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My Big Fat Life: Bullying Canada Needs to Practice What it Preaches

Published in the Fredericton Daily Gleaner, Monday, May 7, 2012

Bullying Canada needs to live up to its mandate in how it deals with organizations and institutions.

Bullying is indeed a serious matter, yes; we need more education and awareness. I am in no way trying to belittle the cause, but I am somewhat ashamed of the tactics Bullying Canada chooses to employ in furthering its cause.

I know about bullying intimately.  My son was bullied over a six-month period in Grade 7. The situation was solved, but it was a long process.  Repairing relationships doesn’t happen overnight. Repairing a school’s reputation doesn’t happen instantly, either. For the last three years, principal Pat Thorne, vice-principal Jen Pauley and their team of teachers and support staff at Woodstock Middle School have worked diligently in trying to turn the school around.

When I moved to the community of Woodstock in 2006, the school’s track record for dealing with bullies wasn’t the greatest. Over time that changed because of strong and loving leadership, a staff that understands the needs of the students, and a group of educators and support staff who work well as a team for the betterment of all students.  Does that mean bullying doesn’t happen at the school?  Of course not.  Bullying happens everywhere, and I am not sure there will ever be a time when it is eradicated completely.

Bullying comes from socio-economic differences, from a lack of empathy and understanding, from greed and pride and sometimes from a lack of education. Bullying also comes from being bullied. It is a multi-faceted problem that cannot be fixed with a phone call, a suspension or even the threat of media.

I know. It took months for my son to admit the seriousness of his own situation. It took days for the team at the school to talk to each of the students involved and to grasp a complete understanding of what was happening, and it took weeks to set up mediation meetings and begin to rectify the problem.

When it comes to dealing with bullies and those who have been bullied, quick fixes don’t work. Suspensions are temporary Band-Aids, moving kids to other classes’ only mask the situation. Bullying is further exacerbated by the fact that every situation is different and every person dealing with that situation is different.  No bullying incident is exactly the same as another, which means every solution ends up being unique.

And sometimes an issue can’t be resolved to the satisfaction of everyone involved. People are complex beings.

We live in an age where instant gratification is the name of the game. We want things and we want them now.  Bullying is no different. We all want it fixed and fixed yesterday, but as long as the bullying is taking place between human beings, that will never happen.  While many of us would love to snap our fingers and instantly deal successfully with a tough situation, myself included, that will never happen.  Bullying Canada doesn’t seem to understand this.

Last week the organization took a media swipe at the staff at Woodstock Middle School. They were trying to intervene on behalf of a parent.  Bullying Canada issued a news release stating: “We attempted to make contact with both Superintendent John Tingley and School Principal Patricia Thorne but our calls and emails were not returned.”

As a person concerned with bullying in the school system, I was shocked to read this and contacted Pat Thorne and John Tingley directly.  They said they checked with their staff and were told no phone messages were received from Bullying Canada, and at no time did either official receive a voicemail message from the organization.  They did, however, receive one email.

On Friday, April 27 at 8:22 a.m., Bullying Canada sent a note to both Tingley and Thorne. This was the only contact made, according to Tingley and Thorne. Later that morning, at 11:44 a.m., Bullying Canada issued a news release to the media complaining of inaction by the school and the district.  In a later media interview, Bullying Canada spokesperson Rob Frenette expressed his concern that the school was not returning his ‘calls’ and that he was also upset officials would not discuss the situation with him.

How fair is it to widely distribute a media release stating that numerous calls were made when no messages were left?  How irresponsible is it to issue a news release accusing someone of not returning calls after waiting only three hours for a response?  And how can an anti-bullying group expect such a multi-faceted situation to be fixed within a week?

On the day Bullying Canada issued its news release, the school had been dealing with and working toward resolving the issue for five days. My son’s complex situation took nearly six weeks to rectify.

This is not the first time the actions of Bullying Canada officials have worried me. I’ve watched the news reports where they complain about businesses, corporations and schools.  In some instances it seems that if the organization cannot get what it wants, it then threatens media action. It also seems that each time a call is not returned in what the organization feels is a ‘timely fashion,’ Bullying Canada issues a media release.

Rob Frenette issued another news release Saturday, saying it was the family’s decision to issue a media advisory on the fact their concerns were not being addressed. “At no time did anyone from Bullying Canada make the decision to issue the media release,” Frenette stated.

Yet that media advisory was issued under the name of Bullying Canada. How can the organization claim to represent and speak for a family in one breath, but then abdicate responsibility in the next?

Everyone who reads my column knows I am not a malicious person.  My family and friends and co-workers know I am as honest as the day is long. People understand my need to help others, that I truly hate bullying, that I love people who do what’s right and not what’s easy, and that I try to see the best in everyone.

I hope you see this column for what it is: Clarification, education and standing up for what I think is right. Organizations that take the moral high ground in their mandate need to take the moral high ground in the execution of that mandate. Bullying Canada needs to take that message to heart in how it deals with this sensitive issue.

Theresa Blackburn is a wife, mother and a New Brunswick Community College instructor who lives and writes in Woodstock.  You can email her at theresa@mybigfatlife.ca, join her Facebook group, My Big Fat Life, or follow her on Twitter @MY_BIG_FAT_LIFE.

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My Big Fat Life: Municipal politics and the “Jack” effect

Published in the Fredericton Daily Gleaner, Monday, August 29, 2011

CLICK HERE FOR ORIGINAL ARTICLE

Some of the best memories I have of my father are tied to our ongoing conversations about politics.

For as long as I can remember, my father tried to teach me about the ways of the political world. But his teaching was skewed – he had blinders. He was a Conservative. For Dad, it didn’t matter what economic situation the country was in, he didn’t care who the leader was, and he definitely didn’t care who happened to be leading other parties – he was colourblind unless things were Tory blue.

Being the master of ‘challenge,’ I educated myself about the other candidates and leaders so I could challenge him.

The year he was dying of cancer and we had 1,900 kilometres between us, we had some of our best political discussions.

He was bed-ridden in his last months, and would call me often – at work, at home – for him it didn’t matter what I was doing – if a thought popped into his head about something we talked about the day before, he’d pick up the phone. I was ever so grateful for that.

The year was 2000, and we had lots to talk about. This was the year Stockwell Day took over the leadership of the Canadian Alliance Party (post Reform). It was also the year Rick Mercer got overwhelming support in his ‘referendum’ campaign to get Stockwell Day to change his name to Doris – making fun of Day’s proposal for referendum guidelines.

Jean Chrétien called a snap election that year – and in November led his party to yet another victory.

Missing the great debates: Theresa and her parents, Doug and Barb Blackburn. Easter, 1969

Dad and I had so much to discuss and debate. It was like the political gods shined down on us and knew we needed an interesting political year to close our lifetime of discussions.

I remember some big laughs – my father thought Day looked ridiculous when he arrived at a news conference in a wetsuit, on a JetSki – and sadness … Dad lamenting that he might never see the Conservatives rise again before he died; he felt they were the only ones who could ‘save the country.’

I’m glad he was gone before the election that November. I thought of him every minute of election night.

My father, from an early age, got involved in grassroots campaigns. Even though he often referred to CPAC as his ‘favourite channel’ and his conversations always seemed to gravitate toward federal politics, his passion was municipal politics.

“Municipal politics are the most important.”

He told me this time and time again.

My father worked on municipal campaigns most of his life. He dragged me along for the ride. Since about the age of 12, I would have ‘jobs’ in municipal campaigns in our district of, then, Halifax County. I answered phones, went door to door with candidates, distributed flyers and even did a stint as an election-night monitor when I was 18.

My father had a great respect for people who put their names forward for municipal positions.

I think his respect had a lot to do with why I ran for municipal office in Woodstock.

I also think my father’s passion for all things municipal has a lot to do with my respect for Jack Layton.

He started at the municipal level and connected with more people across this country as a federal leader because of his grassroots experience.

He worked in the political ‘trenches.’

I recently asked a man who was considering a run at provincial politics in this province why he hadn’t tried municipal politics first.

His answer: “Municipal politics is too much of a headache.”

He was referring to being stopped in grocery stores, called at home, and having to make difficult decisions that could upset his neighbours.

I wanted to say to him, “So you’re a coward? Is that it?” but held my tongue because my parents brought me up properly.

Jack wasn’t ‘afraid’ of the trenches. He honed his skills in the perfect place – a place where you have to foster a thick skin – a place where you get to truly know who you represent. A place where you can’t hide.

Maybe that’s why he connected with so many; maybe that’s why people are lamenting what could have been.

I also lament what could have been – but with regard to my Dad. I can envision the amazing and thoughtful discussions I would have had with my father had he lived to see the political coverage of Jack Layton’s death.

My Dad be gone 11 years this September.

Theresa Blackburn is a wife, mother and New Brunswick Community College instructor who lives and writes in Woodstock. You can email her at theresa@mybigfatlife.ca, or join her group, Big Fat Life, on Facebook.  You can also follow her on Twitter @MY_BIG_FAT_LIFE

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My Big FatLife: For the Love of Horses: Little girls make memories at riding camp

Published in the Fredericton Daily Gleaner, Monday August 22, 2011

CLICK HERE FOR ORIGINAL ARTICLE

If Laura Burtt and Alyson Hubbard were horses, I think they might be Appaloosas. This breed of horse is intelligent, gentle and sure-footed. That perfectly describes how these two talented and sweet young women conducted themselves last week.

Students taking part in a riding camp at Green Meadow Stables in Wakefield, smile pretty for the camera just before a full day of learning begins. Pictured from left are instructor Alyson Hubbard; students Kaitlan Blackburn-MacLean; Olivia McCarthy; Major the horse; Kathryn Chisholm; Elizabeth Davidson; Emily McCready; and instructor Laura Burtt.

Laura and Alyson are instructors at Green Meadow Stables in Wakefield, just a few minutes outside of Woodstock. They conducted a riding camp at the stables last week.

My daughter Kathryn and my niece Kaitlan were two of the young studies taking part in the camp. Each night the two were quick to brush their teeth and say their prayers because going to sleep meant one thing – they got to wake up to the next day, where they spent their time with their favourite four-legged animals.

In fact, horses replaced family members when each child was counting blessings before bed.

The two were bursting with excitement each morning as we drove the few minutes through beautiful farming countryside to the stables.

There is a feeling of home when you walk onto the property. As you arrive at the farm, the stables’ official canine greeter, Thor, welcomes you. As you wander toward the barn, Casper the friendly goat, or Bacon, the pot-bellied pig, will sometime join you on your walk.

When we picked the girls up after their first day, they had a hard time leaving ‘their horses.’

“It was the BEST DAY EVER!” said Kaitlan. “It was the BEST DAY OF MY LIFE!” agreed Kathryn.

Kaitlan adopted the stables pony, Romeo.

Each day we heard how Romeo did on her riding lesson, how she fed and groomed him, what he liked to eat, what his personality was like, and of course how much Kaitlan loves ‘her Romeo.’

Kathryn fell in love with her horse, Major.

Major is a five-year-old quarter horse who is gentle and kind with Kathryn. She had a hard time leaving him each day. She hugged him goodbye when we left and ran to rub his nose when we arrived.

All week long both girls were dreading Friday; they didn’t want the week to end.

Kathryn and her new best friend Major

“I wish I could do this all summer!” was a sentence we heard a lot last week.

For five days, they learned not only how to ride, but how to care for the horses.

They’ve learned what the horses eat, and how they sleep. They’ve discovered how much a horse poops and pees and how much work is involved in cleaning that up.

“That’s the only part I really don’t like a whole lot!” said Kaitlan.

They learned grooming techniques and the horse vocabulary – words for everything related to horses and the equipment that they use to care for them.

But most importantly, Kathryn and Kaitlan have learned that horses are to be loved and respected.

Laura and Alyson have become heroes to the five girls taking part in the riding camp.

Kaitlan and her best buddy Romeo

Each night we heard a lot about what each young woman taught the students. There is a mixture of love and respect woven into every conversation the girls have about the camp and their instructors.

It has been a joy to listen to the girls talk so excitedly about their experiences and be excited about everything taught each and every day.

On Friday, families got to see firsthand what the campers learned and we couldn’t have been more proud to see them demonstrate their new skills.

My daughter and my niece now have beautiful memories to last a lifetime from their week at Green Meadow. And we have Laura and Alyson to thank for that.

Theresa Blackburn is a wife, mother and New Brunswick Community College instructor who lives and writes in Woodstock. You can email her at theresa@mybigfatlife.ca, or join her group, Big Fat Life, on Facebook.  You can also follow her on Twitter @MY_BIG_FAT_LIFE

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My Big Fat Life: Canterbury: A community that takes ‘love thy neighbour’ to heart

Jan Koops and his sweetheart, Diana, sporting the beautiful smile her friends and family will always remember. The two, along with their five children, emigrated to Canada from Holland in 2003. They were happily married for 20 years, before Diana died of cancer on April 11.

Originally published in the Fredericton Daily Gleaner, Monday, May 2, 2011

CLICK HERE FOR THE ORIGINAL ARTICLE

When the Koops family emigrated from Holland in July of 2003, they arrived in Woodstock with 13 suitcases and a lot of hope.

Parents Diana and Jan brought five beautiful children with them: Dafne, Mirthe, Erik, Edgar and Noah. They ranged in age from four to 12 years.

Before they came to New Brunswick, the family lived and worked in Appingedam in the northern part of Holland. When their region experienced an economic downturn, many trucking companies closed shop and laid off drivers. Jan began to worry and started to look for work elsewhere.

The family had a decision to make.

Jan knew he could move 12 hours south of their home and work and send money back to his family. During that time, the family would be put on a list to wait for available housing – a process that could take up to six years. Their other option was to come to Canada and continue to live together as a family.

They chose family.

Jan and Diana spoke very little English; their children spoke none.

They moved into a home on Broadway Street without a lot of furniture, but they never felt they were without.

The Koops family is close. Their love of each other and the kindness they expressed to others living close by meant they were well taken care of.

Dafne, now 20, remembers one day in particular.

“We came with what we could fit into 13 suitcases – that was it. We made some friends with some kids up the street. That family organized a furniture drive.

“One afternoon this truck arrived at our house and opened up the back and it was like, wow. There was a couch and a new television and a dining room table with chairs, and new mattresses and some bed frames, because we had some things, but we didn’t have actual beds. It was amazing.”

Her face lit up as she recounted the story for me. That act was the beginning of her love of Canada.

Jan and Diana craved the country. While they felt at home in Woodstock, they wanted to in live in a more rural part of our region.

During the Thanksgiving weekend in 2009, the family moved to Canterbury, and finally found their true home.

Jan worked as a truck driver with Brennan Farms while Diana worked for Chartwells in the cafeteria at NBCC Woodstock.

The kids grew, the couple settled and life moved on … until last year.

In August, Diana Koops was diagnosed with cancer. In April, at the tender age of 42, she died.

Her family and her friends are heartbroken.

Diana was a happy person and it showed. She had the most infectious laugh, she never complained, she had one of the best smiles, and she was so proud of her kids.  I don’t think we ever had a conversation that didn’t include talk of at least two of her children.

Her need to care for others didn’t go away just because she was sick. During her time in the hospital, she could be found caring for her roommate, helping another woman while she was undergoing treatment.

But some of that happiness, especially in her darkest hours, came from the comfort she received from her community.

Canterbury has hugged the Koops family, and continues to do so.

When members in that community heard that Diana was sick, they mobilized. There were community fundraisers, a concert and a ball game. People dropped off food for the family on a regular basis, one woman came over before Christmas and asked for a list of needs for each member of the family and played Santa, providing everyone with special gifts.

Across the highway in Meductic, Sabian staff ‘adopted’ the Koops family and provided them with one of the family’s most memorable Christmases. Teachers of children at the Canterbury school provided help and over the holiday the family received six turkeys, and re-donated a few because of freezer space.

Jan also had support with his employer, Brennan Farms. They provided the flexibility so he could be with Diana when she was going through treatment. They also held fundraisers of their own, most recently hosting a dance to benefit the family.

Diana’s NBCC family also fundraised, and so did Diana’s daughter’s class. Dafne is a student in the Human Services program at NBCC Woodstock. They, along with other friends, supplied an amazing amount of food for the funeral reception.

I am in awe of the beautiful gestures, so many genuine expressions of love – given freely to a family who never expected it.

“We didn’t have family here, there are just seven of us, but we had so much more,” said Dafne. “We had an entire community.”

Dafne says that these beautiful gifts from the community gave her family a sense of relief, acknowledgement that they weren’t going through this horrible time alone, that people cared, and that they were being taken care of.

Nowhere was that more evident than at Diana’s funeral. The small chapel at Scott Funeral Home was filled to capacity, standing-room only. At the service, classmates and their teammates supported the Koops children. An entire hockey team sat behind the family with local Army Cadets sitting across from family after earlier forming an honour guard. Not only was Diana loved, but the love and care she and Jan took in raising their children was evident that day. Their children are, like their mother, well loved and supported by their peers.

Dafne isn’t sure it would have been the same if they had stayed in Holland.

“We came from a place with a lot of people, but many we didn’t get to know. We had a few close friends, but nothing like this. I mean there are people I don’t even know that well in Canterbury that have helped us. At the funeral I hugged so many people I had never seen before but felt compelled to come and honour my mother.”

“We don’t have any family here,” she said, cracking a tired smile after the funeral, “yet this place is filled.”

Her mother touched so many with her caring nature and her love of family. But the beautiful job that she and Jan did in raising smart, caring, compassionate and self-sufficient children made people want to do things for this family.

Someone suggested it was a ‘shame’ that the family arrived in Canada only for Diana to get sick and have the family have to go through this horrible ordeal so far from ‘home’.

Yes, Diana stricken by cancer is horrible, but the outpouring of support was a blessing.

I have always believed that in life we are always where we need to be.

I believe that Diana and her family needed to be here, that she was meant to feel the amazing arms of an entire community wrapped tightly around her in her time of need.

How comforting it must be to end your journey here on earth with the knowledge that your children and husband will be loved and cared for by an entire community after your passing.

What a beautiful gift of peace.

***

Don’t forget to enter the Big Fat Contest. With the help of Elite Experience of Fredericton, Theresa will be giving away one-month sessions with a personal trainer to five lucky readers. All you have to do is send her an email to explain why you need this.

If you are already making improvements to your personal wellness, you can still enter by telling her what you’re doing to improve your health. She will take entrants until Friday, May 6, and make a draw the next week.

Theresa Blackburn is a wife, mother and New Brunswick Community College instructor who lives and writes in Woodstock. You can email her at theresa@mybigfatlife.ca, or join her group, Big Fat Life, on Facebook. You can also follow her on Twitter @ MY_BIG_FAT_LIFE.

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My Big Fat Life: This week, my EIGHT days of Christmas

Published in the Fredericton Daily Gleaner, Monday, December 20, 2010

CLICK HERE FOR THE ORIGINAL ARTICLE

This is my version of the traditional Christmas tune.

I know it doesn’t rhyme, but I think you get my meaning.

On the first day of Christmas, shoppers at the mall gave to me … a cold to make my nose run.

On the second day of Christmas, commercials gave to me … a feeling I needed to shop faster, and some stress to go with the runny nose.

On the third day of Christmas, my employer gave to me … a reminder that CP deductions start again, a big list of things I need to do in January and the number for Employee Assistance.

On the fourth day of Christmas, my mother gave to me … a tiny bit of guilt for not coming to stay for the holiday, her reminder that I need to do what’s best for my family, her amazing recipe for shortbread and the love she always shares easily.

On the fifth day of Christmas, my co-workers gave to me … a big round of smiles!

Hugs to say Merry Christmas, laughter from their hearts, help with my workload and the warmth knowing I get to work with these amazing people again.

On the sixth day of Christmas, I gave, um … well … to ME … the permission to have an ‘imperfect’ Christmas, the ability to laugh at myself, forgiveness for those who weren’t so nice last year, appreciation of all the blessings I’ve been given, and a gift of really cool shoes.

On the seventh day of Christmas, my neighbours gave to me … a feeling of belonging, kindness and love to my children, a daily reminder of what a wonderful neighbourhood I live in, safety for my family, a surprise cleaning of my driveway (Thanks Weldon!), help with a neighbourhood get-together and the best fudge ever eaten!

On the eighth day of Christmas, my husband gave to me … help wrapping presents, doing dishes when I’m tired, helping with kids’ homework, listening to my shopping horror stories, hugs when I’m stressed, kind words of encouragement when I’m feeling down, and the knowledge I already won the Lotto when he married me.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and yours!

See you back here in 2011.

Theresa Blackburn is a wife, mother and New Brunswick Community College instructor who lives and writes in Woodstock. You can email her at theresa@mybigfatlife.ca, or join her group, Big Fat Life, on Facebook. You can also follow her on Twitter @MY_BIG_FAT_LIFE

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My Big Fat Life: Finding inspiration in my parents history of dedicated volunteering

Published in the Fredericton Daily Gleaner, Monday, December 13, 2010

CLICK HERE FOR THE ORIGINAL ARTICLE

It’s almost like being a part of a local volunteer fire department is in my blood. For more than 40 years, my father was not just one of the three paid firefighters employed by the then County of Halifax; he was also a dedicated volunteer.

For most of those years, my mother was also a dedicated member of the Lakeside Volunteer Fire Department Ladies Auxiliary.

When I was growing up, the fire department was located just a two-minute walk from our home. It was a cement two-storey building that smelled of rubber and soot. The downstairs housed a pumper and a tanker, a small equipment room, a radio ‘cubby’ and the only bathroom I’ve seen with 18-foot ceilings.

The upstairs consisted of sleeping quarters (the men were required to work 24-hour shifts) and radio room, a small kitchen, and a tiny ‘hall’ with an itty-bitty kitchen to match. There was also a closet they called the ‘canteen.’

My parents being involved with the department meant Tuesday-night training sessions for my Dad and Wednesday night bingo for my Mom. My Mom always worked the bingos.

I don’t remember how much it cost to play, but I remember winning a regular game meant you went home with $3. Mind you, this was also a time when cigarettes cost 60 cents for a small pack and 65 cents for a large one.

You played on hard cardboard bingo cards and marked your place with bingo chips. Many of the older ladies who went had fancy ‘chip’ bags – some made from fabric, others fashioned from plastic cottage cheese containers with holes cut along the rim where a top of a ‘pouch’ was created by crocheting yarn – always pulled tight by a drawstring.

Those were the days when bingo halls were filled with smoke, and the ladies auxiliary members always wore their ‘blazers.’

The ladies worked tirelessly fundraising for equipment – Scott Air-Paks and firetrucks, department jackets and new pagers.

Each year the women also planned the annual children’s Christmas party.

At each party Santa would make an appearance, but because there may have not been enough snow, or the sleigh was in for repairs, Santa always arrived via firetruck.

I remember thinking how lucky the firemen were to be able to pick Santa up for the event. I remember asking my Dad one year if we were allowed to go with our uncle (another firefighter in the department) to get Santa. He always told us no, but with a big smile on his face.

We were herded into the hall, and seated in rows of old wooden stacking chairs in front of the tree. My mother would always try to find me a seat that didn’t have any splinters, so my tights wouldn’t get picked.

And then we waited, not so patiently, for Santa to arrive. Some years there were a dozen or so of us, but many years we were nearly 30 children, all waiting for Santa, high on Christmas, bouncing off the firehall walls.

Closer to the ‘time,’ one of the ladies would lead us in the singing of Christmas carols. Inevitably, one of the men came up the stairs to tell us Santa was ‘close’ and we’d be encouraged to sing louder to make him come quicker. I am sure some of the ladies wished Santa would bring presents of earplugs during these parties.

And then the jolly old elf would appear … perfectly rounded belly, rosy cheeks and a hearty “Ho Ho Ho” and a hush would fall over the kids. And then the procession started …

The sack would be opened and names would be called out, one by one. We’d approach St. Nick with some trepidation, and he’d invariably ask if we’d been good … and even if you had been fighting with your brother, or hadn’t cleaned your room, you’d answer yes, and get your gift.

We’d rush back to our seats to open our present, ripping paper; other kids leaning forward over chairs to see what you got – hoping for the same or better from Old St. Nick.

One year I was given a Spirograph, another year I received the game, Cootie. Our favourite toy came the year my brother was given a game called Ants in Your Pants. The game had little jumping ants you tried to flick into a container in the shape of a pair of pants. We played that a lot that winter and into the following spring.

Then it was the adults’ turn – each name called as the men came forward to get their Christmas ‘bottle’ (a small pint of something alcoholic) and the ladies would come forward to get their ‘turkey’ certificate from a local grocery store.

Each adult would also get his or her picture taken on Santa’s knee. Some of those photos are cherished memories for my family. It all seemed so simple then, and so much more special somehow.

My brother and I always stopped playing when we heard our parents’ names called, and would watch Mom and Dad make the walk up the aisle to sit on Santa’s knee. My father would always make funny faces, my Mom always pink-faced, somewhat embarrassed.

The afternoon would be topped off with a rousing rendition of We Wish you a Merry Christmas and many shouts of “goodbye” to Santa as he waved to us all, rushing out the door on his way back to the North Pole. So much work to do, he’d tell us … and then he was gone, almost as quickly as he came.

Then we were off to get our coats on and handed a special ‘treat bag’ on the way out the door. A simple brown bag filled with wonderful treats – always a large, plump orange and a wonderful-smelling Red Delicious apple, with a candy cane and a few chocolates thrown in for good measure.

You left the party feeling good – a visit from Santa, a promise to him that you’d be good for your parents between now and Christmas, and a promise from him that he’d be stopping by on Christmas Eve if you honoured your commitment.

Last weekend the Woodstock Volunteer Fire Department Ladies Auxiliary put on the annual family Christmas potluck. There was a lot of amazing food, some presentations of service medals to long-serving members, and a visit from Santa for the kids.

Each of the children got to talk with Santa, each got a special gift and each received a small brown bag of goodies. I was instantly transported back, for a few brief moments, to those magical fire department Christmas parties of my youth.

Serving their department and their community: Members of the Woodstock Volunteer Fire Department Ladies Auxiliary L to R: Heather Doucette, Theresa Blackburn, Theresa Gibson, Melanie Campbell, Kathy Grattan, Angela McLellan and Emily Porter-Lawrence.

My husband, like my father, is a volunteer. And I, like my mother, am an auxiliary member.

I now know why my mother got involved.

I value the friendships I have in the department, I love the men we support for rising to the call every time the pager goes off, and I pray for the safe return of each and every

one of them when they are called out.

The women I work with are amazing and beyond dedicated. Some are new members, like me, and others, like Angela McLellan and Theresa Gibson, have served the department and their community for more than 35 years each.

They’ve been instrumental in the fundraising of more than $100,000 over the course of their involvement. I, like other members, am proud to serve with them, and even more proud to call them friends.

I am also proud to follow in my mother’s footsteps, and proud that this tradition, of caring for the men who give so much, and the community they serve, carries on in departments throughout the Maritimes.

Theresa Blackburn is a wife, mother and New Brunswick Community College instructor who lives and writes in Woodstock. You can email her at theresa@mybigfatlife.ca, or join her group, Big Fat Life, on Facebook.  You can also follow here on Twitter @MY_BIG_FAT_LIFE

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