Archive for March, 2009

Maybe they hold deluges!

March 24, 2009

Kay was telling Heather everything she could remember about the baby shower and exclaiming that the gifts were huge. She had felt embarrassed by the bib she had bought from Shirley, a local designer of baby gift ware even though, when she bought it, she had felt it was a super-deluxe bib.

“I then had to remind myself that I had previously brought a crocheted blanket that I had made myself plus one I had bought, and a stylized art print of a blue elephant on a yellow patterned background for the baby’s room. The bib was really just an extra, but the other guests would not have known that and must have thought I was stingy,” said Kay

“It was more like a wedding. They were more like wedding-sized gifts but for a baby. I don’t think there was a gift under three feet by three feet and a foot deep. There were layette tables and bathing basins, giant plush toys and toys a child could ride, packages of designer sleepers and outfits fit for formal evening attire, just in case you couldn’t get a baby sitter and had to take the baby to the opera on opening night or something.”

“There were electronic baby monitors and cribs, high chairs and car seats. No matter how big they were, they were wrapped in Hallmark baby wrapping paper and they had extravagant bows and ribbons. Jasmine was just ripping them off like it was nothing. She obviously doesn’t have my habit of rolling them up carefully and saving them.”

‘And by the way, I’m not doing that anymore,” Kay continued, forestalling a possible objection to her frugal obsession with reusing paper. “I’ve still got every bit of wrapping paper from Mother’s house and I don’t have anywhere to put it all. I can’t wait until I’ve used it all up!”

“There were so many gifts that you couldn’t walk around in the living room where we all were – thirty of us – and the crib in the center with the baby sleeping in it, dead to the world, unaware of all the shrill cacophony of thirty plus females laughing and gossiping and exclaiming after each gift that was opened and displayed.”

“I remember when we had wedding showers and baby showers, ” Kay continued. ” We brought small things – a potato peeler, a pair of oven mitts, a set of place mats. Nothing big. For babys – a single sleeper, not four; a blanket you knitted yourself, a little bonnet, a pair of soft shoes. Nothing more expensive than ten dollars now. Maybe the mother-in-law was expected to get something a bit bigger, but the bigger gifts never made it to the shower. They were separate.”
Heather laughed.  “Maybe the Fijians hold Deluges, not showers! Ha, Ha!”

“That’s a good one!” Kay replied. “But I wish I’d known.”

Kay thought back to the invitation that had come as a message on her voice mail.
“It’s Ravinder, Victor’s sister; Jasmine’s new sister-in-law” the disembodied voice said. “Jasmine would like you to come to her shower on Sunday the 22nd. Please call and tell me if you are able to come.”

There wasn’t a hint of an accent, Kay reflected. Jasmine’s husband and his siblings must have grown up in Vancouver.  Kay had met Jasmine in Fiji, one of Lizbet’s instant friends, when they were traveling last spring. Heather, Kay, Lizbet and Heather’s husband had traveled together and stayed in a tropical resort for a week. By the second day, Lizbet had introduced herself to all the guests and the hotel staff.

Jasmine worked in the spa and since the spa staff were often idle waiting for customers, they were pleased for some conversation from the outside world. By the time Lizbet met Jasmine, she was already married and just waiting for her immigration papers to allow her to come to Canada. She had wanted to know more about Vancouver and had asked everyone to come have dinner at her home. It was a golden opportunity to meet some real Fijians, something that was impossible when staying in the resort.

Kay remembered how they had all been concerned about accepting the offer. Was it appropriate to go to the home of a staff member? If the manager knew, might she lose her job? Fiji was reputed to be extremely poor. Would this eager young woman’s hospitality put her in a position of offering more than she could really afford? What would they do about transport? Did her parents know she was offering to feed them all. There were four of us. Had she known that when she made the invitation.  It seemed disproportionately onerous for her to invite them all. And how could they return her hospitality?

Finally they agreed to go and Lizbet was the facilitator amongst them who found the perfect gift.  Lizbet had no hesitation to go to one of the other spa employees to find out what she might like. Jasmine, it seemed, was enamored of a beautifully hand-crafted purse that was available in the gift shop.

Jasmine had prepared a sumptuous feast of East Indian dishes and lavished her hospitality upon her guests. Kay remembered how they had tasted each of the foreign tasting dishes, and Kay had disguised her shock at the spicy zing of the sauces, nursing her burning tongue, while Jasmine proclaimed, “I made the dishes very mild for you. I know you are not used to hotly spiced foods.”

And now, Jasmine was here, barely ten months in Canada, with a little wrinkly old man of a newborn babe surrounded by a completely new family in the local Fijian immigrant community and a devoted husband.

Kay phoned Ravinder to say she would be happy to come to the shower.  Before she signed off, she hesitantly asked, “What do you wear to a shower like this?” It had been more years than Kay would like to remember since she had been invited to such an event.

“Well, it won’t be saris, if that was what you were thinking,” Ravinder replied. “You wont have to go out and rent one.”

“No,” replied Kay, “but that might tell me how formal or not this occasion is.”

“Just wear whatever you would wear to any baby shower, ” Ravinder counselled.

It left Kay in a bit of a quandry.  Canadian culture had become so informal over the years.  One might find people arriving in jeans and others in dressier clothes. Were the  Fijian-Canadians more formal or less?  In fact, the whole question of culture differences had Kay dithering about what was appropriate and what might not be. Besides, Kay hadn’t been to a shower in years twenty years. She didn’t normally go to showers.

The Saturday night, Kay set about finding clothes for the occasion. Rummaging through her drawers, she found an embroidered coat sweater that she had never worn before, had kept tucked away for more than three years for a special occasion.  It was quite dress, made of fine knit wool, white with a baby blue border, and tiny flowers embroidered down the front like a soft spring garden. She laid it out beside her one pair of  dressy black slacks. Next she rifled through her cupboard looking for a blouse that would complement the white and pale blue  sweater.

Finally, she took a whole bundle of mixed up stockings with her down to her chair in front of the television and sorted them out, finding pairs and checking for signs of holes or runs. She would need a perfect pair. It was certain that she would have to take her shoes off at the door. She put aside a pair of fine black sheers with a line that went up the back of her leg. “Sexy!” she thought aloud, although she knew that no one would ever see the sexy line if she were wearing slacks.

On the Sunday, Kay drove into Vancouver and found the house on Moscrop Street.  It was tucked just down the hill below Rupert, a big monster house with red brick tiles on the roof, the California- style brick and stucco kind that was built in the ‘Eighties.

As she parked the car, she could see people arriving from all directions. Three Fijians arrived at the gate, encumbered by their parcels.

The door opened. “I’m Reshmi”, the young woman introduced herself. “I’m Victor’s sister.”

Kay looked slightly baffled.  “I thought your name was Ravinder?” she said.
“Oh, Ravinder’s my sister,” Reshmi explained, but was quickly distracted by the other arriving guests.  She held out her hand to shake Kay’s, but it lasted just a second as she turned to give a peck on each cheek to one woman after another of family and friends as they streamed in the door.

Sure enough, a collection of shoes was accumulating beside the front door and almost all of them were black.

There was a semi-circular staircase with a curving mahogany bannister. The steps were covered in white marbled tile. A chandelier of sparkling crystals hung in the cathedral entrance. At the top of the stairs,  a large East Indian rug covered the living room’s hardwood floor.

It was a large room with two couches on the western side and all around the edges were carved wooden chairs with padded velvet seats. Kay was ushered to a seat on the eastern side of the room and introduced to Lydia, Ruth, Nain and Violet.

At first, Kay hardly had time to reflect about where she was. Jasmine’s new mother-in-law was presenting her to her relatives. There was a dizzying number of connections that Kay could not keep track of – cousins, aunts, sisters, grandmothers,  daughters….It was all dreadfully important.

When, later, Kay took time to count,  there were twenty eight women sitting in the living room and still more women were coming.

Violet, who sat beside her, explained that she was just about to become mother-in-law to Jasmine’s sister-in-law, Reshmi. Put more simply, her son was to marry Victor’s sister. But when Kay asked her what Victor’s mother’s name was, the soon-to-be relative couldn’t remember.

“It’s all so new to me!” she proclaimed.

Ah“, thought Kay, “I’m not the only one here who doesn’t know anyone else.

“What language is everyone speaking?” asked Kay.

“It’s broken Hindi. You know, like broken English. ”

“It’s a dialect of Hindi? Or slang?” Kay asked again?

“No. It’s just full of words from different languages, English, native Fijian, Chinese. It’s only good for Fiji. No one understands it in India,” Violet replied.

And so they talked. Violet had just retired from the telephone company. Kay had just retired from a property management company. Violet was about to do some travelling – to Hawaii, perhaps. Kay was going to to Mexico, perhaps. Retirement was a busy occupation. Each declared that she had never been so busy before.

Then the games began. Those silly games that keep the company happy. Each person had a clothes peg. If a person said either the word baby or the baby’s name, another person could claim their clothes peg. The woman with the  greatest number of clothes pegs got a prize at the end of the afternoon.

There was a contest to see who could match and fold together the greatest number of baby socks in ten seconds. Everyone participated. Kay, like so many others, rolled three. The champion rolled seven and won a prize.

When she returned to her seat, Kay had time to reflect. Everyone was concentrating on the gifts that others had brought, now being unwrapped by the new mother while the guests hooted with laughter and a gabble of family news added to the din. In the crib, the twenty-day-old infant slept deeply, innocently, profoundly.

Kay watched young James. Proud as could be, this lad of ten or so, assisted the father of the infant in clearing the room of the opened gifts, undaunted by the gathering of women around him. From time to time, the father stopped to use his video recorder and film the chaos.

James, when finally freed of his duties, glued himself to the crib and gazed with wonderment at the sleeping infant, fawning on him, touching the tiny scroll of fingers with a reverent caress. With his thick black head of hair, his long black eyelashes and an  innocent rapture on his face, he seemed an angel, himself.

In her introductions, Kay had gathered quite a bit of information to chew on. The family had come to Canada in 1976. The mother started work at the Delta Hotel as a hotel maid and had risen to the chief housekeeper’s position. Her husband worked in a blue collar position, though Kay had forgotten quite what – in a warehouse. They had raised four children. One son had become a security guard, one and RCMP. One daughter was now a bank manager. The other was a lawyer. Lydia beamed with pride, telling of her very successful children.
It’s much like our family,” thought Kay. ” Grandpa was a blue collar worker; grandmother had been a maid in an English Manor and had become a Lady’s companion.  When they came to Canada, their first thought was to establish a home of their own, have children and provide them with the best education they could muster. The next generation had a university professor, a member of parliament, two teachers and a secretary; and the generation after that, two university professors, five or six teachers, an MBA, a home economist – everyone had degrees. ”

And then Kay thought about the Baby Shower. She had attended many for her friends and family, eons ago, it seemed. It didn’t matter if you were of European background or East Indian. Families celebrated births, birthdays, weddings, and deaths. People knew the connections in their families by attending these events. They were occasions for meeting aunties, cousins, sisters who had gotten married and gone away.They were occasions to catch up on family news. They were ways of assisting the young in setting up their homes or providing some little luxuries that new parents might not afford. With deaths, they were a means of supporting the close family members in their grieving.

Under the skin, no matter what language one spoke, the commonality of human experience was the same. Families relations were important and so was friendship.

In common, too, was the immigrant experience. People arrived with hopes and dreams and fought to make them come true – with grit and determination, with hard work and long hours. The fruit of that labour was visible in the appointments of one’s house, in the clothes one wore,  the cars one drove and in the positions that one assumed in society.

Despite Kay’s inability to understand most of the conversations, she revelled in the warmth and happiness of the family gathering. But it was five o’clock! She was expected elsewhere for dinner although, she wondered, how would she be able to eat after such generous offerings of food that had occurred during the afternoon.

It was just at this moment that Jasmine’s mother-in-law announced that dinner was being served.  Kay offered her regrets, gathered her shoes and left, but not before a care package of dinner “for tomorrow” was prepared for her to take home – salmon, pasta, rice and samosas.  The hospitality and generosity had been wonderful.

As Kay drove back to her home in the Fraser Valley, she savored the events of the afternoon but she was glad to be returning to her relative solitude.  She had seen more people in one afternoon than she had seen in a year. What cacophony!

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Sweetie -eeee

March 21, 2009

“Sweetieeeeeeeeeee! Sweetieeeeeeeee!

The poor guy is out looking for his mate, wailing for everyone to hear. He promises a bachelor that every chick with a nesting urge should explore. He’s quite willing to fly through the air and do somersaults, dance around you, sing joyously when the eggs arrive, will sit on the nest in equal time warming up the progeny.

“Sweetieeeeeeeeeee! Sweetieeeeeeeee!

With vernal regularity, this tiny avian soloist sings his heart out.

I never hear him in the afternoon. He must be out staking territory. He’s rounding up nesting materials; going to the gym and working out his flight or fight muscles. And he spends his evenings contemplating an abbreviated version of haiku poetry.Then, rises the morning sun:

Is that nine or eleven “e”s in  “Sweetieeeeeeeeee!?

“Sweetieeeeeeeeeee!”

Potent Stuff

March 20, 2009

“You artists gabble on about things I don’t have a clue about. For instance, just what does chiaroscura mean?” Dorothy asked, just a bit petulantly, then added, “If I turn up to one of your artists’ salon things, I won’t be able to talk to anybody.”

“That’s the beauty of our relationship,” Kay replied. ” Tell me what a lipid is and I’ll tell you what chiaroscura is?  That time when I was down visiting Earl and he showed me your doctoral thesis, I read the first page and realized I didn’t even know what language it was written in. I could understand the connecting words  and the articles – to, from, about, above, in and out, the, this, that and and – but all the rest might as well have been twenty-third century Hungarian as far as I could tell.”

Had I known she could write and talk in this completely esoteric language and be revered for it, I probably would have to kiss the hem of her skirt (if she ever wore one). That wasn’t a good omen for a friendship on an equal footing.  Our mutual friend Earl was drooling and exclaiming as he showed me his treasure “Do you have any idea how important this woman is?”

I didn’t. He set me straight enumerating her various accomplishments and her world-wide connections in her esoteric field of DNA research and their application to lipid research. I felt very fortunate to have met this good-hearted woman before I knew all that. There was no hope I’d be kissing any hem by  now. I’d met her at they gym, both of us eagerly pumping away at the various weight-resistant  machines trying without much hope to become svelte and healthy.

Since then, we’d established a great friendship over our love of food, theater, and art.  She was different (from me) in that she loved exercise and could cycle for two hundred kilometers on a weekend and could do beautiful woodwork. She installed her own hardwood floors, start to finish, and had built a beautiful pine blanket chest with utmost artisan skill. But then, I was different too, or so she said. I paint, draw and write amusing stories – something she found quite incomprehensible.

We were sitting in her kitchen having brunch, crisp bacon with a heavenly odor, eggs and toast. Nothing exotic, as brunches go, but it’s the company that makes dining exciting.

As I was waiting for Dorothy to get her coffee and join me at the table, I was flipping through one of her pharmaceutical science trade journals.

In the way of women’s circular conversations, I ventured “Chiaroscura simply means light and dark. It’s the art of dramatizing an image with light. To enhance the light, you underscore it with shadow. That’s all. Light. Dark. It’s a concept that had it’s defining moments in the Italian Renaissance. I guess that’s why it has kept its Italian name. ”

“Cool!” she said. “That’s not difficult.”

“Not like lipids. It means fat, doesn’t it?” I continued.

“There – you already know, don’t you? I don’t need to explain it. But there are lots of different kinds – monosaturates, polyunsaturates, polysaturates, et cetera, et cetera, …”

“Yes, but what are you doing with them? Why are they important? We’re all dieting here.  We keep on trying to get rid of them off our portly frames. We’re not trying to conserve them, for Pete’s sake.”

Dorothy laughed, and leaned a bit forward, pen at hand and a paper, ready to draw me the reticulo-endothelial system.

“Lipids are synthetic molecules. We take lipid molecules out of cell membranes and then manufacture synthetic packages with them which can carry drugs to wherever you want them to go,  like to cancer cells, to kill them.”

“We can insert stem cells wherever they are needed in the body and they will grow to be whatever is needed. If you need to regenerate the liver, you stick stem cells in the liver. If you need to regenerate blood cells, you insert them into the bone. It’s rather neat, actually.”

“There are two kinds totipotent and pluripotent.  Pluri- means that it can do several things. Like the word “plural” meaning more than one.  Toti- is like the word “total”.  It’s almost the same and I can’t remember exactly what the difference is now. Potent, of course, means powerful.”

“Iif you use the stem cells in a liver, it grows liver, and if you use it in a kidney, it grows kidney, if you use it in bone, it grows bone – but you are starting out with exactly the same stem cell. When it is inserted, it can understand where it is and it will grow what is needed.”

“Wow!” I said. “Talk about cool! But they sound like twins. Or a couple.

“Here, let me introduce you to Mr. and Mrs. Potent – Toti and Pluri.

Or, those impish twins “Toti and Pluri! It’s time for dinner – wash your hands and get right in here!”

More laughter.

“Trust you!’  she said, still chortling,” to make some fool connection and turn them into something entirely unrelated.”

“It would make a good story,” I rejoined. “Or can you imagine a painting of Toti and Pluri? I’d have to think about what that would look like, a bit.”

We continued our banter, then she went off to work and I went home. I’ve been thinking about it off and on for a week or so.

Dorothy phone up last night wailing about her awful Strata Council and how they were a bunch of idiots. She was seeking my esoteric property management advice (‘Really, Dorothy, it’s not DNA science…”)  and I was happy to give it, for what it was worth.

“Have you written anything about our conversation last week? ” she asked as we were signing off. She’s one of my faithful readers and she just loves sending them off to her mom who gets a chuckle about our lopsided friendship, so she eggs me on to do my literary anecdotes.

“Which conversation?” I say, regretting my legendary sieve-brain.

“The one about the lipids and stem cells,” she says, a bit of chiding in her voice. Perhaps there was a hint of slight that I hadn’t remembered all about the explanations.

“Oh, yeah! No. I’m thinking about it. You mean about Omnipotent and Plenipotent? ” I say.

“What’s that?” she sputters and then dissolves into a bright, continuous laughter, and I think she’s laughing still, even if the sound has been turned off.

What can you do? I had to be reminded that the new twins I should write about are Toti and Pluri.

The Scissorbill

March 11, 2009

It was two weeks back when I first noticed.

The gate to the back yard was open, which isn’t such a curiosity in itself. The latch catches badly and sometimes it needs a good pulling-to to get it firmly caught.

I was looking down from the upstairs hallway window, seeing eight inch cedar fronds – cedar branch tips, really – scattered on the gravel walkway and the bordering grass. Who would have done that?

I tossed it around in my mind. Had someone been in the yard? There were three second-growth large trees on the east side of the property and on the western side, trees just beyond the fence in the neighbour’s one acre yard.  There twenty seven large trees on that property, all inventoried for the inevitable redevelopment of the property. Some would have to stay; most of them would go.

There were cedars and firs but these mystery fronds were only from one of the cedar trees. It wasn’t as if they were dropping from all trees. If that had been the case, it might have been an unnamed disease.  I didn’t count, but I guesstimated maybe a hundred tips were sitting there and in the wheelbarrow, now filled with recent rains,  that I haven’t put away during the winter.

There was no evidence of a human intruder. There were no ladder depressions in the hardpan earth that was supposed to be growing grass. There were no footprints.  Anyway, why would anyone cut cedar branch tips then leave them on the ground.

I telephoned my concern to Mrs. Stepford who assisted me in mulling over all the thoughts I’d had to date.  At the end of it, she said, “I can’t help you there…” and trailed off into silence.

I wasn’t willing to let it go.

“It’s just out of reach for people of my height. Even a tall man couldn’t cut them off from the ground.”

“But why?” she said, “Why would anyone  do that? Unless it were an animal, maybe?”

“What about a bird? Could a bird be looking for nesting material? Cedar smells very nice and the cedar is not prickly,”  I countered, then added with a rising excitement in my voice, “What if we’ve got a Western Scissorbill that’s migrated to our area. I’ve never seen one before.”

“A Western Scissorbill?” she scoffed. “What’s a Western Scissorbill? I’ve never heard of one before.”

“Well, if it’s not a Scissorbill, ” I answered without answering, ” maybe it’s a Red crested lopper.”
“Yah?” she said in disbelief. “Maybe it’s a Steel-beaked Secateur. Are you putting me on?”

“Or a Razor-billed grosbeak. ” I couldn’t hold back a chuckle.

“Or a Tinsnip Towhee.” she chortled as we vied to invent bird names.

“Or a Yellow handled Hacksaw”, I continued, as we both dissolved into laughter.

When we settled down a little, I said, “No, seriously. I think it must the Western Scissorbill. I can’t think of anything else that might have done it.”

“Enough!” she said. “I’m going back to my vacuuming.”

“And me to my dishwashing. I’ll call you up for tea, later.”
And I did.