Archive for December, 2009

Winter sunshine

December 29, 2009

You need to read yesterday’s post to see why these photos are amazing. Yesterday was fog. Today is sunshine. Each with their own beauty.

This brilliant winter sun shouts “Hallelulia!”

There is incredible warmth in the landscape despite the winterization of all the vegetation. We are exceptionally lucky to have the blueberry bushes that go  flaming red on the landscape and then the river grasses that go gold.

The long shadows help define everything in crisp delineation. No more commentary required: the pictures speak for themselves. If you flip back and forth, you will see that several of these are of the same spots in the landscape.

You can see the Coast Mountains and specifically here, the Golden Ears

And on a good day, you can see Mount Baker beyond the Canadian border in Washington State,

and all this blueberry planting gone red for winter:

After the heavy rains last week the fields filled with water, but the ponds are abating now. There were a hundred ducks and and a few seagulls in this field last week, swimming inland.

The tree below is one of the trees I showed in the previous post, in fog.

Mallards and a Bufflehead making ripples on an otherwise glassy river:

And then the sun started to fade…

sunk, in brilliant glory,

and was gone.

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Resuming walks on the Alouette Dike

December 28, 2009

Weather and business. Great excuses. I haven’t been out walking for a long time. Christmas, though, came with some beautiful weather. There was actually some sunshine.

Non-sequitur: I jumped on the bathroom scale. Oops! Christmas baking gain! I kicked the bathroom scale. It has the nerve not to be lying. Five pounds last year. Five pounds this year. Time to go do something about it.

Midday on Boxing day, it was two degrees above, Celsius.   I put on my Winnipeg parka with fur-trimmed hood and plenty of fluffy down. I zipped on my warm winter boots. I found my gloves with lambskin lining that I purchased when I went to Ottawa to see Hugh for Christmas two years ago.

Non-sequitur #2 : Hugh has his Masters. Whoopee! 93% average. Good going Hugh!

I picked up my house and car keys; set the house alarm; exited North; got in the car; drove down the hill and into a bank of fog, to the Alouette Dikes.

There is an eerie beauty in fog. I took lots of pictures. It only slightly detracts from the walking exercise. Well, maybe a bit more than slightly, but if  I didn’t have the camera along, I probably wouldn’t have been inspired to go.

I am going to have to go walking more than once if I am to have any effect on my winter waistline. I will also have to go to the gym. Regularly. Rats!

Sunday, the day after Boxing Day (that’s today), I went back to the dike. There was a full winter sun flooding the marshlands. The winter grasses were crisp and precise.  In places, the river and ponds have frozen over. In others, the water is still beautifully liquid, absolutely unruffled, still,  clear and reflective. Two days. Two widely varied landscape conditions.

The fog obscures things. It takes away the non-essentials. When I photograph a tree, that’s all there is – the winter skeleton, bare and lacy. The details elsewhere are not necessary. The object blurs. The background unifies; or you might say that it has dropped off the edge of the continent. It’s gone.

In the sunshine, every leaf, every twig, every tree trunk shines with a golden self-importance. The shadows are long.

On Boxing day, there were a lot of people out walking with their mates,  their children, their friends.  Dogs are pulling on leashes or running after fluorescent coloured tennis balls. Hardy souls are running for their lives. Some are pumping away on their bicycles, weaving in and out amongst the throng of walkers. New cameras and field glasses abound.

A group of twenty-somethings came towards me just as I was listening to a most beautiful sound: Ice that coated the twigs was beginning to crack and melt. It was like a whispering of bells. No! That doesn’t quite describe it. It was like the tinkling of wind in a distant crystal chandelier, faint and delicate.

“Listen, ” I entreat them. It is a fragile innocent sound.

“Oh, it’s just the ice melting off the tree,” says one annoyed young man, satisfied to have explained it satisfactorily. He moved on, calling “Come on, guys, let’s go!” He was missing an essential element of wonder.

The group went forward taking only seconds to reinstate their happy chatter, drowning out the miracle of crackling ice on tiny twigs. Two girls lagged a bit, still stretching their ears towards the delicate sound.

Today, the only sound of note was by the big lagoon, frozen over, skittering like a bird with a high pitched call as three children threw stones across the new drum of ice.  Today, there were scoters and bufflehead ducks in amongst the mallards, swimming together in a multicultural harmony. They are happy that the river mud has unfrozen and they can dive into this murky brown liquid to find edible treats. Their ducking and diving create patterns on the still-water surface.

I’ll post the sunny ones on the next post.

Bah Humbug!

December 23, 2009

Rant # 358.

Did I count that right? Is that ‘t’was the night before Christmas”? aka Christmas Eve?

I know that is tomorrow, but I will be busy cooking and preparing tomorrow.

I’ve turned down several requests to go Caroling. I refuse to go into the malls. That’s plural because I’m living in Mall City.  In a very short space, in a very small community there must be at least 15 malls. We are the outpost of bedroom communities. Slightly closer to the big city, we adjoin another bedroom community  and they are just about as bad, but they’ve got the Super Malls with the Super Stores; and one step closer in to Hub City, there is the Big Box mall where I do my food shopping. Arghh!

They’ve ruined my pleasure in Christmas Carols completely. One can’t go anywhere without being invaded by soppily orchestrated Carols. They jingle in elevators. They pervade every corner of the big department stores and big supermarket grocery chains. They are piped in beside charitable fund raising boxes attended by benumbed “elves”.

I know they are elves because the newspaper had an advertisement for them in November, looking for people who would ring their bells and chant the name of the organization collecting your dimes, pennies, nickles, loonies and more hopefully, two-nies. Argh! There is again! Tune-ies!

Silent Night, a beautifully felt, sentimental thought in sync with what we are supposed to think is the Christmas Spirit, has been so overplayed that I hate to hear it, especially jazzed and upbeat or mockingly translated into blues – or conversely when it is sung in tempo for a dirge.

Here comes Santa Claus, Dashing through the snow with Jingle Bells ringing.  The little drummer boy, It came upon a midnight clear, Frosty the Snowman. They’ve been done to death.  I can’t listen to them anymore. I can’t sing them. They’ve been ruined, for me, by their mindless repetition.

Maybe I’m just an old crone with memories of when it was different.

We were allowed to listen to the radio one hour after school. There was no television yet. We listened to theatre including The Lone Ranger and The Shadow and we listened intently, because if you missed something, there were no replays, no possibilities of recording it to tape or CD or DVD. It was played through, often live, and then it was gone. Now even your telephone ring can be set to a Christmas melody.

At Christmas, we gathered around the old piano and sang. Mother had learned the tunes and some simple chording. Every year, she bought one more piece of sheet music. Every year, we added one more tune to our repertoire.

We sang lustily and laughed together, all gathered in the living room for this festive day.

If I need to listen to a Christmas Carol now, let it be Christmas in Killarney (with all of the boys at home). This song somehow escaped the muzac elevator tapes and is never thought of for Caroling in old folks homes. Not that I’m in one, you understand, but I suffered the daily afternnon onslaught of them with  Mother while she was a resident. Cloying. Sentimental. Repetitive.  I blessed the one and only day when a group of musicians came from the nearby music school and played a real concert of Fauré, Debussy, Ravel, Rachmaninoff and Elgar quartets. Now that was a treat! And none of them were the overdone favorites – each was fresh and crystal clear.

What is it that brings us to repeat simple songs that were written two hundred years ago? Did creativity die in 1816? *

And now when I turn on the local radio, almost to the last one, there is nothing but watered down, transposed, redecorated, arranged, up-beaten, over-written, undermined songs of Christmas, and all they seem to mean is “It’s time you went shopping at the mall.”

Bah Humbug!

Please give me a Silent night. No, not the song.

Just a pure, clear meditative silence!

Oops! And a holiday Christmas fireplace.

December 20, 2009

It’s Saturday morning and there is no reason for me to get out of this blessed hot water. I’m enjoying a soak. Trapesius, Deltoid and Latissimus dorsi ,  my back muscles, are enjoying the heat, infusing a bit of lavender and thyme oil. Ah, luxury!

Eventually the water cools and the slow, warm, Saturday awakening is at an end. It’s time to move; to dry off; to dress; to greet the day.

There I am, rubbing my hair dry, watching it spike a little now that I’ve had it cut recently, rubbing my neck and face dry when I notice that I’m wearing two necklaces.  One is the Mabe pearl that I purchased in Japan. It’s so classic, I rarely take it off. It goes with everything.

The other is a gold chain with a lattice moon pendant. I haven’t seen it for a while. It’s been packed up in boxes from the move. Here it is two and half years later and yesterday, I began to sort through the jewelry box – a 12 bottle liquor board cardboard box – to determine what will be kept and what will not. There’s a lot of drek in amongst the pearls. So I put it on. I would put it away when I went to bed, somewhere in a safe spot. Or maybe  would take off the pearl one. Sometimes there are hard decisions to be made.

But the decision had not been made and here I am staring at myself in the mirror and the only thing I am wearing are two tangled gold chains, a pearl and a gold lattice moon. There’s no way I can separate one from the other without taking one off. And so I do.

Carefully, I find the catch, one of those little circular spring rings that open up and release the other little ring that hooks onto it.  The chain comes apart. It falls straight, all in one rapid motion, like in a dream, and the pearl follows down the straight path and into the drain, as if Tiger Woods was sinking an ace shot.

I can’t put into print what I said at that point.  But there was nothing to be done. I couldn’t undo the trap underneath the sink. I don’t have the  strength in my hands and I don’t have the tools. Plumbers come at $75 per hour plus travel time and that wasn’t going to happen. I’d have to call for voluntary help.

I put a piece of dry clothing in the sink so that I would remember not to use it and I called for the kindly curmudgeon next door Mr. Stepford. I sheepishly stated my case and my request.

“Sure,” says he. “But I can’t come until tomorrow evening. We’re entertaining tonight and I’m going off to work in half an hour. It’ll have to be Sunday.

I sigh.

It’s wonderful that he will come, but I’m anxious about my precious pearl. It seems like such a long wait, and too much time for me to forget, screw up, turn on the water without thinking and flush it down the drain.

*

Downstairs, now, I’m fixing breakfast.  As Christmas approaches and I have need for a fairly empty fridge, I’m making my food choices on the basis of making the most room, “getting rid” of food that needs to be eaten up without wasting it. I reflect that this is an extraordinary state that many of us live in. I’ve had my days of poverty and hunger, wondering where my next meal would come from, wondering if it would ever end, but now I feel so blessed to have a roof of my own over my head and food enough that I never go hungry.

I select the few pieces of pre-cooked bacon, left over from the day Whistler came through on his way back to the ski town in the Kootenays where he is night manager at a hotel. We had a lovely, protein rich eggs and bacon meal to tide him along his eight hour drive. These last few pieces will make tasty sandwich with the last squished cheese bun, from the package that was taking up too much room in the freezer. I bought them too fresh and they collapsed, but they still taste very good, especially toasted.

There’s a vegetable soup ready in the fridge, made last night with the last fresh vegetables I had on hand – a huge carrot, an onion, half a bunch of parsley and a cup or two of chopped up celery stalks. There are eight or so frozen tomatoes from the freezer, rock hard red ice-balls, that I added in; and then spices – salt and pepper, of course, pulverized  rosemary, basil, thyme.  There are trailing bits in the fridge  and freezer – little containers of meat juices, a modicum of fennel that has been blended into a fine mush. Any stray bit of savory food gets chucked in the pot. It diminishes the freezer pack by at least four big re-used yogurt containers.

As I’m preparing my morning coffee and my bacon sandwich, I’m reflecting that this has been a week for things to go wrong. House things. Here’s the pearl, this morning.  Two days ago it was the house alarm.

At seven in the morning, I’m awoken by the alarm wailing loudly. I have no idea how long it has been on. I was sleeping  soundly.

It’s still dark in the house. There is a flashlight in the headboard shelving and I turn it on. If there is an intruder, there is no need to alert them that I’m awake and on the prowl. I creep silently down the stairs.

Outside, daylight is beginning to rise, to take away the shadows. At the half way mark, I stop to listen, but the alarm is too loud. If someone were stealing things, I certainly would not hear them; but there is another ringing going on. It’s the telephone. Abandoning caution, I race  for it, but, as usual, the phone is never in the room where it’s supposed to be. I dash back into the room I use for an office just as the phone stops ringing.

I go to the alarm panel to reset the alarm. I note that the zones that were triggered were the living room and the back door, but there is no sign of forced entry on the back door and the sun porch door has not been opened either.  I’m concurrently trying to assess any potential danger and trying to get the alarm to quit its nerve racking sound. The phone rings, but it’s not my land line. It’s my cell.

It too is not where it’s supposed to be. I’ve left it upstairs and I race for that only for it to swing over to the message centre just as I pick it up.  Sigh. I’m a Luddite. Getting messages from the cell phone is a challenge. I can never remember the number to telephone and I don’t know my password. I have that stored in a secret place in the house , but the alarm monitoring company will be waiting to hear from me or will be sending out the cops. I’m still in pyjamas and that would never do.

I phone using the only number I have – the one listed on the window stickers. It’s good. I identify myself. I give them my address and my password.  I explain my case but I’m talking to the wrong department.

“You had better call the false alarm section. Otherwise, you will have to pay a fine,” says the voice on the other end.

“I don’t know if it’s a false alarm,” I say with some worry. “I didn’t sent the alarm off and I don’t know what or who did. There may be someone in the house. ”

“Oh, everything is all right, ” he answers. “Someone reset the alarm now and the two zones are no longer being activated. I don’t think there is anything.”

“You can tell from where you are?” I say in disbelief, my voice rising in a querulous panic. “It was me who reset the alarm, but I don’t know if someone is here.”

I tell him about the back door not being open; about the hook on the sun room that couldn’t be reset by someone leaving the house.

“And why would the alarm go off by itself? I don’t have pets, – no cats, no dogs – so what would make it trigger? It’s the second time it’s happened. Maybe the system needs to be checked.”

And so he arranges for a technician to come. He will call me and set up a time. His name is Garrett.

At five in the afternoon, I still don’t have an appointment for him to verify the system. For all my puttering in the day, I haven’t checked my messages on the cell, so I get the telephone and check the messages. All the text ones are about how much money I have left on my account. The voice mail, though, is a different matter. I find my aide-memoire with the telephone number to call and the password.  I dial and follow through on  the instructions. Garrett had called at eleven. I’d never even heard the phone ring!

It was too late to call back. His day was over.  The rest of that story isn’t worth writing. Telephone tag on Thursday. Eventual connection.

“Monday? I am without a functioning alarm until Monday?

“Well, today is Friday.” he says, leaning on the word ‘is’.  So Monday it will be. What can one do?

Troubles come in threes, goes the saying.  I fervently hope that there isn’t one more thing to go wrong; and then I think, I was playing this telephone tag with another service man only last Monday! I’ve already had my three.

My friend Rose was here last Sunday for a cup of tea.

“Good grief, your house is cold!” she exclaims.

“Well, come sit here by the fire, ” I offer, and I get down on my creaky knees to light the gas fireplace.  There’s a starter that lights the little blue flame. You flick it a few times and it sparks. You hold the gas knob in until the flame gets a bit bigger and warms up the thermo-coupler. You let go. The flame has heated this safety  mechanism and then you put the gas flow to the place you want it.

Only this time, the flame gets bigger and I let go. The blue flame dies. Extinguishes. Time after time.  It won’t stay lit.

I know only too well that I need a new thermo-coupler – they go every few years. They wear out.  But do you think I can find someone to fix it? It’s too close to Christmas. They are busy. I can have an appointment on the sixth of January.

Well, I can manage this! To heck with the gas fireplace. On Christmas Day with all my dinner guests, I’ll be watching the cable TV fire place on Channel 2.

And BTW, for any of you stressing over my lost pearl, Mr. Stepford came, undid the trap under the sink and fished out my pearl. I won’t spoil this by telling you how mucky a job that was. The pearl is safe and intact.

Bless his soul!

Upper Main Street

December 11, 2009

Perhaps you will remember that I looked after some cats in Vancouver in September.
While I was staying in Vancouver, I had the opportunity to walk around Upper Main Street for an afternoon. It had been a long time since I had browsed along the street full of  antique and collectible shops, the vintage clothing places, funky restaurants and cafes. It’s a district with character and there are lots of things to notice and to explore.

Artists and artisan live in this area as well as middle and lower middle class people. There is a real mix of cultures and ethnic origins. It’s a lively and interesting place to go. It has the feel to it that made Robson Street famous. But Robson Street was taken over by the big name designers and it’s nothing but current fashion shopping now. The character that made if famous is no longer there.  It’s just commercial.

On the other hand, here are a few of the things you can see on Main Street in the Mount Pleasant area of town.
Mount Pleasant was one of the earliest settled areas of Vancouver. There are still lots of old buildings like this one, sitting right beside abrasively  modern construction:

The thing that interested me about this house was this window with mannikin heads sporting wigs. It’s an eerie image:

Most of the older buildings are one story; a few are two  story, and only now are they being replaced by three to five story commercial buildings. I understand the economic reality of business men wanting to make the most money possible from their little patches of city land, but I regret their need to wipe out the culture of an area while doing so.

Here’s what’s happening to the ‘scape  on Main Street:

It’s just too clinical for my taste; though I’m sure the newer buildings are easier to maintain. It just feels so depersonalized to me.

So when I see a sign like this, I just have to laugh.  It’s just the kind of humour that this area engenders.
This sign sits outside a cafe. It’s not even really an advertisement, but it’s in your face. It makes you notice and it makes you think. Maybe it even makes some think to turn inward and ask for a cup of coffee. Who knows?

And then, the City has provided some beautification such as these tree surrounds – grating that protects the roots of the tree. I’m always very happy to see when function is enhanced with excellent design. So here it is in context and then a detail of the artwork:

Then,

crossing the street and looking down an alley way just up by the former Post Office, now a community centre, roofed in red brick and topped with a copper one can delight in the mad tracery of ancient infrastructure criss-crossing from the poles to buildings cutting up the sky, the syncopated rhythm of vans, trucks, cars and waste bins; and at the end of the district, the rise of new buildings six to ten stories high:

Watching all the activity day by day is this nonchalant denizen of the Main Street walk, an outdoor cat, unphased by the constant traffic and many passers-by – browsers, strollers, street people, customers, merchants, coffee seekers, artists, dealers, shoppers, joggers and all the rest.

He sits close to the building up against a blue-painted stucco wall, cleaning between his toes, coiffing his whiskers, cleaning his ears. And when he is done? He stretches lazily, rolls over, finds himself a new position and snoozes in the sun.

So if you didn’t get out for your exercise today, I hope you enjoyed this walk with me going looking for beauty in the streets of Vancouver.

Jason’s bridge

December 8, 2009

With a slightly hurt expression on his face, Jason asked,”What took you so long?”

Heather  took her coat and hung it in the closet by the door. She may have answered but it wasn’t clear.

“I didn’t go on the hike this morning so that I could take Kay up to the bridge we are building at Holden Lake. It’s two thirty already. There won’t be enough time to get back for your choir concert; and I’m supposed to take my Photography class homework pictures up there.”

“How much time does it take to get there?” asked Kay, mollifyingly. It was unlike Jason to ever criticize. He was a man of well-practiced patience.

“Half an hour there and half an hour back. But we need at least twenty minutes for the photographs,” He replied. Kay calculated rapidly. It would be nip and tuck. He  was such a generous brother-in-law that she hated to see him miss something he had his heart set upon.

“Give me five minutes,” said Kay. “I’m not going out into the forest with you in the only good outfit I brought with me. I have to look decent at the concert tonight. I can’t risk cedar juices in the bottom of my pant legs and mud on my shoes from having tramped on wet hiking trails.”

It was agreed then that the two of them would go though the timing was tight. Heather would have a nap.

Jason looked sufficiently appeased.  True to her estimate, Kay was ready in a hurry.

It was a lovely day. After three weeks of rain, the sky was beautifully clear. Though it was early, the sun was already headed toward the horizon. The shadows were long. With the clear skies came low temperatures. Early morning frost had not evaporated in all locations and a fog was coming up between the trees as they passed a small lake. Kay questioned Jason about his photography assignment.

“It needs to be done in full light. We have to find and use the manual settings to try three different f-stops on the same subject and see what difference it makes to our results. Next, we have to use the three different metering options with someone at a distance and then mid-distance and then closer up.”

As they came to the forest company’s logging road, a large truck bearing a full load of stripped logs came towards them. Jason waited while the behemoth lumbered out of the way and then proceeded up the dirt road.

After passing several ATV enthusiasts along the forest company road, (all retired men) they stopped at a nondescript location. Jason turned his truck to a right angle across the road, dipping dangerously, Kay thought, to the shoulder of the road which dropped off into the forest at a steep angle.  She prayed that no more logging trucks were on their way. Jason then backed up, challenging the shoulder on the other side of the road. When he finished his manoeuvering, he was facing in the opposite, in the right direction, to go home,  and he parked at the side of the road on the narrow gravel border.

They got out. Kay followed Jason down the steep path into the forest, holding onto his collar to prevent herself from slipping on the steep muddy trail thus losing balance. Only when the path levelled out did she let go. Under foot, there was a thick pad of partially rotted and very wet cedar debris. It was springy like peat and about the same rich reddish brown.

A narrow path led to a narrow wooden bridge that spanned a raging torrent. It had metal grating nailed to its surface to prevent people from slipping. A narrow log railing was covered with ice on either side of the bridge. Here in the forest far from the warming sun, the temperature had not risen during the day.

“Our men’s group is starting to replace the bridge on Thursday,” he explained as he pointed out two straight trees that had been felled and stripped of their bark.  We’re taking off the one railing on the left side and those two logs are going on that support piece that you see down there at the side. When they are in place, then we will take away the next log and put in a new one. ”
Kay marveled that, even with the river raging below, the men, all retired and most of them over seventy, could replace this bridge without ever losing use of it.

Jason continued, “Last week with all the rains, the lake rose eighteen inches. All that you see on the side there was dry. Now it’s filled up with water and overflowing. There was no torrent there before – a little bit of rushing water where the big boulders  are, but not  anything like this. It’s come down six inches this week, but it’s still raging.”

They crossed the bridge, Kay tightly holding her camera and barely touching the icy rail for balance.  There were beautiful quiet pools at the edges of the bridge with smooth green and gold rocks below the shiny surface. M magnificent waters running in the middle.

White water was dashing against the stolid boulders. Looking back toward the lake, mists were rising, separating out the various layers of trees. The sun was dipping between the cedar branches. It was getting gloomy at three-fifteen even though the sun had an hour before it would set for the night. The winter shrubs were sepia-coloured and overlaced with russets. Above them, the cedar branches were a deep green and between them, the lake was black with rising mists a bluish smoky grey.

Jason set up his tripod at the other end of the bridge. His homework papers sat illogically white and brittle in this beautiful gloom, on the last step down off the bridge, as he fiddled with his tripod, his metering and his manual settings of f-stops. Kay  meanwhile explored things on her own – the pile of cedar logs for Thursdays fire to keep the workers warm and to cook the midday meal; the translucent greens in the quiet pools; the twigs that etched their signatures on the soft shapes of the mists; and the fallen leaves suspended in time in the clear still waters near the stream’s edge.

When soon the photography was done, Jason drove them back home, fingers frozen but their eyes full of the forest wonders.

Kay reflected on the curious shape of days.  A single event could make or break a day but here was a day that would give her three thrills. The octagenarian joy ride and the church luncheon had been one; this walk in the silent forest had been such an unexpected visual surprise; and there was still Heather’s choir concert to come, in the evening.

To be continued.

A free ride and a free lunch.

December 8, 2009

Mrs. Patrick waited at the stop sign as several cars passed by from either direction. As a large construction pick-up truck barreled towards her from the North,  she suddenly hit the accelerator and lurched out, turning left in front of it, narrowly missing being T-boned.

All within the same time frame, Kay whipped her arms up across her eyes waiting for the crash that never came. Mrs. P  had just made it by without so  much as a whistling wind passing to spare between the two vehicles.

With the calm and assurance of a grandmother who had seen many risky ventures of children and grandchildren play out safely, she said, “He’ll see me and slow down.”

She shouldn’t be driving!” Kay murmured to herself in shock. But how could she say anything? The ride was for free.

Kay was visiting with her sister in the small coastal town on the Sechelt Peninsula. Heather had her medical reasons for no longer driving, and anyway, her husband always had their one vehicle  which had graduated from car to van to truck over the years. Heather had lost her assurance to drive it and therefore, had become dependent on him or her friends to drive her to all her activities – swimming and exercise classes, the weaving club, choir and church events and various other things that might come her way.

Today was the day for the Christmas lunch for women of their church and Mrs. Patrick had agreed to take not only Heather and Kay but Mrs. Boop who was sitting in the front seat of the flashy new Buick. Dear Mrs. Boop  was rapidly losing her eyesight, thought Kay, or she should have equally sent her arms up to protect her face from the oncoming monster truck, but she  turned and looked calmly at Heather and inquired after her most recent trip to Nelson to see Lizbet, Kay’s other sister. No one but Kay was having this anxiety attack.  Kay admonished herself to be calm.

Mrs. Patrick then made an announcement. “I’m not going to park in the parking lot today. You will have to climb the stairs from Hudson Street. Last time I did so, Stella Smith smashed my front headlight; and I had parked there expressly to avoid the traffic on the street.”

“So I won’t park there again, ” she restated and continued: “I felt so sorry for Stella, but it was her fault, so she just paid me for it. I checked with someone else who saw it all, and they agreed it was Stella.”

“It cost her five hundred dollars because they had to take the bumper off to get at the headlight!”  Mrs. Patrick exclaimed. “It’s so very expensive now to get cars fixed. The least little thing… and now you will just have to climb the stairs and walk.”

Kay groaned. Not that she cared about climbing the stairs. It just seemed that perhaps Mrs. Patrick’s car was a giant shiny magnet for other cars and that her nonchalant attitude was too devil-may-care.  In Mrs. P’s books, others could look out for her. Kay was not at all reassured and wondered if they would actually make it to church and then home again.

At the church, Kay thanked her foresight for having eaten a sturdy breakfast of two boiled eggs and coffee. Long folding tables were set up for about eighty women.  Each table had four places set on each side and two on either end.  On each table were two large chargers filled with baked goods – date squares, Nanaimo bars, coconut creams, cherry berry thimbles, speculas, cranberry slices, nut squares, some pink moussy confections  and other Christmas sweets.

Kay marvelled at the variety and the quantity. There was a lot of sugar represented on those fancy plates, enough to keep a Cuban sugar plantation busy for a year. She looked at her waistline and prayed fervently for something more healthy, more substantial than sugar for lunch.

Having chosen a place to sit, with Heather to her right and Mrs. Patrick and Mrs. Boop across the furthermost table from the front, Kay took the time to survey the company. With a swift glance, she estimated there were four potential candidates for the under sixty club and with a sigh of come-uppance she realized that she, too, was no longer eligible for that group. Way more than half of the others were over eighty and the telling features were the colours of their hair.

Mrs. Patrick had a lovely even golden-brown colour, tastefully maintained and curled tightly in a cap, trimmed smartly at her neck. Mrs. Boop’s short, wavy hair was salt coloured with a good dose of pepper and coiffed a little looser. Across the room Kay saw three or four absolutely white heads gleaming. One of them was decorated with a pair of red felt antlers that jutted out a foot above her head and had little brown ears. She looked quite charming.

Beside her, an ash blond woman wore a jester’s cap of felt in red and green; and another to her left, was wearing a red Santa Claus toque with white rabbit’s fur.  A few ladies had tinges of pink and blue in their hair. Most had been recently coiffed for this event at the hair dresser and the tightly curled hair-dos wafted the scent of salon spray throughout the room.

One table was reserved for the ladies choir, not the church’s, but a local glee club. Each lady sported a white blouse, a necktie with a predominantly red plaid tie around the neck and a poinsetta corsage backed by a red foil doily pinned to the right bosom.

At twelve o’clock precisely, the congregation of women was called to order. An agenda was read and an apology was made that the luncheon would have to be followed by a church women’s meeting because there were cheques to be written for which the group’s approval had to be given.

Next the choir of plaid throated women sang in reedy voices. The choir-mistress introduced and welcomed their new choristers as if, in this mid-sized town, everyone should have remembered the names of the others from the previous year. There was only one young singer in the group.

The choir mistress proceeded to say that since everyone must be hungry, she would keep the regular concert  short, though we listened to Christmas hymn-classics for the next twenty minutes.  There was a solo number by the youngest member which was quite lovely. She had a trained voice and sang with a rich, clear voice.

A devotional story  followed, read by a lady standing at the back and then Grace for the food that still was not in sight was given by the Minister of the church who was the only man present. He grinned from ear to ear. Never were the odds so good for this retired and greying preacher. Eighty to one!

An hour had passed before four ladies began to bring out chargers of delicate sandwiches cut in four small triangles, two chargers per table of ten. There were egg salad and ham salad sandwiches and tuna. It was now twelve thirty and the ladies were hungry.

Mrs. P. took two quarters and announced it loudly, then passed them along. Everyone followed suit, then refilled their plates as the sandwiches were consumed.  In less than a minute the plates were empty. The ladies serving them brought more plates of sandwiches. Mrs. Boop mumbled something about having taken seven quarter sandwiches and someone else rudely muttered, “but who is counting?”.

There was no wait between  sandwiches and sweets. Heather, who was fond of chocolate, joked that all the chocolate ones were for her. This suited Kay who could not eat chocolate without getting a migraine.  Nobody  spoke to each other as the food was consumed. It was serious business.

After most of the sweets were gone, the women began to catch up on news, to introduce themselves to new attendees and to discuss the weather. The voices rose clamorously. A woman stood and called the group to order, but the ladies were absorbed in their discussions  and the noise drowned out her voice.  Kay took pity and tapped her tea cup with a spoon loudly. The voices subsided reluctantly.

“You all know Stuart McLean of CBC,” she announced. “I am sure you have heard this before, but no matter how often it it is played, it retains it’s humor. There is always something new to hear in it. It never gets old. We are going to listen to one of his best Christmas stories.”

She had before her an ancient boom box with a tape in it. She flicked the switch and Stuart began in his unmistakable voice the story of Dave having to cook turkey for Christmas dinner. There was a hush and then silence. It was true, everyone loved this story. There was not a disturbing interruption for the entire tale; and when it finished, the silence remained in the room until the hostess again rose and invited the treasurer of the group to open her fund-approving meeting.

When expenditures for Christmas hampers for the poor, a Christmas supplement for the Minister and his family, and contributions to the Haiti project had been approved with formal motions, seconding and the raising of hands to vote, the  meeting was adjourned. It was time for the singalong.

The hostess now invited the ladies to open the newsprint Christmas song books on their tables and join in a sing-along.

The choir’s accompanist scuttled to the piano and introduced some chords to  Jingle Bells. The first verse was terrible but as the crowd warmed to the singing, the fervor developed and a decent chorus rang throughout the church hall.

Jingle Bells was followed by Go tell it on the mountain and Christmas in Killarney, What child is this, King Wenceslas and God Rest you Merry Gentlemen, three rousing verses of each.  Finally the accompanist announced the last carol, We wish you a Merry Christmas.

It was almost over.The hostess reminded all that the Junior High students of the congregation had fostered four children in Haiti. Without  everyone’s help, that work could not continue. A collection basket would be coming around. Would everyone please be generous?  An osier basket topped with a wooden carved duck’s head came from table to table for offerings and each lady pulled out some paper money out of their purses to place it soundlessly into the basket.  Tacitly, the luncheon was finished now.

Ladies got up, chairs scraping the linoleum floor, and discreetly tried their limbs,  stiff  from too long of sitting, arthritis and other ancient aches and pains.  The women regrouped to greet friends they had not sat with.  Mrs. P began to herd her car-load towards the door and stood beside Mrs. Boop with visible Christian patience as Mrs. Boop caught up on a friend’s family doings.

It was a quarter of an hour later that Mrs P, Mrs Boop, Heather and Kay exited by the side door towards the steps and down to the waiting car.

When they were all buckled safely in with their seat belts, Mrs. P drove around the block to get back to the main road. They had not gone far before Mrs. Boop cried out, “Mrs. P! Where are you going? You are supposed to be taking Heather home.”

Nonchalantly, Mrs. P answered, “The car knows its way to my home. It just took the road to the left by itself.”  She continued on up the road several blocks when she should have been going back down to the main road and turning right towards the sea in the direction of Heather’s place.

Not to worry, Kay consoled herself. At least she isn’t driving on the road most traveled.  That would mean less chance of destructive car magnetism occurring. Worst come to the worst, Kay and Heather could walk home from where they now were.

But Mrs. P soon took a road descending towards Maple Street and at Heather’s house, thanks for the ride were given and Heather and Kay went inside. Jason, Heather’s husband, was waiting to welcome them home.

(To be continued)