If You Encounter a Jack-o-Lantern

[First posted in October 2010 on www.deepeningcommunity.ca]

The ancient Celtic holiday of Samhain was observed October 31 to November 1. It was seenjackolantern_and_lights_199060 as the dividing line between harvest season and winter, signaling the northern hemisphere’s movement into the “darker half” of the year.

Samhain festivals usually included a large bonfire in the town square. Typically, every family arrived with a hollowed-out pumpkin, or turnip, or gourd, which they used at the end of the festivities to carry a burning ember home to light their hearth fires. Through the cold, dark winter, they clung to the memory of the communal bonfire, which warmed both hearths and hearts. Some Halloween historians trace the origin of the jack-o-lantern to this tradition. Continue reading

Onion Day

[First posted in November 2012 on www.deepeningcommunity.ca]

October 25th was Onion Day. You probably didn’t know that. It’s an annual tradition that was invented by my friend Lucy in 1998, when she was eight years old. Lucy and her family had just received the news that her mother, Jeanie Wylie-Kellermann, was suffering from an aggressive and deadly brain cancer. Young Lucy decided that, amid all the sadness and fear, they had to have something to celebrate.onion_isolated

Two months before Jeanie died on New Year’s Eve of 2005, I was in their Detroit home for her last Onion Day. Lucy, her older sister Lydia, her dad Bill, Jeanie, and I sat expectantly around the dining room table for the annual ritual, knowing that the winner would be the person who came closest to guessing the number of layers in the onion we passed around—and that the one left holding the last piece of onion was obligated to make everyone else laugh. An average onion contains 20 to 25 layers—well attested by copious data collected from seven years of Onion Day celebrations to that point.

Her daughters encouraged Jeanie to guess first. Though the exact numbers have slipped my mind, I remember that it went something like this. Jeanie guessed that the onion had three layers. Lydia smiled sweetly at her mom and guessed that the onion had 274 layers. Lucy went next, guessing 526. We continued around the table, with Bill’s guess coming in at 832 and mine at about 1,287. Then we passed the onion around, each peeling away a layer—22 in all—until we were all weeping and laughing at the same time. Jeanie—the winner by far—was triumphant on her last Onion Day. Continue reading

Tears of Lament & Hope

[First posted in November 2011 on www.deepeningcommunity.ca]

Free Spirit was wrenched away from his mother, sister, and Algonquin community when he was four years old. At the residential school where he was taken, a nun gave him a new pair of shoes, which he immediately plunged into a sink filled with water. The beating he received came as a shock. His people always soaked their new moccasins and chewed on them to soften the leather.

Canada TRC 2

Free Spirit is among thousands of survivors of Indian residential schools, who were forced as children from their homes by government decree and church complicity across Canada and the United States. This tragic and misguided effort at assimilation lasted almost two centuries, and its legacy lived on in ruptured families and broken lives. Thankfully, Canada has begun the difficult process of hearing the truth and moving toward healing. Continue reading