August 1, 2013

Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow

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I picked up a copy of Ron Chernow's biography of George Washington a few days ago at Chapters at the Kanata Centrum - a hardback copy for 10 bucks! I was attracted to the book not so much by the price as by the author & subject. A few years ago I read Chernow's biography of John D. Rockefeller - Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. - thoroughly engrossing & a great complement to a visit to Kykiut, the Rockefeller estate & mansion in the Hudson River Valley. A dauntingly thick book, greatly redeemed by an easy and descriptive writing style.

Well, so far Washington is living up to my expectations - at 904 pages it is a bit difficult to pick up, but it is even harder to put down. I've read David McCullough's excellent biography of John Adams, so this is my second extended visit to the years surrounding the founding of our great southern neighbour.

One similarity I've noticed between the lives of John D. Rockefeller and George Washington - the most formative influence in their early lives was a strong-willed mother. It must be a coincidence, eh?

April 16, 2013

Mary Nesbitt

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March 25, 2013

A Life Lived - Mary Nesbitt (1919-2013)

Mary Laila Hoyt was born on March 23, 1919 on a farm at Green Road in New Brunswick, the second of four children of Gordon and Susie Hoyt. She had an older brother Ray, and two younger brothers, Clint and Robert. You won’t find Green Road on a map today, but it was near Debec, which is still around. The Hoyt farm was on the New Brunswick-Maine border. Mary’s family was accustomed to shopping in Houlton, Maine. They would drop off their purchases at their neighbour’s farm in Maine, walking across the fields in the evening when they got home to retrieve them. In later years, Mary recalled breaking the ice in the wash basin on cold winter mornings, heating the iron on the top of a wood stove and consuming lots of pure cream from the cows on the farm. She attended Normal School in Fredericton and started her teaching career in 1938, at the age of 19. She taught in Fredericton, Irish Settlement, Bull's Creek and Woodstock. Two of her students in the one-room schoolhouse at Irish Settlement were Clint and Robert.

Ray was the first to leave home. He moved to Ottawa in September 1939, and enlisted in the armed forces. A Pilot Officer in the R.C.A F., Ray was a casualty of World War II. His plane failed to return from a mission in Europe in January 1943.

Mary was next to leave New Brunswick, in May 1941. As a teacher in New Brunswick at the time, she was making $60/month. She wrote the Civil Service exam and got a job in the Auditor General’s office in Ottawa that paid $90/month. In Ottawa she met Bert Nesbitt, a young man from Richmond with a similar background. Mary and Bert were married at Green Road in September 1942. They moved to Smiths Falls in February 1943. Bert worked as an auditor with the Unemployment Insurance Commission. Mary worked in a bank for a few years, then started a family.

Clint left New Brunswick and moved to Smiths Falls in 1947. He spent most of his working life with Cockshutt, locally and in Brampton and Brantford.

In 1948, Mary’s parents and her youngest brother Robert also relocated to Smiths Falls. Gordon worked at Frost & Wood, then as a carpenter. Robert worked for the C.P.R. before relocating with the railroad to Toronto. Gordon died in January 1979, Susie in February 1984 and Clint in March 2011.

Mary and Bert had two daughters – Susan and Elizabeth, who both eventually graduated from Queen's University. Bert died of a heart attack in April 1964 at the young age of 48. Mary returned to teaching to support her young family. She taught at the Rideau Regional Centre, working with deaf, blind and delayed children until her retirement in 1984. She maintained an independent and active lifestyle for many years, only slightly slowed by two knee and two hip replacements. She was very active in the Westminster Presbyterian Church and was one of its first female elders. In 1999, she built a two-bedroom apartment, a “granny suite”, on her daughter Elizabeth’s home, two miles outside Smiths Falls. At an early stage of the discussions, she checked with her son-in-law to make sure it was OK with him.

She was much-loved by Susan and Elizabeth and by all her family, including grandchildren Mark (Karan) and Scott Naples and Kelly, Stephen (Kate), Meredith (Adam) and Bradley Phillips, great-grandchildren Benon and Aran Naples, and Emma, Aoife and Liam Condron and Claudia Phillips, sons-in-law Ron Naples and Doug Phillips, and by her young friend, Olivia Martin.

On Wednesday March 20, Mary baked some lemon-drop cookies and mentioned that she was feeling tired. During the night she suffered a profound stroke. She died on April 1, nine days after her birthday. In addition to Susan and Elizabeth and those already mentioned, Mary is survived by her brother Robert, sisters-in-law Norma Hoyt and Hilda Hoyt, nieces Martha Jane Hoyt and Lorna Stevenson, and grand-nieces Laura and Joanna Stevenson.

She lived an exemplary life.

She was 94 years old.

She was my mother-in-law.

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January 3, 2013

Three sisters

My father and his twin sister were many years younger than their older siblings. Their oldest sister married John Hines, a barber in Brockville. They had 4 children, a son, who died about 50 years ago, and 3 daughters - Eva, Doris and Ruby. Eva & Doris married and remained in Brockville, while Ruby spent her married life in Pembroke. Whenever they were together, there was a lot of laughter. They were a lot of fun to be around. I liked them a lot.

Ruby died first, about 15 years ago. I made sure that Eva & Doris were at our older daughter Kelly's wedding in 2006. Eva was quite frail and Doris wasn't sure where she was - but I'm glad they made it. Eva died three years ago; Doris on December 30, 2012. A bit of my family now survives only in memories and photographs - soon it will only be photos.

Below is a photo from 1991 of exactly how I remember my cousins - Eva Fowler, Doris McCaw/Parkin and Ruby Fisher.

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October 12, 2012

The Citadel in Corte

If you look at Corsica on a map and stick a pin in the exact centre, chances are you've located Corte. A vibrant university town, Corte owes its importance to history, in particular Pascale Paoli, an 18th century product of the Enlightenment and a Corsican patriot. If you didn't know Corte was there on your drive through the middle of Corsica, you would be amazed when you arrived.

And one of the "musts" in Corte is a walk up to the Belvedere and take a photo of the Citadel. Kinda worth the effort, though. An image I won't forget.

I commented in an earlier post about some frustrations with Granite Island by Dorothy Carrington. I would apologize to Dorothy, except she died in 2002. Her book has enriched my time on Corsica immensely. I much prefer reading her account, published in 1966, to modern guide books - actually, at least some of them quote Dorothy a lot.

Today we backtracked a bit from Cargese toward Ajaccio and followed the N193 through the middle of Corsica, returning to Bastia. That's the reverse of the 2nd stage of the 2013 Tour de France which starts in Bastia and ends in Ajaccio.

Tomorrow morning we're on the ferry back to Nice.

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About Me

I am a retired teacher living on an acre of land in a century-old brick farmhouse in rural Eastern Ontario about 40 miles from Ottawa. I have four adult children, one wife, a son-in-law, two Irish step-grandchildren, way too many books and a large vegetable garden. Read more

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