Archive for April, 2007

Road trip – the way home

April 30, 2007

Much to Franc’s disgust, I brought back more junk than I took up to Nelson. Lizbet’s church was having a garage sale on Saturday. If we helped put things in place, we could buy in advance of the crowd. I found a beautiful ceramic bowl and a one cup measure in the form of a cream jug with a rooster decoration. Very discrete, the rooster was. Lizbet found a rug in excellent condition which she needed to protect her newly finished floors.

I sorted out the books. Now there’s a dangerous thing to ask me to do, with my love of books. By the time I was finished, I had two tables full of books sorted mostly by size – paperbacks and hard cover – with a box or two of fashion magazines. The price was ridiculously low and I came home with two Atlases, one by Reader’s Digest, the other by the New York Times, some old text books on art and ceramics. Nonetheless, I needed two cardboard boxes to carry them all.

Lizbet knows my weakness for second hand and antique stores, garage sales and bazaars. She took me to Trail’s Sally Ann and down the street, a mostly furniture second hand store. I didn’t find anything in the first. In the second, there was a lot of new furniture in old styles made in Thailand, so most of it wasn’t too interesting. But the owner was unpacking some auction lots and I found some original silk screen prints that needed an art rescue. Franc grumbled and cursed under his breath as he was packing the car. After all, I was going to have to move soon. What was I doing accumulating more stuff.
“What do you need all this for? he snapped; but he knew better than to do more than that.

“I’ve learned that it’s her money and she can spend it where she wants.” he professed to Lizbet. Well spoken, I thought. After thirty years of our tempestuous relationship, he restrains his efforts to direct my every choice and guide my footsteps in his version of righteousness. Besides, he didn’t have an atlas, wanted one, and would be only be too happy to take one off my hands.

Car packed and ready, we drove away at seven thirty after a quick coffee. Knowing Franc’s driving history, I packed a pair of hard boiled eggs and a half bag of Hawkins’ cheezies. Franc doesn’t like to stop en route. We had a ten hour journey in front of us (if I was driving) that he could turn in to an eight hour one just because we didn’t stop. Add to that he believes that he was born to race the Formula One. There were stretches of road where his fear of authority was overridden by the vast number of trees standing guard instead of Royal Canadian Mounted Police. As a matter of principle, he always exceeded the speed limit by ten clicks an hour. Coming down mountain hills or racing past a loaded semi truck trailer, he could add another twenty, on occasion.

As we hit Paulson Pass just past the Trail connector, a fine hail rained upon the windshield with a hissing sound but it didn’t stay on the ground. As it lost force, the sky settled into a dull overcast cloud that did not quit us until Grand Forks. Here the willows were almost fluorescent yellow with the newly soaring sap. A steady wind stirred the branches. All the trees were sporting a tender new green.

Unlike the trip up, I was wide awake and our conversation flowed over the events of the past ten days, the successes in the domain of repair and renovation, the possibilities for the house, Lizbet’s and my excursions. The conversations was punctuated with Franc’s observations on the weather as the car’s digital reading of outside temperature vacillated from three to ten to fourteen to seven to seventeen to eleven Celsius as we drove up mountains and down and then into the Okanagan semi desert.

In Greenwood, we stopped at the bakery cafe. I bought a delicious and sinful cinnamon apple and pecan something aruther (how do you spell that?) and a virtuous whole grain loaf. Franc had a scone drizzled with icing. I just pecked at that sinful thing. We carried our coffees away and were back on the road within ten minutes.

“What happened to the philosophy you’ve been handing me lately that we are retired and there’s no need to hurry?” I asked. He grinned sheepishly as we pushed onwards at a speed that flirted the authorities. “That doesn’t apply to driving,” he said.

As we came down the steep slopes of Anarchist Mountain into the town of Osoyoos, we could see mountains across the valley still defined by the late spring snows. Camera at the ready, I snapped at the things through a rain spattered windshield that I would have liked to stop and photograph standing at the side of the road, or at least stopped, window rolled down. With some wheedling and cajoling, I convinced him that, if we were not going to stop for coffee in Osoyoos, we could at least stop at the first place that had an orchard fully in bloom so that I could take decent photos. We were just outside Cawston when we chose a good size roadside orchard. I know the limits of his patience and don’t take much time on these occasions. Luck was with me though. He had discovered a stand of dark coloured lilacs close by and had to go smell them. It gave me a full five minutes of clicking close ups of the blooms and distant shots down to the horizon of the orderly rows of apple trees.
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I returned to the car with my digital trophies.

Franc called to me “Bring the car up here” which I did. “You drive for a while now” he added which I also did. When he got in the car, he was carrying three or four branches of lilac. I only felt slightly guilty. There was a whole wall of them, a hundred feet of frontage. They would not be missed.

We drove past Keremeos with it’s fruit stands, past our friends’ trailer park because they were down with flu and didn’t want visitors. At Hedley, I made a forced stop and chose a cafe rather than the gas station. I’m a nuisance to cafe owners. I’m allergic to caffeine.

As the young waitress brewed a new pot of decaf, she chatted. I asked her about the mines and she confessed she did not know much about Hedley. “This is only my second season and I’ve only been here two weeks this time. I’m a Seasonal Worker” she proclaimed, as if it were a badge of honour. She was a Native girl in her early twenties with a lovely, friendly nature and a soft warm coloured skin. She had an air of self possession and contentment.
Franc who had urged me to hurry so we could get going, waited outside, claiming not to want another coffee. But just as my coffee was ready, he came in saying, “Is that my coffee?” and we waited while she then brewed a new pot of regular for him. As we waited, our conversation turned to weather. It had been hot all day in Hedley. It was twenty degrees now. “I like the heat,” she said. “It’s part of what I come for. It can get pretty hot in summer time with the heat accumulating in the rock face up back.”

The interior of the whole cafe was walled in pine set on a forty-five degree angle, with an overlay of huge jigsaw-cut geometric patterns between the two big windows. On three of the large wall surfaces there were murals depicting mining life, equipment and the surrounding countryside. Up above the bar, there were recent paintings of Hedley by a Penticton based artist. “All for sale,” the waitress assured me. I dared not bring home another piece of art work. These were being well cared for and did not need rescue.

Before we got in the car, we stopped to admire the bizarre garden just next door to the cafe. A lady was poking about in it, weeding and hoeing. We congratulated her on her creativity and admired her decidedly western-looking inukchuks – balancing stones.

Like the temperature, we had watched the gasoline prices vacillate as we passed from town to town. It was a dollar seven in the Kootenays, a dollar twelve in Grand Forks, Osoyoos and Hedley.

Now, as we drove along the Similkameen River, it was full with early spring run off. I had rarely seen it full to the top of the banks. There was little snow left on any of the peaks along our route. It seemed to all be here in the river. On the occasional time we spotted a snow load, high up, I attempted to get a picture. The twelve times digital was a boon on the camera as was the graphic image stabilizer, but nothing could correct the motion of Franc’s fast driving nor the winter’s crop of potholes in the road.

Gas in Princeton was one dollar eight, but we passed on by. Just west of Princeton, up the top of the first long hill, just past the Sandman hotel, Franc had reconsidered. Gas at one twenty four in the Lower Mainland was a ridiculous price. Coming up, it had been a dollar nineteen in Hope. We’d fill up here and have some left for when we got home.

As we were filling up, I noticed an Asian family with an energetic girl about ten years old. She was pulling her father to see something and I followed her gesturing to see a tiny herd of four deer grazing about 50 metres away. I got out of the car to stretch my legs and followed the family, taking pictures of the deer all the while.

Now wild life is a different matter. Franc can be convinced to take his time where animals, especially wild ones, are concerned. We lingered quite a while as we watched these graceful deer move about, grazing. When they showed us their four white bottoms and brown tails in unison and sauntered off as if the presentation was now over, we, too, turned and went back to the car.

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It’s a surprisingly long drive from Princeton to the East Gate of Manning park. Along this route, pine trees have been ravaged by the pine beetle. In an effort to control the spread of this damaging pest, huge stands of pine have been destroyed and rows and rows of very young fir trees have been planted in their place in neat rows. All snow was gone except on one stand of trees, high up. It was a curious that had snow on one side only of the fir trees, as if the snow had been applied by spray bomb.

It was on this stretch of road that we were stopped by the Accident Citizen Patrol. Two elderly gentlemen wearing fluorescent red with yellow cross vests guided a backlog of traffic past an eighteen wheeler that had beached on its side like a great whale. There wasn’t much more of the accident to see. It was impossible to tell if anyone had been hurt though the traffic moved slowly around the behemoth. It’s a perilous road for semi truck trailers.

A little river was raging beside an open stretch of road, undercutting the river banks. The brush beside and now in it, had turned red with sap, giving a warm relief from the ocher and tan monochrome of lately departed winter. We drove through Manning Park, passing heavily loaded transport trucks at a great rate. We were not here for the scenery. Rather, this was a great rally race and Franc had hopes of winning. At this elevation, the surroundings had lost the fresh white coat of winter, but the tender green of spring was yet to come. We were soon out of the park, destination Hope.

There is a lovely marshy area about thirty miles east of Hope called Sunshine Valley. On one side of the road, there is a broad, flat marshy lake; on the other, there are many ski cabins lining the highway. It looks quaint, but we’ve never stopped to explore. From this point onwards down to Hope, there were lots of freshly capped peaks to be seen.

Through a now bug-spattered windshield, I tried to take photos of these. Once, when I began to swear under my breath in words that should not be printed, Franc made a concession and slowed to ninety so that I could get a decent shot of a truly beautiful mountain top, but there were several, so in the end I just had to take lots of photos and hwy-3-433-small.jpg

weed them out later.

We barreled past Hope, along the base of these giant volcanic Coastal mountains, past little rushing waterfalls at the road side, past Herrling Island which always visually pleases me with its almost consistant stand of deciduous trees – entirely ash, it looks like. It takes on a soft look, as if it were a large green pillow a giant could rest his head on.

From Bridal Falls, to Agassiz, to Chilliwack, the mountains are gradually left behind. The Fraser Valley spreads out flat, in some of the best farmland in the nation. It’s become a fully sunny day. There are brilliant clouds lumbering across the sky like mighty cotton elephants. Large shadows follow them below, on the ground. Everything is green. Fields are planted and growing. Fruit trees have flowered and the petals all gone. Vegetation is in full leaf. Farm houses, out buildings, and silos spot the fields at good distances from each other. On the right side of the highway far in the distance, Vancouver’s coast mountains rise out of the sea, looking like pale blue cut outs against a slightly lighter sky, set off with a luscious spring leaf green. Clouds, so habituated to gathering before them and making their offering of rain, today are gathered behind them like a backdrop in a theater.

On the left, the south side of the highway, there are corrals and fences, plowed fields and planted, of strawberries, blueberries, Christmas trees, cereals, hops.

Bridal Falls, Chilliwack, Sumas, Abbotsford, Clearbrook, Matsqui, Aldergrove, Langley, Cloverdale, Surrey: the huge farm buildings for mushrooms, pigs, poultry and dairy appear; there are industries and warehouses; housing complexes, shopping centres, hotels, car, truck and RV dealerships; golf ranges, overpasses. We are on the freeway now. The exits have flown by and we are home to Franc’s place in a record seven and a half hours complete with two coffee stops. We’re back in civilization now.

On the streets of Surrey, the cherry trees are past their flowering. Azaleas compete with them for attention in fiery bloom. There are traffic signals with pre-greens, buses, lamp standards, telephone and electrical lines, signs on everything. Cars everywhere. We are home.

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Manners and renovations

April 29, 2007

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Lizbet was truly shocked.

We were sitting over breakfast, finishing off a nutty slice of Squirrely bread and jam, lingering over coffee when Franc picked up the empty jam jar, twisted his finger round inside it then licked his finger with a mischievous look in his eye.

Eeugh” Lizbet complained as she screwed up her face and looked a me, raising an eyebrow as if to say, “Is he always like this?”

His mischievousness increased with her signs of horror. He held out the jam pot to her wriggling, begging collie dog who was waiting eagerly for a tasty breakfast morsel. Franc looked back at Lizbet to see what her reaction would be. Lizbet was tensed, not knowing quite what to say or do. Sara, the collie, would not take without being given permission. Her muzzle quivered in anticipation. It smelled sweet and good and she continued to quiver, but the command didn’t come.

Don’t!” cried Lizbet. “Don’t you dare!” Franc laughed and pulled away the jam pot, out from under wriggling Sara’s nose.

Gotcha!” said Franc, and Lizbet settled down, mused a moment before saying,

Isn’t it funny how our manners have gone downhill since Mama’s gone.”

She admitted to me later that she had really enjoyed Franc this visit. She had discovered his sense of humour; had really appreciated the work that he had done to repair things and put her house in order.

Franc had come prepared to work. He’s not happy if he has nothing to do and he happens to love this beautiful heritage house that was built by the post master during the gold rush in 1896. It has great fir posts and beams, solid fir floors, Victorian decorations, a warm weather, open porch and the newly rebuilt enclosed sun porch. He’d laid the sun porch floor two years ago with reclaimed oak and he felt that the house was now part his.

The snows were heavy this year in the Kootenays. The heavy pack sliding off the sun porch roof packed weighty force carrying the eaves trough with it, shearing off the sturdy nails that held it. Franc removed the remaining bent and twisted aluminum trough and cut it down into manageable size for removal. He bought a new system, less likely to accumulate an icy weight, and installed it. He allowed me to hold his ladder while he drilled. I also got to climb perilously up three steps of a ladder to hold the other end of the eave in place while he fitted the two sections together and sealed them with silicone. Once the first two screws were drilled into place, I could go back to my raking up of last year’s leaves from the front yard grass.

Franc will do lots of repairs if he has a sympathetic fetch-and-carrier around to bring what he needs while on a ladder. It took him about two days to get the eaves up because, as he was working, it started to rain lightly, enough so that the silicone would not set.

That didn’t deter his restless spirit. He tackled the baseboards in two rooms that had none. Now that the fir floors in the three bedrooms had been bared and refinished by a contractor, it was worth completing the details in these rooms.

The house had been renovated in the ‘thirties or ‘forties covering the floors with a tar based linoleum and then again in the sixties, keeping up with the times, recovering the walls with wood paneling veneer in teak in the living room. In the hallway, vinyl board covered the walls above the wainscoting line and plastic laminate in mock wood pattern updated the fir paneling and plaster that had been there before. If this house was going to regain it’s earlier charm, there would be many decisions to make.

While we waited for the rain to go away and the sun to dry the eaves, we spent some time considering whether we could redo the wainscoting with the original fir paneling or whether we should gyproc the entire hall. The vinyl had to go. Franc pulled off a laminate panel and saw that it was faced with mahogany veneer! What if we just turned the ugly laminate around and varnished the back side of the panels. Was that a possibility? Just gyproc the upper reaches? That posed a problem of joining them together because the gyproc would stick out a half inch further than the laminate. When you changed one thing, it always resulted in needing to change another thing. So we had some fun discussions about what possibilities we had and what we were going to do with the house, whether to keep or to sell.

When the weather abated and the rain reduced to mere spitting, we went out into the garden and Franc dug over the rock garden. It must have been magnificent in its original state but it was overgrown with crab grass. We tackled two pools of dirt created by the rock formation. It was not easy to pry out the mass of grass root that clung between the rocks. When the mats of grass were liberated, there was virtually no soil left for plants and it was so low in the rock basin so we had to find some soil elsewhere on the property, back behind the row of fir trees where I had composted garden waste two years before.

With the addition of a bag of steer manure and leaf mold, we managed to fill back up the basins (not two square feet each in total) and I planted some white rock cress and some purple which I envisioned cascading over the rocks in spring time and flowering till mid summer.

The majority of hard work done, Franc left me to putter in the garden and to clean out more crab grass and dandelions. That left Franc free to haul away the accumulation of debris from the renovations – old carpeting from three rooms and vinyl flooring from two, useless strips of wood that had resulted form flooring repairs, cardboard, three old computer monitors, a broken sled, and on and on.

Lizbet’s next door neighbour lent him her chain saw so that he could cut down the deadwood from the acacia tree. He trimmed off the water shoots from the Lombardy poplar and properly finished off a four year old fir that had been damaged by the snow plow one winter day.

There’s always two year’s work in front of you, with a house” he said philosophically. “ It takes two years to finish the list of maintenance and repair and then you have to start all over again.” For a man who has never wanted to have a house, I noticed that he was particularly happy at the end of day to have accomplished so much and to reap the praise of his abilities.

Enough for today. There’s more to tell, but I’m off to join my painting group, so gotta go. I’ll catch up with some more tonight.

Super eight

April 26, 2007

There’s Heather in pigtails, shorts and a halter top scissoring up to the bar and gracefully leaping over it , falling onto an old mattress. Heather was good at high  jump. She was the only one of us children who was tall and thin.

There’s me waiting my turn dressed like Heather but smaller, pigtails flapping. Mom in a white swaying summer dress, and chubby Otto are on either end of the bar changing it’s height. Dad with his latest camera, a super eight movie camera, filming us. Lizbet is barely standing  tottering, arms akimbo for balance, lurching forward in baby steps. The picture looks like laughter.

At the bottom of the garden are our Victory gardens. We call them that even though the war is over. Each of has planted a variety of crops – peas, carrots, beets corn, potatoes, green and yellow long beans.

There is a competition at the school for the best garden and someone comes around to judge each child’s efforts for the best kept patch. There’s a competition, too , for the best vegetables. I remember that the soil was tan, sandy and fine. It needed to be watered, nutured.

Over on the west side of the garden was a long patch of raspberries, about thirty feet of them parallel to the fence. I could get behind them and pick. In season, you could find me there even if we were having raspberries for dinner.

To the left of our highjumping antics was a lovely rock garden. Mama often weeded there, glad of the peace and quite,  pulling grass, loosening soil, chasing the garter snakes and spiders off to do their work, tending plants that did not talk back, watching us as we played in the fenced yard.

Behind us was a small bed of California poppies and snap dragons. We used to take the caps of the budding flowers and suck on them; they were sweet. We would pinch the snap dragons and make them talk, growl, bite. They were dragons, after all.

It’s funny that I’ve only this one still picture of the home movie burned in my mind. The reel must still be around the house somewhere.

I must keep my eye out for it.

Knit one, purl one

April 24, 2007

Knit one, purl one, knit one, purl one. Granny’s mantra went round and round on four needles as she knitted up socks for Father, mittens for us, gloves for mom. Every evening there was stitching work.

Mother sat balancing on her knee a wooden egg thrust into an ailing sock. She settled it into the frail part of the heel to keep the shape. From a woven basket, she selcted some strands of mending wool, threaded it onto a tapestry needle. Then with careful stitches, she wove the yarn back and forth until the sock was whole again, scarred in the heel, but ready to march a thousand steps or more.

I can see the brass pole lamp, ridged in the upright, the scroll at the juncture of the outstretched arm that held the light and the lampshade. Light hovered over her lap as she worked. If it was not socks, it was mending – a hem, a seam, an alteration. Stitch, stitch, stitch, until we were sent to bed and then some. That was on Thirty Sixth Avenue.

I wore Heather’s clothes when she grew out of them. Lizbet wore them after I did. It was the way of things. Mother was from the Depression generation. Nothing was thrown out until it was rags and the rags were used for cleaning. There was no paper towel. It was yet to be imagined.

We moved when I was ten. Not far. It was just from Thirty Sixth to Twenty Fifth, though it placed us in another shopping district and all my friends were left behind.

We all ended up with our own rooms. Previously, we three girls had shared a room and Otto had his own. This was luxury.

It was an old home built by a doctor in 1913. Now that his children were in their nineties, it had become too much for them and it had to be sold. The house was solidly built but it had not been maintained. There was much to do both in simple maintenance like replacing the roof and painting; and in modernization, like tearing out the pantry and making a big kitchen. chucking the big black coal and wood cook stove, replacing the plumbing including the wastefully big claw footed bathtub (which father regretted when the new, water saving and efficient bathtub proved to be short for his long legs).

Mother and Father both dug in with a passion to renovate and make good the family home. But that’s another story for another day. Where I want to take you is into a small,  powder blue painted, glassed-in sun room tacked on the back of the house, surmounted by a balcony on the second floor, looking much like one of these glassed in, added on elevator shafts. 

The early evening sun of daylight savings illuminated the room. Both women, mother and daughter, sat with their handiwork. Gran was almost blind, cataracts blurring her vision. Still, she could knit by feel, her beautiful gnarled hands pulling a thin nubbly cream wool around clicking needles. When the hem to top was about ten inches long, Mother started to read out the pattern to Gran, thirty four cream, start pattern with two greens, ten cream, two greens, three creams, one green, ten cream; next row, thirty-three cream three greens, nine cream, three greens and on and on until, between them both they had created a  complicated mosaic of leaves that framed a series of three roses in a vertical column on the left shoulder of the sweater.

Where was Mary Cassatt to record this lovely interior scene in paint? Their dresses fell in lovely soft folds around them, Mom in a fuller fifties dress, Gran in her straight up and down style, more reminiscent of the twenties but with more sober patterning. Early evening light fell softly with long shadows.

http://www.nga.gov/collection/gallery/cassatt/cassatt-main1.html

While Gran stayed with us, she taught me to knit and crochet, to embroider, to sew. She had been a lady’s companion in England before she came out to Canada by boat to marry Grandpa William whom we never knew.

She had sat countless hours in her lifetime making tiny careful stitches, making  beautiful ladies’ clothes by hand before there were sewing machines, embellishing them with her deft hands, with bead work or embroidery. And here she was, our lovely Granny, passing on her skills.

In amongst oft repeated family tales, is Gran, hemming Mother’s one slip before she goes out to a party so that it will be just the right height and then re-hemming it next day so that it will fit her day to day clothes.

As I was sorting out Mother’s closet for thrift, Historical Society or gift to her friend, I found such a  slip, hand made of a lovely fine Egyptian cotton, with evidence of the ups and downs of fashion. Fickle fashion went up and down, but the slip endured with a fold two inches above the hem neatly finished in tiny even stitches that could answer to a changing wind of the times. The Historical Clothing Society lady drooled over this relic and will take and keep it for eternity.

One day as Mother was shopping, she saw a soft white cable stitch sweater  on a mannequin at Woodwards Department Store. She fell in love with it and couldn’t let it go. She hadn’t enough money for it  but bought it anyway, scrimping on other essentials, counting on stocks in the kitchen cupboard and fresh vegetables from the garden to make up the shortfall.

She had the sweater from the seventies and here it was , 2002. It had worn well and taken her fashionably many places until it was no longer fashionable and was her favourite, around-the-house sweater. Now thirty years later, she was still wearing it, to keep her warm in bed.

These last fifteen years, she had been unstable on her feet and she often leaned against counter tops and table tops to keep her self steady. The elbows of her sweater were getting thin. She told me her story of yearning for this sweater, going back to see it twice, thrice, four times before she dared spend on herself rather than the myriad of things needed for our home and her family. Even now, she could not let this sweater go.

One night, I made her wear another sweater to bed. While she slept, old night owl me took the closest match I could find and crochet knitted up an elbow pad for her sweater, sewing it onto the strong, unaffected parts when I’d made the pad large enough to cover. It was a gaucherie of work, the wool too thick, the connections apparent, the colour not a true match. A child of ten could have done a million times better, a hundred years ago when that was the focus of women’s work. I shuddered to think what she would say when she saw it.

She was embarrassingly thankful. I blush to think of such thanks for such crude work, but she was thankful. She could wear her beloved sweater, her friend. Just like a blankey.

Later, I knit new cuffs for it. A real patchwork. Same embarrassing, effusive thanks. She was happy. I  cry to think of it.

Now in her nineties, Mama lamented. “Isn’t there some hand work I could do? Could you get me some wool for an afghan?”

She had made countless gifts of her endless crocheting. Her arthritic hands could no longer hold the yarn; they cramped and pained her; her eyes, not just clouded by cataracts, but robbed of essential puzzle pieces in the center of her vision, could no longer see. Her mind was clear and wiling but another familial pastime was proscribed for her.

No knit one. No purl, no purl.

Just like Mom’s house

April 19, 2007

I found this portrait of a house on the Internet. It looks just like Mom’s last house. I find this painter very interesting so you might like to take a look. The  whole site is worth exploring. Hope you like it.

http://www.gmorrison.ca/newwork/guenther.html

Dinner at the Quilchena Hotel

April 18, 2007

You need to read the last post to see how we arrived at the Quilchena Hotel.

If you’ve never been there, it’s worth a side trip.

We were returning from Nelson and needed to stay overnight in Merritt. We were heading back to Burnaby the next day after an exciting, adventurous weekend. Mother, always trying to help out those who helped her, offered us dinner at the Quilchena hotel in appreciation for us taking her up to her latest grandson’s christening and in celebration of Easter.

Our hotel phoned and made a reservation for us. We hied out there mid afternoon to have some time to walk around and view the place. It’s been over twenty years ago now, so if memory fails and I get it all wrong, please don’t send fan mail to correct me. I remember the hotel as a late Victorian structure with a large lounge like room to the left of the front entrance filled with ancient stuffed arm chairs upholstered in cut velour, comfy and welcoming for visitors after a long day of horseback riding or any of the other ranch activities. You could imagine ladies taking tea in this room or reading a Jane Austen novel on a drowsy summer afternoon.

Behind it, through a pair of tall french doors, was the bar. You could have held a ball in this room if it weren’t for all the tables and chairs and bar stools. The bar was original from the early 1900’s, pioneer and goldrush days, with a large mirror behind it. A long brass rail ran the length of it. You could imagine cowboys bowleggedly sauntering up to the bar asking for a double and shooting it back to wash away the muscle tension and aggravations of the day. There were a couple of bullet holes in the wood work, proof of a few tensions being settled in a less than civilized manner.

Both these room attached to the front corridor which had a handsome staircase and lovely wooden railing up to the second floor. On the right side of the door way, a single French door gave onto the dining room. It wasn’t so big, less than twenty tables, each accommodating about four people, each with its linen table cloth and fine dining apparatus – cutlery, glasses, folded linen napkins, floral arrangement etc, etc.  I’d like to think there was a fireplace crackling at the far end on this somewhat chilly evening. We had come rather lightly clothed because the afternoon had been quite fine, but it was only April and the evening chilled quite quickly as the sun went down.

Behind the dining room and the kitchen, which we couldn’t see, were washrooms in an old fashioned style.

Before dinner, we asked the receptionist in the front hall if we could see the hotel rooms upstairs. They were reputed to be much like they were in the early 1900’s. With permission, we mounted the stairs and poked our heads into rooms that were not yet occupied, it not yet being high tourist season. True to reputation, there were old style wrought iron bedsteads, quilted bed spreads, lamps with bell shades, wash stands with china basins, and turn of the century furniture and furnishing. Loos were down the hall and there was a true bathroom which one had to reserve. Its only furnishing was the bath itself and a chair and shelf to place one’s necessities upon.

When we were all done admiring the old time atmosphere, we went down the grand staircase and entered the dining room. We were placed at a central table and we started to consider the menu before we resumed our review of the day’s activities. Mother of a sudden remembered that she had not washed her hands. We asked the waitress where to find the washrooms and  she indicated the hallway to the right.

“You can’t miss it” she said.

Mother excused herself to undertake her ablutions.

“Do you want me to come with you?” I asked solicitously. Sometimes she was pretty nervous about going places where she hadn’t gone before.

“No, no, ” she said emphatically. ” I can manage on my own.” She was pretty independent at this stage of her life. I think she wanted to appear independent before her recently acquired son-in-law. She didn’t need help! And off she went.

We ordered a good French Cabernet to celebrate our delivery from the misadventures of family Chevette. Mom didn’t drink because of her medication and so we went ahead with the wine when it came. The time was beginning to seem long and I mentioned something to Franc about it.

“Seems funny,” I said, abit perplexed. “She doesn’t usually take this long. I wonder if I should go see if she is alright?”

“She’ll be okay,” he replied. “We’ve been on the road quite a bit and out walking about. She probably just needs a bit of time to restore her make up, comb her hair and so on.” No matter where she was, Mother always wanted to look her best.

As we were talking, I could hear voices out in the reception area, just past the French glass door.  There was something of a commotion going on. One lady’s voice was sounding a bit panicky and was raised in a complaint. I rose to see what was up. It wasn’t Mom’s voice, but she was elderly. Perhaps something had happened to her. It was, after all, too long for her to be away.

I opened the door to a cloud of steam emanating from the restroom. Mother stood in the reception drenched down the front of her clothing, her hair looking somewhat worse for wear. The lady standing beside her was more drenched than Mother, and it was this lady who was panicky and vocal.

As the receptionist soothed and the voices calmed, the story began to clarify. The other lady was washing her hands in the ladies’ room when the antique plumbing burst in the hot water line of the wash stand before her. Provided by the hotel’s boiler, hot water and steam pumped out into the long washroom filling it with clouds of vapour. The other lady was drenched, perhaps scalded. Mother, standing directly beside her did not get the brunt of it but was drenched and sprayed as well.

Large dry hotel bath towels were offered the drowned ladies. Mother sopped at her hair and her clothing until she was relatively dry. By this time, at least, you couldn’t tell she was wet though her hair would take another half hour to dry.

“What do you want to do?” I asked her. “Return to the hotel?”

“We haven’t had dinner yet,” she said. “I’ve been waiting for this all day. Nobody can see I’m wet, really, and its warm in there. I will dry out as we eat.”

We explained what had happened to Franc then ordered our meal. You could tell that the other diners were listening as we spoke as the room noise fell to a hush. Our dinners came and we went on to talk of other things.

On Wednesday, I said another thankful prayer that I had taken an extra day off work so that I could come back to work refreshed. It’s what I always say about misadventures in travel: The worst days of travel make the best stories.

I had stories to tell.

http://www.bcadventure.com/murphys/quilchena/quilchen.html

Road trip

April 18, 2007

The day promised rain as we packed the car with saw, automatic paint sprayer, tools, Lizbet’s clothing she left behind after the memorial service, the air mattress because her floors had just been sanded and refinished and she wasn’t going to put back up the waterbed,  a cooler’s worth of food we were bringing because it was significantly more economical buying it in the city than in the Kootenays; our clothing an necessities for a week and my painting supplies.

Franc planned to do the maintenance on Lizbet’s house. I would just have a holiday. Maybe paint a little. Lisbet and I shared a need to express ourselves in paint.

It was a good spring day, trees unfurling their leaves, cherry blossoms in full bloom beginning to lay their carpet of petals on the grass, roadways and sidewalk underneath the span of their branches. We bid goodbye to Minou, Franc’s Maine Coon cat, who would be looked after by the neighbours and went on our way.

Travelling along the 401 from Burnaby to Hope, rain fell in gusts. At one point, Near Abbotsford, it drove down so hard we slowed to twenty on the freeway to see our way before us. This is a royal we. Franc did all the driving.

We stopped at Hope and got a long awaited first coffee, topped up the gas in the tank, stretched our legs and then drove on to Manning Park. The rain had abated. The clouds lifted somewhat and in the distance only individual cloud masses were dumping showers on select stands of forest as they sailed across the sky. The falling rain hung down like a long pale grey rudder until the shower was over and it evaporated from the bottom of the cloud ship

As we climbed the long hill into Manning Park, there were blue patches that formed and disappeared in the sky above. Intermittently, a a thin frozen rain would rattle against the windshield, or a smattering of snow. Typical April weather in the mountains, going in and out of winter and spring. Fortunately the road was clear and dry; there was no ice. Snow lay in forlorn patches deep amongst the  trees but beside the  roadway, only the accumulation of grit from the winter sandings remained from the winter’s blanket of snow. Only on  the very highest peaks were there dustings of white frost and late snow, like baker’s sugar  on a pie.

The outside temperature indicator on the dashboard shifted from ten to three to fifteen as we changed elevation and exposure to the sun. The earth was heating up for spring and we were driving into it by Princeton. I had snoozed most of the way from Hope to Manning Park; I fell into a deep sleep, mouth agape and gently snoring, Franc tells me, all the way to Keremeos.

We stopped at a roadside fruit stand to stretch our legs. It was far too early to have local produce, I thought, but we found asparagus and some hot house cukes, tomatoes and peppers of all different colours. Apples from autumn harvest were bagged in large quantities, priced for quick sale, and I bought twenty pounds to bring with us. I envisioned a pie or two and some crisp juicy snacks.

A school bus had arrived before we did with about twenty teenagers going to some athletic event, I imagined. They sat at the outdoor tables gabbling like a flock of geese with their gossip, laughter and joshing. Franc used the washroom which was just behind this grouping of tables and young folk, and I heard one of the girls say helpfully and loudly to the next person who arrived, “There’s a man in there!” It sounded like “There’s an alien in there” and I chuckled at the sound of it. We had aged without really ever thinking about it and I. of a sudden, saw us as teenagers must see us, as elderly. Grown ups. I hadn’t thought too much about it before.

We headed onwards to Osoyoos and now my napping had done its duty. I was awake and alert. Radio reception had gone out of range so I put on a Harry James jazz CD for background and proceeded to watch the widely-spaced puffy clouds sail across the  sky, appearing to settle like hats upon the distant hills, although I knew they were far to high up to come close to touching  the highest of these interior mountains.

Franc was in a world of his own concentrating on his driving so I simply let my mind wander as I we went. It took me back to another time we had come driving up to Lizbet’s house. It was the occasion of her second son’s christening and I was to be the godmother.  I had only been in my job a year and hesitated to impose my schedule on the company’s schedule. Nevertheless, I managed to get Easter weekend off with an additional day either side of it, one, to be able to get to Nelson in time for the christening and then, on the way back,  a day of grace to recuperate from the long journey before returning to work.

Mom had given me Dad’s little Chevette hatchback (I’ll tell you that story another time) and with Franc driving, the three of us headed out to Nelson. Franc had immigrated in ’86 and he hadn’t been in Canada long so we decided we had plenty of time to go the long way round by the Coquihalla to Merritt, from there to Kelowna via the new connector, then down to Penticton and Osoyoos, then across the Crowsnest highway, number three, to Nelson. It added two hours to an eight to ten hour drive, depending on the stops we made, but it gave him a tourist’s view of landscapes so different than what he had known in Europe and on our own west coast.

Merritt is lovely desert country. It’s cowboy country complete with sage brush  and tumbleweed. In spring, everything greens up beautifully in the low hills. When the sagebrush comes into flower, a soft yellow tops the ground cover and spreads across the hills. By summer everything is dry and ochre-ish with undertones of grey and “terre verte” , a painter’s natural dusty green. The sky is almost always wide open and a startling blue. Any stray clouds are fluffy and drifting. No chance of rain.

I enjoy this landscape immensely because it contrasts so, from the rainforest of the Pacific Coast. After a lifetime of Douglas Fir and Cedars, they begin to look ordinary. That’s why I like to travel – to see something different.

And so we reached Merritt without incident, filling our eyes with this desert landscape in front of us and the beauty passing us at ninety miles an hour on either side of us. We tanked up at a Shell station in downtown Merritt and found a country good restaurant for a bite to eat.

For Franc’s sake, we had planned to go up to Quilchena, once an important town and provisioning centre during early pioneer days and the gold rush. It had the original log hotel and the bar where the holes from shooting bullets had left their mark as lasting proof of wilder pioneering days. Coming from Europe, it would be like walking through a movie set.

Franc had located Quilchena on the map and had insisted that we get our gas there.

“You don’t understand, ” I said. “This isn’t Europe. There isn’t a village every two kilometers. There is nothing there at Quilchena. Just a ranch. A hotel ranch. It used to be an important staging post, but there’s nothing there now. There is no gas station.”

“Well why is it marked on the map, then?” he said, perplexed.

“It’s historically important. That’s why its on the map. People like to go see it. ”

We were low on gas. He had a unnerving habit of trying to see how far he could drive on a tank of gas without filling up. I suppose in France that couldn’t have been a huge problem, but here, you could be another fifty to hundred miles before you saw another gas station and quite likely, no one would be passing by to help you.

He shook his head, not understanding. Only going there would make him see what I meant. So I finally won out and we got our gas in Merritt.

On the map, he could see the Douglas Lake road going from Quilchena to Kelowna that would reconnect us with our route and we decided that some back country driving might not be so bad. It ran through Woodward’s ranch and Mother was very interested to see it, so instead of returning to Merritt and the Kelowna connector, we all decided this would be a minor detour we would all like to do.

It was about four miles in on this two lane road as we were climbing a hill that the car lost power and quit. Now, Franc is a very good mechanic. I never worry while we are in the car together that something might go wrong that he won’t be able to fix it. He and I pushed the car as best we could to the side of the road (and there wasn’t much shoulder at all – this road was a track) and he opened the hood to explore what might be wrong under the hood.

Mother and I sat in the car. I reassured her that all would be well. Franc knew his mechanics. He would fix everything and we would be on our way. But Mother was a worry wart when there was nothing to worry about. We looked at the situation from all sides. It couldn’t be lack of gas. We’d just filled up. It could be the battery. It could be a misconnection that Franc would fix. We weren’t mechanics but we could surely help with the worrying.

After a half an hour of pushing this connection and that, inspecting water levels, oil levels and hose connections, tightening bolts and gizmos, Franc came back into the car, mystified. He couldn’t find anything. Didn’t know what it was.  He was stymied.

So now what were we going to do?
We had only seen two cars in the space of a half hour. Now we waited for another to come, preferably from the opposite direction who was going back into town. We would need CAA to tow us back to the gas station garage. After what seemed like an interminable wait but was probably fifteen minutes, a car came by. The man was not going to town but could phone to the Shell station, the only one with a tow truck, he said. That would take him about twenty minutes. We could count on someone coming out to get us and the car in about forty five minutes.

We waited wearily for an hour and a half. Two cars had come by, stopped to offer assistance, and gone on their way with our assurance that someone had already sent for the CAA.

The shadows were lengthening. It was getting close to four o’clock and we were not going to make Nelson, this day, anyway you looked at it. Franc suggested that when the next car came by and offered assistance, one of us should go with them back to Merritt and see what was up. He would stay with the car.

Mother was in her mid seventies and tired easily. All this aggravation had unsettled her. So we decided we would arrange for a hotel for us three, I’d settle Mother in it and then come back out with the tow truck, to make sure they found us.

Despite all Mother’s admonitions to never, never, never hitchhike under any conditions, there we were, accepting a ride from strangers. Memory fails me at this point. I think there was a couple and two children who took us back. I know we squeezed into the car to manage us both going.  We had to  tell our tale of woe, all the way back into Merritt, but we got there, thanked our rescuers profoundly and went about the business of getting assistance from the garage.

This is small town Canada. It was built on neighbourly assistance. If you didn’t help your neighbour in distress, who would help you when it was your turn. Your turn would surely come. Distances were so great between villages, ranches and farms, that you needed to  depend on each other. There were no corner stores, nor gas stations for every square mile. In small town, this pioneer spirit still lives strong.

At the gas station, the owner was close to closing up. It was Thursday before a long Easter weekend.

“We were wondering what happened to you!” he exclaimed. We went up the Douglas lake road about three miles and didn’t find you. Thought you might have gotten yourselves going again. Turned back and thought you were okay.”

We told him of our plight. How we needed to get to Nelson by Sunday. How Mother needed to rest; we needed a hotel. He decided to take us to a hotel across the street, give me time to register and get Mother settled; then drive with me out to where the car lay gasping in agony at the side of the road.

An hour later as light was beginning to fail, he hooked up the car and brought Franc and I back to Merritt and settled the car into the garage’s parking lot. His mechanic was supposed to be off on Good Friday but he would bring him in, in the morning. He had already gone home and wouldn’t come back in today.

Next day we had a marvelous pancake breakfast at the Nicola Valley Hotel, we went over to the Shell station. The mechanic had found it was the timing chain that had broken. The garage didn’t stock the parts; they couldn’t get one until Monday. It was Easter. They had to call up to Kamloops and have it sent down by bus. Nothing else could be done about it.

“Where can we rent a car, then?” we asked, but there was no car rental in town.  After a long silence, the owner said, “I can use my wife’s car. You could rent my truck. Can you drive a truck?”

Franc had driven everything and anything. We looked at each other. Would Mother, my very dignified Mother, ride in a pick up truck, a working one at that. It was clean, but scratched and marked up from its lifetime of labouring for its living. There was no choice. Or, the choice became, do we stay in Merritt with no  transportation until Monday or do we take this truck to Nelson and attend the christening. The choice was clear.

With a minimum of formality, we went on our way.

“No paper work?” I asked the owner.

“If you want your car back, you have to come back here, ” he said pragmatically. ” I can’t see you living with this truck in Vancouver.” He snorted a little chuckle. “I don’t need ‘er until Monday.”

We picked up Mother from the hotel, transferred all our belongings and gifts into the truck and went our way, back out towards Quilchena and the Douglas Lake road. Now, when I say we got about four miles up the road and had to stop, I don’t want you to say “Oh no! Not again!” because stopping this time was a marvelous thing.

Actually we must have been a little bit further along. From the left side cowboys, (mostly Indians now, I must say) dressed in their working chaps , broad Stetsons, cowboy boots, red kerchiefs around their throats, looking decidedly more “working” than their movie counterparts, were dancing their horses around a herd of cattle being moved from one pasture to another. The cattle were crossing the road in a swarm, bellowing and moaning as cattle do, in a frightful chorus. The cowboys were yelling an urging them on with yelps and cries and we were caught smack dab in the middle of it all as they milled around in front and behind us, making way for the bulk of the truck that would not, could not move.

Ever fearful mother, cried out, “What if they knock the truck over?” and my dear, fascinated European immigrant overroad her plaintive cry with, “MY GOD! If I paid ten thousand dollars, I couldn’t have had a more marvelous view of every European’s dream! I should start up a company that brings tours of people to Canada to be caught in the middle of a cattle drive! The fortune we could make! This is incredible! Too much! Ho-LA! This is wonderful. I’ll never see this again in my life. Look! Look!”

He was so excited that Mother began to listen, to relax and to enjoy the sheer excitement of it all. She forgot her “what ifs” and her motherly concerns for safety and began to see for herself this wonderful activity that she, too, would never see in her life again.

Must say that I was marvelled by it all also, but I’m telling the story, so there’s not much room for me to remember what I said. I was just all eyes, all ears. It really was story book, movie material and it was wonderful.

Slowly the tide of animals went past us; the quarter horses climbed the grade from the pasture over to the roadway and back down the other side, the voices and the bellowing diminished as they entered the pasture to the right and the stragglers were gathered and driven to follow the others. Finally, there was a cowboy closing the gate to the pasture on the right as we drove on south towards the Woodwards ranch.

We passed through the range with fenced pastures each side, some with cows and their young frisky calves, some with mature animals only. It was, after all, Easter time and it was time for the young to be born.

The range became light forest and then denser forest. There was a long bumpy road to go before we met the Kelowna connector. On either side of the truck the land had hardly been touched by man’s sculpting of the earth. There was the gravel road, and then there were deep ravines with tall straight trees that had not been harvested going up the slope on one side, down on the other. Across the ravine there was another slope doing the same. The clouds were passing like great white ships across the sky, depositing giant moving shadows across the land.

I remember Mother trying to translate the story of Red Ridinghood into French to make Franc laugh. Hers was highschool French, but she was such a smart lady that she remembered a lot of it. She fractured the story so that we were in mirth for a few curvy kilometers.  (I’m from the switchover generation, so if it’s miles sometimes and kilometers other times, that’s just the way it is.)

I remember us singing childrens songs in French until Franc got disgusted with our ruining his lovely language, began to think we were mocking it, and we stopped. We weren’t very good singers after all.

Later, much later, we turned up the steep drive to Lizbet’s place. Everyone was there already, wondering what had happened to us, amazed at our mode of transportation and waiting to hear the tale.

I can’t remember much about the christening. I remember lots of good food, lots of great family fellowship. I remember meeting Dick’s family (Lisbet’s ex) for the second time – the first was at the wedding. I do believe copious amounts of alcohol were consumed without anyone getting out of hand.  A good time was had by all.

On Monday morning, we set back out for Merritt. This time we took a more direct route. We arrived late afternoon, returned the truck, settled our affairs with the garage owner and transferred our belongings back into the repaired Chevette.

It was too late to drive back to Burnaby. We went back to the same hotel and took the essentials up to our adjoining rooms. Mother wanted a rest. We had to have dinner sometime. We thought about our missed opportunity to explore the Quilchena hotel. We’d only driven past it on the way out. The receptionist phoned to see if we could reserve. It was, after all, Easter Monday and many locals would be taking a day to celebrate the holiday by going out to dinner.

I’ll tell you all about it in Road trip number two.

Dear Mother, we love you.

April 16, 2007

Dear Mother,

Were you alive, I’m sure you would be horrified that I was telling tales on you.

In your life time, I would never have dared correcting your version of what happened. You would have found that disrespectful of me.

You would surely have found that last tale of the boy on the bicycle leaning somehow in his favour.

“Why am I always wrong?” I can hear you whip out at me. “Why won’t you believe what I say. I was there, after all.”

I found that you were always fearful. For all your gumption and success, you always had a timid, unsure side to your nature. You admired my assurance with the world. I assure you, I worked very hard at it and sweated horrifically under a calm appearance. I waited out situations that could have turned either way, and found that sometimes, more often than not, when I stood my ground, I won out.

I know that you did that also. You told us stories about how you did so; encouraged us to stand up for ourselves (unless we were standing up to you, which was not allowed).

What you did not see was how, as you aged, your vulnerability turned to paranoia. What you did not see was how, day after day, the television pumped out the lurid stories of the city – the people who had been house burgled, the pot houses that flourished in amongst the residential districts, the house invasions, the murders, the freed criminals, the Downtown East Side serial killers, gang wars and drive by shooting, swarmings, muggings, – and that was just the daily news.
Add to that the CSI crime unit tales of horror, the Law and Order trials exposing the rot in society, the gentler but no less horrific English detective tales like Rosemary and Thyme and Miss Marples.

One needed to be suspicious. Of people who came to the door. Of tradespeople. Even of one’s own family.

You did not see our puzzlement as what we considered ordinary events for you turned into potential crimes of theft, assault, battery or even murder.

I began to read about Alzheimer’s disease. Cousin Mary gave me pamphlets she had obtained at a course she took as she embarked upon the task of looking after my aunt, two years younger than Mother. I learned the difference between confusion as a disorder and memory loss occasioned by the brain disintegration of Alzheimer’s disease. The doctor assured me you did not have it. Your brain was bright and clear. Cognition was one of your strong points in this deterioration game called aging.

I learned that confusion came from dehydration more than it did from the act of aging. It could be reversed. If it weren’t for elderly people trying to ensure they could control their incontinence by not drinking anything, there would be a lot more clarity in their thinking.

I had a hard time convincing you because you didn’t want to see your own decline. So I gave up trying. It wasn’t important. I understood that many of your fears were from a natural aging process. I could simply agree with you that the dangers were there; try to allay them by telling you how we were prepared for them; remind you of the security we had built around us; reassure you that with five people living in the house, you had little need to fear house invasions, for instance.

You promised in your last days that you would continue to look after me. I sometimes wonder if you have become omniscient in your new state of existence. Do you know that I’m writing this post for all the world to see, if they care to do so? Do you know I am exposing the underbelly of our family life; the soft and private areas of our relationships; that I have vowed to honesty as I see it? Do you see now that I deceived you by omissions in your latter days to provide you with peace of mind? Tried not to lie, but did? Compassion, for me, has a higher value than honesty.

Je suis comme je suis. Je suis comme ca. (I am what I am. That’s what I’m like.) to quote Jacques Prevert, a modern French poet.

Have I clarified with myself why I am doing it? I don’t know.

I think perhaps, eventually, that it might inspire others to love their mothers even as they get difficult in their final years; to protect them with all the love and understand they can muster; and to let them know that for all I gave you to do that, I gained myself, in regaining your trust, in knowing you deeper and deeper for the fine human being that you are, and I wanted to share that with those who might listen, that they too, could find beauty and enjoy it.

Love you Mama.

I know you are still out there somewhere.

A perilous walk

April 16, 2007

Independence wins!

It was midsummer. Dressed in a downy sea green parka that engulfed her, her scarf loosely wrapped around her neck and tucked inside protected her neck from drafts. she grabbed the railing with one hand, her walker with the other and proceeded cautiously step by step down the eight back steps until she reached the pavement.

From there she slowly made her way out to the garage gate at the lane and determinedly proceeded up this back alley stopping from time to time to look at a flowering bush in someone’s back yard or to admire a particularly well laid out garden. In recent years, the ranchers had been replaced by huge neo-California style stucco houses. The last four houses up our lane had five car garages and no good gardens to enjoy.

At the corner of the lane she turned east towards the front of the street we live on, went north, away from our house, and up that block. It was a routine. It took her about an hour to do, got her out of the house and into the fresh air.

At the end of the block, she crossed the street and returned, coming back west down the other side, enjoying the colour in the gardens, a pretty flower, marveling always at the funny evergreen that could not hold itself up and made its skinny way along various props as it grew.

This day, a young lad on a bicycle came riding up the street, dropped the bicycle on the boulevard a few steps ahead of her, ran into the back yard of the house before him.

She was paralyzed with fear. This vigorous young man could overpower her. Surely he was up to no good. He had run between the houses . Surely he was escaping from something. Her heart beat with panic. What was she to do?

Coming up the street was another man. This one was tall and solid looking, loping at a leisurely pace. As he drew nearer, she almost collapsed with trembling relief.

“Hi Grandma!” It was Hugh, her cheery grandson. “How are you Grandma?” The cheer continued until his exuberance died and rapidly turned to concern. She had no need to say anything. Her face read panic and fear.

“Take me home! Quick! Quick!” she said.

“What’s the matter Grandma? ” he asked, now solicitous and worried.

Now Hugh is six foot two. Under my careful management he has turned from a skinny teenager into a substantial foodie. No one would mess with him just based on his height and bulk although he has no martial arts under his belt, nor a single bellicose thought in that academic mind of his. He looked around and could see nothing.

Mother pointed at the bicycle, as if he should understand. She was virtually speechless.

“Let’s go! Come on! Let’s go!” she exhorted as if her life depended on it.

And so they “hurried” back at Mother’s pace as Hugh tried to find out what had alarmed her.

By the time they were home and safely sitting at the kitchen table drinking a hot, hot cup of tea, all doors front and back locked to ensure no burglar or home invader could breach the fortress, the story came out.

A bad boy was riding his bicycle up the street and had stopped in front of her. Had he not seen Hugh coming up the street, he would have attacked her and knocked her down. Instead, he’d seen Hugh and dashed between the houses waiting for Hugh to go by. Perhaps he was robbing the house where he had gone in while he waited. He hadn’t come back out again.

Nothing could convince her that he perhaps lived there or was visiting.

Why was he in a hurry? Why did he drop his bicycle? It must have been stolen. Why did he disappear between the houses? If he lived there, why didn’t he go in the front door?

That day, that walk, marked the end of solo walks, walks of independence. From that day forth, she could no longer go out alone.

At first, the Ron would go with her or Hugh. Ron was a delight to see, how he helped her down the stairs solicitously as if she were a breakable egg looking for a tumble. He was six foot three and she was five foot nothing.

Hugh was good for a turn or two.

Mother needed an hour to go two blocks.  Her stops  along the way to admire an unfurling  rose or to comment on a gardeners’ genius in putting marigolds around the base of a  boulevard maple tree was her way of catching her breath, gathering strength for the next twenty steps. For the boys, these stops became irritations.  “Come on, Grandma!”  “Let’s go !”

Soon Hugh could little afford to spend time walking out with Grandma. He had studies to do, exams to write, research to get from the library. He wasn’t home.  Ron was getting up early to go to work and arriving home exhausted. He had to sleep. “Couldn’t you do it, Kay?”

Kay (that’s me) was getting up at six, getting herself dressed and ready for work, getting mother dressed and ready for the day, getting breakfast and getting out the door; coming home at six from a long day’s work, getting dinner and then it was too late for strolls in the neighbourhood streets.

Our housekeeper times were increased to give mother some company and some reassurance more often during the week and to take her out walking.

Battle strategies had been adjusted. The siege was on. The portcullis in the back yard (the gate) must always be closed. From the arrow slots (the kitchen window) , all lane traffic needed to be monitored. A car driving from the south past the garage or a lane pedestrian must appear on the north side or an reconnaissance party would need to be sent out to investigate what had happened to it. If no one was there to do it for her (she wouldn’t go), it would cause anxiety and dread.

Bit by bit, the house had turned into a defensive fortress. The alarm was set. The doors were reinforced with additional locks. Grills were installed on the basement windows.  There was Lexan reinforced glass on the kitchen door. The castle walls that surround us, the moat, the portcullis, the guard,  the drawbridge were all prepared for an independent lady living in the wicked city.

Her adventure on Baillie Street had marked her for the rest of her life. The story of the man on his bicycle, like the blizzard of 1931,  became legend, oft repeated, to those who would  listen. A mantra of fear in the city.

Seeing old friends

April 16, 2007

Magnolia

I went painting up at the studio for about two hours; a friend dropped in there and we chatted for a good hour and a half while I was painting. Then I went to see my little grandmothers at the seniors residential care unit.
All of them are eager for company. Ethel was depressed and so, so thankful for some conversation. Little Ethel, the other Ethel, was so happy to see me she put her arm around my waist then gave me a good smackeroo on my cheek when I left. Ruth and I had a good half hour chat. Gloria had an Easter Card for me that she had been saving up these past two weeks (since Easter came and went), waiting for me to come in.
Now if anyone is ever feeling lonely, one only has to go down to a seniors’ residence and make friendships with one or two of the inmates. They are all dying for a bit of conversation and news from the outside world. I tell you, it made my day, knowing they were so happy to see me.
There was a beautiful magnolia tree out in bloom in front of the Lodge. Magnifico!

Here’s today’s paintingBuilding Sandcastles