Gimli Film Festival: Bloodflowers 5

Many years ago, I was fortunate to have been given a scholarship to The Breadloaf Writer’s Conference. When the teaching year was over, we packed up the hard-top tent trailer and drove from Missouri, first to Gimli, Manitoba, then to MontAreal, and then to Vermont. The Bread Loaf Inn and surrounding buildings make up the site of the conference. Since I had my wife and children with me, we stayed at the foot of the mountain in a trailer park.

The program had writing workshops, lectures and one-on-one mentorship. The instructors were all successful, nationally recognized writers. There were readings and literary events. My time there was packed with opportunities to learn. Editors and agents joined in.

But with my good luck, and good luck, according to the Vikings, was an essential part of success, was that my assigned mentor was Issac Asimov. How lucky can a young, just starting out writer get?

I was working on the stories for my second book. Bloodflowers had been published to good reviews. But as hard as book 1 is, book 2 is harder because now there are expectations. Book 2 is often a flop. I was working on the story that would become the title story of the second collection, God Is Not A Fish Inspector.

In the draft I showed to Asimov and that we discussed over whiskey, our feet propped up on a rail by the front porch, Fusi Bergman, his adult daughter, Emma, and her husband, were in conflict over Fusi is daughter wants him to go into the local nursing home. He lives in a town modelled on Gimli, Manitoba and Emma and her husband live in Winnipeg. They come down on the weekends.

The first thing Asimov said to me was that anyone can put up with an intrusion into his life for the weekend. I needed to move the daughter and her husband into the house. The house had to become a pressure cooker, within it a conflict from which none of them could escape. They would be in conflict every day.

I learned two things. One, that conflict, external or internal, drives stories forward, causes events to happen, creates plot. Two, that the protagonist and antagonist must stay engaged, must continue the conflict, subtle or overt. If they are separated, they must be preparing for the next round, otherwise, the story loses its tension.

Think of conflict as a game of tennis. The protagonist hits the ball over the net, the antagonist hits it back. They battle fiercely, one set after another before there is a conclusion to the game. This conflict, and I cannot emphasize this too much, can be very subtle. Most conflict in life isn’t overt. Our daily lives are filled with conflict: in the family, at work, in the organizations to which we belong, in the community. Daily conflict is found in words, gestures, small acts, a look.

Nor should there only be one kind of conflict. There can, in the same narrative, be conflict between people, between the protagonist and the setting (landscape), within him or herself.

For external conflict, watch any action movie. Each time there is a conflict, stop the film and write down how the conflict was carried out. A physical fight between X and Y. Write down the outcome. Work your way through the film. See how the writer of the script brings the protagonist and antagonist together, separates them, then sets up the next conflict.

Then watch a subtler movie, take your pick. There are thousands to choose from.

When you are watching movies to learn from, it’s best to watch on a system that allows you to stop and start, to go back and re-watch a scene. Watching to learn is not the same as watching to be entertained. It takes no effort to be entertained. It takes no more than a few dollars to be a consumer. To be a producer of drama takes a great deal of effort, learning and practice.

I got lucky with my mentors. John Juliani, Don Kowalchuk (CBC), Issac Asimov, Benevudo Santos (Iowa) and a number of others. That’s what workshops are good for, what conferences are good for, what various courses are good for. The people leading them, teaching, usually have a wealth of knowledge and are willing to share it.

Gimli Film Festival: Bloodflowers4

Flight 314

A collection of short fiction

My adapting of short fiction to drama led to commissions to write original plays. Here was a new challenge.

“An Unacceptable Standard of Cockpit Practice” was one of these. It was to be part of the Disaster series.

I thought, naively, that writing about the 1978 Pacific Western Airlines Flight 314 that crashed at Cranbrook International Airport would be easy. It will take six weeks, I said to myself, “I’ll read the newspaper clippings. Instead, the research took nearly a year and, by the time I was finished, the files filled a legal file box.

Flight 314 from Edmonton landed at Castlegar via Calgary and then went to Cranbrook. There’d been a snowstorm and a snow plow was on the runway when the plane tried to land. Simple open and shut case a couple of reports I read said. It’s the snow plow operator’s fault. Local people had family members die and emotions were high. There were cries from the public to castrate and hang the snow plow operator. The snow plow operator went into hiding.

I quickly discovered that a number of newspaper reports were wrong regarding details. I needed, I realized, the coroner’s report. Gruesome reading and pictures. The report gave me a plan of the plane and where everyone was sitting. I got a passenger and flight crew list. The investigation cleared the snow plow operator. He was right where he should have been. So, what happened?

There was the government report, the RCMP reports. There were eye witness accounts.  Gradually, I memorized the seating in the plane and who sat where. I saw where the tail section had broken off, with the main body of the plane sliding forward through the snow, consuming passengers in fire. I read the reports of the survivors, of them undoing their seat belts and stepping out of the plane, unharmed, into the snow, then waiting for someone to come and help them.

There were seven survivors. There were 42 who didn’t survive. All those people had family and friends. As I read about both the survivors and those who died (including all the coroner’s reports), I realized more than ever how critical it was to get every detail right. For example, in an early draft, when the plane touched down, then rose into the air, then spun into the ground, I had written a scene with people screaming. In fact, there was no screaming. People were so shocked and frightened, there was silence.

Slowly, I recreated what happened but I also had to create a drama, not a report. Characters had to speak, interact. I needed to keep people listening. That meant developing character but within the confines of the event.

It is, I believe, the obligation of the author to get the details right even in a dramatization, even in a piece of fiction. To not do so is laziness and demonstrates a lack of respect. Getting the research right shows the writer knows what he is talking about, shows that he respects the material with which he is working. In many entertainment/action movies, TV shows, that is not true. The shows are sloppily made, the six shooter shoots a hundred bullets, cars blow up for no reason, the characters take blows that would crush skulls, shatter face bones and they immediately hop up and continue with the action. It is all such far-fetched fantasy that there is nothing to respect. There’s nothing wrong with that. We all know what it is that we are watching. If you are eating junk fast food hamburgers, you don’t expect Kobe beef.

How important was it, in this non-fiction drama to get every detail right? When the play was recorded, the producer had us all sit around and listen to it. It was a big cast, a lot of technicians, etc. No one noticed that there was a stranger in the room. When we finished listening to the drama, the producer introduced the stranger. She was one of the survivors. He asked her if we’d got everything right.

The seconds between his question and her answer were intense. “Yes,” she said, “you got it right.” Relief flooded my body.

What happened to Flight 314? The plane was early. The pilot didn’t call in giving his location when he went over a beacon. Calgary air control had the time of arrival wrong. When the pilot saw the snow plow, the plane had touched down, the reverse thrusters were on. The pilot turned off the thrusters that act as a brake. The pilot climbed, expecting to do a go-round and land. One thruster turned off, the other didn’t.

By the time the script was finished, the production completed, I felt that I knew everyone on the plane. I thought about all of them for a long time afterward.

 

Gimli Film Festival: Bloodflowers3

Life is filled with disappointments, near misses and, sometimes, lucky breaks.

The short story, “Bloodflowers”, was like that. I worked on it while in graduate school. Borrowed a cottage in Gimli from my grandparents during the summer between the two years of my MFA in Creative Writing, and spent the entire three months working on nothing but the short story.

Sent it to The New Yorker. Every student’s dream at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop in those days was to publish in The New Yorker. They kept it for months, fueling my hopes and dreams, then returned it with a hand written note. I sent the story to Tamarack Review. TR was considered the top literary magazine in the country with the top editor, Robert Weaver. There was a long wait but, finally, I got a note saying that he was going to publish it. Nice. But it didn’t change my life. Not then, at least.

It won the President’s Medal and my wife and I were flown to the University of Western Ontario for an elegant supper and the presentation of the medal. Sitting beside me, as luck would have it, was the brilliant editor of Oberon Press, Michael Macklem. He’d won the gold medal in non-fiction. He said he liked the story and asked if I had any more stories. I’d been writing like crazy all through graduate school and I did have more stories. I sent them in and he published the collection of stories called Bloodflowers.

That’s how writing works. Crazy connections. Serendipitous meetings. Strange happenings. BUT, but, but, you’ve got to be ready. That’s where the hard work comes in. When someone you meet at dinner, an awards ceremony, over a drink at David Arnason’s cottage,  and that person says “I liked your last story in X. Have you any more? , you have to be ready to say yes, how many should I send?

You’ve also got to be prepared to say yes. Saying yes is critically important. My lucky break in the adaptation of fiction to drama didn’t come in film. It came in radio drama. I’d grown up listening to radio drama. I used to listen to some CBC radio dramas in abject terror as doors creaked open, the footsteps of a psychopath crunched across the snow. I loved radio drama.

I got a call one day from John Juliani, a radio drama producer in Vancouver. He asked me if I’d be interested in writing a radio drama. I hemmed and hawed a bit, then he said that the job would pay fifteen hundred dollars. Yes, I said. That’s a lot of money when you are used to publishing in literary magazines and getting two copies of the magazine as payment.

It’s one thing to be a consume of drama. It’s another to be a producer of drama. There was a tremendous amount of learning to do. I already had written a couple of one act plays and had them produced locally. I’d taught plays as literature. But creating drama is quite different from any of these other things.

First, I had to learn to set up the ms. in CBC style. John helped by sending me some sample pages to follow. He also said that the BBC produced the best radio drama in the world. I went to the University of Victoria library and discovered that they had anthologies of radio drama from the BBC. What a boon! I read them and reread them.

The hard work of learning a new craft had begun.

Instead of thinking of words on a page, I had to think in terms of voices, sound effects, music, silence. One advantage of adapting for radio drama, I discovered, is that you don’t have to externalize everything. You can internalize. You can include people’s thoughts.

I asked if I could be at the studio when the play was produced. I promised to keep my mouth shut and stay out of the way. John agreed and I spent a couple of days of intense learning as I watched actors and a producer struggling to bring my words to life.

From there, I began to adapt some of my short stories and, finally, my novel, The Girl With The Botticelli Face, for radio. I worked with some producers other than John as well. I sat in on productions on a regular basis and even played very minor roles. The producers, the actors, the musicians, the technicians were magicians. My code of silence was eased and I got to interact with the production teams. I still only spoke when spoken to but I was able to say to a musician, “His feet would make the sound of someone running in sand if running in sand made a sound.” And watched and listened in amazement and wonder as the musician worked on his keyboard to create perfectly a sound that only existed in my head.

I also learned to rewrite during the night when all others slept so that scenes with problems were changed so as to overcome the problems. There was only so much money for studio time. The rewritten scenes needed to be ready for the next production day. I loved it. There’s nothing quite like being alone in the hotel manager’s office during the night, slurping up coffee, using the manager’s typewriter, being creative under pressure, giving the producer the rewritten scenes at breakfast. Here is where all the craft I’d been learning came to my rescue. The more craft one knows, the greater the chance that  creativity will solve the problems.

I loved the process. I loved being part of a team of brilliant people I loved the challenges. I also loved the money. In Canada, the rights to a short story pays peanuts. The adaptation pays in the thousands of dollars. One adaptation I did paid $15,000.00 with another $7,500.00 for a foreign purchase of the production. Go ahead, tell me that you’re above concerning yourself with such a mundane thing as how much you make from your work and I’ll tell you that you are full of crap. I’ll also sell you some underwater lots in a Florida swamp.

My radio dramas and readings are:

Beyond Normal Requirements, Anthology, Toronto, CBC

The Burning, CBC Radio, Vancouver

Bloodflowers, Stereo Sound Stage, CBC radio, Toronto,

Bloodflowers, Sunday Matinee, Toronto, CBC radio

Granite Point, Saturday Stereo Theatre, Toronto, CBC radio

The Cave Vanishing Point, Toronto CBC Radio

An Unacceptable Standard of Cockpit Practice, Disasters, CBC radio, Vancouver

Seiche, State of the Arts, CBC Radio

Bloðrot, Icelandic National Radio, Reykjavik, Iceland

Sæli eru einfaldir, Icelandic National Radio, Reykjavik, Iceland

Carpenter of Dreams, Sextet, Sunday Matinee

Ukrainian Journey Morningside, CBC Radio, 5 parts

The Man From Snaefellsness Stereo Theatre, CBC Radio, (2 hour drama)

Wrinkles Arts Encounters, CBC Radio

The Girl With The Botticelli Face Between The Covers, CBC, Toronto

The Man Who Was Always Running Out of Toilet Paper Icelandic National Radio, Reykjavik, Iceland, trans Solveig Jonsdóttir

The Girl With The Botticelli Face The Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Ingibjorg’s Christmas Gift performed by the Inuvik Choral and Theatrical Society, CBC North Radio

A Matter of Balance CBC Radio, Toronto

Gimli Film Festival: Bloodflowers2

Most film makers spend more time raising money than they do making films. Budget looms over their heads in development, pre-production, production and post-production. The less money they have to raise, the better chance of getting the film made. That’s one of the reasons that so many bad films are made. The producers who can raise the money get to produce films. Their ability to raise money isn’t necessarily connected to their ability to make good films.

From the writer’s perspective, none of this really matters. There’s a general rule that the writer of the book won’t be hired to adapt it for film. That comes from long experience in which writers were found to be too difficult to work with in adapting. They wanted to stay with the original purpose, the integrity of the story or novel. The film people just want to buy the “property” and use it to raise funds to make a film. They don’t necessarily care about the original work. In any case, film is a different medium and, to be successful, has other demands.

Sometimes, if the producer has some extra money and really wants the property, he’ll buy off the writer by agreeing to his/her writing the first draft. It’s usually a meaningless exercise. A film script may end up going through fifty drafts and six or seven writers. The one still standing at the end gets the credit. Or, the producer will include a clause saying the writer will be consulted on the artistic integrity of the adaptation. It’s nonsense, of course. “Here’s a thousand bucks so we can consult you. Take the money and get lost.”

The truth is that most fiction writers don’t have the training or experience to adapt their work to film. They also bring with them a lot of problems. However, hiring someone else is no guarantee that the film is going to be adapted by someone else who is competent. It’s not unknown for the script writer’s job to go to whomever the producer is currently sleeping with. Even if someone competent is hired, the adaptive process involves many people. It’s collaborative. That is completely unlike what the fiction writer is used to. The fiction writer works alone, perhaps  for years, on a novel, then gets a contract for a book and will work in an uneasy alliance with an editor. Script writing is a team effort and, often, the members of the team change during the process.

So, unless the writer of the original work has experience adapting scripts for film, it’s better to have an agent (yes, you have to have an agent in dealing with film makers, otherwise, they’ll skin you alive) get as big a payment as possible up front. Have her make sure that the writer’s name actually gets onto the screen credits. Film makers won’t just take all the money they can, they’ll take all the credit they can. It’s called building a career. Once the original work, “the property” is sold, the writer should go write another novel. When the film comes out, if it does, go to it just to see if your name is actually in the credits.

 

Gimli Film Festival: Bloodflowers

I’ve been asked to choose a story of mine to talk about at the Gimli Film Festival. I’m supposed to choose a story that I think would make a good movie and why I think so. I’m going to talk about my short story, “Bloodflowers.”

I’m choosing “Bloodflowers” because a large number of film makers have expressed interest in turning it into a film. I’ve turned them all down, not because I doubt their ability to make a decent movie from it but because they never have any money. It’s Canada, right? The role of writers and artists is to starve. Not me.

I’ve had a number of movies made from my short stories and novels. “The Pedlar” was made from “A Place of One’s Own”. Gentle Sinners was made from the novel of the same name. “God Is Not A Fish Inspector” was made from the same-named short story. Al Kroeker produced and directed it along with a documentary “Waiting for Morning” that featured my father and people around Gimli being interviewed. There are a couple of others. Gentle Sinners paid decently but only because of a legal battle over foreign rights that left me with 4% of the producer’s gross.

Gross is an important word in film making. People in the film business use “net” returns in contracts to rip off writers. There are never any net returns. It doesn’t matter how many multi-millions a film makes, so many expenses are charged against a film that it is impossible to ever “net” anything. You want a piece of the action, you’ve got to get a piece of the gross.

When I started out being involved with film, I was so naïve and so thrilled that I didn’t know enough to say, I own this property, you can’t have it to raise money with unless you cut me in for a slice of the gross. I also want a decent upfront payment that is finalized by the time production starts. The viewer in front of the screen is watching art or entertainment but behind the scenes, it’s all about money and everyone is out to grab as much as possible. No writer can afford to be naïve. The price is too high. Every writer has to ask one question when approached by a film maker or would be film maker, “What’s in it for me?”

When I had a meeting with a film maker who wanted to turn The Girl With The Botticelli Face into a movie, we were discussing appropriate payments for options for three years. We were disagreeing about the last payment when the would be producer said, “I’ll give you percentage of the net.” That was the end of the conversation. I walked out. I don’t like being insulted and I don’t like someone trying to rip me off.

(to be continued)

 

The Poet from Arnes: background notes

Poetry, like hymn singing, was okay in Iceland. Both came with the settlers. The poetry and hymn singing expanded to become secular but still was an important part of the daily life of the settlers. Even today, numerous books of poetry in Icelandic written by the first generation of immigrants still exist. Also, still existing, are anecdotes about the struggle between farming and writing. It has been said about more than one farmer that “he’d have been a better farmer if he hadn’t spent so much time writing poetry”. I’ve noticed that some people feel the need to defend Stephan G’s farming, as if his life work of poetry was, somehow, an abdication of his responsibilities as a farmer, father and husband. His accomplishments as a poet absolve him of any accusation of neglect for a muse is a demanding mistress and his books could only be written by him while others could grow crops on his land.  It is true, crops, cows and sheep are demanding. The weather waits for no man. But, so is the creative spirit, the demanding internal mistress who wants all of an artist’s time and attention.

There is a struggle within some of us, if not all of us, between the practical and the romantic. To follow either to the extreme leads often to disaster. Following one with no attention to the other deprives us of joy or the material things we need. I have seen the creativity of individuals crushed by rigid, narrow minded views of reality. A middle aged woman once came to me in my role as creative writing teacher and said she wanted to write, there was a need, a burning desire to write. She had wanted to write for years but had belonged to a small religious group led by a man who considered creative activities evil. If you believe in reincarnation, he was probably an Icelandic bishop reincarnated. No slander on current bishops but even a cursory look at Icelandic history makes many of the religious leaders the foes of creativity.

There were many like this cult leader. In Iceland, two bishops went to the king of Denmark and got a law passed that said Icelanders were not to spend their time in frivolous pursuits. The bishops, of course, got to define frivolous. In their view of life, you cut hay, spun wool, lived a life of drudgery and when you weren’t working, you prayed. On the other hand, I’ve known poets who, for some strange reason, believe, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary, that they are going to make a living from writing poetry and expect to live off the excitement of their creativity.

These parts are filled by Oscar and his wife, Snolag. Both of them are good people but each takes a position that diminishes their lives. There are no bad people in this story.

The difference between them can be seen in the attitude of the cows toward them. The cows respond to Oscar’s thoughtfulness and singing. Snolag is more businesslike. The cows still produce milk but it is now a duty instead of a pleasure. One can extrapolate that to all sorts of situations in society. Teachers, doctors, lawyers, officers, bosses, police. The outcome might be much the same but the feeling is different. How we feel matters.

Oscar disappears in a storm. There’s the assumption that he’s drowned. Snolag takes over the farm, makes decisions for the present and the future, does a good job.

Oscar has tried to bring romance into their lives with no success. The garden he planted for Snolag died.

He disappears, nearly is drowned in icy water, nearly freezes to death. Make what you will of that. He is rescued by a woman who keeps  him safe all through the winter. She’s a mythic figure, native, passionate, if you want, his creative soul. Somehow, magically, at a terrible price, she provides him with what he most wants in life, a son. The price is that he may sing for no one else. Folk tales are full of instances of bargains made, rewards given, bargains broken, betrayals, and the price paid.

Snolag, at Oscar’s reappearance, behaves in character, completely and totally practical, she starts breakfast. Her behaviour, although surprising, even shocking to some, has its roots in reality. Men were ever wanderers, often traveling far from home in search of game or a job. They could leave their family for long periods of time, then simply turn up. Odysseus took ten years to come back home.

However, even though she has earlier resented the time Oscar has spent on his singing, now that she has found love with the arrival of a child, she is aware that something is missing with Oscar no longer singing. The love she has experienced and is able to extend to her relationship with Oscar means she recognizes and feels the loss. However, she makes the mistake of shaming Oscar into breaking his vow and the cost is everything that has made her happy.

This story is filled with magic. The mundane and the practical struggle against the creative. The magic transforms people’s lives, allows Oscar to survive, to return, for him and Snolag to have a child, gives them happiness, takes it away. This struggle goes on every day in every place. Within a person and between and among people.

A simple promise broken in the Garden of Eden. The opening of Pandora’s Box. There was a time when a man’s word was his bond. Even in recent times, pioneers on the prairies would, according to Broadfoot, write a note saying, “I owe you ten dollars. I’m good for it.” Not keeping one’s word was an unforgiveable sin. You paid your debts. You kept your word.

Folk tales are not politically correct, nor are they Disney’s prettified stories that no longer reflect the human condition. Grimm’s tales reflect the human condition, human desires, they coddle no one. They are not for children. They are stories for adults about adult subjects. Taking away what folk tales have to say about our lives, separating the narratives from how people really feel so that a romanticized view of life is left, demeans and diminishes them, demeans and diminishes us. Saturday Evening Post covers by Norman Rockwell were wonderful but presented such an idealized, romanticized view of American life that it reflected hardly any segment of daily life for American society.  That doesn’t mean that every piece of art has to force reality on the viewer. Some art is solely for entertainment. Thinking isn’t required.

However, the lives of Oscar and Snolag, the conflict between them, the outcome, require, I believe, some thought about our own lives.

 

On loving our community

My mother became a Credit Union manager quite by accident.

My father had gone to the local bank to borrow two hundred dollars to finance his commercial fishing for the fall season. The bank turned him down. The bank manager was quite straight forward about the reason. He said it wasn’t his job to lend out money but, rather, to collect it so it could be sent to Toronto to be loaned out by the banks there.

Although the local manager was polite, the attitude of the banking system was right there, in my father’s face, as we’d say nowadays. There was the Eastern contempt for the western Canada, contempt for small businesses, contempt for rural people. We were the suckers standing in front of the carnival tent with the huckster carny man giving the pitch to separate us from our money, the medicine man standing on the back of his wagon extolling the virtues of his medicine that would cure everything but, in actuality, would cure nothing, the immigration agent taking our money and disappearing with it, the companies selling us mouldy grain and rotten canvas tents.

It was all there. “A lousy two hundred dollars,” my father said. He wanted the two hundred dollars so he wouldn’t have to borrow it from a fish company. If he borrowed money from a fish company, then he had to sell them his fish for the coming fishing season. That meant they set the prices. He couldn’t sell to the fish company that was offering the best price. Dealing in a perishable product, he was trapped in a system that was a remnant of the medieval system of the indentured servant.

He joined the Credit Union board. It had, if I remember correctly, no more than a few thousand dollars. It was run from a local home. When the person taking care of the books said he couldn’t do it anymore, my father brought the books home and asked my mother to take care of them for two weeks. That two weeks stretched into twenty years.

At first, she had office hours one afternoon a week, then a day a week, then two days a week, then the Credit Union put a safe into the house. The number of days increased. Deposits increased.

Finally, my father said he’d build a commercial building and rent out part of it to the Credit Union. He was a do-it-himself kind of guy. He’d had one business, a laundry, go bankrupt on him, and he’d learned to keep costs down. He bought a corner lot through which a creek ran. People said no one could build on that piece of property. He had culverts put in. He had a friend who was an engineer who drew up the plans. He and my father bought salvaged steel beams. They sub-contracted work. The metal safe in the house was replaced with a vault in the new building.

My mother learned on the job. Good people helped her. She attended meetings and conventions. In the early days, she was the only woman at the conventions. That was hard.

But what lay behind her decisions as a manager was love of community. She’d been an only child and was often lonely. When she’d married my father and moved to Gimli, a small, rural village supported by commercial fishing, an airbase, summer tourists, mixed farming, she said she was never lonely again. She was absorbed first by my father’s large, extended family, then by the community itself.

She saw her role, the credit union’s role, as helping local people. She never forgot the bank’s refusal of the two hundred dollars to my father. Someone once said to her, you have all that money and she replied, it’s not my money. She did not see the credit union or her role as a manager as a way to make herself rich. She would have dismissed the idea that “greed is good” as no more than an attempt by the greedy to justify their selfish actions. Greed is only good to those people who do not love their community.

She saw herself as a custodian. Her job was to do what was best for depositors while, at the same time, do what was best for borrowers. That meant being sure that people could afford what they were buying, could make the payments. It sometimes meant providing business advice, particularly for people wanting to start a local business. Her job was to  help others, not herself.

There were no get rich quick schemes. No loaning out as much money as possible to anyone who applied so that she could get a commission or bonus. She worked for her salary. The profits belonged to the credit union members. There were no liar loans. There was no bundling of crappy mortgages and selling them off to unsuspecting businesses or individuals so that more crappy loans and mortgages could be made to increase the size of her commission.

She was just a credit union manager in a small town but she stood and stands head and shoulders above all the bankers in North America and Europe who have been so driven by greed that they’ve placed the entire banking system in jeopardy, all the bankers who have looted their banks, who have speculated with their depositor’s money.

A small town credit union manager with ethics. Something nowadays it seems impossible to find among the wreckage of arcane financial instruments, of billion dollar losses, of obscene bonuses paid with money that should go to stockholders.

Head and shoulders over these greedy bankers? She retired with enough money to keep her in comfort in a small town way. A three bedroom bungalow. An older car. Money in the bank to cover daily expenses and to make a trip to visit her son each Christmas. It would have been good if she’d have had a pension for her twenty years but there were no pensions in such small places in those days. She and my father managed on their savings and their investments. Head and shoulders and more.

Would people have admired her more if she had ripped off the credit union by changing the rules so she got a commission on loans and then pushed out as much money as possible, selling off the mortgages and starting over and over again? Some would, I guess. There are people in our society who worship Mammon. Who believe that greed is good and, if they get a chance, are as greedy as possible, who have no sense of responsibility to their family, friends, neighbours, community.

Her ceremony at the Lutheran church yesterday was simple. Three of us spoke about her life. A friend sang a hymn. We all joined together in singing two hymns. Her ashes were in a pottery urn, beside it a picture of her when she first came to Gimli. They were flanked by two simple vases with a few flowers.

People came on this warm Saturday, they came in spite of it being Canada Day, in spite of it being the municipality’s 125 anniversary. Her grandchildren came and her great grandchildren.

We gathered at the graveyard under a blue prairie sky with white floating islands of clouds. The minister said a prayer, scattered some earth as he said ashes to ashes, dust to dust. The undertaker put the urn in a red velvet bag and placed it in the hole that had been prepared in my mother’s mother’s grave. The graveyard is on the edge of farmland, at the juncture of the original pioneer road and Highway 9. There are glimpses of Lake Winnipeg to the East. To the West are the gravel ridges of pioneer hardship.

The graveyard isn’t old but it is old enough that my Icelandic great grandparents are buried there. They came to the shores of Lake Winnipeg in 1876 with the first Icelandic settlers. My mother, as Irish as Irish can be, her parents both from Northern Ireland, slipped into this Icelandic, Ukrainian, German, Polish, Native community and made it her own. Her ashes and the bodies of her parents rest here, a long way from Ireland, a long way from the Mountains of Mourne but they share their resting place with the people who were part of their new Canadian life.

She loved Canada, this town and the people in it and, for a lifetime, she did what she thought was best for everyone.