70th birthday, Mother’s Day and Grandmother’s diaries

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, May 5, 2010

Well, it’s Mother’s Day once again, and folks around town are still reminding me of that great line from my maternal grandmother’s diary for May 2, 1940, quoted in last week’s column:

“Today Warren Arthur Harbeck was born. The baby is a little darling.”

Before I share with you more entries in Grandmother’s diary, however, let me tell you about last Saturday’s amazing afternoon of food, friends, fun and flowers.

As you know, I extended an invitation in last week’s column for our readers to stop by Cochrane’s Frank Wills Memorial Hall for a “coffee with Warren” in celebration of my 70th birthday. My wife, Mary Anna, and some of our friends had been making arrangements for the event for weeks.

It was no surprise to me that the event was happening or that I was getting older. What did surprise me was that more than 20 or 30 showed up – actually, over 150 showed up!

Some came from as far away as the Okanagan, Winnipeg and Northern Alberta, but most came from nearby – from Morley, Cochrane and Calgary. All this on top of non-stop best wishes for the past week by e-mail and from folks I bumped into around town.

With Marjorie Stakenas playing harp in the background, how wonderful it was for two-and-a-half hours just to visit with the coffee companions who have added such depth to my life.

In addition, my two teenaged grandchildren wowed us with their performance of “Lean on Me.” And Myrna Kootenay, of Morley, sang “Thiktâ Ton Chuwaba en Îgen,” about a hope-filled bluebird in a spruce tree, one of the first songs I ever learned in the Stoney Nakoda language.

Some folks even wrote special poems for the occasion.

Poems like the one by Linda and Russ Nicol, of Cochrane. Quite familiar with my photographic philosophy that the camera you have with you always takes better pictures than the camera sitting at home, they began their poem:

Warren had a little cam,
Its shutter speed was slow.
But everywhere that Warren went,
The cam was sure to go.

But they couldn’t resist picking on the difficulty I have braiding my own long white hair:

If Mary Anna has gone away,
His ponytail will tell.
For missing there is the tidy braid
That she lovingly fixes so well.

Others got up and spoke kindly about my enjoyment of life: the joy I find in experiencing beautiful things and ideas, or the joy I find in simply bringing folks together around common interests and values, in the spirit of my column’s adopted theme song, Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World.”

Of course, several of our coffee companions had to accuse me of committing really bad puns. Even my beloved wife joined in the fray, revealing a secret from our very first date: wall-to-wall puns by both of us (a new version of Crime and PUNishment? she wondered).

Then there were those speakers who rather liked the quotation I shared last week from Grandmother’s diary: “The baby is a little darling.”

Which brings me back to Mother’s Day and the value of diaries.

Grandmother Watson died when I was quite young, and if it weren’t for her six handwritten personal diaries that eventually fell into my hands, I would be deprived of her rich experiences and wisdom.

The diaries begin about the time of my mother’s birth in 1900 and continue for the next 50 years. Meandering through the pages of her heart, I’ve been enlightened and inspired by words of far more importance than that I was “a little darling.”

Although she often made entries merely about the weather or the latest sermon she heard at church, there were those entries of historic and spiritual significance. Like the time she wrote passionately about the assassination of U.S. President McKinley in her home town of Buffalo, New York, or “the worst disaster that ever happened”: the sinking of the Titanic.

Then there were her very special entries at the beginning of each new year, when she would reconsecrate herself to God. Take her entry for Jan. 1, 1949, for example:

"Another year has arrived. God grant that it will be a good year, that there will be no wars, and that there will be a spiritual awakening in my heart, also. The Lord has been very good to me."

Thank you, Grandmother. I will borrow those words as a prayer for myself and the world I live in as I enter into my eighth decade of life.

And thank you, mothers everywhere, who take time to write down in a diary words that can inspire generations yet unborn.

© 2010 Warren Harbeck

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