The Mystery Of Hannah Whitston

A couple of years ago, I discovered my grandfather’s WWI journal, which he wrote in from the day he left home in November 1916 until the day he arrived back in May 1919. I wrote a day-by-day blog publishing his journal, which was a wonderful exercise in family history.

During his time in Europe, he took leave in Dublin a couple of times, and appears to have struck up a friendship (or maybe more) with a woman named Hannah, and referred several times while he was in Dublin to visiting Pembroke Cottages for evenings of dancing. I looked up the address entries in the back of his diary and found a page that is almost certainly Hannah’s address at the time, based on various references:

Misses K. & H. Whitston
29 Pembroke Cottages
Donnybrook, Dublin

He wrote about her often in his diary, apparently they traded letters quite regularly, and one entry noted that it was her 22nd birthday on April 6, 1919, which means that she was born in 1897.

So here’s what I have about Hannah Whitston:

  • Born April 6, 1897 (probably in/near Dublin) – may have been 1896, as per census records (see comments below).
  • Had a sister (probably, although could have been a cousin), first initial K.
  • As of 1919, living with her sister at 29 Pembroke Cottages, Donnybrook area in Dublin.

I would love to find out more about Hannah, especially if there are any journals or letters that she may have written or received mentioning my grandfather, Frank Kemsley.

Anyone have any ideas?

Dinner at Tutti Matti

The finished product: baby tomatoes cooked with garlic and basil, served with ricotta

A few weeks ago, Chef Alida Solomon from Tutti Matti gave a cooking demo at our local St. Andrew’s Market, where she cooked baby heirloom tomatoes with garlic, olive oil, salt and fresh basil to make a delicious sauce for pasta. The fates conspired against getting a large pot of water to the boil that day at the market and we weren’t able to enjoy it on pasta, but she served it in small cups with a dollop of ricotta mixed with fresh herbs. Since then, I’ve recreated her recipe at home with delicious results: very easy, and very reliant on the tastes of the fresh ingredients.

I haven’t been in Tutti Matti for a long time, probably since just after it first opened, and her demo reminded me of a great Tuscan restaurant in the neighbourhood with which I should become reacquainted. Luckily, my sister Betty and friend Pat read my blog, and decided to take me there for a pre-birthday dinner last night. It wasn’t at all busy on a Saturday night at 7pm; it did pick up by the time that we left, and I think that they draw a bigger crowd during the week from all the office around there.

The food was divine: we started with their speciality appetizer of the evening, “prosciutto four ways”: the classic prosciutto-wrapped melon, prosciutto wrapped around figs and then grilled, the same treatment for peaches, and a fourth way that completely escapes me right now because the grilled prosciutto-wrapped peaches were so freaking good that I was completely transported to another dimension. This would be so easy to do at home: firm, largish pieces of freestone peaches, probably almost a quarter peach, wrapped in prosciutto then grilled until it starts to crisp on the outside, which means that the peach is starting to caramelize a bit inside. We also shared the carpaccio affumicato, which paired smoked duck and smoked venison each with complementary garnishes: orange and pecorino for the duck, and figs, pine nuts and arugula for the venison. The third appetizer, which I know that we ordered from the menu but is not on the version on their website, was thinly sliced roasted pork with a tuna sauce, which sounds a bit weird but was incredible: the sauce had sufficient acidity to perfectly offset the sweetness of the pork.

For the mains, Betty and Pat both had the pasta special, a lobster ravioli with fresh peas; I tried a taste, and it was lovely. All their pastas are made in-house, and the quality really shows. I had the pappardelle con stracotto, which is wide, hand-cut noodles with pulled brisket, cherry tomatoes, garlic and fresh herbs. The flavour was wonderfully rich and complex, the perfect meal for the cool evening that we were having. I’ve had pappardelle with cinghiale (wild boar) in Italy, a very typical Tuscan dish, and this was reminiscent of that in all the right ways; I notice that she has tagliatelle con cinghiale on the lunch menu, which definitely motivates me to head over there for a long lunch some day. We accompanied this with a nice – and nicely priced – Chianti Classico Reservi.

We had skipped the secondi (meat or fish course) in order to save room for dessert; for that, we shared a selection of biscotti (including seriously decadent dark chocolate cookies) and a cheese plate, washed down with vin santo. All excellent.

The service was perfect: our main server was there when we needed him, offered friendly advice when asked, kept the water glasses full and generally seemed to enjoy talking to us. Chef Alida came by near the end of our meal and chatted; I know her from the market, although this didn’t seem to be special treatment for us: she was checking in at most tables to make sure that everyone was enjoying their evening. We were not rushed at all, and spent a leisurely 3 hours or so at dinner.

Open for dinner every day except Sunday, and open for lunch on weekdays. Although their website doesn’t mention it (so you should call to check before showing up with bottle in hand), BringMyWine states that they allow BYOW Monday-Thursday for a $30/bottle corkage – pricey, but worth it if you have an expensive bottle at home that you want to have with your meal.

Lest we forget

Dad on paradeToday, my father — a World War II veteran who turned 84 two days ago — will march in his small town’s Remembrance Day parade. His knees are too bad these days to do the entire parade, but he’ll march from the church service to the cenotaph for the wreath-laying ceremony.

Joining the Canadian Navy at 17 during wartime, he was on Corvettes doing convoy escort duty in the North Atlantic, landed troops in Normandy during the invasion, circumnavigated Africa to enter the Mediterranean via the Suez Canal, landed troops in Sicily for that invasion, and covered a lot of other territory during his time in uniform.

At 11am, if you don’t have your own veteran to think about, think of him on parade, his medals proudly displayed, his knees undoubtedly hurting in the chilly air, and his thoughts likely on those who fell beside him.

Wii Therapy

A couple of weeks ago, we attended b5media‘s party to celebrate their new office space, and I found that the foozball tables of pre-boom tech offices have been replaced by a higher-tech equivalent: the Wii. I scored the high bowling score that night, in spite of having only bowled once in real life in the past 20 years, and everyone found the Wii to be a huge amount of fun. In case you’ve been living under a rock lately, the Wii is so popular because you play the games as if you were playing the real-life version: you bowl imaginary balls and swing imaginary an tennis or golf club with the “Wii-mote” in your hand.

We decided that a Wii would make a great gift for my parents as both a good party game and a bit of light exercise, and after much searching around we found one at Wal-Mart and installed it at our place so that we could make sure that everything worked properly and check via our wireless connection for upgrades. Oh yeah, and so we could become pros at all the games.

This past weekend, we took the Wii to my parent’s place and installed it, and had some fun with the games; as predicted, bowling was the big hit, although there were a few others that were popular as well. Dad has a bad shoulder with quite limited movement, and he had to beg off a few games, but I think that there’s been an overall beneficial effect, based on an email from my mom last night:

I think you have found the solution to your dad’s shoulder.  He went to the [physio]therapist today and she was pleased and said there was more movement in the shoulder.  He told what he had been doing, bowling, and she thought the game was so much fun and thought that maybe that was the answer…Will see what a daily round of these games will do for him by month’s end.

Now I just need to figure out how to have the Wii covered by OHIP.

Pioneer days in the county

Just finished a long weekend here (yesterday was a holiday and we took Friday off) at my parents’ cottage in Prince Edward County. We always have a list of jobs to do when we go down there for the weekend; this weekend it included:

  • Installing the Wii and teaching them how to use it
  • Getting the new GPS out of the package and into their car
  • Lowering the docks to match the dropping water levels
  • Finishing a new flagpole, which looked more like a scene from Pioneer Village:

The end result, however, was pretty satisfactory, with the Union Jack (British flag), the Maple Leaf (Canadian flag) and the White Ensign (Canadian Navy flag) flying at the end of it all:

End of an era

I’ve been reading lately about the last of the Canadian WWI soldiers; men now in their 100’s, but who never saw battle since they were underage so either never shipped overseas or kept far from harm’s way. Soon, we’re going to start seeing the same phenomenon for the WWII soldiers, except for me, that’s a bit more personal, since my dad signed up in the Canadian navy in 1942 at the age of 17 and spend the next few years on active duty, as a gunner in Corvettes escorting convoys across the North Atlantic, then taking troops into both the Normandy and Sicily invasions.

He was in the Combined Operations group within the navy, and for years has been going to reunions of his group members in the context of larger RCNA meetings. This year, with both he and my mom now in their 80’s, they drove from their home in Picton to Digby, Nova Scotia for the reunion. Before they even arrived, I think that he knew it was the end. Too many familiar faces no longer appearing at the meetings, either passed on or just too old or unwell to travel. This time, they had only a handful attend, and they voted to call it quits. My dad will still attend the RCNA meetings as a member-at-large, but the Combined Operations group just doesn’t have the critical mass to continue.

My dad went through various positions with the group during the last 20 years or so of reunions: secretary, and several stints as president. Early on, he needed to keep a list of members and generate mailing labels, and I set up a spreadsheet (and later an Access database) and did this for him. He’s not that computer savvy, so it was easiest for me to just get the updates from him and send him a new list and a set of mailing labels when he needed it. From a peak of almost 300 members, it’s dropped below 100 remaining on the list (including widows of members), and it was sad doing what will undoubtedly be the last set of edits on this file. He had a few updates (and lots of deletions) after last month’s meeting, but wants to send out one last newsletter to everyone who’s left to let them know that the club is turning in its charter and shutting down.

He put a note in with the marked-up list that he sent a few days ago, finishing with:

It has been great of you to do this for so many years but this should be the last — the last of an era and the last of our club. Thanks again from all.

It has been my honour and pleasure to serve the veterans of this country.

Where have all the t-shirts gone?

Back in the good old days, you couldn’t turn around at a tech conference without being handed a t-shirt with a logo on it. In the past few years, however, t-shirts have gone out of style as conference schwag, to be replaced with USB flash drives, coffee mugs, and this year’s favourite, notebooks of various sizes (I’ve been given at least six different notebooks this year so far). For the occasional times when I use a notebook rather than my laptop, these are great, but it will take me years to work my way through all of them.

The bigger problem, however, is the lack of t-shirts: if I don’t go home from a conference packing a man’s large t-shirt, I hear about it for days. This week will be especially bad, seeing as how I’m missing his birthday to be here. 🙁

It’s Catholic

When people ask me how I survived a week with my boyfriend, Damir, at his parents’ place in Croatia, when they don’t speak English and I don’t speak Croatian, I often tell the story of how Damir really sucks at translating. We were out walking one day in Osijek and came across a beautiful cathedral in the old part of town. Since both Orthodox and Catholic religions survived under the former Communist regime, I asked him whether this was Orthodox or Catholic. I thought that the area was predominantly Catholic, but the dome on the church was slightly onion-shaped, so I wasn’t sure. Damir didn’t know, but said that he’d ask his mother later.

At dinner that evening, I asked him to ask his mother; he turned to her and they engaged in a lengthy conversation in Croatian. Several minutes of (to me) unintelligible conversation went by. I examined my soup. I drank some wine. I smiled and nodded as if I understood. It sounded like he was getting the complete oral history of the cathedral, and I was looking forward to hearing some of it. At the end of it all, Damir turned to me and said “it’s Catholic”.

I pressed him later for a bit more detail, but he said that his mother was just off on a tangent, and the conversation wasn’t at all interesting. Besides, he found out my answer, so probably figured that he’d done his job here.

Fast forward to this past weekend, Thanksgiving with the family (12 adults, 2 kids, 4 dogs, 1 cottage). Sitting at the table with my mother and sisters preparing Thanksgiving dinner, one of my sisters asked my mom where they had found out about a clever little woodstove fan that they just bought. My mom launched into a long explanation of a trip that they had made to Vancouver, Salt Spring Island and Victoria, friends that they visited, the bed and breakfast that they stayed at, visiting my cousin, and so on for several minutes, until she eventually came to the point: they saw the same fan at the home of a friend who they were visiting out there.

Finally, I understood Damir and his “it’s Catholic” synopsis of the conversation.