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COMMENTARY: The excavation of a life reveals some buried keepsakes

May I suggest that one of these days, if you’re like me when you are in your so-called senior years, you take some time to do a similar “clinical review” of the contents of the many dust-covered boxes that may be languishing in some of your cupboards. I hope that your review may also prove to be very rewarding.
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Consumer advocate Ralph Nader is interviewed by Dorothy Grant in the late 1980s at the CBC’s television station in Halifax.

By DOROTHY GRANT

Something really dramatic is happening to me these days. You see, after almost 60 years of marriage, we are now moving to a new residence located close to the Halifax Public Gardens.

In fact, this is the fourth time during our marriage that we have moved. But this move is the most daunting because it involves a “clinical-like” assessment of all of the numerous belongings we have accumulated over a lifetime together.

Not at all surprisingly, some of what I have “unearthed” has turned out to be really worth keeping, while other things, I recognize, should long ago have been placed in the garbage.

I'd like to share with you is some of my significant finds — those I suspect I’ll never be able to toss away.

A good example is a green scarf my husband wore when he attended a Boy Scout Jamboree at Valley Forge, Penn., in 1950. He was only 15 years old.

Then there is a pair of jewelled white gloves that I wore the day we were married and a small figurine that consists of a tiny bride and groom. It was featured on the top of our wedding cake.

Another find that did immediately bring back wonderful memories was a brochure entitled What is Stonehenge ? — a Guide for Young People.

We had bought it in June 1969 while on a trip to London, England, with our two sons. We were able to actually touch the façade of the Stone Age monument — I understand this is no longer permitted — and also have our pictures taken in front of it.

Also important for me was the discovery of a photograph of myself interviewing Ralph Nader — it was then taken at the CBC’s television station in Halifax in the late 1980s.

He is the renowned American political figure who fought hard for car safety reform and consumer rights in the United States.

He first came to prominence in 1965 with the publication of the bestselling book Unsafe at Any Speed, a critique of the safety record of American automobile manufacturers that became known as one of the most important journalistic pieces of the 20th century.

He had the reputation of being a man of impeccable morals, so I still chuckle when I recall “corrupting” him by convincing him to accept the chocolate chip cookies I had baked for him.

Not to be forgotten is a signed personal letter that came to me from Dr. Charles Best, the co-discoverer of insulin. I received it not long after a lead article I had written about this discovery was published in the Canadian Nurse magazine.

He had reviewed my article before it had been published, but in the letter I received from him, he only asked me to include the fact that he had married his wife, Margaret Mahon, in Toronto in 1924.

Something I have been especially pleased to recover during my “archeological” pursuits, was in a box I haven’t opened for a long time. It is a book entitled History of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Dalhousie University.

Inside the front cover it reads: "Dorothy from Robbie. Cheers."

This was Dr. Stuart Robinson, one of the book's authors and a most beloved physician who, no doubt, had delivered hundreds of babies. I have to admit that I had never spent much time reading the book until now.

It has revived memories relating to my student nursing school days at the Halifax Infirmary in the 1950s.

The book contains a chapter about obstetrics during the 1950s and 1960s. This took me back to era when "twilight sleep” had made its appearance because of the contention that women didn’t want to, or need to endure much pain during their labour. I had often found myself back in case rooms witnessing women receiving it. When this medical practice was in vogue, I can still vividly recall holding a mask over the face of a woman who it seemed was “knocked out” during the delivery of her baby.

And, even worse, because strong painkillers were also then often being used, I must admit that I sometimes gave heroin injections to women experiencing contractions.

I stumbled across other medical memories among my once abandoned book collection: a tome written by Dr. C.M. Harlow. It was known as A Doctor's Way to Health and Fitness and its author was best known for his outspoken views on preventive medicine.

After the Second World War, as a researcher and pathologist, Dr. Harlow had joined Camp Hill Hospital, where he had conducted a study on the relationship between heart disease and diet.

As a result of this study, he came up with the Great Nova Scotia Diet, which relied heavily on fish.

It attracted international publicity and resulted in him receiving the nickname "the fish doctor.”

On the back cover of this book I was delighted to read the following: "I have long admired Bud Harlow as a true exponent of the best of preventive medicine — his own extraordinary lifestyle sets a wonderful example for us all …. What a man!" — Dorothy Grant, Consumer Commentator.

I won’t be able to throw away these very special keepsakes that I have just written about.

But, of course, there will be a number of worthless things that will suffer an appropriate fate.

One of them — can you believe? — is a copy of a 1997 People magazine full of pictures of Princess Di’s funeral and, there are a number of old Valentine's cards that date back to my early grade-school years.

May I suggest that one of these days, if you’re like me when you are in your so-called senior years, you take some time to do a similar “clinical review” of the contents of the many dust-covered boxes that may be languishing in some of your cupboards.

I hope that your review may also prove to be very rewarding.

Dorothy Grant is a freelance writer in Halifax.

 



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