Archive for November, 2007

Dancing like a child

November 28, 2007

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“When did we lose the ability to dance

as if the wind and we were one,

spirits twirling in an eddy, in a trance,

like dry leaves lifting up and around.

Where does that childlike super-consciousness

go?

And when?

This little blog was inspired by bluedragonfly.wordpress.com Check it out! She does lovely writing, observant and sensual.

The watercolour shown above is by Kristin Krimmel. You can see more of her work at

http://www.kristinkrimmel.com,

Winter blues

November 27, 2007

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In memory of Minou aka Felix, Franc’s beloved cat

There have been storm warnings. We’ve been waiting for snow. It’s a bit early for here and the temperatures are below seasonal. It rained much of yesterday and then cleared through the night. As I was coming home from dinner with the Stepfords next door, I noticed the moon peeking through the clouds. It was an illustration book moon, round – creamy white with cool white shadows looking so much like a jolly fat man’s face blowing kisses to the world.

No one can really prove that the full moon does things to people. Nevertheless, hospitals will tell you that when the moon is full, there is greater activity. Teachers will tell you that the children get more squirrelly. Things seem to be more intense, whatever they may be. Events seem to happen that coincide with the fullness of the moon, so we ascribe their proximity to the moon’s fullness, and so it goes.

And so it went that yesterday evening, I went into the basement to tend to laundry. I always like to stay fairly close to the machines. Heather had a fire in her dryer once when Mother was staying with her. It spread through the little laundry room before the fire department got there. Insurance kicked in and everything was fixed, but there were always those “what-ifs” that kicked in after the shock of it died down.

Mother and Heather were on the point of going out. What if they had left the house a few minutes earlier and nobody had noticed the fire. The whole house would have gone. What if Heather had gone out leaving Mother to sleep. With her mobility problems, what would have happened to her?

We drew a number of lessons from that incident. Now we actually pay attention when we are reminded to clean out the lint in the dryer and under the dryer. That’s how the fire started and the firemen told Heather that it’s a fairly common occurrence with dryers. So now I never leave the dryer on and go away from it. I clean out the lint under the dryer occasionally – it’s the build-up that counts; it doesn’t have to be done every time you use the dryer. And I always clean out the lint from the screen, every time. Absolutely every time.

While I was waiting for my laundry to do, I worked at sorting out the thousand and seven paintings, the thirty years plus of production that I haven’t taken to market. Heather’s dauntless husband had early on erected a serviceable IKEA shelving unit for me to stack the paintings on and he bolted it to the rafters. It has a nice tall section where I can put large paintings and there was still some room on it to put a few more.

The one and only finished room in the basement is loaded up with paintings that have not been properly stored. They are in order of size, sort of, but mostly in order of when they came into the basement during my unending trips to Burnaby to transfer them from Mother’s house to mine in that infamous move that you can read about in earlier posts. That is to say, they were in no logical order at all. The shelving unit was going to fix that.

There were a few smaller sized items in the rack – some packages of watercolour and drawing papers, some portfolios of drawings still wrapped in plastic from the move. These would get moved to a smaller compartment of the shelving. I picked up the first of these and found my hand was wet. Now, where would wetness come from?

I got a towel from the rag drawer and wiped it off, feeling a bit baffled. I took the next piece of work and it too was wet. In fact, the plastic covering it shifted and a little runnel of water fell to the floor. That was more worrisome.

I patted my hand on the top of the shelving which had two packages of paper on it and my hand was definitely wet. Ach! This was more serious. I patted up all the water I could see and by reaching up to the top, some that I couldn’t see. I’d have to get my step stool to get a better look up there. I went for my new emergency flashlight as well.

Instead of packing up the shelving unit, I ended up taking everything out.

Sigh.

Nothing much is damaged. Only one small drawing, really not one of my best, has water damage and that is on the matting. The frame is metal and can be wiped off. The drawing itself seems to be untouched. There were three photographs I had purchased from a street vendor. They actually had puddles on them and I’ll have to wait and see how they dry off to know if there is damage there or not. Otherwise, my practice of matting things and then sealing them in foldable mylar packets sealed with masking tape has saved a number of the drawings from harm.

But I’m going to have to move the shelving unit. The water is not from a leaking pipe. There are no water pipes in the general vicinity. Fortunately there is no “ceiling” in the basement. I don’t have to open anything up to see. It’s just the exposed floor joists with wiring running through it.

I searched the area and there is a single spot where the water is coming in. It seeps through a couple of floor boards and finds its way down a single joist and drips on the corner of the storage unit. Temporarily, I put a cleaning basin beneath the drip location. There now were no paintings or drawings for it to drip onto. I could wait for the light of day to give it another inspection.

I moved some boxes and rugs while I waited for the dryer to finish. I needed a tape measure so that I could determine if the rug I want in the upstairs studio room can be accommodated there. Of course I got distracted.

Franc called. I haven’t heard from Franc in four months. Not a peep.

His cat has died. His cat was a beautiful Maine Coon cat, I think. Or at least there was a lot Maine Coon heritage in his genes. He had suddenly gotten ill and in two days he was gone. You need to know that Franc has always loved cats with a passion. He’s always had a cat and he has a strong emotional attachment to them. He seems to know and understand them deeply. He will be devastated without his cat. He will lose his compass in his life, so as to speak. My heart goes out to him.

And so we talked. At first tentatively, and then for a half hour or so. I won’t tell you the details. He’s planning to go travelling in January. He has his ticket already and he doesn’t know how long he will stay away. He has some deep thinking to do.

It was about an hour later that I remembered my laundry and the water leak. I went down to check the basin. There was not a drop in it.

I took my new LED flashlight and shone it where the water had been blackening the joist with moisture. It was no longer black, nor was the seepage evident between those two floor boards. Well then, I have a mystery on my hands. Where does that water come from?

And my laundry was done.

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The rag tag choir or The road to Hell

November 27, 2007

Do you remember, way back, that three elderly ladies full of vim and spirit came to visit my mother as she lay dying, to bring her comfort and friendship. The nurse had said that the last thing to go was a person’s hearing, and as we she was almost in a coma, we had nothing we could discuss with her. There was no conversation to be had.

And so it came about that my two sisters, Heather and Lizbet, and the three ladies decided to sing hymns that my mother was so fond of. We all knew them. They had been the stock of Sunday School and childhood. We were a little hazy, these many years after, on some of the words, but we found two hymnals in Mother’s room and that supported our valiant efforts to surround Mother with spiritual songs.

This Sunday, just yesterday, was the last Sunday of the Church calendar. I had not known that before. Advent at the beginning of December is also the beginning of the Church calendar, the beginning of Christ’s life. The week before that is, de facto, the end of the Church calendar and the souls from the congregation who have departed this earth are honoured in a special ceremony.
All my siblings were invited to come this service where one of the family members comes and lights a candle at the altar.

Heather and Lizbet live too far away to come for this service and Lizbet needed to be at work the next day, so they didn’t come. Otto had been committed to being Santa Claus at a festival and so, being double booked, so as to speak, on his calendar, he relegated the task to me. So it was that I represented the family at the church service,

I gathered a pocketful of handkerchiefs. I don’t do well at church services at the best of times and the last time I was at church with Heather in Sechelt, the benediction was “Go thou in peace”, the round that we sang at Mother’s bedside. I couldn’t stop the tears welling up and spilling over. If I was the only representative of the family, I didn’t want to do that again in front of a whole congregation.

I arrived early which was a miracle. I had left all my clothing ready the night before, set the alarm, and got up with an hour to get myself out of the house and on the road. It takes an hour at the best of times to come from my new home to our church in Burnaby. With only an hour to get there, I was still dawdling around the house. I looked at the time and bolted. But being Sunday, the traffic was sparse and there were no delays. My normal one hour and twenty drive took me only forty minutes today, for which I was very thankful. I would have been mortified to have been late.

When I got there, Louise, one of Mom’s favourite people, a friend from her University days and a member of the church, was just extracting herself from her car. She too was early. It was her turn to prepare the after-service coffee in the meeting rooms in the basement of the church.

She welcomed me with a hug and the broadest smile.
“I’m so glad you are here!” she exclaimed. “I was prepared to light the candle if no one came. We weren’t sure you were coming.” I rapidly searched in the back of my mind. Had I never acknowledged the invitation? Had acknowledged it and been wishy-washy about my acceptance? Had I said yes and been uncertain about the other three siblings?

“I’m here.” I stated firmly. “Sorry if I wasn’t clear about it. Did you find some things amongst the clothing I brought you?” I asked. When bringing out things for the Thrift Shop, I had retained two large green plastic bags of Mom’s favourite clothes for her friend Rose and for Louise.

” Yes! I can tell you, but don’t let on to anyone else. They won’t know. I’m wearing her suit today. You’ll see. You are the only one who will recognize it.”
I looked at her. She was wearing a red plaid suit; looking very smart in it, too. I didn’t recognize it. I could remember a plaid jacket but there was no skirt to it. Was my mind playing tricks on me?

Soon I was sitting in the front pew, waiting for the service to begin. I leafed through the bulletin with its order of service and its announcements. I read the list of souls being honoured.

“Oh, no! I gasped. There was Ethel’s name. She had passed away in September. September 18th, to be exact. That did it.

I tried to explain to the elderly person sitting beside me, but either she didn’t hear or she simply did not get the import of my words. Ethel. Rough, loud, and boisterous Ethel. Ethel full of fun and jokes. A party girl. Ethel, stricken with kidney failure, going for dialysis three times a week. Ethel, frustrated by her wheelchair. Ethel angry with her fate. Ethel who could belt out a hymn as if her audience was God and she had to reach him in the uppermost back row of Theatre under the Stars. Ethel was gone.

And where was I when she was dying? Where was I with my promises to visit? Where was I with my phone calls to keep in touch? I simply hadn’t, with all my other things going on, with my moving and arranging, with emptying out Mom’s house, and with all my visitors.

Tears welled up and I fished for my handkerchiefs. At least I’d thought to bring some.

I remembered Mom at Father’s memorial service. I was awash in tears of grief that I couldn’t stop. Every time I managed to control them, someone would speak to me and say something comforting and I would redissolve into tears. Why couldn’t they talk about the weather?

“Get a grip on yourself!” Mother said sharply. “It’s not appropriate to bring your tears in here.” It didn’t make a difference. I just went further away from her view and continued to cry.

And now, I was determined to face the congregation without tears. So I “bucked up” and dabbed the tears away. Poor Ethel.

I lit Mother’s candle and sat back in my pew. The service rattled on about rejoicing and renewal. We sang a few hymns, contributed our collections, rose and sat back down again accordingly. The Benediction was one I did not know and I was thankful for it.

Afterwards, at the tea down in the meeting room, several friends of either Dad or Mom came and spoke to me. The flowers from the alter had been wrapped in a bouquet and presented to me and another woman who had come to light a candle. The men did not get bouquets.
Just before I left, I sought out Louise. There she was, dressed in what had been my mother’s black and white herring bone jacket and black skirt. She winked at me.

” Nobody knows,”‘ she said in something less than a whisper. “It fits perfectly. We were just the same size. Everything that you sent along – I’ve kept everything. We were friends from Engineer’s Wives as well as the church, you know. Having these things makes me feel close to her still. I think of her so often.”

“I thought you were in a red plaid suit?” I said, perplexed.

“Oh that was my coat” she replied. We talked a while then we hugged. I gave her rouged and powdered cheek a small kiss and I said my good-bye. While I was in town, I was going to go see Mom’s friends from the Residence, the faithful three, the rag-tag choir. I picked up a healthy lunch on the way – a good strong coffee and a thick slice of banana bread.

At the reception of the Residence, it was Emma on duty. She’s a sympathetic gal. I’ve always liked dealing with her. So I commiserated with her about Ethel.

“She went fast,” she told me. “She was at the hospital for dialysis and she went into a coma. She never came out of it.”

“Well, is little Ethel around?”

“Down there, playing Sunday Bingo.” She pointed to where I should be able to see her.

From forty feet away, I could see her precious, impish face concentrating on her Bingo card along with about thirty other residents. I’d just wait, I thought, until the Bingo was over and not take her away from one of her favorite pastimes.

“How about Dorothy, then? Is she in this afternoon or has she gone out with her daughter?”

“Too late. She’s gone.” she replied with a sad grimace. “She passed away two days ago. When she started to go downhill two weeks ago, she went really fast. Didn’t wait around, that one,” she said in commiseration.

Sookie, one of the care aids, brought me a cup of coffee and a peanut butter cookie while I waited for Little Ethel. It gave me time to think. Rambunctious Big Ethel and Dorothy. Both gone. It was a shock. Two out of three who had been there with Mom at the end, gone. Euphemistically, passed on. I hated that phrase. It seemed to gloss over a whole life as if it had never existed. I was truly sad. And I could hardly believe about Dorothy. She was the most vigorous of all three, the clearest of mind, out and about with her daughter and forever reconnecting with the yacht club and the tennis club for lunches and dinners. You could tell she had been authoritative in her life; she seemed as if she had commanded those around her with a surety of vision. She knew how thing should be and upheld them with pride and tenacity. She had a heart of gold. It was she who had given me hugs and pep talks to keep my spirits up when Mom was having her most difficult struggles.

And so it was with thankfulness that Bingo ended and I went to have afternoon tea with Little Ethel.

“Oh, it’s you!” she said joyously. “It’s so wonderful to see you. So wonderful to have a visitor.” She had not changed. She was sweet and happy like an aged fairy-imp. Her face lit up from inside; her head, wreathed in her soft white curls like a halo, nodded gently as she spoke.

I saw Ruth, not so far away and brought her to the table as well.

“Shall I go away so that you can visit?” asked Ethel, always so thoughtful of others.

“No, stay,” I said. I’ll just repeat all my news and give you a test afterwards.”

Ruth came to join us. She too was glowing with her joyfulness. They lifted my spirits; we said a few kind words about those who had gone; and then we enjoyed our little pear tarts and tea.

Turn off that alarm!

November 21, 2007

 

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I was looking through the doorways in the hospice to see who had the annoying alarm that could not be shut off. Door after door, no alarm.

Dan came to collect me for the board meeting and introduced me to Mike who would be joining us at the conference. Once he had finished the civilities, he signed off as if he were a CBC reporter from Ottawa. “This is Mike Signacec, coming to you from Ottawa, in Canada,” he intoned in that special CBC sign off intonation. It was very funny.

We all filed into the meeting, Fourteen of us sat around the boardroom table chatting lightly until the chairperson arrived to commence business. The leasing manager, Arnold, arrived and took the chair, connected with those on conference call, and took roll call of all that were in attendance. Then we began introductions.

Mike was only the second to the left of Arnold. He began to introduce himself in that same intonation of a newscast. “ I’m Mike Signacec, coming to you from Ottawa in Canada.

How’s the weather in Ottawa,” Arnold asked conversationally as if he had not caught that odd sounding introduction.

Mike replied. again using that CBC intonation, “Twelve degrees in Vancouver, showers on the coast in the morning, clearing in the afternoon; Minus 40 with wind chill factor in Whitehorse; Winnipeg minus 16. Snowfall warning in Atlantic provinces. It went on and on. Without hesitation, giving no time for the next participant to introduce themselves, he launched into a sports cast starting with the success of the Ottawa Senator’s hockey team results, and then wrapped up again with “This is Mike Signacec , coming to you from Ottawa., in Canada

I’d met him just previously, so I knew it was a joke and was trying my best not to burst out laughing but the others were not sure what had hit them. They were struggling to figure out how Mike placed in the meeting, who he was, whether the information he was broadcasting was real or made up. Some looked like they were holding in snickers; others looked at him as if he had dropped of the planet of Reason.

Very funny.

There was a hesitation and then the others began to introduce themselves in orderly fashion.

Arnold then announced the first order of business. There was a quick one-to-one conversation between Arnold and the financial wizard who had to report on some figures. There was a silent gap in the meeting where everyone fidgeted waiting for the financial wizard to find his place in his pile of papers.
It was a hesitation too long. Mike launched into an introduction of Grieg’s Holberg suite in the manner of the morning show Music and Company host, Tom Allen. The music came on rich and elegant, filling the gap. It stunned the meeting participants into absolute silence.

Very pleasant, I thought, as I woke up laughing and realized that the annoying alarm was mine and that I had just missed the morning news.

Now, wouldn’t a whole corporate meeting conducted in CBC newscast style make a fabulously funny sketch for television? Or an opera?

Truth and consequences

November 18, 2007

Women bristle at each other differently than men do. With men, there is a palpable threat of underlying physicality just waiting for a dare.

With women, there is more of a defensive mode; a stony closing in; a self-protection against heart-hurt that lurks, waiting for a truth that cannot be borne. Or so it is in my experience, in my family. We were an intellectual family, promoting rationality, abhorring violence.

Mother stood beside the head of her bed. Kay was standing at the base of it. Their eyes were locked, unmoving, while behind the eyes there was a rapid and minute inspection of each other going on and a long, interminable silence that lasted at least two minutes.

“I’d heard…” ventured Mother.

“Heard what?” defied Kay.

“…heard that you had had an abortion.” It came out painfully. All defensive walls were already up. There was only an arrow-slit window left into her watchful soul. With her mother’s sensitivity, her lie detector was on, full volume.

“You heard wrong,” said Kay. Her voice was equally guarded; her face did not change. She stood a little taller. Only the eyes, still locked with her mother’s, equally searched for the slightest change in her mother’s facial expression that would give a clue of whether the answer had been accepted as given. They could not stay like this forever frozen in time until eternity, waiting for the other’s eyes to drop.

Kay dipped slightly to pick up the afghan that served to decorate the bed. It was the final item that needed to be straightened before the bed was done up for the day. Her eyes did not flinch; but the motion was enough. Mother moved towards the afghan and picked up another corner of the knitted blanket. The move had been made on both sides . A signal that the statement had been made and would be accepted for now, was left for minutious inspection like a sacrifice made at the Oracle in Delphi, later

The motion had broken the tension. In silence, they pulled the blanket straight, smoothed bumps and wrinkles, aligned the top edge parallel to the base of the bedstead and tucked in the bottom. Women’s work.

Kay could not fathom her mother’s credence. Would she accept it or wouldn’t she? Mother would never let her know. All the the things that had been unsaid in this short, but seemingly endless exchange coursed through Kay’s mind like a torrent.

“Shall we have a cup of tea?” said Mother. Mother’s guard had not dropped.

“Let’s,” said Kay. Neither had Kay’s.

But a cup of tea was motion. The kettle, the teapot, tea bag, a plate for a bite to eat. spoons, sugar and a small jug of cream. Like the measuring of blood pressure, the tight band squeezing, pinching the upper arm, the air seeping away and slowly releasing the pressure – so had our tension released then dissipated gradually, leaving only a diminishing memory of the sharp, temporary pain that had been allowed to reach the surface of the skin.

Not much was said over tea. Kay was eager to make it short and leave. Mother seemed to readily accept that.

It had been years, maybe ten, since Kay had found herself pregnant. How could it be so? With all the new contraceptives at one’s disposal, how could this have happened? With everything falling apart, with the marriage in shreds, with her job in question, how could this be added to the craziness? It was just too much.

Kay thought of Rosemary, that slender, freckled, auburn-haired friend who had brought her “Our Bodies, Ourselves” to read, that recently published women’s medical handbook. It was incredible, really, that the taboos of women’s health, the functioning of one’s own body, could be exposed in print for women to read and understand. Kay had had no explanations about her womanly functions from her mother. She devoured the pages greedily, nodding from time to time as light-bulbs lit up her understanding, mysteries uncloaked.

Kay remembered Sharon, the nightclub dancer. No, she had been a stripper and not shy to say so. Sharon had moved into the small town with her beautiful, youthful body, like a fury of destruction, guiltlessly sleeping with every man she met, ravaging marriage after marriage. It was ironic that Sharon had been the final straw in Kay’s relationship and at the same time the only one who had offered an escape to Kay’s dilemma. She knew a doctor who would perform an abortion, if need be.

Sharon and Kay left for North Vancouver, Kay driving, to Doctor X whose name Kay had, by now, these ten years later, completely forgotten. How convenient for Kay, she thought, that she had been born in this generation where abortions had so recently become legal. She would have been pilloried. Her friend Nan, in university, only four years earlier had had an illegal abortion at one of those back door places and it had changed her forever.

Nan had clammed up and never spoken an unnecessary word since. Not to her mother. Not to me. Not to any friend. She wouldn’t eat. She had wasted away, locked in her room by her own choice, to the utter distraction of her mother who, it seemed, never knew what had wrought such a swift and terrible change on Nan.

Her thoughts in turmoil, Kay considered her options. Having a baby did not seem to be one of them. She was falling apart as was her marriage, if you could call it that. She’d barely seen him lately unless he was bringing home his ragtag collection of hangers-on all eager for free dope or booze that had become his modus operandi. Either she was completely alone for huge amounts of time at home or overwhelmed by a houseful of partying people she did not want in it. How could she raise a baby in these conditions? How could she have a baby and work to support it at the same time? She was losing her mind and her job at the same time. How was she to cope? Her whole world was catastrophically caving in.

And what kind of baby would she have, anyway? Kay hadn’t exactly refused to smoke or ingest some of the drugs that had freely walked in and out of her hippie household with her husband and entourage. Would it be deformed? Brain damaged? How had she gotten into this situation, she berated herself. More to the point, how could she get out of it?

The doctor was a woman, kindly and sympathetic. The pregnancy test was positive. She explored Kay’s reasons for wanting an abortion and Kay spilled out her miserable collection of dilemmas in reply. An appointment for the abortion was set not so many weeks away. Timing was critical.

In an odd turn of thought, Kay left the office elated. She could conceive! She was a woman!

That night, without advance warning, Kay went to find her friend Lina in Richmond to stay the night. Kay could no longer go home to Mother. How could she? Mother was so uprighteous and religious. Mother must never know of this or she would never speak to Kay again. Nor would Father. Kay was doing the unthinkable. It had to remain an ugly secret locked up forever. Only now, too late, did she understand her university friend, Nan.

Lina welcomed her in without question. They talked an hour with no limits before Lina said, “I’m working tomorrow. I’ve got to go to bed. Anything in the fridge you want is yours. Stay a day, stay a week; the choice is yours. Here’s a key so you can go in and out. Just drop it in the mail slot if you decide to leave. I’ll see you tomorrow afternoon.”

During that week, Kay barely slept, ideas elbowing and jostling like in a swarming train station, in her brain. Kay desperately wished and prayed for a miscarriage. Kay tried to induce a natural one with extreme yoga and other exercises. Kay pounded her abdomen trying to chase the unwelcome incubus from her womb.

Kay considered throwing herself down stairs but never could quite commit to the other permanent ills and hurts that she might invoke by doing so. She considered various means of self-destruction – slit wrists, poison, drowning – and rejected them all. They were all too messy, too painful or too ugly to leave behind for other people to clean up. And besides, it wasn’t her that she wanted gone, it was her problems – and this little growing thing that would be, by half, the product of this ugly relationship gone wrong and the man whom she now loathed.

And so it was, weeks later, that Kay sat in the doctor’s office, taking another pregnancy test, just before the intended operation.

“Why do I have to do this again?” Kay asked the doctor a bit querulously.

“Because I have to verify if you really are pregnant. ”

Kay sat waiting in turmoil. All the women’s magazines seemed frivolous, stupid really. Her eyes cursorily scanned the other patients. Were they there for the same reason? She continued to inspect the others, too numb to inspect herself inwardly.

“This test says that you are not pregnant.” the doctor informed her, “but we are going to go through a little procedure, a D and C. You say you haven’t had any bleeding but if you have miscarried, I’d like to make sure that we have removed any tissue that might have remained. It will be more certain that way.”

Kay nodded.

She left with a certain amount of glee. How it had happened, she did not know. Whether the first test had been inaccurate Had she been pregnant at all? or had she naturally aborted, miscarried, There had been no evidence of it, she did not know. She did not have to have an abortion. That was how her mind read it.

But here, ten years after, all these events came flooding back into Kay’s mind as she stared at her Mother who was inspecting her for a sign. What, really, was the difference between a D&C and an abortion? Had she really been pregnant? Even Kay could not say, and so she had been able to hold her Mother’s gaze, albeit guardedly. All of this was sitting on the razor’s edge of truth waiting to be cut, one way or another.

Break the News to Mother

November 9, 2007

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Break the News to Mother

Whilst the shot and shell was screeming Upon the battle field

The boys in blue were fighting their noble flag to shield

Came a cry from their brave Captain, look boys our flag is down,

Who’ll volunteer to save it from disgrace.

I will, a young voice shouted, I’ll bring it back or die,

Then sprung into the thickest of the fray,

Saved the flag but gave his young life, all for his country’s sake,

they bought him back and softly heard him say.

(Chorus)

Just break the news to Mother; They say there is no other;

Ant tell her not to wait for me, for I’m not coming home.

From a far but noted General had witnessed this brave deed.

“Who saved our flag, Speak up lads, ’twas a noble brave, indeed. “

“There he lies, sir” said the Captain, “he’s sinking very fast”;

then quietly turned away to hide a tear.

The General in a moment knelt down beside the boy

Then gave a cry that touched all hearts that day.

‘Tis my son, my brave young hero! It thought you were at home. “

“Forgive me father, for I ran away.”

Chorus

“Just break the news to mother….”

Just say there is no other to take the place of mother

And kiss her dear sweet lips for me and break the news to her.

H.G.

My apologies to the author if I’ve misquoted and misspelled – I’ve just copied the  little pencil written note that I have in my hands:

I found this little handwritten song that was tucked into pile of Mother’s news clippings. I wonder now if they were clippings about grandmother’s family friends and their losses during the first war. This little heart and hand drawn piggy softly watercoloured in, was stuck to it. They seemed to belong together, though the clippings are now separated from the drawing.
It was a heart rendering song, the kind that was meant to rally the troops, give them patriotic fervo, and to keep the home fires kindled and ablaze for the war efforts.

We look at it now and scoff a little at the sentimentality. Neither of mom’s brothers went to the war of 1914-1918 – they were just children still.

During the Gulf war, I sat across the table from my two nephews whom I was just beginning to care for in Mother’s home. They were seventeen and eighteen. I looked at their innocent faces, their fresh young skin and their boisterous well being and thought what a travesty it would be if they were called upon to serve. Cannon fodder. Lives stopped before they have time to live out even a modicum of their potential. And yet, one of my nephews – Lizbet’s boy, at twenty two – was doing exceedingly well in the military and loving it. He was ready for the fray – quite a different fray from that of 1914. He will go to Afghanistan in February.

Life seems to be a continuum. After the war to end all wars, there has been a war somewhere, doggedly continuing in the world, wreaking havoc on the countryside and killing our youth.

And so, the poem, the song, bears a heavy emotional charge. Lizbet talks often about what would happen to her if her tall, brave son were to die in a war.
“I put it out of my mind as much as I can” she said to me the other night, “or else I would go crazy. I don’t know how I could live if I did not know my son was out there in the world, alive and well,”

Compensating for a whine

November 8, 2007

ab-001-small.jpgAlright, I confess that the last post was a downright depressing, unmitigated whine. It had nothing to do with beauty, the professed goal of this web log. I could say that I snuck it in so that you would have a contrast for the other things I post and they would look exponentially better because there was something depressing and ugly to compare with.

So now I hope to make up with it with this little bit of fall beauty. I found these on the hood of my car the other day. It’s just photography, but you be the judge – are we not surrounded by beauty?

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and

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Old hurts and frustrations

November 8, 2007

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Heather and her Dauntless Husband helped me tirelessly to vacate all the chattels from Mother’s house. I can’t complain, since without them, it would have taken me months instead of two weeks. Their support and sustenance was crucial to my sanity. And then they left.

In our haste, we didn’t sort things out. Boxes that I had emptied from my original move were reused for packing up Mother’s things, especially, for this missive, her files and papers from her study. It was thus that the ancient four-drawer standing file cabinet was emptied into boxes marked “kitchen” “studio” “General household” and “bedroom”. None matched their original contents.

We spent all day at the house, packing, arranging, loading DH’s truck and my car. Each evening, we would come back to my house, unload the vehicles, have a touch of dinner and go exhausted to bed. Then next day would begin again with an hour’s drive, eight hours of packing and arranging, the return drive in the dark or in rush hour, an hour or more of unpacking, then thankfully, a meal, and to bed.

Boxes were brought into the house and pile in higher piles, in more rooms until it was almost impossible to walk around the house without moving a box or a small piece of furniture, or scrambling over a pile of something. Not even the kitchen was exempt from this accumulation of goods.

On one hand I was happy to have them here so that I didn’t have to go to some storage place to try and find what I needed; so that I could work through them at my own pace. On the other hand, this chaotic visual wasteland that I now lived in was depressing to the extreme. Often I would stand, paralyzed by the chaos, mesmerized by brown cardboard boxes. Daunted. Immobilized.

In those two weeks, I let drop every other responsibility that I had. All the incoming mail piled up, was moved from location to location as another series of boxes arrived looking for a place to stay in my tinier and tinier house. The walls were pressing in. Things were getting lost.

I took refuge in a game of Freecell. It helped sometimes to free my mind and let it spin in neutral. A game is somewhat misleading. One game leads to another and I don’t stop until I lose a game; and then I play until I end with a winning hand, so as to speak. So this may mean ten or more individual games. A computer pop up announced “1 new mail in your local mail folder” and I stopped my mindless playing to see who had written.

“It is essential to obtain a vacant permit for a house once people have moved out. Please make sure the house is fully insured.” It was from Otto.

Otto and I were hardly speaking. Our communications had always been fraught with tension, but the Estate had crystallized our rapport into one of two sparring knights. I fashion myself as the White Knight standing up for Right and Reason. Unfortunately, he fashions himself for the same but is at opposite poles in my idea of Right and Reason. I don’t understand how he thinks. I can affirm however, that when things don’t go his way, I feel the brunt of his vindictiveness. I have a nasty letter to prove it wherein he calls me liar, cheat, cheapskate and thief, not quite so concisely. It may be some time before we can speak to each other more than ten words without becoming uncivil.

And so, rather than a happy distraction, his e-mail reminder was an untimely prod to do my duty, that very duty that I had been Freecellianly avoiding.

Ten days worth of in-coming boxes have been reduced to nine days worth of boxes in the interim. With my survival policy of “one foot in front of the other, one step at a time” I began opening each box, looking for the box with files that contained the house insurance policy file.

I began to panic. I couldn’t remember the name of the company. If it was the one I expected, then how did I contact them. I really needed the agent’s name and telephone number. I needed to find the file in the cardboard carton haystack. I needed to insure the vacant house.

That was last night.
There are now piles in my office that are separated out – books boxes in one pile; Family archives, old letters and photos in another pile; office and current files in a third. The Estate box of files and the “Have to do” box of files sit right beside my computer desk.

In the living room are the unopened files; the review and shred boxes of files; miscellaneous household goods; ancient clothing for the Historical Costume Society. On the long sofa, there is a box of goods for Otto, one for Heather and one for Lizbet.

By the stairwell downstairs are the boxes that will be flea marketed, or household goods that are to be kept but are seldom used – for the storage room. Paintings still are stacked throughout, waiting to go downstairs. Items for the Thrift go in a box by the back portch. Chairs are stacked in the dining room. I now have three dining tables and two sets of chairs for them. There is no room for Mother’s kitchen table – a really fine one. It’s resting outside under an overhang of the house waiting for DH to transport it to Lisbet.

There must be a better way of doing this. Did you never write to the insurers for Mother? Couldn’t you find a file on your computer that would give you the contact info?

I looked, but in the way of so many computer file searches, the was nothing to be found.

After another four hours this morning of opening boxes, determining its contents, resealing it or putting away said contents, lifting the boxes it to their new designated holding station I found the insurance file in a box at the bottom of the file. I had opened, categorized, labeled and moved more than 45 boxes.

And so I phoned, and so I arranged for the insurance to be amended to cover the vacant house.

“Just write us a letter. Tell us you are canceling the policy. Give the date that it became vacant. Tell us your new address. Have it signed by all the those named insured.”

My heart sunk. It couldn’t be changed until Otto agreed to sign it. I would have to talk to Otto. “How on earth did he get to be a named insured?” I grumbled to myself. Bile rose in my throat. “I should have dealt with it then.” I mentally whipped myself for my laxity, years earlier. Or I would not have been in this situation now.

Otto, who had come to live with Mother and I much against her will, had suffered financial reverses. He was homeless. While Mother and I were away, I on a much needed vacation overseas and Mother staying with Heather for that interim, Otto who was supposed to be caring for the place occasionally, moved in lock stock and barrel, carving out a place for himself, displacing Mother’s and my affairs. When I returned, it was already done. He was firmly ensconsed, all his possession stored in the house and garage, immovable.

With the fait accompli, Mother agreed to give him refuge. He took it for nine years at her expense.

When next the insurance came due, he asked for his computer to be added to the list as an additional premium. It cost twenty five dollars and he paid it. Weeks after the policy was completed and the company sent documents, I read them over, surprised to find that Otto was now a named insured! I phoned the agent to see how that had happened.

“Oh, he’s the son, isn’t he? He phoned up to say that he was phoning on her behalf that he was to be added and so we did. That’s right, isn’t it?”

There had been so much tension. What difference did it make anyway, I thought. For the sake of family harmony, I let it go; did not make a fuss; let it ride.

“Yes, I guess that’s alright” I answered with a silent sigh and a shake of the head.

But it wasn’t. And now…

And now, I could not cancel the policy without his permission!

Amnesty

November 7, 2007

“Read it to me from the beginning again” she commanded.

I sighed inwardly. The repetition was getting to me.

I write to you concerning the news that has reached us about 300 people that have allegedly been tortured by police in Namibia. I appeal to you for help. Many people were arrested and detained. They were accused of being involved with a political group (Capri Liberation Army). ”

She considered the words carefully, found a phrase to mull over and refine. After all, it was the Minister of Justice that she was writing to.

Legally blind, she could not type her own letters, though she practiced touch typing daily. It had become a way to spend time; a way to challenge herself. She only had to get one key off and everything got to be gobbledy-gook. ;ole tjos! (like this).

Sentence by sentence, she constructed the letter in her mind, always gracious, alway extremely polite. I marvelled at her ability to do so. I strained to keep my composure. It was so boring for me!

“How did I say that last line? Read it just one more time,” she directed me. It wasn’t just one more time. It was the fourth time and I knew I would be reading it out fifth, sixth, seventh time. I was impatient to be doing something else. I could not hasten the process by writing something I thought she would say. It was never refined like hers was.

“No, No!” she would object. Then she would say what she thought would be appropriate; I would type it just as fast and re read it to her. “Wait! Go back please. Read that to me again.” And I would start over. She had so little meaningful tasks that she could do that this was supremely important to her. I could not let her down.

I appeal to you to ensure that legal aid is provided for those in detention. Please find resources to provide this legal aid. We know they are guaranteed to a fair trial. Please use your power to find financial help for them.” she concluded, “I courteously make these requests and thank you for your attention to this letter.”

She never signed her full name. She said, “In some of these countries, they don’t take women’s opinions into account. If I want my letter to be heard, I can’t point out that I’m a woman writing.”

Now I have a file folder with her copies of letters, hundreds of letters that she wrote, pleading for humanity and kindness, for fairness and for legal rights. Each letter was courteous in the extreme. “They won’t listen if you aren’t polite; if you don’t treat them as if they are fair and just.”

She wrote to minor princes, to Heads of state, to Presidents and Premiers, to Ministers of Justice. Working alone at home, writing, like a dripping tap wears away the surface below it, so did her letters, accompanied by other members of Amnesty International, ceaselessly pleading for victims of dictatorial regimes.

I read through these letters worthy of a diplomat and marvel at her will to help people, her desire to bring comfort to the weary and the tortured; and justice to the mistakenly imprisoned.

She wrote these letters by herself until she was ninety and then with my assistance, still in her elegant, measured language, until she was ninety two. For her last Christmas, Alex Neve sent her a card, and she was thrilled that somewhere, through this, she had been able to make a difference.

The Ice Box

November 5, 2007

It was a desultory Sunday afternoon conversation. Mr. and Mrs. Stepford were sipping tea and Mrs. was rapturing over a piece of lemon flavoured pound cake.

Mr. was leafing through a box of old newspapers and magazines that had been brought from Mother’s house as I was clearing it out. I hadn’t time to sort it out at all, so the boxes and piles of stuff from her house were now encumbering my living room, my dining room, my studio, my office, my basement, the outdoor tool shed. Boxes, boxes everywhere, and not a drop to drink, I thought, remembering Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner and massacring the lines of the poem to suit my purposes. I could have done with a short sharp nip of something. I was getting worn down by the aesthetic depression I was getting into, looking at all the boxes.

“These are all about the Niagara Falls Rainbow Bridge,” said Mister Stepford. “Nineteen Forty-two” he muttered, as an afterthought.

He carefully handled each newspaper and magazine that he brought out, laying them upside down in the box top so that he could easily put them back in order when he had looked at them all. He was searching for my father’s name amongst the myriad credits that were cited in reference to the bridge.

“He was just starting as a Civil Engineer. I’m sure he must have worked on it. But they woudn’t have credited a rooky Engineer. It was the middle of the war. I remember Mom telling me that all the women were encouraged, that is, coerced, into assisting with the apple and peach harvests because all the men were off to war or doing something essential at “home”. She went picking, she told me, but she hated it.”

Mr. Stepford fell silent as he turned the pages, careful not to tear the fragile paper, careful to keep the folds that were already there aligned so that no damage would occur from his handling them.

Then he found a 1941 calendar. “Whose year of birth was this one?” he asked.

“Heather’s”

Next he found the May 1945 NATIONAL home monthly.

“Look!” he remarked,” There are several companies that are still going strong today. “Cow Brand baking soda; Old Dutch Cleanser; Kotex; Arrid deoderant; Swift’s Premium Bacon;Jello; Gold Seal Salmon; Yardley’s soaps; Coca Cola; Magic Baking Powder!”

“Ice boxes!” he exclaimed, as he read on. “The new Ice refrigerators are here!” he quoted.

“I remember the day they brought a refrigerator into our house on Thirty-sixth Street.” said I. “We had an ice box before that. It was before we moved to Burnaby, so that must have been about 1950. I was little, but I remember. No more messy blocks of ice; No more emptying out the drip pan in the bottom. Times sure have changed.”

“Mother had the first refrigerator on the block. And the first dishwasher, too. We called it James, like it was a servant, but that was it’s brand name as well. Someone else had the first television. That was 1953 because we kids all went down to the Hillman’s house on the next block to watch Queen Elizabeth’s Coronation. That was really something!”

“And do you remember the horse and cart that delivered Dairyland’s milk from door to door? There was so little gas available and at such a price, that the retailers went back to delivery by horse rather than by automobile.”

The memories come in bits and pieces. A comment made, an object to touch – they all have ghosts behind them. Ghosts of the living – that person I used to be whether small, at five or tall when I was eleven, or twenty – still stirring, remembering threads and patches in the fabric of my life and bringing them forward.