really have a Canadian professor who despises both honesty and dissent that much? And also, if he had been recognizing Jack Layton, then what, pray tell, was he recognizing him for?

I read from the Bible carried through my grandfather’s war service as he his life on the line to preserve our freedom from tyranny, the ultimate act of dissent. 

“Our Father. Who art in Heaven,” I read.

The crowd was silent. 

I paused and said, “It’s a prayer,” and began again. This time everyone, old, young, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, nieces, nephews, cousins, neighbors, friends, and people I didn’t  recognize but were there, spoke the words with me as I read from grandpa’s care-worn Bible:

“Our Father, Who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy Name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for Thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever and ever. 



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  • None
  • wordbeeps: No, he doesn't deserve an apology. Who tweets during a funeral? If you do, expect feedback. I didn't say the mourners were faking it. I think they we
  • Holly Stick: Look you fuckwit, are you too stupid to realise that Ghomeshi was an actual friend of Layton's, when you tweeted to him that the mourners were faking
  • aardvarkcola: Thank you. I see the rest of your message now. i'm honoured to to have your words on my blog. That alone is a delight. Lawrence


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