• Memories of Uncle John

    Photo below: John’s truck, Tina, me, and Steve. My dad is in the cab.


    Fishing with John and time at the lake with the Wyatts were summer highlights. John was our gateway to the outdoors and he was incredibly patient when on the water.



  • Reflections on my Uncle John’s death

    11880659_1473648829621701_2708138845766188997_nUncle John died from a heart attack on Friday August 7th, following years of sickness and physical disability that was caused by injuries sustained during combat, while serving in the Vietnam war. John was injured from direct fire to his swift boat patrol and from Agent Orange poisoning.

    Recognized for his service, John was awarded the Vietnam Service Medal with one Silver Star and two Bronze Stars, the Meritorious Unit Commendation Ribbon, the Navy Unit Commendation Ribbon, the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal with 1960 device, and the Purple Heart.

    John’s symptoms, pain, and struggles were life consuming, requiring full time care from his wife (and my aunt), Janice. Janice is my mom’s sister. John and Janice were married for over 40 years. Their two children, Tina and Jason, were like siblings to me growing up. Janice is like a second mom.

    More than a few years ago, my aunt and uncle moved from Spokane to Phoenix. They did this for medical reasons (John’s condition benefited from the drier and hotter climate) and John received intensive care – across a wide spectrum of injuries. John also led a vibrant life, which included hobbies, crafts, travel, schooling and professional work. His life centred on loyalty and commitment to country, faith, and family.

    Growing up in Cheney, my family lived about 30 minutes from John and Janice’s family (in Spokane). Janice, John, Tina, and Jason were around for almost every holiday, throughout much of the summer, and whenever there was something special going on. This was a wonderful part of growing up. Even then I knew how special it was to have extended family so close.

    John was the uncle who welded, fished, drove a truck, and made radio controlled airplanes. Growing up he was an important person in my life and family. But it wasn’t until my step father Dean was sick, and eventually died, from Agent Orange poisoning, that I could really understand John as an adult.

    During Dean’s worst years of illness, John and Janice both understood what my mom and Dean were going through. Dean and John had an immediate bond, going back to when he and my mom first met, that I did not understand until I came to understand how much Dean’s Vietnam experience had shaped him.

    Vietnam was in the background for me, but not for Dean and John. For them is was both formative and immediately present. For everyone directly impacted by the war it continued in their injuries, in the experiences of PTSD, and in powerful memory. It was not until after Dean’s death that I could see John’s life for what it was, or least begin to. Part of John was informed by his youthful engagement in a war. But he was much more than this too. He recovered out of strength and he thrived because of this.

    While I came to see more of how Vietnam could inform how I could know John, I first knew him as a child who was naive to the meaning of war. As a child, John was formative very much in the sense that he embodied a form of masculinity not otherwise part of my childhood; rough, direct, strong, and crafty. These qualities stood in contrast to the cerebral upbringing and progressive culture of my childhood home.

    As a teenager I rejected John’s politics and much of his culture, which in retrospect was closed minded. Later, as a young adult and just past my teens, I witnessed one of the most powerful displays of public love for a child that I had seen before. My cousin was facing a crisis and John’s display of dedicated love for her was incredibly powerful, which marks the point at which I became capable of seeing complexity in John. My mind and heart opened, beginning the process of coming to know John as a man worthy of admiration and respect.

    I go back to the memory of this display often, marking another formative point in my relationship with John. I still strongly visualize his deeply expressed love for family, concern and hope profoundly demonstrated in the briefest gesture of love for his daughter. Later, as I came to know Dean and as Dean and John came to know each other, the final transformation of recognizing John for the complex person he was started within me.

    Part of this complexity of understanding stems from the place of the Vietnam in my family history and in the history of the world. I am confused by how to hold two conflicting worldviews of war at once, in both particular and general terms. One worldview holds a war between a super power based in North America and a colonized and underdeveloped country in Southeast Asia to be remarkably unjust. Another viewpoint recognizes young men as doing what they believed to right and just.

    Within the viewpoint of war as unjust, the victims of war include people of both sides of conflict. In the instance of Vietnam, the victims are both young American soldiers who were either told (those who were drafted) or asked (those who volunteered) and those lived in the war zone (the Vietnamese people).

    Powerful people used other people for geopolitical and economic gain. The land was destroyed by herbicide and other forms of devastating warfare. A civilian population was starved out, forcing a migration to the cities. There control was more assured, at the cost of a poisoned land. This hurt both American and Vietnamese alike.

    Beyond herbicidal poisoning, young American soldiers were traumatized, in a war unique in the directness and duration of near constant battle, based on a ridiculous and ill-informed military strategy. Notably, much of this strategy was shaped for domestic politics or geopolitical interests that had almost nothing to do with the land or people of Vietnam.

    The other worldview holds the soldiers in the war as dutiful and brave, people who responded to their community’s call for defence with courage and dedication. In this worldview, part of the pain experienced by the American soldiers was coming home to divided and conflicted home that could not make sense of, nor accept the state of, the war.

    Kids were sent to a war that was rejected by the popular culture, and left to return to nothing but confusion. In this worldview, the returning soldiers are not so much victims, but are heroes. But how can there be heroes in a war that should not have happened?

    The worldview that recognizes the soldiers of one’s own country as heroes provides comfort, meaning, and recognition for those who dutifully serve in the military. But it also asks you to take the side of your country, rather than to side with your God, on the great moral matter of the justness of war. I cannot do this, as I believe that the justness of war cannot come from human authority.

    Only a war of absolute defence can be justified, and by absolute defence I mean that all other possible alternatives have failed. The rejection of totalitarian tyranny, defeat of genocide or oppressive domination, requires more than state-to-state conflict, as the best defence is the culture of law-based (and institution empowered) human rights and dignity for all. This requires both powers of proactive opposition and noncompliant resistance to the forces of domination and dehumanization. As a Christian, I believe that I am called to oppose unjust war. But I am also called to love all those damaged by war.

    Brave and courageous people who make sacrifices for what they believe to be right should be recognized as such. But this does not mean that we should turn a blind eye to the critical reality of war and imperialism. On Friday, I lost another family member to callous indifference to human life. My Uncle, like my step father, paid a heavy price that was borne heavily by their wives and children. John’s early death, and all the suffering he and Janice endured, reflects John’s courage and dedication to country and family, and to his God. He was remarkable in these senses, just as were all whom were either destroyed or damaged by that war.

    A few days before Dean died I reflected on the meaning of Vietnam for my generation. I was born just as the war ended. But it has continued throughout my life. PTSD, Agent Orange poisoning, generational division and misunderstanding, and the neglect of a nation to those who served, are some of the painful legacies of the war. I grew up in the shadow of the war, which still looms large today as we prepare to bury my Uncle John.

  • Ireland and London

    Jeanne Smith and Mary Waters in EnglandToo many highlights to list them all. So here are the bests: Visiting Mary and Alan, plays and concerts in Galway, Dublin, and London, and the people and general vibe of Ireland. I managed to go to the Globe, my third time and the first time I’ve seen play by Shakespeare there (Measure for Measure). As before, truly wonderful performance and I think it may be my favourite of the plays that I’ve attended from the period. We also went to the Abby Theatre (Shadow of Gunman), another powerful play.

    After Ireland, my mom and I drove up with a truckload of food and other essentials. Once we reached the Skeena I was reminded of how much I want to explore the mainland from Terrace north. This was a major draw, one of the reasons we’re in Queen Charlottee and Haida Gwaii. Can’t wait to figure out how Ron and I can start exploring the region.

  • New truck

    Tom Kertes's new truck

    Summer has started with bang. I flew down to Vancouver last week and bought a new (well, used but new for us) truck. Got to spend time with Wendy and see Vedant and his family (including new baby sister!). Had good visits with SFU classmates too, including Jesse, Dave, and Chelse.

    Will visit my dad for a few days, see Norma and Kim, and then head off to Ireland with my mom. When back from Ireland, we’ll (my mom and I) drive the truck home, bringing up a truckload of bulk foods for the year.

  • End of the school year

    Queen Charlotte, BC, Tom KertesWe moved into a district house starting on May 1 (we kept both places for a month, allowing lots of time to make the the move). Ron wanted to stay in the cabin longer, especially since it was just his first month in “temp” land. But I had enough of being away from my things, so we compromised and moved in sooner, then shifted between places for the last couple of weeks of May.

    Even though the commute reached up to over hour each way, I’ve really enjoyed being at home, with my own furniture and all my things. On June 1, we were fully in place.

    I love the new place. It’s just a bit bigger than our place in Vancouver, but has a better layout. The living room is sunny, with a big window looking out over the front yard. I missed light at our place in Marpole, and super appreciate it now.

    We’re across from the thrift store, so there is a lot of traffic. But the goings on are interesting, with lots of people dropping and picking things up (presumably the off hours pick up are unauthorized). We managed to fit all of kitchen gear, including the extra counter space and the island. And by moving the fridge into the utility room, the house is more or less devoid of the annoying hum of appliances. (A caveat: There is no ventilation, so we must use a dehumidifier a few hours each day. Annoying but essential.)

    The end of the school year started with a week at Camp Moresby. An incredible experience. The people behind the camp share such passion for life and learning, providing caring leadership development and making it a truly remarkable part of the educational landscape of the islands. I am deeply impressed by the teaching and learning, got to know my students so much better, and learned much. I also met a number of other teachers and role models in the community. A highlight of the halfyear.

    Other highlights: I have another short term contract, this time teaching grades 1-2 in Skidegate through December. I am looking forward to focusing on early reading, even though I want to keep working with intermediate students as soon as I can. The end of year celebrations were inspiring. Finally, I doubt I will ever forget my first class as a public school teacher. We learned a lot together and I deeply appreciate how the students engaged in ideas and community building with me and the others. I can’t wait for many years to come!

  • Another brief update

    Lawn Hill, Haida Gwaii, Tom KertesLife is on the move and it’s hard to keep up with things. Ron moved up at the start of this month. We are staying in vacation rental in Lawn Hill. This means my commute is now about 45 minutes each day.

    Having a home with Ron is great, it’s wonderful to be back together again. Now I just want our home to be long-term and to have things more or less settled. Best things about our place: Walks on the beach, sounds of the ocean, being together, and starting out in a new community. Worst things: Drive to work and wondering where we’ll end up.

    School continues to be wonderful. I decided in March to stick with any and all routines, regardless if I think of something better or the system fails. It’s good to be settled and I think the students appreciate this as much as I do. We’re focusing more on the powerful stuff, like effective and compelling writing across genres, reflective and critical reading, and interesting subject area content.

    We’ve also spent a fare amount of time on group dynamics and leadership. I enjoy working at this level, moving beyond foundational skills to more complex ideas. I still have lots to learn with the students, especially in mathematics. Teaching is learning.

    Not too much more to report, especially since life is focused on endless small details and everchanging plans – once something is figured out the next task is before us. Bottom line: So far, so good. I’ll keep everyone posted in the months to come.

  • Settling into our new home

    Ron arrived on Tuesday and we unpacked our freight into storage. We also moved from the Richardson Ranch to Ron’s (another Ron) place in Lawnhill. We’ll be here for at least two months.

    With (my) Ron finally in Haida Gwaii and us together again (three months apart, not counting my time in the UK before I moved) I finally found the focus to catch up on Internet stuff. (Plus having Internet at home helps.)

    A three month hiatus from Facebook and Twitter is long enough to want to stay away longer. So I have converted FB to a launch pad for Messenger and Twitter to a landing spot to direct friends and family to this blog.

    Friends and family can still reach me this way (via the blog, not FB) but I won’t (hopefully) be tempted back into the rabbit’s hole of social media. I plan to post updates here and to update Twitter with links to new posts. This should help us stay in touch.

    Better yet, I have a phone now and there is cell service at our current house. I’ve been calling friends since the move, and will keep calling until we’re caught up. Feel free to call me too!

    The new number is (250) 922-4808. I can call the United States without extra charge, so if you are in the States just send me a text or an email and I’ll call you back when I can.

    Finally, I am using this “refresh” as a chance to slim back on email clutter. To do this, I am shutting down my old email addresses and switching to a new address. The new address is: curtis@curtiskertes.ca.

    Hope to talk soon! (And yes, I will post pictures soon as well…)