In Memoriam – Harry Leslie Smith

On November 28, Harry Leslie Smith passed away at the age of 96. Last year, when I discovered Harry on Twitter, I didn’t know of him. After following him I learned how well- known and admired he is in the UK, Canada – around the world. Over the year, on Twitter, we had a few sweet exchanges, despite the fact that he has hundreds of thousands of followers. Real followers who too are dedicated to righting the wrongs of this world. But Harry is unique. Fearless and outspoken, he voiced his opinions and took on his detractors. His story is powerful: poverty, starvation, war, finding love, children, losing his love and dedicating his life to helping those who have no representation, no one to advocate for them. He is a remarkable person and I hope and I pray that I, and others, take up the baton and continue his work. I think that would be what Harry would want most of all. It is presumptuous of me, but I do think that’s on track.

I wrote this piece last year when I first made Harry’s “acquaintance.” It seems a bit naive now that I know more about him. I am republishing it nevertheless, lest we forget those among us who are humble and so so brave. In loving memory, Clare

From December 25, 2017:

Holiday Wishes & I’m Just Wild about Harry!

Yuletide wishes & happy festivities to everyone! I hope your holiday is full of love and joy and peace. Now and always.

I was on Twitter this morning, composing a holiday greeting, and on my feed I saw a sweet tweet from a gentleman in England: Harry Leslie Smith. The tweet read: 

“Happy Christmas to all my friends and followers. Love will triumph even in this darkness, if we show the courage of compassion to our fellow travelers. All the best, Harry.” I went to his home page and learned that Harry is a remarkable man. Nearly 95, he has decided that, “I’m spending the last years of my life touring the refugee hot spots of the world to find a solution to this crisis…” How fantastic is that? Harry’s profile reads: “Survivor of the Great Depression, RAF veteran Activist for the Welfare State Author of Harry’s Last Stand Love Among the Ruins, 1923 & The Empress of Australia…”

I hope I’m like that if I make it to 95 – but why wait? I think I will take a leaf out of Harry’s book and start…now. All that courage, concern, heart, resilience and joy. It’s admirable stuff. I remember that The New Yorker magazine used to have mini-columns (maybe it still does), that were usually at the end of an article where some space needed to be filled. There was: “Block that Metaphor!” and “There’ll Always Be an England.” Of course, they were clever and funny, and I am thinking of Harry, but more in connection to the song, “There’ll Always Be an England,” which I vaguely know. It embodies British pluck and courage even in the midst of the “darkness” to which Harry refers.

So dear friends, have a happy and raise a glass to Harry, to yourselves, your loved ones, and to bravery. 

Cheers!

Clare Irwin

1942 – The Penny Dropped & Stargazing

Over Labor Day weekend I stopped at our local coffee place one morning. I used the drive-through, and while I was waiting in line I watched the person ahead of me pay by phone. I thought to myself we don’t touch many things anymore – paper, money – everything is on a screen. When my turn came I paid by cash and was handed two pennies. I rarely look at coins, that too is of the past, but one of the pennies look old and worn from time. And it was – it was minted in 1942. Pretty amazing that it was still in circulation these 76 years. I started thinking and realized it was about then that the US entered World War II.

Such a long time ago, and hardly anyone left from that time. I put the penny on the console of my car and kept it, thinking about how far it had traveled and how many hands had exchanged it. I enjoy seeing it there, in its little place of honor, every morning when I get into my car.

A few days after I received my window into the past, I decided to do some stargazing. It was a prime time to see shooting stars and a number of planets were visible in the night sky. I was looking at them from my deck and the view was fine, but there is so much “light pollution” that it is hard to compete. The next clear night we took the truck and drove inland about 10+ miles to woods and fields. Off road we went and there it was – the glorious starry night sky. I couldn’t find the old binoculars which worked so well, so I used the zoom lens of my camera for a closer look. I saw shooting stars, and what I think was a dancing star. Not sure. I should read up on astronomy, and while I’m at it pick up an old telescope at a yard sale because now there’s an app to see stars.

About a day later, the penny dropped as the saying goes, and I made the connection between the penny and looking at the stars. I remember my father telling me about his grandaunt Celeste, which oddly enough means heaven in Latin. I vaguely remember her; she was very old when I met her and I was little, but I recall she was an incredibly loving, affectionate, welcoming person with a wonderful sense of humor. She died shortly after; I don’t know how old she was. The details are lost since there is no one left to ask.

I thought of my great-grandaunt Celeste, “Celia” for short, and remember her remarkable story. She was a young widow when the war was going on – perhaps in her mid-30s. Her husband had left her a farmhouse in Tuscany which was unoccupied. Celeste decided, to the shock of her family I would imagine, to leave her young daughter in the care of her sisters, and boarded a ship to Italy, traveled to Tuscany, opened the house and moved in. Right in the middle of the war. She had gone to help with the resistance, and she spent the ensuing years smuggling American soldiers on their way north to battle that would eventually end the war in Europe. It’s quite a story and all true. My father said at the end of the war she was bestowed with medals from General Eisenhower and General Montgomery of Britain.

After the war she sold the farmhouse, came home and resumed her life here. I have seen photos of her – a pretty woman with a mass of lovely hair and a beautiful smile. There are pictures of her with a shotgun on her shoulder – she had a lot of land in the country. There she lived out her days and passed away surrounded by the many friends and family and people who loved her. 

Why didn’t I write down the salient details of this story as it was told to me? Oh well, I’m afraid it’s gone, and my imagination will have to do. As I looked at the night sky I thought of her all those years ago – almost a century. How remote and isolated Tuscany must have been, no wealthy tourists buying up and renting out renovated farmhouses for the summer. She was alone in that house, waiting for friend or foe to arrive. I imagine her looking up at the night sky which must have been crystal clear in those days. Was she afraid? She was risking grave danger: possibly rape, torture, execution. And, as she looked at the sky and heard a branch snap or a rustle of leaves, did her heart skip a beat as she went to the door and saw the relieved and grateful face of a young soldier?

Alan Lightman’s book Einstein’s Dreams captivated me when I read it. There’s a chapter – and I know I’m getting this wrong – where all events in time are still occurring; we just can’t see or access them. So, when I look up at the stars and the heavens I think of Celia, young and idealistic, looking up at the same night sky, and I hope and pray that her spun silver courage, her sense of adventure, her belief in what is right, reaches into and lives in me.

In loving memory,

Clare

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Second Birthday to Phantom Noise in Ordinary Time!

Two years ago yesterday I penned the first essay here. I remember it was Bastille Day, and I wrote in my post, titled Day 1, about what had happened in Cannes – the terrible attack of a truck plowing into crowds of celebrants. I didn’t know until later that a friend of mine was there, pregnant with her first baby. Thankfully, she and her family were not at that locale. And, today the French won the World Cup. I am not sure how that connects but somehow I believe it does.

I reread that post this morning and the one from last year marking the first year. What is different, I wonder? I sense in myself a more somber feeling. I think the last 18 months have been wearying, downright crazy more often than not.

I still hold to the sentiments I wrote on the first year anniversary. I have loved every minute of writing this blog and hope that I, and it, will continue to grow. So many essays in my drafts folder, never enough time. It’s been a joy, and once again I am deeply grateful to those who come and read it.

I started the blog as a way to connect with my family – who are gone. There’s no “remember when…” family member around, so this is my way of sharing memories with them. I would like to imagine that my writing, traveling through the ether, is a delivery system for my message. Most of all, I began this endeavor because of my father who was the last to pass away. He always encouraged and supported me, and believed in me when I did not. He showed me how to be strong and courageous, loyal and true. I can only hope that I might come close to the example he set. So, in the overall, this…all this…is a love letter to my father.

Thank you Dad – I don’t know what you would make of this world gone mad, but I know it wouldn’t shake your core value system one bit. You would carry on. Not just carry on, but live in love, live inside your heart.

My hope is that we are kind, gentle and understanding with each other – even when it appears to be impossibly difficult. Perhaps it is the only, or best, stratagem while we wait for the world to come to its senses. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clare Irwin