A loved one passes.

When someone you love dies, no matter that it is expected, or you think you’re prepared, it’s still a shock.

Dorothy Crabtree on the Lakeside Park Carousel in 1995

My mother, Dorothy Crabtree, died Aug. 10. She was 96 and had been in a nursing home for four years.
She had been an antiques dealer for more than 40 years and in 1970 raised the money to save a beautiful old Looff carousel from going on the auction block. It remains here in St. Catharines for the enjoyment of everyone – who can get on it – I’m trying to get it made wheelchair accessible. A ride is still 5 cents!
My sister and I watched her deteriorate from walking, more or less because when she went to the home we were told ‘No one walks on this floor’ so she was put in a wheelchair, to wheeling herself round the wing, to being bedridden and then a morphine induced coma until death.
It was a bit like that movie, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, where Brad Pitt got younger as he aged. I think we all get younger (mentally) as we age, if we live long enough.
The body may have been old, bent and wrinkled but Mum’s mind was getting more child-like as she aged. We were buying her clothes for Christmas four years ago, then dolls and stuffed toys as she regressed into a child-like state. She couldn’t comprehend what was said to her and she stopped talking in sentences. Nearing the end she started throwing food she didn’t want and then refused to eat, and then drink, and then it was time to really think about what she’d have wanted if she could reason.
I liked to think she knew who we were but she would hold and kiss anyone’s hand at the end. That’s okay. We knew who she was. Our mother.
The day after she died, the local paper asked me if I’d write a piece on her. At first I thought I couldn’t. It was too soon. But then thought this would be the last thing I could do for her. I did it. I’m glad I did. You can read it at:
http://www.stcatharinesstandard.ca/ArticleDisplay.aspx?e=3257649
My mother is the reason I am who I am. She taught me to stick up for myself, to fight for what I believe in and “don’t take any guff from anybody.” She taught me to persevere against all odds, and I have. She paid for me to go to art school when I was right out of two and a half years of plaster casts after having my feet and ankles fused. Art school was in Montreal many miles away.
She taught me to try to see the good in people and, most of all, I think I get my ability to empathize from her. It’s not fun when you feel so deeply for someone that you hurt because of their situation. Not fun at all. Empathy can burn you out. I can be insensitive, yes, but with good reason. If you let empathy take over, you can get walked on.
Mum had CMT, or at least, I believe she did. Her little feet look so much like text-book CMT feet it’s scary.

A strong old hand

A CMT foot?

I didn’t have the heart to ask that blood be drawn for genetic testing. She wouldn’t have known why they were sticking her with a needle. She might have fought whoever was doing it. Why put her through that? My sister did give me some of her hair though. I don’t know if that will tell us or not. Maybe someday.
Mum’s hands were very strong right to the time she died. Her feet, though… those feet.
When Mum was alive I felt balanced. I still had my beginnings and past in my mother, and a look toward a future I’ll never see, in my nieces. Now one end is gone. My past is no longer there except in my memories.
Sister Kathie found a paper in Mum’s belonging asking us to use our discretion when she could no longer think for herself. Turns out we did what she wanted.
The love is still there. It always will be.

From port to port

Niagara is a peninsula between lakes Ontario and Erie. St. Catharines, where we live, is on the south shore of Lake Ontario and Port Dalhousie is part of St. Catharines.

Booths in antiques fair at Port Dover

Travel southwest down the peninsula for an hour and a half and you arrive at Port Dover on the north shore of Lake Erie. The two little towns have similarities: a downtown area, Victorian homes, plenty of bars, a beach and a pier out into the lake with a lighthouse. However, they differ in ways that are notable. The downtown area of Port Dalhousie is falling apart and will soon be developed to include Port Place featuring a hotel and condominium, upscale shopping areas and restaurants. It will be new, yes, but it will replace the bars whose patrons have been the bane of the area for decades. “Port” was a drinking hole for sailors and the ship builders who worked the dry docks there back in the 1800s. The third Welland Canal went through Port Dalhousie and the men who built the canal, and then sailed it, became regulars in Port Dalhousie. Seedy drinking spots, prostitution and the rowdiness that can go along with hardworking men letting off steam were very common. The stone, one-cell jailhouse still survives and will be preserved. It has no heat. It’s a wonder drunkards didn’t freeze to death when thrown in during the winter. The term “cool off” took on a deadly connotation back then.

Downtown Port Dalhousie has always been a hard drinking area and it still is. A dozen bars within a two-block area were entirely possible. There are about six now. However, the hassle the young bar patrons cause the homeowners of Port Dalhousie far outweighs any benefit they bring economically.

It’s a bit ironic. The first people to patronize those bars likely were the people who eventually built the town. I lived there for many years and my second home on Bayview Drive was originally the home of the first butcher to set up shop in Port Dalhousie. If I remember right, his name was Barnes.

Now bar patrons are being discouraged for annoying the people living in the homes of the people who were likely the original bar patrons and those who set up shop to serve them. Things change.

On the other hand, Port Dover welcomes to their town thousands of bikers every Friday the 13th. The bikers flood in once or twice a year, spend their money, drink in the bars, eat in the restaurants, buy the memorabilia and leave. Port Dover’s main business area looks a bit like Port Dalhousie but is much larger. There are empty shops and you can tell it isn’t booming. The bikers save its’ bacon. The shops in Port Dalhousie are centuries old and they are in Port Dover as well. Most, but the new ones and the beach shops in Dover, are inaccessible. New shops in Port Dalhousie are totally accessible.

Lake Erie is shallow so you can wade out for about a half mile and the water will only be up to your waist.

Enjoying the water on Erie Beach

Port Dalhousie is not like that. You have to be careful and stay fairly close to shore. Port Dalhousie seems to be under a pollution watch much of the time and yesterday, when we were at Port Dover, there were hundreds of people enjoying the water. I don’t know if Erie Beach isn’t polluted or they just don’t warn people.

Every year in mid-August there’s a community festival in Port Dover. We enjoy it because it is a quiet affair featuring a fairly large art and craft show in Powell Park and an antiques and collectible market on the side street beside the park. I always go to the antiques market first looking for anything that strikes my fancy. I have a small collection of miniature farm animals no higher than one inch at the shoulder. Some goats are lead and came from vintage lead soldiers sets. I’m always looking to add to my collection. And I’ve never seen an art and craft show I didn’t like.

We drove down to Port Dover in the late morning and the drive is enjoyable. None of the roads are really busy and you pass thousands of acres planted in corn and soybeans. Huge old farms with century old red brick farmhouses are common. Large dairy herds roam the pastures and every now and then there’s a small town like Balmoral, Cayuga or Jarvis. Jarvis always holds a corn festival the same day as the Port Dover event. Someone stole the sign for Dog’s Nest. It always made us laugh and told us we were more than halfway there.

We usually arrive around 12:30, park over by the yacht club, and walk/roll over the Lynn River lift bridge and into the beach area where we have a delicious hamburger at the Arbor Restaurant where they hook up the flaps to open for business and start serving the lines of regular customers. The foot long hotdogs, hamburgers, fresh-cut fried and Golden Glow drink, has been offered up for something like 85 years. After eating standing on the street, we go down to Powell Park where we enjoy the show.

Because I sit low on my scooter, I’m at the right

Beautiful BrookLynn

level to talk to babies and dogs. It’s fun and I see some beautiful babies and really lovely dogs. I also always enjoy talking to artisans as I made jewelry for years and sold my pieces at Harbourfront in Toronto where Ron and I dealt in antiques for about five years when we were first married. I know how hard it is to get enough stock together for a show, make it as perfect as possible, price it all, put together a display and then sit there and wait; hoping it will sell.
Every now and then there’ll be an announcement from the bandstand in the middle of the park asking a husband to show up. The bandstand is surrounded by benches where weary husbands congregate while their wives shop.

Charlie aka Chuckie-boy

On one of the side streets is a line of portable toilets and the accessible one suits me on my scooter, accompanied by Ron, just fine. Since Buffalo where I learned to use the urinal while sitting on my scooter, I no longer have to try to use one of these usually very wet, messy facilities. I use the urinal, dump it in the toilet, Ron helps me with my slacks and I’m out of there. We wash out the urinal and return it to its plastic bag in the bottom of my scooter basket. The terrible worry of where I’m going to go has been reduced significantly.

We walked down to the beach area and onto the pier lined with benches with the names of the people who died on the lake carved on the back. Many were sea-going men who died on Lake Erie while fishing. There’s also a large bronze monument there that tells of the many who lost their lives on the lake over the years working in the fishing

Ron on one of the memorial benches

industry there. Lake Erie may look lovely and be extraordinarily shallow but it is that very shallowness that means waves can come up very quickly and makes it extremely dangerous.

A long cool drink and good hot meal of Lake Perch and sweet potato fries at Callahan’s Beach house set us up for the journey home.

I drove the 90 minutes back to give Ron a rest although I noticed his foot on an imaginary brake several times. Exercising my right shoulder regularly has kept it in good enough shape to withstand being help up on the steering wheel with my hand in the quad grip for that length of time. No surgery if I can help it. Steering the van with my right arm and pushing on the gas with my left hand means both shoulders are in play all the time. I have to keep my shoulders and neck in good shape or I really suffer trying to drive.

Linda holding a lovely little Min-Pin named Bambi

We were back on time for All Creatures Great and Small, one of our favorites on PBS, and a couple of hours reading the weekend newspapers before bed.

Both of us had a good time and it was so good to have a change of scenery. God willing and we’re both well, we’ll go back next year to visit the antique dealers, the artisans, the babies, the dogs, the pier and the good food.

Say goodbye to cold

Last night – the eve of the longest day of the year – husband, Ron, and I, went down to Port Dalhousie, a little village on Lake Ontario that is now part of St. Catharines. It’s about 10 minutes from our home, just east of the Niagara River…and one of my favorite places in the world.
There is something about the longest day. It is wonderful but it marks the beginning of summer and our long trek into winter. I don’t function very well in winter. CMT doesn’t like to the cold. Everything hurts and my energy is sapped because I’m constantly trying to stay warm. My feet are stone cold when the temperature is under 74F any time.
I remember a piece of research done by Dr. Lowell Williams many years ago to answer the question of why our hands and feet get so cold and stay that way even when we wear gloves or mitts and warm socks. Apparently the tiny blood vessels called capillaries shut down and don’t easily open. Normal people don’t see their blood vessels clamp down like ours do and their blood circulates freely to keep their hands and feet warm. Wearing so-called warm mittens or gloves doesn’t help once our CMT hands are cold. What we have to have is outside warmth to open those blood vessels and get things going again. Putting socks on stone cold feet won’t help. Socks are just socks. They’ll stay cold and so will your feet. Socks are meant to keep warmth in but if there isn’t any warmth to begin with, you’ll just have cold feet in cold socks. Putting those feet in warm water or putting a warm heating pad or one of those microwaveable wheat-filled pads or pairs of slippers (yes, they make microwaveable slippers) on them will. We need outside help. Nothing we can do will warm those hands and feet up. The idea is to not let your hands or feet get cold in first place. Once they are cold, you have to employ outside warmth to get them warmed up again. Ask anyone who’s laid in bed waiting for frozen feet to warm up if time works. Not until you bring in the hot water bottle or turn on the electric blanket or heating pad will those frozen tootsies relax and get warm again.
Summer – ah, blessed summer. I feel lubricated. My joints work and things don’t hurt as bad. My hands and feet are rarely cold. I get more done and have more ambition. I should have been born in Bermuda. Good thing our spring began in March this year.
Port Dalhousie (Port) has a lovely marina and two long piers that lead you way out into the lake. The piers are part of one of the old Welland canals built way back. We usually park pretty close to the east pier and walk down to the end and back. People, mostly seniors, come and park next to a berm beside the walkway, bring out their lawn chairs and watch the sun go down on Sunday nights.
We had to leave before the sun really set last night but I did manage to take a couple of interesting shots. There are two lighthouses on the east pier. The outer one is still operational.  Barn swallows have built nests under the eaves of that one. The inner one badly needs painting but I find its flaking grandeur really interesting.
We took the dog with us. He’s been doing this walks 14 years. At 15, he’s blind and deaf but I’m convinced he still knows the pier.
My camera goes everywhere with me so expect a lot of photos on this blog.