Saturday, 6 October 2018

Life on the Left

These days, in effect, I've lost half of my digits. The carpal tunnel problem has not gone away, and so my right hand is encased in a rigid splint. This means that I am finding out how to look at life from the left. And I'm not talking politically!

I have learned, that you can do a Sudoku with your left hand. I have learned that you can chop veggies -- slowly it's true – with your left hand. You can use your left hand to turn the car key if you stick your hand through the steering wheel. You can even brush your teeth with your left hand. And I am “writing” this blog with voice recognition software!

This whole experience has left me feeling connected to my grandfather.

What can I say about my grandfather? He was a school teacher and a principal, an elder in his church, a father of 10. But those are just statistics and facts.

I am the oldest grandchild and so perhaps I should have had the most memories of him. But because my parents immigrated to Canada when I was only a year old, I didn't get to meet him till my grandparents came to Canada to visit when I was in 9th grade, in 1962. However, with every birthday, I would get a letter, or at least a few lines of a letter, wishing me God's blessings. He was a deeply faith-filled man, and he shared this with all of his grandchildren, not only in words but also in deeds.

When I was born, my grandmother wanted to be known as Oma, a less formal name than the formal Grootmoeder. Not so my grandfather, who was known to all his grandchildren as Grootvader. It seemed to suit his dignified and quietly-authoritative demeanor. In the same way, he was known around town as “de Meester” – the master.

When Grootvader and Oma came to Canada for a visit in 1962, it was a big event. Grootvader had to get used to a different lifestyle. Life in Canada was much less formal, more casual. I really do wonder what he wrote in his journal about the way his children and grandchildren were living in this rather rugged country.

 One hobby my grandfather had was to make sketches of places where he visited. He had just retired, and was looking forward to spending more time with his hobby. He took a kitchen chair across the road and did a drawing of our home on Russell Street. I was in awe of his skills.

We were eager to show him everything Canada had to offer, so we decided to organize a family picnic at Pinehurst Lake. It was pretty exciting for all of us! Camp stoves to fry up hamburgers, with relish, ketchup and mustard, oh wow! Potato salad! And carrot and celery sticks... Grootvader took one bite of the celery and tossed it over his shoulder. He wasn't going to eat any rabbit food. There were games too. There was a race between two men to see who could diaper a baby doll the quickest. In spite of having 10 children, Grootvader had never once changed a diaper! It was quite the laugh to see him standing the baby on its head while he gamely tried to pin a diaper on it!

We decided to show him camping Canadian Style. Grootvader had always enjoyed camping on the  island of Vlieland with his large family. Mom often talked about these summer vacations, but really the vacation was for Grootvader and not so much for anybody else! Can you imagine bundling up enough provisions, bedding, clothing, tent etc for a large and growing family? Mom said that it was quite an undertaking for Oma and the oldest children. Meanwhile, as soon as he arrived,  Grootvader took his sketching stool and equipment and headed out to engage in his favorite activity.

 My uncle  rented a “trailer.” The trailer was not much more than an aluminum box on wheels. The back wall lifted up and was propped up on sticks to create an awning when we were set up. Inside were double bunk beds. My sister, my cousin and I slept on the top bunk. My grandfather and grandmother slept on the bottom bunk. Of course the back wall came down at night, so that the mosquitoes wouldn't infest our stifling sleeping quarters. My aunt and uncle slept in a tent. Grootvader was not so excited about the sleeping arrangements. He was sure that in the middle of the night that top bunk would fall down on top of him, so he jury-rigged posts to hold the bunk in place. My uncle Rudolph made sure we visited the best fishing holes in Northern Ontario, some of which were pretty remote and off the beaten path. That was not a big problem for my grandfather, he would get out his little stool and his sketch pads and draw what he saw. I'm not sure what my aunt and my grandmother thought about roughing it in the bush.

In 1969, my sister and I made a trip to Holland to meet many aunts and uncles, cousins, my grandfather on my dad's side, and of course Grootvader and Oma.  Grootvader was very excited about us coming, and although we were not due to arrive until after lunch he spent most of the morning sitting on the wall in front of the house, looking out for the car that would bring his precious grandchildren to him.

During that trip, he took us to the cemetery where his first wife and his son were buried. He told us about these events, and expressed his deep faith that he would see them again.

Now you may wonder why my carpal tunnel syndrome makes me feel closer to my grandfather. In 1972, my grandfather had a stroke. It paralyzed his right side, the side he used to do his writing and his sketching. These were such important activities in his life. As often happens after a stroke.,Grootvader  went through a time of depression, wondering what good his life was now. Then one day, a man in the next bed at the hospital asked him if there was anything he could do to help him. So father asked him to read a passage from the Bible. His roommate replied that he never read the Bible himself, but sure, he would read him a passage. At that moment, Grootvader realized that he could still have an impact on other people. He went to rehab, and learned how to use his left hand to type and to create art. Until he died, he sent many letters to his children and grandchildren, and he also made a piece of art for each of them. The piece of art which I have hanging on my wall is a reminder of him.  Setbacks and obstacles are not optional in our lives. Everyone encounters them. But how you deal with them is your choice.

As I laboriously print my numbers in the Sudoku grid, I think about the phrase common in Buddhism called "beginner's mind." According to the Wikipedia, beginner's mind refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions. With a beginner's mind, almost anything is possible. When Grootvader adapted to our life in Canada, and when he  learned how to type and draw with his left hand, he had to adopt a beginner's mind. He had to start all over again. And he did.

It's Thanksgiving weekend, and I am grateful for having role models in my life and in my family that are examples for all of us.

No comments:

Post a Comment