Parkinson’s: Identity Crisis? Who? Me?

Preamble

I recently published a fairly blunt article, “Why I think  Parkinson’s is a Soul Sucking Disease.”  That article has had well in excess of 1,000 hits since December 1, 2017. I have also received numerous comments, mostly favourable, although some believe that I take an overly negative approach.  I am currently working on a follow up post tentatively entitled, “How I Live with Parkinson’s, a Soul Sucking Disease.”

In the course of researching this next post, it became evident to me once again that Persons with Parkinson’s (PwP) must come to grips with their relationship to Parkinson’s if we are to face the challenges effectively.  Do we accept it? Do we deny it? Is there some middle ground where our identity is not integrally related to Parkinson’s one way or the other?  On October 7, 2013 I considered these very questions in a post called, Parkinson’s: Identity Crisis? Who? Me? 

More than four years have passed and I remain so very much in sync with my thinking at that time that I re-post the article below as background reading for my forthcoming article, “How I Live with Parkinson’s, a  Soul Sucking Disease.”  

Encore post: Parkinson’s: Identity Crisis? Who? Me?  (originally published October 7, 2013)

Not surprisingly, upon discovering that I have Parkinson’s, I began a process of reassessing who I am.  Some might say I was having an identity crisis but I prefer to say that I was searching for the answer – with apologies to The Killers  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RIZdjT1472Y who sing

Are we human or are we dancer?

My sign is vital and my hands are cold

And I’m on my knees looking for the answer

Are we human or are we dancer?

This song has been bouncing around in my brain for some time. It is funny what you think about when you are gardening. Only I was singing (badly out loud, but perfectly in my head) alternately:  “Am I Parkinson’s or am I gardener?” Or “Am I human or am I Parkinson’s?” The third possibility, “Am I human or am I gardener?” was never really an option. Parkinson’s is part of the equation no matter how you look at it.

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Who fills those shoes under the hat? Photo: S. Marshall

I am not sure how far to proceed down this road as I see a huge warning sign that says “CAUTION: Sharp Turns, Philosophy ahead!”  So I will try to steer clear of homespun philosophy as much as I can (philosophers would delight in picking holes in my logic anyway,) and stick to the conundrum that Parkinson’s presented for my self-image. Oh oh, warning sign: “CAUTION: Foggy Patches, Sociology Ahead!”   

Like many others I suspect, I kept my diagnosis of Parkinson’s secret from most of my work colleagues, and most of the rest of the world. I told only a very few trusted colleagues, some close friends, and my family of course. I was not yet prepared to face life with the label “Person with Parkinson’s (PwP)” stamped on my forehead. At least that was how I perceived people would perceive me. [Why am I thinking of Charles Horton Cooley’s Looking Glass Self?] Anyway, this was probably moot as, in retrospect, my tremours were certainly noticeable to anyone who was half paying attention. Still, I felt that if I admitted to having Parkinson’s it would negatively affect work relationships and cast doubt upon my capabilities and capacity to do my job.

It wasn’t until I had formally announced my retirement with a firm date, that I began to process that I really do have Parkinson’s and it would (and will continue to) influence my self-identity. By the time of my retirement dinner, I didn’t really care if anyone knew and I began to speak more openly about it, and word began to slowly “leak out.” It was neither controlled nor orderly. I lost track of who knew and who didn’t. But my self-image and identity were in a state of anomie [Damn, what is Emile Durkheim doing in here?] Who was I? And what were the expectations?

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Does this False Spirea have an identity crisis? Photo: S.Marshall

I realize that we go through life playing many parts. Oh oh, “CAUTION: Overacting Possible, English Literature ahead!” Shakespeare penned this famous monologue in As You Like it around the turn of the 17th Century.

All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players: They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts …

Of course I have had many roles in my life – son, brother, husband, father, uncle, academic, teacher, colleague, activist, boss, to name only a very few.  The expectations for each role had to be learned and I performed some better than others.  As each role unfolds, it brings me closer to the grand finale. As Shakespeare concludes

… That ends this strange eventful history, Is second childishness and mere oblivion, sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

Wow!  That seems much too serious to contemplate at the moment. There can be no doubt that I will die – sometime – but I need to know the essence of my identity, and what informs that identity as I shuffle along that path.

Once my work persona began to recede and the inevitability of being a retiree crystalized in my brain, the realization that I am a PwP also took up permanent residence.  At this point I actually wanted to tell everyone I met, no matter how well I knew him or her, that I have Parkinson’s. “Hello, my name is Stan and I have Parkinson’s.” Or, “Hi Sarah, haven’t seen you for awhile. You know I have Parkinson’s eh?  I had to forbid myself deliberately from making it the initial and primary topic of conversation. It was taking over my consciousness while it was attempting to take over my body.

Strangely, it is a bit like your first love when you want to tell the whole world that you are in love – shout it from the rooftops as they say. Only, you can’t be in love with Parkinson’s, can you?  But, when it is such an integral part of your self, a part you cannot shed (at least not at the present time,) do you have no choice but to accept that you are Parkinson’s, and to love that reality? It is the only reality you have. (Whoa, I promised there would be no homespun philosophy here.)

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A beautiful rose for your lover. Rosa Morden Centennial (H.H. Marshall) Photo: S.Marshall

Many PwP perform heroic feats of human and physical endurance, or continue with productive and creative careers. They continue with a preexisting reality or create a new alternate reality. They are to be greatly admired as they raise awareness to Parkinson’s in ways that few others can. I often wonder if their self-identity is more closely tied to their pursuits or to Parkinson’s?  A question for another day as I cannot answer it.

For most of us, our expectations and goals are modest but vital to the condition of our existence. We know that physical exercise and proper nutrition are correlated to well being in a Parkinson’s body.  Making our bodies move in some way each day is a goal in and of itself, as is ensuring that we have proper nutrition. Maintaining an optimistic outlook, taking advantage of support groups within the Parkinson’s community, and seeking advice and treatment from an integrated team (ideally) of health and social services providers are all vital to our being able to slow the progression of this relentless disease and alleviate its symptoms. We do this ourselves, with our families and with our caregivers. It is a difficult road for most of us and we must be ‘comfortable within our own skins’ to meet the challenges.

OK, let’s cut to the chase.  And I truly believe what I am about to say. Without human complicity, Parkinson’s does not diminish the human soul; it does not diminish the joys or exacerbate the sorrows that we all feel in life; and it does not break the human spirit. In short, Parkinson’s is only greater than us when we let it be greater than us. But rest assured, it is ever a part of us.

For me this means I am human (although some may question this assertion.) I am Parkinson’s, as Parkinson’s is a condition of being human. And I am gardener, mostly by choice and environment, but a case could be made, given my family history, that there is a genetic component. (You know, the apple not falling far from the tree – OK, OK, that is resorting to cliché to make a point.)

So, why did it take so many words to get to this point? Because that is precisely how many words, no more and no less, it takes to reach this conclusion.

Or

As my father would say before he became “sans everything,” ”you get better results in the garden if you fertilize liberally with manure at the right times.

You decide.

Afterword

Just be thankful that I spared you a convoluted exegesis on ‘life’ as thesis, ‘Parkinson’s’ as antithesis and ‘living with Parkinson’s’ as synthesis, with apologies to Karl Marx. I also considered an examination of Id, Ego and Super ego with apologies to Sigmund Freud. Perhaps another time, eh?

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These monster sunflowers didn’t need any manure to grow out of control. Photo: S. Marshall

 

WHY I THINK PARKINSON’S IS A SOUL SUCKING DISEASE

WHY I THINK PARKINSON’S IS A SOUL SUCKING DISEASE

Feature photo: Tulips are emblematic of Parkinson’s. Here the tulips are nicely highlighted by cherry blossoms. Photo: S. Marshall

In contemporary slang, “soul sucking” often means something excruciatingly tedious and depressing. I find it a little strange that soul sucking, an action that should strike at the very core of our intellectual, emotional, and spiritual being (our soul), should be defined so cavalierly. Is soul sucking merely hyperbole to describe anything that does not excite us?

There is a second definition which hits a little closer to the mark, “something that takes from you mentally, emotionally, and/or spiritually and gives nothing in return.”  I think that soul sucking is more than a feeling, wrenching as it does something violently from the human psyche. Such a feat must require unfathomable power or even a higher order of life. What features of Parkinson’s could possibly be so destructive of one’s soul as to merit such a designation?

I am a Person living with Parkinson’s (PwP). Today, I will outline reasons why I think that Parkinson’s disease (PD) in its most pernicious form is ‘soul sucking’.

Warning: Some will say I am doing a disservice to the Parkinson’s community in this post – that I am too pessimistic – fomenting fear and causing depression. Far from it. I am merely saying to Persons with Parkinson’s and their families: Wake up! PwP must draw on their physical and emotional strength many times each and every day, at a moment’s notice and often in situations requiring every ounce of their reserves.

The trajectory of Parkinson’s is not pretty but we must not put our heads in the sand. We must know the grim realities if we are to face them effectively.

Caveat: The symptoms of Parkinson’s are not identical for everyone nor does its progression follow a predictable pattern for every case. In other words, not every PwP will experience each of the situations I outline below – but don’t be too quick to assume that they face only a few or that the few challenges they do face are negligible and/or manageable.

Why do I think that Parkinson’s is a soul sucking disease?

How many reasons do you need? My initial intention was to list the 10 top reasons but the list rapidly outstripped that number and I could not find good reason to edit these down to just ten.  I could have continued adding more but to maintain my sanity (and likely yours) I invoked closure on the list as follows:

  • PD robs you of intimacy. Parkinson’s renders even the simplest act of tenderness such as rolling over in bed and wrapping your arm around your lover almost impossible. Physiotherapy and exercise can help you forestall this problem but it often shows up long, long before you are diagnosed with Parkinson’s. The ability to be loving and tender in a physically effortless way – free from restriction and later free from tremor and uncontrollable muscle movements – are probably among the most disconcerting things I have ever faced. I resist with all my being the seemingly inevitable progression where my wife will identify more with “caregiver” than “lover”.
  • PD robs you independence. Parkinson’s is a progressively degenerative neurological disease that will gradually and at its own pace cause you to suffer from periods when you are no longer completely in control of your own muscles. Bradykinesia (slowness) and rigidity mean you have great difficulty walking or doing the most minor tasks of daily living. You will require care sooner than you think.
  • PD robs you of dignity and self – worth. Incontinence and/or constipation and/or diarrhea mean that you often are at the mercy of bodily functions that are no longer predictable or easily contained even with modern day sanitary conveniences. You will find your dignity under attack even when with your loved ones.
  • PD saps your body of its strength, no matter how strong you may be. You will suffer through periods when even trying to get out from under one thin sheet on the bed is impossible. You will look strong and healthy on the treadmill at 9 a.m. but at 4 p.m. you may not be able to toilet yourself.
  • Because Parkinson’s symptoms can arrive at a moment’s notice and leave just as quickly, people who don’t know any better will doubt your veracity; they will think you are faking it.
  • PD plays havoc with your emotions. It doesn’t matter whether it is the disease itself or the future you face that causes the volatile emotions, you will find yourself crying at inopportune and inappropriate times. I cry at serious and frivolous things equally. Hilariously, innocuous commercials on TV often trigger tears for me.
  • PD places a burden upon those for whom you care the most. When first diagnosed you will say that not much will change at work or at home. Wrong. Changes happen slowly at first but you will feel the need for help, for care. Your family, spouse, and friends will gradually start picking up the pieces you can no longer handle. As much as they will deny it, a burden (psychological, social, financial, economic, spiritual, temporal) does pass to them in that inevitable and unpredictable way that Parkinson’s has.
  • PD places you at risk for discrimination, intended and/or unintended. In effect you are disabled. Young onset PwP will face challenges in the workplace as well as in their families. Your condition will rule out life insurance and your children may find it impossible to arrange their economic affairs because they share your genes. Last year Canada was the last G7 nation to pass legislation prohibiting “genetic discrimination”. It will take some time for litigation to work its way through the courts to see just how effective that legislation actually is.
  • PD shortens life expectancy. Even though the studies are inconclusive as to how much some estimate it to be three to four years difference, and if you have Parkinson’s related dementia, lifespan is considerably shorter than that figure.
  • There is an oft repeated saying that “You don’t die from Parkinson’s; you die with Parkinson’s” The implication is that we should not fear death at its hands. As always there is a kernel of truth in such homilies but, equally as always, there is room for debate. If Parkinson’s causes you to have a problem swallowing and you choke on your food or aspirate your medication and develop pneumonia, is Parkinson’s culpable? If you have Parkinson’s related balance issues and fall from a ladder and die (it happens), did you die from the fall or is Parkinson’s culpable? If you have freezing of your gait and freeze in the middle of a high traffic area road, what is the cause of death? If you are a PwP who becomes depressive and commits suicide, is it Parkinson’s related? I think it is fair to ask the question of whether Parkinson’s should be exonerated in every instance. Perhaps, the “old saying” is founded on a statistical artifact rooted in the way cause of death is recorded?
  • It is a known fact that as you get older you become more at risk for falls. If you have Parkinson’s that risk increases drastically as most PwP have balance issues of some kind. Approximately 60 % of PwP will experience a fall and 39% will have recurrent falls. The most common injuries are fractures and 76% of PwP who fall require health services. Those numbers are quite high. The culprit may be faulty proprioception (the manner in which your body perceives itself to be in space) or fainting from Parkinson’s related hypotension (low blood pressure).  You will grow accustomed to attending meetings where many of your PwP friends sport cuts and bruises from falls.  I have not fallen yet (touch wood) but I live in fear of falling every day.
  • Excruciating pain can accompany PD even though many people think Parkinson’s to be a painless and mildly irritating tremor. Let me disabuse you of that notion in the strongest possible terms. Cramps, especially in feet, toes, and legs are very common and can strike at any moment without warning. Dystonia is a frequent travelling partner of Parkinson’s and its constant contractions of muscles causes extreme pain and muscle fatigue. I once experienced a muscle/tendon contraction in my left leg from my groin to the tip my big toe for 18 consecutive hours! It felt as if a piano wire was stretching through that length and it was being pulled so tightly that it was singing, buzzing or humming with pain. I have had severe bruising in my hamstrings from very minor leg movements.
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    Honestly, I was only trying to get out of bed

    PD has no known cause and there is no cure. Dr. James Parkinson wrote his ground breaking essay The Shaking Palsy in 1817, two hundred  years ago! Over those years we have found neither cause nor cure. This fact alone makes it difficult to keep hope alive. Personally, I do not expect that a cure will be found in my lifetime.

  • After you are diagnosed with Parkinson’s you will ask the question: “why me?” Not surprisingly you will be angry and you will think of everything and anything that may provide an answer. Genetics? Possibly. You will begin to check your family history. Environment? Possibly.  Studies indicate that certain genetic codes are triggers for Parkinson’s upon contact with certain elements in the environment e.g., pesticides.  You will research the many connnections– exposure to pesticides, insecticides, herbicides and fungicides; the presence of metals and chemicals in the well water and water table; or exposure to gasoline fumes in enclosed spaces such as farm equipment sheds or machine manufacturing and repair industries. You will expend much energy being angry and you will worry about your family if they live in the same environment as you live. Your angst may cause you to have other health concerns as you carry on a fruitless search for the reason(s) you have PD.

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    Three must read books

  • PwP will be bombarded with missives, advice and solicitations from purveyors of dreams. These modern day snake oil salesmen have an elixir, a regimen, a diet, an exercise, a meditation technique, and any number of other remedies for Parkinson’s. They all swear that their discovery arrests the progress of Parkinson’s, if not to cure it totally and absolutely.  These dreams are but chimera, a promise that cannot be delivered.  To be fair not everyone will be a charlatan and some of the approaches do help our lives with Parkinson’s to be of improved quality but know this: there is no cure … yet. Caveat emptor applies to any forays you make into the world of those who sell the ‘elixirs’ and cures.
  • Many people think that PD can be easily managed with proper medication. They are wrong. While PD can be managed, it is not done easily. There are significant periods of time when you are in an “off” period with your drugs. They simply do not work with 100 percent accuracy and the timing of “on” and “off” periods may be erratic. The gold standard treatment for Parkinson’s is still a drug called levodopa which was developed over 50 years ago. There are other pharmaceuticals and drug delivery systems that can provide some relief and give the semblance of a decent quality of life for PwP but the public rarely sees the private anguish of the PwP driven underground by pain, involuntary muscle movements, and embarrassing non-motor symptoms. You will find yourself in successive and continual rounds of adjustments with your drugs. Be aware that there is no consensus among neurologists as to the most efficacious drug therapy or therapies.
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    My Parkie meds, clockwise from top: rasagoline, levadopa/carbidopa, pregablin, rotigotine patch

    You will become more knowledgeable than most  of your family and friends about the wide range of pharmaceuticals used to treat Parkinson’s. You will research and search for the most effective type with optimum dosage and timing. You will become fanatical about the possible interactions your meds may have with other drugs. You will seek advice from other PwP, pharmacists, dieticians, and other health professionals about the absorption rates of medications following and before the ingestion of certain foods e.g., protein. You will spend inordinate amounts of time and energy on trying to perfect your medication schedule such that it coordinates with activities in your everyday life e.g., meal times, or vice versa.

  • You will become conversant with surgical options for treatment of PD e.g., Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) and ultrasound stimulation which can change, alleviate, and eliminate severe symptoms enhancing the PwP’s quality of life. However, you will also learn that it has limitations; not all PwP are candidates for such surgery and, contrary to reports in the popular media, it is not a cure. It does not stop the advancement of Parkinson’s. It will enhance your quality of life markedly but you will still have some symptoms and problems e.g., speech issues. You will know what a Duodopa pump is and why that change in the delivery of medications is so effective for some PwP. You will know how much it costs and how important it is to lobby for public coverage. The same goes for “the patch” – rotigotine delivered through the skin much like the nicotine patch to bypass the blood/brain barrier differently. At the same time you are studying and understanding these complex details becoming a lay expert in effect, others incongruously are watching and questioning your mental capacity because you walk slowly or have a Parkinson’s related speech problem.IMG_8068Sometimes life may appear very bleak.            Photo: S. Marshall
  • There is a significant probability that you will suffer from Parkinson’s related depression with clinical symptoms i.e., more than just “feeling down or low.” The same pathways and neurons in the substantia nigra area of the brain produce dopamine (regulating movement) and serotonin (regulating mood). When those neurons die, we stop producing enough dopamine and serotonin resulting in depression for many PwP.
  • About 40% of PwP suffer from increased anxiety, which may result in depression as described in the previous point. More likely though it will trigger involuntary muscle movements (sometimes painful if they develop into cramps) which are difficult or impossible to control. It is as if signals from the brain are hi-jacked and sent erroneously to muscles in arms, hands, legs, and feet. Feelings of anxiety can arise from the most innocuous situations e.g., meeting friends for lunch, as it did for me this week, where I developed severe dyskinesia – like movements which became painful cramps in my legs – all in the space of about 10 minutes. Anxiety for many people manifests itself as increased tremor.
  • Estimates are  that 50% of PwP have hallucinations; they see things that aren’t there. These hallucinations may be from the Parkinson’s itself or from medications. The suggestion that I may develop hallucinations is so powerful that sometimes I look at things that are there and wonder if  they are not. It often takes several seconds to make a determination. Of course, once you admit to hallucinations, it is but a short leap for others to consider you cognitively impaired.
  • I experience vision issues. I see double … well … not exactly double but weird kind of double where there is a vague outline of overlap but not exactly side by side.  Neurologists an optometrists are not particularly interested, or knowledgeable, about vision issues so it remains unresolved.  It is complicated by the fact that I wear progressive lens glasses already and perhaps the prescription needs adjusting. In any case, vision problems are a real but neglected part of PD.
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    Sometimes I wonder why I can’t see properly. 

    Approximately 90% of all PwP experience some reduced intelligibility of speech over the course of the disease. Your voice may become soft and difficult to hear and your speaking rate may slow down. These changes have some obvious consequences e.g., it is harder to get a word in edge-wise in normal conversation as people are not that considerate about letting others speak. However, of greater concern is the perception that PwP with speech issues are either cognitively impaired or socially aloof. In fact, PwP do become less motivated to participate because they find that others either cut them off mid – sentence or discount the value of what they say. It is disheartening and hurtful to realize that your voice is not only reduced in volume, it is at the same time reduced in weight.

  • Approximately 50% of PwP develop difficulties swallowing. It should go without saying that this symptom is dangerous as you may choke, develop pneumonia or become malnourished or dehydrated. You will need the professional assistance of dysphagia specialists to treat this condition.
  • You will begin to understand that the concept of “progressively degenerative neurological disease” is just a fancy way of saying, “It ain’t going to get better; it is only going to get worse”. The literature says that PwP can expect to live another 20 to 24 years (assuming no dementia) after diagnosis during which time the disease will progress and your condition will deteriorate. You will spend the last few years of your life in a care facility and hopefully you, your family and the state have provided enough economic security to assure you comfort and dignity.
  • Within five years of your diagnosis you personally will experience many of the above symptoms and situations. You will meet many PwP facing other situations you are not.  You will come to the realization that many of your symptoms have been with you for a long time (maybe ten years of more) before your official diagnosis. At this point it dawns on you that your disease has advanced much further than you thought at the time of your official diagnosis.
  • Your obituary will say “ … after a long and courageous struggle with Parkinson’s …” or words to that effect. Most acquaintances will read these eight words with sympathy but Persons with Parkinson’s and their families will silently and reverently acknowledge you as a champion – someone who defied a soul sucking disease to reach your living age.

Afterword

I have covered a lot of territory in listing the many features of Parkinson’s that I believe render it to the category of ‘soul sucking’.

You may think that I am overly pessimistic and not appreciative of the research, development and delivery of the many therapies that provide a better quality of life for PwP. My rejoinder is that such therapies exist precisely because Parkinson’s is soul sucking. A recent report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA, see https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/news/story/5184/parkinsons-disease-a-looming-pandemic.aspx) postulates that the incidence of Parkinson’s will reach pandemic proportions within the next 20 years. It states quite bluntly that the road to a cure is for the Parkinson’s community, especially PwP and families, to become aggressively vocal and DEMAND better treatments and a cure, following the precedent established by HIV/AIDS sufferers.

My hope is that my observations add weight to the discourse on the severity of Parkinson’s; it is more than just tremor. It is soul sucking!

If you think that I am wrong or that I have misrepresented any aspect of Parkinson’s symptoms, of Persons with Parkinson’s and their families, or of the professionals who work diligently to improve our quality of life, please speak up. Send me a comment at the bottom of this blog. Write a rejoinder in your own blog. The discussion will shed much needed light on the dark corners of Parkinson’s.

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Rosa x Hope for Humanity  Photo: S. Marshall

One Final Note

It is my intention to write a companion blog piece that is tentatively entitled: WAYS TO LIVE WITH PARKINSON’S, A SOUL SUCKING DISEASE. Watch for it.

© Stan Marshall (The PD Gardener 2017)

HEY! I CAN DANCE!?

HEY! I CAN DANCE!?

A strange thing happened to me on the way to dance class 

Once a week Anne and I meet other Persons with Parkinson’s (PwP or Parkies), their lovers, spouses, partners, and/or caregivers to take a dance class. It is one of those regular, don’t miss it, kind of dates – but nothing salacious; after all we do meet in the early afternoon.

Today, I am going to tell you a little about the relationship between Parkinson’s disease and dance, as well as a few of the challenges that I faced on my journey to the dance studio.

If you have been following the research literature and the popular news reports about Parkinson’s disease, you will know that dance and other forms of coordinated, patterned movement e.g., Tai Chi, boxing, etc. are touted as the way to delay and/or obviate many of the symptoms of this pernicious disease.

The School of Dance

The School of Dance under its Artistic Director, Merrilee Hodgins, has long been front and centre in taking dance to the community in Ottawa and environs with special “Outreach” programs e.g., for learners with Down’s syndrome and for seniors and others in continuing care settings. It seemed to be a natural step for The School of Dance to expand this commitment to community by meeting the demand for dance classes for PwP. The School secured funding from the Ontario government to provide their “Connecting with Dance: Designed for People with Parkinson’s” program and at no charge to participants!

School of Dance Parkinsons Notice 2018 1

Our dance instructor, Maria Shepertycki, has impressive credentials in the world of Ukrainian dancing as a teacher, performer, and administrator – she is co-director of the Ottawa School of Ukrainian Dance. Maria also has formal training in ballet, which she has coupled with introductory and advanced training in both Toronto and New York with the Mark Morris Dance Group and the Brooklyn Parkinson Group. Even better, Maria has formal university training in human kinetics and has worked extensively with PwP in both clinical and home settings utilizing a wide variety of both traditional and new therapies. It is wonderful to have a dance instructor with such knowledge, training, and experience in delivering therapies to PwP.

Musician Nenad Duplancic provides live music on the piano or keyboard in a valiant effort to ensure we Parkies don’t lose the beat. Anne has always emphasized the importance of live music as a tool the instructor and, by extension, PwP can use to refine our movements. The best part is that Nenaud makes our hour-long session more enjoyable with his on-the-spot changes to the beat and melodies, assisting us to dance our best. The time flies by.

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Nenad Duplancic at Keyboard, Marie Shepertycki kneeling at his left, and the troupe practising with scarves (The School of Dance).  Photo: S. Marshall 2017

Connecting Dance and Parkinson’s

The truth of the matter is that I must dance because I have Parkinson’s disease (PD). No, PD itself does not transform me miraculously into a dancer or motivate me to dance, even though that may appear to be the case as I weave and bob and sway, my body responding either to the tremour and involuntary muscle movements that provide the most common stereotypical characteristic of the disease, or the dyskinesia of the side effects of my medication, or both.

You may get the impression that dance is a relatively new alternative to traditional exercises or therapies for Parkinson’s but it was being studied and implemented at least a decade ago and the movement (no pun intended) has been growing ever since.

Research indicates that dance is beneficial as a therapy for Parkinson’s and there are many dance programs pioneering this strategy in their own parts of the planet. I am not going to attempt to reference all programs but certainly special mention should go to the Mark Morris Dance Group Dance for their PD® program in New York and Dancing with Parkinson’s http://www.dancingwithparkinsons.com lead by Sarah Robichaud in Toronto. Canada’s National Ballet School (NBS) has developed a program for PD called “Sharing Dance”. Working with researchers from York and Ryerson Universities, the NBS program is part of a study of how dance affects the brain in those who have Parkinson’s. In the UK the “Dance for Parkinson’s Project” led by Dr. Sara Huston and Ashley McGill at The University of Roehampton

… investigates the experience of dancing with Parkinson’s: how people engage socially and artistically, how dance may affect functional mobility, how experiences of dancing may affect everyday lives, what motivates people to dance and keep dancing.   Commissioned by English National Ballet  English National Ballet in 2010, the study (2010-2011 and 2011-2014) has tracked the company’s Dance for Parkinson’s programme in London, and its regional classes in Oxford and Liverpool. The research is unique in using a broad array of research methods to examine dance for people with this degenerative neurological condition.

Through the use of participant observation, one-on-one multiple interviews, focus groups, participant diaries and film footage, we have been investigating over a four-year period how the dance program affects people socially, within their everyday lives, what motivates them to dance and keep dancing and how participants engage artistically and technically with movement.

The evidence to date shows that if a Person with Parkinson’s (PwP) dances, s/he can alleviate some symptoms, live with them more effectively, and improve quality of life. In short, dancing is good for PwP. More specifically, dancing improves gait, balance, coordination, flexibility, and may assist in overcoming some persistent problems for PwP e.g., freezing. Dance improves cognitive performance through learning the patterns of the steps and movements as well as keeping time to the music.

Dance helps us meet the challenge of cognitive impairment head on (so to speak) as well. All of us in the baby boom generation are rightfully concerned about cognitive performance as we age, but Parkies are particularly mindful, as we don’t wear cognitive impairment as well as those who can claim a little “forgetfulness” from old age.

There is more and more research and evidence that there is “brain plasticity” or “neuroplasticity” i.e., the brain has the ability to recover after being damaged. In the case of Parkinson’s that damage is done when the dopamine producing neurons in the substantia nigra area of the brain die. What causes them to die? We do not know but it is likely that over 70% of those neurons in my substantia nigra were dead by the time I was diagnosed. The death of these neurons plays havoc with our neuropathways, the chain of neurons transmitting signals to and from the brain, such that even simple movements that most people do without thinking e.g., walking, get screwed up. Parkies are very familiar with the “Parkie shuffle” that is symptomatic of Parkinson’s.

It is important to remember that if the brain is plastic we can work to regenerate some of those pathways. Learning new dance steps and keeping time to the music not only strengthens existing neuropathways but develops new neuropathways as well.

Do Parkies Dance to the Beat of a Different Drum?

What makes PwP unique as dancers is that we each have very different abilities and are at different stages of advancement in the course of the disease itself. Even though the movements of the dance are patterned and choreographed by our instructor for our class, and we execute them in common, PwP cannot help but overlay shuffles, shakes, and sways peculiar to the inner rhythms (or arrhythmia) of each individual dancer. Only a Parkie or someone very close to a Parkie can truly appreciate that the related muscle movement disorders sometimes are out of body experience. This uniqueness does not mean that we should just go with our own movements. To the contrary, we dance to overcome those Parkinson’s signals and involuntary muscle movements; to develop a dancer who is precise, purposive and purposeful, in time with the music and faithful to the choreography.

Parkinson’s may want us to dance to the beat of a different drum but that dance provides us with false hope and then, no hope. Maybe it is ironic that Linda Ronstadt and the Stone Poneys had a big hit with “Different Drum” in 1967 as Ronstadt was subsequently diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2013. She had retired from performing in 2009. I know the song is not about Parkinson’s but the line that sticks with me is “we’ll both live a lot longer if you live without me.” I dance to shed the cloying, clinging Parkinson lover who refuses to release me.

Parkies really are social people, you know; It just doesn’t seem like it some times

One of the symptoms of Parkinson’s is slowness in the facial muscles resulting in delayed facial expressions such as smiles or frowns. They may also look off into the distance or not blink for long periods of time. This makes PwP seem aloof or perhaps “not all with it”. As Parkinson’s advances, we may develop a “mask” where the muscles in the face no longer work properly such that your face does not reveal any expression or emotion. So, if you tell a really great joke to a Parkie who has this symptom, it will not be evident that they have understood the joke or find it funny. It is disconcerting at first because in everyday social interaction we rely extensively on facial expression for feedback and cues for further interaction. Until people understand this condition they may think you are a “stick in the mud”, unsociable, or simply don’t like them. It is a pain in the ass, to say the least, to be constantly apologizing or explaining.

When you have Parkinson’s, you tend to carefully pick and choose your times and occasions to socialize. I know that I am reluctant to make a commitment to go to dinner, see a ballet, visit with friends or any number of things only to find that Parkinson’s has changed its schedule and I am hit with a full blown case of Parkie with uncontrollable involuntary muscle movements, tremor, Bradykinesia (slowness), rigidity, or even difficulty speaking or swallowing, or any number of other motor and non-motor symptoms. Sometimes the medication kicks in and sometimes it doesn’t. I like to say that Parkinson’s is predictably unpredictable on occasion. Nevertheless, it is not completely random either and I have begun to understand how to make adaptations, accommodations, and compromises.

Once Parkinson’s has advanced to a point where you can no longer hide its symptoms, you begin to curb the number and types of social activities where you meet people other than family. Why? Let me list some of the reasons:

  • Whether we like it or not there is a certain stigma to Parkinson’s and when people are told you have this disease, they often assume that you have cognitive impairment or even dementia.
  • Dementia is associated with Parkinson’s but it is not the norm. Estimates are that 24% to 31% of PwP have dementia and 3% to 4% of all dementia in the population is due to PD. The prevalence of Parkinson’s related dementia in the general population aged 65 and over is 0.2% to 0.5%.
  • Parkinson’s changes everything and you no longer have complete control of motor and non- motor functions. You sense that everyone is aware of these changes and you are embarrassed by the fact that you are not the same person you used to be. Of almost equal weight is your perception that you embarrass others.
  • Parkinson’s may cause you to walk or move in a manner that leads people to think you are drunk. This can result in less than satisfactory interaction with those around you at a social event where not everyone knows you personally.

As Parkinson’s advances I look for “safe places” to do whatever I have to do. I do not like to disrupt or disturb others and I don’t want to be constantly defending or explaining my behaviour nor apologizing for it. Of course, such “carefulness” results in a tendency to isolate oneself from your community. The more you do that the more likely it is you will succumb to depression. Approximately 30% of PwP do develop feelings of apathy, which can be a symptom of depression. We need to get out more, not less, but so many things seem to conspire against us that the goal is elusive some times.

Rarely do PwP gather with other PwP. We do have support groups for PwP and our significant others, organized by Parkinson Canada each month. They serve as places where we can obtain information from experts and learn from each other. But we need more than these occasions.

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Marie Shepertycki (left) and Connecting with Dance Designed for Persons with Parkinson’s class (The School of Dance) 2017

Dance class is a safe place

Dance class designed for People with Parkinson’s is another of those “safe places”, this time meeting with other PwP in a setting that is not so focussed on the detail of the disease. The objective is to learn the moves and choreography, and integrate the beat and the music into our movements such that new neuropathways are developed, existing neuropathways are strengthened, and lost neuropathways are recovered. And we can do all of this without ever knowing, or needing to know, what the heck a neuropathway is. Dance class is dance class and because we are in a safe mental and physical environment with other Parkies, we don’t have to apologize for the way we move, how we look, or how we feel. Feelings of guilt seldom come into play, as it is a safe place for our lovers, spouses, partners, and caregivers to express their particular ‘dance’.

Dance class can be more … and will be more

The dance date I have each week with Anne is partly a social affair. We have fun. We meet new people and form new friends. We connect with some others we have known for a while, get to appreciate their talents and to know them and their families better. The School of Dance program includes time at the end of class which allows us to share ideas about Parkinson’s therapies, recommend neurologists, physiotherapists and other professionals and catch up on what is happening in the community.

For me, dance class is therapy for Parkinson’s and assists me to meet the challenges Parkinson’s presents each and every day. The world of dance, with which Anne identifies, knows class as fundamental practice and instruction on an ongoing basis. As such, maintaining, honing, and fulfilling “the dancer” within is the motivation to attend, and class becomes part of daily routine. These two approaches to “ class” are not far apart.

In fact, what we are doing in Parkie dance is to practice the basic movements (the syllabus.) It is here that smart instructors like Maria sneak in some movements from ground breaking therapies such as LSVT Big. Then we learn and perfect a set pattern of steps over the weeks. This approach is much the same as it is in performance dance – fairly far removed from those hoe downs in the hayloft on Saturday night – but we are not planning a performance. Thank goodness.

Tango Argentina

While it is true we will never perform the Tango like these professionals in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Nenad does play tango music and Maria incorporates a few moves into our choreography.  Photo: S. Marshall 2004

Back Story: I was a sk8ter boy: she did ballet (with apologies to Avril Lavigne)  

Journalists often talk about “the back story”, the historical context that gives rise to the feature story on which they are reporting. In this case, the back-story could be simply the fact that I have Parkinson’s disease and likely had it for some 10 years before my diagnosis 5 years ago. Parkinson’s is one of those diseases that gets progressively worse as time passes until it jumps up and demands to be recognized for what it is: an unforgiving, soul sucking disease. Well, I could go on and probably will in a later post and while there are many back-stories to this feature on dance and Parkinson’s, I will detail just this one very important story for me.

Perception of self is forged at a very early age and shaped mostly by family, teachers, and our play friends. What you need to know for today’s story is that my perception of self going back to my most early memories is that I am uncoordinated, born without rhythm and therefore can’t dance. For the past 60 plus years I have gone through life believing that I [choose one]: a) Cannot dance; b) Do not dance; c) Will not dance; d) Should not dance; e) Must not dance; or f) All of the above.

For all these years I believed that the correct answer is “all of the above”.

This view was reinforced at every turn throughout my life even though I was coordinated enough to be a pretty decent hockey player and good at most sports requiring foot work and good hand – eye coordination. I was an ice hockey kid – I lived and died for hockey. I did manage to play at the Junior ‘A’ level but that is a story to be told another day. I was a superior skater playing defence with great north – south and east – west agility on both sides in combination with good stickhandling ability and an eye for the net. Still, dance did not rest easily in my body and rested even less easily in my brain. In fact, I was (and remain) very inhibited about dancing to say the least.

Early in my life I accepted the fact that somehow musicality, beat, and rhythm had not found a receptive home in my soul. Its absence manifest itself in a body that is too stiff and in a brain that is equally rigid, resistant and incapable of providing neurological guidance to my muscles such that I feel I do not move gracefully through space. Except when I was playing hockey – a game where my movements were embedded in existing neuropathways such that my muscles moved without forethought and new neuropathways could be learned in the matter milliseconds by a brain hungry to transpose received information into the neurological code necessary to execute specific muscle movements.

By the way, I have met many other people (mostly men) of my age who were subject to this same criticism resulting in an ongoing reticence to dance, no matter what the occasion. Of course, the way out of this particular problem was to excel at something that required elements of those very characteristics that made one shine on the dance floor e.g., sports. Sports were a kind of ‘get out of dance free card’. If you were good at sports, it was OK that you couldn’t or didn’t dance. You would always be respected (by men mostly) as having the talent and skills to be an athlete of some repute.

Anne’s definition of a ‘dancer’ is someone who is able to move through space (on the ground or in the air) to music in a manner that defies true description and has the audience holding their breath or uttering spontaneous epithets of disbelief i.e., true dancers move through space better than other people that dance, and all dancers move through space better than those of us who move as if we are dancing to the tune of the periodic table in chemistry.

Anne has always been a dancer. From the time we first met over 20 years ago she would do an allegro across the kitchen floor and pirouette in the hallway. I can assure you that this joyfulness had nothing to do with having met me; she just LOVES ballet in particular and most other dance styles in general. She was inculcated into that world at a very young age and continued to attend ballet or modern dance classes for most of her life. There were a few years off to attend to having children and for her body (knees and feet) to mend because her brain did not comprehend that her body could no longer take the rigours of four or more full out dance classes a week.

Anne is happiest when on the floor or at the barre, or in this day and age watching a particularly inspiring dance performance clip from the Internet on her iPad and all I hear is “… holy sh–“ when the performance or the performer truly astounds her. I was going to say that Anne is an “aficionado” of dance but that would be too soft as a descriptor. Anne is a strident and critical analyst when it comes to evaluation of choreography and the execution of both technical and artistic elements of a performance. She is a bit of a “fanatic” on these matters. During live performances she has been known to voice such excitement and approval softly but audibly and the surrounding patrons of the dance appear not to be offended, as I suspect they agree with her and are thinking “ I wish I had said that.”

Fortunately for me, the dance of life and love does not always have predictable choreography or outcomes and she chose to be with me even though my “dance rating” was a colossal “fail”.   Thankfully, she saw that I had other qualities and that I was capable of appreciating dance from angles to which I had never paid much attention previously.

Anne and I never expected that I would be diagnosed with Parkinson’s but that is what happened and … surprise, surprise, … the breaking news is that I can dance! And I must dance! The silver lining in the diagnosis is that we now spend some time in a dance class where I can appreciate the importance of developing the dancer within – something Anne has known all her life.

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Anne and Stan Marshall (aka The PD Gardener) Photo by Maria Shepertycki 2017

Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think? (With apologies to Alanis Morissette)

Is there a grand finale to this dance? I assume there is but I am quite uncertain as to the choreography. Parkinson’s disease can make my body dance independently of any commands sent by my conscious brain. Maria, our dance instructor, and Nenaud, our musician, along with Anne, my dance partner are doing their level best to coerce my brain and body to respond to an inner metronome cancelling out Parkinson muscle ‘mis-movements’, replacing them with a body and spirit that flows effortlessly through space. Still, I perceive that I don’t seem to have one miserable neuron in my body capable of consistently exciting muscles to dance in such reverie that it that can transport your mind to a unique place or state of being – but I am reminded often that “the benefit is in the work” so I just keep on dancing, my friend.

Finally I find it truly ironic that I now face my inhibitions about dancing and my inherent awkwardness by pursuing learned, patterned dance movements to obviate the involuntary dance forced upon me by my dopamine-deprived brain

Resources and References

Alanis Morisette, Ironic, 1996

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jne9t8sHpUc

Avril Lavigne, Sk8ter Boi, 2002

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TIy3n2b7V9k

Dance for PD

http://markmorrisdancegroup.org/community/Dance-for-PD/Dance-for-PD

Dance for Parkinson’s Project

http://roehamptondance.com/parkinsons/

Dancing with Parkinson’s

http://www.dancingwithparkinsons.com

Earhart, G. M., “Dance as therapy for individuals with Parkinson disease,“ European Journal of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine 2009 June; 45(2): 231-38

English National Ballet Dance for Parkinson’s

https://www.ballet.org.uk

Linda Ronstadt and the Stone Poneys, Different Drum, 1967

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TGZznJXY1Xc

National Ballet School

http://www.nbs-enb.ca/Sharing-Dance

Parkinson Canada

http://www.parkinson.ca

The School of Dance

http://www.theschoolofdance.ca

© Stan Marshall (The PD Gardener)

 

 

LEARNING TO WALK AGAIN … OR … READING BETWEEN THE LINES

Learning To Walk Again … Or … Reading Between The Lines

Author’s foreword

Readers of this blog know that I have been accused of (and admit to) writing extremely long blog posts with content that takes many twists and turns before finally arriving at some evident, or not so evident, conclusion. Now, I am aware that many people neither like, nor read, lengthy posts and they have articulate reasons for their inaction and inattention.

Equally, I am aware that there is a long and honourable tradition among those who love newspapers (and especially among those who impress upon others that they read their broadsheet newspapers from cover to cover,) to read the headline, a few of the sub-heads and first sentence and then move on to the next article. Naturally, they look at the photos – in a kind of reverse approach to how many men say they read Playboy or Penthouse. 

Today, I acquiesce to this reading style by writing in a form to match i.e., this post will consist of one headline with five sub-heads and respective opening sentences mimicking the content many readers would actually read even if the article were thousands of words longer.  I approach this project fearfully as it is a major departure from my usual style and so many words will have to die in the editing process. Read on to see how this works out.

PERSON WITH PARKINSON’S RENDERED IMMOBILE

The PD Gardener, having walked and cycled almost all of his life was understandably shocked at becoming almost completely immobile i.e., not able to walk without assistance, over a very short time span (4 – 5 days.)

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The PD Gardener doing what he does. Photo: Anne Marshall 2014

Looking for answers (in all the wrong places?) 

“Doctor, Doctor, Mister M.D. Can you tell me what’s ailing me? “ (Endnote 1)

and

Knee bone connected to the thigh bone

Thigh bone connected to the hip bone

Hip bone connected to the back bone (Endnote 2)

The above lyrics sing to me as I struggle to understand the crisis that currently engulfs my body and brain but unfortunately the answer seems locked forever in a “song that never ends.” (Endnote 3)

‘Advance’ and ‘progress’ are positive words, aren’t they?

It is a sobering moment when you realize you are ticking off the progress of your new and/or worsening Parkinson’s symptoms on a mental score card of scientifically established, empirical milestones signifying the intractable advance of Parkinson’s.

Symptoms defy explanation say medical specialists

“Appointments with various physicians, surgeons and other health professionals have left us confused and frustrated.”

The new normal 

Physiotherapy, Pilates and exercise show definite promise to lead the way back to a new normal … but why does the new normal feel like walking on bubble wrap?

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Better take provisions if the journey is 1,000 miles like this first mile.  Photo: The PD Gardener 2015

Next step
“It is often said that ‘a journey of 1,000 miles starts with a single step’ (end note 4) … but the importance of finding the start line and the correct direction should not be underestimated,” the PD Gardener notes sardonically.

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Perhaps the answer is just around the corner and down the hill…. Photo: The PD Gardener, 2015

End Notes

  1. “Good Lovin’ “ lyrics by Rudy Clark and Arthur Resnick. Number hit for The Young Rascals 1966.
  1. “Dem Bones” is a spiritual written by James Weldon Johnson circa 1920.
  1. Origin of “This is the song that never ends” or “This is the song that doesn’t end” is unknown but seems to have been made popular by Shari Lewis and Lamp Chop.
  1. Attributed to Lao Tzu, a contemporary of Confucius and a major figure in Chinese philosophy.

© Stan Marshall (The PD Gardener) 2016

IN SEARCH OF THE “STUFF” OF CURLING Part II: The Devil’s Challenge Trophy (“The Old Goat”)

Author’s note: this story has a mix of fiction, fantasy and fact with references to real persons. It is not difficult to recognize the differences. I hope you enjoy it.

hat Thepdgardener IMG_0608

The PD Gardener

In this three-part series we take an excursion back to the mid-20th century small town of Altamont, Manitoba; we search for that illusive “stuff” of curling; we renew acquaintances with Altamont residents from past posts and meet new ones who quickly become fast friends; we meet a new Parkinson’s hero; we learn something about the human capacity to overcome adversity, and the price some may pay to avoid it. Learn the difference between “the Old Buffalo” and “the Old Goat.”

We have a rare insider’s perspective into an epic confrontation at the Altamont Curling Club as told to me by three guys named Scotty, Buster and Phil, who heard it from another guy named Dick. Prepare to read the play-by-play account of this fierce battle on the curling ice, a curling skills match that shapes destiny.  How much is an 8 – Ender (a perfect end) really worth?   And find out what a “Dunbar” and a “double Gordon” are anyway.

In Part I: “Is it all about the soup?” we explored the many and varied aspects of curling in an attempt to develop a theory about curling and to isolate the “stuff” of curling. No easy task. We reviewed Altamont’s successes in both women’s and men’s curling as well as the historical leadership provided by Manitoba generally on matters related to curling. On January 28, 1961 the Altamont curling Club had just won its first O’Grady Challenge Trophy (“The Old Buffalo”) and were celebrating at the Altamont Rink when the Devil made His presence known just before midnight.

Let’s continue” with

IN SEARCH OF THE “STUFF” OF CURLING

Part II: The Devil’s Challenge Trophy (“The Old Goat”)

Okay, some of you are saying, “Come on, PD Gardener! Not another story about the Devil and curling!  Surely, you can do better than that!

Yeah, yeah.  I know that not everyone is W. O. Mitchell and I should be the last one to pretend to be.  Nevertheless, I am pursuing this story line because both the muse and the other voice in my head are adamant that this narrative must be told. In the Altamont Hotel, three guys named Scotty, Buster and Phil told me the story of this strange encounter, and they heard it from Dick Mussell… and Dick was there!  I don’t believe that any of these honourable gentlemen have spoken about the details of this sporting challenge to anyone else. It turns out that I may be the sole Soul on earth who has an accurate account, as all four of these men are now deceased (and I trust, not residing with the Devil.)

I am not quite sure who introduced the Devil to curling but I don’t think that it has been a good thing.  Over the years uncorroborated sightings of the Devil at curling events and venues around the world have been logged at the “Speak of the Devil Hotline” operated out of a diner in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen. Reports include sightings at bonspiels in what are believed to be His vacation homes in Devil’s Lake, North Dakota and Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina. He is rumoured to hold season tickets to the New Jersey Devils in the NHL and the Manchester United Football Club commonly known as the Red Devils but His boxes rarely show any signs of use. He doesn’t show much interest in the Duke Blue Devils or the Arizona State University Sun Devils either and sends a stand in if some presence is required. He seems to have parted ways with major league baseball’s Tampa Bay team who have unceremoniously dropped the Devil from “Devil Rays” to become simply, “Rays.” There are Tasmanian Devils of course but they are largely unrelated to matters of curling on ice.

In Part I of this series I noted that the clearest, documented report of the Devil’s association with curling comes from the small town of Shelby, Alberta, Canada in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. W.O. Mitchell’s The Black Bonspiel of Willie MacCrimmon captures what has been described as “one Hell of a match” and an “epic confrontation” between the Devil and Willie MacCrimmon in the 1930s. The match featured a Faustian deal between Willie and the Devil – the Devil would help Willie win The Brier (the Canadian Men’s Curling Championship) if Willie agrees to play third forever on the Devil’s rink in Hell. Willie makes a counter proposal – a challenge match for all the marbles. For the record, the Devil’s rink was suitably Devilish with Guy Fawkes shooting lead stones, Judas Iscariot at second and Macbeth as vice-skip.

Since that defeat, the Devil had been keeping a close watch on the curling scene around the country and Altamont, Manitoba caught His eye.  A week long Altamont Bonspiel was held every year in the third week in January. For such a small curling club the bonspiel was well known in southern Manitoba as a ‘spiel where you would have a good time, win or lose, and where some excellent rinks entered to hone their games away from prying eyes. The “A” draw always produced some close matches with stellar shot making on ice that could often be quite tricky. The “B” draw was equally competitive bringing out the best among the second best, so to speak. The “C” and “D” draws, while each was competitive in its own right, featured recreational curlers with a lower quality of skill no matter how you measure it. Still, to win one of these events was a thrill, capping off a great week of curling on the ice and camaraderie off the ice where you made every shot – you even made some you never tried on the ice. I am not saying that curlers tell tall tales but most curlers also fish, if you catch my drift.

Is there really a Devil?

I am not a religious person but I recall many years ago when I was playing hockey in Selkirk, Manitoba, I was invited to attend a meeting of a church council considering the ordination of one of our team’s close community supporters into the Baptist ministry. The candidate presented his desire to be called to the ministry along with his views on various matters of religious and church doctrine. A panel of ministers from other Baptist churches in the area and elders of his own church then grilled him on his knowledge of relevant scriptures and his stated positions on each doctrine.   It was very much like a defending an academic thesis.

One of the questions was “Do you believe there is a Devil?” My friend answered in words to this effect,

Yes, the Devil is real and is at work among us in ways that lead us astray. We must never be so confident as to deny the power of the Devil. For if we underestimate and ignore the Devil we will be defeated. Our challenge is to thwart the Devil’s work and to adhere to and implement the word of God through Jesus.

I recognize that neither the question nor the answer is particularly original or radical in religious and philosophic circles but allow me to expand on these ideas. My friend answered that if you believe in God you must also believe in the Devil. But it doesn’t end there; just as your belief in God is part of your identity, your belief in the Devil must also be part of that same identity. As I said, I am not a religious person and I leave it to you decide whether these ideas are consistent with your own religious beliefs, but for me, the entire concept took on new meaning after I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. I am not going to expound on those ideas here because there are other matters that I wish to explore but I do seem driven to write about Parkinson’s, self-identification and the ability to have quality of life while living with Parkinson’s. Look for a personal view in a future blog post about Parkinson’s and identity.

Where the devil was the Devil?

Truth be known, the Devil had been lurking around the Altamont Rink during the week long bonspiel and the following week in January 1961. It seems there were some “almost sightings” in odd (but not so odd for the Devil) places e.g., at the far back of the Rink there was an unlit “lean to” that passed as a men’s toilet; a place where only men whose streams were still strong and boys with bravado dared to piss. Frozen yellow icefalls reinforced the rotting studs of the thin plywood walls – solid enough in winter but rather spongy in summer – the only protection from the minus 35 degree Fahrenheit temperature and the wind that howled through the passageway from the old lumberyard and Bob Lang’s house (formerly Scott’s) past the end of the Rink, across the creek and out into the Fraser farmland, and every inch of that path was cold as Hell (feeling like minus 45F or lower with the wind.)

“Cold as Hell” – funny phrase that, as I always thought Hell was HOT!  Artificial ice is common place these days and if you don’t care about the energy costs I guess you can curl in Hell, Las Vegas…. anywhere really. However, we know that the Altamont Rink is a natural ice surface with its own peculiarities and curling is restricted to about 3 months maximum. Just time to get your game in shape and then its back to shuffleboard or travel to larger curling clubs in search of higher calibre competition.

It seems the Devil (or someone else?) did frighten some of the local women working the canteen at the bonspiel. You see, there were no real bathrooms for men at the rink at that time and in addition to the back “lean to,” they sought relief by going through the pump shed where the water well was located.  and then through another door into an unlit shed behind the kitchen.  My recollection is that there was no bucket or container to hold human waste and the floor or ground took the effluent. I highly doubt that any woman who unwittingly passed through that area just uttered, “That cheeky devil….”; It was more likely “What the Hell!!!”

There was a small women’s “restroom” between the kitchen and the pump house. I was forbidden to enter this room, ever, so I do not know much about it and I am uncertain if there was an actual place for women to go to the bathroom. In the only glimpse of the inside of the women’s restroom I recall, I saw a wall mirror mounted such that women, teenage girls, and girls too young to wear lipstick and make up, applied their lipstick and makeup.

I was too young at the time to be aware of, or concerned about, sanitation. My recollection is that the men’s so-called toilet areas were totally inadequate and in the one case was far too close to the well. The water from this well was used primarily to flood the ice surface but it was also used to refill a large bucket sitting near the pump with impossibly cold water that quenched our thirst as we skated or played hockey. I recall my lips almost freezing to the edges of the metal ladle, which, if we consider the latent heat held by the water, was perhaps, even below the freezing point. Each runny-nosed kid placed a slobbery mouth on the ladle and drank his or her fill. Some older kids attempted to avert germicidal or viral disaster by drinking with their left hand or from the front of the ladle instead of the sides. In retrospect, I believe such precautions were illusory as protection from the virus of the week. Colds and flu spread like wild fire through our community from time to time.

It is not that the good citizens of this community did not want proper sanitation or were willfully negligent in not providing it. It was very much the case that historical precedent, poverty and inertia, carried these practices forward. I know that some folks from my hometown will be offended mightily by my words here but this is how I remember it in the ‘50s and early ‘60s. It is no reflection on the people who lived there – my family lived there for goodness sake! It is however a reflection on the economy and the ability of that economy to support a population no matter how small. The population was meager and their incomes were meager to match. It was not until later in the 1960s that a grant, I believe, made new restrooms at the rink possible. The facilities did not have flush toilets or running water but it was a Red Letter Day in the community nonetheless; small steps forward.

I realize now that the Devil must have liked to hang out in restrooms, stinky ones, because I think I saw Him myself, behind the Post Office and further behind a shed where my father kept coal for the heater in the Post Office, and a few other building maintenance items. The shed and the Post Office building formed a small closed, secluded, dead end where local men went to relieve themselves if they were too far from home or the hotel. I do not believe that anything nefarious happened in that space as might have happened “in the big city,” but it was very stinky back there.

I recall that the Post Office was robbed one night and the thieves took the safe outside and around into that little stinky spot in their attempt to crack it open. They proceeded to whack it with a sledgehammer until it spilled all of its cash onto the ground – right in the prime restroom traffic and dumping area.  I remember my father laughing his sardonic little laugh, and saying he hoped they enjoyed their dirty money. The Devil probably assisted the robbers that dark night because I am certain that He was there every time I came within a nose breath of that place.

Stan Post Office shed IMG_5642

The Devil lived in the shadows behind that shed… or is that Him by the barrel?  Photo: unknown c. 1954

The Devil is not inherently stupid although He does have His moments where His actions may appear ill advised to say the most, or down right crazy-assed silly to say the least.  Nevertheless, He did not want to repeat the humiliation of losing the deal he attempted to strike with Willie MacCrimmon in the 1930s. He had been biding His time but now the Devil was getting anxious to extract revenge. What began as a slow burn escalated over the intervening 30 years to His being steamed, inflamed, heated, and hot under the collar almost to the boiling point. He wanted to strike while the iron was hot. That is why He made His presence known at the Altamont Rink just before midnight on January 28, 1961. Little did the Altamont curlers know that the Devil was seeking ‘oh so sweet’ revenge, avenging the craftiness of Willie MacCrimmon.  He had already picked out a spot on His trophy shelf, close to the roaring, fiery furnaces of Hell in case He was able to wrest some hardware away from the Altamont do-gooders and have it melted and smelted.

One the Devil’s biggest flaws is that He is terribly vain. The Devil doesn’t see it that way though because vanity for the Devil is a desired trait. It is all a matter of perspective, isn’t it? It took all the will power the Devil could muster to keep low after that fiasco with Willie MacCrimmon. And now He could stand it no longer. Vanity won the day as soon as He learned that Altamont, that little, pipsqueak, curling club in the middle of nowhere, had won “The Old Buffalo.” He was not prepared to suffer any insolence from a band of farmers with manure on their boots and almost broke shopkeepers, curling out of a tin shed they called a “rink” with one sheet of curling ice where you had to duck hockey pucks from the adjoining skating surface every Tuesday and Thursday night and sometimes on Saturday afternoons [This may be a run-on sentence but it is reflective of the run-on thoughts that the Devil was having.] In any case, it was vanity and narrow – mindedness that brought the Devil to Altamont and those same traits allowed him to rejoice and revel in the sheer power he had to disrupt what He deemed to be a gathering of curling impostors.  In doing so, He broke a cardinal rule of the Devil – to make you think He does not exist.

“La plus belle des ruses du diable est de vous persuader qu’il n’existe pas.” [The devil’s finest trick is to persuade you that he does not exist.] – Charles Baudelaire, Paris Spleen.

The Devil tries to be so invisible that you become complacent, begin to believe that you are safe, and believe that He does not exist after all. He may lay dormant for years and then enter through an almost imperceptible rift in your very Being, perhaps a character flaw such as … take your pick … conceit, vanity or pride of which a ‘kind and caring God’ would not approve as each has elements of egotism and maybe even narcissism that may form one of the “seven deadly sins.”

Yet, pride can masquerade as a positive character trait at times, sitting as it does on the cusp of individual achievement. The desire to be successful and being proud of our successes seem to go hand in hand. It does seem though that it is not a great leap from “pride” to “egotism” or “narcissism.” But where is the tipping point from one to another? I don’t think that it is actually necessary to answer this question with any precision. The important point is to acknowledge that there is a tipping point. The Devil watches for those who have no equilibrium on such matters e.g., pride has already slipped into vanity or worse.

OK, OK, I can hear you all shouting, “What the Hell is going on with the Devil when He crashes through the door into the Altamont Rink?”

Well, first of all, He has to crash through the porch door and then the door into the waiting room – two doors, not one. Give an author a little poetic license and the next thing you know he gets the facts wrong….

Back to January 28, 1961 a few minutes before midnight ….

If you recall, the Altamont curlers were about to celebrate their victory over the Wawanesa Curling Club for their very first ever O’Grady Challenge Trophy aka “The Old Buffalo” when the Devil burst with great sound and steam, if not fury, into the Rink.

The Devil looked around the waiting room of the so-called Altamont “Curling Club” and glanced out at the one sheet of natural curling ice and wondered what it was about this place that made His blood run cold. Yes, you read correctly – the Devil’s blood was running cold! He was truly uncomfortable here – except of course in the rink’s stinky restrooms and places that passed for restrooms. The Devil correctly reasoned that not one of the fine upstanding mostly God fearing citizens was going to accompany Himself (the Devil!) to the bathroom. The air in the waiting room should have been redolent to the Devil – a mixture of hockey players’ jersey and jock strap sweat, old skate mustiness, discarded, soiled underwear and snow pants, and manure scraped from bottoms of farm boots. Still, the Devil’s blood did not respond to these fragrances. You see, the lingering aroma of Soul satiating soup – hot bonspiel soup, ironically, made the Devil’s blood continue its downward temperature plunge. His cooling blood was rapidly turning the heat down on the effectiveness of His hissssssing arrival. No self-respecting Devil wants weak sound and fury so He thought it best to issue His challenge and get the Hell out of there before He got a chill – he didn’t mind a fever, but He hated getting a cold.

So, He spat the challenge out in His best Devilish sssssspit. No, the spittoon in the Altamont Hotel would be of no help here.  Gordon Holliston had been the first to speak when the Devil arrived and the Devil preferred not to look Gordon in the eye. Instead He directed His spit at the two Charlies – Charlie McDonald and Charlie Taylor. Both were members of the winning O’Grady Challenge Trophy (“The Old Buffalo”) team and the Devil perceived, rightly or wrongly, that one of them was the manager and the other was the assistant manager.

The Devil’s challenge went something like this:

Chassssss. and Chassssss. [The Devil had to keep as much ssssssteam going as He possibly could because He feared getting cold feet as His blood cooled.]  I, the Devil, hereby challenge the Altamont Curling Club to a curling sssssssskills competition of Dunbarssssss, for “The Old Goat” Trophy and Sssssspoilsssssss, the detailssssss of which are to be negotiated by the two teamssssss, with the match winner to be determined by ssssssunrise, January 29, 1961.

 SSSSSShould I be victorious (The Devil dug down deep and managed to bring up a heartburn heated burp that punctuated the next words,) I will own the SSSSSSoul of the ‘drawmasssssster’ of each and every Altamont Curling Club bonsssssspiel in perpetuity. SSSSSShould the Altamont Curling Club be ssssssuccessssssful, they sssssshall be the duly appointed official home of the “sssssstuff of Curling” in perpetuity. [Note the Curling – at least the Devil has been paying attention.]

[In a smaller voice,] Failure to accept thissssss offer will ressssssult in automatic forfeiture and your credit cardssssss will be debited $666.66 per month plus interest at 666 per cent per annum in perpetuity.

The two Charlies didn’t really need to put their heads together on this one but they did anyway so as not to let the Devil know that they knew they had to accept the challenge. Having played and watched a lot of billiards in their combined days, the two Charlies knew they were snookered. They needed to make a high risk, tricky shot, or even a risky, trick shot to extract the Altamont Curling Club from this matter. And, yes, they heard the small voice part as well (they were just those kind of guys) but no one in Altamont at that time had hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia, which is an irrational fear of the number 666 but they did have a rational fear of usury, money launderers and fly by night crop sprayers.   There was no way they could accept such a penalty even if that would have been a real option because ceding the Soul of the drawmaster of every Altamont bonspiel to the Devil would be a disaster of monstrous proportions. The Devil would win every time! And to top it all off, the “stuff of Curling” was a prize that deserved to be wrested from the grubby hooves of the Devil. It is not clear how He came to be in possession of it anyway – through some scurrilous, Satanic scheme no doubt.

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Not just snookered but behind the 8 ball  Photo: The PD Gardener 2015

In true synchronicity the two Charlies turned to the Devil and, blowing cigarette smoke through their nostrils, said, ”You’re on, Beelzebub!” A chorus of cheers erupted from curlers and onlookers alike along with the “glug glug” of liquids and the “clunk clunk” of paper cups in mid-toast. Let the game begin!

The Devil turned in disgust. Not only had Altamont accepted His challenge but the two Charlies, of all people, had called Him by His least favourite name, Beelzebub, and they pronounced it correctly, Be ¦ el ¦ ze ¦ bub and not Bee ¦ zel ¦ bub. This was a frightening prospect to the Devil.

The timeline was short. There was much to be done. The Devil had disappeared but was replaced by His apparent vice-skip, Darth Vader, to negotiate the details. The Altamont team put Lynwood Graham forward for the same purpose. It was a little difficult to understand Darth Vader – there hadn’t been this much heavy breathing in the Altamont Rink since M and R sneaked in late one evening and … well … never mind. In a very obvious move to distract Lynwood, Vader kept waving his light sabre around, almost decapitating anyone within reach. Finally Lynwood put his corn broom into Vader’s mask, irritating Vader’s hay fever to the point where he just sat down with his puffer. Negotiations re-commenced in earnest and were quickly concluded.

Ordinarily I would relegate the following agreement to an Appendix but it is germane to the story line so it is best to leave it in this text proper.

But first, I am certain that you noticed the word “Dunbars” in the Devil’s Challenge “… a curling sssssskills competition of Dunbarssssss,…” What in Hell is a “Dunbar?” That is a good question but luckily I can tell you precisely because I witnessed its introduction into curling lingo many years ago. Let me explain before we get back to the dreary details of the negotiation of the Challenge. It seems that the Devil did not want to end up on the short end of the score as he had with Willie MacCrimmon. Skills challenges and “skins” games are commonplace in curling today but in 1961 there were far fewer such events, and many were just informal wagers between individual curlers. The Devil reasoned that a skills challenge of “Dunbars” would be just the ticket because He can unleash enormous, stupidly wicked power on command. You’ll see.

Today, it commonplace to hear, HURRRRY! HURRRRY HAAAARD! as a curling rock hurtles down the ice with curlers keeping pace to brush as commanded. The curling slider (a shoe specifically designed to slide) has made it possible for a curler to slip and slide gracefully from one end of the ice to the other in a flash. Even better, the slider has made it possible to stay with a rock thrown at great speed and, as the rock approaches the house, to avoid “burning” the thrown rock or any other rocks close to its path. Such a slider, or reasonable facsimile, is a critical technological innovation and a necessary precursor for the creation of the “Dunbar.” I would call it a Beneficial Innovation if you recall the formula for the “Stuff” of Curling presented earlier.

The ”Dunbar”

Many readers will know that “Dunbar” is a town in East Lothian, Scotland. Without belabouring the point, it is unlikely that this town has anything to do with a curling shot called a “Dunbar.” Rather, the “Dunbar” [always capitalized] was originally coined by a young lad named Ronnie and, I believe, is a colloquialism specific to the Altamont area. I am not sure that it has ever been used outside of that locale and indeed it might now be considered archaic and no longer in use. Ronnie was a couple of years older than me and his strong, lithe body was well coordinated and well suited to the mechanics of throwing the curling rock. In fact, he had a long smooth back swing reminiscent of Saskatchewan’s legendary, Bob “Pee Wee” Pickering, who would bring the rock back in a smooth arc up to almost vertical over his head as he transferred his weight to his sliding left foot and pushed off with his right foot into a graceful delivery of the stone. Pickering was able to throw any type of draw weight or take out weight from this same delivery.   Ronnie was less successful in perfecting draw weight but he certainly could throw a “high hard one” or what he called a “Dunbar”.   In fact, the “Dunbar” was Ronnie’s “go to” shot as he was able to get a great push off from his hack foot and he could slid forever – clear down to the other end of the rink – aided by his slippery city shoes, of course, as very few in Altamont could afford proper curling shoes and sliders.

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Bob “Pee Wee” Pickering Photo: Curlsask.ca

Whenever the house was getting crowded with the opponent’s rocks, Ronnie would say “I’ll just throw a Dunbar” which was code for “I’m going to throw the rock so hard and fast that all Hell will break loose” when the rock hits the array of opponent’s rocks. [This may be what the ‘Sociables’ at The Brier mean when they say, “Just huck it.”] When the dust settled, Ronnie hoped that his rock(s) remained and all opposition rocks were blasted clean out of the rings. When Ronnie threw the “Dunbar” all curlers scattered hoping not to be collateral damage as 44 lb. of speeding granite collided with several stationary 44 lb. lumps of granite. The word “finesse” does not come to mind when describing the strategy behind this shot.

The interesting thing about shot making in curling is that the laws of physics apply. I didn’t know this stuff then and I barely understand it now. Curling stones come in matched sets usually and are virtually equal in weight (44 lbs.), height (4.5 inches), circumference (36 inches) and running surface (0.5 inches by 5 inches) to each other. During games, the stones are traveling on close to the same ice surface conditions with some variations depending on the exact spot on the ice. The sides of the sheet will be different than the middle of the ice especially late in the game, as the middle will have had much more use from curlers, rocks and brooms. This just means that the rocks are traveling in an elastic environment.

So consider this:

If Ronnie’s stone hits another stone square on, (an interesting thing to say about round curling stones but “round on” just doesn’t sound right) it will transfer most of its kinetic energy to the hit rock making it move forwards at a similar but somewhat slower speed. Note: when the two stones hit, there is usually a loud noise that means that some energy is lost.  Still, in this case, it is wise to stay out of the path of the stone struck by the “Dunbar.”

However, if the “Dunbar” strikes the stone at an angle pushing it into another stone or stones, the struck stone(s) move forward with less momentum and in a slightly different direction. The more stones involved means that the further along the chain of stones you are, the slower the stones will move.

So what, you say? Well, all of this physics stuff tells us that the promised cataclysmic impact of a “Dunbar” might not materialize. If the struck rock hits one rock and it is the only rock moved out of the rings, then the mission (to cause maximum damage by moving as many opposition stones out of the house as possible) of the “Dunbar” has failed. If the stone hits more than one stone on initial impact and there are many subsequent indirect hits, then the damage to the placement of opposition stones in the rings may be maximized but the danger to participants will have been minimized because the transfer of energy and therefore momentum will be less with each subsequent indirect hit.

But you are not really off the hook if you are looking to save yourself from the experience of a 44 lb. stone striking your feet and legs on a slippery surface causing a fall and a concussion when your head hits the ice surface. The speed of the struck rock may be less and you may have some time to jump out of the way, but if you have no idea about angles then you will be in trouble. It is best to brush up on angles before hand just as you would if you were going to play snooker with a pool shark with money on the rail.

I know that there are many “Dunbar” connections in curling but to my knowledge none were instrumental in the development of the “Dunbar” curling shot.

Robert (Bob) Dunbar and his rink dominated the MCA bonspiel in the 1890s winning the overall and individual trophies more times than I care to document here. In 1901, Dunbar moved to St. Paul, Minnesota, but continued to curl in the MCA bonspiel winning trophies up until 1920. Bob Dunbar’s achievements were recognized with an Honorary Life Membership in the MCA in 1920, and he was inducted into the Manitoba Curling Hall of Fame in 1996. Given his stature within the game, it is surprising that he did not develop the shot that bore his name.

Kathleen Dunbar is from Stony Plains, Alberta and curls with the Leslie Rogers rink of the Saville Sports Centre in Edmonton. They play on the World Tour and are trying to win a berth in the Olympic Games. Cale Dunbar curls in the Westman Super League of Curling, Western Manitoba’s Premier Competitive Curling League. There is no evidence that they or several others named Dunbar can lay claim to the “Dunbar” shot, but if they have proof of provenance, I will gladly concede that point.

Okay, now we know that this “skills” challenge involves curling rocks that will be hurtling down the ice at tremendous speeds – with unknown results waiting at the end. With that in mind let’s get back to the administrator’s dream or nightmare of the “Devil is in the details” agreement between the two teams.

Devil 666 Challenge Agreement between Altamont Curling Club and Idle Rocks are the Devil’s Curling Club

The agreement in a nutshell:

Objective:

To eliminate as many stones as possible from a pre-set array or distribution of 8 rocks in the house, by throwing a “Dunbar.”

Definition of “Dunbar:” A curling rock or stone thrown by the curler as fast and as hard as that curler can throw it.

Scoring:

Each stone left, wholly or partially, in the house will count as one (1) point. Points are counted after each shot.

The team with the lowest combined score (total number stones left in the house) after 3 ends of play is declared the winner.

A perfect game is zero (0) points

An “end” is defined as one shot per team.

If the score is tied after three (3) ends, extra ends will continue with players shooting in reverse order from the first three (3) ends, and alternating the reverse order every (3) three ends thereafter until a winner is determined after a complete end.

Selection of players:

[There was much discussion over the selection of players as each side wanted to put forward their best but each side was understandably reluctant to face the other team’s best. In other words, each team wanted to complicate things a little in order to gain an advantage. Finally, they agreed on a process of player selection that was a strange cross between hockey player draft and jury selection.]

Each team will nominate eight (8) players;

Each team will have three (3) opportunities to challenge one (1) of the opposing team’s nominations making said player ineligible for play, not to exceed a maximum of three (3) players per team;

After each challenge, the team whose player has been challenged shall select one (1) player to be eligible for play.

Order of Selection/Challenge:

The winner of a ‘draw to the button’ contest has the option to select first or to challenge first. Subsequent picks and challenges alternate between teams until three (3) players per team are declared eligible.

Each team shall provide one (1) player to participate in the ‘draw to the button’ contest; said player may be any member of their curling club i.e., they need not be from the list of players nominated for play.

Rules of play:

Each team must indicate the order in which players will shoot prior to the start of play in the first end.

The “house” shall be pre-set with an array of 8 rocks.

Each curler will deliver one shot to eliminate (takeout) as many rocks as possible from the house.

After each shot, the house will be re-set with the identical placement for the next player.

Teams will alternate shots.

The short hand version is that three players from each team, each deliver one rock directed to a specific array of rocks, with the objective to hit as many rocks as they can out of house. After three shots, the team with the lowest aggregate number of rocks remaining in the house is the winner.

[Hey look, this has to be true because I couldn’t just make this ‘stuff’ up, eh?]

Before getting into the actual play during the challenge, I think it might useful to know something more about the teams and each of the curlers nominated. Personally, I am not  placing a wager on the outcome as anything can happen when the Devil is involved but I know that many curling fans do gamble. I am not just talking about buying 50/50 tickets. If gambling is one of your proclivities perhaps treat these next sections as your racing form

Altamont Curling Club Team and Player Nominations

Manager: Charlie McDonald  One of the “two Charlies,” Charlie McDonald was one of those people who always seemed to be around to help others when they needed it. Charlie married Bessie Holliston in 1936 and they lived closer than a curling stone’s throw from the Altamont Rink. Indeed, Bessie’s family donated the land on which the Rink was built. If Charlie was ever needed at the Rink, he could be there in a flash. I recall that Charlie worked for many years at the St. Leon Co-op Garage in Altamont. He also went south into the United States in mid-summer with Vern Ticknor’s threshing crew to “custom combine,” following the harvest north into Canada in September. His role as Manager of the Altamont team stemmed from his ability to keep things organized and to ensure the performers (curlers) had what they needed.

Assistant Manager: Charlie Taylor  The other half of the “two Charlies” farmed mostly in the Deerwood district but was never far from the Altamont sports scene. I don’t recall that Charlie was a great curler but he did play in four matches of the O’Grady Challenge Trophy including the very first challenge in 1961 and had a record of 2 wins and 2 losses overall. His contemporaries often joked that his initials were Cwt which pretty much summed up his physical stature. [Cwt is 100 pounds in U.S. measurement or 45.36 kg (a short hundredweight or cental.) In the British Imperial System Cwt was equal to 110 pounds or 50.80 kg or a quintal.]  He was never shy to voice his views on almost any subject matter. Charlie probably saw his position as being more “Coach” than “Assistant Manager” but not everyone saw it quite that way.

Murray “Moe” Stockford was, and still is, a farmer, musician, athlete, father, devoted husband to his wife June, and conscientious citizen in the community. A quiet, patient man of considerable prowess, skill and abilities making him a valued leader in whichever role he assumed. He came by these traits honestly in that his parents, Frank and Olive Stockford, were talented individuals in their own right and very giving of those talents to the community. You will also remember Olive from her curling success noted in Part I of this series.

[If memory serves me correctly though, Murray had considerably more patience and less of a temper than his father. I do recall Frank and I searching for about half and hour to find a wrench that Frank had pitched wildly into the deep bush when the baler broke down and we were having difficulty making the repair. We did find it and all was right with the world.]

Murray Stockford is one of those men who never swore, or if he did, I never heard him. The worst words he could utter, even in the most trying of circumstances, was “Garrrssshh!” or the less emphatic “Gooosshh!)

Murray’s curling credentials are excellent and at this time he is just on the cusp of more curling success in the O’Grady Challenge Trophy curling. He would eventually participate in 9 of the 11 O’Grady games Altamont played. [The Devil with his prescience factor would know this fact.]

Lynwood Graham was a strong man, quick to the boil but equally quick to the simmer. He was a farmer, devoted family man and committed to serving his community. His grandparents, George and Della, were among the first to homestead in the Altamont area circa 1878 so his identification with the community had long and deep roots. From the Graham’s farmyard at the crest of a low sloping hill you could gaze across fields of grain and the bucolic pastures of the McGillivray and McCaffrey farms to the Stockford farm. The Grahams and Stockfords farmed collaboratively, joining forces particularly at haying and harvesting times.

Lynwood was an excellent curler, skipping his rinks to many victories. He was integral to Altamont’s success in the O’Grady challenges. I remember Lynwood as having a reddish complexion but that may be because I mostly saw him during haying season with the June and July heat and sun beating down on our heads, necks and shoulders.

As I said, Lynwood was a powerful man and could pitch heavy hay bales all day as if they were bales of fluff. (This was before the big round hay bales of today.) We built haystacks in the fields for retrieval later in the fall or over the winter. Building stacks required an architectural mind to match size and hardness of bales to be placed strategically to avoid corner sag or outright collapse of an entire side of the stack and, of course, to minimize spoilage. Lynwood was expert at stack building and I recall that the bales sailed from his powerful arms across the top of the stack landing so close to their appointed spots in the architecture that they only needed to be shuffled into place. Speaking of power, Lynwood once sneezed an extraordinarily powerful sneeze as he was rounding a corner with a load of grain. That sneeze and the attention that it required, coming as it did from his rather prominent nose, blew him clean into the ditch.

Robert (Bob) Dunbar was, in fact, a “ringer”as he was not a member of the Altamont Curling Club at all and was not even alive at the time of this challenge. [Hey! No one ever said the Altamont team were not “resourceful.”]  You met Dunbar briefly earlier in our discussion of the “Dunbar.” His name was submitted in the hope that the Devil would not notice and waste a challenge as Dunbar was a pioneer in the sport of curling.  Born in Nova Scotia he was an all-round athlete who excelled in track and field, ice-skating, and roller-skating. He took up curling with a passion after moving to Winnipeg in the late 1870s. Curling out of the Thistle Curling Club, Dunbar and his rink dominated the MCA bonspiel for man years.

Bob Dunbar, a man ahead of his time, understood the advantages to changing the ergonomics of the curler’s delivery, paving the way for the slide delivery of today. Moreover, his competitiveness led him to be strategically astute using the “take out” game to his advantage. Interestingly, in future years the rules of curling would be changed to ensure more rocks would stay in play curtailing the advantage that the take out game provided. Nevertheless, to my knowledge, this ‘game changer’ never perfected the shot that would bear his name, “a Dunbar,” but he would most certainly have been suited to it.

Neuro de Generative. In most people’s minds Neuro is a relative newcomer to curling but he has in fact been around for a very long time, since 1817 in fact when Dr. James Parkinson identified his characteristics and gave him some prominence. Still, he stayed mostly in the background, waiting for an opportunity to get into a game that wasn’t called “shuffleboard” although he might shuffle when he does get into the game.

At first Neuro is barely noticeable, just hanging around the fringes; his presence identified only by those who have an extremely well developed awareness of their own bodies and minds; sometimes his face shows no emotion as if masked. Many are fooled into thinking that Neuro has no sense of humour as a result. Fleetingly at first but ever so gradually his true nature appears in the boutique versions of neurodegenerative conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease,) Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s, etc.

Because the average age of curlers in the early years of the sport was somewhere over 50 years old, neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s (or “Shaking Palsy” as it was often called) affected curlers disproportionately – or should I say affected former curlers disproportionately because many gave up playing the sport when their condition worsened. It just became too onerous to wrestle with tremor, involuntary muscle movements, cramping muscles, lack of balance, etc. More recently though, curling, boxing, dance, cycling, and a whole host of other activities are all recommended as they give people living with neurological conditions a reason to move, to exercise. Exercise seems to delay the progression of such diseases. This is good news. But the average age of curlers has been decreasing and unfortunately more younger people are  also contracting neurological diseases which are finding a home in the brains and bodies of what is called the “young onset” group. This is not good news.

Neuro was not a fantastic curler with his shaky, unbalanced delivery and slow, uncoordinated sweeping style, but he rarely missed the broom and never gave up even though the neurons in his brain were dying and robbing him of greater and greater measures of dopamine. By the time he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s over 70 percent of his dopamine producing neurons had already died. There is no cure and his condition will inevitably get worse, although exercise, physiotherapy, diet, good mental health, medical advice from neurologists, pharmaceutical therapies, medical devices, social supports, caregiver support, and the love of family and friends will give him many additional years of enhanced quality of life.

At first, it seems difficult to understand why Neuro de Generative’s name was forwarded in the Altamont nominations. In fact, the Devil Himself loved Neuro because he was subtle, stubborn, tenacious, insidious, debilitating, and yes maybe even a little Soul sucking in his approach. These were all traits valued by the Devil and were music to His ears. The Devil was beside Himself with glee when He saw Neuro’s name on the Altamont list of eligible nominees. Any observer, independent or not, would think that the Altamont team had taken leave of their senses … no… had gone stark raving mad … no, had a death wish!

Neuro de Generative was a complex individual; his personality was multidimensional, and many of his seeming failings were also strengths. He never denied those weaknesses but accepted them as integral to his identity. Most importantly, while it took great concentration and awareness of mind and body, he never allowed the weaknesses to overpower the strengths. It seems odd to say that, doesn’t it? But it is such an accurate depiction of what must happen with any degenerative disease. Neuro was an inspiration that way.

Walter John Wilson was one of seven sons and a daughter born to Jack and Eva (née Lyle) Wilson who were married in 1918. Walter was born in 1921 and like his father was educated in Altamont. He joined the 1st Manitoba Mounted Rifles (MMR) and in 1940 he enlisted with the Royal Winnipeg Rifles “Little Black Devils” under the command of Colonel Jack Bingham from nearby Deerwood, an even smaller community than Altamont if you can believe it. The “Little Black Devils” became one of the most famous monikers in the Commonwealth Armed Forces, earned at the Battle of Fish Creek (Saskatchewan) in 1885 where, a prisoner awed by the sharp shooting militia was heard to say, “the red coats we know, but who are those little black devils?” The name stuck and General Middleton himself referred to the MMR by that sobriquet in official documentation. Soon the nickname was officially recognized, and the devil and motto Hosti Acie Nominati (Named by the Enemy,) has been a source of pride and bragging rights ever since.

[The irony here is just too great for me to pass up a comment. The Battle of Fish Creek is widely believed to have been a major victory for the Métis against General Middleton’s forces forestalling, temporarily at least, Middleton’s advance on Batoche.]

I have no idea whether Walter Wilson was a good curler or not but the Altamont team were familiar with his family and welcomed him to the task. They respected his time with the “Little Black Devils.” The Devil, on the other hand, did not know what to make of Walter’s nomination. Was the Altamont team trying to “buffalo” him, as they were the holders of the O’Grady Trophy?  In any case, the Devil was not uncomfortable with Walter’s nomination.

Bert Marshall, former proprietor of the Altamont Restaurant, Postmaster, Rawleigh Products Salesman, husband to wife Kay, father to one son and two daughters, gardener and amateur horticulturalist, conscientious community citizen, and general all around philosopher, scientist, and busybody. He arrived in Altamont in 1950 with his wife Kay and red haired son to operate the local restaurant, poolroom and barbershop. Being neither good cooks nor willing to stay open six days a week until 9 or 10 at night they sold the restaurant about five years later, bought the building that housed the Post Office, and Bert became the Postmaster succeeding Steve Bishop. Bert continued to barber and began to sell Rawleigh Products and Wawanesa Insurance polices while operating the local bus depot, confectionery and comic book store (and you thought I learned to read at school!)

Altamont Post Office Colleen photo 2014

Former Altamont, Manitoba Post Office  Photo: C. Baumann 2014

It is reported from reliable sources that Bert was not a great curler at the time but he would eventually play on three Altamont teams in the O’Grady Challenge Trophy competition. Their record during that time was not great with one win (against Charleswood) and two losses (against Gilbert Plains and Roland.)

Dick Mussell was not quite the hermit, recluse or even the mountain man that people made him out to be but he was an interesting character who kept to himself most of the time. Living in a tiny ‘shanty’ just west of Altamont he was about 70 years ahead of the “Tiny House” craze that has been sweeping Canada and the U.S. recently. It seems you can’t watch any Home and Garden TV these days without watching an environmentalist, youthful idealist, or newly minted single parent with 2 children and a Labrador dog, search for the perfect “Tiny House” of 280 square feet on a budget of $22,000. Well, Dick lived the tiny house life in the first half of the 20th Century and he did not live as a complete hermit or recluse. A hermit usually has some religious reasons for choosing solitude while a recluse seeks to avoid social interaction and prefers a solitary existence. There is no evidence to suggest that Dick’s lifestyle was chosen to meet religious strictures. While Dick might appear to meet some of the criteria for being a recluse, his social side was never very far from the surface. He did enjoy his weekly ride into town on his horse, Queenie, on

Altamont curlers IMG_5472

Altamont Curlers  Far right is Dick Mussell  Photo: unknown

Saturdays to have Bessie McDonald at the grocery store fill his standing order of groceries, while he joined others to quaff a few beers in the Altamont Hotel.  By the way, this infamous hotel stands today, pretty much as it did in Dick’s day and it is not hard to see why Dick might feel at home there.

But there was one other activity that was sure to draw Dick out of his shanty and away from hunting and trapping, and that was a chance to curl. The photo above shows Dick with other curlers from Altamont. Dick always was protective of his personal space. Note how he is slightly separated from the others. Also, note their brooms – no slap,slap,slap from their straws.  Dick never expressed any fear of the Devil so when consulted about his possible inclusion in the challenge, Dick allowed his name into nomination as one of the eight names on the Altamont list.

 The Devil and Dick?

I have a very significant aside to tell you at this point. There is some evidence that, in his early life, Dick had confronted the Devil. As we know, the Devil cleanses our “cerebral hard drives” after any contact.   By all rights, then, Dick should have no recollection of that encounter. Still, there is a belief that Dick and the Devil had a “devil of a fight” and “all Hell broke loose” leaving the Devil enervated as He battled to overcome Dick’s inherent benevolence and humanity. The Devil’s psyche and energies were spent and drained to such a degree that He was not able to fully expunge Dick’s brain of all recollection. Dick managed to mount Queenie and rode off into the woods. Dick, for his part, could only recall the encounter as if through a frozen ice fog, and these recollections happen only when the temperature reaches -40F or -40C i.e., “when Hell freezes over.” This convergence of the Celsius and Fahrenheit scales is not common but Dick lived in rural Manitoba and it happens more often than you might think. Please note that I cannot make any definitive statement about this theory at this juncture as more research needs to done, and you can’t muck around in Devil “stuff” without financial backing. I just don’t want to sell my Soul to the Devil for this project and, believe me, the Devil would make such a deal in a heartbeat. Enough of that for now and I will update you when I have new information.

The Idle Rocks are the Devil’s Curling Club team and player nominations with brief biography

Manager: The Devil  The Devil is a bad man.  He wants a bad man in charge.  So, the Devil is in charge. Got it?

Assistant Manager: The Devil The Devil is way more bad than just one bad man so He can be assistant bad man in charge too!

Recall that the Devil’s team against Willie MacCrimmon had Guy Fawkes playing lead, Judas Iscariot throwing second stones, and Macbeth at vice – skip. The Devil was not inclined to use any of those losers this time around. He needed a fresh team, a team motivated to win. The Devil checked the availability of several possible choices but many were not available due to previous commitments e.g., Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev was busy working with Fidel Castro in Cuba. In any case, the Devil had a niggling feeling that neither Khrushchev nor Castro would provide unqualified support when it counted. Also, He was sure that Nikita had thrown away one of his curling shoes in that display of temper, October 1960, at the United Nations.

In the end, Idle Rocks are the Devil’s Curling Club put forward the following names for players:

The Devil. There is really nothing to be said about this nomination. He is the baddest, bad narcissist and He likes the look of being in charge.

Darth Vader. The Devil believed He could always count on the Dark Side of the Force to be with Him. Who cares if he can curl? The Devil reasoned that Vader’s voice was just crazy, freaky nasty and he had a cooooool light sabre.

Magnus Djävulsson. No one knows much about Magnus although it is rumoured that his family originally emigrated from Iceland to Canada (Winmount, Ontario) in 1870 and bounced to Manitoba in 1875 to settle near Narcisse, Manitoba midway between Gimli and Lundar and close to Arborg which claims the world’s largest curling rock at 4.2 m (13.78 feet) in diameter, 2.1 m (6 ft 10.68 in) tall, and weighing in at 1.5 tonnes. The rock celebrates the historical success of high school curling teams from the area going back to the 1940s.

Magnus’ ancestors were Icelandic on his mother’s side and Swedish on his father’s side. Magnus’ surname, loosely translated, seems to mean son of the Devil. He curled out of several different clubs over the years with varying degrees of success throwing lead or second stones. None of the teams ever came close to winning the Consols, emblematic of the men’s provincial championship.

Although he was a rugged and handsome man, he never married, perhaps because he was terribly vain and couldn’t pass a mirror or window without stopping to check out his reflection. He carried a black rat tail comb in his right back pocket at all times and had perfected its removal and subsequent sweep through his Brylcreemed hair to such a degree that it was often parodied by his friends and fellow curlers. Magnus, lost in his own world, did not seem to care.  An only child, the family lineage in Canada ended with his death in 1970.

Interesting isn’t it that in Greek mythology Narcissus was the son of the river god Cephissus and the nymph Liriope? He was so beautiful that when he saw his refection in a pool of water, he fell in love with it not realizing that it was just an image. Unable to leave it, he lost the will to live and died. Today, narcissism means a fixation with oneself and one’s appearance. The very fact that Magnus Djävulsson’s family settled in Narcisse signalled that Magnus was damaged goods and the Devil just could not resist adding this depth of vanity and egotism to His list of nominated outcasts.

On the other hand, the daffodil is the common name for the narcissus plant. From the family, Amaryllidaceae, these beautiful flowers pop through the snow shortly after snowdrops and crocus in the spring. They are among my favourites precisely because they are the death knell for winter and indeed, the most common meaning for daffodils is “rebirth”. Some may think that they get a little caught up in their own beauty as they dominate the spring landscape but I feel they are a perfect foil for any early spring snowy Devilishness.

Daffies IMG_1581

Narcissus, common name Daffodil   Photo: The PD Gardener 2014

Johann Faust is the same inquisitive Faust who summoned the Devil in a forest near Wittenberg. The Devil appears as a greyfriar called Mephistopheles and Faust cuts a deal to give Mephistopheles his Soul in exchange for 24 years of service. Faust has a ball for about 16 years and then tries to back out of the deal. The Devil cuts off this notion by producing Helen of Troy with whom Faust takes up a relationship. As the 24 years expire Satan announces Faust’s death and at midnight Faust dies a gruesome death. His eyes are found in his room while his body is found in the courtyard. If the Devil got Faust’s Soul, then Faust will play with Him in this curling challenge.

Robert Johnson, an American blues singer, songwriter and guitarist is said to have followed in Faust’s footsteps by selling his Soul to the Devil in return for success and recognition in the music industry. He never lived to see this recognition but his music, recorded largely in the mid – 1930s, has been a major influence on several generations of musicians after his death, attributed to poisoning at the age of 27. Perhaps, the Devil already has his Soul.

Severus Snape, devotee of the “Dark Arts” in Harry Potter. Even though it seems that Snape redeems himself and forms a strong bond with Dumbledore and carries out Dumbledore’s own request to be killed, Snape’s motives are largely unclear. Did Dumbledor sell his Soul to the Devil? Did Snape? Was Snape a double agent? What does the Devil know that we don’t? No matter, the Devil wrote Snape’s name on His list.

Rumplestiltskin seems a strange choice but he was a natural from the Devil’s point of view. “Rum-pie,” as the Devil called him, has the technology to turn straw into gold and the Devil’s challenge to the Altamont curlers was taking place during the hay day (so to speak) of the corn or straw broom in curling. The Devil was always looking for an edge in the strangest of places.

Bernie “Broom Broom” GeoFreeZone (pronounced Gee – off – ree – on with a silent “Z.”) Bernie’s main claim to fame is that he is an acknowledged leader in curling technological innovation. He began his career in the mid – 1830s by working on a project to “pebble” the ice surface diminishing friction by reducing the area of direct contact between the stone’s running surface and the ice surface. Pebbling the ice is a very important aspect of the game today as it allows sweepers to make a difference in the rock’s speed and amount of curl.

“Broom Broom” also has been influential in some rules and regulations changes. He was a consultant to a group assessing the impact of the “Guard Free Zone” on the “hitting game” where equally skilled teams could just exchange hit and peel (roll out) strategies keeping scores low and last rock only meant something in the first end.

Currently, ”Broom Broom” has been working on new type of curling broom called the “Devil’s Paint Brush” which has a feathery material of bright colours that allows for greater control over the behaviour of the rock by the sweepers. It does not contain waterproofed fabric, “stiffening” inserts or directional fabric. “Broom Broom” and his principal financial backer, Devil to Pay Inc., are claiming that their broom has been unfairly caught up in a ban of new brooms under the directional fabric broom ban of 2016.  GeoFreeZone is also a principal in the popular hairpiece firm, Devil Toupee Inc., a subsidiary of Devil to Pay Inc. Devil Toupee, not so coincidentally, provides hair to make many brands of curling brooms. “Broom Broom” is both vertically integrated and horizontally diversified in his personal portfolio.

But can GeoFreeZone curl? Who knows for sure? He hangs around the same places (curling clubs) as the elite curlers, but then so do a lot of other folks. If the Devil has to call on him, will he be able to deliver, so to speak? It remains to be seen whether “Broom Broom” can master the “Dunbar”, a shot he had absolutely no input into creating. He just never frequented those small bonspiels where the curling club did not have a private bar to run his personal tab. Actually, most of those clubs had no bar at all and drinks were dispensed from brown paper bags or silver flasks won in some other bonspiel. Nevertheless, the Devil trusted Bernie because Bernie idolized his adopted namesake Bernie Madoff. Bernie never liked “Broom Broom” as a nickname but his full legal name was Gladwynn Wynn Geoffrey GeoFreeZone (with a silent Z) and he didn’t much like that either, so he opted for the more informal moniker “Bernie” in order to cultivate comfortable conversation with his clients. Bernie was successful in keeping “Broom Broom,” his image for marketing curling equipment quite separate from “Bernie,” his image as financier for innovation among elite curlers, operating from 17th floor offices on Bay St.

Challenges and selections: The teams are formed

In true curling fashion they had a draw to the button contest between the two mangers with the winner having the choice to challenge first or second. So, it was Charlie McDonald against the Devil. The Devil won and surprise, surprise, elected to challenge first which meant the Altamont team would select first in the first selection round.

The round by round results are below:

Devil Challenge 1: Bob Dunbar.

The Altamont ruse worked in that it left other good Altamont players to be selected.  Bob Dunbar was rejected by the Devil because Dunbar was just too much of a pioneer, quick to learn and understand change and quick to adapt his strategy accordingly. The risk was too great for the Devil to take.

Altamont Challenge 1: Severus Snape

Well another surprise, surprise! The Altamont team announced they were challenging Severus Snape. It seems that their collective fear of snakes was greater than their collective fear of the Devil. So Snape was kicked to the boards.

Altamont Select 1: Lynwood Graham.

The Devil was furious as He began to realize what had happened. But the rules specified no appeals, just the way the Devil wanted it when He was dealing for Souls. The Devil had wanted to reject Lynwood mostly because the challenge involved throwing a “Dunbar” and Lynwood might just be too strong for the Devil’s liking.

Devil Select 1: Darth Vader

Holy Light Sabre! Everyone was betting that the Devil would protect Himself. Perhaps, He was overconfident that the opposing team would never dare to challenge Him and protected Darth Vader instead.

Devil Challenge 2: Murray “ Moe” Stockford

The Devil just could not afford to have the Graham – Stockford connection working against Him, so He challenged and eliminated Murray “Moe” Stockford. The fact is that when the Devil reviewed Murray’s biography, he was rejected immediately as not having a Soul that was consonant with the Devil’s raison d’être.

Altamont challenge 2: The Devil!

Hey, the Altamont Team did it! The Devil is out!

Altamont Select 2: Walter Wilson

You might surmise that the Devil would not mind the inclusion of someone from the RWR “Little Black Devils” and you are right. The Devil allowed a little smile when Walter’s name was called. Nevertheless, the Altamont team was also content with the selection

Devil Select 2: Magnus Djävulsson.

The Devil’s tail was switching all over the place as it betrayed his vexation with the process. But He needed a real curler on His team so he picked Magnus Djävulsson.  Magnus was very surprised when he was notified but he was a competitor and would do his best when his time to shoot arrived.

Devil Challenge 3: Dick Mussell

As indicated earlier, the Devil and Dick had unfinished business but the Devil was not willing to finish it in this Challenge and opted to keep Dick on the sidelines.

Altamont Challenge 3: Bernie “Broom Broom” GeoFreeZone (pronounced Gee – off – ree – on with a silent “Z.”)

The Altamont team could not in all conscience allow themselves to be contaminated by the slime left in “Broom Broom’s” wake even if they were competing against him.

Altamont Select 3: Neuro de Generative

This announcement was to everyone’s total shock, surprise and stupefaction! The Devil grew worried that the Altamont team was pulling a fast one on Him. These rubes, these hayseeds, these bumpkins, these hillbillies had better watch themselves.

Devil Select 3: Robert Johnson

The Devil took great pleasure in announcing that Robert Johnson would be on the His rink as He fully expected that Johnson would write and sing a ballad about this historic confrontation, chronicling the victory of a team He was beginning to call “The Satanic” in a sink or swim attempt at re-branding.

Recap of the final team members

Idle Rocks are the Devil’s Curling Club: Darth Vader, Magnus Djävulsson, Robert Johnson. Sweepers: Rumplestiltskin and Johann Faust.

Altamont Curling Club: Lynwood Graham, Walter Wilson, Neuro de Generative. Sweepers: Bert Marshall and Charlie Taylor.

The stones would be delivered from the far end of the sheet so that spectators would have the best view of the house from the bleachers set up behind the glass.

Challenge sells out (or maybe someone sells out?)

As happens in small towns, there is not much that stays a secret for very long and word leaked out about the Devil’s challenge. The good citizens began to converge on the small rink, jamming the waiting room, standing on the skating ice and the walkway between the skating rink and the curling ice. A few children escaped their beds and clambered up onto the rafters above the skating rink. Once they were within the boundaries of the Rink they could not leave until the challenge was over. None of the spectators would remember anything.

The Altamont team was beginning to be concerned for the health and safety of the ordinary, non-curling population, especially the children, but they also welcomed all the support they could get. Besides, Bessie McDonald already had three teenagers, Cliff, Diane, and Margaret selling tickets to those who had already entered or who wanted to enter. Perhaps, they would make enough for a new coffee urn and a soup pot for the Rink’s kitchen.

Bessie and her brother, Gordon Holliston, were settled into their customary seats in the second row of the waiting room bleachers. Jim Sharp, a carpenter/handyman and frequent visitor to Altamont, was passing by and brought a strong odour of beer, cigar smoke and garlic to the affair. Gordon Lowry along with Howard and Dora Andrews also had coveted bleacher seats.

The curling ice was almost ready for play. Young George Friesen shepherded the sheepskin up the sheet and back. At each end he exuberantly swept gray detritus from its woolly surface, proof that the ice surface was now clean. Charlie Taylor grabbed the pebble can and proceeded to lay the pebble down, cigarette hanging from his lower lip as he moved backward down the ice, carefully distributing the fine spray of water droplets from a dented and beat up cylinder of water with an equally dented and beat up sprinkle head. Charlie’s ability to keep that cigarette stuck to his lower lip always amazed me. That, and the ability to keep about an inch of ash on the end of the cigarette and always make it to an ashtray or suitable spot to place one nicotine stained finger on the cigarette to tap the ash off.

Ashtrays, usually tobacco cans, were placed strategically at each end of the curling ice and along its sides. These ash cans are important curling infrastructure as cigarette and cigar ash is not conducive to a smooth and continuous motion of a curling rock. In fact, it can sometimes have disastrous results. Bob Weeks in Curling Etcetera records an instance in the 1936 Brier where Manitoba curling great Ken Watson gave his lead, Charlie Kerr, a cigar to smoke before the game. Charlie smoked it during the game and by this I mean that it very seldom left his mouth even while sweeping. [This would have just made me want to gag.] The Watson rink was counting five when the sixth stone was stopped in its tracks by an ash, falling from Kerr’s cigar, as he was sweeping. When the end was over, Watson counted seven but it could have been eight if not for the cigar ash.

In any case, Charlie Taylor was either oblivious to the possible consequences of a cigarette ash falling to the ice surface or was supremely confident that the cigarette ash had enough structural integrity to remain on the end of his cigarette until he reached the end of the sheet and the pebble was finished. It did not fall until Charlie tapped it into an ash can. Charlie was always confident if nothing else.

It’s game on

The Devil won the right to challenge or select first so the Altamont team would have the right to decide to shoot first or last. A small wave of disbelief rattled the Rink’s tin roof as Charlie McDonald announced that the Altamont team had elected to shoot first. What the …?  Well, it had been a night for surprises and it continued to be.

I am not privy to the logic behind the respective strategies for the selection of players or the order of play. I can only speculate that Altamont was counting on Lynwood Graham to blaze the way with a fantastic, blistering, blast creating so much anger and consternation among the Devil’s accomplices that they would become disoriented and screw up, to use the mild technical term. The Devil, in turn, wanted Darth Vader and whatever force Vader had on the Dark Side, to be with Him on the last shot.

Curling set array 3 IMG_0181

Set array of rocks. Bottom is back of the house

In the meantime, Howard Andrews and Magnus Djävulsson threw eight stones from the far hack into the house at the home end of the ice producing the array of rocks that each curler would face in turn (see diagram.)

[ … Time passes … ]

Years of research have taught me that it is not unusual for significant amounts of time, money, or other things to go missing in challenges or events involving the Devil.  Whether it is the 18 minutes missing from the Watergate tapes, missing millions of dollars thought to have been paid to US lobbyists by Sri Lanka, or missing and misplaced principal residences for Canadian Senators, the pattern is there.

So it was with this challenge. The competition began and the first four stones were delivered – two for Altamont (by Lynwood Graham and Walter Wilson) and Two for the Devil (by Magnus Djävulsson and Robert Johnson)– with no details surviving aside from the score.

I apologize but there is nothing that I can do to retrieve additional details – short of selling my Soul to the Devil, that is.

Stan Mascots 2 IMG_0561

The PD Gardener at work researching the Devil   Photo: G. Bialkoski 2016

So, what’s happening?

We pick it up after the 2nd end with the score at Devil 3 and Altamont 4. In other words, the Devil’s team has left three stones in the rings and Altamont has left 4 stones in the house. The Devil is in the lead by one stone as low aggregate score wins. Only last rock for each team remains. Neuro de Generative will throw last rock for Altamont and Darth Vader will throw for the Devil – an interesting match up in and of itself.

Wait!!! What is Bert Marshall doing?

I hesitate to raise this matter but I feel that I must, in the interest of full disclosure, tell you that my father is the Bert Marshall referenced in this story. Regrettably and with some trepidation, I also disclose that I have uncovered some evidence that Bert Marshall was seen huddling with the Devil at the conclusion of the 2nd end. Only two or three individuals know of this clandestine meeting and I guess I could use my curling corn broom to sweep it under the rug but it is likely better to come clean about the “huddle” to maintain my personal integrity.

I am still picking through a mountain of misinformation and working with a medium (not a Tim Horton’s medium) to channel Dick Mussell who may have some foggy memory that may clarify the matter. At this point I have the following snippets of conversation as told by someone from the Devil’s side who claims to have observed the meeting and heard the informal conversation which took place under the bleachers. [Geez, you would think they could have found a better place.]

“…. the Devil situated himself quite close to Bert and whispered, “If you give me an idea I use, I will make it worth your while….”

Bert took out his handkerchief and blew his nose because … well because that is what he always does. Bert looked off to the side and whispered, “I always wanted to score an 8- Ender….”

What the heck was that all about and why would Bert huddle with the Devil without taking a third party to witness and corroborate any discussion or agreement? It also begs a second question with a potentially more explosive answer. Did Bert Marshall (my father) sell his Soul to the Devil (or worse yet, sell out the Altamont team) for an 8 – Ender? Does the man pictured below seem like he knows curling perfection is in his future?

Raleigh man 1963 IMG_3952

Bert Marshall, 2 years after the Devil’s Challenge  Photo: Unknown

I am still trying to reconstruct these events and reach a definitive conclusion but at this time I am not in a position to address my findings without some independent peer evaluation and corroboration of my research. [No! – that doesn’t mean we are looking for an insane Parkie storyteller!] I will update you as soon as new information is available.

de Generative delivers Altamont’s last stone

Altamont Curling Club supporters shuddered when they realized that their last “Dunbar” rock (the Devil’s team had the hammer or last rock) would be thrown by none other than Neuro de Generative, a curler who

  • Had a bad case of the “shakes” at the best of times;
  • Had more times when he was “off” than when he was “on” but when he was “on” he was really “on!”
  • Was unpredictable as to when he would be “on” or “off.”
  • Often went onto the ice surface and “froze” even when the weather was quite mild;
  • Needed a pat on the behind from a teammate’s broom in order to get moving again;
  • Had to seek the bathroom quickly and often when he was “off;”
  • Sometimes was sapped of all strength and found it impossible to throw the curling rock such that it crossed the hog line never mind reached the house for a take out;
  • Sometimes was so uncoordinated when sweeping that they called for him to be not just “off” but “right off!”
  • Moved very slowly at times making it impossible for him to keep pace with a rock thrown with any speed;
  • Was often so rigid that he could not sit comfortably in the hack to deliver the rock;
  • Sometimes fell into the path of rocks, “burning” them while trying to tiptoe slide through rocks in the house while sweeping;
  • Could not smell ”burned” rocks – or the coffee that he overcooked on the old pot belly stove;
  • And the list goes on … and on – but often “off.”

To put this into perspective, the year is 1961 and nobody really understood Neuro’s condition as a treatable medical one.  Levodopa, the gold standard for treatment of Parkinson’s disease, was not developed until the late 1960s and the brand name drug, Sinemet (levodopa/carbidopa,) was not in widespread use until the 1970s.

In 1961, this was just the way Neuro was and, to be honest, most of the other curlers had the same things happen to them more than once – sometimes as part of the aging process but more often from a love of the more liquid part of the game.

So, what happened when Neuro threw his rock?  The following account is pieced together from Dick Mussell’s recollection as told to those three guys, Scotty, Buster and Phil, who told it to me quite some time ago. Sorry, there were no handy video cameras or telecasts of the games back then. This is the best we have. I can only say that, for my part, I am recounting the facts of the events exactly as they were described to me in the mid-1970s. In order to make it more understandable to the generations who have grown up with live play-by-play of sports (thank you Curt Gowdy and ABC’s Wide World of Sports – “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat,”) let’s listen to how the legendary Cactus Jack Wells, and elite curler and broadcaster/colour commentator, Bob Picken, might have called the play-by-play.

DEVL 666 Radio play-by-play of the final stones

The broadcast leads with a verse of “Devil or Angel,” The Clovers 1956 original pop hit playing in the background. [Note: Bobby Vee covered this tune in 1960 taking it to the top of the charts once again and it was fresh on all minds, even curlers’ minds, in 1961.

Network Announcer: DEVL 666 Radio now takes you to Cactus Jack Wells and Bob Picken at the Altamont Rink for a real treat – The Devil vs Altamont in a winner take all, no holds barred, Devil may care, hotter than Hades, curling shoot off….

Cactus Jack: Well, it turned out nice again, didn’t it?

Bob Picken: It sure did Jack and it is such a privilege to be invited to the historic Altamont Rink to witness this unusual curling challenge. As you know, space is limited and people are having a devil of a time finding tickets even though it was put together very quickly.

Cactus Jack: Right you are, Bob. I am often high in the Winnipeg Arena and Bomber Stadium – hmmm, perhaps I should phrase that differently – but we are really up in the rafters here at the Altamont Rink!

Bob Picken: Yes we are, and we have ice level seats!

To be continued:

Next time:  The last rocks are thrown in the thrilling conclusion to one of the greatest curling confrontations ever!  Can the Altamont Curling Club keep the Devil from capturing the Soul of the draw master of the Altamont Bonspiel?  Will the Altamont Curling Club keep the “stuff of Curling” safe from contamination by the Devil, and how will we know what “stuff” is, even if they do?

There seems to be a lot of pressure on the Altamont curlers, don’t you think?  So,let’s put some pressure on the Devil:  Can the Devil avoid eternal embarrassment by not losing to this team of hicks curling out of a tin shack?

Whose side is Bert Marshall on and does it make any difference anyway? And, what is a double Gordon?

The answers to these questions and more in the third and last installment of

IN SEARCH OF THE “STUFF” OF CURLING  

Part III: Down to last rocks; The Devil made them do it

APPENDICES FOR PART II

Appendix A: The Devil and His tricks

This appendix is a caution to disabuse you of any notion that you enter into an encounter with the Devil on an equal footing. The Devil knows that the human foot with five somewhat flexible toes, an arch and hinging ankle, while it has some flaws, is superior to the Devil’s cloven hoof. Therefore He reasons it is only fair that He have some “advantages” (He does not object to calling these “tricks” as His perspective is totally different on these matters) to offset the footing differences. You can decide if they are offsetting factors or if the cloven hoof is inferior at all to human feet when it comes to curling.

Devil Trick #1. When the Devil does show himself in person, He wipes your cerebral hard drive clean which means that neither the Altamont curlers nor anyone else present will remember anything of that particular meeting and any subsequent curling competition where the Devil is present.

Devil Trick #2. The Devil had been following the challenges for “The Old Buffalo”, the O’Grady Challenge Trophy. In fact, He set His DVR “Devil Vision Recorder” (roughly equivalent to today’s Personal Video Recorder or PVR) to alert him and to record the matches. He had predetermined that Altamont, a southern Manitoba curling crazy community with a population of approximately 120 Souls; members in good standing of the Manitoba Curling Association (MCA) since 1929; [which mattered to the Devil greatly because He wanted the Curling gurus to provide their stamp of legitimacy on His inevitable victory] would be prime candidates for the Devil’s bait as a number of very good curlers in Altamont had ambitions to be even better.

Devil Trick #3. The Devil has the remarkable ability to suck the totality of information on any subject including both the science and art of curling from any knowledge source (a human brain usually) that enters “The Devil’s Triangle”, more commonly known as “The Bermuda Triangle.” Given the propensity for Canadians (even curlers) to go south for a few weeks each year to escape the coldest days of winter, it has not been difficult for the Devil to find such a brain passing through His triangle as Florida, Bermuda and Puerto Rico form the triangle’s apexes.   It is true that the Devil does need to find a new brain every few years to update His app to the latest in curling strategy and advances in equipment. The most recent version is D.v. 20.15. Remember, the Devil’s abilities to acquire knowledge this way long pre-date the “mind melds“ of Star Trek or the magic of Harry Potter. I won’t spend any more time on this brief explanation other than to say that the Devil’s skill and knowledge is restricted only by the intelligence of the last human brain to pass though the Triangle.

In present day terms, the travel itineraries of 2016 Brier Champion Kevin Koe of Alberta, Brad Gushue of Newfoundland and Labrador, Brad Jacobs of Northern Ontario, Mike McEwen of Manitoba, Glenn Howard of Ontario or Pat Simmons of Team Canada would be of interest to the Devil as they are curling strategic geniuses as well as technical and tactical magicians of the highest order – perfect for updating His curling app. All of these gentlemen skipped their respective teams in the 2016 Brier.

In 1961, travel was more limited than today and it not likely that as many top-flight curlers would travel through the Devil’s Triangle. There certainly were many great men’s curlers in that time: Ernie Richardson and his brothers from Saskatchewan, Garnet Campbell from Saskatchewan, Hec Gervais (the big potato farmer) from Alberta, Ab Gowanlock from Glenboro Manitoba, Matt Baldwin from Alberta, Billy Walsh from Manitoba and Ken Watson from Manitoba to name but a few.

And, of course, women curlers in Canada are equally skilled and knowledgeable such that 2016 Scotties Champion Chelsea Carey of Alberta, Jennifer Jones of Manitoba, Kerri Einarson of Manitoba, Jenn Hanna of Ontario, Krista McCarville of Northern Ontario, and Rachel Homan of Ontario and any of their respective team members could provide important updates. The history of women’s curling is rich with talent and who knows if any of these names passed through the Devil’s Triangle: Colleen Jones from Nova Scotia, Vera Pezer, Sandra Peterson and Sandra Schmirler from Saskatchewan, Marilyn Bodogh of Ontario, Lindsay Sparkes and Lindsay Moore from British Columbia, to name but a few.

Collectively their knowledge and experience is, to be blunt, massively massive.

Devil Trick #4. The Devil has what is known as a “prescience factor” of ten (10) i.e., He can foretell future events (up to ten years out) albeit somewhat vaguely but with sufficient sharpness to be able to hedge His bets.

Devil Trick #5: The Devil can intervene in a timeline, from time to time, so to speak. He can pass a temporary, temporal measure where time zones can be “held in abeyance” for short periods. In this case, Manitoba is on Central Standard Time (CST) and that can be converted to Central Suspended Time (CST) with no one really noticing in the short term.

[Note: for those who believe in God, Alberta may be on Celestial Standard Time (CST) as suggested in The Black Bonspiel of Willie MacCrimmon. God alone must initiate any intervention into Celesial Time while the Devil can initiate Suspended Time. It is commonly known that Saskatchewan does not change to “Savings” time so it stands alone as a province where time cannot be suspended. Newfoundland and Labrador is suspended by an extra half-hour no matter what happens. It is not clear whether God has anything to do with “timing” in Newfoundland and Labrador and Saskatchewan.]

Sources:

Bonspiel! The History of Curling in Canada http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/curling/

Curl Manitoba O’Grady Trophy History http://www.curlmanitoba.org/ogrady-history#.VrDXRCkof9M

http://curlsask.ca/

http://honouredmembers.sportmanitoba.ca/inductee.php?id=262&criteria_sort=name

Bob Weeks, Curling Etcetera, J. Wiley and Sons, 2008.

W. O. Mitchell, The Black Bonspiel of Willie MacCrimmon, McClelland and Stewart, 1993

http://www.worldcurling.org/history-of-curling

©Stan Marshall (The PD Gardener)

COMING SOON! A THREE PART SERIES: IN SEARCH OF THE “STUFF” OF CURLING

 

COMING SOON!

Part I: Is it all about the soup?” of a three part series, IN SEARCH OF THE “STUFF” OF CURLING

In this three-part series we take an excursion back to the mid-20th century small town of Altamont, Manitoba; we search for that illusive “stuff” of curling; we renew acquaintances with Altamont residents from past posts and meet new ones who quickly become fast friends; we meet a new Parkinson’s hero; we learn something about the human capacity to overcome adversity, and the price some may pay to avoid it. Learn the difference between the “Old Buffalo” and the “Old Goat.”

We will have a rare insider’s perspective of an epic confrontation at the Altamont Curling Club as told to me by three guys named Scotty, Buster and Phil, who heard it from another guy named Dick. Prepare to read the play-by-play account of this fierce battle on the curling ice, a curling skills match that shapes destiny. Find out how much an 8 – ender (a perfect end) is worth. And find out what a “Dunbar” and  a “double Gordon” are anyway.

8 ender revised IMG_0170

A re-creation of actual 8 – ender scored by Bert Marshall in 1978. See original napkin sketch in Part I of blog post coming soon

And much more!

Watch for Part I: “Is it all about the Soup?” of a three part series, In Search of the “Stuff” of Curling, coming in March 2016!

 

How Miss Myrna Got My Dollar Or I Hate Fundraising But Do It Anyway

I have a love/hate relationship with fundraising. No wait, let’s face it, I actually hate fundraising. But there are lots of people who are brilliant at it and thank God they are. Without them many worthy causes would not have sufficient funds to conduct research, or develop and deliver valuable services and programs.

I worked for years in an organization that received many requests each day to support a wide variety of causes. Each applicant carefully tailored their request to show why their work would benefit our organizational goals and were deserving of our financial support. I was charged with making recommendations on our allocations. Most causes were worthy and I hated to turn anyone away completely. Decisions revolved primarily around how to divide a finite amount of money among an ever growing group of applicants, keeping not only the applicants who were our allies happy but also keeping my superiors happy as they had preferences among the applicants.  Diplomacy combined with ruthlessness in appropriate measures was essential to divide the pie successfully. And success often meant you pleased no one, irrespective of the size of the pie.  I never felt entirely comfortable in this role.

Now I am on the other side of the equation, asking friends, relatives, former work colleagues, neighbours, Twitter buddies, and complete strangers to support a cause about which I have become passionate – Parkinson’s disease.  You see, I have PD. There is no cure. It is a degenerative neurological disease which, in all likelihood, will get worse over the course of my lifetime and ultimately will render me incapable of independent movement and decision-making. Nevertheless, my request for assistance is not made for narrow personal gain. Rather, it is a plea to support a multi-faceted approach focusing on cause, cure and care. We must find the cause of Parkinson’s in order to prevent future cases; we must find a cure for those already afflicted; and we must advocate for and establish conditions for care so that Persons with Parkinson’s (PwP), their families and caregivers can survive the many challenges of this debilitating disease.  No one should face a future of Parkinson’s disease without organizational support and resources.

Parkinson's SuperWalk, Ottawa, Lakeside Gardens September 6, 2014

Parkinson SuperWalk, Ottawa, Lakeside Gardens September 6, 2014

I am certain that there are many reasons why people give money to favourite charities and organizations. Undoubtedly understanding philanthropy and the use of various techniques, strategies and technologies to increase giving is a science. And we employ professional fundraisers to maximize our return on investment such that good works can be accomplished effectively and efficiently. The world of fundraising and charitable work is filled with noble causes populated with good souls of enormous talent and skill who guide organizations to ever greater heights with each passing year. And yet the need is ever greater with each passing year.  At this point, a pessimist would just pull the blanket up over her/his head in an attempt to shut out both light and sound.  An optimist would (and should) revel in the advances made in each passing year. While we have not found a cure for Parkinson’s, no one can say that we have not made significant advances which make living with Parkinson’s more tolerable for PwP and their families/caregivers. Yes, I know that these advances are not enough and there is still great suffering for those afflicted.

I suspect that charitable organizations in small communities are reliant upon (or are part of) local faith and not-for-profit philanthropic organizations primarily supported by good, solid upstanding citizens who can rightly be called philanthropists and give generously from their own good fortune to those more in need. Who gives and why they give is undoubtedly one of the most important questions addressed by those who study philanthropy.

As always, I am not an expert in what I am about to say and the usual caveats apply.  But I shall forge ahead, sometimes careening from one idea to another much like a Parkie bouncing off walls while walking through a narrow hallway when the meds have worn off. While I may not proceed with style, grace, alacrity, or certainty of direction, rest assured that I proceed with great purpose. Consider the following:

Fundraising in small towns in the 1950s took many forms. Charitable works were carried out in several ways: by faith groups (called “churches” in those days) and their respective auxiliaries; by not-for-profit organizations who held meetings in secret, with secret codes of conduct, secret handshakes and greetings, but raised money very publicly to support highly visible projects; by individuals who gave selflessly and generously to worthy causes eschewing any public recognition; by families who suffered great loss in the untimely deaths of loved ones and wished to spare others a similar fate; by those who adhered to the belief that community is greater than the sum of the individuals within it and was a place of shared responsibility for its overall health and well being; and by those who learned that love is a powerful motivator converting personal tragedy into positive energy extending the force of life of their loved ones long past their deaths through charitable foundations and events.

In the small rural Manitoba town where I grew up, entertainment was where you found it. I often tell my children that the only toy I ever had was a stick with a nail in it. This is closer to the truth than I usually care to admit.  In the days before HBO and Netflix, entertainment sometimes found us when small troupes of singers, magicians and storytellers with pet skunks would pass through, booking the local hall for an evening before moving on to the next lucky town – spiriting out as many precious dollars as they could from the community before anyone asked for their money back, leaving behind only detritus for the hall caretaker to clear away.

But sometimes community-minded organizations, churches, and local businesses would coordinate to host a talent show – a loosely formed excuse to raise money for charity and showcase local talent. The night’s lineup could include the likes of: poets and poetry readers, tap dancers, folk singers, country and western groups, the wanna be rock band making its first appearance outside of an old barn, the local choir, a humorous skit about an operating room performed behind a curtain in silhouette à la Groucho Marx, and an emcee with a suitable patter of corny but clean jokes and enough brainpower to engage in witty repartee with the hecklers in the audience. The winners were selected by a panel of three individuals representing, somehow simultaneously, both the diversity and the commonality of the community. In other words, no one could complain about the results … and, at the same time, everyone could complain about the results if they wanted to do so. Few ever did. Small monetary awards signified success for the top three acts. The show relied on voluntary labour and donated goods, and, after a few small expenses, the proceeds went to local charities, and the good will stayed within the community.

Canadian one dollar bill 1954. Every dollar counts

In 1959 the Canadian one dollar bill was equivalent to $8.19 in 2014. Every dollar counts.

When I was about 10 years old, I recall being given a whole dollar to attend one such show – many story tellers would say “a crisp new dollar bill”, but mine was neither crisp nor new.  It was decidedly limp, worn, and slightly torn with illegible writing on one side. This dollar had not lingered long in any one pocket and it was not to linger long in mine. The Canadian loonie was far off in the distant future and this particular rag dollar was to retain a visage more akin to a rag than something shiny and collectable. My dollar was to pay for my entry and treats for the evening. The cost of admission was pegged at whatever people felt comfortable to give, knowing proceeds were being distributed to charity.  The dollar bill was all I had, and the most I had ever had in my own pocket at one time.  Filled with anticipation and excitement, I went to the community hall. This shy redheaded boy hesitantly approached the door and opened it slowly to peer inside. It was not yet dark outside and I could only make out dark shapes as my pupils struggled to adjust and process the information to spur my forward advance.

OMG!  Well, this acronym wasn’t in use in 1959, but I think I thought something equivalent to that as my eyes landed on the person who was selling tickets at the table just inside. It was Miss Myrna! – the teenage daughter of the school principal, and she was, from my recollection, very beautiful and extremely intimidating, rendering me incapable of both speech and rational thought. Miss Myrna, gorgeous senior in high school and me, grade 5 introvert – hardly a fair match in any interaction.

Miss Myrna was beautiful and mysterious  Photo: S. Marshall

Miss Myrna was beautiful and mysterious                           Photo: S. Marshall

I edged forward, aided by a push from someone behind who was annoyed at my reticence to enter.  I slowly proffered my ratty dollar bill. Miss Myrna took the bill gingerly between thumb and forefinger and asked how much I would like to pay for my entry fee.  Little did I know that I would parallel Stephen Leacock’s classic story of My Financial Career when I stumbled over my words and muttered, almost beneath my breath, “one dollar”. Miss Myrna smiled at me oh so sweetly and the dollar bill was now being caressed in her hands with a newly found fondness – or at least I thought so.  She asked, “Are you sure? That is an awful lot of money.” Whatever neurons were firing in my brain at that moment were not sufficient to overturn the previous decision.  Dry mouthed, I nodded. The decision was now confirmed – my full and only dollar was committed to go to charity and my evening was to be celebrated without any treats from the concession.  But I did feel good – good that I sacrificed as much as I was able to sacrifice for those who needed the dollar more than I did.  My consolation was that maybe, just maybe, Miss Myrna would judge me as a worthwhile soul and not an irritating, stinky, grade 5 toad.

In truth, I do not know what Miss Myrna thought about those few moments of interaction, if she thought about them at all.  My own recollection is that she did smile at me sweetly if not approvingly, or maybe it was approvingly if not sweetly – it is hard for a ten year old to tell the difference – several times during the evening as the talent performed. Two old time fiddlers – one of French Canadian heritage and one of Irish Ottawa Valley background – fought it out for first and second places with a series of jigs, reels, waltzes and a schottische thrown in for good measure.  Each was brought back for an encore presentation and they wrapped it up with a friendly fiddle duet. The crowd lapped it up. Third place went to two young highland lassies deftly performing a sword dance, much to the irritation of the youngsters in the crowd who cheered raucously for the newly formed rock and roll barn band.  Older folks in the audience were quite disgusted by this youthful, rebellious exuberance.

Over the coming days, I basked in the memory of Miss Myrna’s warm smile and reflected upon the complexities of charitable giving. I sometimes still do. Did I only donate that dollar because I was a young tadpole incapable of any meaningful interaction with a member of the opposite sex; because I was under the spell of a beautiful older woman; because I knew deep within my value system that the dollar was far better off in the treasury of the charity than in my own pocket where it would soon be converted into candy with limited use as currency; or because all humans are born with some notion of altruism which can be nurtured and directed towards enhancing the greater good of any community. Perhaps, it need not matter. The important point was that the dollar was given and this transaction was worthy of the needs of all concerned.

In today’s world, should we give to anyone who comes knocking on our door, calling our phone, or contacting us via the internet? When we give, are we all just tricked by pretty voices, pretty faces, sad stories, bad choices, hopeful prayers, slick players, and fancy lines for fundraising times?  Of course not. Giving, done freely within one’s means, without expectation of immediate selfish return, often carries the potential to accomplish more than intended, unbeknownst to either the giver or recipient.

When Anne and I announced our intention to marry and issued invitations to our wedding (the second marriage for each of us) there were discussions about wedding gifts and whether we should accept any at all. Neither of us had any need for traditional wedding gifts involving household goods, and we certainly did not need money.  We also knew that most of our friends and relatives would not be comfortable in attending without some form of gift. That is just the way they are. We thought about donations to charities but discounted it as being too impersonal for most even if it would be the most altruistic.  Sorry to disappoint, but altruism does not always win out – in the short term at least.

To make a long story short, we decided that for those who felt compelled to bring a gift, a small gift certificate to a local garden centre or nursery would suffice. Many guests did avail themselves of that option and various “‘gardens’ within the garden” began to unfold. The photo below is one perspective on this garden which has brought great joy to our lives over the past 18 years, and will continue to do so for many more. One of our children opted to be married against this backdrop five years ago. All of our children and our closest friends understand how much this garden means to our overall health and well being – particularly mine as I make my way through life with Parkinson’s.  Anne revels in the sheer riotous and often ridiculous madness of the colours, and the unpredictable yet ultimately perfectly chosen juxtaposition of colour and form upon which Mother Nature has deemed it suitable to place her signature.  The garden is my classroom – for matters agricultural, horticultural, political, sociological, philosophical, and spiritual. The lessons, not always immediately apparent, do reveal themselves ultimately with enough tactile and cerebral prodding.  It is a classroom whose doors never close.

Many gardens make up the garden

Many gardens make up the garden.  August 2014      Photo: S. Marshall

These few gifts given to us on our wedding day have blossomed into a profusion of colours, shapes, scents [even if the Parkie doesn’t smell them so well any more] and memories which nurture and guide our souls through the rhythms and “stuff of life” as my father would say. Giving is most often like that. It has benefits far beyond any human capacity to calculate the permutations.

So, did Miss Myrna unfairly take advantage of a young lad who stayed pretty much a ” country bumpkin” most of his life?  I think not. The lad, even at such a young age, wanted to impress – not always a good quality but not the worst by any stretch. There was no firm expectation of quid pro quo on either side.  The money was given and received in good faith, and put towards good charitable works by the local faith groups. The lad discovered that basic human interactions often contain lessons for later, and greater, life decisions.

Since I began writing The PD Gardener Blog about one year ago, it has received over  1,200 views in 32 different countries.  No matter where you live, I ask that you exercise the altruistic tendency of basic human nature (even if it may be tinged a little bit by a desire to impress) and support Parkinson’s SuperWalk 2014 by clicking on the link below to donate and/or join my team, The PD Gardener.

Help sow seeds in the many gardens that must flourish in order to subdue Parkinson’s and to support research, advocacy, policy development, services and programs.  And remember, giving, like gardening, is always worth the effort.

http://donate.parkinson.ca/site/TR/SuperWalk2014/EO_superwalk?px=1017712&pg=personal&fr_id=1155

Thank you!

Stan Marshall aka The PD Gardener