Climb Higher – Fall Farther

Why do kids love to climb? First, the challenge. Adults don’t seem to be interested, so it’s territory for the claiming. My first climb, apparently from eyewitness family members, was the rose trellis. Not sure if I was deterred by the rose thorns or not. Anyway, I scaled the trellis but failed to hang on. Down I went. When Mother heard my cries, she gathered me up, said I would be alright and put me down. Then she realized my nose was bruised and crooked. The best course of action would be to call Dr Gerbracht, the osteopath who knew all about straightening spines and maybe noses. While Mother was on the phone, I decided to attempt another assault on the rose trellis. At some point in the climb, something gave way and down I came. Mother responded to my cries, gathered me up, said I would be alright and put me down. Upon closer inspection, she saw my now straightened nose. So back into the house to call Dr Gerbracht and cancel the appointment. All was well.

My next two memories are very clear. I loved being around construction – the earthy aroma of a fresh excavation, the spruce scent of new-sawn lumber, and pungent identity of green concrete. Besides, there were things to climb. Peter and Luella Hindy were building a new storey and a half next door on the corner of Hungerford Road and Ontario Street. At the framing stage, you would always find a 2 x 12 plank on a gentle incline from the side door opening up to the first floor. Below was the basement floor, with or without a poured concrete floor and the usual collection of cut-offs and short pieces of 2 x 4. Whatever happened, I missed my footing and tumbled to the basement floor. The fall is quick – just a fraction of a second, but the following seconds last forever. A hard landing forces all of the air out of your lungs. You can’t inhale or exhale – the diaphragm is literally in a state of paralysis. I lay there, gasping. An eternity passed. Slowly I got to my feet, checked for everything to be in working order which is was and found a way to climb out of the basement. Was I deterred from climbing again? Not really, but lesson learned. Just don’t fall!

My second love was being around the farm, climbing in the haymow, over fences and up the trees in the orchard. When cherries, pears and apples were in season, late June into August, the only way to get the best fruit was to climb the tree. On this particular day, we were playing out at Hamp’s farm when the apple orchard beckoned. We chose our trees and climbed. Why is the biggest fruit just out of reach? I moved out further, I stretched and I reached. I stretched some more when ‘Crack!’, the branch broke and in an instant, I was flat on the ground, wind knocked out of me. Couldn’t breath, couldn’t cry out. As I lay there, trying to focus, gathering my senses, I looked up only to see the face of the farm billy goat standing above me. He had come for my apple that now lay on the ground. I don’t remember who got it, because at that moment, I didn’t care.

Now if you like to climb, and there is a good supply of lumber ends, shorts and dropped nails in the neighbourhood, then you build a treehouse. Forget the level and measuring tape. Use what you have. Don’t ever remember falling out of a treehouse.

Climbing fences is another matter. If you can find a stile, use it. It’s like a built-in ladder that gets you over the fence and into the next field. If you can’t find a stile, climb the fence near fence post where the wire is taut. If you can’t find that, you take your chances. I did that once. I was following my older brother and his friends who were on a butterfly hunting expedition. They all scaled the fence so I followed, last in line. As I climbed down the other side of the barbed-wire fence, I slipped and incurred a 4’’ gash on my upper thigh. Dr Gammie was engaged to stitch it up which was fine, and after a week, the stitches were removed. But a week wasn’t enough for complete healing , and it reopened by the time I got home. In those days, no government healthcare so you only saw the doctor in real emergencies. The prevailing wisdom was let it heal on its own. It did, eventually and I have the 4 x 1 inch scar to prove it. Seventy years later, it was observed during a medical procedure and became a brief topic of conversation that quickly revived this boyhood memory.

After-School and Summer Jobs

Getting your first job is the hardest – you have no work history. Once you do, you can parlay that into being somewhat qualified for the next job. Only be sure you can do what you say you can do. My first job didn’t need any work history – Must be 16 and fit. That’s it.

In the summer of 1958, following Grade 10, I enlisted for an 8 week stint with the Highland Light Infantry Reserve Army. Every morning at 8:00 am, five days a week, we reported for duty at the Galt Armoury. The pay, about $800 as I recall, would be released at the end of training.

My military exposure was limited mostly to stories from relatives and the annual Remembrance Day ceremony. Uncle (by marriage) Jim Miller service in the RCAF. Somehow, he was wounded in action, discharged and left to nurse a painful knee for the rest of his life. Uncle (by marriage) Jack Higgins had a tour of duty in Italy and came home with lots of stories. Cousin Fred Habermehl served for a summer as a peacetime chaplain in Churchill, MB. Brother Joe Gehiere served in a summer student officer program in St Jean QC. My father enlisted in 1939, but was deemed not fit for overseas duty. He was assigned to batboy duty in Camp Borden, and came home weekends. During public school, on November 11 at precisely 11:00 AM, the whole school gathered on the upper floor hallway to hold the annual Remembrance service. Jimmy Lindhorst and Diane Zeigler received special honour as each has lost a father in WW II.

Day one in the HLI: Introduction to the officers, assignment of a military registration number, medical examination, haircut, standard uniform and kit issue and first parade. At the end of the day, we were dismissed in uniform and carried our ‘civies’ home in a knapsack. Imagine walking, for the first time, from the bus stop at the town hall, up Cooper Street, then Hammet Street and finally home to 177 Hungerford Road wearing a military uniform. I felt like I was on parade. That was just the start. I had just joined a regiment with Scottish roots. One day, I would be issued full dress with a kilt. Then walk the walk. That would come later.

In retrospect, the officers of the HLI took our training seriously, and I can see why. World War II had ended just 12 years prior. Men had lost their lives at Juno Beach and elsewhere in Europe to preserve our freedom as Canadians. The names of the fallen were engraved in bronze and mounted on plaques in schools, public auditoriums and at the cenotaphs. Memories of war were fresh in the minds of the leadership. For me, the war was history, important, sobering, but before my time. I would come to appreciate the issues of war and preparedness, should there ever be a need. Would I be willing to go? I was never tested. But I was still getting a taste of military life which served me well.

Every morning started with roll call. We lined up in rows, in alphabetical order, and responded when our surnames were called. We formed up, marched smartly, and followed the orders that were barked. No fooling around. Weapons were issued – M1 Belgian semi-automatic rifle and the .303 British Lee-Enfield rife. We learned to take them apart, clean and reassemble with eyes closed. Firing the weapons would wait until we travelled to the firing range at Ipperwash Beach.
Every day, we had classes. Biological warfare – what it is and how to survive it when exposed. Nuclear warfare – what it is and how to survive it. Field exercises – reconnaissance, travelling on foot cross country, marching 7 to 10 miles on back roads and returning by vehicle. Meals were served the field – shepherds pie, hot wieners and beans, sandwiches. After exercises, we wrote exams. ‘Esprit de corps’ began to develop and we worked for the common good, with enthusiasm and commitment. I remember the regimental motto: Defence, not Defiance
Eventually, we were ready for the firing range.

We travelled to Ipperwash, sitting on wooden benches in the back of open trucks. Probably wouldn’t be allowed today. At the range, we stayed in barracks. Some of these are still standing along Hwy 21 as you pass by the property now controlled by the Kettle and Stony Point First Nation. After instruction on safety and range protocol, we had opportunity to fire the .303 Lee-Enfield British rifle. Be prepared for the the recoil. The M1 was more advanced as the energy of the recoil was used to load the next shell. Then the surprise – firing the Bren light machine gun. Here you lie prone and use the toes of your boots to hold yourself in place as the released energy drags you forward, not back. Returning to the armoury on Monday, it was announced that that I was the top shooter in the M1 class.
One of the big deals in the military is making the most of your free time. Just make sure your back in barracks by curfew. During the weekend at Ipperwash, I found out that our church group was camping at Ipperwash Beach. Naturally, I had to take my free time and pay a visit.

Princess Margaret, sister of Queen Elizabeth, was planning a trip to Canada in the summer of 1958, 60 years ago as I write this. Among her official duties as colonel-in-chief of the Highland Light Infantry, would be the presentation of new regimental colours to the regiment in Galt, Ontario. More than that, we would all be on parade at Ivor Wynne Stadium in Hamilton where she would inspect the troops. The HLI would be joined by other Scottish regiments from Southern Ontario. It would be a big deal. All of this called for full Scottish regalia including the massed pipe bands from each regiment. I came to love the sound of pipes and drums, and the esprit de corps that it engenders, whether a marching participant or onlooker.

Apart from hours of marching, forming and reforming, and the gathering of other regiments in Cambridge and London, I recall the night before the big event. We were bussed to the Hamilton armoury on the Friday night. We slept on the armoury floor on cotton mattresses. Breakfast was cold brown beans. I can’t recall the beverage or the showers. Then we got ready to go on parade in the hot August afternoon sun, in full Scottish regalia. We lost six well-intentioned soldiers to temporary heat stroke. The medics quickly attended as the ranks closed up to fill the gaps. It’s strange, but fainting on parade almost seems contagious. The trick is to gently shift your weight to the balls of your feet then back to normal – and stay focused. I did. I stayed upright and survived the two hour event.

You might be wondering, “Did I see the Princess?” She passed in front of me, but in proper military fashion, my eyes are fixed, straight ahead, not to the right or to the left. So no, she passed with inches, but I did not look. And neither did she she stop to chat.

I have the newspaper clipping of the Royal visit, the Highland Light Infantry badge and the red and white hackle (feather) and a couple of photos among my treasures. All in all, a great experience with the Highland Light Infantry. Do a Google search to learn more Canadian history and the role of the HLI in Europe.

Bennie Gets New Socks

Spring rains had arrived. Puddles were everywhere. Bennie put on his rubber boots and jacket. He was going outside to play.

“Please be careful,” Mother admonished, “and don’t go far!”

“Ok,” Bennie answered. Once outside, he looked for the nearest water puddle.

Every little boy loves to jump up and down in a water puddle. Why not? Water splashes in all directions, it makes loud noises and you never know who else might get wet. Jumping in a water puddle is fun!

What every little boy doesn’t know is what happens when the water puddle is deep and muddy and when you jump up and down and one foot gets stuck in the cold, brown mud and the other foot gets stuck in the cold, brown mud and as you take a step, one foot comes out of your boot and with the next step, the other foot comes out of the other boot and there you are standing in the puddle with no boots, and you are cold and wet. Bennie turned to see his boots, still upright, still dry inside, and still stuck in the mud, just like he had taken them off and set them down. Bennie bent down and grabbed the closest boot. He tugged and tugged and slowly, the mud gave way and his first boot was free. Then he grabbed the second boot, tugged and tugged, and slowly, the mud gave way and the second boot was free. The cold water was numbing, and his teeth started to chatter. He couldn’t stop it. He knew he had to move, fast. He was freezing.

Bennie, a boot in each hand, slowly made his way out of the mud hole and up to the grass. He was tippy, but he didn’t fall. He couldn’t feel his feet anymore – he just knew he had to keep going. He decided it might be better if he didn’t go straight home. Instead, he would knock on Mrs. Appleby’s door.

Standing in his muddy socks, boots in hand, Mrs. Appleby got the picture right away.

“Come in, child, before you catch your death of cold,” she said. Mrs. Appleby was old-fashioned, but very kind.

“You sit right here,” she said, pulling up a wooden chair. Within minutes, Mrs. Appleby had his dirty socks off and his feet in a basin of lukewarm water. As the circulation slowly returned, his feet turned red and felt quite itchy. Then it was time for fresh water and soap. Finally, she dried his feet with a clean towel and fitted Bennie with a pair of new hand-knitted socks, in navy blue, his favourite colour. You see, Mrs. Appleby loves to knit – mittens, socks, winter hats and baby outfits, and she always has a supply on hand for the next important occasion. After being served a fresh-baked chocolate cookie and a glass of milk, Bennie, wearing his new blue socks, put his boots back on, thanked Mrs. Appleby and made his way back home. Mrs. Appleby insisted on keeping the old socks to be laundered.

When Bennie got home, Mommy asked, “You were gone a long time. I was about to start looking for you.” “Me too,” said Daddy, “where were you?” “We were worried.”

Bennie had a big story to tell. Mommy and Daddy listened to all of the details. Finally, Daddy bent down, looked at Bennie and said gently, ‘That was very kind of Mrs. Appleby, but you should have come straight home.”

“I was afraid,” Bennie offered, “I didn’t know what you’d say.”

“Well, next time something happens, don’t be afraid. We love you, don’t you know? You can tell us everything that happens. We want to be the first to know. We love you,” said Daddy.

“Ok”, said Bennie, as a tiny tear showed up in the corner of one eye. “I love you, too, Daddy. And I love Mommy, and Wynnie and Jasmine – and everybody I can think of”

High five, Bennie? High five, Daddy!

Ode to Beethoven

Really happy to have met you today, Beethoven.

Not sure you realize it, Beethoven, but you and I have a lot in common.

For example:

We both know a soft spot when we see one

We are loyal to family and friends

We can be trusted

We mind our manners

We love our beds

We especially love being near the wood stove

We are content with life’s simple pleasures

But at the same time:

We love new experiences

We are ready to go out on a moment’s notice. And every day has new and exciting possibilities.

What people don’t know about us, you and me, while we can’t use words, we still love to communicate – as long as we’re given us a chance. After all, non-verbal body language is said to be 93% of effective communication!

And, finally, the one most people overlook, we have ‘big ears and big eyes’. So we understand everything that is going on, and more importantly, we know how to keep a secret. Right!
Looking forward to having you around. For now, you are welcome – anytime.




Beyond Human Comprehension
.5 billion sperm released per ejaculation, yet only one is needed for fertilization
.9 billion species in the world are catalogued
7  billion people living today, each with unique DNA

46 billion light years is the size of the known universe
93 billion light years is the diameter of the known universe

100 billion galaxies discovered to date
100 billion cells in the human brain
200 billion galaxies likely in the universe

1,000 billion estimated species in the world, 99.9% yet to be catalogued

3,720 billion cells in the human body that work in perfect harmony

Still a Mystery
118 elements, in unique chemical combinations, make up 15% of all ordinary matter in the universe.
Dark matter makes up 85%, the composition of which is unknown

A Bigger Mystery – What Counts Most is You
Only one God created all of the billions of everything, – and all the dark matter.
Only one God created you and knows you
Only one God loves you unconditionally
Only one God sent Jesus to save you
Only one you has ever lived
Only one you can embrace Jesus, who longs to be your Saviour
Only one you can respond to God’s invitation to a loving, lasting relationship
Only one God. Only one you.

Christmas Pageant

“I’m an angel, Daddy!”

“So you are” Daddy shot back. “A perfect angel. And your mother, she dressed you up, so she’s an angel, too!”

“And I’m a shepherd,” proclaimed Bennie.

“Yes, you are, and this year, you have no lines to memorize – just actions,” said Daddy.

Wynnie began rehearsing her angel lines for the Christmas pageant. ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, goodwill to all men’. At the pageant, she would be joined by two more angels where they would say all their lines together, in unison.

Every year, the children and their parents gathered in the church auditorium to tell the Christmas story, a time when the old story becomes new and fresh again, for everybody. And everybody has a part in the Christmas pageant. This year, Winnie’s new little sister would play the part of Baby Jesus. Wynnie hoped she didn’t cry, but if she did, her Mommy would have to come and pick her up so she would stop crying.

“Did Baby Jesus cry?” Wynnie asked Daddy.

‘I’m sure he did. He had feelings, too, just like you and me”

Inside the church, the windows were decorated with  fir boughs, silver bows and candles.. The tall green spruce tree, decorated with white lights and silver tinsel stood off to the side. Under the tree were wrapped gifts, one for each child with a few extra just in case. Wynnie already understood that when we give gifts at Christmas, we are remembering the greatest gift that could ever be given, the gift of Jesus, given in love by God himself, to the whole world.

Each year, the Christmas pageant seems to have a surprise moment. Something unplanned happens. This year, Daddy made arrangements with Farmer Wayne to bring a mother sheep who he called Dolly and her lamb, Little Dolly to the church. Dolly would be led through the auditorium by Farmer Wayne and he said her lamb would be sure to follow, like in the poem, ‘Mary had a little lamb’. Then the mother sheep and her lamb would go on stage and be part of the pageant. Daddy thought about the risk. What could possibly go wrong?

The pageant, following the story of the birth of Jesus found in Luke Chapter Two, was moving along perfectly – Mary and Joseph arriving at the inn and being turned away by the inn keeper shaking his head, ‘No’,  then everyone enthusiastically singing ‘No Room in the Inn.’

Then the scene shifting to the three shepherds on the Judean hills at night, with Farmer Wayne dressed up and holding onto Dolly, with Little Dolly close by. When Wynnie and the angels appear under bright lights and proclaim to the shepherds together, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, goodwill toward men’, the shepherds fall back, in amazement. Then the lights go out and the angels disappear. At that moment,  Farmer Wayne loses his grip on Dolly and she disappears, with her lamb, Little Dolly – into the darkness.

In the next scene, when the stage lights come back on, Mary is sitting on a wooden bench, Joseph standing beside her and Baby Jesus, wrapped in a pale blue blanket, is lying on a raised bed of first-cut green hay.

Crossing the stage in partial darkness, on their way to Bethlehem manger to see the baby, the narrator announces that “the shepherds ponder what they had seen and heard and what they will see when they get there”. Farmer Wayne is distracted, thinking about Dolly and her lamb, Little Dolly. Where are they?

The aroma of first-cut green hay is irresistible. Dolly arrives at the manger first, and with her lamb in tow, immediately starts eating – eating the bed of hay, on which Baby Jesus is sleeping. The audience is captivated and delighted by this unplanned turn of events. As the shepherds make their way across the stage, surround the cradle and kneel in worship, the audience stand and sing ‘Away in a Manger.’ Dolly and Little Dolly keep munching, and Jasmine sleeps on.

Wrapped gifts and plates of home-made goodies were given and received. While Dolly and Little Dolly provided a lighter moment, the celebration of the birth of Jesus and a wonderful Christmas pageant were enjoyed by all. Jasmine slept like a baby right through.

That night, Daddy asked, “Do you want to sleep like a baby tonight? I do. Jasmine is already asleep.”

“First, let’s pray and give thanks for Baby Jesus, God’s precious gift of Himself to all who will receive him.”

“Good night, Wynnie, Love you!

Good night, Bennie, Love you, too!”

“Good night, Daddy. Love you, too!” chimed two happy, sleepy voices.





Waiting for Christmas

“When can we have Christmas, Daddy?” Wynnie asked. “Can we have it tomorrow? I want to see what’s under the tree for me.”

“Well, we could. But most families wait for Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. Some families have to celebrate early in order to be all together.  You know that Christmas only comes once a year. Like your birthday, it only comes once a year. Christmas is a celebration of Jesus’ birthday. We celebrate Christmas when we give gifts to each other. And we decorate the Christmas tree and maybe the whole house – with lights, snowflakes, and tinsel. Then we wrap the gifts and put them under the tree, And then we wait for Christmas.” Daddy paused.

Wynnie was already tucked into bed.  ‘More,” she asked, “more story.” Daddy paused because he was thinking back, a long way back, when he was a little boy, waiting for Christmas.

“Can you wait for Christmas, Wynnie?” Daddy asked.

“Sort of,” she whispered.

“Sort of?  You mean its kind of hard to wait, right? he offered.

“Yes,” Wynnie confided.

“Can I tell you my story? Once when I was a little boy,  I couldn’t wait for Christmas. I begged my mother to let me have my gift early. Back then, we only got one gift. Eventually, my mother gave in, and three days before Christmas, I got my gift. I tore off the wrapping and in my hands, I held a miniature red Massey-Harris tractor. I loved my tractor and started to play farmer right away.

Three days later, Christmas arrived. My whole family gathered around the Christmas tree and everyone was given a gift – except me. I cried. My mother explained that I had already been given my gift, but it didn’t seem to matter. I felt left out of all the excitement and fun. After that, I determined to wait for Christmas. I would never spoil another Christmas again.”

“I can wait, Daddy,” Wynnie offered. “I  won’t spoil Christmas.

“Wise choice,” responded Daddy. “The important things in life are worth waiting for.”

“Good night, darling.”

“Good night, Daddy”







Lost and Found

“What makes it fly, Daddy?” Bennie asked.

“You mean what keeps it up? Well, actually, air keeps it up.”

Daddy pointed to the shape of the wings, and explained “When air passes over the wings, it creates an airfoil, which causes the wings to rise. He raised his hand to demonstrate, palm up. When the propeller turns, air passes over the wings very quickly. When that happens, the airplane rises. It flies. Kind of amazing, isn’t it Benny?”

Daddy and Bennie had been busy every spare minute, building a model airplane from a kit –  following the plans and using balsa wood, glue, tissue paper, paint and decals. Daddy explained “When the tiny .042 cc engine and fuel tank are mounted, and the radio control system is installed, our little plane will be able to fly – higher and higher. And it will always come back, because we have the controls, right?”

Daddy was as excited as Bennie to be part of the project. For Daddy, building a airplane was doing something his father did as a boy, many years before. But there was one big difference – Papa’s airplane was a free flight airplane and had no radio control.

That evening, after dinner, Wynnie and Bennie gathered  on the sofa to hear Daddy tell the story about Papa’s airplane, the one he built when he was a boy.

“Tell us the story, Daddy.” Wynnie and Bennie chimed in unison.

“Okay,” said Daddy. “Here’s the story. When Papa’s family visited their cousins in Michigan, Papa came home with a gift, a tiny airplane engine. Then he saved up enough money  to buy a model airplane kit, just like ours. Papa spent all his spare time building his airplane. He didn’t hurry because he enjoyed it so much, He didn’t want it to end.  Have you ever done something that you enjoyed so much, you didn’t want it to end?  It’s called ‘enjoying the journey’ and sometimes it’s as much fun as getting there, right?”

“Well, back to our story. The day finally came to fly the airplane. After school, Papa took the airplane, fuel and starting battery over to the park for a test flight. When everything was ready, he spun the propeller. The engine started on the first spin and the propeller roared to life. Then Papa disconnected the battery, stood up, pointed the airplane upwards at a slight angle, gave a gentle push and let it go. The airplane took off, level at first, then climbed higher and higher, in ever wider circles. Papa stood in silence watching, waiting. The timer was supposed to cut the fuel after a minute or so, then engine would stop, the plane would circle back to earth and gently land. But, no, the timer failed, the engine kept running and the plane kept climbing – higher and higher. As the brisk west winds took hold, the little plane was carried away – further and further. Papa’s little plane became a dot in the sky and finally it was gone from view.

Papa ran home to tell his daddy what happened. He said they should get in the car and drive in the direction where Papa last saw his airplane. It was like looking for a needle in a haystack. They drove up and down the side roads. Nothing. The little plane was lost.

Papa decided to call the newspaper and tell his story. Maybe whoever found the airplane would read the story and return it. The story was printed, and no one called.

Months passed. One day, Papa was passing the second-hand store downtown. He looked in the store window and could hardly believe his eyes – his lost airplane was in the window, for sale. Papa went inside explained to the storekeeper how he was flying his airplane after school, and how it flew higher and higher, and how the wind had carried it away. And now, there it was in the store window, and could he have it back?”

“Yes, you can have it,” the storekeeper explained, “the price is $5. If you want it, I would be happy to sell it to you.”

“Disappointed, Papa left the store determined to save up so he could buy back his airplane.

Did you know that God made each of us ? We are His. We belong to Him. But the human race chose to wander away from God.  We got lost. The Bible calls this separation sin. God wants us back into His family, but the price of sin is very high.  In fact, only the life and death of Jesus is sufficient to pay the price of sin. So when Jesus dies on the cross, He paid the price to buy us back. This is called redemption. When we trust Jesus to redeem us, we are restored to the family of God. We are truly in His care, once again. Isn’t that wonderful?

Let’s pray and thank Jesus for paying the price, for redeeming us, and for restoring us to the family of God.

Time for bed, you two.

Good night, Wynnie.

Goodnight, Bennie.”

“Good night, Daddy,” chimed two tiny voices. “We love you.”

Memory verse: I Peter 1:18 “For you were redeemed, not with silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Jesus” (Paraphrase