Saturday, December 15, 2007

Thinking of Our John During the Holiday Season


Dear friends and family,

I know that this is a special "family" time of year for most of you. Obviously our family is entering this holiday with a variety of emotions and of course with an enormously felt presence of the void that John has left. We are all managing in our own unique ways to enter and make our way through the grief process and of course there is no specific time chart for that. With such a family-oriented holiday our grief involves hours and hours of reminiscing of our personal experiences with John during the Christmas season.

Memories are interesting- they can be so painful because they can feel so real. Yet they are so needed in dealing with the pain of loss that we feel in our hearts when when we lose someone we love. Memories are also needed to make us feel close when we need to, and hold a particular space in our lives for all of what made the person so special.

Many of you know that John loved Christmas. Of course he did- it matched that playful and curious temperment he had, that excitement for life! And, for John any holiday that involved people, music and his spiritual world was extra special. The celebration of Christmas was also another excuse for collecting, and for parties, and having guests over and for outings and shopping, and visiting with family and eating ...

The year John and I married we held an open house in December to celebrate our wedding. A good friend presented us with one of the traditional "Charles Dickens" homes that light up. We loved it. It was so charming. We didn't have one of those items among our numerous Christmas decorations. So, off we went to find a few more. I think that year we may have purchased three or four of them, and proceeded to set them up on top of our larger grand piano. John loved it- He loved playing along on his piano, with the lights dimmed, inspecting the charming miniature lit houses and the people that we also purchased walking among them.

The next year I noticed while we were setting up for Christmas at our home that the number of Dickens' homes appeared to have grown. We soon had a charming little village, with bridges, and horses and carriages and people and dogs and lanterns and other accessories. Again, it was good fun to pile fake snow on the grand piano and build even a small hill or two. And, it was delightful to play carols and view our warm and cheerful little town.




Following the first couple of years I had trouble fitting them on top of our 7'4" piano (you can see where I"m going with this). The piano surely wasn't getting any smaller, but it appeared to me that our village was growing into a larger town with a countryside, and trees and more bridges, and horses and carriages and Victorian homes, shops, schools, churches and police stations and skating ponds and.....

So, we accomodated by building a mountain down the side of the piano to the piano bench and on to the floor.....One time we even built a town inside a fire place that lit up beautifully with hills and bridges and the like. And, we managed to once fill two complete book cases in our family room with houses, and churches and schools etc ...

So, here we are, 17 years later....By last year we were still building it upon one of our grand pianos...but the piano couldn't be played any more. You see, you couldn't see the keyboard. Actually, you couldn't see the piano- not the top of it, nor the legs, nor the bench....However, what you could see was a huge mound of fake snow, with a Victorian city of houses, shops, churches and schools, and bridges and skating ponds, and carriage sheds, and train stations and trees, and lots and lots of people travelling along cobblestone roads and pathways, and even animals and miniature lights along pathways.....

By the time we reached this stage, it would take John and I a week to put it together. We would assemble it in November and leave it up until March. It became a real treat for all visitors to our home to see- my staff at yearly Christmas dinners and for the children and grand-children, or anyone 's children to see...
It was really something- charming, full of wonder and magic, and was very detailed and methodically set out...

And, John loved it- so much so. He would go into his special room at night and just sit there with it and admire all the miniature folk and the city that he had created. It gave him (and many others) hours of pleasure. Every retail store that sold those Dicken's items in Toronto knew John. And, he soon came to ordering items in, always needing to add the most recent edition to our collection. He also purchased them throughout the year and would attempt to mask his delight as he unwrapped what I would suspect was a new home or city shop that I hadn't recalled seeing the previous year. "No," John would exclaim,..."I think we had that last year!"...

One day when I came home after work John was waiting for me and asked me to go directly upstairs with him to see the Dickens collection again. I followed him up. I couldn't believe my eyes and ears..He had three choir girls standing behind his Dicken's scene, holding candles and who appeared to be singing...in harmony, a cappella, Christmas carols...It was beautiful and unbelievable at the same time. The music and choir girls really set the tone...

So, you get the picture- another one of John's charms and hobbies. We all loved it. And, although I have a Christmas tree up and lights on the house this year, and decorations around, I have not been able to bring myself to installing our Dickens collection this Christmas...The feelings of grief are just too fresh for me....And, somehow it doesn't feel quite right.

But, I wanted to share this special memory that the family and I have. John's children, grandchildren and friends and I will have our memories and lots of laughs and stories to share on this experience. Our Dicken's collection was one of those charming things that appeared to become larger over time once John got involved...resulting in something even more special.

Our family and I again thank you for your tributes, sharing of memories and donations. I'm still working my way through thank you notes. Please know that we are aware that so many of you also loved him and we have that in common. We feel priviledged to have had a husband, father and grandfather who was so much loved, and who really did make such a huge difference in our world...
As Louise Pitre said in her eulogy, "Heaven just got a huge boost in its music department"....And as a result our world has been left a huge void. But, we look forward to what John will most likely be creating for us in a different way now, and I still feel that we will always, in our lifetimes, be touched by such a remarkable man..

Thank you for checking in. I wish you peace, contentment and happiness during this holiday season as you move forward. We must find ways to make it special and to enjoy it, just like John taught us to do.

With Love,

Mary Jane

25 comments:

ragtime said...

Hi Mary Jane,
I corresponded with you briefly last fall and never finished telling you my connection with John. I was introduced to John by his friend Harold Parsons at the Windsor Arms in the early 80s. I played the "Happy Cat Rag" that night and he agreed to take me on as a student. I drove from Kingston to Toronto regularly for about two years, joined the Ragtime Society and even taped some lessons so I wouldn't forget what he was showing me!
I continue to play and am still influenced by those early lessons and several concert appearances that I saw him at. I'll never forget his interpretation of Nightingale Rag or Bohemia or St. Louis Blues. He had a fantastic talent and was generous with his time to younger ragtimers like me. I thought you should know. Sincerely, Ross MacLachlan (The Ragtime Kidd)

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Ben Burnett said...

Hi....not sure if you still check this but...I just was trolling the net and saw the the name John Arpin. My wife and I used to own a cafe in Markdale called Sidekicks, we sold in 2005. John was a regular for breakfast and was just as you describe, My wife and I, and the servers all liked John and I used to tease him about the bacon he would always get "to go" for the dogs. I chatted with him many times in the 6 years we had the cafe.....he always smiled....I also remember the plate on the car as well, "88 keys". So sorry to learn of his passing, my wife and I moved to Cape Breton after selling the cafe so we lost touch with the Markdale area somewhat.
Again, our condolances to you and your children.

Ben and Linda Burnett

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