A Covid Christmas
Twas the night before Christmas, but Covid was here,
So we all had to stay extra cautious this year.
Our masks were all hung by the chimney with care
In case Santa forgot his and needed a spare.
With Covid, we couldn't leave cookies or cake
So we left Santa hand sanitizer to take.
The children were sleeping, the brave little tots
The ones over 5 had just had their first shots,
And mom in her kerchief and me in my cap
Had just settled in for a long winter's nap.
But we tossed and we turned all night in our beds
As visions of variants danced in our heads.
Gamma and Delta and now Omicron
These Covid mutations that go on and on
I thought to myself, "If this doesn't get better,
I'll soon be familiar with every Greek letter".
Then just as I started to drift off and doze
A clatter of noise from the front lawn arose.
I leapt from my bed and ran straight down the stair
I opened the door, and an old gent stood there.
His N 95 made him look pretty weird
But I knew who he was by his red suit and beard.
I kept six feet away but blurted out quick
" What are you doing here, jolly Saint Nick?"
Then I said, "Where's your presents, your reindeer and sleigh ?
Don't you know that tomorrow will be Christmas Day? ".
And Santa stood there looking sad in the snow
As he started to tell me a long tale of woe.
He said he'd been stuck at the North Pole alone
All his white collar elves had been working from home,
And most of the others said "Santa, don't hire us!
We can live off the CERB now, thanks to the virus".
Those left in the toyshop had little to do.
With supply chain disruptions, they could make nothing new.
And as for the reindeer, they'd all gone away.
None of them left to pull on his sleigh.
He said Dasher and Dancer were in quarantine,
Prancer and Vixen refused the vaccine,
Comet and Cupid were in ICU,
So were Donner and Blitzen, they may not pull through.
And Rudolph's career can't be resurrected.
With his shiny red nose, they all think he's infected.
Even with his old sleigh, Santa couldn't go far.
Every border to cross needs a new PCR.
Santa sighed as he told me how nice it would be
If children could once again sit on his knee.
He couldn't care less if they're naughty or nice
But they'd have to show proof that they'd had their shot twice.
But then the old twinkle returned to his eyes.
And he said that he'd brought me a Christmas surprise.
When I unwrapped the box and opened it wide,
Starlight and rainbows streamed out from inside.
Some letters whirled round and flew up to the sky
And they spelled out a word that was 40 feet high.
There first was an H, then an O, then a P,
Then I saw it spelled HOPE when it added the E.
"Christmas magic" said Santa as he smiled through his beard.
Then suddenly all of the reindeer appeared.
He jumped into his sleigh and he waved me good-bye,
Then he soared o'er the rooftops and into the sky.
I heard him exclaim as he drove out of sight
"Get your vaccines my friends, Merry Christmas, good-night".
Then I went back to bed and a sweet Christmas dream
Of a world when we'd finished with Covid 19.
Alan Bowker Dennis Pitt
"We lose ourselves in books. We find ourselves there too." Anonymous
Dennis Pitt is a bookworm. He admits it. As a student, he annoyed his teachers by reading books in class. But Dr. J. A. Milliken, a Queen’s medical professor who was his prime role model for entering the field of medicine, was also an avid reader who had a library in his home. This was not a trait widely shared among busy physicians. As a practising surgeon and professor at the University of Ottawa, Dr. Pitt was appalled to find that most of the books in the library of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons appeared never to have been opened. He believes books are not just for show. They are to be read, they should have worn bindings, the pages should be dog-eared and pencil-marked. And if they are lent and never returned, so much the better, because it means they are being read by more people.
Followers of Just Ottawa who are long-time devotees of the radio broadcasts of Saturday Afternoon at the Opera from the Metropolitan Opera in New York will have been grieved by the death in the summer of 2019 of Father Owen Lee, CSB, who for many years did intermission commentaries or was a guest on the Opera Quiz on the Met radio broadcasts.
Fr. Lee was a well-known presenter of these commentaries over nearly 25 years beginning in 1981. He was 89 years old when he died in a nursing facility in Toronto.
In 1957, the newly ordained Fr. Lee taught me beginning Greek at St. Michael’s College School in Toronto. It was the start of a sporadic, even distant association, but for more than 60 years, I kept learning more about this truly learned and remarkable teacher. At the end of that first year in high school, he sent our little classical Greek class off with the advice that we should work on remembering the rules for accent marks in Greek, because if we remembered our accents, we were more likely over the summer to remember the rest of what we had learned.
Father Owen Lee
Four years later, I encountered Fr. Lee at university. At a freshman mixer at St. Michael’s College (SMC) at the University of Toronto, he was playing show tunes on the piano to jolly the atmosphere. He taught classics at U of T and was resident at SMC, which was founded and run by his teaching order of priests, the Congregation of Saint Basil (CSB). Since I was a History/English major, I did not have him in class at university, though I saw him occasionally on campus. In fourth year, I was charged with organizing a series of little seminars on the arts for other SMC students. Someone told me that Fr. Lee was a lover of movies, so I invited him to discuss cinema as art. At the time, I naively thought, ah, neat, a classicist who likes movies. Only recently did I discover that he later wrote a book about movies and art. And I cannot even find the notes that I might have taken that evening.
In the years after my graduation, I would see him on campus from time to time when I attended the annual Michaelmas conference over a period of some 25 years. But I was frequently out of the country for work and did not know until years later of his brilliant career with the Metropolitan Opera broadcasts on Saturday afternoons. One summer, probably 1998, I discovered his collection of intermission commentaries in a book called A Season of Opera* and was entranced.
It enticed me, over a four-year period from 2001, to go to New York and attend several live operas at the Met, including a magnificent production of Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens , the work which was the subject of Fr. Lee’s first intermission talk on radio. Four years later, when on assignment in Tunis, I lived in a house that overlooked Carthage, the very site of the mythical romance of Dido and Aeneas. All I could think of was Fr. Lee’s take on the opera, and my wish to tell him about being on the scene while listening to a recording of the Berlioz work.
In the course of my career in the foreign service, I eventually lost touch with him since he no longer lived on the SMC campus. As an SMC alumnus, I was frequently contacted for financial support, and as frequently I would ask the student volunteer solicitor if he or she could find an address for Fr. Lee, but without result. Then, the winter of 2018, after making the same request, a miracle happened. The volunteer must have tracked him down, and two days later, Fr. Lee himself phoned me from his retirement facility in Toronto. We had a wonderful chat catching up. He told me that he was not in good health and had suffered various painful illnesses in his later years, but he had continued writing. Though he was confined to a wheelchair, he would still sit at the piano every morning and play show tunes while others in the residence went in for breakfast.
Fr. Lee and I continued with an email correspondence and he told me how he came to be a feature on the Met Opera radio broadcasts. He had listened to the radio broadcasts from the time he was eleven years old in 1942, and over the decades had submitted articles to the Met’s Opera News. In 1981, he submitted an article on Parsifal as an intermission feature for an upcoming broadcast. The director, Richard Mohr told him the features were already accounted for, but why didn’t he come to New York and be a guest in the opera quiz segment between acts. Fr. Lee had to borrow an overcoat for the New York winter (he was then living in California), but apparently wowed them on the quiz and was then offered spots as an intermission lecturer. In the end he did more than 100 broadcasts over 24 years.
I acquired some of the books that he continued to write and publish well into his retirement. His book Athena Sings*, about Wagner and the Greeks, helped me through last spring’s performance of Die Valkyrie at the Met HD broadcasts in the movie theatres.
One quite remarkable book Fr. Lee published in 2004 was a memoir of a year in the 1970’s he spent teaching at an American college in Rome. Titled A Book of Hours: Music, Literature and Life, A Memoir,* it is a remarkably personal book about his love of teaching and opera, but also of challenges to personal development in a celibate career. His superior in the Order had allowed him to purchase a first-class Eurorail pass for the year, and on as many weekends as he could, he would train into Germany overnight and get cheap tickets for operas at the many cities in Germany which all had opera houses. His reactions to and insights into the operas he saw in the land where many were written and set is quite striking, and, may I say, enlightening.
Fr. Lee was a great scholar and teacher who was so modest that it was always by chance that I learned of his varied talents. Who knew that he was a trained musician and musical scholar? Who knew that he excelled in German and was a Wagner scholar - a particularly ironic reality for those of us in high school who had chosen Greek over German as an optional course? Who knew that this man who taught and wrote about Greek and Latin classical poetry was one of the foremost connoisseurs of opera in North America in recent generations? He was a graceful and stimulating writer and his books were a joy to read. He knew his worth but did not trumpet it. And as a priest, he lived a life of faith and devotion that enhanced and was enhanced by his many forms of scholarship - and friendships.
The most humbling (and gratifying) thing he said to me in our last exchanges was that he, as a teacher, was proud of my career achievements. Knowing by then of Fr. Owen Lee’s wonderful contribution to the world of music and literature and scholarship, this praise was almost an embarrassment. It was an enormous gift to have been reconnected with this remarkable teacher after so long without contact, and in the final year of his life.
The last time I saw him in person, many years ago on the SMC campus, he asked me if I had kept up my Greek accents. Imagine how much more learned I would be if I had.
* A Season of Opera, by M. Owen Lee, published 1998, University of Toronto Press
* First Intermissions, by M. Owen Lee, published 1995, Oxford University Press
* Athena Sings: Wagner and the Greeks, by M. Owen Lee, published 2003, University of Toronto Press
* A Book of Hours, A Memoir, by M. Owen Lee, published 2004, Continuum International Publishing Group
Sorry to hear about the rain, but a sprinkle must be good for the citrus. Here, we are deep in snow – a record fall in January and about a metre fell in mid-February. Mountains of snow are now covered with a thick sheet of ice. If it sounds like the situation 11,000 years ago that created our last ice age and maybe the Great Lakes, it should. The RSPCA is checking out a reported woolly mammoth sighting near the RCMP barracks. Who knows?
Our street resembles a photo taken in the winter of 1916 of an Allied trench in Verdun. Thick walls on both sides border a narrow lane of deeply corrugated ice at the bottom. Injured bodies are removed periodically to first-aid stations and, in some cases, coarse language has been heard. Smart people are wielding ski poles and fixing crampons to their boots – these are the spiky attachments worn for climbing in the Alps.
Some residents complain that it’s difficult to keep track of their neighbours’ activities as huge mounts of snow block the usual window viewing. Meanwhile the mayor produced another deadline for LRT and then a trial run by an LRT snow plough on the tracks smashed into some transponders (train control systems) – so another delay.
Any good news – well not much, but it does keep people from grousing full time about the Senators, Melnyk and the Premier – as well as bashing each other from their respective sides on SNC-Lavalin/Wilson-Raybould and the PM.
As I write two people are trying to hack ice and snow build-up from a neighbouring roof. Oops! Albert slipped – ahh! Caught himself in time.
Must go! The family needs another run toddy.
Love to Mitzi, the tadpoles and Bonzo, the slobbery wolfhound.
Today I took the all-important first step. I did it slowly, one room at a time, quietly letting my thoughts take form.
My eyes go first to walls and from one picture frame to another. I gaze at wisps of blowing snow, at exquisitely paired trees denuded of leaves, at tender shoots of new life, at skyscapes that meld clouds and water and land in diaphanous light. They are all abstractions, the refined imaginings of Japanese print artists. Around the corner from them hangs a line drawing of a bird pecking the ground for food, a playful Brazilian reminder that life’s joys are found in simple things. Brazilian or Japanese, every one of them is a gift from people I wish I had known. They came to stay.
I had a memorable little brush with our history the other day. I was a judge in the Winston Churchill Society’s high-school debate final round, held in the splendid new chamber of the Senate, housed for the next decade or so in Ottawa’s old main railway station, while Parliament Hill gets renovated. During a break in the proceedings, who should arrive - on what was supposed to be a private tour of the new facilities - but our Prime Minister from 26 to 16 years ago, the Right Honourable Jean Chrétien? We invited him in.
Dr. Alan Bowker
This is the fourth and final article in a series that explores how the Great War impacted the lives of a single family belonging to the MacKay United Church in New Edinburgh. See also Part I, Part II, and Part III of the series.
By Dr. Alan Bowker
This is the third in a series of articles exploring how the Great War impacted the lives of a single family belonging to the MacKay United Church in New Edinburgh. See also Part I and Part II of the series.
George Frederick Stalker was the older brother of Robert A. Stalker. He was born in London, England, on January 18, 1877, the eldest of nine children of his namesake, eminent architect George Frederick Stalker and his wife Clarinda, who came to Ottawa in 1883. When George Sr. died suddenly in 1895 Clarinda was left with nine children. All four daughters died young of TB or respiratory disease. Clarinda was a member of MacKay Presbyterian Church and very active in its Ladies’ Aid.
After being the High Commissioner to the Sultanate of Brunei Darussalam (and it doesn't get any more exotic than that), I retired to my home town Vancouver and a job at the Canadian Education Centre Network a private non profit company supported by DFAIT and mandated to promote Canada as an education destination to international students...an activity near and dear to my heart. When the CECN began to lose it's way I left...it went out of business about a year later. Almost immediately I began to be contacted by former CECN overseas managers who asked me to put together education familiarization tours. Over the past 9 years my wife Suchitra and I have traveled to all 10 provinces with groups of educators, education agents, media reps all of whom are interested in learning more about Canada's education system both K-12 and post secondary. We have had small groups from India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Nigeria, Vietnam, Libya and larger group tours I organize on behalf of the Canadian Accredited Indpendent Schools (CAIS). I do the promotion of the tours to prospective participating school here, organize all the logistics (including meals - see below) and assisted by my wife Suchitra, lead the tours throughout Canada. It is quite tiring but great fun.
This is the first in a series of articles exploring how the Great War impacted the lives of a single family belonging to the MacKay United Church in New Edinburgh.
After the Remembrance Day service at MacKay United Church in Ottawa in 2014, in which the names of those who had fallen in two world wars were read out as they are every year, Tim Cook suggested to me that as we were now marking the 100th anniversary of this terrible conflict it might be more meaningful to provide some more detailed information on the lives of these soldiers, since their service records and other information like the Circumstances of Death Registers were now available online. It would not only be a more fitting tribute to the men, but would bring to life the ordeal of those sitting in the same pews a century before, as they waited for news and prayed for deliverance.