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« Adria's Man | Main | ‘Tis the Season »

Flowers of the Rarest 

Risqué? At my age? And you forget that it was all sacred establishment for me at one time.

 When I was eight years old and still in Holland, I recall going with my mother to say goodbye to a favourite priest of hers, Pater Wherter. My mother had purchased a gold leaf breviary (where all the pages pressed together look like a gold bar) for him to use in Jakarta, where he had been commissioned to go, no doubt by the bishop. It was just a short walk from our house to his mother's place where we met in the front parlour. My mother and the grownups had a cup of coffee with one biscuit each. I remember the glass of syrupy orange limonade I was given, being just the child.

At age nine, a few weeks before boarding the Zuiderkruis (Southern Cross), the ship that would take us all to Halifax (Pier 21), I attended a big feast in honour of my cousin's ordination to the priesthood. His going away gift from our family was a silver aspersorium (a receptacle that holds holy water and is used by the priest to sprinkle and bless the people as he walks down the aisle during Mass. Now that’s ritual). A short time after, he went away to the missions in the Belgian Congo (Stanleyville) and returned when the massacres were just beginning. I was shocked at his snowy white hair, once so raven black. Today, after many years as superior of his religious order in Belgium, he is retired, nurses his arthritic knees and lives in a small Dutch village where he happily watches Lakenvelder cattle grazing around his cottage. 

My older sister left our family to enter the convent of Ursuline nuns. She was just thirteen. Being the second eldest of the four girls, I had to assume a new responsibility with her gone. My father kept saying she could have been a doctor or a lawyer

 Now you can see why things felt so cosy between Francis and me when I first laid eyes on him in my college residence. It was all too familiar territory. 

He had a twelve-string guitar and a set of hefty muscles. He would come to celebrate Mass in the parlour each Sunday (parlours seem to abound in my life) in that intimate setting, for a handful of students and a few flashy nuns who no longer wore habits. They had shed those for some time in favour of wearing street clothes. He was also Dutch, came from Nuenen (Van Gogh's territory) just a few kilometres from Tilburg where I had lived. We could well have been in those same May processions that honoured the Virgin Mary. I loved tossing handfuls of pastel rose petals from my little basket onto the cobble-stoned streets. In Canada, it was the Marian Day processions in Hamilton at Copp's Stadium (yes, named after Sheila Copps' father) and all those Loretto girls with their blue beanies on their heads (why were they called beanies?) singing ... bring flowers of the fairest, bring flowers of the rarest, from garden and woodland and hillside and vale ... ahh ... ritual. It swept me up.

I'll dollop out my tidbits to you in instalments, nice and slow ... of course I'll use it for the memoir class. The love of my life? you ask. Well, the whole thing was probably just pure ... Oh, there goes the bell … sorry, have to go to my student ... lost all track of time!

Hasta la vista,



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