Archive for February, 2011

My Uncle Dumaresq was easily my favourite uncle. He was the oldest and wisest of mother’s four brothers. Because their father had died in 1914, leaving his widow Jean to raise their six children alone, in later life Uncle Dumaresq was virtually the paterfamilias of the whole extended family of my aunts, uncles and cousins. Dumaresq was also the only one of Jean’s six children who had no children of his own.

Born in 1897, he was raised in the family home on Oxford St. in Halifax. After completing high school, he enrolled in Engineering at Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. Alas, he never completed his degree, because after the advent of WWI, he and his brother Ken enlisted in the army in 1916, the earliest that they could be accepted. Some fudging of ages probably took place. After basic training at Petawawa, they soon found themselves in France, artillery officers in different companies, in the thick of the war. Luckily, both brothers survived the war and were shipped home.

During his crossing of the Atlantic after being demobilized, Ken struck up a shipboard friendship and before the ship docked in Halifax, Ken had been offered a good position in Toronto. Dumaresq decided that he would try his luck too. The result of these decisions was that Jean decided to move her whole family to Toronto, after selling her dream home which had been designed for her by her architect brother, Sydney. She did not want her family broken up again so soon after her big boys had returned from overseas.

Fast forward to the 1940s. My dad is now overseas, an RCAF Intelligence officer on a bomber base in Yorkshire. Mother doesn’t drive, so at the end of June every year, we pack up and Uncle Dumaresq, too old to re-enlist, drives us in his old pre-war black Dodge to our Lake Simcoe cottage, which our Nana Jean owns. Uncle Dumaresq owns the cottage to the left of ours, and Uncle Ken owns the cottage on the right. Dumaresq, who is a stockbroker, drives down to the city every weekday and returns in the afternoon. Brokerage offices close early and he’s always back in time for dinner. He and Uncle Ken spend hours in the lake. They build a dock and a diving tower. Raking the bottom of the lake, they pile up the excavated rocks to build up the shoreline and leave the lake bottom all nice and sandy for little feet that explore the lake.

But mostly, Uncle Dumaresq gardens. Gardening is not only his hobby, it’s his passion, and he’s gifted at it. He has a huge Victory Garden out the back of the cottage, which is built on a former farm and has fantastically arable soil. In the spring, before we have even moved up to the lake, he drops by our Leaside house with baskets of freshly-picked asparagus. All summer long we eat vegetables grown by him. He frequently sends me out to pick peas or beans, and always with the admonition not to eat too many raw ones. The summer drifts by with feasts of
carrots, onions, beets, chards, and always, his sweet corn and succulent beefsteak tomatoes. On Saturday nights in August, he often treats the family to a corn roast.

He also runs a compost pile, and almost every day I am asked to take the compostibles up the garden path to add to the pile. When I was seven I saw my first garter snake slide out from that compost. Thanksgiving dinner is always held at the cottage. For any dinner, he has a golden rule, which was passed down through our family over the years: “No seconds until the carver has finished his own first course!” Our Thanksgiving dinner is always graced by his squash, potatoes, beans, peas, and of course, a pumpkin pie. And by this time my mother and my Nana have finished preserving (in the primitive cottage kitchen) as much of all this produce as they can. Our larders are full of his fruits and vegetables to carry us through the winter.

But Uncle Dumaresq’s garden specialty is gladioli. He grows beautiful flowers all summer long. His sweet peas and morning glories rise up the sides of the cottages. Back in the garden, he teaches me the names of many of his favourite flowers that grow there. His regal prize-winning gladioli brighten the days of everyone who looks at them. My cousin Libby, by now a teenager and a gifted artist, paints glorious watercolours of the glads.

In the early 50’s Uncle Dumaresq and Aunt Margaret, who were thinking of tearing down their cottage and building a new one, suddenly buy a Tudor mansion on an 8-acre waterfront estate at Roches Point, about a mile and half up the road from the cottage. He fell in love with the formal gardens, and the huge kitchen garden with its greenhouse, while Aunt Margaret fell in love with the house and the rose arbour. The house now became a centre of family gatherings of note over the next 10 years. Year round, he commuted daily to the city, but many Christmas and birthday parties took place at this beloved home, which my mother named “Medhurst,” after his childhood nickname, “Meddy.”

By the time Dumaresq and Margaret moved into Medhurst, my dad had been home from the war for about 8 years and Dumaresq was no longer our family driver. Our family didn’t see quite as much of him after the move, except for his regular deliveries of freshly-harvested vegetables in season. He loved having all of us up to Medhurst for celebrations. All of my cousins and I treasure those memories. In the mid-50’s, he unexpectedly made me a huge offer. As I graduated from high school, he asked me to consider enrolling at Acadia University. I was going to be the first member of his family to get a university degree. The architects of the previous two generations in our family had been trained in the offices of practicing architects, as was the custom before the 20th century. Dumaresq fondly remembered Acadia and badly wanted me to go to Nova Scotia. If I said yes, he would pay all my expenses until I graduated from Acadia. I turned him down, for I wanted to go to U of T very badly.

When Dumaresq died in 1965, succumbing suddenly to a heart attack, our family was broken-hearted. I miss him to this day. He loved us all dearly, although he was not that demonstrative. We just knew it. In his will he decreed that after Aunt Margaret died, whatever was left of his estate was to be shared equally amongst all the nieces and nephews, both his and hers. A decade after his death, there were more than 20 of us who shared that estate. To this day, whenever we have a family reunion, the women of my generation wear or carry their mementos of this beloved member of our family.
Margaret Strath tells me that she found Dumaresq and Ken Smith on Ancestry.com. Dumaresq’s name appears there as J.Dumaresq Smith.
He never was formally or legally given the name James. Dumaresq was a stockbroker at a very highly reputable company on Bay St. This company advertised locally and named their trading partners in the ads. Dumaresq Smith was the only partner with a single given name. So he popped a J. in front of his given name and became J. Dumaresq Smith forever after. This name change never went through the courts, and the J.was only there to dress up the name. Hee! It’s possible that he told people who asked about the J that his name was James (just to pacify them) but it wasn’t a legal name of his.

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Author: Hillenbrand, Laura
Pub: Random House, c2010
Personal ranking: 8/10

Subtitle: A World War II story of survival, resilience, and redemption.
This book was passed along to me with a caution that I had to have it finished before March 1, because it has a date with a plane flight that day. It’s being carried to Calgary to the next person who gets to borrow it. (The family has a long-distance lending library going on!)
I’d probably never have picked up this book, let alone purchased it, and I am glad I didn’t miss it.
The book is truly a testament to the endurance of the human spirit. It’s a biography of Louis Zamperini, an American Olympic-grade runner who was shot down in his bomber during WWII. Louis survived the terrifying ditching of his plane in shark-infested waters, but the real hell lay ahead.
This is the long story of his isolation and survival while drifting across the Pacific Ocean for more than 40 days on a tiny raft, nearly starving to death, and finally washing ashore on a Japanese-held island. Then he endures two long and frightful years of abuse, starvation, dehydration, beatings, and humiliation at the hands of his cruel and abusive Japanese captors. It’s a wonder that he survived.
This true story, which flows like the best fiction, is a very engrossing read by the same author who wrote “Seabiscuit.” It’s well worth one’s time.

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If you haven’t yet gotten out to see the nominees for this year’s Academy Awards, may I suggest that it is time to get cracking?
I’ve never publicly promoted a movie before, but this year, I’ll make an exception.
The King’s Speech is just a wonderful movie, and the cast of characters brings to life the Royals just before, and during WW2.
King George V briefly appears, and then is succeeded by his playboy son David, the lover of Wallis Simpson. He becomes King Edward VII, but is never crowned because it is soon evident that love and romance will supersede his royal duty. He abdicates the British throne, and his younger brother Bertie becomes King George VI and leads the British people through WW2. But Bertie, who never expected to rule the nation, has a problem to cope with. He stammers, quite badly. And there hangs a story worth telling.
This film is a slice of British history, seen through the eyes of those at the helm of the country.
It’s one of the best movies I have ever seen, with sublime acting and sets that are utterly authentic. (I’d love to have a film or book on The Making of The King’s Speech.) Colin Firth gives a master class in acting here, virtually disappearing into his role as Bertie….and thereby earning an Oscar nomination. Unless you are living in a cave somewhere, you probably know by now that he is the front runner for the award.

The story will grab you, and unless I miss my guess, you will be rooting very hard for Bertie, long before the end of the movie. Also in this movie we have two of our favourite British actors, Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle, in the same film again, oh bliss. Fell in love with them as Darcy and Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice, and here they are in another British drama, back to entertain us again. They are not “a couple” this time, but a delight to see again.
The Best Supporting Actor and Actress nominations of Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham-Carter are also well-deserved. Rush should walk away with the statuette.
Please, please go see The King’s Speech before February 27 (Oscar night.)

This link will take you to more than one trailer. I hope they will convince you to get out to the movie!


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