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Preserving the Story: Elizabeth Mellow

Writing Sample: Memoirs

The following excerpt comes from a portrait of the Mellow family in Uxbridge, Ontario, Canada. It was prepared by Linda Revie, a writer and researcher living in the Peterborough area. Ms. Revie prepared this at the request of Elizabeth Mellow. While the Memoirs are based on family papers, family recollections and independent research, they have been written up in a personalized, literary way, centering on the main narrator Elizabeth who wants to relate this story to her daughter Laura.

from

Memoirs of an Ontario V.O.N.
“Prologue”

About ten litres of gasoline will take you away from the bleak city skyline into a rolling wooded landscape that makes up the back roads of Durham County. There, on the edge of the Oak Ridges Moraine, creeks and rivers, century farmsteads, hills and hollows. Continue through the valley past the last isolated stand of trees, swing in a wide sweep northeast, then dip down one more time toward the town. Although a busy thoroughfare now, the main drag has managed to retain its village flavour. At one time it was one-horse-town and this road, if it could be called that, wended through thickly wooded pine land.

The town is called Uxbridge. It’s a little jewel encased in memory and it’s located in south central Ontario, Canada. Canada, of course, occupies a sizeable portion of the world, with borders on three oceans; Ontario is but one provincial slice of the huge Canadian pie. The southern part of the province dips below the fabled 49th parallel, and in a triangulated space between Lake Simcoe (to the north), Lake Scugog (to the east) and Lake Ontario (to the south), you’ll find Uxbridge.

The name alone is typical of the way the Empire influenced the colony’s sense of place. Its sister town in England was known through time as Oxbridge (15th century), as Woxbrigge (12th century) and as Wixan’s Bridge (7th century), the Wixan being a Saxon tribe who built a bridge over the river Pinn and farmed the region that became Uxbridge, West London.

In the old part of Uxbridge, Ontario, close to where the first settlers built an “ox” bridge, there’s a distinguished Classic Revival style home. It’s still there, with the grey siding, cream gables, decorative gingerbread and large sprawling verandah. The house’s current owner steps up to the front door. She’s driven all the way from Peterborough County to take a few last photos of the property. She aims her smartphone, videos the yellow door, lifts the phone higher to catch the name—Dr. MELLOW—etched into a golden window. The door itself is fitted with more stained glass that acts as a cloudy mirror. Between the colourful circles and ornamental inserts, she sees her own reflection in the glass. Taken aback by what looks like her much younger version of herself appearing out of the depths on the other side of the door, she steps away, spins around, continues videoing across the open space of the verandah, across the lawn and the FOR SALE sign, toward the driveway and past the houses farther up Main Street South.

She is, it turns out, Elizabeth Mellow and this is where she spent much of her life. She has driven back to Uxbridge with her daughter Laura to share a few final memories of this beloved ancestral home. They are also here to witness the removal of an antique medical device—a one-tonne solid oak electrostatic generating machine, about the size of an upright piano. Neither Elizabeth nor Laura was in the picture when this electrostatic machine arrived in Uxbridge, but both have heard family stories about how this legendary Waite & Bartlett medical generator came via train and wagon from Long Island, New York. The machine still generates electricity—they’ve tested it, quite recently. When a wheel at the end of the device is cranked, two glass disks inside the case rotate, moving some copper brushes, creating pale blue sparks and an ozone reek. When put into action as medical therapy, the blue electrical spark was either applied directly to a patient or the charge was stored up in condenser jars, and then used to power other procedures, including early x-rays.

Soon, the whole antique gizmo will be boomed over the 2nd floor balcony by a crane, swung into the back of a moving truck, and gently taken to the Museum of Health Care in Kingston, Ontario http://www.museumofhealthcare.ca  Like the iron lung, this relic comes from an era when medicine was lurching toward modernity. When Elizabeth’s grandfather Dr. Mellow purchased it around 1915 for his home clinic, it was considered cutting edge.

Image from Museum of Health Care, Kingston, Ontario.

The “zap” was useful in treating many ailments including gout, rheumatoid arthritis, acne, epilepsy. The invisible beam, the start of medical imaging, allowed him to see inside the human body. And the fluoroscope, well it should have doubled as a ghost buster—the house sure needed that! They’ve heard all the stories over time about Dr. Mellow’s “assistant” Dorothy, in her oversized white lab coat, haunting his lab from the get-go, posing as a nurse when really she was the housemaid. There was also the other former Dr. Barnardo Child, Milly. Very beautiful and an epileptic. Sadly, Elizabeth’s grandfather found Milly dead one morning, in the maid’s room. Seemingly, she’d had a grand mal seizure and choked on her tongue. Thereafter, the dogs could sense that, and they always shied away from the back corridor where the maids—in human form and in spirit—continued to go up and down the stairs. Ears flattened, barking madly, those dogs would make a mad dash to the front of the house.

By that front door, a Town of Uxbridge Centennial plaque explains almost everything about the house, except how it got to be haunted. Elizabeth is looking at the plaque now, reading the backstory about the town’s earliest settlers, filling in the blanks too about Quakers who escaped religious persecution in the United States by coming north. History reveals how they travelled along a network of trails made by the Iroquoian peoples; by 1806 they’d made it all the way to the Uxbridge area. Mid-century, when the village was incorporated as a municipality, Uxbridge was thriving. It’s interesting that many of the earliest industries had a direct relationship to horse power. There were two wagon-makers, five blacksmith shops, two carriage-makers, two harness shops, four shoemakers, a few tack shops. Along with those early businesses at the main crossroads, Uxbridge hosted a few hotels that served as liquor outlets, a brewery, distillery, Dirty Mary’s illicit hooch hut, a tannery, saw mill, woollen mill, carpet factory. And, sometime in 1863, a doctor moved to town, setting up a practice in this very house on the west side of Main Street South.

The original house built by Dr. Joseph Bascom in 1863 was a 1-½ storey clapboard structure. Sometime before 1886 the roof was raised. With the second storey addition, a physician’s office was added to the north side. This is where Elizabeth’s folk come into the picture. Her grandfather Dr. Frank Earnest Mellow bought the residence and practice from Bascom’s nephew, Dr. Horace, in 1912. Elizabeth remembers her Grandpa as a frank, earnest and very mellow man—obviously his name was a perfect fit! But he was also a paragon of modernity in an area that was no-nonsense, conformist. Dr. Mellow loved his gadgets, had a thirst for knowledge, was always self-educating. Anything new and innovative, he had to have it, like the electrostatic generating machine, or the latest anatomically innovative forceps.

When her Grandpa Mellow purchased the house and practice there were no hospitals in Uxbridge. He was one of the few resident doctors in the region and he travelled by horse and cutter to visit patients spread far and wide. Along with the rest of the world, Dr. Frank Mellow experienced a brief moment of innocence before the Great War started. His wife Daisy had a son, Ross Carmichael, born in Uxbridge in 1913. Ross would grow up to be a physician, like his Dad: a medical officer during WWII; an army base surgeon during peacetime. Afterward, Dr. Ross Mellow went into private practice in Stoney Creek, eventually retiring to the Uxbridge home. He was instrumental in having the Bascom-Mellow house at 38 Main Street South recognized under the Ontario Heritage Act: Elizabeth remembers when it received the LACAC designation. The Spring of 1988, if memory serves correctly. Apparently, it was the first residential property to do so in the Township. That status ensures the new owners cannot change the outside of the building, meaning after it is sold people will still be able to recognize the home from the street for years to come.

Elizabeth walks along the porch to the north front office, opens the red door, joins her youthful self in the house. As daughter and granddaughter of doctors, she seemed destined to wind up in the family business. Medicine was part of her DNA. Her Grandpa’s brother, that would be her Great Uncle Sam Mellow in Port Perry, was a physician. Her maternal Granddad Peter Thornton Meek also trained to be a doctor in Edinburgh. He didn’t finish his degree; instead, he found the calling and went directly into theology. Still, he had an abiding interest in medicine.

From day one, though, her Grandpa Mellow was her idol. Her Father, Captain Ross Mellow, a real military doctor-hero, also shaped the nurse she would become. And thanks to her mother Elizabeth Meek, an artist in her own right, she was introduced to drawing, painting, sewing and unconditional love.

Inside, the house used to be full of solid objects belonging to her Grandparents and, later, the ephemeral clutter added by her Mom and Dad. Bolts of cloth and stacks of papers would contend for space with antiques of various sorts, some related to medicine and some, to the non-medically inclined, of obscure function. Early in her childhood, Elizabeth would often find this waiting room foyer occupied by her Grandfather’s patients. The rest of the bottom floor of the north section of the house contained two offices: the consultation room and the dispensary. There’s nothing left of the exam room, and in the dispensary, Grandpa’s favorite place, such a wonderful world of things and smells. As soon as that door was opened, it was Friar’s balsam, ether, ethanol and great whiffs of Dettol. She’s always loved the smell of Dettol, even at hospital-strength. It really does it to her.

It brings her back, that familiar pine castor caramel reek; Elizabeth swears it still lingers in the corners. She can almost visualize her Grandfather’s apothecary right here, with the organized racks of glass stoppered pharmaceuticals and basic compounds. His medicine chest used to be in that corner. Open the lid and there were rows and rows of well packed bottles all explained through written gummed-down labels in Grandpa’s spidery script. For her, they spoke the wild-sounding poisonous hymns of pharmacology: belladonna, arnicum, digitalis, opium. He would encourage his granddaughter to stand beside him while he weighed out the powders with scales and measures—by the scruple, by the dram—before doing a mortar and pestle to press them into swallowable pills.

This used to be the library filled with all kinds of texts from his university days. At a tender age Elizabeth would sit in front of her Grandfather’s old Underwood typewriter, her feet up on the desk, perusing the likes of Obstetrics or Labour & Delivery, gaping at all the abnormalities that can occur. Siamese twins. Medical monsters. Also sharing space with the books, the requisite human skull, a baby’s partial skeleton, and some surprised-looking stuffed owls. Now it’s just rows of dusty shelves, empty, and over here the cabinet once chock-a-block with bottles of ipecac, liquorice, sassafras, calamine and other unguents and ointments of the day. He’d sharpen his own needles using a medical sanding stone that sat on a counter over there. She remembers how patient he was, showing her exactly how it was done. He’d draw the bore across the edge of the bevel, just so. Then, taking a pair of tongs, he’d lift a glass syringe from the double tray sterilizer, carefully set it down. Using smaller grips, he’d insert the sharpened needle back into the syringe, just so.

In the back corner of the dispensary there once was a tiny sink for hand washing. Next to it, a slant top wall-mounted desk for quick Rx transcriptions. Later, this was where her Father kept his WWII Luger pistol. It was always a shock, finding a German gun in the desk drawer! Up that adjoining very narrow stairwell beside the dispensary, a second floor toilet. Down the steps, a workshop below, with jars and jars of violet black solids used to treat skin inflammations, and huge Hartz demi-johns with dark blue vitamin solutions. Grandfather would unscrew the top, use the glass finger hold and tilt the demi-john toward a funnel in order to decant into smaller apothecary jars.

All of those corked vessels, gone. Dr. Frank Mellow and his wife Daisy have long since passed away. Dorothy, the Barnardo maid, who came to think of herself as one of the family, is long deceased.

Grandma and Dorothy by the fountain in the back garden of the house.

Dr. Ross Mellow has been gone twenty years and his wife Elizabeth (Meek) Mellow died in February 2001. Oddly enough, both of her parents exited this world at age 83. Elizabeth herself has recently retired from a long nursing career first at Hamilton General, and then with the Victorian Order of Nurses. In her capacity as a visiting V.O.N., she had the occasion to go into many homes in Hamilton City and Hamilton Mountain, in the Kawarthas, the Haliburtons, and Victoria County. All the while, though, the architectonics of this wonderful Uxbridge house—part mausoleum, part dramatis personae—was imprinted in her cells, coursing through her veins.

Through the window at the far side of the dispensary, she spies Laura in the back garden taking pictures with her cell phone. Looking over that long extension out back, seeing in her mind’s eye mirages of the old stone fish pond, vegetable garden, rose garden, and the Yankee-themed red, white and blue phlox border. The smell of phlox anywhere in the world always brings Elizabeth right back to this remembered spot. Beyond the border of phlox there used to be a lawn bowling green. There’s a photo of it, she’s seen it recently, remembers the huge square of grass, lattice painted fence, wooden arbour to admit the bowlers onto the green. High above the four corners of the staked-off lawn, four gas-lit lamps. From this far away in time, there’s yet that sharp smell of cut grass. So wonderful to the nose. She can almost see the guy with the monster ride-on gas powered roller. She watches as Laura aims her camera in the direction where the club house used to sit. At some point it was converted into that two-car garage. When Laura’s gaze wanders back toward the dispensary window, Elizabeth catches her attention, beckons her daughter inside.

It still feels so immediate, the past, her parents, grandparents, Dorothy even. Elizabeth vividly remembers coming home to Uxbridge during summer holidays, at Thanksgiving, birthdays, Eastertime, for the Christmas break. Everyone fawning over her, glad she had arrived. Even now, the memories! She wells up, reaches out, squeezes Laura’s shoulder.

“This is my story to you, darling daughter.”

It’s an upstairs downstairs blend-of-voices story—a mother’s poignant gift to her child. It’s also a collaboration between fact, fiction, writer (Linda Revie) and memoirist (Elizabeth Mellow). In this little vignette in time, real events have been salted with legend, and nursing experiences have been kneaded with lore, to make this Canadian V.O.N.’s life into a modern-day Florence Nightingale tale.

 

 

Preserving the Story: Dr. Mellow

Writing Sample: MEMOIRS

The following comes from a portrait of Dr. Frank Mellow, a family physician practicing in Uxbridge, Ontario, Canada from 1912 to the mid-1950s. Dr. Mellow is a fascinating subject because he was far ahead of his time in many of his approaches to the practice of medicine. Linda Revie prepared these Memoirs at the request of Dr. Mellow’s granddaughter Elizabeth Mellow. While the Memoirs are based on the Mellow family papers, family recollections and on Linda’s independent research, they have been written up in a personalized, literary way, and the narrative voice belongs to Elizabeth who is telling the story to her daughter Laura.

from

Memoirs of an Ontario V.O.N.

“Chapter 2: Dr. Mellow”

There are many rooms in this story about Uxbridge, my parents and grandparents, me. There are many pictures I could draw too of all those memories but for now let’s open the door to my Grandpa—who’d be your Great-Grandpa—Dr. Frank Earnest Mellow, and put him in the frame.

While we’re at it, let’s go back to the winter of 1948, the winter of my birth, when Grandpa Mellow was so very sick. He tended to be brought low with seasonal affective disorder—back then they referred to it as ennui. Whatever you call it, he was depressed, tired, flat-lining. He took his daily tonics but every winter seemed consumed by the ennui. Sometimes he almost suffocated with it, coming down with bouts of bronchitis or pneumonia. Before I tell you more about Dr. Frank Mellow’s health, and his medical practice, I must say that his wife Daisy Mellow kept a diary and she wrote in it every day. Like Queen Victoria’s voluminous works, you could go back in time and learn June of the year so-and-so was wet and rainy and the mean temperature was 100 degrees. You could read about where so-and-so went for Christmas, and who so-and-so had over for Easter tea.

A few years ago, when I was sorting out the house to get it ready for the Realtor, I heard a voice say: “Elizabeth! Over here, pick me!” I looked and saw nothing but the spines of Grandma Daisy’s diaries. The voice continued with—”that one will do fine.” I looked again, noticed one of the bound titles seemed to vibrate, and glow, so I selected that journal, opened the cover and lo and behold a veil was lifted: the year read 1948. Flipping to February, finding the entry dated one week before my birth, Grandma had written: “I see him fading from me every day and I am very sad.”

But the world still needed our loving devout good Doc Mellow. So, my early birth, the real reason I was a month premature, was to help my Grandfather turn the corner. He needed me; I represented something happy to come back for. As a little aside, I know exactly how he felt, darling Laura. Your arrival in 1987 made me feel really warm and fuzzy inside. My own little daughter! What a blessing! Life couldn’t have been better. Yet also knowing that way back in 1948, my birth meant something, caused a turnaround in somebody’s life, in my mind, reading what my Grandmother had written in her diary February 1948, made me think: “wow.”

Here’s a photograph of my Grandfather sitting behind a horse in a buggy. Frank Mellow is the long lean string bean of a guy, hands on the reins. When he first moved to Uxbridge, that main street was a dirt road, not much wider than a single lane. You can see in the photo how narrow it was.

 

There was no town hospital, few schools. Everything was rural, country. Grandpa had been inspired by his older brother Sam to go into medicine. Both were Queen’s University men, top of their graduating classes. After Grandpa Frank received his degree, he started practicing medicine as a junior associate up in Saintfield, north of Port Perry. That was before he met my Grandmother. He practiced in Saintfield for ten years, then moved to Uxbridge. That would be in 1912. I know for a fact that soon after Grandpa Mellow arrived in town, he married his sweetheart Daisy Isabel Campion Carmichael. She had been born in Manilla but when Grandpa met her she was a Port Perry girl, having just graduated from Whitby Ladies College. One of the first things they did after they moved to Uxbridge was prepare the back lot—a huge property that ran the entire length down to Bascom Street—by making it into a formal rose garden, complete with a spouting fountain. The grass came later, then the tedious layering and maintenance that came with creating a beautiful bowling green. I can still have a poignant memory of it when I smell freshly cut grass on a hot morning. They eventually sold the bowling green to the town for a dollar with the intent that both Grandpa and Grandma could play their favorite game of lawn bowling right behind the house.

When Grandpa first took up residency in Uxbridge, there were daily trains bringing mail but no house telephones. Just as everyone did, Doc Mellow had to go to the Post Office, English fashion, to send or receive telegrams. I was told during the early years of his practice he learned to sleep with one eye open, as did the horse. That faithful steed, who so many times and for so many years powered the ambulance for his most desperate cases. Even in this photo you can see the animal has a true sense of duty. I imagine that horse legging it through town as if it had the Olympic torch in its mouth. Eventually, a car replaced the horse and buggy, and Grandpa got a home telephone. It was installed in the medical office. A wall mounted-contraption that had to be hand-cranked to get it going, you’d talk into it and go through dispatch before being patched in. That was a shared line, of course, and if you were to overhear personal information on the phone, then mum was supposed to be the word. However, there have always been those amongst us who have not been able to zip it. In those circumstances, it was proper to keep the gossip to a minimum.

Remember, those party lines were in existence during the heady pre-war days—and here I’m talking about pre-WWII. Back then, babies were born at home. There was no Cottage Hospital staffed by district nurses. If the family could afford medical attention, they paid for Grandpa. They paid for his medicines, his instruments, his forceps and his ether. When he arrived for the delivery, they’d have already arranged newspapers and cotton-covered pads on the bed. In the kitchen, the husband or neighbour would be boiling up string, boiling up dressings, boiling up a pudding dish for delivery of the “placenta pie.”

During the mother’s 10-day confinement, my Grandfather would call each day to make sure she was bathed, to make sure the baby was okay. All this attention came at a price. Depending on the decade, he would charge between $3 and $5 for each baby, and he always asked for payment right after the delivery. Over his half-century career in medicine, Dr. Mellow helped more than 1,200 babies into the world, with no maternal deaths.

xxx

Laura, you’ve probably heard all the family stories about how exercise was always important to your Great-Grandpa Mellow. He was such a creature of routine; he’d be up early in the morning swinging his exercise clubs around his head. He looked like a gyroscope when he really got going! Despite the seasonal ennui, he was a fit very well put together gentleman. Always in a jacket with creased pants and shirt and tie, like in the photograph. Even in the garden, he’d be turning his roses with his tie on. The man standing beside the buggy and the man on the bench seat are both unidentified. The mayor and the clergyman? The scene is glossed by an entry in Grandmother’s diary from the year 1914—somehow the voice directed me to find the exact page to match this exact photo. That diary entry written in Grandmother’s careful hand reads: “Frank drove out to tend to a TB case. Came back to the clinic in a very grim frame of mind.” The TB case referred to might be Mr. Edes, a local dairy farmer. Although Mr. Edes had contacted Incipient Tuberculosis—the only type thought to be curable—and was shipped off to the sanatorium at once, he’d died a few months later, and Grandmother’s remark in her diary that the only thing missing from the large funeral procession was Mr. Edes himself struck an odd chord with me.

Shortly after that TB case Grandfather Mellow purchased his electrostatic generator. Such a device would have been extremely useful for diagnosing Mr. Ede’s disease. All the medical literature expounds upon how this machine had been essential in Canadian sanatoria during WWI and should have also been employed at recruiting stations because many soldiers died of TB before they even shipped overseas. In fact, the statistics tell us that between 1914 and 1918, more Canadians from all walks of life died of TB than were killed in combat.

Image from Museum of Health Care, Kingston, Ontario http://www.museumofhealthcare.ca/

Dr. Mellow’s electrostatic generator was supposed to cure all forms of Tuberculosis. It may look to us like a torture machine, but it was exciting for him to take a patient upstairs into the room, where the Barnardo maid Dorothy stood at the ready in an oversized white lab coat, waiting to crank the wheel. That would start the disks rotating against brushes; that would conduct the energy along the rods; that would create the ozone bolt, a blue sizzle between two copper balls. When running smoothly, the machine was able to produce a high voltage, low amperage electrical charge. Applying electrodes directly on the patient’s skin, Grandpa would treat their gout, rheumatoid arthritis, acne, epilepsy. Or he’d use the fluoroscope to examine them, aiming unshielded x-rays at their bodies, viewing their radiated skeletons on a small screen.

It must have been quite painful; even so, they kept coming back for more.

I know I do it a disservice by calling it a torture machine, ghost buster, monster. It was always a bizarre-looking contraption, resembling something one might come across in a mad scientist’s laboratory. It came equipped with some beastly-looking things hanging off hooks around the sides that would be shoved into different body orifices to seal, to cauterize, to radiate. It even had an apparatus that looked like a bird cage—I believe this gear was swung around and fastened over a manic person’s head. Then, static electricity was applied through the wire headpiece. Seemingly, this was therapeutic, calming; a mental soothing like tiny little fingers going over the scalp.

The machine took up permanent residence in a 2nd floor sitting room adjoining my Great-Grandmother’s bedroom. This was my Grandma Daisy’s mother, and as such, Grandpa’s Mother-in-Law. In his formal manner, Grandpa always referred to his Mother-in-Law as “Mrs. Carmichael.” Word was that Grandpa Mellow didn’t get along with Mrs. Carmichael very well. She’d be sitting in bed in a little cotton bonnet having her tea with one of her shrugs around her shoulders and he’d be marching patients back and forth through her bedroom. She didn’t like that and put up with it for too long but always nodded graciously as they came and went for treatment on the machine.

Long after Grandpa had stopped using the electrostatic generator in his practice, I remember getting Dad to crank the monster up. We would pretend we were engineers operating a piece of death-destroying machinery. Mother would be running around in the kitchen, yelling—”you’re going to be sterile!” The smell of ozone permeating everywhere, that dry burnt smell, got me even more hyped up. Well, it turns out Mom was wrong about something. I didn’t become sterile—darling daughter; you’re a testament to that! But I do regret one thing about this machine. I regret not having asked more questions about it, and about the house that had been its home for a long century.

While Grandpa’s electrostatic generating machine may have been touted as the miracle cure for many early twentieth-century diseases, unfortunately it was not able to halt TB or stop the Spanish ‘Flu. After 1918, entire households, entire towns came down with that ‘Flu. At the height of the epidemic, where there was often no one well enough to boil a pot for dinner, Grandmother would help prepare and distribute broth, eggs, and milk for Grandfather’s ill patients. A decade later, during the lean mean Depression, she’d provide the same for any hobo who came to the back door willing to chop wood or work around the house for his tucker.

xxx

Now seeing that photograph of Grandpa in the buggy, and seeing that street again takes me right back to the house.

I can almost see myself walking up the porch steps, walking toward the golden door. When I’d open the front door and come in, it would smell like lemon oil and brasso, an overlay of cooking and my Grandmother’s attar of roses. She took great pride in the house. Along with Dorothy, she kept on top of the cleaning like it was Buckingham palace. There was a schedule and it was followed without fail, Monday to Saturday.

Sunday was Church, reading, car rides, sledding, swimming, hiking. Fun entertainment;  nothing resembling work. They were devout Methodists, and when in Uxbridge we attended Church with Grandpa and Grandma every Sunday morning. It was an experience I never forgot, and something that added greatly to my memories of Grandpa. He was very strong in his faith. We’d come back from Sunday Service and he was still full of the hymns. While my Grandmother fussed around in the drawing room, rearranging the flowers and the figurines, getting the tea ready, getting the maid organized, he’d step me up on his shiny laced-up brogues and march me around the living room to Glory Glory Hallelujah, or Onward, Christian Soldiers.

He was my Grandpa and was very proud of me. From the get-go, he encouraged me to explore everything in his medical collection. He always seemed to be calmly guiding me, making me feel I could accomplish something in medicine. My Dad did too, but the early roots were down deeper with Grandpa.

Laura, you probably already understand this because in a funny kind of way you were closer to your grandparents than you were to us, your Mom and Dad. When my Grandfather was alive, that was the case for me too. Grandpa Mellow didn’t play games or get down on the floor; instead, he’d encourage me to parallel him. It was all very balanced, very cerebral. I didn’t respond to fussing and often I tended to do my own thing anyway, but from day one, he cultivated a different kind of energy in me by letting me live an imaginative, ideal life as we set about our daily tasks of reading, discussing, thinking.

To allow me to figure out the world all by myself he let me at his library. It was a musty place, that library, darkly panelled and lined with specially bound volumes from Queen’s University. The medical monsters in his books fascinated me. There were some pretty grotesque babies. I was encouraged to explore and talk about them. He never said “oh, put that away Elizabeth, it’s not for your eyes dear.” Grandmother would object though, say, “Frank do you see what she’s looking at?” And he’d answer: “yes.” There were books about medical heroes—Norman Bethune, Frederick Banting—and books about Florence Nightingale too. I was particularly interested in her. So I’d read about Florence Nightingale and learn about poultice-making, then ask him: “what’s an applied fomentation?” and he’d explain it to me. “Where do you put this?”—I’d want to know of a dressing or a thermometer, and he’d demonstrate it for me. But the best part of hanging out with Grandpa was being allowed to play with his medicinal weighing scale. I’d open the little drawer and see inside the apothecaries’ measures. Each round coin, each square coin was my found treasure trove. There were books with similar coin-shaped measures so I’d consult them, consult Grandpa. He showed me how a 3ss scruple on one scale was used to weigh things by the ounce. Add a 3fs drachma to bring it up to a half dram. When I got a bit older, he’d let me help in the dispensary, trusting me to measure out the numbered grains onto the scale in full avoirdupois weight; to pour out the weighted particles into the big marble pestle; to grind up the fine powders with a club-shaped mortar.

His instruction wasn’t just limited to medicine. Out in the garden, he’d give me a trowel, tell me, “this is the way to plant this.” Back in the kitchen, he’d say: “here, eat this.” Mouth agape, I’d be introduced to all manner of sprigs and sprouts from the garden. His favourite though was green onion sandwiches on white bread with ketchup. He had a great sense of humour, but was quiet. Even his laugh was modest. It’s funny, I know he wore a hearing aid, but often it wasn’t turned up. He was an important man about town and not just because he was a dedicated family doctor. Did you know that your Great-Grandfather helped fund the building of the new High School, the Methodist Church Hall and the Church Annex? Throughout the 51 years of his residence in Uxbridge, he was very active in town affairs, helping to found the Lakeridge Cottage Hospital too. It finally opened in 1958, after decades of planning. Ironically, Dr. Frank Ernest Mellow ended up dying in the hospital he helped build. That was in April 1963—a sad day for one and all.

 

 

 

My recent peer-reviewed publication

I have written a scholarly article called “A Quest for her own folk: Joan Clark’s An Audience of Chairs.” This article was recently published in The British Journal of Canadian Studies 31.1 (Winter 2018): 23-42. https://doi.org/10.3828/bjcs.2018.2

Here is the Abstract for the article:

In An Audience of Chairs (2005), novelist Joan Clark traces the trajectory of madness of Moranna MacKenzie, an intense, complex character who resists the pharmaceuticals associated with the mentally ill. Instead she retreats to the family farmhouse in Baddeck, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, where she carves ancestral faces that surface, ghostlike, in the trees on her property. The labour soothes ‘Mad Mory’ and she sells her folkart to summer tourists. According to Ian McKay’s The Quest of the Folk (1994), this type of craftwork is a form of therapy to shore up a disturbed psyche within the ‘sick’ modern liberal order. Relying on discussions of postcolonial ‘hauntology’, this article examines how ancestral figurations, cosmological paradigms, forced migration to the New World during Scotland’s diaspora, and Indigenous displacement/settler expansion in Cape Breton combine to produce the cultural illness and the personal strife that possess — and dispossess — Moranna from without, and from within.

Self-Translation as Translating the Self!

Theories of Translation

Translation theory is my new obsession, in particular, the practice of self-translation. This is part of a long scholarly project I’ve been poking at for a couple of decades. I intended to do this for my Ph.D. dissertation, but that line of thinking was thwarted. Instead, I ended up working on something entirely different for my terminal degree.

Self-Translation

Self-translation theorizing applies to an article I am writing on the Irish Gaelic poet Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill. She always composes poetry in Irish and asks mostly famous male writers to translate her rough-draft “cribs” into English. Then, she publishes the original Irish poem alongside the polished English translation. This practice allows her to expand her audience. It also gives her the means to resist the oppressive silencing of her mother tongue and her “feminine” voice.

Irish Gaelic

A long time ago, I learned Irish Gaelic in order to be able to read her poetry in the original. Because she claims Irish as a “maternal” language that carries the “emotions and feelings,” it seemed especially relevant to immerse myself in that discourse, along with a lot of French Feminist Theorizing. Ní Dhomhnaill also talks about poetry as coming from a deep level of the psyche. As well, she links the writing process to a kind of metamorphosis “from that otherworld into this world.”

Interestingly, even though Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill claims she does not write poetry in “this world,” or in the colonizer’s tongue, there are published Irish-to-English self-translations floating around out there. Over the years, I filed these self-translated poems in a special place because they fascinate me.

Throughout, I’ve kept my eye on the scholarship about translation, hoping against hope an angle might materialize. Thankfully, recent concepts in self-translation theory provide fresh insights on the nature of creativity, voice and literature. For example, I discovered that Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill forms a particular subset of writers known as “ambilingual.” This term accounts for the fact that she writes essays in English and occasionally self-translates some poetry, choosing where and when to publish in both languages.

Edward Soja’s “Thirdspace”

I am very excited to have on my list of books, too, the intriguing Thirdspace by Edward Soja. Based on ideas about spatial theorizing, Thirdspace is a place from which cultural hybridity emerges. It is also described as an epistemological “trialectic” that goes beyond binary thinking, allowing one to speak about poems or texts as woven between cultures, bodies, histories, languages, selves. As applied to theories of self-translation, the trialectic of Thirdspace opens up texts to the tensions, overlaps and overflows of meanings coming and going from one version to the other. I think it will work very well with Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, especially those poems that take place in a parallel “time warp” world which I believe can translate into the “unimaginable universe” of Soja’s Thirdspace.

Time will tell. In the interim, I will sit in a sunbeam, and ponder.

The Great Blue Heron and The Editor

heron

If tent caterpillars were something of a leitmotif for the earliest blogs, this entry’s icon is the heron. This poetic bird is both above and below, both transcendent and inside the natural world. Obviously, there is everything to say about the wonder felt for the great blue heron.

History of the Heron

The word heron is old and of uncertain origin. It appeared in the English language around 1300 A.D. Some say it may have originated from the Latin aerius, meaning aerial, or from Old French’s hairon.  The species called the great blue heron — Ardea herodias — was originally described by Carl Linnaeus in his 18th century Systema Naturae.

This highly mobile bird is cosmopolitan (almost). Additionally, the heron exists on all continents except Antarctica, and it is present in most habitats except the coldest extreme of the Arctic, the high mountains, and the dry deserts.

heron
No one eats the heron.

Associated with water, but essentially a non-swimmer, the heron feeds on the margins of lakes, rivers, swamps, ponds and the sea. Earth-bound, the neck and beak kink into an S-shape, but upon lift off, with wings outspread, its legs and feet held backward, its long neck retracts.

Literary Affects

In Surfacing, Margaret Atwood calls a heron in flight a “bluegrey cross” http://margaretatwood.ca/books/surfacing/. Similarly, when the central character Yasmine in Dionne Brand’s “Ossuaries” crosses the Niagara River into Canada, her arrival is heralded by this quintessential image:

“Call it heron, great blue, long-legged migrating alone

North, it broke off, it took air,

Flew into an apostrophe,

Heading to the wet marsh of another lake.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hVsNnrEJxB0

I love how she makes the bird into a punctuation mark.

The Symbolic Heron

The image I chose for this page is not the heron in flight but the motionless bird mirrored in shallow water.  Calculating, probing, peering beyond the surface, this bird is a cryptic symbol of editors. We also take a wide field of view , do a lot of foot stirring, and move our heads from side to side to read the depths.

Therefore, the surface is my computer screen, a portal through which I communicate with you. The text is our mirror, both of us working on it from our two sides.

heron
The heron’s other doubled self–a shadowy mirror.

 

 

 

Punctuate (like) this!

punctuate

There is only one way to punctuate this!

Punctuate (like) this!

Neither commas! nor em dashes! can rein in my enthusiasm! The caterpillar has become a moth!

The psychic journey undertaken saw it completely pupated. In this torpid, passive state, the muscles went to jelly: they shimmered, they glowed. Searching within itself for a more authentic identity, the seamed body split at the core. It folded once, twice, then flapped about, rehearsing a new role. At long last, shedding the final traces of its old larval self, the flesh went iconic. More symbolic changes returned it back to muscle, flesh and core. Finally, the moth emerged from the magic closet, a flying cliché.

The Reupholstered Product

Editorial metamorphosis performs a similar kind of magic. Just as the wormy caterpillar symbolically ceases to exist even as it seems to give birth to its own wingéd self, so too a first draft can morph into descent copy. The cosmic oneness that occurs between writer and editor in the swaddled depths of cyberspace bring good writing into being. In the World Wide Web, the dualities of first draft/final copy, larvae/imago, writer/editor simply disappear. Then, as the perfectly formed adult insect bursts from its fibres, in a similar way, new concepts about copyediting and proofreading punctuate the online world.

Like a Moth to A Flame

punctuate
Fly, fly, towards love’s truest light!

Avoiding false porch lights, delusional street lamps, acting as both body and soul together, the moth soars through the stratosphere, seeking out a mate.

Surely we all know that insects have no need of speech; however, I wish I could lay their pheromone pillow talk on this page in little punctuated snippets.

 

(Would they whisper sweet everythings, grant certain permissions, make enquiries regarding certain acts or most favoured positions?)

 

punctuate
One tetchy moth.

The Last Chapter

Of course, the adult imago (plural: imagines) live life large, having a total lifespan of one human day and one human night. There are many comparisons to draw here, but quickly, quickly, I will make two links. Firstly, there is James Joyce’s Ulyssess. Secondly, Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway. Both modernist novels imagine what their caterpillars characters get up to over a 24-hour timeframe. For added enjoyment, Joyce even describes two moths flies mating.

punctuate
Oh la la!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mating over, the female — laden with eggs — will oviposit her frothy load in a preferential tree. After that, she’ll fly away, and die.

The End.

 

Editing, Pupating, Migrating

editing

Our little caterpillar will eventually become a moth and the outline or first draft will find its own ideal shape through editing. A good proofreader or copyeditor can be crucial at this stage, helping the emerging text find its wings, fly, fly…toward the light.

Editing

Last week, the tent caterpillars left the natal tree, crawled hither and thither, and now are trying to hang themselves  pupating in a protected area.  [P.S.: the strike through is intentional–obviously, this was the wrong choice of words! To find the right word “pupating” I needed to do some research. It’s also a technical term, so I’ve italicized it. This example of self-editing is similar to the way I use TRACK CHANGES to edit a document. The MARK UP is always done with red ink.]

In this cocoony other world, things take a supernatural turn.

editing
The cocoon’s total atomic weight must be somewhat less than a seedless grape.

Much of the strange awesomeness of this turns on the fact that I find metamorphosis fascinating. For haven’t we all had to tunnel down into our own dark parts? Don’t we all emerge slightly changed? I know I have. Ripped and torn, heart still beating, still trying desperately to fly, fly…up and away.

 

Fact Checking

Tent Caterpillars have been in Canada since the early 1600s. According to http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/timelines/100-great-events-in-canadian-history/  as Champlain was establishing a fortified trading post at Quebec in 1608, and Maisonneauve founding Ville-Marie, the future city of Montreal, in 1642, and the Huron Nation was being weakened by disease and cultural interference by the French, caterpillars were thriving.

Map of Canada

During part of my wild youth spent in Ontario’s Haliburtons, it was more common to see Eastern Tent Caterpillars worming their way across the dirt (and through my waking nightmares). They are the ones that build nests in forks, close to the main stem of the tree. I recall the candy cotton webs. I also recall the throbbing hairy larvae inside those webs. Something from the Alien movie all wrapped up in a gossamer package.

editing
Sigourney, I can relate.

Of course we all know by now the tree in my backyard has been invaded by Western Tent Caterpillars. They build smaller nests at the ends of twigs and leaves. But I ask you, why the Western in this slightly Eastern part of the world? Is this a new immigration? How odd. These caterpillars are not “foreign” exactly, but they’re also not indigenous to here. Maritimers would call them CMAs (“Come From Aways”). Such are the unsolvable mysteries of Canadian nationhood. We might think regionally in terms of culture, climate, history — but bugs? They hold no such “Mind-Forg’d Manacles” (to quote William Blake).

Patterns of Migration

On top of that, in Canada, we usually see influences (or in some cases, infestations) moving from East to West (then North). Not vice versa.

Whatever the case, outbreaks of Tent Caterpillars — whether from the forest, the west, or the east — are yucky. Apparently they happen every 10 years, and sometimes last up to 2 years. They stress out the trees, and gross out the neighbourhood.

Without getting too bogged down in specifics, they must make a good protein supply (if you can stomach them). I’ve heard some birds find them toxic, but if you are human editing editing editing

you might be happy to learn they do not transmit diseases to us, they do not bite us, and they are not poisonous to us. [P.P.S.: more intentional strike throughs because I’m self-editing again. Isn’t the reference to “us” somewhat redundant?]

Metamorphosis: Caterpillars & Editing

metamorphosis

The Metamorphosis

Who knew the metamorphosis was so near? Today was the last day for the larvae to chomp on ash leaves and bask in the early morning sun. In my backyard, where half-a-dozen tents are slung, the whole colony entwining each cousin-nest in the Lasiocampidae family tree, the brothers and the sisters are dropping from the branches.

For starters, they are social creatures. Since they’re born together (in one egg mass),

metamorphosis
larvae wriggling in the centre of the tent

they leave camp together (in one larvae mass).

 

 

Where the herd turned right, this one went left, eventually finding itself a tree length beyond reach.

metamorphosis
propelling itself at an engaging clip across the deck

 

 

 

 

 

 

Allow me to describe what that lone ‘pillar looked like! You can see from the picture that it sports long tufts of hair along its humped back. Closer now — are those really bilious brown streaks down the spine? Yesssum. Additionally, our dashing little bagworm has a blackish-yellowish check pattern edging the torso.

The Paradox

How UNLIKE the fabulous blue caterpillar in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865). In that surrealist story, after a girl named Alice falls through a rabbit hole into a scary world populated by peculiar anthropomorphic creatures, she meets up with this paradoxical creature. How self-contradictory! How illogical! Why its human face appears to be formed from the head and legs of a real caterpillar!

metamorphosis
Illustrated by John Tenniel.

 

Additionally, Alice’s caterpillar puffs from the hooka, screams at her, blows smoke in her face, ignores her. Later, after he turns into a butterfly, he flutters away, not caring if Alice makes it out of Wonderland dead or alive.

“Whoooo…are….you?”

 

Writing and the Rabbit Hole

The process of writing is like venturing into the rabbit hole with Alice, going from small to large, learning logic along the way. For Alice there’s the initial state of confusion — following this, a sort of inner paradoxical dialogue.

“What does it all mean?” you might also ask yourself.

When the self gets challenged it stays that way until the mysterious metamorphosis. Then — voila! The caterpillar transitions from a slow-moving ugly creature to a colourfully winged butterfly. And, the first draft is transformed into final copy. Also, Alice becomes open for persuasion.

The Helpful Editor

UNLIKE the blue caterpillar in Wonderland, I am a helpful editor. Rest assured, I’ll guide you out. How? By paying attention to the multiple meanings of words, in particular, the paradoxes. As a consequence, you will avoid the pitfalls in writing that frustrate expectations, that resist interpretation, that leave you in a rabbit hole.

Googling: Surface-Skimming vs. Depth Reading

googling

Finally, proofworking surfaced onto the www, so now onto the topic of speculative research drawn from googling the wiki-sites vs. depth reading with a scholarly search.

Googling and Wikipedia

I’ve nothing against googling Wikipedia — the pictures are great and the information well organized. However, the encyclopedic nature of a wiki-site makes for a dry read. When I do research, I want to be illumined and enriched and transformed forever — that’s why I turn to scholarly sources. I like the atmosphere of these texts. I appreciate the restrained objective tone, the well-balanced perspective, and the even-keeled analysis.

While I am mid-rave, let me add: if you don’t have access to online databases through a public or university library, use Google Scholar, the freely accessible web search engine that provides good depth reading.

Google Scholar

When I search Google Scholar, what I fetch to my screen opens me up to see the poetry of the ‘pillar who is, obviously, on a personal journey toward both its beginning and its end. (This as the setting sun spins bubbles of dew along the tent’s delicate gossamer strands.) On top of that, a quick Google Scholar search nets more information about the three species of tent caterpillars that call my region of Canada home. Without getting buried in sheaves of analysis, suffice it to say that the local taxonomy includes

the Forest Tent Caterpillar (Malacosoma disstria)

googling
hanging out on the trunk and looking like dna code

the Western Tent Caterpillar (Malacosoma californicum)

googling
living life large at the end of the branch

 

and the Eastern Tent Caterpillar (Malacosoma americanum)

googling
cotton candy, with squiggles

Obviously, my tree contains the Western tribe of Tent Caterpillars. And did you know that Western Tents prefer the sunny side the tree? Read all about it right here:  http://www.jstor.org/stable/3565313

Another ‘Point of View’

Currently, it’s early evening. The sun is almost down; the caterpillars are at rest. However, during the day when the sun shines hot across the land, they move through the tree like Olympic tightrope walkers, bending around behind themselves, tight-roping across silken crosshairs, eating above their weight level. Of course they leave great swaths of destruction and defoliation in their wake as they move from nest to feeding sites. But from their “point of view” it all makes sense! After chewing through the available leafage in their local zone, they have to find bigger supplies to meet their daily needs.

Additionally, birds have begun to perch on the tents and peck out the larvae. As the beaks slice through, do the bagworms cower in their webby lairs? While I am not that knowledgeable about birds either (surprise!?), with Delphic certainty I can say — it was small.

 

 

Indexing Code: Outlining, Formatting, PowerPointing

indexing

On the internet, web “bots” and web “spiders” constantly browse my site for the purpose of indexing or “scripting” it. Translation? The bots and spiders see and understand text placed within specialized headings and subheadings. indexingUsed to denote the importance of information, these so-called HTML headers — or “tags” — receive prime treatment by search engines looking for “hookwords” to associate with each webpage.

HTML — Indexing Code

HTML is geek speak for HyperText Markup Language. Because this code “marks up”  certain words, it functions like Track Changes and draws your attention to particular places on the page.

Obviously, bots and spiders like to read, and so do humans. That’s why outlining, formatting, PowerPointing and indexing are the primary methods used to write code, copy, articles or screenplays.

How is Outlining a Document like HTML Coding?

HTML code makes the “crawl-able” links for search engines; they in turn entice the spiders and bots to your website. Writing code is like scripting an essay’s outline. Level I, indexingthe main point, contains the thesis or the “hook” that lets everyone know what’s at stake. The next Levels are the smaller subpoints/subheads. Each performs like a paragraph in the document, separating itself from other block elements with a line of blank space.

How is Formatting a Document like HTML Coding?

To format the text on a webpage, you use a headline followed by subheadings. This breaks up the writing, improves the layout of the page, and lets the search engines know what’s relevant. Similarly, titles and subtitles make written documents easier to read, and understand. indexingUsually they are formatted with different font sizes or font aspects (i.e. uppercase, lowercase, bolded, underlined, etc.). Similarly, with HTML code, the h1 element makes the headline BIG and bold. To create smaller subtitles or levels of text, you can use the h2 or h3 etc. elements.

How are PowerPoint Bullet-Points like HTML Code?

When HTML tags define a line of text as a headline or a subheading, they also create hierarchies of importance. Writing good code helps to ensure the levels are correctly indexed and searchable. indexingBullet-point headings and subheadings on PowerPoint slides also tell the viewer what to look for. Additionally, they aid in organizing the screen by getting all the main and sub points across quickly and directly.

How is Manuscript Indexing like Writing Code?

To index keywords in a book or on a website, the coder/indexer finds the hookwords, slugs or taglines on each page. Both the HTML coder and the manuscript indexer list these terms properly, then format them in a certain order. However, the indexer has to add page numbers so readers can flip back for more information.indexing