Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Life as we know it

Dennis, David and I with staff at the Chapters St. Vital bookstore
A book is like a child. It grows inside of you, is born and then once past the infant stage is sent out into the world to fend for itself.

My first book was born 17 years ago. Those of you who know me, remember the story. Twins Dennis and David Pischke came to me when I was a reporter, asking me to write a feature about them for publication in the Interlake Spectator. They were adult survivors of child abuse, men who’d kept the heartbreaking details of their young lives a secret for nearly 40 years. After the story hit the media, a book idea was conceived.

Where Children Run was launched November 29, 1996. Five days later we were guests on the CJOB action line with host Peter Warren. The book took off and within weeks it was a Canadian Bestseller. It has been reprinted eight times.

A few years after that, David and I were sitting on a plane on our way to Lloydminster, Saskatchewan. We’d been invited to be the guest speakers at a conference for child abuse survivors. I remember very little about the conference itself—we attended many speaking engagements in those following years—but I do remember something David said to me.

“Whatever you do Karen, don’t ever let the book die,” he said.

Looking back, it was almost like a prophecy, that maybe David knew he wouldn’t be around much longer.

I told him not to worry. I’d keep the book alive. At the time it seemed like an easy promise to make. After his death in 2004 though, it became difficult to keep. David died unexpectedly in his sleep the result of a massive heart attack. Half the reason Where Children Run became such a success was gone. The other half—his twin Dennis—was devastated. We floundered for a few years after that.

Sales by then dwindled, but we still got a few requests. It didn’t make good financial sense to go back to the printer, so the book unceremoniously went out of print.

I didn’t tell anyone about the promise I’d made to David but it was there, nagging at me. Technology has changed so much since that plane ride that finally I’ve been able to keep that promise. Now anyone, anywhere in the world can read Dennis and David’s story by simply buying the Kindle version and downloading it onto their eReader, smart phone or computer.

Seventeen years ago I gave birth after a long, difficult labour to the book that forever changed my life. I have Dennis and David Pischke to thank for that.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013


When Dad was alive, not a year went by that he didn't attempt to recite this poem, usually a day or so after the calendar flipped to June. 

Before his death, he wrote a little note to each of us children, telling us how much he loved us, using the rhyme of this poem. 

 *  *  *

And what is so rare as a day in June?
Then, if ever, come perfect days;
Then Heaven tries earth if it be in tune,
And over it softly her warm ear lays;
Whether we look, or whether we listen,
We hear life murmur, or see it glisten;
Every clod feels a stir of might,
An instinct within it that reaches and towers,
And, groping blindly above it for light,
Climbs to a soul in grass and flowers;
The flush of life may well be seen
Thrilling back over hills and valleys;
The cowslip startles in meadows green,
The buttercup catches the sun in its chalice,
And there's never a leaf nor a blade too mean
To be some happy creature's palace;
The little bird sits at his door in the sun,
Atilt like a blossom among the leaves,
And lets his illumined being o'errun
With the deluge of summer it receives;
His mate feels the eggs beneath her wings,
And the heart in her dumb breast flutters and sings;
He sings to the wide world, and she to her nest,-
In the nice ear of Nature which song is the best?
Now is the high-tide of the year,
And whatever of life hath ebbed away
Comes flooding back with a ripply cheer,
Into every bare inlet and creek and bay;
Now the heart is so full that a drop overfills it,
We are happy now because God wills it;
No matter how barren the past may have been,
'Tis enough for us now that the leaves are green;
We sit in the warm shade and feel right well
How the sap creeps up and the blossoms swell;
We may shut our eyes but we cannot help knowing
That skies are clear and grass is growing;
The breeze comes whispering in our ear,
That dandelions are blossoming near,
That maize has sprouted, that streams are flowing,
That the river is bluer than the sky,
That the robin is plastering his house hard by;
And if the breeze kept the good news back,
For our couriers we should not lack;
We could guess it all by yon heifer's lowing,-
And hark! How clear bold chanticleer,
Warmed with the new wine of the year,
Tells all in his lusty crowing!
Joy comes, grief goes, we know not how;
Everything is happy now,
Everything is upward striving;
'Tis as easy now for the heart to be true
As for grass to be green or skies to be blue,-
'Tis for the natural way of living:
Who knows whither the clouds have fled?
In the unscarred heaven they leave not wake,
And the eyes forget the tears they have shed,
The heart forgets its sorrow and ache;
The soul partakes the season's youth,
And the sulphurous rifts of passion and woe
Lie deep 'neath a silence pure and smooth,
Like burnt-out craters healed with snow.

  - by James Russell Lowe

Life as we know it

I scoop poop on a regular basis.
Yesterday we cut the grass and I see that I missed one. Staring at the flat, brown mass, I couldn't help but think about Dad.

He always said that dogs "are nothing but a pain in the arse."

If you didn't know my Dad you'd probably assume that he was an old grump who didn't like dogs.

And if you did know my dad, you'd likely find that statement hard to believe.

"Bruce would never say such a thing. He loved his dog." But he did say that. Often. Usually while sitting on the kitchen chair, one hand stroking his dog's back, in a motion that began at the top of its head, ending with a loving pat on the ribs.

Dad was annoyed the day his wife Irene brought home a stray dog. He'd been without for maybe three years, easily the longest span in his life that he didn't have a "damn dog" to look after. Growing up he'd tell us stories about each and every dog and easily fell back into that pattern when the Heinz 57 they named Freckles started sleeping on the floor at the end of their bed.

Freckles was afraid of everything. Dad was afraid of nothing. You'd think the fact Freckles was not a well-adjusted dog would annoy Dad, but he just looked at him with softer eyes and spoke in a gentler voice.

He was retired, living in Simcoe and had plenty of time. The fenced-in backyard of their little house was small, however. It didn't take Dad long to figure out that if he didn't do something quick, there would be nowhere safe to step.

"There's nothin' worse than steppin' in dog shit," he'd say. So he started taking Freckles on a daily walk.

The next time I arrived for a visit he was excited that I'd get to go along. Leashing a dog was a new experience for him since we always lived in the country on a big piece of land, so our dogs barely even had collars. They always came, were too lazy to run away and mostly, stayed off the road.

"See, I take this here tow rope . . ." he explained as Freckles sat patiently waiting for Dad to fasten the leash. Holding up a splintered rake handle, Dad smiled. "And this here is my shit-flicking stick."

Yes, that's how Dad spoke. Think of an old Andy Griffith, ears and all. That was Dad.

Before I could ask about the stick, he proudly began telling me how smart Freckles was. In no time at all he was able to teach the Dog to sit down on the curb and look both ways before crossing the street. And since Freckles was a big scaredy cat, he completely ignored the dogs they'd meet or the ones that would bark furiously from inside their own fenced-in yards. He called Freckles "very polite."

And I have to admit, he was. He never pulled on the leash, looked back up at Dad whenever he was uncertain and peed discreetly. When it came time to drop the big one, crouched as inconspicuously as he could, eyeing us apologetically as he went.

"So then I take my stick . . ." he said, and using the splintered end, got underneath it and began flicking the shit under a bush. I was both surprised and embarrassed. Looking to see if anyone was watching, I wasn't sure what to say.

Thankfully, it only took a few seconds before Dad and Freckles were ready to continue the walk. As we started out again, a woman who looked to be in her 50s met us on the sidewalk and stared first at the stick, then at Dad, giving him a hostile look. I was silently apologizing. Forgive him, please. He's from the country and in all his 72 years has never once had to stoop to pick up a dog turd. He isn't about to start now. It has never even occurred to him.

Dad grunted. "Boy I sure hope I never see her again," he said. "She probably thinks I hit Freckles with this stick when he misbehaves."

I smiled. "You'd never do that."

"I sure wouldn't."

I remember clearly the day Dad brought home the body of his beagle, Cindy, from where she lay dead on the side of the road, so he could bury her in the backyard. He said he'd never get another dog. And after that, Foxy went blind and eventually was put to sleep. Dad said he didn't want another dog. When Freckles health began to fail, Dad took him to the Vet and stayed with him, stroking his head until it was all over.

Freckles was Dad's last dog. A real pain in the arse. 

Saturday, April 13, 2013

A Thousand Words

Maple trees are quite common in Ontario where I grew up. Twenty years ago I discovered that Manitoba Maple trees can be tapped for syrup and did a story on it. One of my all-time favourites.

Dwight Paul from the Lake Manitoba First Nation showed me how to make maple sugar.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

A Thousand Words

Another from my photo archives:

Every year I reported on the local bull sales and featured a family in the report. This particular year I chose the Townsend family from Ashern who sold bulls every year in the Lundar Bull Sale. Pictured here are Tim and Caron Clarke and their children, Joel, Jeff and Amanda; Caron's parents Joyce and Red Townsend (far right) and uncle Dave Townsend.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Life as we know it

The best part about growing older is seeing things in your life come full circle.

When I was a girl the school bus would drop me off at 3:30 p.m. Most afternoons I would run up the driveway and hurry inside. I remember clearly the living room, Mom standing there the ironing board between herself and the television. In the 1970s, bus drivers wore a uniform (and hat) to work, so Dad needed a fresh shirt daily. To alleviate the boredom, Mom would watch television while ironing or folding clothes.

I ran up the driveway because I wanted to see what would happen next on General Hospital. I'd sit on the end of the couch and match socks or help fold shirts, the sides stretched down from where the clothes pins held them against the wind on the clothesline in the backyard. During the commercials Mom would update me on what I'd missed in the first half hour.

While attending high school I stopped watching regularly, catching up during the summer months. But after I started working full time, quit watching General Hospital altogether. I do remember the day I started again, though. We were living in Winnipeg and son Laurie was only a few months old. I had a load of diapers to fold . . .

For me, General Hospital's heyday was from the mid-80s to the late-90s. I would set the VCR every morning before leaving for work and watch it in the evening if the storyline was particularly good (February and November "Sweeps") or catch up on the weekends, fast-forwarding through the commercials. I remember visiting Mom during those years and we'd always stop whatever we were doing at 3:00 p.m. to watch "our show" together.

"Oh this is so stupid," she'd say. She didn't like the way Felicia's nose crinkled when she smiled. Mac "never knows what to do with his arms, they just hang there." Some of the story lines were so far fetched she threatened to turn it off. But she never did. We just kept watching. 

In the mid-90s when I was at my busiest, Mom came for a visit. I took a few days off but then had to go to the office to get caught up. When I returned home that night, Mom had supper started and was (you guessed it) ironing the stack of clothes she found in the hall closet. She was thoroughly enjoying herself but couldn't resist teasing me about that for years.

I almost gave up on General Hospital a few times this last decade. The writing was lacking, there was too much violence, newly-introduced characters I didn't care about, etc. The shows started piling up on the DVR and I even deleted a few weeks. The storyline started to improve last fall, however, and I believe that's because the powers that be started paying attention to the viewers who posted online their disappointment about the show's direction.

On April 1st, General Hospital celebrated 50 years on air. To commemorate this milestone, the producers began writing back in some of the all-time favourite characters. They started earlier this year, building momentum which will culminate this month. I was away working in Brandon all last week so had quite a bit of catching up to do. Yesterday, a special aired which saw many of the early characters plus those from the heyday years I mentioned earlier, reuniting in one episode, blending the old with the new, bringing the soap around full circle.

It wasn't until this morning I realized that yesterday was, by sheer coincidence, laundry day. I spent most of the afternoon folding and ironing, repeating the pattern my Mom set years ago.

Ironing clothes has always been my favourite chore. And having just experienced one of those full circle moments, I now understand why.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

A Thousand Words

More photos from the archives, pictures taken when I was a reporter with the Interlake Spectator:

Gypsumville School Science Day, March 1993. Derek Decker, Justin Kostelnyk and Tyla Turner building a newspaper tower during the Science Olympics. I didn't write this from memory, the newspaper "cutline" was written on the back!

This team calling themselves the "Hawks" came in last place, but had fun during the tug-of-war a the Stedman School Winterfest, March 1993.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

A Thousand Words

I have in a downstairs closet, three boxes of photos neatly divided by the approximate month they were taken, from the time I was a reporter between 1989 and 1996.

A few days ago I went through the boxes looking for pictures of Jean Postlethwaite, a friend who passed away, and I knew that because I'd written a few stories about her, that I would be sure to find something. And I did. What I didn't expect, was to find so many photos of friends, acquaintances and complete strangers, taken at numerous events over the years that I'd like to share. So I've decided to do just that.

Each Saturday from today forward, I will upload at least one photo from my archives with a cutline written from memory. Forgive the fact that these aren't award-winning photos and that I won't necessarily remember all the faces or the exact date, but it should be fun for north-Interlakers to engage in this blast from the past. Feel free to post on the blog if you know who is in the photo, add/correct my memory, or post your own remembrances of the event.

To start this off, I've included a few from the month of March in the early 1990s:

Every time I see this photo I can't help but smile. It was taken from the window at Nordheim Printing.
Not sure of the year (1994?), the Fisher Branch Blades beat the Lundar Falcons in the final game of the series to win the SIHL championship.

Helen Jeremy with a set of triplets, taken at their farm near Moosehorn. Again, early 1990s. If memory serves me correct, the calves were born naturally to this 13 year-old cow . . .

Thursday, March 21, 2013


“A friend is one that knows you as you are, understands where you have been,
accepts what you have become, and still, gently allows you to grow.” 
- William Shakespeare

Jean Postlethwaite
 Yesterday I lost a good friend.

I spent the afternoon going through boxes of old photos taken while I was a reporter, looking for pictures of Jean. In the nine years I did that job (first with my own paper, then with the Interlake Spectator) I wrote about her a number of times, features that told the story of a determined entrepreneur with a kind spirit and generous heart. Over the years our friendship grew and she became a quiet mentor, someone I looked to for perspective and encouragement. 

Jean believed in me.

And I expect those same words rest in the hearts of everyone who knew her well.

Friday, March 01, 2013

Under the Dumb Plum Tree

Mom's Last Column
by Karen Emilson

I knew her so well.

She would have phoned me like she did every month to test that month's idea out; to see if I liked what she planned to write. Mom had a quirky sense of humour and could be very funny. She'd banter with me for awhile to get the juices flowing, then she'd sit down in front of her word processor.

In January 1993 she wanted to write about the New Year and how she made sure that all her resolutions were things she did anyway so that she'd be able to keep them. In her draft she talks about housecleaning and appliances and how fridges should come with automatic eject buttons. I can see where she was going with it, but the column is nowhere near complete.

I vaguely remember the phone call, how disappointed she sounded to hear that I'd shut down the paper. The former owner of Interlake Publishing (then Manager) Merv Farmer, offered me a job as a reporter so I took it. That is when my writing career really began, but Mom's ended. In the back of the scrapbook that holds all her columns is a draft letter to Canadian Living Magazine, asking if they might be interested in a housewife's column. It was  a letter she didn't have the courage to send.

Twenty years ago.

Two decades have slipped away since then and my life is barely recognizable. A few days ago I popped a home video in the recorder (yes, I still have a VCR) and pushed play. Over the years I have listened as people older than me exclaim how fast time goes, how naive and young they once were. Now that person is me. Watching myself at 28 I am overwhelmed by the twists and turns since then, the joy and disappointment, grief and loss.

As I watched young me look into the camera, old me remembers how it felt to be so filled with impatience and optimism, so exuberant about life—living without fear—expecting the next great thing to happen. Excitement propelled me out of bed in the morning. I made so many mistakes I don't even know what half of them were.

Months after I shut down my paper, my mother-in-law died. It was heartbreaking for us all as she was the life force in the family. So many mothers are. Often not given much credit until they are gone, it's the mother who holds it all together.

I am told that the secret to living a full life is to do so fearlessly.

If I live to the same age as my mother, I will die at 69.

Twenty years from now.