Citizens for a Livable Cranbrook Society provides grassroots leadership and an inclusive process, with a voice for all community members, to ensure that our community grows and develops in a way that incorporates an environmental ethic, offers a range of housing and transportation choices, encourages a vibrant and cultural life and supports sustainable, meaningful employment and business opportunities.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Michael's Musings

Living the American Dream Despite Tragedies

By Michael J Morris

Whenever there is a major crisis in the United States, my connection to the country from the time I was a child, returns to my thoughts, and to paraphrase Ralph Waldo Emerson, the American essayist, who did not like quotations, I wake up in the morning with devout thanksgiving for my friends, the old and the new who live there.

Once again this week, my American friends and my cousin Michael and his wife Alison who were visiting their daughter and grandchildren in Boston were much on my mind. It is really such a small world, and when an incident like the bombing at the Boston Marathon occurs, it somehow touches all of us. Within two hours of the tragedy I was reminded that in 2012 a friend from Cranbrook had participated in it.

Michael, Alison and their grandchildren had been watching it but were safe.

After my father, Flying Officer James E. Morris was killed while on active service in the Royal Canadian Air Force during World War II, my mother  Muriel (Hunt) Morris decided we would  stay in  touch with some of my parents' close friends made when he was a Flying Instructor with the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. That decision has played a profound role in my life ever since.

Iven and Arlene Nichol came to Canada from the United States after the war started in 1939,  and Iven joined the RCAF, then became, like my father, a flying instructor at Mount Hope near Hamilton.  Iven was one of hundreds of Americans who came to Canada to join our nation's armed forces before their country entered the war in 1941.

J.L. Granatstein, the former CEO of the Canadian War Museum and historian described the BCATP as "the major Canadian military contribution to the Allied (Second World) War effort." It was a program to train air crew members from the Royal Air Force, the Royal Australian Air Force and Royal New Zealand Air Force and RCAF in Canada. By the end of the war more than 130,000 air crew members had been trained and more than 100 aerodromes and landing fields built across Canada.

My parents met them in Hamilton, and more than 70 years later, I am in contact with their children. In a real way, I have been able to follow the American Dream through their family, beginning shortly after the end of the war when Mom and I travelled by train from Chapleau to Illinois to pay our first visit.

It was on that trip that I visited Tom Sawyer's caves in Hannibal, Missouri in Mark Twain country and fell in love with marching bands when they took us to the Illinois State Fair.

As Iven moved up the corporate ladder, the ever growing family moved to Pittsburgh where we  visited often and I saw my first Major League baseball game.

But most importantly, I still recall Iven telling my mother that the next day he was going to take me and their oldest daughter Sandy for an airplane ride over Pittsburgh. My mother was not in favour, but Iven insisted that given how my father died, it was something that had to be done. Iven won and to this day I am grateful to him.

But, he wasn't done. We had arrived in Pittsburgh by train, but Iven arranged for us to fly back to Toronto on a commercial flight which was the first time my mother had flown.

We visited them In Stamford, Connecticut too and I spent part of many summers living in the United States. I had my first slice of pizza in Stamford.

After my mother died in 1989, I was going through her address book and found a number for them in Florida where they had moved to retire. I called and had one long last chat with Arlene. Iven had died a few years earlier.

But, how did I get back in touch with the Nichol children?  Actually they found me. In 2009, I wrote a story about watching the Stanley Cup finals between Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Redwings, mentioning that I was cheering for Pittsburgh because as a kid I visited Iven  and Arlene Nichol who had lived there. It appeared on the Internet. Some time later there was a comment posted on it from Susan: "I am one of Iven and Arlene's daughters. They loved to entertain so I am not surprised that they showed you some American life." Needless to say, I was amazed.

Then I received an email from Janet, another daughter. There were eight daughters, seven of whom are still alive.

Janet explained: "My nephew was asking my sister Susan if his grandfather was on the internet.  She did a search and your blog came up from your report on the 2009 Stanley Cup where you reminisced about Pittsburgh and your visits with my family Iven and Arlene Nichol.  You can imagine my sister’s shock and my nephew’s joy to find that small paragraph so kindly penned about our parents/grandparents."

Sandy, the eldest of the family shared that her father came to Canada as he was upset that the US was doing nothing to stop Hitler and he felt so stongly about it that he enlisted in the RCAF. "Since you knew him I'm sure that this makes perfect sense to you.  He held such strong convictions and felt that Hitler needed to be stopped.  He went to Canada and enlisted and I suppose it was pure happenstance that he was sent to Hamilton.  The real irony is that after all of that, he was never sent to Germany to bomb the Nazis, but was left behind to train others to do what he wanted to do himself."
Sandy concluded that it was nice to have a "brother" and that I had "seven sisters" in the United States. 

In the shadows of Disneyland in Anaheim, California live the motel kids which is their only option other than homelessness. For eight years my good friend Bruno Serato, who emigrated to the United States from Italy with nothing more than 30 years, and now owns the Anaheim White House, feeds up to 300 motel kids a good meal every night.

His charitable work resulted in him being named one of the CNN Heroes. Bruno's mother was visiting him from Italy and they went to visit a Boys and Girls Club, and on April 18, 2005, she insisted that her son feed the kids. And he has been doing it ever since.

One of the highlights of my American experience was to visit Bruno for the lighting of a real Christmas tree at his restaurant -- complete with falling snow. There I was, a kid from northern Ontario for the lighting of a huge Christmas tree.

 And yes, the light does shine in the darkness and the darkness shall not overcome it as long as there are people like the Nichol family and Bruno Serato keeping the American Dream alive despite tragedies that are seemingly beyond comprehension.  

Speaking at an interfaith service in Boston, President Barack Obama said in part: "This doesn't stop us. And that's what you've taught us, Boston. That's what you've reminded us -- to push, to not grow weary, to not get faint, even when it hurts. We finish the race.

"And we do that because of who we are and we do that because we know that somewhere around the bend, a stranger has a cup of water. Around the bend, somebody's there to boost our spirits. On that toughest mile, just when we think we've hit  wall, someone will be there to cheer us on and pick us up."

I may just plan to attend the Boston Marathon in 2014 with my American friends. See you there with yours! My email is mj.morris@live.ca

Full disclosure: I am not now and never have been a member of the Citizens for a Livable Cranbrook Society; however, I did conduct a workshop for its members for which I was paid.

1 comment:

  1. Michael J MorrisApril 1, 2014 at 2:37 PM

    I was so surprised to see this column back in Top Ten, and more surprised to hear from folks who have seen it. I won't be at this year's Boston Marathon but my cousin Michael and his wife Alison plan to be there with the grandchildren..

    ReplyDelete