Our Lemon Tree

Since childhood we have been admonished if we are given lemons we should make lemonade.  But when you inherit a lemon tree outside your patio door that sprouts lemons like a patch of dandelion seeds thrown on the wind, you not only make lemonade but you make lemon curd, you make lemon loaf, you make lemon chicken, you make lemon chutney, you make lemon marinade, you make lemon sorbet, you make lemon panacotta, you make lemon marmalade, you make lemon surprise.  And you eat lemon marmalade every morning for the next three months since you can’t bring lemon marmalade back home because of customs.  You squeeze lemons on the electric juicer until you have frozen containers of lemon juice in your freezer which you know will never be used since when you return next fall the lemon tree will welcome you once again with its abundance.  You know this to be true because before you have bared the tree of this year’s harvest the blossoms for next year’s lemons have blossomed and fallen to the ground.

In the annals of fruit lore the lemon has a very shadowy history.  Not shadowy as in disreputable, but shadowy as in little is known of its beginnings.  Some think it was first discovered growing in northern India where it has been cultivated for over 2500 years. Some suggest the possibility of Southeast Asia.  Some give credit to the Arab traders for bringing the lemon to the Middle East and Africa sometime after 100 C.E. while other writers claim the Romans, after discovering a direct sea route from the southern end of the Red Sea to India, were responsible for it reaching the Mediterranean area about the same time.  It was first brought to the New World - the West Indies - on Christopher Columbus second trip in 1493. 

Its name ‘lemon’ is also the result of a tortuous journey.  It is suggested that in China it was given the name ‘limung’ which in Persia became ‘limun’, in Italy ‘limone’.  In France it became ‘limon’ which appeared in Middle English as ‘lemon’.

Whoever takes the credit, lemon trees went forth and multiplied.  In spite of its abundance, the lemon has no place in Greek or Roman mythology.  It can lay no claim to any history of sensuality or of playing the role of temptress in creating the awareness of good and evil or of luring any person from the path of righteousness.  Lemons were primarily used for ornamental trees or medicines until the late 18th century when they became an ingredient in cooking.

And so, our inherited lemon tree has commandeered our waking moments - searching for new and exciting recipes, strengthening our arms to wield the lemon picker and finding willing recipients to share the pleasure of our lemon tree’s abundance. 

Remembering Ralph Connor


Under the protective shadow of the Three Sisters Mountain, since 1890 the Ralph Connor Memorial United Church has stood in its Carpenter Gothic simplicity on the main street of Canmore, Alberta. After ordination as a Presbyterian minister in 1890, Charles Gordon (pen name Ralph Connor) moved to Alberta (then known as the Northwest Territories) where he served a large area west of Calgary until 1894.  His work among the lumbermen and miners forms the basis of his first book Black Rock published three years after he left the west.  It is believed that he asked his publisher to publish it under the name Cannor (to stand for Canadian Northwest) and through a publishing error it came out ‘Connor’.

But Charles Gordon was more than a minister, more than a writer.  In 1915, at the age of 54, he became senior Protestant chaplain to the 43rdBattalion of the Cameron Highlanders in England and France.

My seventeen year old Uncle Jim joined the Cameron Highlanders in Winnipeg in July of 1915 and was part of the 43rd battalion overseas.  On May 1916 he writes to his mother from the Ypres salient:

There has only been one communion since we have been in France and unfortunately I was on duty all that day.  Dr. Gordon was away for awhile when we came over first but came the second time we went into the trenches with us and has been with us ever since.  We will have a service tomorrow in the YMCA and that will be our last Sunday out before we go back to the trenches.

 Shortly after this letter Jim’s field diary reveals heavy fighting in the Ypres salient:

June 2, 1916

Stand to all day and moved up to Tillebeck dugouts in the evening.  Big battle in the loop of the salient.  CMRs (Canadian Mounted Rifles) and PPCLI (Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry) cut up.  Fritz explodes a mine and takes trenches, also Sanctuary Wood.  Heavy casualties.

 June 13th

Left Belgian Chateau on a forced march to Tillebeke dugouts and stayed there till the next evening. Rained for the last couple of days and trenches in bad mess

13th and 16th Batt. took back trenches lost on June 2nd and took quite a few prisoners. Quite a few casualties.

 Writing home on June 17th, Jim says:

Dear Mother and Father

I guess you’ve been anxious about me. We have been having quite a time these last two weeks but I came through it safe. Now Mother, don’t worry about me.  Altho I had quite a few narrow escapes I am in fine health and a good rest will fix us all up fine…

July 6, 1916

Dear Mother

…I was at church parade and we had a union parade with the 60th Batt. as they are in the same brigade as we are; we had service in the open. Major Gordon preached and is very popular among the boys and certainly does his duty when in the trenches.  He comes around to the trenches every evening to see us…

Later that summer during the Battle of the Somme while trying to take the Regina Trench on October 8th, Jim was wounded.  He died of his wounds on October 15th, 1916.  In response to a letter from my grandmother Major Gordon replies on November 14th

My dear Mrs. Fargey

You have reason to be thankful to God for all he has done for you – for He has given you a wonderful courage and faith in a time when faith and courage are sorely needed.  You say that I perhaps did not know your boy.  But I did. And remember well his fine manly soldierly bearing.  I wish I knew more of his death. But all we know is that he went forward with his company and did his duty – got his wound – a very bad wound in the leg- I fancy his thigh was broken – of this I am not sure.  It was a terrible day for the 43rd – our losses were proportionately very heavy – but we are proud to know that our boys went steadily forward – without faltering – reached the German’s wire – which was found uncut except in certain spots – some of the boys went through these lines into the trench and past the trench on to the second objective – but of these very few came back…

 It is this man – this minister, author, chaplain to soldiers –  who is remembered and honoured by the congregations of the Ralph Connor Memorial United church in Canmore.

In 1976,  Charles William Gordon, (Ralph Connor) was recognized as a Person of National Historic Significance by Heritage Canada.

A Tribute To Woodbine Willy

Geoffrey Studdert-Kennedy

Geoffrey Studdert-Kennedy was an Anglican priest serving as chaplain during World War I.  He would go to the front lines and crawl into no-man’s land during the thick of battle giving spiritual comfort to and sharing his Woodbine cigarettes with the injured and dying soldiers.  They nicknamed him ‘Woodbine Willy’.

Studdert-Kennedy’s sermons were easy listening and fun and effective.  He also wrote poetry in the vernacular.  While writing Hold The Oxo! I became very fond of Woodbine Willy and his courage in his ministry to the soldiers.  I included one of his poems in my manuscript.  For whatever reason, the poem didn’t make the cut so I decided to give him his voice here.


The Secret

You were askin’ ’ow we sticks it,
Sticks this blarsted rain and mud,
’Ow it is we keeps on smilin’
When the place runs red wi’ blood.
Since you’re askin’, I can tell ye,
And I thinks I tells ye true,
But it ain’t official, mind ye,
It’s a tip twixt me and you.
For the General thinks it’s tactics,
And the bloomin’ plans ‘e makes.
And the C.O. thinks it’s trainin’,
And the trouble as he takes.
Sergeant-Major says it’s drillin’,
And ‘is straffin’ on parade,
Doctor swears it’s sanitation,
And some patent stinks ’e’s made.
Padre tells us its religion,
And the Spirit of the Lord;
But I ain’t got much religion,
And I sticks it still, by Gawd
Quarters kids us it’s the rations,
And the dinners as we gets.
But I knows what keeps us smilin’,
It’s the Woodbine Cigarettes.
For the daytime seems more dreary,
And the night-time seems to drag
To eternity of darkness,
When ye aven’t got a fag.
Then the rain seems some’ow wetter,
And the cold cuts twice as keen,
And ye keeps on seein’ Boches,
What the Sargint ’asn’t seen.
If ole Fritz ’as been and got ye,
And ye ’ave to stick the pain,
If ye ’aven’t got a fag on,
Why it ’urts as bad again.
When there ain’t no fags to pull at,
Then there’s terror in the ranks.
That’s the secret — (yes, I’ll ’ave one).
Just a fag — and many Tanks.

— “Woodbine Willy”*


To read other Woodbine Willy poems check:
Rough Rhymes of a Padre (1918)
More Rough Rhymes (1919)


Photo: Janet Pliszka

Photo: Janet Pliszka

It is several years since our daughter, Delphine, presented her play Craving to the Edmonton Fringe Audiences.  Recently she played to audiences at the New York Fringe at the The Studio at Cherry Lane Theatre.  And we attended!

The Cherry Lane Theatre, a landmark in Greenwich Village’s cultural landscape, is New York’s oldest, continuously running Off-Broadway theatre located on the quiet, secluded Commerce St.  Since 1817 the site has changed from silo to brewery to tobacco warehouse to box factory.  In 1924 it was converted from a box factory into the theater called Cherry Lane Playhouse.

Cherry Lane Studio opened its doors in September, 1998 as a birthing room for new American work.  The 60-seat black-box theater was originally named the “Alternative Space”. Currently, the CLT Studio is a safe haven for the development of new plays.


A gracefully understated monologue, Craving traces the author and actor Delphine Brooker’s adolescent struggles with bulimia and anorexia…


“…she tells us her story in a riveting show because she wants us to live.”

Edmonton Journal, 2004

My Garden

Our garden is a celebratory garden! It is also a random, rambling garden not unfamiliar with the odd weed. The lawn bordering the garden does not always form sharp, delineated edges which give way to gently sloping rich loam leading up to precisely staked flowers with appropriate distances between each plant. More often lawn edges sport wisps of grass missed this week by the lawnmower and so given a reprieve from the butcher’s blade until the next cutting. The flowers, although exuberant , appear to have been ‘broadcast’ – which is an old fashioned way of saying the planter walked along scattering seeds with a gentle arc of his or her hand completely unaware of the concept of prepared rows. The joy in our garden does not come from its All-American perfection but from its contents.

The tiny sky-blue for-get-me-nots are the first to greet the spring in their eagerness to get their message across. They bring with them a bittersweet remembrance since my mother suffered for 17 years from Alzheimer’s and although she forgot me, the adopted flower for the Alzheimer Society begs me not to forget her. Yes, Mother, you are remembered. Fast on the heels and mingling with the forget-me-nots are the yellow and burgundy iris which take me back to my childhood and my roots. Iris were introduced to the North American continent in the early 1900’s – just at the time my grandparents homesteaded their farm in southwest Manitoba – which would become the home of my childhood. In her first garden my grandmother planted the Princess Victoria Louise iris. When we left the farm a root from the Princess Victoria Louise came with us – to Winnipeg and eventually migrated west with us to Edmonton. Each spring they flag (their early common name) the end of winter.

While on your way through my garden to the roses, lilies nod their welcome as they have since our 40th anniversary – a gift from a friend. You pass the roses commemorating the birth of our last two grandchildren, Eliza and Tess to reach our latest addition – the Morden Sunrise Rose – celebrating love. Welcome to our garden!

New Year's Resolution

At the end of November 1930 Emily Carr wrote in her journal Hundred and Thousands:  “Yesterday I went to town and bought this book to enter scraps in, not a diary of statistics and dates…but just to jot me down in, unvarnished me…It seems to me it helps to write things and thoughts down…It sorts out jumbled up thoughts and helps to clarify them…”

May Emily Carr sit on my shoulder this year – nudging and poking and prodding me into journalising.   I have the book, since I have collected journals over the years with good intentions.  I have lacked the discipline.  May Emily go even further than a gentle poke or prod and threaten me:  “If you don’t write things down where do they go?  Into the lazy bog of neglected opportunities.  Thoughts we might have developed,,.actions we might have accomplished.  Inertia and deadness.”

Today is my last day of scrap paper journalism.  I have the book.  I have the good intentions.  I have written down for everyone to read my resolution.  And I will constantly remind myself of the spring morning when Emily Carr promised:  “Look what is happening in the garden this very minute.  All the little winter thoughts of it are bursting forth…Now there is a roaring hubbub, a torrent of growth gushing forth that won’t be stopped because the dear old earth has nursed and treasured her thoughts deep down in the winter quiet.  Now they are paying her back gloriously.”

Quoted from Hundreds and Thousands:  The Journal of Emily Carr