Archive for January, 2009

Proud Auntie

January 30, 2009

I’m inordinately proud of my nephews. In most cases, I can’t take much credit for their upbringing but With Ron and Hugh, I had a good hand in their teenage years.

I saw Ron last Saturday and was pleased that he had found a nice woman friend, with girlfriend and maybe even mate potential. This is an accomplishment for Ron because he’s had to work hard on his self-esteem. He’s twenty-five now, and for the first time, I saw he had left the awkward teen persona behind and was a man in his own right – tall and broad of shoulders, dependable, building on the good principles and ethics that he learned at home.

I remember one anguished teenage evening when he defiantly said he wanted to learn from his own mistakes. I remembered my own rebellious teenage years and the grief I must have brought to my parents as I waded through some moral dilemmas and didn’t always come out on the right side of it.
What I provided to Ron at the time was this bit of safety net that I’m never felt I had in my growing years.

I said to him, “Ron. I love you as if you were my own child. I know you have a good heart and you know right from wrong. You are at an age when you have to try your own wings. You may fail sometimes, but if you keep trying, you will also learn to soar. You must go and do that now. But remember that your Auntie will always be here to listen to you and to help you straighten out your ideas.”

“I wanted to learn from my own mistakes when I was your age and you can bet, I made them. There is little that you could do that I don’t already know about it. If you want my advice, you can come and ask for it. You’ll do fine on your own.”
I went on to remind  him, as he went into his first love relationship that was horribly one sided,  of his responsibilities towards his new housemate.  He listened to all of it, acted on none of it until somewhere it must have echoed in his brain just in time, and he split from this most damaging relationoship before the year was out.

We elders could see that they were not right for each other, but hormones speak a language more powerful than reason. For all their vicious scrapping and name-calling, Ron slowly began to stand up for himself  and understand that he deserved that respect.

It took three years, but I no longer hear his first love’s name in every conversation. She’s gone. A very lovely woman has taken her place and perhaps, just perhaps, that will develop into a new and strong relationship.

This aunt is praying for him to find a steady and loving woman. He deserves a good one.

I was telling this to Hugh tonight in one of our weekly long distance telephone calls. Hugh, you may remember, is studying for his Masters in Ottawa.

Hugh came through childhood a little less scathed than Ron. He was academically bright and could hide behind his books when his home and school life were threatening him. He had better self-confidence and was able to fend off the taunts and attacks that teens test each other with.

Hugh has heard that same speech that I gave to Ron, though the circumstances were somewhat different. Hugh is single-mindedly driven towards his goal and never got caught up in wanting to move out and live with someone.  That’s not to say he didn’t have a girlfriend and all the heart ache and doubt of a first love.  But he knew that his career depended on him achieving the very best he could do academically or he would not have the job he wanted to have.
Hugh is also very steadfast and determined. While Ron was interested in having the appearances of a well dressed man and spent his hard earned money on clothes (which he kept impeccably, by the way) and couldn’t get out of school fast enough to go to work, Hugh was interested in getting his higher education, even if it meant living creatively under the poverty line to obtain it.

So as we were talking tonight, Hugh confessed that he was going to have to get a student loan to be able to continue on. In fact, he had already submitted his application and was waiting to hear about its approval. Not desperately, he hastened to say; and then continued on to tell me about trying to find some creative way of making  rice and a can of stewed tomatoes into  an interesting dinner. He prided himself on being able live by his own means; and not to depend on others to see him through.

Shades of my student days! I remember the last week I was in my apartment on Sixth Avenue in Kitsalino.  I’ve told this story already so I won’t repeat it here. Briefly, I’d tried to use up most of the food in the cupboards so that I wouldn’t have to move a lot of food when I left, and ended up with a can of yellow beans and rice which did me for dinner for the week.  I had a job lined up but, due to a Woodworkers’ strike, the job disappeared, so then I was without food and also without resources. I was too proud to go to Welfare for help and just stuck it out, somehow until I got a job.  I must say that I had some understanding friends and that saw me through.

I offered Hugh a tide-me-over injection of cash to his account which he refused, saying he thought he could manage. The only thing was, if nothing came through by next week, he would need some money for his medication. It was the only thing he could not live without. By the end of the conversation, he reluctantly said he would feel better if he knew he could get next week’s dosage; and so I will do that tomorrow.

After our call ended, it set me to thinking.

Hugh knows my financial situation because we have been open with each other on this account. But I, when I was in college and later, while I was travelling in Europe and got myself into financial scrapes – I had no idea about my parent’s finances. I only thought about my own precarious situation.

When I set off for Europe, both my parents were retired. Pensions were good but not like they are today, and it was not like they had oodles of back-up, having seen four progeny through University. They had just their own hard earned savings. They had lived frugally to raise us; had made us earn our own fees and pay for our books while getting our higher education, but they provided us with room and board. They came from the first generation where pensions were a part of collective contracts and they were loath to depend on them. Saving for their old age was part of their generational ethos.

Our Granny, when the first Old Age Security pension was distributed, held the cheque in her hand incredulously.

“This is for me? They are sending me money for having done nothing?” She could not believe it and had to be convinced that it was meant for her and that she was able to deposit it to her bank account – and that one would arrive for her every month thereafter until she died.

Now these social privielges have become universally available, at least in Canada and other countries with social safety nets.

So, going back to 1978 during the first oil crisis, when I called from France at the community pay phone and asked my Mother to send me money to tide me over, I was blithely ignorant of what this meant to them. I remember vaguely some hard questioning about what I needed it for and why I hadn’t been more careful with the money I had, and when I would pay it back, etcetera, etcetera.

I had no idea, and really I still don’t, whether or not my request would have put them in an awkward position. I was only concerned with my fear of being with out money and losing my place to live and having no food to eat. Without question, they sent it to me and I took it and really, I don’t even think I was properly grateful. I learn too late that I was a spoiled, unthinking brat.

Youth is a very odd thing. Teens straddle childhood and adulthood, desiring ardently to leap entirely to the adult side; but when a hardship comes, they are only too eager to hide behind mama’s proverbial skirts and consider it their due. Youth can be a wobbling mass of inwardly looking emotional material on one hand, and ardently passionate towards the underdog and worthy social causes on the other. They can be full of pep and energy with as much vigour as they can be indolently slothful – in equal parts. There is such a dichotomy of feelings, opinions, actions, and desires as to confuse themselves and anyone who has to live with them. They feel they are invulnerable to all risk and danger. They are inconscient to the undercurrent of people’s lives.

I listen to these two nephews whom I lived with for five years and sometimes see myself in them – that description in the paragraph above is an accurate description of a teenaged me.

And so, Auntie that I am, I was proud to hear Hugh tell me how he was coping with little; how he was trying to see his situation as an opportunity to develop self-reliance and creativity in managing with what he had.He’s been at it for five years in pursuit of his goal and he is still willing to strive towards it despite the hardships.

Both boys in their own ways have become fine young men, have learned to be independent, have learned to respect others, to live within their means, to reach for their goals. For that I am eternally thankful. Bless them both.

I’m proud of them and grateful to be their Auntie.

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Fire, insurance and a day in town.

January 26, 2009

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I think I must have told you about the fire? If I haven’t then rest easy, it was not at my house. My friend’s friend, Harley was doing some home improvement in the basement late evening on New Year Day gluing baseboards as  a finishing touch for his new hardwood floors, using contact cement. It’s very volatile and one needs to have doors and windows open with a good cross draft to dissipate the fume, but it was the first of January. With bitter weather outside, Harley didn’t open up the doors and windows.

The electrical baseboard heater must have kicked on and it ignited the fumes which made an explosion he simply could not have contained. He fled for his life; woke all the family and got them out of the house in less than five minutes. Everyone but he was in their jammies. Of seven of them,  only two had shoes. The fire department was somewhat hindered by the heavy snow and dismal driving conditions. When they arrived in ten minutes, it was too late. The house had exploded in flame, collapsed and everything was burnt. There remained a pile of charcoal.  Everything was gone.

Harley is doing remarkably well or is simply still in shock. He’s tremendously thankful that  everyone got out safely. He’s herding everyone into doing the things they need to do.

Two of the seven were foreign students staying with the family. They too are uninjured. But they’ve lost absolutely everything they had with them. They are seriously shaken.

By miracle, the filing cabinet was not totally destroyed and Harley was able to retrieve everyone’s passports. My friend Dorothy was up one side and down the other of him for doing that. The house is condemned. If the house had collapse a little more, he could have been killed or seriously injured in the process and then what would the rest of the family have done? And yet Harley is pleased. These are the only things left to prove their existence, pre-fire.

The family are living in a hotel and are moving to rental house this week until their own house is rebuilt.  The insurance company won’t let them rent furniture, only buy, but they don’t know what they will need for furnishing the new house and want time to consider how they want to decorate if they are starting from scratch.

Meantime, they are surviving with furniture handouts from neighbours’ attics and basements and buying only the things that they will need but that will not affect their decor choices,  like beds. They have already bought a basic wardrobe each and now have, amongst all the other basics, shoes and coats.

So Dorothy  asked me to see if I had duplicates of things they could use, since they don’t have anything. They need every kitchen tool, appliance, dish, cleaning supply, and linen that you could think of. They need bathroom toiletries, towels, bed linens.

They lost the husband’s home based business – from his computer and all the information on it right down to the last paper clip. I can’t imagine how devastating that must be.

So Friday, I set about collecting things from my house that were duplicates and I took them into Dorothy on Saturday around eleven. I stayed for a nice cup of tea with her and one of her friends who was visiting.

Just before I left, I transferred all the chattels I had been able to gather – broom, mop, Corning Ware, a vase, wooden spoons, a bowl,  kitchen knives, two sauce pans, kitchen garbage pail liners,  cleaning liquid, dish drying cloths and hand towels, cloth and paper napkins. I brought face cloths and towels, a Queen sized comforter, and some toiletries. I included three ice cream pails with lids. I always find them so useful.

I had two small and one large  box full of goods plus plastic bag of the linens. It didn’t make a dint in my house. Now I’m keeping my eyes open for some more things to add; but the first load has been delivered.

When I knew I was coming to town, I let Doctor Gordon know. He is  ninety-six now, frail and bent over but sharp as a tack. (His latest acquisition is a Blackberry which amuses him to program and figure out). Doctor Gordon was my Mom’s only contemporary friend in the last three years of her life.

He asked me to lunch at the Sequoia Restaurant in Stanley Park. He was waiting for me at the main floor of his apartment building when I arrived.

“Where’s your walker?” I asked.

“Oh, I just use that in the house. I can do just fine. You’ll see.” But my heart sunk a little. If he faltered, could I catch him?

At the apartment, all he had to do was walk from the front door to my car door; at the restaurant though, we had no idea how close we could park. It was just the two of us and I worried about being able to hold him up if he started to fall.

Off we went.

“You’re my navigator,” I told him blithely. With no hesitation, he called out the directions. Left onto this street; right on Pacific into Stanley Park;  past Second and Third Beach, turn right and go until the Causeway. Drive under it and go round the circle halfway. Head North, turn left at the end of the road.  He never missed a beat.

We went past the area that had been devastated by the storm two years previously. Debris had been cleared away leaving a good view out into English Bay where a few tankers waited for entry to the Port of Vancouver. It was a lovely crisp and clear day.

Luck was with us. We got the closest spot to the ramp where he prefers to enter – the stairs are more difficult for him. Our mutual friend Noreen had cautioned me that I should keep a hand under his oxter to steady him. Much as he would like to be independent, at 96, he needs the support, but he did very well.

I was a bit amused at his determination. As we walked up the handicap ramp to the restaurant door, very softly under his breath, he kept repeating something. Finally, I caught it. He was saying “I can do this. This is good. Yes, this is good,” as if with each step he was conquering his faltering limbs.

At the restaurant, though the place was almost completely full, there was a window seat. My parking angel had done me well, and now the restaurant angel was helping out too!

I had an excellent visit with him, the best I’ve had yet, since I could hear him well and he could hear me and we weren’t distracted by other people or other things. He said this was his favourite restaurant. He dines or lunches there  at the Sequoia twice a week or more so the staff knows him well.

When we went back to the apartment, I brought him his belated Christmas present – a large batch of shortbread baked to and old recipe that  Mrs. Baxter had given to my mother. His nurse aide from the agency had arrived by the time we got back into his apartment. Julie fussed with him and then put away the cookies so that I could take the tin home. Gordon and I continued our  little visit. God Bless Julie. She makes his life happy and he is still in his own home amongst his own things.

After that, I went to see Noreen who lives in the same building. Noreen is a friend I made, having met her at one of Doctor Gordon’s dinners.  She is in the middle of Estate woes and so we had lots of talk to share.

When we met a few years back, we knew each other like soul sisters. Our liking was instantaneous. She’s twenty years older than I – a free spirit of the Beat Generation. She fled a staid, Ontarian family of the Establishment for the theatre in London.

Now,  her health fails  and she is frail, but her spirit is just amazing. She’s an inspiration for me in how she keeps bright and happy and never complains.  Her skills with the English language had been honed in her literary career, so her imprecations on her greedy and conniving siblings in the matter of her mother’s Estate gave us much to laugh about.

At quarter past four, I regretfully had to go. I couldn’t risk a parking ticket and I wanted to get back home before daylight ended altogether. The only exception I was willing to make was if I could have a bit of time with my nephew Ron.

I regained my chariot and headed out of town via the Cambie Street bridge. Curses on old habits! With the construction still underway, traffic inched along the bridge as three lanes of traffic merged into one. If I had chosen another route and I would have saved myself a half an hour.

As I waited my turn to merge impatiently,  I phoned nephew Ron to see if he had a bit of time for me. I could easily pass close to his house on my way out of town, but he wasn’t answering.

Before I was off the bridge, he phoned back. I could hear the happiness in his voice that I had called. He said to come right over and I did. I was glad to do so, because I wanted to deliver a belated Christmas gift of shortbread and cookies to him, too.

The snow at Christmas and my subsequent car  breakdown had prevented me from coming earlier.

It took another quarter of an hour to get to Sixth Avenue and to turn back to Great Northern Way. I had only driven three city blocks.

When I arrived, he was out in the driveway waiting for me. He had a parcel in his hands.

“I’ll just put it in the car. That way I won’t have to worry about you forgetting it when you go.”

It was just about dinner time and I suggested calling for delivery; but he said he wanted to eat in, and he would cook! The menu choices were pizza or hamburgers.

“It’s all the same to me but the thought of pizza is good.” I said.

I detected a trace of disappointment.

“I have the the barbecue already fired up,” he replied.

It was obvious he had already started preparing for hamburgers, so hamburgers it was. While he was defrosting them, his mother phoned. She was just outside the house but was checking to see that she was not intruding on other visitors. So we added in a hamburger and she stayed for dinner. Then Ryan asked if it would be okay if Sherry came over and ate with us as well. He was expecting to see her later that evening and she came.

Sherry is a friend he recently met at a neighbourhood bar and they sometimes played pool together and shared some conversation over a beer;  so they have become friends.

She’s lovely. I hope she remains important in his life even if she doesn’t become his special girlfriend. She’s a hair stylist and she loves riding horses. She stables her horse out in Pitt Meadows not far from my house. It’s not even a ten minute drive from here. She’s mature, friendly, calm. Seems happy.

I’m very thankful, for Ron’s sake. He’s got a woman friend. He still has his job and nothing is slowing down there, so that too, is to be thankful for.

I drove home in the dark thinking about how fortunate I was. I love Hugh and Ron, the two nephews I had a hand in rearing during their teenage years. I was happy to see the changes in Ron as he takes on a manly self-assurance. Hugh, you may remember, is in Ottawa doing his studies. We keep in touch by phone and, being a year older, is more sure of his path. He knows where he’s going.

As I was watching my late evening television show, I opened up the parcel Ron had given me. I was delighted to see my belated gift from Lizbet. She sent it down with Ron from Nelson after his Christmas visit to her. The box said it was an  Optima digital camera! However, inside was a disc for that awesome series, Planet Earth, and a very lumpy other Christmas present  which turned out to be the brush washing, brush protecting, water holding receptacle which only a water-colourist would treasure. It’s wonderful. I think I may try it out today! I’ve got a drawing that would be interesting to try expanding into a painting.

I feel very blessed to have a sister who is equally engaged in art as I am to whom I can talk about the fine points of our art. And I’m very thrilled with my Christmas presents.

I forgot to say that the drive into Vancouver was stunningly beautiful around the Mary Hill Bypass. The trees were covered in hoar frost and it was one of those winter wonderland kind of scenes – light, airy-fairy, briskly cold but wintery sunny. I took photos whilst driving (at a red light, but through a not perfectly clean windshield) and the quality of image is not there,  so they are only indicators of how marvelous it looked.

It’s been a day Maggie Muggins. So many people!

Tomorrow I shall stay home and keep all to myself.

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Fire!

January 23, 2009

A distraught friend called last night to tell me this tale.

During the Christmas season, she had been invited to go snowshoeing with her friends who live up Hollyburn Mountain near Vancouver. It was a gathering of friends, a party!

I remembered her fretting about how she could park there, it being so hilly where they lived, and whether or not she could get out again if she did go. It was a valid concern. We had experienced snow dumps of thirty centimeters for four of seven days in that week, and the snow was beginning to get damp and unmanageable. Besides, these friends of hers lived half way up the mountain near the snow line. Their snowfall would be even deeper.

Better judgement got in the way and she didn’t go. She stayed home, warm beside her gas fire, reading a book and sipping on a glass of Merlot.

“I just heard from Harley and Joan,” she said quite excitedly.’They’ve had a fire! It was the same day we were supposed to go snowshoeing. Do you remember?”

The party had gone ahead and they had had a great time. In the evening after everyone had left, Harley  had gone down to the basement to continue on with his home improvement project which included using contact cement to glue baseboard to finish off the meeting of wall and hardwood floor he had recently installed in the new family room.

As he was working, WHOOSH! the off-gassing solvents caught fire when the baseboard electrical heater turned on. A fireball leapt before him and he fled. There was absolutely nothing he could do to contain the fire that had erupted. All he could do was escape.

Within seconds, he was upstairs getting everyone out of the house, called the fire department, but in less than five minutes, the house was consumed. Everything was gone. Home based business. Household effects;identification papers and vital statistics; family history; photos; clothing. Everything. The fire department had difficulty in getting there because of the unusually deep snow. Even so, their response was nonetheless rapid; but by the time they arrived there was no house.

To every cloud there is a silver lining. Within such a short time space, everyone was out and alive. Only two of the seven inhabitants of the house. Two of these were home stay foreign students; three children and their parents.

Only two of them had shoes! In that bitter cold and icy snow. They took refuge in their car. How it happened that they actually had the keys to the car with them is miraculous.

Now, they are living in very temporary accommodations and will move to a rental house at the end of this week.

My friend was calling to see if I had some things I would like to give to them. Already, their close friends and neighbours had offered furniture from basement or attic that they hadn’t been able to part with but, in this instance, were happy for it to find a new home.

What they were missing was kitchen ware.

So today, I’m going to rummage in the basement and in my linen closet for things they might be able to use. In this corner of the world, we have so much, we don’t know what to do with it all. Surely, I can find a lot of things that will help them get started back up.

So, Hi ho, Hi ho, it’s off to work I go….

Just a cautionary note before I leave you, if you didn’t catch it clearly up above:

The solvents in glues are not only toxic to breathe but they are very volatile as well. Never use them in an area where there is heat or the chance of a spark. They act like bombs when the catch fire. Something as innocuous as an electrical, built in,  baseboard heater can provide the ignition for the fumes of a glue or a cleaning fluid containing solvents which is exposed to the air. So always, always, always ensure good ventilation and make sure the heaters are turned off so that they wont start up.

The week that was

January 17, 2009

It’s been a week, my friends.

On Monday I decided to do something about the car that has been sitting immobilized in the front driveway. The snow has gone in most places, though there are still fat lumps of it slowly melting where no snow clearing has been done, or where my assiduous attempts to have a clear sidewalk and driveway resulted in mountainous piles of the white stuff. My activity between Christmas mid-January has been driven by snow clearing.

The car, when I finally tried to get it out, would not start. I had replaced the solenoid early December and paid a frightful amount of money to do so; now it wasn’t starting again. On Monday I called the Automobile Association and they came, tried it to no avail, and then they arranged to tow it into my dealership in Vancouver.

Mondays are dreadfully busy for these white knights of the asphalt roads. People wait until after the weekend to ask for help; Monday becomes a concentrated day of rescuing. It’s a little known piece of trivia except in the car repair industry.

I had to wait three hours until four-thirty for the tow truck to come, and I hitched a ride into Vancouver with him.  It saved me a two hour bus trip which I wasn’t looking forward to. I knew that the dealership would not be able to fix my car problem until morning, so I arranged with a friend to keep me overnight.

I had arranged this day for dealing with the car because it coincided with a Vancouver Playhouse production, Miss Julie, for which I and my friend had tickets. That was one of two saving graces this week.

The tow truck driver and I arrived at the dealership just fifteen minutes before six. The personnel were none too pleased – they wanted to go home. At five-fifty nine, the sales associate asked me very pointedly when I expected to be picked up and fortunately, my friend’s headlights could be seen turning into their parking lot. They seemed glad to see the back of me, and I was glad to be gone.

The play, Miss Julie, was excellent, by the way. It’s about a plantation owner’s daughter forcing her attentions on the plantation’s reluctant black chauffeur. There are three actors – the third is the black cook – and there was no intermission. The tension built up like the proverbial frog being heated in a pot of water. No one escapes the situation and all is terribly fraught with both physical and mental danger as the play winds to conclusion. Set in th 1960’s about the time of black Americans fighting for their right to vote, the dilemmas are excruciating. It wasn’t a play to calm my otherwise frayed nerves.

The acting was spot on. Wonderful. I recommend the play to you and if you are in the Vancouver area, it’s still running. It’s funny, despite what I said above, and full of meaty ideas. Exactly what great art should be, in my mind.

So, skip to after the play – we both needed a swig of something soothing to calm our nerves after we got out of that one. A nice merlot fixed us up; and then skip to Tuesday:

I had time to waste until I could collect my car. My friend had to go to work. On this grey, rainy Wetcoast day, I had to find somewhere warm to go. I bought a book of bus tickets at the Esso station at Granville and 41st then hopped a B-line bus to Seymour and Robson, then walked up to the Vancouver Art Gallery. I arrived just in time for the opening.

The gallery is just changing two floors of exhibition, but there are two more floors of very interesting work. I spent my time in the Kai Althoff exhibition on the fourth floor – for a description of that, please see my other blog,

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I met a friend for lunch, then about two, I walked down to the Burrard Skytrain station, took the train and hopped over to the Main Street Station, then walked about three very long blocks to the dealership. The bill (especially after having already fixed the ignition in December) was heart-sinkingly high. I could barely speak politely to them as I left (but I did) and I felt I needed a good cup of coffee for the run home. I denied myself a two dollar fruit and nut bar in honour of the car bill, as if that would make any difference.

The flight home was uneventful. The car worked just fine. I very thankfully arrived home by five on Tuesday, took off my coat, emptied my bag of things that needed to be put away, put on a cup of coffee and fired up my computer. A game of free cell would do me just fine in working my way back into the house. Do you ever feel like that after having been away? I seem to have to readapt myself, reacquaint myself. I can’t just start doing something useful.

And so, hot cup of coffee in my hand, I returned to the computer and moved the mouse. I clicked on my housemate, Freecell, and the green screen came up. I dealt a hand with the flick of the mouse and then the mouse would not move.  Oh, fiddle!!!

Long story short, I must have tried to bring the computer up six times before I admitted I had a serious problem. I phoned Hugh in Ottawa. He walked me through some things that didn’t work. He advised me to get someone in to fix it. I was going to ask Mark to come, but his phone number was held safely within the confines of my hard drive.  I phoned around to see if acquaintances could provide me with phone numbers. I didn’t get Mark’s but I got some other references for good repairers.

On Wednesday, I finally contacted someone who would come; and then the computer was fixed by Friday.

We forget how much the computer has invaded our lives, for good and for bad. I feared for all the data I had not backed up recently. I’d just done my business tax bookkeeping. All my recent writing. All my telephone and address information. My entertainment. My dictionary and encyclopedia; my information guru.  Gone!

For two days, I wasn’t exactly paralyzed, but I had to find things to do. Not that there weren’t plenty of things to do. But like coming back into an empty house and re-owning it, I approach tasks with a routine that sometimes includes rewarding myself for having finished something by ten minutes on the computer doing things I like. My whole routine was upside down.

The other good thing about this week, if I may be a bit ironic at the end of it all, is that I got another challenge/proposal on the conclusion of the Estate and that just made my heart sink. Back to the lawyer for advice. …. I just don’t want to tell you.

My horoscope last Friday said that I should start nothing new, just finish up old things; and that the week would be a struggle. Oh, man! It has been like treading deep water to keep afloat.

I’d like to see the local newspaper with Tim Stephens’ prognostication for the upcoming days. I’m glad I can blame this past week on the stars.  I’d like to hope that he has something better to offer me for the coming days. But I checked with Mrs. Stepford next door. Neither of us received the local paper. Did something happen to our renowned  stargazer?

New Year’s Eve

January 1, 2009

Kay was alone and happy for it. With all the fuss of Christmas, the goings-out and the comings-in she’d had her fill of people for a while. The silence in the house was comforting.

Early in the morning she had awoken with thoughts crowding away her sleep. It was about mother’s Estate and how Otto felt it should be finalized. Kay and Otto had been at loggerheads to the point of Kay being threatened with a challenge in court over the accounts; and now the two of them were sparring over a compromise that would help them resolve the issues. How she had started her day with this invasive garbage, she didn’t know. She must have been dreaming of it, sorting it out in jumbled illogical slumber. The instant her eyes opened, however, she had somehow clarified her thoughts  and before reaching for her coffee, she was sitting at the computer writing herself some notes to rebuff his specious arguments before she could forget them.

Before long, the phone rang with Heather proposing a meeting of all beneficiaries in January with an arbitrator. Everyone had waited too long. The business had to be resolved.

Kay hung up the phone and it rang again before her fingers had left the receiver.  It was Lizbet. She only had five minutes before she left for work but wanted to add her two cents worth. Kay ran her early morning list of thoughts past Lizbet, then inconclusively, Lizbet had to run.

Was this her New Year’s disaster? For so many years, Kay had experienced some kind of disastrous or disappointing event to the point where, forever thereafter,  she would no long plan anything for New Year’s Eve. It was a jinxed night. If Kay laid low, then she could scramble under the disaster radar and come out relatively well for the dawning of the New Year.

There had been the night when her favourite beau had invited her to a frat party at the Beta Phi house on campus. An hour after his appointed time of arrival, Kay was still pacing the hallway dressed in her cut velvet party dress, hair perfectly coiffed with a saucy upturn looking beautiful like a blond Jacqueline Kennedy clone. The phone rang and she pounced upon it. It was her brother Otto.

“David’s already here, if you’re waiting for him,”  he announced. “He’s got a date with him. But Phil is here and he hasn’t got a date. Why don’t you just get a cab and come out here. It’s a great party!” he added.

Where had she gone wrong? Kay asked herself. David had been very clear that he would pick her up at eight. Kay demurred to Otto’s suggestion It would look like she was checking up on David or chasing him. Phil didn’t even know who she was. Why would he want to be with her? She was hurt and unhappy about the turn of events. She didn’t want to go.

Kay returned to her parents and explained what had happened, and that was the end of that. She sulkily went to her room and got out her pyjamas, put the party dress away and picked up Atlas Shrugged and read. It was a better companion for an evening, anyway, she consoled herself as her mind turned over and over her conversation with Otto and the perfidy of David. By midnight, the book fell from her hands and she was fast asleep.

She had only  been nineteen then. But year after year, New Year’s Eve party after New Year’s Eve party, there had always been something. There was the night that her date had dug his car into a snow bank and she had found herself in high heels and short dress, freezing, while  pushing the car back onto the road with the assistance of four other people. She was sopped, trembling with cold,  and the heel on her brand new shoes had snapped.

There was the New Year’s night that her date got so drunk he couldn’t drive her home and some leering fool did. She had had to shove with all her might, this Mr. Octopus and his lecherous attentions, to prevent him from coming in the front door.

There was  the snowbound New Year’s night where everyone had been dancing in stocking feet and someone took her boots by mistake. The pair that was left was too small for her to walk in and she had to go home  through a foot deep of slushy snow melt in dancing slippers. Kay had begun to refuse invitations for New Year’s Eve.

In her young married years, she began to invite people in. That seemed to help, but there were even some of those, with all the preparations made, that no one came, usually the fault of a nasty winter storm of snow or a deluge of Wet Coast rain.

Kay remembered the years she was travelling and studying abroad. She’d been invited by a young student to visit her parent’s home in Leeds and she did. The parents were lovely, middle class working people – both of them. The daughter, Alison, was eighteen and just beginning to run with a rather rough crowd.  Her mother had been happy to have Kay go with Alison to her New Year’s Eve party. She hoped that Kay would bring a stabilizing influence to Alison. Alison would be responsible for a guest’s happiness, she reasoned, and Kay would have enough sense to bring Alison out of a difficult situation if one arose.

The party took place in a three storey walk-up in a rough part of town. There were a hundred teen and twenty-somethings trying to party in the top floor apartment which was unheated and unlit. Joints and pills were being passed from one reveller to another. The house had no indoor bathroom; the loo was located underneath the front porch and the young men had no intention of going down there to relieve themselves and so were pissing in the kitchen sink instead.The trip down to the front steps was encumbered by people lolling on the stairs, or wrapped around each other with no perceivable space between them from top to bottom, leaning on the walls, hindering passage. Kay’s only thought was of escaping this Hieronymous Bosch hell, but Alison who had promised her mother not to drink was imbibing not only quantities of ale but adding chemicals to the mix.

There was no food and poor Kay was allergic to ale. The only alternative was  tap water, but that seemed out of the question, given the most recent use of the kitchen facility as urinal.

The lights were dim. The music, crashingly loud, was a blessing and a curse. It was impossible to talk to anyone (and therein the blessing)  but the noise was deafening – and boringly repetitive. At midnight, a roar of cheering went up. Kay tugged at Alison and inquired directly into her ear when they might consider going home. Alison shrugged. The fellow who was to drive was nowhere in sight.

“Let’s go!”  Kay had suggested again  just after midnight. She was completely bored. She thought back to Alison’s mother. What iota of a difference could she make to the situation she and Alison were in? She wasn’t in control of transportation; there was no way to phone for a cab; she had no idea where she was. And Alison? Kay had not a whit of influence on her.

“Can’t. Can’t find Nigel. He’s got the car.” said Alison with a little slur.

“Let’s go!” Kay pleaded, at one.

“Haven’t seen Nigel, ” stated Alison unsteadily.

“Please let’s go”,  insisted Kay at one-thirty.

“I think I saw Nigel. Stay here; I’ll be back,” said Alison, and she went off, squeezing her way through gyrating dancers and clumps people yelling to talk to each other, to find Nigel.

Alison reappeared at two.  “Where’s Nigel?” shouted Kay.

“Hurry. He’s waiting for us down stairs and he’s impatient.” Alison sounded none to pleased. “We’re to meet him at the front steps. We have to take some other people home on the way.”

There were five bodies crammed into his little car on the way home, women doubling up on the men’s laps, the car was so small. It was fortunate that the streets were empty as they erratically hurtled through the streets to destination.

When Kay and Alison crept into the house, it was three.

“Don’t tell my mom anything about the party, ” Alison pleaded in a whispering voice as we went in the front door.

“Did you enjoy your party last night?” her Mom asked next morning.

“Lovely party,” said Kay without enthusiasm ” but I think we stayed too late. I’m getting too old for such late nights. Loud music. Too much dancing.”

Benignly, her mother thought back to slow waltzes and the crooning music of the just-after-war years. She imagined the pretty dresses and the decorated church halls where they took place.  A flash image of her husband in smart, clean military uniform passed before her eyes.

“I could see that you were older, ” her Mom said. “You might look young, but once you open your mouth, you can tell you are more experienced, level headed ….”

Kay was thirty looking an innocent twenty, and felt anything but level headed.

She was thirty six in Rheims on the New Year’s Eve that Kay and Frank had planned a party for the two Parisian women they had met at the Fair at the Porte de Montreuil in November.  Frank, in his usual culinary exuberance, had splurged on lobster and steak for this celebratory night and stocked a variety of finest wines. Four blue spotted lobsters with fat red rubber bands on their claws were ineffectually duking it out amongst themselves in a cardboard box in the cold passageway between the house and the inner courtyard. Frank and Kay were chopping garlic and parsley for a butter sauce. The salad was prepared and sitting on the small round drop leaf table. It was set for four with polished silver and the best plates. A special patisserie dessert was in the oven.

At nine o’clock, no one had come but the cook was well past the first bottle of red. At ten, no one had come and bottle number two was dead. Kay and Frank had began to worry. What had happened to the women? Like many homes in France, Frank and Kay had no telephone. Even if there was one, if the women were en route from Paris, there was no way to phone them.  Had they had an accident? Had it been too stormy to start out? Or had they not taken the invitation seriously?  It had been spontaneously given. Had they found something else to do? Had they reconsidered?

Daniel, a work colleague,  rang the doorbell uninvited at eleven and was dragging his son,  an unwilling and sleepy ten year old, behind him. Daniel was a taciturn teacher, single parent, always spreading doom and gloom. His uncommunicative son was absorbed in a new toy, a hand held game that he had received for Christmas.

Frank was so glad to have someone cross the threshold that he asked Daniel to share the feast. Bottle number three was uncorked. The lobsters were dropped into the vat of boiling water and they mutated from blue to brilliant red.   The meal had not been wasted, but the evening had spoiled. At five past midnight, Frank chased Mr. Gloom-and-doom  and his son out the front door and Kay and he headed for bed.

In February, an apology came by mail. Anna had borrowed her father’s car and it had broken down. There had been  no way to call and no other way to get to Frank and Kay’s. They had spent their evening out in the freezing rain trying to hitch back to Paris to get help for their stranded car.

At Kay’s  forty fifth New Year, on a quiet evening at home now back in Canada, Kay and Frank had invited Janice to share a midnight meal. The food sat prepared for the late night repast while the three of them took the bus into Vancouver to participate in First Night, the City’s free entertainment and fireworks.

They had hardly been there an hour when Janice had become ill and all three had to return home. By eleven they were there packing Janice into her own car and she left. The cold meal shared by two had lost its flavour. The bottle of Champ. remained unopened. What was the point? Frank downed a tall glass of red and went to bed. Kay stood outside on the balcony overlooking the city watching the fireworks rise out of Coal Harbour until the last magnificent one fizzled and faded into nothing. Just like this New Year’s Eve, thought Kay, focusing on the dribbles of colour falling towards the black, cold  waters of the bay.

After her divorce and after Kay had agreed to assist her mother by living in the same house, Kay spent each New Year’s Eve with her mother, watching Lawrence Welk and his Bubbly machine. The gas fire place was lit. A card table was set up before the fire and the  Times Square count down droned on the television.

The table was set with embroidered linen and the high-days silverware, the Lavender Rose china, and a tiny repast to see in the midnight hour. At five minutes to, Kay and her mother would sit at the table, serve a half sandwich without crusts and  a sweet to each plate, pour a glass of sparkling ginger ale, and toast to the New Year. For each of twelve years, her mother related how her father had died just two weeks before her wedding, but everything had been arranged and so many people had been invited. Grandmother had insisted that they carry on bravely.  It was not only New Year’s Eve, it was Mother’s wedding anniversary and a  reminiscence of husband and father long gone. At least that had been lovely and quiet; and nothing bad had happened.

And now Kay was alone, on New Year’s Eve 2008, happy to be home. Happy to be unwinding the lights of the Christmas tree. Happy to be packing the baubles and tinsel. Happy to be drinking a fine cup of coffee and eating some warm leftover apple crumble with ice cream. Happy to have laid the morning’s distress to rest for the day, determined not to let it intrude on what should be a day of celebration.

Here was Kay, happy to see the last Royal Air Farce on the telly. Happy to read a little, write a little, and above all, stay home, quiet with her thoughts, listening to a Sibelius and Rachmaninoff.

Midnight came and Kay studiously did nothing to mark the passage. At fifteen past, she heated a cup of tea and selected two shortbread from the box of Christmas baking and smiled.

Outside, she could hear firecrackers and fireworks. Some noisy passers-by were still calling one to the other as they walked down Twenty-seventh Street.

Just one more year. She had sneaked under the radar before anything could befall, and she had safely made passage into the New Year.