Sunday, September 25, 2011

It's a small (if expensive) world

Part II of Caitlin and Ryan in Disneyland. (We weren't there, but my daughter/photographer's pictures were the next best thing.)

It's a small world

I never went to Disneyland, and my kids never went to Disneyland (somehow or other it was like going to the moon), but my grandkids went a few weeks ago. Caitlin seems to have arrived in the Promised Land.

Big teddies, big Minnies. . .

. . . Caitlin wins her first Oscar (but it won't be her last). . .

. . . and Ryan finds his dream car!

Friday, September 23, 2011

There is none so blind

Tonight while I was half-watching the news and half-eating my dinner, I half-heard one of the more annoying and ubiquitous abuses of grammar that seems to pop up in every newscast.

It was about an abandoned border collie, blind since birth, that had been taken in by a good Samaritan and trained to work with disabled children.

"Born without eyes, her owners left her by the side of the road," the announcer told us.

People just seem to assume that the collie is the subject of that sentence, if they think of such things at all. But here is what the sentence actually means:

"Her owners, born without eyes, left her by the side of the road."

There is none so blind, you say? Or ignorant. I don't know why I'm not totally inured to this sort of abuse, because it comes at me from every side, every day.

I won't get into the grotesque distortions of spelling and grammar that are permanently deforming the language via Twitters and Tweets. (And by the way, could there have been a more air-headed, DUMB name for this new five-second form of networking?) I won't because I can't without bursting into tears, and I'm already sniffling over that poor abandoned collie and its eye-less owners.

I keep running into this weird inversion, but nobody ever says anything about it. That's because attention deficit disorder, like obesity and Type II diabetes, is now standard, and paying more than two seconds of attention to anything at all is a social sickness.  I don't expect us to go back to the ancient days of parsing sentences (though I had to do it, along with conjugating Latin verbs). I admit to using vernacular expressions, informal English, and loose grammar when it seems appropriate.

But on a news broadcast?

Speaking of twists and turns of grammar, every once in a while somebody jumps up and complains about O Canada, because of the following line:

True patriot love in all thy sons command.

SONS? Why not sonsanddaughters? Oops, doesn't seem to fit somehow. But we can't seem to leave this alone. One major newspaper even started an informal write-in contest for an alternate line that wasn't sexist (and still scanned).

My favorite was from a fellow who said, you're all just being ridiculous. It's so easy to fix this problem! Just change it to:

True patriot love, in all of thy command.

Let me tell you what is wrong with this sentence and why it DOES NOT WORK, not to mention WHY it offends me and makes me feel sick to my stomach. It demonstrates a fundamental lack of understanding of basic sentence structure and the way in which it intertwines with meaning.

For one thing, there's no comma after "love". Why does this matter? Because a comma isn't necessary, and would in fact distort the correct meaning of the line.

"In all of thy command" seems to be implying that true patriot love is "in everyone's command": command being a noun, of course. "Thy" assumes that the original "sons" is possessive: in all thy SONS' command (or maybe "son's"? Why not simplify this and boil all those sons down into one?)

So this true patriot love, apparently, should be in the command of the sons. How gauche to leave out the daughters.

This tricky and oft-contested line is in an inverted form we don't use often, unless maybe we're describing blind dogs by the side of the road. "Command" is what used to be called an imperative, before everyone forgot what an imperative was.

It's saying, hey, do this! DO IT. It's a verb, you know. A verb! Have you heard of them?

So the line properly reads, "Command true patriot love in all thy sons." It's a command, see - a command to command. We're telling big ol' Canada what it should be doing.

So "in all of thy command" starts to fall apart and make less and less sense.

Somebody did suggest the almost-acceptable "in all of us command", which would at least make better sense. But nobody's rushing to adopt it, maybe because it just sounds "wrong".

OK then. Today I found the most howling (speaking of dogs) example of sentence-torture I've ever seen: and it was written by a publicist for a major book company. Because I might be beheaded for pointing out a mistake, I can't say the name, and I can't say the book, and I can't say the author, but I will pass along the clanger that rattled my teeth down to their silver fillings.

The book is one of those epics in which an ancient matriarch reflects back on her tumultuous life, her loves, her hates, her etc. etc. You get the idea. The usual page of bumph that comes with advance review copies attempts to boil down the elaborate plot into a few paragraphs: "Her rich and tragic life takes her from Chicago, where her fiancee is brutally murdered, and then to Cleveland, where she marries and finds happiness even as she survives the Great Depression and World War II."

Here it comes:

"Joyfully pregnant at forty-three, her husband, Joe Kinderman, mysteriously disappears and (xxx) moves to Washington, DC where she finds work as a cook for one of the most prominent families in the country."

This is during World War II, mind! It's long before transsexuals became so popular, before men turned themselves into women, or women into men who then became women, or at least had babies somehow. So this fellow Joe, even though he's about to disappear forever, says sayonara to his readers by becoming "joyfully pregnant".

But when you think about it, it's no stranger than dog owners who don't have any eyes.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Harold Lloyd: got a light?

This has to qualify as the strangest Harold Lloyd movie I've ever seen (and believe me, after spending more than three years writing about his life, I've seen plenty). It's only a minute and a half long, has no sound track (truly a silent film) and no plot to speak of. It's just him n' the chimp.

I don't know why this little gem was made - it looks almost like a screen test for the ape. It's unusual for several reasons: Harold still has an intact right hand (a horrible accident blew half his hand away in 1919), he's shown smoking a cigarette which he never did in real life (explaining his relative awkwardness), and he's in tighter closeup than usual.

This is startling, because it reveals why women loved him so much: the guy was simply gorgeous, with a clean handsome jawline, vigorous head of black hair and slightly bedroomy blue eyes. There was a boyish sweetness about him which never slid into Harry Langdon-esque creepy infantilism. Under the mild exterior he was a tough little scrapper, with a volatile temper that came directly out of his own hot-and-cold personality.

I love this man. I wrote a novel about him called The Glass Character, and I cannot tell you how I ache to see this get into the hands of readers. I want them to know, to feel, to see him as he was, and is. I made a total fool of myself in writing this, and though I think it's the best thing I've ever done, I do wonder if there is something star-crossed about my life, something that just short-circuits success and snatches it out of my hands just as I am about to grab it. If I could figure out why, maybe I could do something about it.

Whenever I discover something new about Harold Lloyd, some odd little thing like this minute-and-a-half-long mini-picture, it's as if I am given a tiny glimpse through an aperture or a magic portal. While I was writing The Glass Character, there were days when I felt as if I had stepped right through it. I did not want to come back. I don't know what is going to happen with my novel, and I know I shouldn't care this much, I'm just putting my heart out on the railroad tracks. But there's just something about him. He inspires that sort of feeling. It's spooky, because I realize that he doesn't try for it.

I can't define charisma, any more than I can define charm, but I know when I am in its presence. In this case, mere dying did not end it. It's still there, lightning in a bottle. If you think you know silent comedy, if you've seen Chaplin and Keaton and maybe Harry Langdon or Chester Conklin, you don't know this: there was a man, an extraordinary actor who never planned to be a comedian, who was able to make the most ordinary, hapless guy so compelling that you couldn't stop watching him.

Harold, Harold! I don' t know how I got in so deep. And I am not sure if I want to be saved or not.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Further Adventures of Ooka and Eeka (a grandma's tale)

   The Further Adventures of. . .



Ooka and Eeka were two sisters who looked alike. Well, almost. One fine day in the spring, they decided to go for a walk together.

Since Ooka was 17 feet tall and Eeka was one inch tall, it was very hard for Eeka to keep up with Ooka.

“Wait for me, Ooka!”

Ooka was enjoying the walk so much that she didn’t notice that Eeka wasn’t beside her any more.

“Oh no!” said Ooka. “Did I step on her again?”

Ooka looked on the bottom of her shoes, but Eeka wasn’t there. What a relief!


But then she thought: no Eeka? She must be lost!

Ooka was very worried. She looked everywhere, under every tree, rock and mushroom. But Eeka was nowhere to be found.

Ooka was very sad and discouraged. Would she ever find Eeka?

Then all at once she met a friendly elephant.

“Hello, friendly elephant,” she said.


“Mr. Elephant, do you have a cold?’

“No. But I can’t smell the flowers any more.”

“How come?”

“I was smelling this daisy here, and something went up my nose.”

That gave Ooka an idea!

She grabbed the elephant’s trunk and yelled into it.


Then she held his trunk to her ear. At first she didn’t hear anything, but then she heard a teeny tiny voice saying,

                         “Oooooooooooooooo-kaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa! Save me!”

The elephant was very upset by now. “I have a girl up my nose,” he said.

Then Ooka had another idea!

“Eeka, tickle the inside of the elephant’s trunk.”


So she tickled the inside of his trunk. Then the elephant went:

“Ah – ah – ah – ah – ah – CHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!”

Eeka flew out of his trunk and sailed through the air all the way to the other side of the country.

“Ooooooo-kaaaaaaa,” she cried. “Come get me. I’m in Newfoundland.”

Ooka had to take a very long walk to find her, but fortunately her legs were very long so it only took her half an hour.

She found Eeka sitting inside a flower, looking very happy.

“Eeka!” said Ooka. “No more sitting in flowers.”

“Why not? I love flowers.”

“Because an elephant might suck you into his trunk again.”

“OK, I won’t.”

And Eeka never did it again.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Rev: Part 2


(Part 2 of 2) by Jim and Lisa Gilbert

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

By 1964, after having been minister at the former Park Street United Church in Chatham for four rather tumultuous years, Reverend Russell Horsburgh had accomplished an amazing number of things.

He had established a program entitled "Youth Anonymous" that was designed to provide guidance for wayward youth, had designed a number of programs for the youth in the community that were designed to get them off the street and onto church property. Basketball games, dances, counseling services and the establishment of an unofficial "drop-in center" at the church occupied much of his time and made him a popular figure with the young. In fact, the famous Canadian actor Cedric Smith was taken under the wing of Horsburgh and given his first form of employment in Chatham thanks to Horsburgh.

The adults within the community benefited from his ecumenical approach to Sunday night lectures (invited rabbis, priests and representatives from other faiths to speak) as well as the bringing in of noted politicians (Lester B. Pearson) and artists (Virgil Fox and Miriam Anderson).

On the surface, one might imagine that the parishioners at Park Street United Church would have been overjoyed and would have been extremely supportive of their innovative, outgoing, charismatic minister and many in the church were very supportive. However, there was a darker side to both "the Rev" as well as to some church members.

Reverend Russell Horsburgh was the first to admit that he was not everyone's "cup of tea". He once described himself as being "impatient, uptight, demanding and having every ugly virtue possible". Others described him as being impulsive, headstrong, unlikable, chauvinistic, demanding, and media loving.

Some members of the church felt that he was "too big for his britches" and that he tended to "run rough shod" over the wishes of the congregation. He was not one to ask for permission or to follow long held protocol. He simply did and then dealt with the consequences. He was thought by some to not be a team player and some simply were jealous of the attention he received and how he was revolutionizing their church by opening it up to people from all classes and racial backgrounds. Some complained that their closely-knit church was becoming a "church of strangers". Clearly, there was a tension bubbling close to the surface that, in retrospect, was obviously destined to explode at some point.

The breaking point came in a cataclysmic, earth shaking moment in 1964 when Reverend Russell Horsburgh was formally charged (based on revelations by a few minors in the church) with "contributing to juvenile delinquency in his church" by knowingly allowing, permitting and possibly encouraging underage teens to engage in sexual activities on church property.

Although in 2008, these charges would seem rather trite and suspicious (considering all the other sexual offences allegedly committed by clergy since that time), the atmosphere that prevailed in 1964 made these charges front-page news across Canada and outraged religious groups, parental organizations and the general public.

The trial became a virtual witch-hunt that resulted in eighty hours of testimony by some pretty confused, frightened and scared teens. If you think sex sells to day, you can imagine what it did in the early 1960s. The fact that the testimony came from unidentified minors and told in rather circumspect ways served to make the accusations even more sinister, mysterious and licentious.

The court proceedings found Reverend Russell Horsburgh guilty of five of the eight counts of contributing to juvenile delinquency and he was sentenced to a year in prison. Although he served only 107 days of his sentence, his real punishment was that he was forced to resign as a minister in the United Church and for a time was relegated to working as a parking lot attendant in Toronto.

In 1967 the Supreme Court of Canada ordered a new trial for Horsburgh and in this trial three of the five original charges were dropped and he was acquitted of the other two. However, it was too little and it came too late for the once so confident minister. By 1967, he was a broken man who only wanted to clear his name.

By 1971 a partial victory came for Reverend Horsburgh when he was fully reinstated as a minister in the United Church. By this time, however, he was in the final stages of bone cancer and when a testimonial dinner was held at the Pyranon Ballroom (site of Rona Cashway Building Centre on Colborne Street to-day) in July of 1971, he was no longer the Horsburgh that once was. At that dinner, tragically, no young people were present and church officials (locally and nationally) were notably absent. The 170 people that were there however tried to make things right and tried to rally their fallen, broken friend and hero but it was to no avail.

Confined to a wheel chair, this man who seemed once, to have been larger than life and unable to be confined by anyone or anything, was a pitiful vision of his former self. Those who attended that dinner in Chatham and remembered him as he was a few short years before must have quietly shed a tear or two or felt intense anger well up within their hearts. However, it was too late for anger and there would be many more tears shed a few months later when Reverend Russell Horsburgh slipped from this life into the next in October of 1971.

He was cremated and buried in a plain tin box under the floor of Zion United Church in Hamilton, Ontario.

Do I feel he was mistreated and maligned? I do. Do I feel he was a tragic figure? I do. In fact, he could be described as a true Shakespearean hero in the fact that a tragic flaw within himself helped to bring about his own downfall. Do I feel that he knew there was some sexual activity going on in the church? Yes, I think he did and he either chose to ignore it or he was so absolutely naive that he did not truly grasp the danger inherent in his quiet acquiescence.

Do I blame the people in Chatham of the time and particularly those church members at Park Street United Church? I have mixed feelings about that. I would venture that some felt that they were doing the correct, moral thing for the time while I also venture that some were attempting to "put Horsburgh in his place" and "teach him a lesson" not realizing how devastating and tragic an end would result. In short, it was a different time and place and who knows how any of us would have reacted facing a similar crisis. After all, by 1964, it must have appeared to many parents that the sex, drugs and rock and roll revolution was swiftly approaching and all of their children were in dire danger.

A play was written about Horsburgh's time in Chatham (as well as two other books, a record album and countless newspaper and magazine articles) by respected Canadian playwright Betty Jane Wylie in 1981. Considering that the former Park Street United Church is now in private hands (the Chute Family), I wonder if it is time to finally stage this play within the church that spawned this huge controversy?

Personally, I think that it would be rather compelling, enticingly appropriate and more than a little spooky!

I am quite sure that it has never been staged anywhere in Chatham-Kent and it might just be a final fitting tribute to a man who has been described as "a bundle of contradictions, caught up in the furies of the sixties". 

Jim and Lisa Gilbert are local, national and international award winning educators and historians.


Postscript. Though the Gilberts have a right to their opinion based on what they were able to piece together about Horsburgh, the fact remains that they were not there when it happened.  Public opinion eventually swung back in Horsburgh's favor, but my own view is that it swung too far.

I was ten years old when Horsburgh was removed from Park Street United Church. I remember a belligerent, browbeating figure literally pounding the pulpit as he harangued his astonished congregation about their unforgiveable rigidity and ignorance.

I remember three very drunken teenage boys hanging around outside the church late one evening,  guffawing and slurring, "Hey, where's the Rev?"

I remember my father's best friend saying, "he's a psychopath," though at the time I didn't know what that meant.

I remember my mother, the least-gossipy person I knew, whispering to someone, "You know, they found empty liquor bottles in the church basement. And worse."

I remember a church bulletin that had an entire page bizarrely x-ed out. When my older brother held it up to the light, he saw that it contained a fulminating rant aimed directly at the ignorant fools of Park Street United, ending with a famous quote: “You ungrateful people should be ashamed of yourselves. . . . I am sorry I ever freed you from the tyrants and the papists. You ungrateful beasts, you are not worthy of the treasure of the gospel. If you don’t improve, I will stop preaching rather than cast pearls before swine.”

It was signed:

Martin Luther
Russell Horsburgh