Saturday, July 14, 2012

Remembering Aunt Shirley

Dear Terry, Monica, Shirley-Anne, Michael, Mary and Robert, 

The Bible tells us this:

“A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever.” (Ecclesiastes 1:4)

We have lived long enough to see our grandparents and their generation depart from us and we have lived long enough to see our children born and their generation that follows us. The years of our youth have quickly fled and we are now well into middle age. Our parents too have seen many years pass and they have finally become the elderly seniors that our grandparents once were. Perhaps many times we have been too busy to notice that the passing of time is relentless, mistakenly believing that there is always a tomorrow. 

Left to right: Shirley Carney, Terry Carney held by George Macdonald, Helen Macdonald and Carol Macdonald. This scene was recorded in Montreal's Cote des Neiges area in summer 1953
Since first learning about your mother’s (my Aunt Shirley) illness, and then hearing about her departure from us, I have been reflecting and recalling events from the past. While growing up, Aunt Shirley was a name we heard often but someone we never saw. In our family, Vancouver was always spoken about as a distant far away place, probably because it is. Your Mom came east to visit in summer 1967 and that was the first time I was finally able to meet Aunt Shirley.

First impressions: Aunt Shirley was thinner than Mom (your Aunt Carol), older than Mom, and she smoked, but not the same brand of cigarettes as Dad. Of course one of the first things my Mom did was cram us all into the car, including Aunt Shirley, and head east to Milan to visit their parents. On Sunday, we all went to church as we always did, but your Mom went to the Catholic Church. Now that was an eye-opener for me! Until then, I thought only French people in small-town Milan went to the Catholic Church.

I didn't really get to know Aunt Shirley until 1973 when I moved to Vancouver. I also got to know, Uncle Barney and the entire Carney family. Those three years with your family were wonderful years that I would never trade away. Saturday evenings at the Carney home were always eventful. On Saturdays, your Mom always cooked hamburgers, and one never knew who would show up and what would be going on.

Aunt Shirley had a great sense of humour and she would laugh along with the rest of us, but your Mom had little tolerance for pretentiousness. She would speak her mind, say what she wanted to say when she wanted to say it, and then leave the subject alone. I admire her for that. This was one aspect about your Mom that was very different from Aunt Carol.

Your Mom also knew how to drop everything and just have fun (Her mother - Grandma - was the same.) New Year’s Day 1975, we started playing cards in the afternoon. Your Mom joined in and without a break we were still going strong after 3:00 a.m. January 2nd

In April 1980 when Kie arrived, the Carney home was the first home in Canada that Kie visited. I have always been grateful that we had those few days in Vancouver to visit your Mom so she could meet Kie.

Aunt Shirley and Aunt Carol are sisters almost ten years apart. In many ways they were so different from each other, yet in many ways they were so alike in their thinking and in their beliefs. I could always see Grandma and Grandpa in both Aunt Shirley and Aunt Carol, at times in what they said, at other times in what they did, and mostly in how they have lived and in the values they have passed on to us.

Kie and I visited Mom last weekend. When we first arrived, she didn't remember who we were although she did seem to recognize us as people she should know. The next day, Mom was able to call us by name. Anyway, we haven’t told Aunt Carol about your Mom’s passing; I don’t know if we can or if we should.

This evening Kie told me that your Mom will be buried and that eventually your father will be buried beside her. I’m glad to hear about this arrangement. I know your Mom and Dad had their problems, but when looking back at those three years in Vancouver, I can laugh about many events and say only good things about your parents.

Life is a mystery. Events and changes we don't want come and intrude into our lives anyway. We may know and understand this hard reality about life, but we don't want or accept the pain and sorrow nonetheless.

Kie and I thought about going to Vancouver for Aunt Shirley’s funeral, but the air fares are quite a bit higher than we expected. Instead, we are sending this to help you with some of the unexpected expenses you may have. For some reason I cannot explain, I think your Mom would agree.

The Oddblock Station Agent
April 13 2009

Addendum June 2013

The passing of time is relentless. Many of those who lived these events firsthand are no longer here to provide us with intimate details the following captured scenes cannot reveal.

Milan, Quebec. Date unknown but prior to 1934 and before Carol was born. Left to right: George Macdonald, daughter Shirley Macadonald and Helen Macdonald. This photo was taken before they moved into the house next door which is visible in the background on the far left and where the 1953 Milan photo was taken.

From the back of the photo: Shirley at Eastend, Saskatchewan on July 8, 1947.

Summer 1953 in Milan, Quebec. 4 generations left to right: Shirley Carney, Helen Macdonald; May Piper-Gerrard holding great-grandson Terry Carney. This was Aunt Shirley's first visit back east to attend younger sister Carol's wedding on June 20, 1953. Aunt Shirley would not visit east again until 1967. This scene was recorded in front of our grandparents' home. That bottle of milk on the verandah meant it was late afternoon and Grandpa was about to make his milk deliveries through town.

December 26, 1956: Shirley Carney (Macdonald) holding daughter Shirley Anne. Below is what was written on the back of the photo.
Note written on the back of the above photo

August 1964 - probably Terry's 12th birthday celebration. Left to right: Shirley Ann, ???. Monica, Mary, Terry, Michael and Robert. (Someone will have to let me know who number 7 is on the front left - looks like Alan)

Left to right: Shirley and Carol. Date not recorded but probably summer 1989 when Aunt Shirley made her last visit back east.

No details recorded but location most likely Halfmoon Bay, BC. Left to right: Kathryn Warn and Shirley Carney.

Addendum July 06 2015, from Robert

Addendum April 12, 2018,

Following is another image of Aunt Shirley that I recently discovered in Mom's stuff.

Written on back: Oct 1990. Shirley in new condo.

The following undated photo found among Mom's things was taken in October 1990.

Other notes reveal the location as the Quesnel River in the Williams Lake, BC., area. This scene was most likely recorded by Uncle Barney because they went to visit him.

Aunt Shirley with Mom and Dad.

Friday, July 13, 2012

No Time to Rest

Mile 55.25

Last evening after dinner I visited the station for a few minutes to apply another coat of polyurethane on a few wooden items that are being finished. Afterward, I sat outside in the backyard under the trees as I often do on warm summer evenings. For about half an hour I was idle, and while I did enjoy those moments of rest, a constant nagging gnawed at me that I should get up and do something else.

“Ridiculous!” I thought. “Do I live in such a busy and hurried world that I must always do one more useless thing instead of simply relaxing and resting for a few minutes?”

How many e-mails do we really want to read? How much information do we really need to process? How many more screen changes do we really want to see and read through?  I hate rodents…yet I am enslaved to the mouse nonetheless. Something is wrong with this picture, and this too is the problem…this wrong picture is another image on a screen.

We go to work earlier and come home later and feel as if nothing has been accomplished. That may well be true because we foolishly drive ourselves through meaningless toil in unrewarding jobs that ceaselessly demands most of our life in doing unproductive tasks which have no end in purpose.

Our world has gone crazy! Today is a maddening race! We continuously rush and hurry for the unimportant and do not know how or when to slow down and stop for the truly important. Worse yet, we are becoming unable to distinguish between the two.

I have struggled with these same naggings on Sundays, feeling as if rest on the Sabbath is wrong and that I should be doing something more productive to keep busy. The Bible clearly tells me I am wrong and that my thinking has become warped.

“Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. Six days you shall labour, and do all your work; but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work.” 
(Exodus 20:8-9)

So far as I know, the God of Israel has not repealed the Fourth Commandment.

Also I wonder, “Could the prophet Daniel have foreseen life today when he saw the vision that made him so ill?”

“And I, Daniel, was overcome and lay sick for some days; then I rose and went about the king’s business; but I was appalled by the vision and did not understand it.” (Daniel 8:27)

“But you, Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book, until the time of the end. Many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase.” (Daniel 12: 4)

Today, more than ever before, people are rushing about to and fro and knowledge is increasing.

Are you certain you know where you are going? If so, do you really want to go there?

This is life in the 21st century and I just do not know what to make of it.

The Oddblock Station Agent
August 12, 2009

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Gisla Cemetery, Milan, Quebec

God, where is the victory over death? All I can see are gravestones worn by time that represent monuments to unquelled griefs. At this time I cannot see the victory.

One stone records the loss of a young child who died just a few days before her fifth birthday. Another serves as a constant reminder about a beloved wife who died at 26 years of age. And what is the story about the man who drowned at 36 years? His granite legacy says nothing except the date and cause; a tragedy so long ago that those who knew him or knew about him are gone too.

This particular black stone marks the place of much loved grandparents who died and shall never be known by their great-grandchildren. What was the meaning and purpose to all the years of their lives? All I can see here is only a recorded permanent parking place. God, again I ask you, where is the victory over death that we yearn for?

Lord, I have looked at every stone in this place. Who is going to remember these people? Most I never even knew to be able to remember. When my time to die comes, who shall be present to remember me? And having asked this question, why should I be remembered? When no one remains who can remember, then no one remains who must grieve and suffer this hated sorrow of separation and irretrievable loss.

Today Gisla Cemetery is quiet, as it always is. To misunderstand the meaning of rest in peace is difficult here. Yet in spite of the silence I can still hear noise. The wind is blowing through the trees; one thing the passing years have not managed to change. Restless leaves still sound the same today as when I was a child.

Changes over time and time that has gone. I now sense that I have passed the half-way point in life and I have accomplished nothing. This far into the journey and I do not even know what I should be doing with my life. No mission statement to recite and no goal that I can define. My fear is that next there shall be no dream. And what is life without a dream? Is that the same as life with no hope? I do not know, but my life does seem like travel though an unknown place without a compass and without a destination.

Lord, in the past I felt that I could talk to you about what I was thinking. Then slowly day to day problems seemed to get in the way and take up too much time. Now, there is little or no talk but the reason is not because I am listening more. Lord, You seem so distant, but I know it is I who drew away. Saying what is on my mind is not easy for me. Too often I cannot even say why my spirit is agitated because I just do not know why. Within, I feel as if a part of me is dying, just like a tree that rots away in the center. When a storm comes, the tree will eventually break because the strength will have gone, and the decay will be visible to all who can see. Lord, at times I wonder when I too shall break.

God, as I sit here in this wilderness clearing, remembering some of these people of the past, I wonder where You are in all of this. Is this period of life supposed to be a spiritual darkness and loneliness that Your people are destined to pass through alone? If so, then I hope You will see me safely through to the other end.

Your changes intruded into my life and I was not ready for them. Truthfully, I did not want my life turned upside down with change. I am powerless to undo what You have changed. Does this day herald my surrender? Am I to relinquish the past and move on? Life will continue and continue to change. I know this but dread it nonetheless. God, I ask that you grant me the strength and courage to accept the changes that I know are still to come.

Where is the victory over death?

God, today I cannot answer this question.

If life is a constant process of change, then surely death is victory over change. If, as Your word says, death is not final, then death can only be one more step in the process of change.



What other answer can there be?

At Gisla Cemetery, July 23, 1992 
The Oddblock Station Agent

Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Key to another Door

Most of our family’s history has been irretrievably lost. The reason is perhaps nothing more than this one particular aspect of life that is meant to be. True, some stories should never be revealed but others shall only remain for us as distant vague mysteries that we may recall once having heard or overheard about decades earlier.

Those unique stories about our family members of earlier generations have been taken to the grave by those who are no longer with us; personal stories about their lives, tales of past events that shaped their character, timeless lessons about what they believed in and insight into how they lived that can longer be shared with those of us who are following. 

The Bible correctly reminds us, 

“There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of later things yet to happen among those who come after.”
Ecclesiastes 1:11

These words from the Bible are so very true. I only have to look through the boxes of old photographs in my father’s home, many taken years before 1924, (the year my father was born) to be confronted by this Biblical truth. Who were those people in some of the photographs? All who knew them are gone. What were they doing when those moments from their lives were recorded? No one is left to remember. What stories could they share with us if they were here to tell us? Only God knows now.

In looking back over the decades of time that I have been granted to live though, the 1970’s were by far the most difficult years. Nonetheless, the 1970’s were also the most formative years; a preparation leading up to January 1980, when my life completely changed. A few of the chapters that have been recorded come from some of those events in the 1970’s. Where necessary, names, events and locations have been changed.

When I and my generation are gone, no one shall remain to remember. If there is one thought to pass on, then it is this; learn how to discern the difference between giving up too easily too soon and the futility of fighting against the will of God.

If you wish to read more, then this is the key to that doorway: 

Monday, April 30, 2012

A Gap Too Wide

 Mile 46.75

Are walls easier to build up or easier to tear down?

Do we Christians too often do the things we do out of a sense of duty and obligation rather than acting out of a genuine desire to follow the teachings of Jesus?

Only God can know the inner depths of a person’s heart and see true motives.

At the workplace I have been unable to resolve some of my personal conflicts with people in the office, with one individual in particular, and therefore I deeply and searchingly question whether or not I should be commissioned and sent out to speak to complete strangers about God and Jesus. I feel like a hypocrite because I know in my heart that I am a hypocrite. My written words on this page admit my short-coming, but in the work place, the inconsistent actions in my life that are conflicting with my professed beliefs are shouting out the word hypocrite much louder and far clearer than this page.

In the office I have reached an impossible to solve situation, an impasse that can only be solved by God’s intervention. At work there is one individual I cannot speak to. I truly do not know what circumstances led to this present situation but the problem has continued for too long now, perhaps several years, so that any solution may truly be impossible. Day after day we go about the office, do our work and all the while we pretend the other is not there, as if the other does not even exist. I have become very adept at playing this game, which is much to my shame. I recognize that being a failure as a person is not a game, the failure is a tragedy. I confess that knowingly being a failure as a Christian is far worse because this failure is a grievous transgression.

During the last three months I have prayed about this situation at work and nothing has changed. I have asked God to change me but I have not changed. I have pleaded with God to change my heart but my actions have not changed. Nothing has changed within me and nothing has changed at work.

Today, who or what has caused this wall of dislike is irrelevant because the problem now, and it is my problem, is that I am unable to swallow my pride, humble myself and make any attempt to cross or dismantle the barriers. Maybe a resolution will never be achieved and I shall be left with the persistent guilt of failure, the failure to do what is right.

Sunday, February 18, 2001
The Oddblock Station Agent

Teach Us to Number Our Days

Mile Board 52.60

Looking at old black and white photos from the past awakens and stirs up long buried memories. I do not always wish to visit and reopen these cobwebbed corners in my history of days lived, but mixed emotions drag me there nonetheless. 

Decades have passed since scenes of events from long ago were recorded. Anyway, when those memories of years ago surface, I am compelled to wade through a mire of faded recollections of places I can never return to, people I shall never see again, and events that I am unable to live through once more. 

As I yearn for some of those precious moments that are lost in the years gone, I try to sort out what I truly miss most. In the end I believe I miss the whole because the individual parts do not really stand alone. 

The passing of time is relentless and change never stops. No route back exists and second chances are utterly impossible. Today is all that I have left because tomorrow is only an assumption

The Bible reminds me, “The years of our life are threescore and ten, or even by reason of strength, fourscore; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone and we fly away. Who considers the power of thy anger, and thy wrath according to the fear of thee? So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:10-12) 

Lord, teach me to number my days that I too may get a heart of wisdom.

The Oddblock Station Agent
July 28, 2010

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Who is the Blind Man?

Mile Board 42.70

A new year just began and already this first month has reached the midpoint. When winter seasons appear to pass more quickly, I am forced to face stark reality, that I am becoming older and that I may now be nearer to the end of my life than the beginning.

In these last few weeks I have struggled to find some sense of purpose in life thus far, but all that remains is only another question. “Does it matter if life does not have a perceptible sense of purpose?”

I do not have an answer because I have never considered this possibility before. Therefore another question surfaces, “Why does existence itself demand that life have a specific sense of purpose or meaning that is relevant only to one’s own perspective?”

Of all the people mentioned in the Bible, Jesus told us that the blind man’s purpose was to be given sight by Jesus to fulfill the scripture. When one considers the years of the man’s life in blindness and misery, his purpose up to that moment was simply for his encounter with Jesus. The few minutes the blind man spent with Jesus were limited, yet those few moments were the true purpose for the blind man’s being. 

Do the blind man’s years of blindness seem fair or unfair? 

Does the blind man’s purpose in life seem great or small?

I can ask these questions and debate possible answers, but who am I to question God’s sovereignty and God’s purposes? 

Job already asked the deepest and most soul-searching questions relative to his circumstances and knowledge, but God answered by asking, “Who are you to question my ways?”

No, life does not always seem fair from the limited perspective of human understanding. Nonetheless, knowing, understanding and accepting this reality about life does not keep me from running to the front of the line when complaining about life and demanding explanations.

What then is truly the God-intended purpose for my life?

Most assuredly for me, and probably for most of us, the raison d’etre will be something considerably less than having been born blind and then personally given sight by Jesus.

We can speculate and guess by looking backward to see where we have come from and recall the route we have chosen and then try to make sense out of the journey, but in fact, we may never know what our God-intended purpose in life is.

Nonetheless, I have a direction in which to face and a person I can look toward. He is the same Jesus who gave sight to the blind man.

January 15, 1997
The Oddblock Station Agent

Friday, February 24, 2012

Which Way from Here?

Mile Post 41.70 

If you think these signs are confusing, then...

Mid life, I think, begins when we spend more of our time looking back over the years to see where we have come from as a point of reference to try and define who we think we are, and spend less of our time looking forward to what may lay ahead in an attempt to envision who we hope we may yet become.

If not, then I am just as confused about life today as I was yesterday, and this observation in itself may also be true about tomorrow.

January 27, 1996
The Oddblock Station Agent

You cannot go back and change what has already been

Mile Post 42.76

In today’s edition of the Globe & Mail’s Report on Business, I saw a name and a face that I recognized from the past. He was someone I once knew from my elementary school days and someone who once lived at the top of the hill on Versailles Street in Pierrefonds. Anyway, that person went on to great success in the business world. The notice in the newspaper was announcing his appointment to a senior position in a well-known large Canadian conglomerate.

Although I did not know him well, we were in cub-scouts together. I do remember him as an intensely competitive person with an abnormal desire to win. One late spring evening in the mid 1960’s, our cub pack traveled from Herbert Purcell School to the Riviere des Prairies through the woods. What struck me as odd was that most of my peers were not very comfortable in the woods and meadows whereas I felt at home. Nonetheless, at the end of our session we had to return to Herbert Purcell School and our cub-pack leaders made our return trip into a race. I took an early lead by leaving the trails and cutting through gaps I knew about in the brush and thistles.

One person was following me and refused to relent in his pursuit but I had managed to lose him by making my way through a barrier of hawthorn bushes. I was not the fastest runner, but I had gained enough of a lead to win the race even as the pounding of his footsteps behind were catching up again. He refused to accept that he had lost the race to me and he kept trying to have the goal line changed to his advantage.

I cannot say that I feel any sense of jealousy for his success because I still won that meaningless race many years ago. Today though, when I look at my life in comparison, I do feel an almost overwhelming sense of inadequacy and maybe even a sense of failure. My life has been a waste so far as accomplishment in the secular world, but that was deliberate by my own choices. Far worse though, my life has been a failure so far as God’s work is concerned because I have not done anything useful, meaningful or beneficial for my neighbour.

Only now, this late into my life, am I beginning to realize the consequences of some of the decisions made in my earlier years. Decisions made in those early years of life are not trivial or inconsequential. The lifetime consequences are crucial and we cannot go back and correct the mistakes of poor decisions. Oh yes, we can certainly try, but to do so is futile and too late.

I can go the grave satisfied, knowing that I shall never be successful in the secular definitions of the word success, and this I can accept. However, I shall go to the grave with an overwhelming sense of failure because I was too often a coward to stand up for my beliefs when it was time to stand and I was too timid to try harder to strive for some of my goals and deepest aspirations when confronted by daunting challenges.

The consequences of decisions made from fear are tragic and the result is a life spent in a grievous waste of God’s gift of time. 

Learn to know which races in life are important to win because the establishment world is not one of them.

February 19, 1997
The Oddblock Station Agent 

Tempus Fugit

Mile Post 52.54 

Again I feel within me an urgent need to write in order to try and express my thoughts and feelings. Writing compels me to coalesce and condense a confusion of thoughts into expressions, forcing me to focus and carefully choose which words to record here, yet adequate words elude me.

These longings and feelings within me foment and I want to cry out in anguish. My entire being groans to cry out to the Lord to be heard and instead I silently suffer in this silent turmoil. My feelings are inexplicable because my life is presently free of any major problems. Nevertheless, my emotions are severely agitated and I am fighting against an inexplicable despair.

At times I wonder whether or not I a suffering from some type of an undiagnosed mental illness. At other times I wonder if I am struggling against the will of God. If so, then what complexities in my life am I struggling with and what really is the will of God?

I believe my present struggle is choosing between satisfying some of my unfulfilled desires and doing what is expected of me. Passing years do provide a deeper insight into the value of time, but becoming older has only awakened a profound sorrow in truly understanding the finite nature of my remaining lifetime.

What is expected of me? 

As more unsolicited demands are asked of my time and undesired and unwanted responsibilities are demanding my time, my spirit becomes increasingly belligerent and hostile against those intrusions into my life that require my time.

What value do we truly place on our time? 

Our waking hours and working lives constantly prove what price we are willing to sell our time for, but can we ever say that we have received value in exchange for the time we have sold?

I do not know the answers to these questions, but as I become older, the ability to answer yes is becoming less probable.

Thursday, October 19, 2006
The Oddblock Station Agent

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Stones Get Softer Every Day

In summer 1963 Ted and I were sent off to Milan, Quebec, to spend a good part of our summer vacation alone with our maternal grandparents. During our memorable visit, Ted and I decided that we would try to go barefoot entirely and live our days as country people. What we did not realize then was that Milan was not in the rural countryside, it was in the wilderness.

Anyway, living barefoot worked well as long as there was nothing to do and nowhere to go. If there was somewhere we had to go, usually there was grass to walk on...but not always. When we were sent on errands to McLeod’s store or the post office we discovered that crossing the railway track to reach our destination was torture. 

When the time came that we finally had to go into the barn, Ted and I then altered our unwritten rules to permit the wearing of shoes. After all, knowing well what cattle could leave behind from their behinds, who wanted to walk barefoot in the barn? 

A few days later, and perhaps a smidgen wiser, we gave up our attempt to live life in the barefoot lane. Not only were the bottoms of our feet stained dirt-brown and almost impossible to wash clean, the stones, no matter how round or smooth they may have been, were unmitigated pain to step on unexpectedly.

When we finally asked one of the locals who lived barefoot all the time how it was possible, the answer given was, “You get used to it. The stones get softer every day.”

Do the stones get softer every day?


I do not believe this for a minute, because to this day, my feet have yet to find the hard way a soft stone.

 March 1992
The Oddblock Station Agent

Title Page

The Stones Get Softer…
Every Day

“A fool takes no pleasure in understanding,
but only in expressing his opinion”

Proverbs 18:2