Friday, November 22, 2019

1969

I actually wanted to play piano. I remember being very small and at the house of some friends of my parents. They had a piano in their parlour, and I remember sitting on the bench, by myself, plunking out notes and realizing that I could play Mary Had A Little Lamb by ear. I was probably around 5 years old.

A few years later when I bugged my parents for a piano, they said it was too expensive.

Then a friend of mine, Kelly, got a guitar and some lessons. She showed me a song she was learning. I think she was miffed when she handed me her guitar and I was able to play by ear what she had been struggling to learn through sheet music. I pretty much fell in love with the guitar at that point, and since it was much more affordable than a piano, that's what my parents bought me. It was 1969, I was 12, and I was hooked.

The guitar came from Simpson Sears and cost less than $50, but I loved it. I had no idea what I was doing, other than that little instrumental that my friend Kelly showed me. Someone else showed me a couple of "cheat" chords, meaning that they weren't full chord shapes, but that was all I needed.  My parents also bought me a clarinet when I started to play in my elementary school band, but the guitar was really my first love.

I didn't know how to play the songs I liked on the radio, so I made up my own. That's how the songwriting began. I wrote about my house, I made up little melodies, whatever struck me. I remember my mother, who had been listening to me struggle with writing some words to one of those songs, suggested a line. I used it.

When she died a couple of years later, my father gave me the money she had in her savings account. With some of it, I bought the guitar you see in the picture above. I was about 15 in that shot, sitting in my back yard. I still have it, the old Yamaha classical. It's something I'll never let go of because it came from my mama.

Eventually I did learn to play more conventional chords and continued to play and write and sing. In junior high school, I started writing and performing with my friend Lynn. When I moved away from home, I spent a lot of time writing songs. I joined another group and we all lived together in a house we rented. We did mostly cover songs, but I also wrote a couple of songs for that band. Eventually we split up and I was on my own again, but I kept writing and performing on my own here and there while holding down a full time job. Music isn't a money making venture for most people! I worked at the Vancouver Public Library, first as a Library Assistant, and then as a computer technician (they called us computer "operators" in those days!). As the library system became automated, I ended up teaching a lot of the staff how to use a computer. I realized I had a knack for, and a love of, teaching.

When I moved to Victoria and got married, raising a family took me away from the performing aspect for a little while, but eventually I got back to it. And sometime in 1989, I woke up one day and realized that pretty much all of the money I made from part time work was going to daycare. I needed to do something that would allow me to work from home. Then it hit me; I could teach guitar! So I wrote a proposal to the City Of Victoria for their recreation department, and the next thing you know, I had about 20 students signed up for a beginner guitar class. That was the fall of 1989. And that's where my "learning to teach" began.

Teaching is a separate thing from "knowing". Many people think that because they know something, they can teach it. And some can, of course. But teaching is actually not so much about knowing, it's about communicating.The first and most important thing I learned was to SLOW DOWN. You don't just put something in front of a student and start playing it; you work on it in small bites, especially the things they haven't played before. And people learn in different ways, so part of the job is figuring out what is the best way to get an idea across.

Sometimes the biggest challenge is to help a student relax and just have fun! Adults, especially, can be really hard on themselves and have high expectations. Adults actually learn more quickly than kids, but kids are used to learning all the time, so they don't have the same demands of themselves. And they aren't as afraid of making mistakes! You've got to laugh at your mistakes. So my motto really should be SLOW DOWN and HAVE FUN!

The other day I realized that it has been 50 years since I first picked up a guitar, and 30 years since I started teaching. When I first plunked out the notes to Mary Had A Little Lamb on that parlour piano, little did I realize how music would become such a huge part of my life. Lucky me!

So thanks for the guitar, Mom and Dad.
I've put it to good use :-)

Monday, September 23, 2019

Festsuppe - And A Tribute

Sunday, Sept.22, 2019 Last Day Of Summer

Tomorrow is the first day of fall here in Victoria BC, and so begins what is normally a few months of grey and rain through the fall and winter into the spring.

One thing that makes me think of fall is Festsuppe, or "party soup" translated from Danish. My Danish mother always made it, and my Auntie Edie. I'm sure my grandmothers made it, and it has been passed down to myself and my cousins. The interesting thing I've discovered is that no two people seem to make it exactly the same, but I guess that's true of a lot of recipes over time. I make it maybe once or twice a year.

As you can see in the picture above, Festsuppe consists of (in my recipe anyway!) beef broth, chopped carrots and celery, meatballs and dumplings. It is hearty and such a wonderful meal to have on a grey, rainy day. My daughters request it sometimes for a Sunday dinner, but it would also make a great lunch time meal.

In some versions, cubed beef or lamb is used instead of the meatballs. Some also include potatoes, rice, onions, leeks, tomatoes, even chili powder. I won't try to cover all of the possibilities here because there are too many. It is not only a Danish tradition, but it is also made in other northern European countries like Norway and Germany. The version I make is actually what I consider my Blended Family version. I make some of it according to a recipe in an old Danish cookbook, similar to what my mother made, but the dumplings are a recipe that my stepsister and brother remember THEIR Grandmother making. Her dumplings were more dense and chewy, which I liked, so I continue to make it that way.

When my mother Fanny passed away in 1972, one of the things I always remember was how my Auntie Edie made a batch of Festsuppe and then drove all the way from Coquitlam to Richmond (a couple of hours' drive at the time), just to deliver it to my Dad and I. It was the perfect comfort food for us at the time.

It just so happened that I decided to make Festsuppe today for our family Sunday dinner. I was probably in the middle of making the meatball part of it at around 4:30pm or so. Only an hour or so later, I learned that my dear old Auntie Edie passed away at that same time. She was 94 and had been not doing well for several weeks. I last saw her on Labour Day when I found out that her health was failing. She remembered me and she mentioned my Dad, her favourite brother, who we all miss so much. I knew at the time that it would probably be the last time I saw her.

How appropriate that today I would end up making the very meal that she brought to comfort me and my father in our time of grief. One day I will write more about my wonderful aunt, but for now, I will leave it at that. I miss you already, my dear Auntie Edie.


Love you always,
Irene






Sunday, July 7, 2019

What's In A Name: Searching For Johannes Jokumsen

A few weeks ago, I visited Ellis Island in New York, where some of my Danish relatives had passed through on their way to a "new land" in the early 1900's. My mother's side of the family, the Corfixsens, only stayed in New York for a few years, long enough for my Uncle Roy, Aunt May and Uncle Ernest to be born there, before going all the way back to Denmark. When you think of it, travelling across the Atlantic in the early 1900's must have been a HUGE undertaking, let alone doing it twice! I can't imagine why, but back to Denmark they went.

[Update: I have since learned from my Danish cousin that my Grandmother Corfixsen was only 16 when she traveled New York the first time by herself, beating my Grandfather's record! She met my Grandfather there, although I don't know his story, yet! They got married, had three children, and because my Grandmother missed her family in Denmark so much, they traveled back.]

My Grandfather on my father's side, Johannes Jokumsen, who I knew as John Jackson, traveled through Ellis Island New York too, all by his lonesome at the tender age of 17. His adventure began when an aunt and uncle who lived in Kalispel, Montana  suggested that my great-grandparents send their "smartest" kid to be educated in the U.S. Out of 12 children, my grandfather was considered to be that kid. I imagine his aunt and uncle must have been well off, because they sent the money for the fare for my Grandfather's trip to America.

He came aboard the steamship Hellig Olav, or the "Holy Oly" as the ship was nicknamed, because it was, as my Dad put it, a bit of a "rust bucket". And that's what was especially remarkable about my grandfather's trip. It was April 15th, 1912 when another, much more famous ship, the Titanic, met its end in the chilly Atlantic.

On April 18th, 1912, three days later, my grandfather saw the Titanic's lifeboats in New York Harbour as the Hellig Olav sailed in. Imagine that! Needless to say, I have great respect for the Holy Oly!

Here is a copy of the ship's record for Grandad:


You can see that they misspelled his last name, Jokumsen, as Jocumsen. This was a very common occurrence on Ellis Island. Can you imagine having to try to come up with English spellings for all of the foreign names? It must have been a nightmare!

Once my grandfather was processed, he managed to find his way to the train that took him to Kalispel. He had no money for food for the train trip, all he had was a bag of apples to sustain him. Nevertheless, he arrived safely at his destination.

But the adventure, 6 weeks on a boat by himself across the Atlantic to a foreign country, was all in vain.

My grandfather, as it turned out, didn't get along with his aunt and uncle. So he stayed long enough to work to pay them back the fare, and then left on his own again, back on the train. But instead of going back to Denmark, he became a kind of a hobo, jumping from train to train, travelling through the states, working long enough somewhere to save a few pennies, and then off again.

Eventually he crossed the border into Canada. We figure it might have been because he was about to be drafted into the U.S. army, and being a pacifist, Grandad was not going to fight for any country! After some time in Canada, he went back to Denmark, much to the surprise of his parents, who had not heard from him in all that time and thought he must be dead. In Denmark, Grandad met and married my Grandmother, Else, and somehow convinced her to come back to Canada with him, where they started a whole new adventure together. But that's for another story!

At some point, although I'm not exactly sure when, Grandad decided to simplify things and began calling himself John Jackson. He didn't bother to go through a legal process to change his name at the time because, well, nobody did! My father, my grandparent's first born, was also named John, although they referred to him by his middle name, Arvid in the early years of his life. Dad's birth certificate had his parent's legal name, Jokumsen on it, but my Dad was known all of his life as John Jackson too. This only became a nightmare the first time he tried to get a Canadian passport. He had to go through quite a process to get his name legally changed to Jackson, but eventually it was all settled.

His father, my grandfather Johannes Jokumsen, who became John Jackson, after a good life, died in Vancouver in 1985 at almost 90 years of age.

In the early 2000's, I decided to check out the Ellis Island website, where they had the ship's records of just about every immigrant who had passed through. At first I couldn't find Grandad's record but after several different spelling attempts, I did, and ordered a copy of it to give it to his son, my Dad, as a gift for his 80th birthday.

In 2008, I visited Ellis Island for the first time on a trip to New York with my husband and daughter. Outside the Ellis Island museum is something called The American Immigrant Wall of Honor, where you can find the names of all of the immigrants who came through. I searched for Grandad's name when we were there, but couldn't find it. I convinced myself that it must have been because of the misspelling of his name and vowed that one day I'd go back and check  again.

So when my husband and I and our good friends flew to New York just a few weeks ago, one of the first things I did was to book a tour of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. On our second day in New York we set out for Battery Park to find the boat, for a rain-soaked trip to Liberty Island. After hanging out in the Liberty Museum, trying to dry out just a little, we got on another boat to Ellis Island and the Ellis Island Museum.





Entering the main building, I was overwhelmed to see the place that my grandfather landed at only 17 years of age, along with so many other immigrants.

The main building is beautiful now, but back when my Grandfather came through, it was full of benches crammed with people waiting to be processed . There were approximately 12 million immigrants who came through Ellis Island between 1892 and 1954.










Eventually, I found a postcard of the Hellig Olav on a wall in the museum. There were postcards from many of the ships that brought people over the Atlantic to the U.S. over the years.

In doing some research online, I found some other old photos of the Hellig Olav:

A crowded deck, immigrants on their way across the Atlantic.


Third class promenade deck.
Third class cabin 




Third class dining room.
But the most important part of the visit for me was to find my grandfather's name on the American  Immigrant Wall Of Honor. It was still raining, when my friend and I went outside to the wall and I started looking. I did find a Fred and Anna Jochumsen, a similar spelling of the name, but, alas, no Johannes Jokumsen or Jocumsen. 



Then I found out that the wall wasn't meant to be a complete collection of names, but just a sampling of those who passed through. Of course, that makes sense. It's a huge wall, but still not large enough to fit 12 million names. In the end, I did find this name:


...and that was enough for me. The likelihood is that I will not go back to Ellis Island again, but it was emotional for me to be in the place where my Grandfather's adventure began. You start thinking about the "what if's". What if he had actually gotten along with his aunt and uncle and stayed in the U.S. for his education? What if he ended up in the U.S. Army?

And what if he hadn't actually been the smartest kid? What would he have done with his life?

Grandad, I thank you for sending me on my own adventure to find Johannes. In the end, by being in the same place that you were, and understanding what it must have been like for you to go through that, I think I may have succeeded.

~ IJ


Monday, May 20, 2019

Three Reasons To Golf. Or Fore.


Our carts are ready for us to tee off
The other night, eight of us sat at the table in Bill Mattick's Restaurant in Cordova Bay, waiting for dinner.

My three friends, myself, and our husbands had just finished the "nine-ing" and now we were dining. For any of you who don't know much about golf, 9 'n Dine is where you play nine holes of golf and then eat after. It's something my friends and I do weekly, usually early on Friday evenings during the nicer months of the year. Quite often we'll have our first game in March or April and the last one by early October. We are what you might describe as "fair weather golfers" :-)

Every now and then we'll ask our husbands to join us, sometimes on special occasions like the Easter weekend or someone's birthday. But we don't actually golf with our husbands during those rounds...we keep our usual foursome and they golf with each other. Believe me, it's better that way.

So the other night when one of my friend's husband asked her what was the best part of her game that night, she said "Being with my friends." She might have been joking because she didn't think she had a great game, but she was also speaking the truth. Sure, we want to play well. But a big part of it is the social aspect. And the other truth is, we are nothing but supportive of each other when we get out there.

"Great shot!"

"Perfect putt!"

"Wow! Well done!"

When we flub a shot, which is often enough, we laugh at ourselves. We never tell each other how to do it better. I don't even keep score, although a couple of the ladies do. Sometimes I will count the shots in my head if I think I've done well on a hole, but the rest of it isn't important. I know, I know, I know. Some of you will think "Why bother playing if you don't keep score?" I'll probably never be able to explain it to you.

We talk, and we laugh. A lot. The guys are quieter and just slightly more competitive. That's all I'm saying.


The photo to the left is the approach to the 2nd hole at Cordova Bay Golf Course. Which is the other reason why I love it so much. It's beautiful out there. To the left under that grove of trees, are the goats. Yes, they have goats. My only hope is that they don't call out when I flub my shot. "Baaaaaa(d)!!!"  
I have favourite things about each hole. I won't bore you with all of them. But, for instance, the 7th hole has a beautiful little pond where you'll always see lots of ducks, and up above, a huge tree where you can often find an eagle or two, as you see in this pic. The pond is also what we refer to as a "ball magnet". I have, in fact, donated many balls to that pond.

Keeping an eagle eye out.
Along with the eagles, the course is home to plenty of deer, lots of ducks, robins, red-winged blackbirds, the occasional Great Blue Heron, even owls, although I've never actually seen one. But I do hear an owl quite often as I'm teeing off on the 8th hole. It's a very comforting sound to me. Cordova Bay Golf boasts 75 species of birds and they are a certified Audubon Sanctuary, protecting the environment as well as preserving the game of golf.

Cordova Bay Golf is a certified Audubon Sanctuary

On certain holes, especially the first hole here on the left, when you look out past the trees to the east, you can see Mount Baker in all her glory, glistening white in the late afternoon sun. At Cordova Bay, they grow a lot of their own vegetables in big fields or small plots, and still manage to keep the deer from nibbling on them. Not an easy feat.

The gardens are immaculately kept with lots of native species, and the staff are a lot of fun. I sound like a bloody commercial! But I love the place...we all do.

The 5th hole ladies' tee

Golf courses are becoming fewer and further between these days here where I live. At least two local 9 hole courses that we have often played, have shut down in the last couple of years. From what I have researched, golf has always been a waxing or waning thing, so it's not the end yet. And although the primary clientele appear to be middle-aged and older, I do often see young people at the course too, so that's a positive sign. I convinced one of my daughters to take it up and she did for a short while. I hope she'll play again some day, maybe when she finds other people her age who like golf.


I remember seeing an elderly gentleman once playing the course with only one arm. He used an electric cart, and he could hit a tee shot straighter and further than I could ever hope to. With one arm.

I vow to keep playing golf with my friends until, for whatever reason, I can't anymore.

Oh, and my friend Crystal would remind me about the glass of wine at the end. That's the other reason I love golf. Because there's wine at the end.