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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.

Solar Bliss

Solar Bliss

 

                        Long ago the moon was unreachable

                        and made of green cheese, and the Milky Way

                        that band of countless stars — unbreachable —

                        stretched across the sky from midnight ’til day.

                        An old hymn also said time’s an ever-

                        rolling stream that took all our dreams away.

                        Or was time a looping track that never

                        ended, so you pressed forward and replay?

                        Before they dethroned Earth from the centre,

                        made the Big Bang theory the mystery,

                        I held love in esteem, on an altar,

                        my sought after, compelling, real story.

                                    Like the sun you came to brighten my life

                                    with lovelight, sweet’ning bitterness and strife.

 

 

                                                                                               

                                                                                               

Entangled Orbits II

Entangled Orbits II

 

                        Our physical selves contain particles

                        of matter which are points of frozen light;

                        our bodies have an energy, a might,

                        by all accounts we are electrical.

                        Every particle’s a free radical

                        meaning, it remains unaltered despite

                        the frequent resonations that excite

                        its electrons into being fickle.

                                    My love for you will influence your state,

                                    (for it put me in a spin, made me sway).

                                    Although we may not move at the same rate,

                                    or seem visibly connected — at play —

                                    even at great distances we’ll vibrate

                                    passionately, and heat the Milky Way.

 

 

                                                                                       

Dreaming Lucid Space

Dreaming Lucid Space

 

                        Of two minds, not quite certain where to go,

                        trying to intuit you, like a dream,

                        I let the world go blank — became a screen —

                        and ended up just going with the flow.

                        Then you appeared, shattered reality:

                        no imaginary scenario!

                        Still, you managed to throw into limbo

                        the symbolic co-ordinates of me.

                                    The very fact of you disturbs all space;

                                    I will not roll straight across to your side.

                                    So, without shifting too far out of place,

                                    I find ways to foresee, but not collide.

                                    By predicting your spin, your speed, your pace,

                                    I can drift with your flow, orbit your tide.

 

 

                                    

 

Celestial Dreaming

Celestial Dreaming

 

                        Bodies vibrate at a slow frequency

                        letting a network of energy flow.

                        Each pathway is levelled from high to low

                        giving the life-spirit a tendency

                        to ripple down from the ascendancy.

                        Along special nodal points — head to toe —

                        a circle of rainbow light will halo

                        our beings in celestial valency.

                                    In a world connected through vibrations

                                    our physical shells are not what they seem.

                                    The soul’s wave-like particles’ gyrations

                                    drift upwards to join with etheric streams.

                                    As I roam around the cosmic nation,

                                    I can jack into the life of our dreams.

 

 

                                                                                 

 

 

 

Interspace

Interspace

 

                        The earth is not flat, it is spherical;

                        we are always great distances apart.

                        Our borders are drawn, I’m hysterical

                        that we are constantly guarding your heart.

                        In spacetime, my body veers toward yours

                        twisting the paths of others in the way.

                        I do my best to move fast, in straight curves,

                        but try as I might, things block the foray.

                        Because the cosmos isn’t full of ether

                        but of matter, and matter warps and bends,

                        our bodies can fall into line together

                        and bring this disparate quest to an end.

                                    What measure of brute force is required

                                    to pull you from yourself, into desire?

 

 

                                                                                            

                       

 

Entangled Orbits I

Entangled Orbits I

 

                        Unlike that pair of spiral galaxies

                        spinning off in opposite directions,

                        we have aligned to common gravities

                        by making our love the predilection,

                        and steering away from misconceptions.

                        Let’s acknowledge that dear, and let’s express

                        good will, fond feelings, tenderness, affection,

                        for you can’t elude me; we are enmeshed,

                        our inner pull will not be extinguished.

                        Just bend your orbit, adjust your wobble,

                        aim at a centred “me,” and replenish.

                        Then, roses will unbud in the bobbles

                                    of your eyes. If only you’d look at me

                                    in just that same way again. So we’d be.