“It’s always good to remember where you come from and celebrate it. To remember where you come from is part of where you’re going.”
– Anthony Burgess
I think that April 2020 will likely go down in history as one of the longest, most bizarre months of any of our lifetimes. Here at Quiet Legacy, although an essential business, we’ve been operating remotely now for over forty days, and as strange as things have been, we’ve been largely successful in adapting to our new normal, although our staffing has increased to a few extra family members, young children, and at least one dog.
I won’t lie, it has been difficult in the last few weeks to think what would be an appropriate topic for our newsletter for May – especially one that didn’t require mentioning the virus-which-shall-not-be-named. As our current crazy state of life grinds on, I find that for the first time in a long, long while, I’ve found myself strangely speechless.
In the midst of this, Sarah Morkin, our extraordinary Operations Director and I have been blown away by the incredible generosity of our communities, on a national and local scale, as well as within our client practice. We reached out to see how our clients who are in isolation are holding up, and in the process, we had many folks offer to pitch in to help if we learned of anyone in their neighbourhood that needed help. Our community has once again showed us why we love working with you so very, very much.
As Sarah and I spoke about this, and many other moments of kindness and community, she relayed how this situation reminded her so much of her grandmother, and how her community came together in hard times. We suddenly realized that Sarah’s grandmother’s story was the perfect thing to share with you this month. I hope you will be as inspired as I was to hear this in Sarah’s own words.
“Individually we are one drop. Together we are an ocean.”
– Ryūnosuke Akutagawa
I wish to share with you the wisdom of my Grandmother (she is the young girl pictured above on the far left) and the lessons she shared with me before her passing. It is a story about community coming together to empower one another through terrible times. For me, it is also a parable as to how local charities and non-profits need our support now more than ever. It is through these groups that we can connect with each other in meaningful ways and change the course of a young life, as my Grandma was lucky to experience.
In the spring of 2012, I had graduated from college and started looking for work. While trying to find full-time work in my field of study, I was working as a waitress at a breakfast diner, with shifts that were from Friday to Sunday. Very graciously, my Grandma hired me for one day a week at minimum wage, to help her with cleaning and organizing. It was a great way to spend time with her regularly, while helping to stay on top of her innate ability to collect more things than her one-bedroom apartment could reasonably contain.
While I never meant to insult her with my organizing, I never understood why she would need to hoard an abundance of paper, books, journals, linens, clothing, and kitchen supplies. As I moved from room to room, I would find money in her freezer, cherished family pictures hidden inside her notebooks and some of the most remarkable heirlooms tucked away in an inconspicuous box that could have been mistakenly destined for the trash.
One day, while cleaning her kitchen, we struck up a conversation that led to an insight on her life that I’d never been privy to before. The conversation started when I asked her why she was keeping so many red glasses in her kitchen, if she never intended to use them. On the top of her kitchen cupboard was a grand collection of various red glass ornaments. Goblets, candlesticks, pitchers, plates, bowls, all of which were dull and dusty. Some were gifts from her wedding and some were miss-matched one-off’s, collected from the shelves of her local Bibles for Mission, to which she was considered a frequent flyer. No matter where they came from, they were important to her and aside from my dusting, they were not to be moved. But on this day, as a joke, I brought two down, washed them well and poured us some cranberry juice to go with our lunch. She thought it was ridiculous, but you could tell she was secretly getting a kick out of it. Suddenly and unexpectedly, she began to open up to me.
“You see Sari, it was very different times back when I was young. We didn’t have all the new kinds of entertainment you have now. I was born in 1934 and by that time, my parents already had four kids to support and a farm that was struggling to keep afloat. There was a terrible drought in Saskatchewan and the great depression was hitting everyone hard. We’d didn’t have very much at all, but what I do remember fondly is the red stained glass window on our front door. The sun would come through that window and turn the whole room red. It was beautiful. That’s why I keep those silly things… it reminds me of home.”
Instantly, I had a lump in my throat for ever teasing her about them, for now my intentions were to immediately take them all down for a proper wash so that they’d sparkle for her. It never occurred to me that something collecting dust in the far reaches of her kitchen might symbolize such an intimate memory. Blaming the ignorance of my youth, I asked her what else she missed about her home.
“I miss my family”, she said. “I never fully understood the sacrifices they made to support our home and the community. So many people were losing family farms and struggling to put food on the table. Everyone worked so hard just to provide the bare minimum to survive.”
“My older brothers and sisters put their own money towards my weekly vocal lessons. My mother would stretch our food as far as she could, then make extra portions and it was my job to deliver it over to the neighbors. There were many neighbors sharing with one another, whatever they could spare. Extra potatoes, a loaf of bread, sugar and canned preserves would all be shared with families on our street, through our church and the local social clubs. We had such a strong bond with each other because we came together with kindness and generosity. Loss within one family was felt amongst all of us and it became a comradery that lifted everyone. It was something of a miracle that came from a very troubling time.”
That day I cleaned all the red glass decorations and left her apartment feeling a deeper connection in our relationship. For most of my life, we didn’t get into the details of her childhood. I knew that she’d been a professional singer, but the extent of those details were somewhat vague. She wasn’t one to boast about herself and any personal details of her life before she started a family would only come up when prompted. Much of my memories of her was sharing a love of “The Sound of Music”, going to vocal lessons together, attending her choir’s concerts and being under constant scrutiny for bad posture and dining etiquette.
I would later learn that it was The Princess Patricia Club (PPC) of Regina that sponsored the furthering of her vocal lessons. After graduating high school, she became a member of the CBC radio choir singers and was featured regularly on the Trans Canada Live Show each Friday night. In September of 1955 she was granted scholarships from the PPC and the Lions Club, as well as a grant from the Canadian Council for the Arts, to study music in England at the Royal Conservatory of Music. She was the first student to ever earn 100% on a teaching exam, or any exam up to that date.
In October of 1959 she left England to continue her studies in West Berlin, Germany. There she received scholarship and sang with the West Berlin Opera. She would go on to tour Europe for several years. In Neuchâtel, Switzerland, she was awarded with the key to the city. She would later go on to teach as a professor of music at the University of Bowling Green, Ohio, and sing in front of none other than Martin Luther King Jr.
I believe it is fair to say that her life’s accomplishments might not have been possible if it wasn’t for the contributions of her local non-profits and the charities that supported her development and education. These diverse groups gathered people together to break bread, provide social support and host opportunities for awards, grants and scholarships. They invested in the youth of their communities and changed the course of many lives, forever. These groups were all funded by the collective contributions of a community and government alike. They recognized the value of investing in tomorrow by aiding those afflicted with hardship today.
This generosity is the key to our success amid times of social distancing and flattening the curve of this pandemic. I invite you all to think of that charity that is near to your heart and find a way to help their cause, in whatever form that you can. These organizations are ones who support the next generation of leaders, artists, scientists, farmers, healthcare workers, educators and essential workers that will ensure a brighter tomorrow. Now, more than ever, we must realize how important these diverse roles are to the growth of our society.
In our office, we see the impact our local organizations are making in our community on a daily basis, and now, more than ever they need our help. While many of our organizations are on the front lines – like healthcare, foodbanks and shelters–there are many other organizations that need our help as well. Our arts, culture and educational organizations have ground to a halt. Hopefully, if we can dig deep, and sacrifice for our common good, these organizations will be able to help another talented young woman find her way in life well into the future.