Archive for the ‘art work’ Category

Coming Home – part 2

July 10, 2011

(see the previous post for the beginning of this story)

There was a message on my answering machine when I got home. “The Greyhound bus depot located at la,la,la,  has a parcel for Kay Kerrer.  Hours of operation are 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Thirty or so paintings had been found by a thrift store on the Sunshine Coast. There was no longer doubt in my mind. They were mine and I didn’t want them to be sold in a Thrift store. I would buy them back, even though, if I were of a different mind, I could have tried to get them to give them back to me. I had never relinquished ownership.  They had never been paid for by the Anchor Rock gallery I had consigned them to. As far as I could see, they were akin to stolen goods. The Thrift people couldn’t prove provenance but I just wasn’t up to making a fuss. It wasn’t worth a legal scrap – they were just small drawings and paintings, and charitable organizations are doing good – they didn’t need a fight on their hands.

What if they did put them on sale, for five or ten dollars? I volunteer to price things here at a Thrift in my community. I know that’s all they could expect to get for them. Or they would have to wait a long time to find a customer, just like I do.

So I phoned to the woman who had contacted me about their value. She was an elderly woman, one without a computer, the e-mail had said. The call was long distance, and yes, it was the Sunshine Coast.  The thrift was in support of the local hospital.

I gently told my tale of how the paintings had disappeared from view; how I didn’t want my paintings to be sold for rock bottom prices in a Thrift, in honor of the clients I had who paid full price. I was willing to make a donation in exchange for return of the goods.

She told me how they had funded an ultra-sound machine  by their Thrift work and fund raising, to the shame of the government who had been promising to provide one for years and years but never had.

She told me how the paintings had arrived, all dusty and dirty. They were about to throw them out when one of the volunteers had seen the consistent signatures and thought to look it up on the Internet to see if my paintings were valuable.

“But”, she reassured me, “they are all in pretty good condition because they are all wrapped in plastic. A few of them are a bit moldy. They couldn’t have been stored in a really dry place. They are all in one box – about 36 of them.”

“There were 64 of them in all.” I replied. “There might be another box. Please keep your eye out for them.”  She said she would let everyone know.

My lady of the Thrift began to  tell me what the paintings looked like, describing them, saying, “It’s so lovely!” or “Its really beautiful!” I promised that once I had documented them all, I would send one back to her for her trouble. At her request, I sent back an e-mail explaining as I had to her, that the paintings were indeed mine.

Everything seemed fine.

Then  another representative of the Thrift e-mailed. She said that the woman who had talked to me had no authority and she didn’t know how she had gotten involved. She shouldn’t have contacted me. The only person who could decide was the manager of the  Thrift.  Would I please call her? So, I did.

The woman on the end of the line was icily polite. It began badly.  “Do you know that once a charitable organization has received a donation that the  goods belong irrevocably to it?” There was a sharpness to the question and the tone of voice did not brook an answer.  “We could sell these for quite a bit, you know.”

I laughed quietly. “I’m not that famous,” I replied. “They weren’t that expensive in the first place and they haven’t gone up in price at all since they were consigned to the gallery. I should have received them back; I’ve never been paid for them. The paintings didn’t belong to the gallery; they were on consignment.

“Exactly how much were you willing to donate?” she asked sharply.

In my mind, I cut my original figure in two, then stated it. I reminded myself that it was the charity receiving my donation, not this officious person. I had become annoyed by her tone of voice – by her implication that I was getting away with something; that I was getting a steal of a deal. And then she accepted.

“I’ll send the cheque today,” I said. I suspected that she would wait until it was received before she released the paintings; and I’m sure it was so.

And now, here they were in a thin, flat box, all thirty eight of them. The lovely sounding lady from the thrift, the second contact that I had, had made a neatly typed list of the works recording title, size and medium. The paintings were all cleaned up from their muddy first impression. In groups by size, the works were carefully and beautifully wrapped in crisp white tissue paper as if they were precious.

One of the hardest things for artists to do, if they are deeply involved in their work, is to let go of their paintings. The artist must treat them like adult children ready to make their own  way in the world. And yet, if an artist has given a bit of her soul to the work, then that bit of soul goes with it. The work needs to be respected, hopefully loved.

For me, I paint what is important to me at the moment of creation. Many of these are like visual diary entries. When they go out into the world, it’s like a page of a diary has been ripped out and flung to the winds. Will people think the visual thought is lovely, or significant? Will they take care it? Will they see to it’s future?

For that reasons, I am glad they have come home to “momma”. After ten years of neglect, they need some care and nurturing. They need to be listed in my good book of inventory; they need to be photographed to give respect to their place in my production history.

“Aren’t you disappointed that they ended up in a Thrift Shop?,” says Mrs. Stepford, my next door neighbour.

“No. Au contraire!” I reply. It’s a miracle that they have found their way home. I’m awed by the coincidence of life events that made it possible. I’m thrilled that a volunteer recognized their value enough to trigger their search for me on the Internet. And, I’m glad to have them home again, before I send them once again on their way.”

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Coming home

July 4, 2011

Where is the beginning?

Was it the e-mail late afternoon, yesterday, telling me that thirty of my paintings had been donated to the thrift store and could I tell them what they were worth? “Please call Edith

Or was it my gentle friend and gallery dealer on Texada Island who notified me that she was dying – her last diagnosis on a recurring cancer having given her only a month to live? “Would I please pick up my paintings?”

Family in Powell River picked up those paintings and kept them for me until next time when I was visiting.  I packed them in my car and traveled back along the Sunshine Coast highway, stopping at Half Moon Bay. To my surprise, there was a very pleasant book store with a strong gallery element in it.

I took the opportunity to introduce myself to the new owner, an enthusiastic young woman, and showed her my paintings. She liked them. I had a list from the previous gallery. We photocopied it and both kept a copy as proof of our transaction. I left all sixty-four paintings with her. They were small – 8×8, 8×10, 11×14,  10×12 . You get the picture – they filled two medium size cardboard boxes.  Great for the tourist traffic wanting to take home a little something from their visit. Coastal scenes, (I had lived in Pender Harbour in my early adult years), spring flowers, a few metaphysical things, nothing too deep.  Sketches, little drawings, postcard-sized watercolors .

It suited us both perfectly. Thus, she had some small stock, hopefully easily movable; and I had a place to “store” these lovely little art works.

I had moved into my mother’s place to help her in her last years and there was precious little space she was willing to allow me for studio and storage. I hadn’t known where I would put this lot,  so it was a timely solution.

Time passed. I was working full time. When I came home daily, I had mother to look after, drive to appointments, feed, get groceries for, buy clothes for, look after her bills. She ached when she walked. Despite all of her fierce independence, and prairie grit, she had become thoroughly and completely dependent. Then my brother and his two boys came to live with us. It was a thriving, busy household of five and I had become the major domo.

I didn’t hear from the gallery nor did I expect to.  In the two or three years these sixty-four paintings had been at the Holtenwood, only  two sold. They sell slowly. Besides, these small tourist galleries only do business in the summer. They only open for the tourist trade. I didn’t worry.  The paintings were safe and dry.

Then my sister Heather and her husband came in for a medical appointment. They had been up to Halfmoon Bay at the grocery and went poking into the new store there.  I don’t remember exactly what it was – a bakery, I think. Or was it a fishing tackle shop?

“Oh? Have they built something new? Is the grocery store gone?”

“No,no. It was in the little building beside the grocery.”

“But that is an art gallery,” I said,

“Oh, the gallery? It’s been gone for a few years now.”
With a sinking feeling, I realized that not only had the gallery gone with no notice to me, but also the paintings along with it. Where were they?

It ate at me. I phoned the number I had for the gallery, but of course it was out of service. I looked up the woman’s name on the Internet – BC telephone directory white pages. Not listed. I spoke about it to friends. Finally I decided I must go up to Halfmoon Bay to see if I couldn’t find out what had happened to her. Surely she would not just chuck my paintings.

It took me a while before I could find someone to mind Mom for the day. She pleaded with me not to go. She was becoming much, much more dependent. But I needed a day for myself and I did not back down. The housekeeper came to stay with her and I left.

The day was rainy, cold and miserable. The windshield wipers slashed insistently like a metronome, sending sheets of water to the pavement. Luckily, Frank had agreed to come with me.

The defogger was not responding well and the car windows had large grey patches of condensation riddled with drippy lines that just would not go away.

Once on the ferry, Frank lifted the hood and tinkered until he was able to send gusts of air through the car to dissolve away the mists, but the air was frigid. The heater was not working.

We arrived in Langdale, disembarked and drove to Half Moon Bay, the windshield wipers still slapping away aggressively at the interminable rain.

At the little cove, the grocery was open but the small companion store was locked up for the season.

“Where has the gallery gone?” I asked the first person I saw in the store.

“Don’t know” was the answer “I moved here two years ago. I never knew the gallery. But the owner will be back in ten minutes. He’s lived here for a while.”

There was nowhere to go. The rain was teeming down. We stood near the cash register and waited more than fifteen minutes.

“She was a nurse’s aide or a nurse, I think,” the owner said. “She might be working at the hospital. That’s where she said she was going at that time. It must have been two years ago. There was some talk,” he said vaguely. “I don’t know if she’s still around.”

Hope dwindled. We drove back to the local hospital discussing my next move. What if she wasn’t there? Then what?

And what if she was there? What could I say? Why hadn’t she tried to contact me or send the paintings back? Had this long uncomfortable trip been for nothing? Was there a possibility that she could tell us where they were and we could just pick them up. Had she sold them and kept the money?
At the hospital, she hadn’t yet arrived for her shift. The receptionist said she would leave a message for her to come to see us on arrival. We could wait.

We sat, feeling numb. We couldn’t talk, with the injured and sick patients sitting morosely around us. Besides, in a small town, everyone knows everyone. It would have been indiscreet.

“I’m going back to the car. It’s your business,” Frank said flatly, suddenly leaving me to wait alone. I wasn’t surprised. He wanted to smoke.

The reading material was dismal – old Health journals – but I flipped through one nevertheless while I searched possibilities of what I could say.

“Are you Kay?”

The woman standing before me was thirty something, dark hair straggling around her face. I had a flash of Mother complaining, “In our day, nurses wore uniforms and crisp clean caps. They were polished and neat. Now you can’t tell the doctor from the nurses from nurses’ aides.”

“I am ,” I said.

I explained my business. I wanted to have my paintings back.

“You didn’t come to pick them up when I closed, ” she said accusingly.

“You never told me your were going out of business,” I defended.

“I notified everyone,” she replied defiantly.

“And how did you do that?”
“I put up posters everywhere in Halfmoon Bay and all the way down to Langdale.

“I live in Vancouver. How could you expect me to see your posters?”

“I phoned you and you  had moved. The answering machine name wasn’t the same.”

“I haven’t moved in eight years,” I said, a note of accusation in my voice. I didn’t believe her. She was making things up as she went along. As for the answering machine, it was possibly true. We had one of the nephews living with us record the message. Had they included my name on it? There was a measure of doubt. The menfolk in the family were not always responsible about phone messages. Had she phoned and I hadn’t gotten back to her?
“Well, that doesn’t really matter now, does it. I’m here now. What did you do with the paintings?”

“I must have sent them by Canada Post,” she said. “I sent them to the address you gave me when you first brought them in.”

“Canada Post?” I knew it was an unlikely way to send parcels, they were so expensive. I was incredulous. “You sent them when you thought I didn’t live there anymore?” I purposely brought the rising anger in me down, down down, until  I could speak normally. “Well, they never arrived. Didn’t you get the parcel back then, undeliverable?”

“I can’t remember. I’ve been so busy. My mother’s been very sick and now she’s died. I’m looking after her estate. Now my father’s sick. My boyfriend left me.”

The litany of woes, of misplaced blame, came out in staccatto form.

“Supposing they came back, what would you have done with them?”
“I don’t know. I don’t remember. It was too long ago. They could be in my mother’s attic. But I’m just going through things now. If I find them, I’ll let you know.

She was defensive and I was trying to keep the conversation on a level. After all, I wanted her cooperation. I didn’t want to shut her down. She was trying to make me go away. I wanted a commitment from her to find the paintings.

“Could you keep an eye out for them? Please take my name and telephone number and give me yours.”

We exchanged information. I returned to the car thinking, “She doesn’t care one whit.” I suspected that my business card would find the nearest waste basket as soon as she turned the corner. The little scrap of paper which I had,  I carefully folded into my wallet.

On the way back to Vancouver, impatiently-waiting Frank was sullen and weary. I repeated the conversation I’d had with her and proceeded to pick it apart. She’d never sent them. Was it possible she had called my  house? Why would she say she would look for them at her mother’s when she said she had sent them by Canada Post. How careless could that woman be?  Had she kept the paintings for herself? Had she sold some and couldn’t pay me for them, so was avoiding me?

Fast forward to last night:

I’ve been busy myself, enough to  forget things. I’ve had a six week pile of documents on my kitchen counter that I haven’t found time to sort.

Last night, I took from the pile all the exhibition data  – price lists, artist statements, resumes, submission cover letters, invitation designs, posters, press releases and sorted them out to be able to put them in a binder. At the end of the pile, I was holding a list of some sixty four works consigned to the Anchor Rock Gallery in Halfmoon Bay.

That confirmed it. The thrift store had my Anchor Rock paintings. No one else I knew had more than five of my works. It was the only answer.   Now how coincidental is that? I hadn’t seen the list in many a year and the list of works/contract finds itself into my hands on the same day as the e-mail arrives.

To be continued.                                    .

A working girl

April 15, 2010

During the week there is a gallery manager at the Fort Gallery, but on Saturdays and Sundays, we, the artists, have to mind the store. Today is my first day for this, and being the worrier that I am, I came a day early to find out just what I have to do.

First of all there is the dreaded alarm. Bette, one of the others, had taken time to tell me all about it at the last opening, but of course, Memory-like-a-sieve didn’t write it down and I needed a refresher. About noon, I hopped in the car and drove across the Fraser River to Fort Langley. It was grey and rainy. What’s new?

Inside the gallery, though, Claire was doing duty, drawing in her sketchbook in preparation for a new work. With dynamic black and white photos of dancers, she was plotting out a composition, emptying the background of all clutter, in a line drawing that had as much activity to it as her photo figures. It was a delight to see.

As we engaged in discussion, all thoughts of the grey, rainy day outside disappeared.  Terry soon arrived to take the second portion of the shift. Each of us had sold a painting from this show and were elated. Claire had a different one to put up and  we helped her with it. It’s another protest against the Olympic decision that women ski-jumpers are not permitted to compete in the games.  With her fertile mind and sense of humour, she has a female figure lifting another into that flat out form that ski-jumpers take as they fly through the air. There are red tassels dangling from her breasts.

Those are nipple covers” she laughs. “There’s a real name for them, but it doesn’t come to mind. ”

“They’re called  pasties!,” adds in Terry with more laughter.

“”Yeah! Oh, yeah! Pasties. What are the women supposed to do? Are they only acceptable to these men-decision-makers if they wearing pasties?”

“If they won’t let them compete, what are they supposed to do? Pole dance? And did you see? There’s a delegation of pole dancers asking for that to be an Olympic event. Now if they accept that and won’t accept women’s ski jump…..” The thought trailed off and we all shrugged our shoulders and grimaced in half smiles.

On the Sunday, I was sitting the gallery by myself. I had written enough down to remind me of the alarm codes and I got in without any mishap.

In the adjoining Open Space, there is a wonderful program going on. It’s a teaching and learning space. People who want some coaching in their painting can come, at low cost and continue to be mentored. Some of the gallery artists teach mini-courses that will help aspiring artists to improve their work. It’s a flexible arrangement meant especially to provide learning opportunities for those who have a modicum of training and who want to continue on, improving their skills, expressing their thoughts in paint.

One of the artists from the Fort Gallery teaches print making there and another who is a specialist in art therapy, teaches journaling through art as a means of becoming more aware of one’s self.

It so happened that Betty Spackman, the author of this Open Studio program, was there mentoring her Sunday group of four artists. As the students painted, absorbed in their individual expression, I had a chance to talk with Betty. We are very privileged to have her here.  She is internationally active as an installation artist, and her  works are absolutely delightful, full of humor and insight.

She is encouraging me to think about teaching in the Open Studio, myself, since her involvement may be diminishing as she moves forward into new projects that may take her away from us and back to Europe and Toronto where her principle art practice has been located. Her next show is in Penticton.

Mid afternoon, a couple of interested onlookers came into the Open Studio and were welcomed to have a look and then encouraged to come into the gallery next door.

An elegant man in his seventies, I’m guessing, with a faint Dutch accent that I recognized came through and I engaged him in conversation as his wife went onwards into the gallery to have a look. Was his accent noticeable, then? He seemed gently amused. I then spoke of my own Dutch heritage, though I can’t speak a word of my father’s mother-tongue.

There was a joyous moment of recognition. It was Willy van Yperen!  It was a fantastic moment of awe that this coincidence of our meeting should happen.

“Do you come out here often?” I asked.

“Never!” he replied. ” We decided to come explore Fort Langley for an outing. I haven’t been here for simply ages.”

We got to reminiscing.

As a student just after high school and then in all my years of university, I had worked at Henry Birks and Sons, the famous Canadian jewelery shop. One of those first summers, Willy van Yperen had immigrated from the Netherlands to repair jewelry in the workshop above the store. From time to time, I was able to go up to this fascinating place where a team of men worked over their benches, mostly repairing rings, brooches and necklaces of the elite of Vancouver.  There were engravers of silver to monogram cutlery and platters; there were watchmakers and gemologists. There were stringers of pearls and various other artisanal disciplines there.

For a young girl who had grown up in a family of teachers and knew nothing but, it was like being allowed into Santa’s workshop. Whenever I had a chance to linger there, I did.  Willy must have been maybe ten years older than I, and a kindly soul. He allowed me to watch him work and we chatted, though I dared not stay to long. It was an organization that expected employees to have their nose to the grindstone  and there was to be no idle chitter-chatter. I wouldn’t have dreamed of getting either of us in trouble with the hawk-like managers.

In my final year of University, a friend and I were playing hooky from our classes on a sunny afternoon. We were wandering the  shops of Upper Tenth Avenue, a village like shopping district that served the students and the intelligensia of the University of British Columbia.  We entered an interesting jewelry shop that was beautifully arranged in a designers fashion (unlike the warehouse style of the mass-manufactured jewelry shops).

There, in a window midway down the shop, overlooking his rows of rings, necklaces and brooches, was Willy, bent over his workbench, lit by the intense lamps that clarified his minute crafting.

He had just escaped the drudgery of his Birks employment and was now set up to sell his own creations. He was, after all, an artist, not the repairman that Birks had made him out to be. And so we come full circle.

I have spent the last 23 years working in a profession that had nothing to do with my art work. We are both retired, though he is ten years ahead of me, even still.

He promises to come out to my show in July and once again, I will be delighted to see this cosmopolitan jeweler, designer of excellence,  and listen to his faint Dutch accent.

I believe in destiny and I am often amazed how some individuals, important in my life, keep coming back through with that spark of friendship that does not diminish, carrying reminders for me that I must keep up my standard and reach for excellence.

Reflections on a kitchen floor

October 31, 2009

The String Quartet K458 of Mozart ran sweeping melodies through Kay’s thoughts mingled with some odd memories.

Lizbet was arriving. The kitchen floor desperately needed cleaning. There were coffee spills, coin size, around the microwave and in the corner where she prepared food.  There was the spot where some drawing charcoal had spilled. She had cleaned up, more or less, but there was a circle of grey spanning the radius of her arm-length where she had wiped it. She’d gone on with her drawing and not gone back to finish the job.  She would not want Lizbet to see that.

Kay carefully lowered herself onto her achy knees and dipped the floor cloth in the lukewarm soapy water. She began her scrubbing, concentrating on the lines of faux-tile that caught the dirt. Who, she grumbled silently, would design a kitchen vinyl flooring with ridges to catch the dirt. It was diabolical. It must have been a man who had never cleaned a kitchen floor.

She wondered if her mother was looking down on her from Heaven. If so, she might have been chuckling that it was  Kay’s little hell on earth, to be scrubbing floors, albeit her own. She might have been doing a little bit of “I told you so-ing”.

Kay had always known that her mother had vicariously wished many things for Kay without really asking whether Kay had wanted them for herself. Some had worked out well – like the music lessons. No, Kay had not become the Concert pianist her mother had hoped. (Thank God, Kay prayed silently. The life of a Concert Pianist cannot be an easy one, travelling always to cities where one has no friends, where the hotel is as cold and unwelcoming as the last one in the last city); always being reviewed by critics, always having to be on show. But Kay loved her music and played the piano almost every day That had been a huge gift in her life.

Kay had been shocked when Heather had owned up that Mother’s dream life for Kay was Wife of a University President.  As Kay swabbed her cloth back and forth, rinsing from time to time,  wringing out the cloth and recommencing, Kay’s thoughts turned to how that possibility might be.

Instead of swiping this slightly grey floor, she might be sitting at an urn, pouring tea for Faculty Women, warm in a luxurious room with fine china and polished silver.  If there were no Tea in progress, perhaps she would be in tennis whites, swinging away at a ball in practice, or chatting up some academic wife, lobbing balls across the net. No, Kay thought. She had no regrets. She had led an interesting life.  Not an easy life, but interesting.

Mozart’s violins sang sweetly with a little waltz rhythm. Kay found herself swiping the floor in time with the tune. At least it was her own floor, she opined. She wasn’t earning her living scrubbing someone else’s floors on her knees.

The only way to get a floor really clean was to get up close and personal with it. Kay had no faith in the new mop technologies nor the old. The sponges fell apart far to fast and didn’t get into the corners well. When they needed rinsing, there were awkward motions and drips of accumulated grime that spilled on the floor. The new, well advertised Spiffies promised an easier task and a cleaner floor, but they were also a disposable technology which went against the grain of Kay’s environmental sympathies. One floor cleaning and throw away the offending dirt on a handy-dandy cloth, right into the garbage bin – if only one cloth per floor was the dosage. Kay had her doubts.

Floor cleaning is not mind-engaging work and her mind continued a conversation with her mother.

“I know you wanted the best for me,” she said in an acceding gesture of atonement, ” but had you no thought that I wanted something else for my?  After all, I told you clearly enough that I wanted to be an artist.”

That hadn’t been an acceptable occupation for a young upcoming woman. The family approved choices were clear. Get a degree. Marry a professional with ambition. Raise children to an even higher level of Academia. Shoot for the stars. Support his career until he became president. Run interference with any who might aspire to the same. Promote him in all his work. Hold teas. Do charitable work. Schmooze with faculty staff and wives. Play tennis and bridge.

It has been a terrible shock for Mother when Kay had gone Hippie. A shock to find her, run away from home,  living in an industrial district while finishing University. It was a shock when she had confessed to both smoking and inhaling. And when Kay had chosen her husband, well! That was the last straw.

Kay admitted that it hadn’t been a wise choice.  The marriage had not lasted long. But Kay did not like to dwell on those early days of independence.

What she could tot up on the good side of her experience was the teaching that eventually placed her in a prestigious Art school. She would never regret the years she had spent abroad studying in Europe nor the interesting things she had done thereafter.  She had come home fluently speaking another language.  When finally she had settled down, mid-life, to a continuous job, she had risen in the ranks and taken on responsibility, for which, finally, her mother had been proud.

Now here she was, retired and on creaky knees, swabbing the decks. By this time, Kay had reached the other door of the kitchen, all the floor looking uniformly the same colour.  Perhaps it’s only uniformly grey, she mused.

She backed out on all fours, found the nearby stairs to help her rise again, reflecting on this accomplishment too. It was only July when she had been unable to walk again, from back and knee injuries; so these knees, performing – maybe not to her will, exactly , but none the less performing – form and function, were something of a success as well.

It was a good life and it wasn’t over yet. Maybe, just someday maybe, Kay would get someone to come clean her floors and she could spend that afternoon going out to tea.

Preprandial hornet

September 8, 2009

Shuswap yellow life jacket 2 small

Lizbet lured Kay to the lake with promises of fresh air, warm bathing water and a fine picnic table to set her paints upon.

Kay gathered her paint pots and paraphernalia, locked the cabin door behind her and toted her kit down to the beach. Lizbet was just coming out of the water, her wet dog dancing around her, teasing Lizbet with a stick that she would not let go.

At ankle deep, the dog shook with a mighty wiggle, radiating the lake water out four feet about her in a diamond spray as the droplets caught the sun.

“Oh,” says Liz, “I was just coming out. Are you coming in?”

“How cold is it?”

“Seventy-two degrees warm,” she replied. “They tested it this morning. It’s not bad if you go in slowly. You get your feet wet and let them freeze. When you don’t feel them anymore, you move in up to your knees and let them freeze. You keep doing that until you are in. Everything’s frozen so you feel warm” She hesitated a minute noticing that Kay was not at all convinced and added dubiously, “and there are warm pockets…”

Her words hung in the air. Kay had no intention of freezing herself for the pleasure of a two minute swim and the unlikely chance of finding a warm pocket.  She unpacked her palette, her paints and vials, her water tub and her brushes and paper until they spread over the entire table.

Looking across the lake, she saw little to paint.  Smoke still hung heavily above the water obscuring the low mountain, obscuring even where the shore and land met. The sky was grey with a pall of ocher-tinted smoke coming from the west. The Sorrento fire had grown from thirty five to seven hundred kilometers square overnight. It was unimaginably huge.

The cloud travelling east towards Seymour Arm was smoke, not moisture. Moisture in the form of rain had not been seen for a month and then, it had barely wet the surface.

There were children on the beach screeching in their high pitched voices, a band of six small boys, cousins, were building a fort from beach rock. One of their fathers was an engineer and the child was precociously instructing the boys to reinforce the bearing wall, to dig out drainage and to grout the stones with sand as the five boys piled the stones three wide and three deep.

Two toddlers were lumbering along precariously as only toddlers can, bottom heavy with diapers and top heavy with yellow life vests. Thin girls were parading in their bikinis, exhorting each other to run into the water, hitching the panties that would not stay firmly up over their skeletal hips.  When they raced back out of the water just as fast as they went in, they quickly wrapped large beach towels over their heads and about their slender frames, looking like miniature Biblical figures.

Kay watched in wonder at their insouciant sense of balance and their indifference to the rough stones that scattered the beach beneath their tender feet.

Lizbet took her leave.

“I’m going to get into dry clothes,” she said as she walked up the sandy hill to the road and from there to the cabin.

Kay shrugged. It had taken her half an hour to get down and to prepare to paint. If she didn’t find anything to paint, at least she could drink in the fresh air and watch the activity flowing around her.

It was almost an hour later when Lizbet’s voice came, proclaiming from the road, “Don’t ever say I don’t do things for you! I’ve brought you a glass of wine!”

Sure enough, she was balancing two glasses of red as she picked her way over the tufts of dried yellow grass that gave purchase on the sandy hill to the table.

Coming behind her was Heather’s husband, grinning, balancing his own glass filled with a milky brown liqueur, his libation of choice, Baileys.

Kay moved her spread of painting tools out of the way and the three of them clinked glasses and sipped away as they chatted.
Kay, absorbed in a child and its movements and continuing on with her daubings of a moored boat, payed little attention to the conversation and the wine.

She loaded her brush with blue and carefully drew it along side of the boat she was painting. A few strokes of the same blue over the first wash served to describe some reflection and water movement below the boat.  Then she picked up her wine glass and savored two long sips of wine.

It’s one of those things. You don’t really look at what you are doing. You are focusing on one thing and doing another. Beach-side multi-tasking. Out of  peripheral vision, a movement catches your attention. Your brain is slow to register; it does not compute the image; the pattern slowly emerges; an alert comes far to late for the registering message to be heeded. There was something black in the red liquid contained in her glass that she had just freely drunk from.

“EWWWWW!

She almost flung the glass from her. There was a great black insect in the bowl of it drunkenly swimming in the red wine. It was wearing white and black striped swimming trunks and she had narrowly missed ingesting the ugly beast!

Kay touched the glass gingerly by the stem, pushing it away from her. It was a very large hornet. She dumped the glass to make it go away, but the hornet was not interested in leaving. The hornet climbed swayingly to the rim of the glass and fell helplessly back into the residue of wine. He licked his angular legs and rubbed his mandible and antennae. Oh wine! How Divine!

Kay closed her eyes and said a powerful prayer of thanks. She had narrowly missed ingesting that ugly besotted, black striped beast.

The insect, like many a drunken fool, proceeded unaware of Kay’s repulsion. He continued to wobble and sway about the rim and down again into the cup, bewildered that his drinking partner had cut off his supply.

Kay packed away her kit and headed back to the cabin to make dinner.

When Lizbet and Heather’s husband came in for dinner, Lizbet was laughing.

“He misses you! He’s still down there drunkenly calling your name. Jason gave him a droplet of Baileys as we left, but it just wasn’t the same. I distinctly heard him cry, “Sauvignon, Sauvignon, my beauty, where are you!”

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The Lego man

November 18, 2008

Every Saturday from early summer to mid fall, our town’s Farmers Market takes place, mostly in the centre of town at Memorial Park. Exceptionally, there is a summer meeting at Pioneer farm on 123rd Street. In reality, there’s nothing left of a farm here but the large field that adjoins an elementary school. On this special day in summer, some of the farmers bring goats, sheep, a llama or two, a calf and a pony. The pony furnishes rides for little children. There’s a hay bale maze and other fun stuff for little kids. It’s festive and fun, especially if the sun cooperates.

In the Fall, there are two indoor markets. Both are held in an old barn up at the fairgrounds right next to Planet Ice, the local skating rink.

In my great wisdom, when I first came to live here, I thought long and hard how I could introduce myself to the community as an artist.  “To see and to be seen”, a perfect place might be the Farmer’s Market. There were a few artists showing their work; the atmosphere was festive; I could perhaps sell some of my smaller, more affordable works, cards and reproductions. It would be enjoyable to sit and meet people as they came by. So I went through the jurying process and was voted in as an artist/photographer.

All summer long, I was dogged by various setbacks. I couldn’t show if it rained. If I wanted to, I’d have to have a vendor’s tent or umbrella. I couldn’t find one of these that would fit in my car. I’d need to pack a table with me. That too was a problem.

I still hadn’t sorted out my basement and couldn’t find my art cards. I got reproductions done in June for Art in the Park, an altogether different venue, and they sold well while the originals clung desperately to mama.  They weren’t going anywhere.

So when the Fall indoor markets came, I paid my dues – a twenty dollar placement fee, and committed for both the November and the December/Christmas markets. Really there was no risk. If it didn’t work out, I’d not lost much. In return, I had fame to gain.

I had no idea what my space might look at but I had learned much from the June Art in the Park venture. The first rule: Don’t take too much. If people can’t see it easily, they just walk by.

I packed one large painting, the old folding card table that I’d inherited from mom which was at least sixty years old but sturdy, a collapsible chair to sit in, my art cards, my photos and my reproductions. I added ten small framed paintings, a large easel for the large painting,  and that was it.

It threatened rain for Saturday so I packed the car on Friday night. The weather held, fortunately, because there is nothing worse than transporting works of art on paper through the rain.

In the morning, I found the location after a few detours. I had driven right past the turn off at 105th and had to turn around at Glenford’s Market on the Highway and go back from whence I had just come. A group of teens hung about the entrance.  I walked into the exhibition barn, met the organizer and was assigned my place.It was right in the main entrance, the lobby, so as to speak, of this big empty barn which had probably been built in the 1920’s or 1930’s.

It was a big cavernous space, and unlike the open air market where my placement might have been ten feet long, I had twenty feet to fill. All the fruit and vegetable vendors, all the processed food vendors of jellies and jams, breads, honey products and such were at the interior of the barn.  I and the only other artist vendor were separated by this foyer and we had at least twenty feet of space each or more, if we wanted.

When I went back out to the car, a small group of teens that had been hanging out there as I came in were still hanging in there.

“Would any of you like to earn a fiver?” I asked. I didn’t have much to bring in, but oh, how it would ease my setting up.

They hesitated, looked at each other, then, “I’ll do it,” said one of the lads and it was done.

I set up my wares beside a strapping young man who looked to be about thirty years old, slender, dressed in a velveteen black blazer with a black fleece jacket underneath to keep him warm. Beside him, he had an unusual black plastic table and he sat on a piece of furniture that was also made of plastic, mostly black with stripes of pure yellow, red and turquoise running through it. It looked like three steps but solid.

On his table, there were row upon row of Yoyo-like toys made of unvarnished wood and painted or inked with original geometric designs. Each one was different. Above the table on some kind of stand, were two pictures framed in a strange frame that, design-wise, fit quite well with the table. The painting in the frame was geometric and brightly coloured in basic hues of red, green, black, cyan/turquoise, orange  and yellow. There was no colour mixing for this fellow. In addition, he had a box of black and white posters that he was selling for a dollar each, appealing to children with these as a substitute for coloring books. Each design was geometric and many were web-like.

I spent the first hour struggling with my huge placement area. There was a dirty white barn wall with graffiti and scuff marks on it. Scuff marks is not quite the right term because these were spread across the wall up to eight feet where the wall indented a bit and then went up to the ceiling unfinished, with studs showing, all painted white. There were nails pounded in at the eight foot level, but they were not practical for hanging art. Pictures displayed that high are difficult for viewing. Nails lower than the top of this partition were at random places and equally made for a bizarre arrangement. This was definitely a challenging gallery space!

By ten o’clock, one hour after opening time, I came to some acceptable arrangement with my goods and the space and went for a wander. There were merchants about, but no visitors to the market. There were about four stands of fruits and vegetables, mostly selling the late winter squashes, beets, carrots, cabbages and such. Greenhouse farmers had bell peppers in brilliant yellows greens and reds, lettuces and tomatoes.

One merchant sells the most delicious fresh bread – foccacio slabs, rye bread with walnuts, or rye with cranberry and pecans, whole grain breads, cookies, and the like. I bought some foccacio to take home and a mini-loaf to eat for lunch.

Another merchant sold jams and jellies made with wine and blueberries; another had gluten free products; yet another, complete with a hot dog stand, sold bison meat products.

In the craft area, there was a stand with fabric slings for carrying children or packages; there was a stand with painted or varnished children’s toys and adults folk-style decor. A lady had knitted infant’s garments and potholders. There was quite a variety of goods, overall, quite consistent with any other farm markets I had attended.

I went back to my stand. The young man was still sitting there, perched on his colourful stairs, looking neither bored nor engaged. The few stragglers of customers that came through looked at his wares, and if there was a child, he was up on his feet in an instant, playing with his Yoyo-like product, walking the dog, spinning it full circle, rocking it back and forth, fascinating the children with his prowess. As he swung and dipped the toy, he had a spiel to go with it. Each design was original. There were no two the same. They were like a Yoyo but not a Yoyo. He called them Round-runners, I think, and he apologetically explained that Yoyo had a patent and a trademark in Canada so he couldn’t call his toys by that name.

He made a sale or two, and when he did, he opened the lid on his three stair unit and popped his well-earned gain into the reservoir at the top of his stair-set, then plunked himself back down to patiently await his next customer.

It was going to be a long five hours until the fair was over or else we would need a lot more customers. Mid day, I checked with some other merchants. They agreed that there wasn’t the normal number of looky-loos and customers. It was municipal voting day and, we speculated,  all spare free time had been taken up by that activity. But the show must go on. Everyone relaxed and spent time chatting with their neighbours.

I began to make overtures to the man with the curious stand with some standard banalities about the weather holding, unpacking with out rain being a blessing, the lack of customers, the lack of heat in the barn and so on.

I introduced myself. “And you are…? ” I said,

“Who?” he replied, very politely.

“Who?”

“Yes, my name is ‘Who?’ ” He pointed at the name on his table on a sign built out of Lego that said “Whoinivan”

I thought about that a moment, feeling I was talking to someone with an exceptional personality; or perhaps I had stepped into Alice’s Legoland. I thought back to some of the non-conforming and creative spirits of the ‘Seventies, the Hippie children. and reflected that this might be a progeny of a Hippie family, home schooled perhaps. I speculated he might be living under the radar of the Canadian Revenue Agency, perhaps even evading any governmental recognition at all, a non-registered, non-existent entity standing before me in human form. I smiled at that the thought that this conversation might be quite interesting and replied, “Well, hello ‘Who?'” as if it were the most ordinary name ever.

Soon he loosened up with me conversationally and he replied that he was warm enough. He came prepared with layers of clothing. But he also was used to cold temperatures. He lived in his van. He didn’t have an apartment. Apartments were too expensive and he hadn’t ever really held down a regular job. Besides, the cheapest apartment left him with no discretionary income and he felt he’d rather live in his van than not have money to spend on his interests.

“What are your interests then? ” I ventured.

“Lego.  I like building things with Lego. This whole table is constructed with Lego. It cost me four thousand dollars in materials. Nothing but Lego holding it together. The frames too. That’s all a Lego frame. And the sign.”

His concentration, his fixation with Lego construction, his geometric designs – all these pointed to a man with an obsession. A young man who had perhaps escaped some childhood psychological disorder by delving into the mysteries of Lego.  He had perhaps escaped the remedies that would might have calmed his extraordinary vision and focus through drugs like Ritalin that might have calmed him and made him manageable to educators and parents alike, but Zombi-ish and unimaginative. It was conjecture; but I was rapidly conjecturing while he spoke, trying to put together the puzzle that was Who?

“But can you make a living at selling your round-runners at fairs like this?” I asked. But he confessed to making very little money at this vending venture. Instead, he offered that he was quite willing to do work. In fact he enjoyed work. He got odd jobs helping someone move, if they asked. Or dug gardens, if asked. But he didn’t go door to door seeking work, nor did he advertise. It was mostly for friends and acquaintances.

“And I teach Lego,” he added after he had described his work history. “I teach Lego to children. Make them think outside of the box.”

A customer stopped by his stand  and he started to play his Round-runner again. I drifted away to let him do his shtick. He had an intensity that was daunting.

When he returned from his commercial moment to reopen the conversation, he mentioned that he liked books as well as Lego.

“Well, you can’t keep a collection of books and a collection of Lego in van, can you? You couldn’t fit all this into your van and still live there.” I stated, hoping he would expand his life story a bit.

“I keep them in a storage unit. I have one entire one for my Lego collection – a ten foot by seven commercial storage space. I also have a ten foot by fouteen foot one for my art collection and my personal belongings. It costs me way less than an apartment would, and I couldn’t fit it all into an apartment anyway.”

“What kind of books do you read?” I asked.

Why wasn’t I surprised?. He liked Science Fiction the best. He asked if I’d ever read Robert Heinlein, and I had. He launched into a discussion of the different writers in genre, very knowledgeably discussing comparisons of them, suggesting best writers and so on. I thought I might never read them anyway, it not being my preference in literature, so I never tried to follow his discourse to remember them all. It wasn’t light reading; and he was logical, possessed of many facts and figures,  and well expressed. This young man had a good brain in that curly haired head of his. It was just that there was something undefinable, delightful and je-ne-sais-quoi that I kept trying to define as he rambled on.

The concentration of listening got to me. I took a break at the first opportunity and went to find some lunch at the Kiwanis hot dog and hamburger stand. When I got back, Who? showed me his cards. They were black and white geometric designs with ten to a package.

He explained that each package had ten cards and each card was personally signed and numbered by him. A person could purchase a set, and each one of the different cards in the package would be numerated with the same edition number. For example 265 out of 1000  of card design number one, in that package had that number written on it by hand, and each of the other designs would have the same edition number on it. That way they would be more valuable if ever he became famous. I tried to think of the organization and determination that this young man must possess to be so orderly. It certainly was not in my make-up to face a task of personally signing ten thousand cards and keep all the numbers straight as I bagged and sealed them for sale.

He obviously had a taste for it; and a taste for immortality too; or perhaps he only saw it as good salesmanship. I considered buying a package of these limited edition cards, but demurred, defying temptation in the end. I was struggling with clearing out my house. It would just be one more thing to keep.

By the end of the day, I’d not seen a single customer. I started to pack up my things early and right on time, I was beginning to dismantle and return my belongings to the car. When I was all finished, I stopped by to say goodbye to Mr. Who?

In parting, I said, “I’ll see you next month perhaps, at the Christmas Market?” He had just finished talking with another potential customer.

“No. I won’t be here,” he replied. I’ll be teaching next month.”
“Teaching?”

Yes, I’ll be teaching Lego to little children; showing them how to think outside of the box”.

Maple Keys

November 14, 2008

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I haven’t been posting much lately as I prepare to take some work out into the community and show my wares.

I’m having a party for some local artists before the Christmas rush, and it’s coming up just the day after the market. I’m doing a mix of house cleaning, food prep, business prep and ….not much blogging.

Just to keep my faithful readers coming back, I’m going to offer you a few photos to enjoy. They are a promise that I’ll be back… soon.

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These leaves that fall and die on concrete, leave a ghost of their passing.
I love the fragility of it, and the endurance.

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and last but not least

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When the rain stopped, these drops clung to every branch tip. I find that just glorious!

Blueberries, painting and a bike ride

August 6, 2008

It was the British Columbia Provincial holiday and August 1st long weekend and my friend Dorothy came out from the city to stay for the weekend. She’s preparing for a two hundred kilometer bike ride early in September so she brought her off road bike. I don’t do that kind of valiant exercising, so she was on her own for four hours doing the lovely dike roads and trails that go along the Alouette and Pitt Rivers. I agreed to meet her up at Pitt Lake but I’ll never do that again on a long weekend.

The lake is a popular place to go for canoers, kayakers and speed boaters. The place was crawling with half clothed, well-tanned people. I guess one of the reasons it was so popular this particular day was that we’d just gone through a week of summer rain that felt more like late September and everyone was very glad to have that burst of hot, hot weather and brilliant sunshine again.

I took my paint box, a selection of watercolour tubes, a desk easel to prop my painting on and a folding director’s chair. When I got up to the Lake parking lot, it was packed. Cars were circling to get a space in case someone left mid-afternoon. I circled three times before I parked in a five minute zone for kayak drop off and then stayed ten minutes. Dorothy still didn’t show.

I was a bit worried about someone getting on my case, or worse, giving me a ticket, so I puttered with things in the trunk of my car, bringing the bag of painting supplies to the front seat, shifting the remainder of things around, getting out my camera, et cetera, et cetera. I took some pictures of a young lad at lake shore standing in the water, picking up stones and throwing them in. He was about five and he had a rather admirable persistence in his task and a dismal record at distance throwing. Most landed just inches from his feet.

On my fifth tour of the parking lot, perspiring away in the humid heat whilst stewing, so as to speak, cooking on slowly but inexorably in my black, heat absorbent car, I decided that I’d missed Dorothy somehow. I hadn’t seen her on the road in and the hour I had spent moving from one illegal spot to another in the gravel car park was not productive, not to mention the waste of carbon fuel. She goes on these lone bike rides often. She’d just probably lost her way. It was only slightly possible that she’d gotten there before I did and given up waiting for me.

A park attendant came up to my open car window and reminded me that I couldn’t park at the stop sign. I had been waiting, wasting a few more anxious minutes, figuring I’d move when a car came up behind me and needed me to move on.

“You can’t park here, y’know,” she said gently.
“I know. I’m just leaving,” I replied faking a bit of chagrin. However, her softly spoken reminder was my signal. I wasn’t staying any more.

“Oh, you’re leaving then?” she said, still gently.

:I’m on my way,” and I put my car in gear and drove out the parking lot and down Meaken Road. About two kilometers out, there was finally a parking space. I shook my head at the persistence some people have to get their boats in the water, then go park their car far away, then walk back a kilometer to their launched boat and then go rowing or speeding around as an afternoon diversion.

Two kilometers down the road, I found a shady tree with room for about three cars to park. I got out to explore. It would have been a safe and flat enough place to sit out and paint but there was no view. I crawled through the metal tubing gate and walked a few feet up an unused road but found nothing of paintable interest. The grasses were beautiful and tall, a whole field of them. It was a crop, but I couldn’t identify it.

So I drove down another bit of the road and found a drainage ditch, a dike perhaps, filled with water reflecting land and sky. I followed that for another short way. Eventually there was a space for about six cars to park and I stopped in the shade of a tall cottonwood tree. The colours of the ditch water were simply beautiful. My photos, when I saw them later, simply did not do them justice. I did a painting there of the ditch water. It’s one of three times I’ve stopped to paint in the last year, so I can’t say it’s wonderful, but I’ll share it with you anyway:

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As I was painting, Dorothy rode up a little worse for wear, struggling with the heat. Thirty degrees Celsius is not really an advisable heat to go cycling in, in my opinion, but she is a hardy sort and rides in all weather. She’d missed the turn off that led to access Pitt Lake but she’d found another way to get there and all was well. Not counting where she had ridden through brambles, nor where a branch had whacked her on the way, she said it was quite easy. She had a large black grease spot on one leg which belied her bravado. She had fallen. Like all good athletes, she had just gotten back up again and continued on.

She’d only done twenty six of her eighty kilometer goal, so she only rested a half hour while I continued to paint and then she was off again. I stayed and painted these two sketches before I went down by the Little Red Barn fruit standing hoping to find some fresh yellow beans and some juicy blueberries for dinner.

and

We met up backat the house three hours later, both within minutes of each other. I was unloading the director’s chair and the paint pots from the trunk when she called urgently to me. She stood only ten feet away on the asphalt of the round-about.

“Look at them!” she said. I couldn’t tell if she was gloating or amazed or disgusted. Besides, I couldn’t see anything, at first. And then I saw this creepy but amazing convention of little flies amassed on the ground, swarming apparently aimlessly. There were so many of them they were bumping into each other. I could just just hear the conversation down there.

“Excuse me, just, get out of my way!”

“You bumped me.” (peremptorily) “Can’t you look where you are going?”

“Sorry. Didn’t mean to. We’re supposed to be going south, y’know.”
“South? Our directions were north. Did you see the queen? Some babe, don’t you think?”

“Nah. Royalty is royalty is royalty. They all look the same. Big, important, lazy, making the rest of us work for them.

And all the time these fly-like creatures are swarming, bumping into each other, squirming their way around each other like nothing I’ve ever seen before. It was as if the tarmac itself was coming to a boil.

Dorothy is scientific. She’s done lots of lab experiments and observational studies. I’m a gardener at this point. At the same time as I was watching. fascinated by this horde of winged creatures which we decided were adolescent ants. I didn’t want them in my lawn and I didn’t want them in my garden, really. I started to stomp them out and got quite a few of them, they were so closely packed. They had no sense of impending danger and so the foot fell and slid across their bodies them into oblivion.

“Are you disgusted with me for squishing them?” I asked Dorothy.

“No. I’ve done enough lab experiments to know what they are all about. It must be the heat and the fact that they have graduated from their larval stage. But to see them all at once, it really is quite tremendous.
“No. I think it’s quite alright. There are certainly enough who escaped your heavy footed-ness. They won’t be missed.”

We went in after that. I cooked steak and steamed a corn cob each. I sliced a few tomatoes and a bit of cucumber and that was it. On a hot day, it’s no fun being in the kitchen. Simple is best.

Mrs. Stepford next door is alone for a week while her husband is away traveling, so she came and shared the repast with us. We had a hilarious conversation over dinner and a Tom Hanks, Julia Robert’s movie – Charlie Wilson’s war that kept us engaged for the evening.

Now, I have to go backwards to go a bit forwards.

Before Dorothy came, I was doing my usual cleaning for a guest routine. I changed the linens on the beds. I started noticing spots on the bathroom mirrors, so I wiped down the mirrors. I had to find something for lunch and for dinner. It’s blueberry harvest time so buying some of these was a must. I drove down into the farmlands that lay beside the Alouette and Pitt Rivers. It’s bucolic and redolent of new mown hay. Because of the heat, the grasses are looking golden and ripe. A second haying is in process although I don’t see any of the giant marshmallow-looking covered bales of hay I that saw earlier in spring.

I’ve got two favourite farm places I like to go. There must be at least eight, maybe ten, of these along that one stretch of road. Purewal’s blueberries are always good and ripe, cleaned of all leaves, stems and miscellaneous debris. They’ve got a giant blower that keeps the leaves and twigs afloat while the berries spill onto a conveyor belt The daughter and the grandfather sit on either side of the belt picking off the green, the tiny and the squished ones.

At two dollars a pound, you can’t lose. I bought seven pounds for me and I picked up blueberries for Dorothy as well. The farmer didn’t have enough for my large order so he excused himself and went out to the fields in his little tractor to get me another ten pounds worth, leaving me with his daughter, a child of about ten, and his father who tried to have a conversation with me, with great difficulty. I wondered if he had suffered a stroke, so difficult it was for him to form words.

When the farmer came back, I asked him what he did with the culls. They looked perfectly good for jam with a bit of cleaning up. There were little stems and twigs in amongst them. There were absolutely green ones that would have to go, but there were lots of plump soft ones and some little to mid sized ones that were perfectly good.

“Oh, those? Those go to the jam factories. I can’t sell them. They’re no good. Not firm enough. Not big enough. Green ones.”
“I’d gladly pay you for some, for making my own jam.” I offered.

“Nope. Nope. The berries are no good. If you want some, I’ll just give you some.”

I took about five pounds to try. Later in the evening as we sat watching Tom Hanks acting as a cowboy (and maverick) senator from Texas and Julia Roberts in a ghastly wig acting as the sixth richest woman from somewhere (The United State? Texas? The world?), I cleaned up the box of berries.

I’m an impatient woman. I couldn’t stand not knowing how they would work out. So I put them in a large Pyrex bowl and covered it over with a dinner plate so that if it splurted, I wouldn’t have a mess to clean up. I set the microwave for five minutes and presto, I had jam! It was incredible. A quarter of a cup of sugar stirred into the piping hot mixture and, voila, the berries were an nice sweet sauce.

At the Little Red Barn across the street, I bought some fresh peaches, apricots and green plums for dessert.

Monday morning came early. Dorothy had to get back into town to get ready for her next work day. She took her car and I took mine. We went back to Purewal’s berries and I loaded up on a ten pound box of berries of the cull variety. She bought some fresh fruits at the Red Barn for herself and went on her way. I went back home to sort out my box of free berries. With such a short cooking time, it took me just a few hours to freeze the good berries for winter and to make blueberry jam and ice cream sauce with the remainder.

It was a happy weekend and I only wish I could send you all a little taste of my blueberry surprise! That’s one of the failings of the Internet, so far. But you never know. Ten years ago, you wouldn’t have thought it possible for a computer to take dictation, but they do, with voice recognition. But Cyberspace still has a bit of difficulty with sending jam. So, like the little red hen, I’ll just have to eat this up all by myself!

Tom Sawyer – reflections on painting a fence

July 23, 2008

There was no one in the paint department at Liquidation World when I sauntered through, idly wondering if I could match up my fence colour so that if I missed a spot in covering over the weathered wood, it wouldn’t be too obvious. I found a clerk associate at the till who very amiably agreed to page the paint clerk for me.

This latter arrived with a beaten look on her face. The happier sales associate scurried away back to the till, advising her colleague, “This one’s first (pointing to me) and then him.” There was a line up starting to form.

I asked paint-woman,””Do you have any Tile Red left? I couldn’t find any.”

“Sold out.” she stated flatly. I wondered what kind of bad day she had had before coming to work. She had permanent worry printed on her face.

“I’ll take the Garnet, then. Just one can.”

“It’s purple,” she stated, as if to say only a fool could choose purple for a fence.

“Purple?” I reacted, a bit baffled. The paint colour had looked rather brown with a reddish tinge. Maybe Magenta. Maybe Italian red oxide. I always think I know my colours fairly well.

People call the same colour by different names. Maybe it was just a case of that, I thought.

“The paint samples are over there, ” she said, again with a disagreeable flatness that hinted at her customer’s lack of perspicacity, that is, my complete lack of perception. It was a caution that I’d better give my head a shake, had better reconsider my choice, or at the very least, make sure that I knew what I was doing.

I took the time to see if I could understand her choice of the word “purple” to describe the colour of the mini picket-fence post that hung above the paint shaker on the back wall. There were about four warm brown to red colours – Chestnut, Garnet, Tile Red and Rust. I could see that the Garnet was a cooler red, or conversely a warmer brown, but I made up my mind that it wasn’t going to be lilac or royal purple and it would be slightly happier than the existing brown on my fence. The minor mis-paints would not be too obvious.

All that decision-making could not have taken more than four seconds. It obviously takes longer to write it than it does to think it.

“I’ll take one can of Garnet, then,” I said, turning back to her. “Can you mix it up for me?”

Well, I knew what I meant.

“We don’t mix colours. It’s already mixed,” she answered. “Oh God, I must be dealing with an idiot,” she must have been thinking. The sourness had not lessened in her physiognomy.

“Well, shake it on your machine, then,” I said, not to be put off by her rebuking stance.

She didn’t even answer that one. She took the can from my hands and shook it. In less than a minute, she handed it back to me. I made my way out of the paint department and then to the till thanking my good fortune in having a happier disposition.

The woman at the till, a smile on her face, chirruped, ” You got the paint you wanted?”

“Think so,” I said back with a grin. It’s wonderful how a smile can generate another smile and happier feelings prevail. Her curly blond hair seemed to bolster her cheeriness. This woman, too, had lines on her face. At sixty and working all day in a visually depressing store, she might have had difficulty in keep one’s spirits up, but her face lines were laugh lines, and the weathering was soft and a bit marshmallowy.

(A prayer aside. “Dear Lord, I’m an aspiring writer. Please don’t ever let me see someone else’s description of what I look like. Or are you reserving this for me in Purgatory for when I die and have to account for my life? It really is part of a writer’s job, describing people…. I’m doing the best I can….”)

So, let’s skip a bit here. My stories are always a bit long:

So now I’m out in the back yard having found a screw driver to open up the paint can with, a wide brush, three plastic tray liners stacked together for strength because I can’t find the metal paint tray, and a brand new roller thing on a old battered roller holder. I’ve got paint thinner and a couple of rags.

With the screwdriver, I gently lever the lid, turning the can around inch by inch, until I get lift off on one side. Then with a bit greater pressure, I manage to pop the thing off with out spurtling paint all over.

I’ve got fencing completely around the back yard. There’s the almost new fence with lattice work on top adjoining Lara and Glen’s yard at the back in chocolate brown. There’s the decrepit fence that separates the length of the property between my yard and the pioneer neighbour, Jack’s, yard. This fence is finished, really, It’s an expensive project that I’m leaving until later, especially since a developer has just purchased this magnificent one acre property and is going to put, depending on the rumours afloat, three monster houses with rental suites or five duplexes (read 10 families) or twenty three town houses. This single-family neighbourhood is aghast at the prospect. All of a sudden, three monster houses sounds better than the last of these choices. The developer, rumour has it, needs two years to get his Plan 23 in place to apply for the development permit. In between time, he is not going to do a darned thing with the fence. It can rot in place.

Last year, a section of it came down in one of the violent wind storms. It was rotted at the base. The fence posts were just mush. There was no point in repairing it. There is simply a six foot gaping hole in that stretch of fence – all one hundred and thirty eight feet of it – and there is no point in tackling that until some decisions are made. It doesn’t distress me. I rather like a rural look; a falling-rotting-barn kind of look. It’s poetic. It has a weathered patina that can’t be bought. There’s a trace of original colour (it might have been Tile Red or Garnet, methinks) lots of bare grey, sundried wood, and a variety of lichens, mosses and entwined vines and volunteer trees growing through its cracks. It has character. Sort of like a tottering drunk with a friendly grin, but none the less tottering and unkempt.

The only stretch of fence that was small enough to tackle, reversibly if Garnet Purple didn’t appeal after all, was the one that encloses the back from the front, going from mid-side of the house to the ancient fence. It is about thirty feet long with a gate in the middle.

I poured a quart of paint into the pan. It looked a dark brick red colour to me. Garnet was a bit of a highfalutin name for it, but it would do. It would freshen up things. Missed spots would not be noticed much. It was flat deep brown underneath. What I did notice though, was that fence stain was a different consistency than other paints. It was rather more liquid.

I started to roll the stain over the fence boards. It covered quickly and well. In all, clean up included, it didn’t take me more than two hours, for which I was grateful. It gave me two hours to think, not only about the job at hand, which I took as a meditative opportunity to let my mind run free, but also a s a task with intrinsic value. As I poured, rolled, and brushed, I wondered about Tom Sawyer. I had no one around to con into doing my work. It was just me. I should have rather been wondering where Huck Finn was.

But it wouldn’t have been the same. As soon as there was a chattering voice to answer mine, the peace and tranquility of it would have changed. I was happy in my painterly solitude. There were no artistic decisions to be made – no composition, no questions of value, no considerations of texture or pattern, no leit motifs of meaning, no thoughts of positive and negative shapes, no checking of spatial relationships forming and altering as developments occurred.

I was simply dipping my brush in the thin Garnet liquid, applying the brush to the corners and the cracks, and to the places the roller could not attain. The biggest visual decision I had to make was “is there a dribble” followed by “have I obliterated it”.

At the end of my two hours, I had spent an agreeable time; I was covered in deep brown speckles (the colour looked darker on my skin) on arms, feet, hands, glasses and my painting clothes. I had only lightly spattered the gravelly stones between my feet. I stood back to get some perspective on my latest painting and the fence was looking super, clean and kempt.

Then I took my paraphernalia to the back steps under the porch and started to clean my roller and brushes. I had used up the whole tin of paint. I poured some methyl hydrate into the pan and rinsed out the roller then the brush. I rolled the roller on two local weekly papers until the most of the remaining paint was out of it and then enclosed the almost clean roller in a plastic bag. I’d learned this last trick from Charlie the Painter. If I continued on painting next day, I didn’t have to do a proper job of now. I would wait until I had truly finished painting with that colour.

I rinsed the brush in a cleaner pot of thinner and then loaded it up with dish detergent to loosen up the remaining paint binder in it. It took three times of this water and detergent stage to get it looking like new, not counting the metal ferrule which I never try to get really clean. I left the brush outside to dry and transferred the dirty thinner into a glass jar. I was done.

I took one last look at my handiwork. It was nine o’clock and the July light was fading fast. I was happy with my work.

“Maybe. Just maybe,” I thought, “this colour is maroon. It sure dried fast. It’s got a certain je ne sais quoi to it?

“Maroon? …Or maybe purple?”

Zounds!

January 15, 2008

“Dorothy? Can I stay overnight at your place? I have to go to the dentist relatively early in the morning on Monday. I don’t want to have to drive in at 5″30 in the morning to get there. Besides, we could go out and have dinner. I haven’t seen you for a month. ”

And so it was that Kay stayed for the first time ever at Dorothy’s on Sunday night.

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Kay pulled her leg warmers down over her feet, lowered them to the carpet and tiptoed to the bedroom door, down the hall to the guest bathroom, entered, closed the door, turned the handle carefully and slowly so that there was no sound and then turned on the light.

Her hostess Dorothy was sleeping in the next room, door open wide.

Just before retiring, Dorothy had remarked, “I leave the door open ever since this apartment was broken into. I don’t know what I’d do if someone came in, but it makes me feel better if I can hear what is going on in the apartment. I listen for noises. Just after the break-in, I listened all night. Now I sleep better, but I still think I’m alert now, even in my sleep.”

Kay wasn’t about to waken Dorothy with unaccustomed light nor noises. They’d had a rather fun evening exploring the Paint program in amongst the Accessories, creating an imaginary character with wool-like hair, spectacles and a goatee. Kay was handling the laptop “mouse pad” mechanism for the first time in the Paint program, resulting in hilarious errors as the “mouse” leapt across the drawing in a straight line, or erased a critical nose part, only to be restored by a simple “undo” action.

Returning to her warm bed, Kay reversed the sequence, always mindful of the bullet sharp sounds that every movement seemed to make. She crawled back in under the covers, pulled them up under her chin and then, far too awake, assessed the niggling sensation behind her eyes. “Oh, not another migraine,” she bewailed silently. She was expected at the dentist at eleven. There was no way she could allow the darned migraine to invade and take over. Dental appointments were too hard to get and she was already in town to get it. Living in the outskirts had its disadvantages – the long trip into town was a major one.

Once again she rose, pulled her leg warmers over her feet. Tile floors were just too cold to bear. She turned on the light which was overpowering, given the shift from almost black night to an overhead hundred-watt bulb. and she started to empty her travelling tote, piece by piece. It hadn’t been emptied since her Ottawa Christmas trip. Here were black ink drawing pens closed up in Ziplock plastic bags (to ensure they didn’t explode with pressure in high altitude) and business cards, also enclosed in Ziplock, to keep them clean and to protect the corners ), the toothbrush and tooth paste bag, the diary in case she decided to write, her sketch book, the Ramabai Espinet novel, her wallet, her red belt, and finally the bag with medications for travel sickness, for migraine and daily vitamins.

Kay extracted a single migraine remedy then returned all the unneeded items to the large black tote Now she needed water to take it with and a bit of food. The little warning messages on the pill bottle were not there for nothing.

This meant another silent foray out into the hallway and down to the kitchen to get the water. Kay carefully doused the light, opened the door, tiptoed down the hallway in the dark. The low light coming from the outside street light was sufficient for navigation.

In the dark and sombre kitchenette, she extracted a used cup from the sink. She had no idea whose cup was whose, but at this point, it mattered little. She couldn’t go poking in cupboards nor was she about to run more water than she needed to wash the darned thing.

Kay set the cup under the tap and opened the valve slowly hoping the trickle of water would be less noisy than a full rush of water. Then she shifted over to the microwave and carefully opened the door, controlling the opening mechanism slowly so that it would not make a sound. With the light from the open microwave door, she selected and set her buttons, One minute, then Start, and placed the cup inside. Carefully, she controlled the opening mechanism as she now shut the door.

CLUNK! The door closed and began to whir in a loud fan roar.

All the caution in the world had not helped attenuate the sound. For one full minute, the fan growled as the microwave platter spun. Kay’s ears perked like a cat’s on mouse patrol. Nothing else stirred. Perhaps Dorothy would sleep through this. Heaven’s knew, we’d headed to bed late, and Dorothy had to leave for work at seven-thirty. There was only a half hour before the alarm would go off.

Back in the guest room, Kay extracted a snack pack of Hawkins Cheesies from her tote. The plastic wrapper crackled and rustled as she opened it. Bon Dieu! Would nothing stay silent! Kay grumbled to herself. One never knew when such a medical emergency kit as Cheesies might be needed. She swallowed the pill, drank down the warm quaff of water and munched a few of the cheddar treats.

Moments later, she turned off the light and she was back under the covers, awake, alert, waiting for the medicine to take effect. It was the one dubious pleasure of the migraines or the near migraines. The pills activated a light show that rivaled the Benson and Hedges fireworks displays. Behind her closed eyelids, a lime coloured blob would slowly form and swim upwards being replaced by a luminous purple shape, equally fluid in form. The purple would swim leisurely upwards, replaced by a red blob, following. The lime would reappear, push the other shapes up and out of view only for them to reappear underneath chasing the red. Tucked in the interstices of the moving colour show were rich dark colours made up of tiny pixels in red, green and black.

Kay drifted into the colours, warm and pleased that the trace of migraine was completely disappearing. If only she could have an hour of uninterrupted sleep, she would be just fine for the dentist at eleven. It had been 5:30 when she had doused the guest room overhead light.

“Are you moving?”

It was Dorothy’s wake up call, bright and brittle. Kay looked at her watch. Seven o’clock. Funny how the three weeks past the Winter Solstice had brought back an earlier morning light with it.

She had to be away by seven thirty, on the road for other appointments before the dentist. She rose and dressed, packed her belongings ready to go. There was no need to be silent now. There was no time to waste. The world was stirring and Dorothy was making a noisy clatter in the kitchen drawing the frying pan from the cupboard, the cupboard doors and the fridge doors opening and closing.

As we finished eating an omelet, Kay asked, “Did you hear me get up in the night? Did you hear me in the kitchen?”

“I heard you move around. I went right back to sleep. I didn’t hear you in the kitchen.”

As Kay drove off in my car a few minutes later, she reflected on the nature of sound – how a simple sound is lost in a normal context; how it amplifies in the silence of the night like an explosion or a gunshot; how it can comfort, like the whir of the furnace automatically turning on; or disturb, like the newspaper hitting the screen door at midnight in a quiet house; or puzzle, when a steady drip cannot be found; but a sound that never seems to tone into it’s surroundings is the CLUNK of the microwave door.