10 May 2008

Here and There

I rented a car today, and I went to pick up mother and give her an early Mother's Day treat. (Tomorrow Puff & the kids and I are going to her mother's.) I started by taking her to Christ the King Cathedral in Hamilton for Mass. It is really a lovely place, and I've put it on my list of favourite churches. It has a little interesting past. It was nearly destroyed in a fire some years ago, but the damage has been repaired. The stained glass windows are beautiful. The light from the setting sun hit the windows perfectly and they sparkled like jewels.

It's a Gothic structure, nicely built. It's hard to believe the place is only now celebrating its 75th anniversary. It is such an imposing edifice it appears as though it has always been there, as if the settlers hacking out the forest found a Cathedral amongst the trees.

The cost of building it in the 30's was huge- a million dollars. The bishop spared no expense; it was his stated intention to build "the finest church in Canada." It's walls are of imported cut limestone; the windows from Munich; the Stations of the Cross also from Europe, and carved out of Carrera marble. The bishop in charge was pilloried in the newspapers at the time: What was the bishop thinking, they demanded, building such a place in a time of crisis, while the city languished in the throes of the Depression? Could he not wait to build his Church? To which the Bishop replied: "In a more prosperous time we would pay a more prosperous price." He was correct. He took a fair run at building the finest church, although he was up against some stiff competition in the churches of Quebec and the East Coast.

While there I thought of my father, who grew up in the area and was among the first altar boys at the Cathedral. I could just imagine that little trouble maker serving under the great baldachino. He and the other altar boys used to shoot craps on the front steps until they were caught by the bishop. Not far from the Cathedral is the place where my father was born and grew up. His home was flattened, and a Tim Horton's now stands in its place. Nearby is the hill up Dundurn Street, leading to Dundurn Castle. The hill was a source of income of sorts for my father back in the late 20's and early 30's. The boys in the area discovered that the open back trucks travelling slowly up the hill could not stop for any reason, as their weak brakes could not stop the trucks from rolling backwards down the hill. So the boys would run along behind the trucks on the hill while one of their friends climbed onto the back, and began tossing goods down to the boys below. My father used to laugh as he told me those stories. At the same time, I knew if I ever did any of the stuff he did when he was young, he'd tan my hide.

We travelled around that area of the city a bit. We ate at Easterbrooks, or as I like to call it, the Restaurant Time Forgot. Near there are several cemeteries which hold the dead of our family. I finally found the grave of my grandmother, whom I never met in life. She was a good woman, a stern but loving woman. She was diagnosed with cancer in 1945. The doctor told her she needed an operation. She refused, as there was a chance she would not survive the operation. "I'll wait until my boy comes back from the war." Dad returned early from the war, as he had volunteered to train to fight the Japanese. He was shipped back from Europe just in time for the Japanese surrender, and was therefore one of the first to be demobilised. He went home in August. In September, his mother had the operation, and she died on the table. Dad always felt that he was somehow responsible for his mother's death, and it was a sore that would never heal, thinking that the mother he had disappointed so often may have died because she waited to see him one more time.

We also went to Hamilton cemetery, up on Burlington Heights, where two of my great grandparents are buried. My great grandfather was a comical man. he belonged to a sola scriptura group called the Plymouth Brethren. At some point he read the passage in bible Matthew 6:28-31: "And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?" And there he quit his job and never worked another day in his life. He dressed himself in fine clothes, waxed his beard to perfection, and went everywhere with a jeweled cane. He looked not a little like Colonel Saunders. Dad said: "He was the best dressed bum I ever met." His wife, who was loved and feared in equal measures by her grandsons, had to take on boarders and open a store to support him. They are buried together, and we also found their graves for the first time.

There's an interesting and important piece of nearly forgotten Canadian history in that cemetery as well. There's a length of oddly angled hill not far from the main entrance. It's the remains of a rampart of a British camp from the War of 1812-1814. It was here on the night of June 5-6 1813 that a young man named Billy Green, dirty and tired from a harrowing journey, came with some astonishing news: An American army of about 3500 men was a few miles away, camped for the night at Stoney Creek. Even more, he had brought the British the American password: Will-hen-har, for president William Henry Harrison. The British forces, lead by Colonel Harvey and numbering about 700, decided to risk everything on a surprise night attack. Billy lead them back and in the ensuing battle, called the Battle of Stoney Creek, the Americans were routed and driven back to Niagara. The battle was an important turning point in the war. It was the furthest the Americans ever pushed into Canada during the war, and had they not been stopped, the history of Canada would be entirely different, and quite possibly completely in the past tense.

Mom and the family enjoyed their day out. Mom was rather comical and unfortunate. In her excitement at the thought of going to the Cathedral she forgot her glasses, and therefore the Cathedral, a church she truly loves and has not seen in years, was little more than an indistinct blur to her. I expect she'll be dropping hints about wanting to go back soon.

Speaking of mother, the trip I promised to take her and a friend on is going to take place on Tuesday. I have booked the day off and rented a car. Contrary to expectations, she has kept the number of friends down to one. However, this does not completely allay my fears. She has taken to making statements along the lines of "Well, as long as you have the car we might as well..." I love my mother.

Lastly, the friend I have been trying to persuade to attend Mass will be going to Mass tomorrow. At least I think so. He said he would yesterday, but he never got back to me today. Fingers crossed and prayers ready.

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