“On Sunday, I rescued a woman,” my friend, Bob Dann, reported in the midst of our bi-weekly personal training session. He was standing at Yonge and Queen last Sunday morning at 8:30 a.m., waiting to cheer on relatives doing the Sporting Life 10k Run. He felt a persistent tug on his t-shirt and turned to find a little Asian woman wanting his attention.
Bob didn’t want to miss his relatives, but felt he must help. So he turned to the woman. She was well-groomed, appropriately dressed, carrying a purse, and obviously not homeless. English was not her first language but she said she was lost and cold. She had no idea where she was or where she was to go. Bob thought to look in her purse. Before he did, he had the wit to tell the Race Marshall standing nearby what the problem was and what he was doing. All the better to avoid any accusations of nefarious actions on his part.
In her purse, he found two wallets, one with no money in it, the other with a large amount of cash. He found a laminated card with her name, address and telephone number. When he called the number on the card, it was out of service. Further searching of her bag revealed another laminated card with several names, telephone numbers and their relationship to her. He called her son whom he learned lived in North Toronto.
Her son was very alarmed to learn about his mother’s condition. He told Bob that she lived in the east end and her routine was to go out for a walk in her area every day. He suspected that she had become disoriented by the race. He was willing to come and get her but, as a practical matter, his getting downtown and parking would take a long time. Bob suggested that, as she did have money on her, he would put her in a cab with instructions to take her home.
Bob planned to wait until there was a break in the runners to help her find a cab. When there wasn’t a break soon, he manoeuvred her across Yonge Street through the runners, walked with her east on Queen, and hailed a cab on Victoria. He put her in a cab, gave the driver her address, and said that she had money to pay the fare. Bob trusted that the cab driver would deliver her to her home correctly.
Later that day, her son texted Bob to thank him for rescuing his mother. She was 95 years old, and in transition from being very independent to a secured living situation. Pending placement, she was staying in her home and doing her daily walk. Fortunately, she was able to ask for help, someone like Bob responded, and in her purse was the information he needed to get her home. Without the laminated cards with contact information, he could not have done so.
This reminded me of a similar experience which happened to my mother and father. My mother had suffered a stroke, lost her short-term memory, and became prone to wandering. My father was her primary caregiver. Always, when she left the house, she went with him. One day, he had been gardening in the backyard, came into the house, and found Mum missing. He looked everywhere and couldn’t find her. He was panic-stricken and didn’t know what to do. Should he call the police? Should he call my brother, a busy family doctor who would be seeing patients? Maybe she just went for a walk around the block, and would soon return.
He waited, increasingly anxious as the time went by. Then the telephone rang. It was friends from the church. They reported that they were at the Lougheed Mall on the North Road when they saw Mum shopping by herself. The mall is 4.5 kilometres away from my parents’ home, a seven to ten minute drive by car. When they didn’t see Dad with her, the friends knew something was wrong, and phoned the house. They speculated that my mother had gone to the corner near her home and caught the eastbound bus which ends its route at the Lougheed Mall. Dad retrieved her, utterly relieved, and totally grateful to the friends who assisted.
There was an upside to this event. It showed that Mum still retained her capacity to get herself to the bus stop, get on a bus, pay a fare, and find her way into the mall from the bus terminus. The downside was that this was a new development. It had never occurred to my father that she would or could do what she did. New precautions were now required.
As an aside, I should add that great personal trainers, among other things, provide their clients with material for their blogs.
One day each year, our birthday, is a special day. How to celebrate is always a question. Some burrow in, insist that they are still 29, and absolutely refuse all efforts to recognize the day. Others celebrate over time, with luncheons, dinner or drinks with different family members and friends. Some plan elaborate parties or special trips. Others take the occasion of a birthday as a personal challenge.
Celebrating “all the September birthdays” or “all the spring birthdays” is popular. My parents, their sibs, and their cousins had a tradition of getting together at a restaurant every couple of months to celebrate birthdays. So long as they were able to drive, they met regularly at a family restaurant which was easy, convenient, and served the type of food they loved. Nobody had to cook, nobody brought presents, but everyone brought funny cards and they competed for the most outrageous. In a pre-Facebook era, these regular lunches allowed them to keep in the loop about what the family was doing. As one of the next generation who came to Vancouver regularly from Toronto, these birthday lunches gave me a chance to visit with family members whom I otherwise might not have seen. I thought it a great institution.
Some people gather together their closest friends and host a special dinner or lunch. To celebrate her 70th birthday, one friend and her neighbour threw a joint birthday party with only their women friends. It was a delightful event, intimate and heart-warming, a gaggle of women “of a certain age” sitting around the dining room table, all resplendent in the sparkling candlelight, laughing over poetry ribbing our friend. To celebrate his 60th birthday, another friend and his partner hosted a sit-down dinner for fifty in their stately living room. After cocktails on the patio, the group enjoyed a concert of song and piano music before the lavish buffet. The spouse of another friend, who met him as a student at Massey College, has hosted birthday dinners for him in the private dining room there. The space has special meaning to them.
For our 65th birthdays, my husband and I hiked the West Coast Trail of Vancouver Island. It was probably a coincidence that we did it that year. We had wanted to hike the 75-kilometre trail from Bamfield to Port Renfrew for years. We knew that it was a back-country trail which required backpacking all our gear. There would be climbing up and down long ladders, crossing rivers on swinging bridges and trolleys, and climbing rocks to traverse some of the beach. My husband was an experienced backpacker but afraid of heights. It dawned on us, however, that if we didn’t do the WCT soon, we probably wouldn’t do it at all. When my cousin, who is an inveterate backwoodsman, wanted to join us, we knew that it was now or never. We took ten days to cover a distance which our son, hiking alone, did in four. How long it took is irrelevant. That we had the experience is what counted. Was it worth the effort? Absolutely.
To celebrate his 60th birthday, our friend Bob Dann ran the New York City Marathon this past November. He had originally set himself the task of running a half marathon in every province and territory in Canada before his 75th. With numerous half marathons under his belt, well in advance of his long-term objective, he decided to try a marathon. And only New York would do. It is the largest marathon in the world, with 50,000 odd runners and, because of the enthusiastic support of New Yorkers all around the city, is considered the most exciting. He began training in the summer and by the fall was ready. He found the race somewhat harder than he had expected. There are long bridges to cross and, contrary to popular belief, running “down” Fifth Avenue and into Central Park at the end of the race is more uphill than down. But he completed the race in five hours, nine minutes and thirty seconds, placing 36,845th of the entire field. A most satisfying birthday celebration!
Which leads me to consider what we should do for our next milestone birthday. It will come all too quickly.
Last night marked the restoration of a piano and of a musical tradition. Several years ago, baritone Mark Pedrotti and his partner Bob Dann offered to house an 80-year-old grand piano which had once been used by Eugene Ormandy at the Philadelphia Orchestra. Eventually, they bought it and had it refurbished. Last night, they invited their friends to a concert in their historic home in downtown Toronto to celebrate the renewal of the instrument. Thirty-five people gathered in their large and gracious living room for what was effectively a musical salon. And what a splendid evening it was.
Retired political scientist Joe Wearing played four short pieces by Scriabin. Medical doctor Mario Ostrowski played a Chopin Nocturne. Accompanied by pianist Lawrence Pitchko, Mark sang several Mahler songs of love, passion and separation from “Des Knaben Wunderhorn.” The musicians played and sang with such verve and sensitivity that everyone present was enchanted. And, of course, the piano resonated with the most beautiful of sounds.
There is something magical about a musical event held in a home. Wonderful music played and sung by talented musicians willing to share with their friends creates an ambiance which is totally engaging. The melodies soothe and delight. The outdoor natural light streaming through the windows casts a warm glow. Maybe it is the immediacy of the situation, the residual memories of family times past around a piano. Or maybe it is the harkening back to earlier eras when making music, and sharing music, was the entertainment of the day.
I don’t know whether musical salons in times past were accompanied by food and drink. This particular musical program, however, occurred after appetizers and before dinner in the garden. Mark is a marvellous cook and Bob loves to entertain, so good food and lavish drink were definitely part of the repertoire. Needless to say, after such an evening, everyone present was keen for another.
It’s funny. Music has never been more accessible than it is today. It seems that everyone of a certain age on public transit is sporting buds in their ears. Radio, iPods, iTunes, music streaming, CDs, DVDs, music videos, YouTube, airplane entertainment programs and all manner of constantly-evolving technology bring the world’s best music of all genres to the masses at the press of a button, or the flick of a switch. Raves are notorious. Famous folk artists, rock stars, crooners attract thousands to their concerts. Culture vultures flock to the symphony, concert halls, theatres, church venues, the opera and even opera shown at the movie theatres.
Yet it strikes me that making music and sharing it with friends occurs rarely. I know many skilled musicians and wonderful singers, but have seldom heard them play or sing. They may participate in a concert, sing in a choir, or play professional gigs of various sorts, and invite their friends to attend. But playing or singing informally with friends or family or, even more formally, as in a musical salon, is rare. Is this modesty? Or a fear of standing out in the crowd? Or of imposing on others? Or are musicians, by nature, perfectionists for whom making music that may not be up to their normal standards is too painful? Or maybe it is my fault, because I have not asked them to play or invited them to sing. Maybe I, like many others, have found it easier to buy tickets and access music commercially than to put in the effort to organize a songfest that I love or a salon like that we enjoyed last night. Whatever the reason, it is our loss.
The ability to make music requires a special talent and reflects years of hard work, discipline and training. Sharing music is a great gift and a wonderful contribution to community. Music lifts the spirit and nourishes the soul. Thank you, Mark and Bob, for showing the way. May your piano continue to age well, may musical salons flourish, and communal music-making continue.
By coincidence, this very morning, my Australian cousin sent this Queensland Symphony Orchestra YouTube video of 21st century community music making, down under. Maybe you will enjoy it as much as I did.