August 10, 2010

Happy Birthday Galen Paul!

Youth Symphony Concertmaster Galen

Sixteen years ago today, I was lying in a recovery room in the Kootenay Lake District Hospital with my second son swaddled close to me in a receiving blanket, waiting for his dad to arrive.  At that time we were living in Cranbrook, but had been staying at Blue Lake children's camp way up a mountain road for the last few months with my husband, who was the camp's director.  As my due date grew nearer, I found myself concerned about being so far from the Cranbrook hospital, but neither did I want to be alone with my eldest son, Ian, only fifteen months old himself, when I went into labour. 

As it happened, my eldest sister Monica invited Ian and I for a two week stay with her in Nelson at the beginning of August.  I readily accepted, and although my baby was not due until the 24th of August, I secretly hoped to have him in Nelson in the hospital where I was born and surrounded by family.  I got my wish, and went into labour early in the morning of the 10th. I called my husband on his radio phone after breakfast to give him the news.

"You're in labour?  Really?  Are you sure?"  he asked.

"Yes, of course I'm sure.  I wouldn't call if it weren't happening."

"Okay.  I've got to get things organized before I can leave camp for a few days.  When do you think the baby will be born?,"

"How would I know a thing like that?" I laughed.

"Okay, okay.  I'll come as soon as I can.  Sh**."

"Don't worry, Monica is here for me.  Just get here when you can."

 My sister, a mother of four by that time, took me to the hospital emergency room and coached me through an extremely quick delivery.  My tiny blonde baby boy was six pounds, two ounces, with fine features.  "Keep him close to you," said the nurse, the mother of someone I went to high school with.  "He's a little cold."   

My husband arrived sometime in the afternoon and held his son.  "What should we name him?"

We took a while to decide.  Everyone at my sister's house wanted us to name the baby Jeremy.  My husband and I decided on two names to choose between:  Caleb Matthew or Galen Paul.  We chose Galen Paul. Perhaps we should have chosen Caleb Matthew - we failed to realize the name Galen might be shortened to 'Gay' years later by his persistent classmates, which it was. 

Galen remained tiny in stature, but plump in cheek, and I could carry him through the cold winter in a front carrier under one of my husband's coats.  By this time we had moved, with the help of my sister Clare to Kimberly, a little ski town that we had found ourselves escaping to at every opportunity when living in Cranbrook.  My husband had use of a company vehicle and the commute was an easy twenty minutes to work.  For a year and a half, the four of us lived in a small, but sweet rented house, in a beautiful little town with quaint shops and delicious cafes. The boys and I frequented the German bakery where we bought honey whole wheat donuts and deliously chewy fresh pretzels, and we (I) worked off the calories by walking down the long hill to the park and then back again, pushing a double stroller or pulling a sled, depending on the weather.  My husband could drive to the ski hill in five minutes and cross country ski by lamplight in the evenings.  He bought me a pair of skis, too and I found a pair of boots at the second hand store.  I was looking forward to the next winter when I could begin.  My husband was promoted at work, and we started looking at properties to buy.  We could almost afford one there.

Then he was transferred.  To Vancouver Island. 

The boys and I began to pack up the house and say our goodbyes to Kimberly.  We said goodbye to the Rocky mountains in the distance and to the hills closer to home.  We said goodbye to the shops and cafes, to the bakery and the park down the hill.  We also said goodbye to our many new friends. We didn't want to leave, but we had to follow the work where it was to take us.  And we were an adventurous young family at the time, restless for new experiences.

Galen loved the Island.  He loved the ocean, and on one of our first excursions on an absurdly warm day in January, he walked right into the water in his rain suit and rubber boots.  He loved watching the workings of the lumber mill across the Puntledge River where we walked almost daily, and scanning the water for seals, but the non profit organization my husband worked for lost their funding and closed the Island office.  We moved again to a lodge northwest of where we had been living, and stayed for five years.  It was the perfect setting for my growing boys, who by then had a little sister. Galen loved climbing:  trees - the higher the better, walls, the fish netting strung around the volleyball court that kept the ball from landing in the lake, and mountains.  When Galen was about seven years old he heard his friend Neil play the violin, and he decided he wanted to play the violin, too.  He began to take lessons with the gifted fourteen year old son of a local teacher, while he waited for a spot on her long list of students.

Then his dad got a new job on the mainland and we had to move again.  "When can I take violin lessons again? " asked Galen after several months in our new home. Galen is now on his fourth violin teacher and is down at the church, as I write this, practising a Hadyn song with a cellist and a pianist to play at a wedding this weekend.  He has not found all the transitions in his life easy - he is much like his mother in that way.  Looking at him now, tall, handsome and quite distinguished in his glasses, with a ready sense of humour and an equally ready disdain for foolishness, he is, for all intents and purposes a philosopher.  Life has given him cause to complain, but it has also given him so many gifts and talents on which to focus.  And I am very proud of him.


  1. Congrats to the kid. And well done to you for getting him here.
    As to him being a philosopher type, HA, what the dickins did you expect naming him Galen, talk about laying tracks. :D

  2. Lovely - he is clearly a son to be proud of. And sixteen! Wow - as I've said before, I can't imagine having kids that old!

    My Ed has been playing the cello for a year now at school and Martha will start the violin in September. I'm pleased that they're so enthusiastic at the moment - I hope their enthusiasm will continue.

  3. How sweet. Just today I was thinking that my cousins' boy is sixteen and I remember when he was born, and now my cousin and his wife only have him at home for two years or so and I started to panic because Sam is almost four and Cate is almost two and Jonah will be six in January and I wondered, in a brief moment of crystal clear insanity, if I ought to try for another so that it is not over so soon but then I remember that I have not bothered to teach an instrument to any of the one's I've got so perhaps I should focus....

    Congratulations to both you and the lad.

  4. Love resonates throughout your post!
    Happy Birthday, Galen.
    I like your name. :)

  5. Lovely post. Nice to hear some of the back story.

    Happy Birthday Galen.

  6. You have lived in some wonderful places, but moving can be hard. Congratulations on the birthday of your talented son. He is lucky to have an unusual name. I always tried to give my children unusual names - but sometimes they become more popular than you would like. When I named my daughter Jade, there were no other Jades, and now we know quite a few.

  7. Thanks for all the great comments!

    Vince: Galen is quite the handle, I agree, and I'm glad he can live up to the name somewhat.

    Kate: I hope your children will continue with the instruments. I love the cello! Galen and I did Suzuki violin with me accompanying him on the piano until the music got simply too difficult for me. We had a lot of fun (and a few tense moments, of course).

    Tracey: You are funny. Children do grow up so fast, so enjoy them! I had a fourth five years after the third, and I must say I've been very glad to have a little one around, though she is now going into grade 4. Ack! What am I going to do with my life now?

    Anita: thank-you! A lot of moms really like Galen's name, too bad his classmates could only make fun of it. Now his friends call him 'Len.

    Alistair: thanks ever so much. Glad you enjoyed my dragging out the past!

    Diane: Yes! Now it seems that unusual names are more common than usual ones, if that makes any sense at all!

  8. Ahhhh come now woman, if you were out on the street pregnant with him you would be arrested for carrying with intent.
    You have me wondering what glitter in the eye out in the middle of nowhere you displayed to get TWO Canadian boys into classical music.
    You nutter :).
    Ha, did you manage it with the girls, I bet you didn't.

  9. This was a great post!!! Thank you for sharing such a lovely story with us!

  10. Ha ha Vince: I only managed to get one boy into classical music (and he is really into it). I have written about Galen before as my violinist, but his brother, Ian is a jazz, alternative, rock guitarist, and doesn't think too much of classical except for maybe the more modern composers like Chopin and Satie. The girls? Well, they play classical and pop piano, but they listen to rather annoying electronic music for the most part. I like all kinds of music so I would say the glint in my eye that you mention is merely for music in general.
    I do believe that you are the first person ever to call me 'woman', but I think that is common in Ireland?

  11. Yes, it's one of those transfers from the Gaelic and you find it from Brittany to the Faroes. Ban is woman, an adult woman. And the title for a wife is Ban O'Brian = Mrs O'Brian. The mountain you see in my photos is Slieve-na-mon, the Mountain of the Women.
    Scots also use Hen in the same way as in 'Come now Hen'.

  12. happy (belated now) birthday to your talented son with the great name! Your family's early years living in beautiful rural places sounds like wonderful environments for your kids to grow up in. A recent possiblity of our family moving to Edmonton had me thinking of how much I appreciate it here and how much I'd miss BC. Your descriptions of the ocean and sledding to get around in small Kooteney towns have me pining to go exploring again. Lovely post.

  13. Hello Ellen: several people I know have moved to Edmonton recently. I was in Edmonton in July and am not quite sure I could live there very happily if I was always comparing it to BC, but then anyone can make a home where the work is, I suppose!


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