Chop wood

Published on March 16, 2017

In 1954 I was unaware that the BBC existed never mind that it was the year a radio drama and the forerunner of the play, A Man for All Seasons, made its initial debut.

Up to 1954, most of life I had lived with my parents and other siblings in the basement of my maternal grandparents’ home Louie and Mary John on Gilbert Street.


Pop, by then, at age 86 was doing fewer things in all seasons, and unknowingly then, his seasons of life would soon end. But grandmother at a spry 71 was holding her own; even taking up the slack.


My mind’s eye can see grandmother: sitting, with sun from the western sky over her shoulders, reading a newspaper; telling ghost stories to scare the living daylights out of us; leading the nightly rosary (repetitive prayers for 15 or 20 minutes) in her kitchen where the kneeling on wooden floors was murder on our knees.


Other everlasting images include: watching her save a nearby neighbour's chicken choking on a baloney skin; watching her save a sparrow covered in tar; sitting beside her in church (she always sat on the outside); watching her turn away and retrieve from the heart side of her dress, a pouch from which she gave me $20, as I headed back to St F X for another term.


Outdoors, grandmother was no slouch; a wonder woman. She was always on the move, be it drying capelin on a flake rigged up in the backyard; making lye soap in the same area; or using her arrowhead like pointed spade to make drills to plant potatoes, herbs, and so on.


An empty wood box beside the kitchen stove didn't have her sit around, twiddling her thumbs, waiting for someone to fill it up. Off to the woodpile she would go where she would chop wood. Her swing of an axe was respectfully powerful; she could match a lumberjack.


Flash-forward to 1988 in a village north of Mexico City. Time seemed to have stood still. I saw there, women with the look of grandmothers, working as hard as my grandmother had done decades earlier. One was bent over carrying a heavy bundle of firewood on her back. The other, at an artesian well, hoisted a large container of water on to her back, and then bent over, disappeared into the nearby tall grass to God knows where.


Now, nearly 30 years after Mexico it not unusual to see on TV women in Mexico, Central and South America, the Middle East, Africa and Asia living in a world akin to grandmother's axe swinging days. Sadly and unbelievably, my grandmother lived in better conditions; better than lots of the women and their families you see nowadays caught up in refugee camps caused by drought, famine, or war.


Hence, upon reflection on International Women's Day (March 8) there is plenty yet to be done to narrow the huge gap in the education, job opportunities, political involvement, human rights, and the basic necessities of life (See Ted Talk: Washing Machine) between women in advanced and non-advanced nations.


Sadly, that gap for the human race (males and females) is tied to our many self-inflicted miseries brought on by the likes of politics, war, crime, alcohol, drugs, greed, and exploitations of all kinds, to no end.


Many societies worldwide tend to be shaped by traditional roles of men and women inside and outside of the home. However, the Second World War (1939-1945) broke that mould forever in many northern countries as women were needed to man (pardon the pun) the wrench in the factory and the gun on the battlefield.


Consequently, growing up in the post war era, it seemed quite normal for me to see women in all sorts of jobs around town. In school, from the get go, the bright girls in class were well known and at St F X similar females took second place to no one.


The mixture of men and women in occupations, professions, and all walks of life tends to work for the betterment of us all. But the increase of females in roles once traditionally dominated by men continues to be problematic. Sexual harassment alone is a constant news maker.


As for the male-female wage gap, specific examples, not generalities would be much more informative and much more enlightening. Which women are not earning the same as which men? Every job I have had since 1971 has had women and men paid equally for the same work. And my daughters, in summer jobs, have made the same wages as males.


As for my eight daughters, my wish for them is a life of peace, security of person and treatment with dignity and respect. Who amongst us would not wish the same for all persons regardless of colour, creed, religion or gender?


However, wishing and reality are not the same.


Thus, dear daughters (and other females) living in these times calls for a greater need to be ever vigilant and protective by doing some simple things to keep the spirit that links your mind and body intact.


Therefore, don't share nude pictures of yourself with anyone. Don't get loaded or stoned in a place that leaves you vulnerable, a target, for males and females; even those you consider to be friends.


As for what to do in life. There are all sorts of women who have blazed the trail, or are blazing new trails such as Newfoundland's own Zita Cobb who has risen from meek beginnings to be a multi-millionaire; and is now attracting world attention with the Fogo Island Inn and adjuncts.


Better again, follow the path begun by a woman of humble origins to whom you are genetically connected. Be like grandmother John.


Wait for no one, get it done - chop wood!