Monthly Archives: February 2016

The Boy Who Handled Scary Things

“Love truth but pardon error.” Voltaire

Our son was just a bit over three years old and a husky lad so it took both Doris and I to hold him so the doctor could work on his foot. He had good reason to be frightened for every once in a while ever since he was a baby, asthma would choke him up. Doris would then give him a needle of adrenalin. He learned to hate those injections. Doris always carried a shot in her purse just for him for we never knew when asthma would attack. I’ve already written a post about the parasite in his foot that required we take him to the doctor. But we had to gang up on him again in our home for the treatment had to be repeated a second time—or perhaps it was a number of times.

It didn’t help that this our son Vernon fell from a low wall in our front yard there in the interior and broke his arm. The doctor declared it to be a green-stick break so with time and a bandage it returned to normal. But I am sure that did not increase his love for doctors and the whole field of medicine.

Vernon was about one when the other missionary couple, the Campbells decided to return to Canada. So the suggestion was made for us to take a few weeks holidays before they left. Monica stayed with them till we returned but we needed to find a place for Vernon. Dna. Maria and Snr. José were doing a good job raising their young family so at our suggestion Vernon stayed with them. He was about a year old then, still on a bottle. We knew he was getting the best of care in this simplest of Brazilian homes. Dna. Maria from that time on called herself Vernon’s black mama—though she wasn’t really black. Dna. Maria couldn’t read and didn’t get Doris’ instructions straight so Vernon got his vitamins three times a day—not just once. I gather it didn’t do our son any harm but we had a bill at the pharmacy for the extra vitamins.

We figured it worked out great for our boy to stay with this “black mama.” But I’ve always wondered if even at that age he felt abandoned during those weeks. And what about being held against his will in a doctor’s office in the interior and later on a more difficult situation? Here is that story…

During our time back in Canada between our two terms in Brazil, the new board under which we’d be working required extensive—I mean extensive medical examinations. One of those tests I will never have again—ever; but this is about Vernon, not me. Anyway, we travelled from the Ottawa area to a clinic in Montreal operated by Dr. Lloyd Caswell. Going there made sense to us for the Caswell family was friends of the Kennys. But the clinic wanted a vial of blood from Vernon who was about five at that time. For me to even write about it makes me feel so bad that I have to blink repeatedly to keep writing. There was no way that we could hold our screaming boy to get that blood—no way. Finally in desperation they took a drop of blood from a finger.

This is for sure, when Vernon began to talk it was largely Portuguese he used. Soon it became his first language for friends his age spoke Portuguese. Too, we used Portuguese much of the time around the house for our maid spoke it. The result was that if we wished to be sure our children understood we used the language they knew best—Portuguese. When we returned to Canada for our year’s furlough, Vernon picked up English and soon made it his primary language. When we were transferred to Haiti Vernon quickly picked up Creole and some French from his Port au Prince school. He could chat in four languages as we all could during that time. He was a plucky lad adapting quickly to languages, countries and that included Canada and his new-found relatives.

Another situation he encountered was not a medical one but the school both our children attended in São Paulo. Vernon had a teacher that carried a ruler under her arm as she taught. She used it on knuckles when there was a wrong answer or lack of one. Vernon became so afraid of questions that if we asked about any details of the Biblical story we read together as a family, he would freeze up unable to answer anything at all.

I am not sure there would be any good answers or better ones for the difficult situations we met while raising our children in Brazil and Haiti. Perhaps those situations our children encountered built in strength of character that stood by them later in life. Then of course there were many positive experiences that came to us living in two other countries outside of Canada—I shall have to recall and write about some of them. As I look back I am sure God gave us help all along the way and that divine grace stood each one of us in good stead.



More From Our Passports

“I never found a companion that was so companionable as solitude.” Henry David Thoreau

We spent a few busy yet cold days in Lisbon, the 2nd oldest capital in all of Europe except Athens. History tells us it is “the city of the sea” and also “the city of the explorers.” We found our way on city buses out to the huge monument on the water that celebrate famous explorers: Vasco de Gama, Magellan and Prince Henry the Navigator. Lisbon we were told it was the first “world city” for it was said that its explorers and empire touched every continent. We know of its cultural influence in Brazil, part of which is that we speak Portuguese.

We visited the Edward VII park, the largest in the city that seems endless running from what appears to the edge of the city to the Marques de Pombal Square. The park has the most decorative shrubbery you’ve ever seen and the square celebrates the Marques. He was the prime minister who was responsible for rebuilding the city after its total destruction with an earthquake in 1755. If I recall, we walked the park’s length to near the square where the four of us sat down to the most delicious fish dinner of all time. Well, perhaps it was the exercise and hunger that made the best sauce for the meal.

There was so much to see that we can only mention a few–the colourful buildings near the ocean that were not destroyed with the earthquake—countless museums–the old fort Castelo São Jorge defended by the Moors towards the end of the time when they had conquered much of Southern Europe. And all of this reasonably priced–something I’m told that still attracts tourists.

Though our entry stamp gave us permission to stay sixty days in Portugal yet on February 23rd our exit Saída says we left and arrived the same day in Madrid, Spain on the Lusitania Expres. We were there only a couple of days taking the train North to Hendaya, France so we could catch a train for Marseille. We were not well prepared for that sixteen hour leg of trip–we slept overnight in our seats having left mid-afternoon and arriving early the next morning. We were so grateful and fortunate to share a compartment with another family. You see we found we could not buy dinner on the train and the other folks kindly shared their lunch and drinks with us.  Doris says she remembers little of that trip for she was both extremely tired and busy hanging onto our children’s hands. Then of course that train trip was basically during the night.

Neither of our passports have stamps for travel out of France and into Italy, nor later on for our return to Rome and travel through Europe. Perhaps they ran out of ink or thought the tired couple with two children were entirely harmless.

A couple of places in Marseille stand out in my mind, one is the grand—yes I mean grand–cathedral standing on a hill overlooking the city—the Notre Dame de la Garde. What a marvelous piece of architecture with its great tower! The picture sticking in my mind is the crutches and canes that are left in niches of the church’s sanctuary. They declare the healings of many people. Then I remember a restaurant not far from the cathedral where we were trying to order a meal for the family. The waitress did not try to understand our Portuguese and had no time for the little bit of French not crowded out from our time in Brazil. She left us in a huff but somebody must have taken our order for we did get a meal. This experience confirmed what I had read/heard about the French being fussy about folks speaking their language.

We found the train trip to Rome took about thirteen hours—once again a long hard trip. There were a number of stops along the way but the only one I remember is Monaco where hawkers crowded the train platform to sell lunches to the travellers, us included. We arrived in the Rome station and got instructions to the nearest pensione – a hotel/home arrangement that often serves up meals. It was only a block or so away from the station so we held our children’s hands and stuck with our luggage for the walk. At our lodging they seemed to understand us well enough and we them. We were glad for their instructions in getting around the city of Rome to see the sights. Some of that we’ve written about in another posting.

The Story From Our Passports

“The best things in life aren’t things.” Anon

Doris just handed me our passports from years gone by and I note this–passports tell the story of where we’ve been. In a way they tell who we are. But one thing is for sure, they don’t tell the truth about looks. The reason I write that is the picture before me in my passport is as ugly as sin. It’s me when I had hair but surely I was not mad at the whole world. But the other passport is of Doris and it has a much prettier picture—of course. In any case the photographer allowed her to smile just a bit; that is why I’m using her passport to stir up memories.

It is amusing that Immigration officials don’t worry much about the page where they stamp a passport at the ports of entry or exit. They open them up and “pow” they leave their mark and an indecipherable signature. It’s strange the first stamp I see in this passport is in Hendaya, France. That happened about five years after other travels were already carimbada in later pages.

Then follows the stamp from January 1961when we disembarqued from the Argentine ship for our 2nd term in Brazil. The port is Santos, where a customs warehouse had kept our car for six years. Our ship was a combination of freight and passengers with excellent accommodations for us considering that was years ago. Our cabin was not large for the four of us but that was not a problem for we spent most of our time in other parts of the ship. The only difficulty we encountered was the hurricane we hit shortly after leaving New York . That storm was severe enough to destroy a U.S. radar site with deaths just a short distance North of us. I recall Monica and Vernon sick in their bunks and Doris not much better. However I never missed a meal but with the tilting of the ship there were times when I had to hold my plate on the table. For a bit of fun I went on deck during the storm and proceeded to the prow that threw up sheets of spray. There are times in life when adventure takes over from common sense.

My such hardships on that voyage! The children had their own swimming pool on the upper deck and a person to take care of them. And she was also available for them in a special play area. In fact our children never had to eat with us for the lady in charge took them to their own dining room. We ate with the other grown-ups. There we could order what we wished, so I decided to try out the system. For one meal, I ordered salmon steak and shortly in was served to our table. During every dinner we were serenaded by a piano/violin duet. Sometimes missionary life is so hard!

After clearing customs in the port of Santos we met Harold Ryckman, one of the mission team. After checking through immigration we all went back on the ship for one more of their great meals.

The next passport page shows a visa from the São Paulo Paraguayan consulate with the consulate information imprinted over a 0.50 dolares stamp. I am sure the visa cost more than just that one stamp. Then on the opposite page is the exit visa needed to get out of Brazil, yes to leave Brazil. A note says the visa is valid also for our daughter  “Monica Leone, who is travelling in the company of her dad…” When we understand the South American culture at that time it becomes clear why the dad is responsible for the child. All this paper work made possible our trip to Paraguay to visit another mission family—the Hustons. (I’ve written about that trip on another posting.)

Then on the overleaf is the visa allowing Doris to return to Brazil, issued by the Embassy of the United States of Brazil in Asuncion. On the same page is another stamp giving the number and date of the issuance in 1955 of Doris’ Brazilian identity card. Those stamps and dates and those identity cards not only bring back memories but they were necessary to do business. You will now have an inkling just how important documents and the related paper work is in Brazil. In fact there is a whole profession dedicated to paper work—the despachantes. Everybody there needs one of them at times to unravel bureaucracy—of course they must be paid for their services.

A whole new life opened up for the four of us with the Brazilian exit visas dated January 1965. You see we left Brazil to travel throough Europe and Egypt with stopovers in Lebanon and the Holy Land. We were a week late in getting out of Brazil because I had an appendix attack and surgery. Something else held us up on that “Friendship Flight” between Brazil and Portugal. Turbo-prop planes and jets were already flying but this flight was on an old DC7C that was powered by propellers driven by the antique piston engines. Why take such a plane? Well, it was cheaper than anything else. This time on the runway the pilot revved up the engines then quickly shut them down. We stayed hours in the plane till they could find another generator and installed it on an engine. An old plane such as that one increases my faith in angels that lend their protection.

The stamp in Doris’ passport on the 19th of February, 1965 is proof we made it to Lisbon. You’ll read about our stay in Europe next week. As for us, we were beginning a new chapter in our lives after ten years in Brazil; the following years were in many ways both challenging and strange.

What About the Brazilian Carnaval?

“To get what you want, stop doing what isn’t working.” Anon

This is not the first posting on my blog about the Brazilian Carnaval, but this might be a little different take on it. I’m throwing this one into the pot as an extra bit of reading.

So when do Brazilians or anyone else celebrate Carnaval? It is during the four days previous to Ash Wednesday though there is a playful saying that it begins the week after the celebration of the New Year. On this year 2016 it officially begins on February 6th but in practical terms it began a few weeks earlier. I suppose a majority of Brazilians love to party and this is the big one. You see, the forty days of Lent is supposed to bring the lasciviousness of Carnaval to a halt.

When you think of Carnaval, what place comes to mind? It is Rio de Janeiro, right? But Carnaval happens in most Brazilian cities and we got to experience a bit of the scene when we lived in Campinas. You see our maid was involved in one of the blocos, that is one of the party groups putting on a show through the streets. Other cities famous for Carnaval are Salvador in Bahia and Olinda and Recife in Pernambuco.

In Salvador the Musica Baiana fills the streets with people dancing to the music provided by the trios electicos. What I see in my mind is the big truck floats with huge P.A. systems and a music group playing from their roofs.

The Carnaval is a combination of Afro-American culture tied in with present day Brazilian music. The Olinda/Recife parties with their frevo and maracatu beat are typical of the Northeastern Carnaval styles—in fact typical of much of their music.

Most of the readers of this blog will not be interested in the parties but this is still a good time of the year to visit Brazil and their beaches. Now is their summer. And air prices are now low, especially if you check them out on the internet—not much more than half price depending on the company and the time of travel. I’ve also read that hotel prices are reasonable for there are extra rooms on the market for they are getting ready for the Olympics. And are good exchange rates too–even though our Canadian dollar is low.

The whole idea of Carnaval is that it is a time of fun and sin, for Lent looms up right away and a person had better take advantage of the days before they all have to behave more Christian-like. So our churches organize religious retreats to get their followers out of the cities and concentrating on spiritual concerns.

I think of Carnaval and recall the fortunes spent on extravagant costumes and blocos; I think of the acts committed and the decisions made that cast dark clouds over the rest of life. And I remember the poor in the shanty towns. Those are some of the very places that our churches are attempting to minister and provide a message of hope. That story is so different than the Carnaval that passes so quickly.

This Carnaval time would be the right time for you to reach out to the needy in Brazil. You can do it through your local church. What about helping a child stay in school through the International Child Care program?

Canadian Parents in Brazil

I offer an up-to-date observation: “The rebellious battles of yesterday were against the gods—now they are against reason.” Anon

Most of us would raise our children differently if we could take all the wisdom of our years and rewind time to apply them to those days long past. Doris no doubt was wiser than I but I wonder at times if our children were a thought added on to the incessant work demands of missionary work. Yet because we lived in a couple of other countries I am sure those experiences gave them the ability to adapt and be leaders in the lives they now live. ‘Nuff said about that.

When we lived in the interior of the State of São Paulo and our son was going on four, I figured that every boy needed a wagon. I suppose the reason was that I recall hauling a wagon around the yard when I was small. I couldn’t buy him one in Brazil—in fact at that time I never saw one in a store. In any case money was too scarce for toys. So somewhere I found the wood and wheels, had some welding done at a shop and violá, there was the wagon. I painted it up red but I don’t recall just how much he used it—perhaps my memory is not up to maintaining pictures sharp for such a long time. In any case within the year we were transferred back to Canada. That is another story of suitcases and making do without a place that was really our own. That makes me wonder how secure our children felt during that time.

Anyway during that period of the “wagon” our daughter Monica was old enough so that she picked up Portuguese and made friends with other children around the village. Neves Paulista was a sleepy little place and we never worried if she ate lunch some place and arrived home a half day later. I’ve mentioned this once but bears repeating–some un-dressed Barbie dolls came from the U.S. and she learned to make clothes on our sewing machine. She was not yet five and it was with scant directions from Doris, but she made up paper patterns, cut the cloth and sewed it all up.

A little less than ten years later we were reassigned to Haiti so there was no option but to sell everything we owned in Brazil except the clothes we needed to travel. We used that money to buy tickets for our family to visit Europe with a hop on over to Egypt for a longer stay. Why Egypt? Well some of my family were missionaries there—Velma my sister, Norman Cooke her husband and their children.

We arrived in Lisbon the middle of February, a time when the cold would turn off any tourists. Monica had been given a warm coat in Brazil but we had to buy an overcoat for Vernon in Lisbon, Portugal. Then on to Madrid, Spain for a few days. At the pensão we found dinners were served from eight or later—but they made an early exception for our children. With our Portuguese we did fairly well being understood by the Spaniards. Then we travelled by train North to Hendaya to catch another train to Marseille, France; then a day or so later to Rome. It was cold In Hendaya and windy! The problem: we had to wait a number of hours on the open train platform without even a windbreak. If our children remember that experience they must wonder about our parenting and ability to make plans.

When we talked of visiting Rome our children made it clear they wanted to see the Catacombs. The reason might have been that the Catacombs had come up in conversations or in a church somewhere. So we descended into the eerie dwelling places the early Christians dug for themselves when persecuted in Rome. Of interest too was the Appian Way so we found a vehicle to take us out to the place where Peter’s footsteps are supposedly visibly imprinted in the stones. It was there that the Christ is thought to have confronted Peter and asked, “Quo Vadis?” Peter then returned to Rome to be crucified.

We flew from Rome to Cairo but we did not have our family at the airport to meet us. Why? We were a week later than planned and quick communications did not then exist. It had happened that I came down with appendicitis in Rio the day we were to fly out to Europe and the following morning had surgery.  When I think of that delay I earnestly thank God I did not have the attack somewhere on our travels through Europe or perhaps on that cold forsaken train platform in Hendaya. Landing at the Cairo airport, we had no idea how to get from there up to Assiut. But our family had arranged for friends to meet the plane from Rome every day till we arrived. They got us safe on a train to Assiut and finally, yes finally we arrived at the mission residence.

The reason I mention some highlights of that trip is that we dragged our children from South America to Europe and then to Africa. Then from Egypt we touched down in the Holy Land for a few days; following an overnight in Lebanon we travelled across Europe and finally back to Canada. As I look back with the perspective of my eighty-five years I wonder if all those experiences of our children had tagging along with us was an education in successful living. Or something else? If it was something else they have done well to conquer it all and do O.K. in life.