Boxing the Past

Nine years ago, I left my little classroom in the basement for the “broader horizons” of the school’s library. I spent many hours that summer delightedly taking my first library course and getting all the books and resources into an order I could function in as a beginning teacher-librarian. I was ready for the change!

The school’s library had originally been the school’s gym at some point. Half the former gym had been sliced in half to create office space at the front of the school. Above the office, an alcove was built with stair access. This spot was used as a computer lab at various times until its lack of accessibility became an issue. The other half of the old gym became the library–a mortar-bricked, windowless box, lined with shelves along the periphery, some free-standing book cases, and a few tables crowded in for work space. There were a few significant adjustments made to the space over the past nine years–a main level computer lab accessed through a door under the stairs, a wall knocked out to expand the space by a few feet to create a small read-aloud area. But, no matter how I rearranged things, no matter what I put on the walls, there was no denying that there was no way that the space could be made to be attractive. A library in a school is a high-traffic area. This shoebox was not designed for three or four classes to be accessing it at the same time, nor to hold all the boxes and teacher resources that needed a central storage and access area. Lines of students collided, senior students jostled on the stairs, noise levels were too high. There were days I despaired of ever reading a story out loud to a class of primary students. The lack of windows made me desperately claustrophobic and drove me to leaving the emergency door open on beautiful spring and autumn days. The other side of that same emergency door endured thousands of ball-pounds through countless recesses. Visitors cringed, thinking the school was under attack. I got to the point where I didn’t even hear it any more.

The news of a massive renovation and construction project was received with great enthusiasm by our staff. The present library was earmarked to become a kindergarten classroom, and the new library was once again destined to be in the school’s present gym. This gym was much bigger, and the design perfectly aligned to the needs of elementary students. And–there would be windows.

We lived through a year of pounding and banging and muddy halls and wires hanging from ceilings. Some how, the student body and staff managed to soldier on in a pretty impressive state of normalcy, in spite of the chaos surrounding us. Outer walls crumbled around us, leaving us gaping outside like dolls from the inside of a frontless dollhouse. Many teachers packed up and moved to temporary locations while their rooms were gutted, then moved into the next available room. Some of us were lucky enough to remain relatively untouched for the duration of the school year, myself among them. We lost the main level computer lab, but we were able to function with the upper one. The library itself remained temporarily unscathed. But, time has caught up to the old library. I started this week to get my own stuff packed up. The lab went down today, and tomorrow, the book collection will be transferred to boxes. Everything has to be cleared out by Friday. I will spend the last four days of the school year homeless, wandering the halls and looking for shelter in any decimated classroom that I might be able to squeeze into, among the boxes and piles and hordes of sweaty children. (One good thing about my old library–it was one of the few places in the building that had A/C.)

So today, I sat at my circulation desk, looking around me at the ruins. And although I’ve been feeling excited about the change, I felt a stirring of real sadness. The old library wasn’t pretty–but it was home. And a lot of great things happened there. Hundreds of great stories, lots of learning and laughter, children loving books. Circle meetings and division meetings, mentors visiting with students, speech and language groups, pizza parties and Nature Club projects. Printing disasters and computer glitches. And then there was the little spot behind me, where staff often sat and chatted with me. If they moved back a little further, they could completely melt down with confidence that no one could see them. Every school needs a little melt-down corner for staff. What if there is no melt-down corner in the new library? What if the new library is too perfect? The nice thing about an imperfect spot is that, being imperfect yourself, you fit in there. Imperfection is so comfortable. And in spite of its many flaws, that old library was really comfortable.

So, it’s out with the old. And that’s good. The new library will be fantastic, without a doubt. But I hope that, even more than fantastic, our new library will be comfortable. If we can all help to make that happen, then we’ve carried the best part of the old library into the new one.

Here’s to new beginnings and taking the best of the past with us.

Dad in the 60’s


I’ve been working on a memory book of my childhood over the past few months. The more I write, the more I remember. Writing my memories down has been like finding a hidden door in a wall, and I have loved slipping through it from time to time.

Today is Fathers’ Day. Here are a few of my “Dad” recollections….These are just the beginnings, and there are many more in my mind, yet to find their way onto paper…

My father says the Lord’s Prayer at supper time. When he is finished, the kids take turns saying, “Lord-bless-this-food-and-drink-amen.” The little prayer comes streaming from our mouths like a line of music, starting with a high note and going down the scale to the amen. My mother holds the baby’s hand in her rusty high chair and helps her with the words. She says a few and the baby repeats them back. After the meal, Dad takes out the black bible with its pages rimmed in red, and he reads to the family in his quiet, careful voice. The kids are quiet, but squirming. Sometimes, we giggle. Dad gets annoyed some times and flips the bible shut. Other times, he smiles a little and then just ends the whole thing with a prayer. He says the same prayer after every supper, one of his own composition, talking to God about “coming to him at the end of this day,” asking him to “be with us through the coming night” and comforting entreaties to “be with our loved ones, wherever they may be.” This is my favourite part of the praying, these humble words he has put together himself. Sometimes, he will add a few different carefully chosen phrases, depending on things that are happening in our lives. My forehead bends of its own accord when my father folds his hands at the table and bows his head.

My father’s hands are rough and wide, the fingers thick. His nails are rimmed with black oil stains, and his fingers often bear inky pockets of blood blisters or slashes where he’s been cut. He works with machinery, fixing things. He comes into the house smelling of oil, his blue work clothes blackened and grimy. When my mother hugs him, he holds his hands out in front of her hug, so as not to get her dirty. Even on weekends, the oil smell comes out of him, permeated into every pore of his skin.

Dad plays with us after work, if he isn’t too tired. When he comes home, he’s often wiped out. Sometimes, he rough-houses with us. My mother hates it and doesn’t hesitate to say so, but we do it any way. He lies on the floor and we pile on, while he grunts and hollers and pretends that it hurts. Or he gets on all fours and we climb on his back. He crawls slowly around and then suddenly takes off like a horse with a burr under his saddle, while we spill off, shrieking. If we’re outside, he takes our hands and spins around, and we fly in circles with our feet off the ground. Or he’ll launch us into the air and catch us on the way down. When he’s too tired, he lies on the couch and I fetch the brush and brush his hair. We talk quietly about things.


There is a creek further up the road from where we live–one of those winding, crooked country creeks with cement bridges rising over them along the gravel roads. It freezes over solid in the winter. One winter Sunday, after church, my parents take us kids to the creek. All the cousins and aunts and uncles are there, out on the ice, skating. My father puts skates on me and my brother’s feet…where did the skates come from? I have never seen them before. He must have bought them, rounded them up somewhere, planned for this. Now, here they are on my feet–laced up tight. My father holds my hands and helps me onto the ice. He skates backwards–such a good skater–and keeps my hands tight in his, and he teaches me to skate on the frozen creek. The uncles skate with shovels, moving snow off the ice. Some of the younger kids ride on sleds, the uncles and aunts pulling them across the ice, spinning them around. Some of the uncles have hockey sticks and pucks and they take shots at each other. Everyone is laughing and having fun. After awhile, I am able to skate a bit by myself, even though I tumble down every few strokes. My father takes my hands again, and off we go, faster and faster. I almost lose my breath with terror and excitement. The hours pass, and I can’t feel my toes any more. But I don’t want to let go of my father’s hands. I feel like I could skate all the way up the creek with him and never stop. Finally, my father takes me back to the car and pries my cold feet out of the skates, and we go to Oma and Opa’s for supper.

June Woods


Rain and dreariness and damp chill created a dull litany over the past month. Winter-weariness already pervaded, and then with day upon day of wet clouds that were supposed to be blown away by a long-anticipated spring, the greyness seeped into the very spirit. Then suddenly, a thick blanket of humidity dropped onto our heads, the air so heavy with moisture; you could almost drink it. I dragged myself into the woods one humid evening this week. Even in the deeply shaded “church”, I was dripping. It was like breathing inside an oxygen tent. The vegetation gloried in it–an orgy of green. In the treed meadows and along the trails spilled mounds of the white bridal flowers in their loose clusters of tiny starred blooms. It was like walking through a parted, fragrant sea, interlaced here and there with purple ribbons of wild geranium. The trail along the creek wound romantically through the walls of white. Moisture drew out  the pungent, sharp smells of  pine and all growing things. Thunder rumbled behind the trees, echoing across the steep ravine walls. The volume of birdsong increased, warning of the coming storm. The rain arrived in sheets just as we reached the car.

Today, came the gusting of warm, dry winds. Combined with the steady sunshine, it made for a simply beautiful day. We set off down the familiar trails at sunset, this time with considerably more energy and enthusiasm. The woods were teeming with wind. The tops of the trees butted heads with loud clacks and creaking. The tall pines swayed so wildly; it seemed as though they would snap. We followed trails almost red with fallen pine needles, the fresh wind pushing us along. The white glory of the wedding flower banks was at its peak, the wild geranium in every shade of pink and purple threaded through. Across one part of the trail lay a young fallen tree, its new leaves still green and quivering. It had been wrenched from the ground by its roots–perhaps by the wild storm of the previous evening. We battled through the branches, anxious to stay ahead of the cloud of mosquitos that were following us.

As we headed up the final stretch of trail, I slowed my pace and let the sun-shot winds sweep the last of the day’s weariness away. Restored once again by my favourite place in the world…