Archive for the ‘beauty’ Category

Jessie

February 22, 2012

Whistler phoned at four o’clock.

I looked at the call display and almost didn’t answer. I no longer picked up any out-of-province number, the latest political leadership race having inundated the social media – e-mail, twitter, Facebook, Linked-in and telephone, to name only the ones I am connected to. This one was a 250-200 number and, though there was something familiar about the last four digits the description which said, “unknown BC resident”, I was wary of another recorded laudatory tape from the nine candidates for party leader.

“Hello?” I said, with misgiving, waiting for the silence and the click over to recorded message.

“Hello000, Auntie? It’s your perpatetic nephew, Whistler.”

“Whistler!” I replied with joy. “Where are you?”

“I’m with Jessie, here in Delta.”

“Oohh! Is Jessie home?”

“Yup. And I’m here helping her.
“How is she?” I asked, greedy for news. “Let me speak with her when we’re done.”

“We’re going to do something different, Auntie, if you can find time for us. We’re both going to come out to visit you. We’ve got today or tomorrow. Lunch. Dinner. Just an hour or  two for coffee. Whatever you can do. You can catch up with Jessie then.”

At that moment,  Wednesday was looking impossible. I was trying to get into Vancouver for a number of different reasons.

“Come out for dinner tonight. I’ll get a reservation. How about six?”

“How about between six and six-thirty?”

“Alright. See you then.”

I rung off. Carol who was helping organize my study said, “Who was that?”

“My nephew, Whistler.He’s in town from up-country. Visiting Jessie who’s just back from Ireland. Europe, really. She’s been traveling around.They are friends.”

In the back of my mind, I was thinking, why doesn’t he marry her?, as I turned from our task at hand to make a reservation at a lovely Italian restaurant, fireplace, table linens and all.

It was moments later as I was lifting a box from the top shelf of the wall unit that my head began to spin.

“Sorry, Carol.” I wavered, “I just can’t do this. It’s foolish for me to be up on this ladder. I’m getting dizzy. Can you?”

As Carol handed me down the storage boxes we were marking for future retrieval, my head began to spin even more.

“I have to lie down for a minute,” I said, and Carol continued on with a different task , scanning the ancient photos into the computer. I wrapped up in the sofa blanket and covered my eyes with a face cloth to block out the light. A slight nausea defined itself. The headache I had denied at the doctor’s office at noon had found it’s way behind my left eyebrow.

“What is it?” Carol asked. “What’s wrong?” I’d been perfectly fine when she arrived. The onset of the vertigo had been sudden.

“I don’t know. Maybe it’s the antibiotic. I don’t take much medicine. My body sometimes reacts strongly to new medicines. It says to take after a meal. Maybe it didn’t recognize my afternoon snack as a meal and it didn’t buffer enough. Just give me a little time. I’ll be alright.”

But as I sat under the blanket gathering myself back into a state of wellness, my mind kept thinking what to do. It wasn’t too late to cancel but, by God, I so delighted in their company that I didn’t want to miss the opportunity. But the gnawing head and slight nausea had taken away  my appetite. It was no night for a glass of wine, table linens and an upscale dinner for me. Much better a small restaurant, or maybe even take-out. That decision could be made when they arrived.

Carol left at five thirty. I was up again and feeling tolerable.I went to change and was upstairs when the doorbell rang, wouldn’t you know.

“Hey, Auntie!” cried Whistler. “Hey, Kay,” added Jessie, their smiles from ear to ear. What I loved about these two was that they could be serious, but they always carried joy with them. Every sad recounting  was filled with jokes or rueful laughter, and the good times were filled with stories and happiness.

“Don’t bother taking your shoes off. We’re going to dinner. How’s Chinese? My car or yours. I know where I’m going.”

We took my car and parked just beside Tim Horton’s.  I’ve just discovered The Happy Kitchen this past two weeks. Their food is glorious Chinese cooking, with fresh vegetables cooked to perfection – just a little crunch to them. Nothing soggy.

“Well, how about the house?” I ask, eager for news.

Jessie is the co-executor for her mom’s estate, a thing we had in common. Her sister, the other “co”  was decidedly unhelpful, uncooperative. I didn’t dare express my feelings until I knew where she was going. It wasn’t my decision, but I hoped she would make the right one.

Jessie is one of those ebullient beings who talks constantly, always has a circuitous tale to tell. She had other things in mind besides answering my question directly. It all depended on a thousand detail which had to be brought to bear, before I could deserve the answer.

“When I got home, I knew everything would not be the same. But I had no idea,” she started. “Melanie drops everything wherever she last used it. Nothing had been put away for six months. Carlos is coming to visit for his holidays. He’s a bit of a neat freak. Even though I’ve warned him, I can’t let him see this.  He’d turn his back and run away! And you know I ask Melanie to clean up after herself, but she never does.”
“I know I’m part of the problem. I am trying my best not to do for her the things she is responsible for. Now instead of picking up and sorting out her things, I just dump them in her room and close the door. I’m concentrating on the common rooms. I was so proud of myself. I got one of those blue-green stains in the bathtub downstairs completely removed – you know, where the tap drips. I was so happy about that. It’s the guest bathroom and is hardly ever used, so it rarely got cleaned. It must have been twenty years since that blue stain has been there. When I showed it to her, Mel said, “Wow, it’s looking really clean. That’s great Jessie.  I guess I should go clean my room up!” She never even thought about helping me with the common areas. And you know, I’ve been away for six months. It’s all her mess in the common areas.”

As Jessie served herself more crispy noodles and green beans with cashews, I caught my chance to say a word. Whistler, by the way, says nothing. Chuckles when appropriate. Smiles, if amused. Shrugs his shoulders or nods his head from time to time. You can tell he is listening, but he’s not talking.

“So what does this mean, about the house? I don’t think Melanie is going to change, do you?”

It was twenty minutes later that she confessed that she didn’t think she could live with her sister. They would have to sell this inherited house, the family home she had grown up in. But where would she come back to if she didn’t have a house? How would she get into the housing market if she didn’t  already have one that would keep pace with the vagaries of Real Estate?

“Do you know where you are going to be working? Or staying?”

Jessie’s new boyfriend was Spanish. Working in Ireland – an IT engineer. Headhunted from Spain. He had everything laid out for him before he arrived – a visa of long duration, an apartment furnished in IKEA modern. But Jessie had outstayed her student work exchange visa, gone traveling, activated a tourist visa and then it too had run out. She had to depart before the last day or it would be impossible for her to get back in. She could stay with him, but she would have to leave again. She couldn’t speak Spanish, but she would have to learn. They hadn’t explored the possibility of Canada yet.”

“So what’s his last name? Where does he come from? What do his parents do? ” Kay asked, laughing. “I’m sounding like my mother. But who is he? ”

“Hah! You are just like my mother. Asking questions.”

“Someone has to do it. And I learned from my mother really well. I hated it. But now I know how to say, “Don’t they have a last name?” really well. Whistler joined in the laughter. My questions were serious, but our collective friendship was so open that we could make fun of the stifling traditions we came from and still dig down into the important things.  We didn’t hold back. She wasn’t offended, rather, she said, “Now that Mom’s gone, it’s really comforting to be able to hear you say what she would have asked me. It really helps me think things through.”

It reminded me of the first time Whistler had come to  live with his grandmother, my mom, while he was going to university. We were raking leaves in the back yard together and I explained some family dynamic to him in all it’s gory detail, along with my analysis of what the outcome would be. I heard back from my sister, his mom, shortly after. “He said to me, a bit incredulously,  “Y’know Mom, she talked to me like I was an adult! Just like I was another person, not just a young kid who couldn’t understand. Why doesn’t everyone do that?”

I had hated being “protected” from the evils of ours and everyone else’s dysfunctional families. I had seen things with my eyes, only to be lied to. It was the only way to describe it. Lied to. Covered up. Euphimized. Obscufated.  To the point where I questioned my sanity. Only to find out much later that I wasn’t wrong. Only, the neighbours, the work place, the world, should not know that these things had occurred or our family, or their families, would be shamed, shunned, talked about, scorned.

I had felt that honesty and clear vision was better. If you knew about a problem and shared it, how much experience could be brought to your assistance from others who had already been there, coped or not coped, learned valuable lessons. Besides, many of the problems were not that drastic. But if you kept them as subterraneous motifs in a family, problems worsened, created a certain madness that crept into daily decisions, actions. I never shied the truth with Whistler.

We were back at my home now, getting an after-dinner coffee.

Jessie continued:

“We  visited his parents at Christmas. They’re really nice. He makes things out of iron in a shop that has been there forever. All of his life and the generation before him.Decorative things. Useful things. He’s an artist, really. I guess that’s what he is. An artist. Beautiful things. You’d love it. And they are so nice. You wouldn’t believe. But it was so stressful. Carlos didn’t understand why it would be stressful, but it was, like, I was meeting his parents and that would have been stressful in itself, but I couldn’t speak to them. Everything was said in Spanish. They said they were too old to learn English.”

As she continued on in her stream of narrative, I had a second narrative coursing in the back of my mind.

Jessie could have been my child. I had been shocked, just after her mother’s death from a massive heart attack, that her mother was only sixty four. It was my age. How would I have brought up a child? I had none of my own. I had brought up my brother’s boys for a short period of time – five of the teenage years. I had succeeded with one and less-so with the other. I had spoken the truth from my viewpoint with them as well. No secrets. I remember saying to each one of them as they stepped out into an independent activity, a first-time adult activity, that they could always tell me anything. I’d been there. I had faced tough decisions myself. Failed at things and gotten back up on my feet and carried on. They couldn’t shock me. I had been a hippie. I’d done drugs and thankfully escaped the consequences. And don’t go there. The drugs are a million times worse now. I hadn’t touched them for more than thirty years. Not even the so-called soft ones. Had loved and lost in anguish. Had moved forward after  a lot of soul searching. I had loved deeply and lost. I’d lived through the pain and survived to the other side of it. I had had sex before marriage, believe it or not,  and they couldn’t shock me there either. If they had a problem, we could discuss it. I wasn’t going to go ballistic on them. Of course, I found out that the world has changed. They could shock me and they did. But it didn’t stop the plain speaking or the ability to discuss it with them.

And now here was a blessing for me, indeed. I had a friend of that same kind of openness that I desired; and she was thirty years younger, and still able to talk to me just like a friend. But she was the daughter I would have liked to have had. Fearless in greeting the world. Adventurous in her travels. Savvy after several years working outside Canada, vacationing in between in exotic places half way around the world. It’s not to say she hadn’t had sad moments or moments of reflection, but she carried joy with her.

“I couldn’t go back to Ireland. You can only have three months a year as a visitor. I’d had thoughts of going to China, but the Lonely Planet says a woman definitely shouldn’t go alone. She could be kidnapped. It wasn’t safe. So I went to Prague. I loved it. I stayed in a hostel and had a great time. I met wonderful people. I shouldn’t have been lonely, but I realized I had been moving around too much. It was time to come home.”  Jessie peppered this with recountings of people she had met. She lapsed into an Irish accent as she described a Trinity College student who insisted on walking her home after a night at the pub there in Prague.

“He had rings in his nose and studding his ears. He had punk boots and belt.’ She stopped a moment and fixed me in the eye. “Do you know how crazily difficult it is to get into Trinity?” I did.

“I looked at him,” she continued, laughing, “and said to him that he was the most unlikely looking young man for such chivalry.He replied to me that he couldn’t help it.His Mam had instilled manners into him and there was nothing for it. I accepted his offer, of course. He danced around me as we were walking to make sure he was always walking on the outer side of the side walk. Heavens! Men in Canada don’t even know they are supposed to do that; that it’s a time-honoured rule!”

“And so are you going to marry him?” I said, bringing her back to Carlos.

“He’s so nice,” she continued her peripatetic conversation, not willing to divulge the answer too quickly. “He’s so good for me. But we will have to wait and see. He still has to come here and see who I am on my own territory. I don’t know where I am going to work. We can’t live at long distance. Something has to be worked out. I could live in Northern Ireland because I have the right to a British long term visa as a daughter of an  Englishman. I could work there and travel down to Dublin on weekends, or he travel up to me.?

I could see everything was in flux. No point in adding my two cents. She was doing just fine at finding her way, making her decisions. Not foolishly jumping into an untenable situation. I was proud of her. I was thrilled really, to have her as my friend.

On parting, she promised to come out and visit me after Whistler had gone home. Whistler, in a rare moment of speech, said, “And what? Leave me out of all the details?”
“Oh Whistler, you get to know them from me when we talk by phone. You don’t miss anything. But I don’t see Jessie that often.”

“I know. I don’t say much . But I listen. There’s always something new that I find out in the retelling. I don’t want to miss anything. I’m like my father that way.” And it was true. He was.

Jessie looked at me sinking into the comfy chair in the living room as I faded. I had managed to keep up with their youthful energy for three hours but now I was hardly holding up and the big armchair was no longer making it possible.

“I think we should leave and give you some rest. To bed with you,” advises Jessie. I nodded. I hated to let them go, but I was no longer operative.

It took another half hour. More stories. Me with some apricot puree from the summer for them. The impossibly simple recipe. Her desire for children, and Carlos, but at her age, the biological clock ticking.

They went. I watched from the window in the front door and waved until the car turned out of the driveway. I could picture my mother doing the same. Glad to be able to sink into my very comfortable bed until the ills righted themselves; wistful at their departure; happy as can be at their visit and the news.

I’ve heard them  talk about why they wouldn’t marry, these two; so I’m very glad that they are such good friends. Lord bless them both, I hope they stay friends even if Jessie ends up living in Europe somewhere. She’s making good decisions. Her heart’s in the right place. And I hope they will always be a part of my life.

I

Kay gets flowers

June 19, 2010

“Can’t a girl get forty winks in the middle of the afternoon” grumbled Kay as she slid off the couch to the floor then levered herself up, leaning on the little side table. Her knees weren’t trustworthy. She rubbed her eyes.

No one ever came to visit without calling first. No one ever rang her door bell without warning except for FedEx, exceptionally, yesterday, with a gift basket in a large clean cardboard box.

Kay, being somewhat warped in her priorities, extolled the virtues of a cardboard box big enough to transport mid-sized paintings and this one would do just fine. But who would send her a gift basket? It must be for someone else!

There, tucked in voluminous folds of cellophane wrapping, was a tiny card on a stick, “Thanks for allowing me to list your home.”  So it was for her after all. “Bloody gift baskets,” she thought, “Waste of money. Why don’t they ask what you want first. I’d rather have had flowers.

Still grumbling and half asleep, Kay hurried to the front door and looked out the window. An affable man in his early sixties, and to her surprise,  stood holding a beautiful bouquet of flowers in a cut glass vase.

With no heed for security, Kay opened the door wide and the screen door too. Feeling a bit incredulous, she stuttered, “For me?”

In the back of her head another conversation was going on. It went this way:
“Are you crazy? You don’t know who this man is. You’ve never seen him before.  What makes you think that a man with grey hair slicked back over his pate wearing glasses from the ‘Eighties is a good man without evil intent? You know you should never open the door to strangers.”  This message, oft heard, came with her mother’s voice. She, in her latter years, was constantly morphing ordinary, gentle people into burglars and kidnappers.

“This is 12649 on 119th? he asked, though it was evidence in itself, since he was standing under the house numbering.

“Yes, but who would send me flowers?”

“Kramer?” he continued.

“No, Karer,” Kay answered.

“It’s so close,” she said, now a bit bewildered. “Let’s see”, she asked, extending her hand for the gift card that was now in his hands, that he was turning over and back again to see if there was a clue on it as to this beautiful bouquet’s true destination.

“Ha ha,” chuckled Kay, kabbitzing.  “It’s okay, you can leave it with me.”

“I guess I have to call the office,” he rejoined, not sure in his duty, but laughing.  “I don’t think I can leave it with you.  I’ll have to find out….” and he pulled out his cell phone to ring up the florist’s shop.

“And I was thinking house invasion” continued on Kay. “You don’t have an AK 70 or a Kalishnikov in your pocket do you? What a great way to gain entry to a home. Nobody would suspect that  a nice looking man with a bouquet would do any harm. See?  I just opened the door, no problem.”

“That’s right,” he says. “It’s a great terrorist ploy.”

He snapped the phone shut. There had been no response. He took the gift card again and tested the seal on the envelope. It gave slightly on one corner, then ripped. No matter what, he was going to have get a new envelope for the card, so he finished the tear to the end and extracted the message.

To Karen and Jeffrey, it read, Deepest sympathies from all the gang.

Deepest sympathies!” exclaimed Kay as she recoiled a foot.

“I don’t know of any Karens or Jeffreys. There’s no one here by that name. I think you had better take those flowers with you. I don’t need any deepest-sympathies here.”

He laughed and without a word, turned down the stairs, back to the sidewalk and his truck.


Where are those keys?

April 14, 2010

My cousin writes a mass mailing to friends:
Hello All!
Once again I’ve put my keys down in a spot where I know I will find them and now I can’t locate them.  I cleaned out the van yesterday, making sure not to lock them in as I closed up.  I have checked the spot where they are to hang in the basement and the pockets of the pants I had on yesterday.  Those should be the only two spots where they should be living.
But voila, like magic they aren’t to be found this a.m.
So get out your spidy eyes…all eight…or is that legs…and watch out for them for me please.
Reward?!  Yes, a drive in the van if you’d like!

I’m miles and kilometers away. I’m not concerned by this loss of keys, but I’m very empathetic. I can have four pen on the desk and have them disappear, one after the other while I have not gone anywhere – not moved whatsoever – and still they are lost to me. Later in the day, I may find them in my jacket pocket.  It’s the desk imp who hides things for wicked fun. And so I reply to my cousin:

Dear Cuz,
Do you not remember the car-key imp? He comes and steals away things  so that you can’t find them when you need them, and then just after it’s too late, he places them before your eyes!
Frank was here for eight days while he did a lot of renos and repairs for me. You should see the outside of my house sparkle! He power washed all the siding!
I kept looking for a stud finder that he gave me – a very expensive one, he was keen to tell me – and I couldn’t find it, so that he could put up some secure hooks for my paintings in these plaster walls of mine.

He went home on Wednesday and then came back again this Sunday to put in some decent and operative taps in the main floor bathroom. I still couldn’t find the stud finder – never opened, still in it’s packaging, yellow and highly visible – even though I opened every drawer and work box where it might have been, even on an off chance.
Then yesterday, not twenty four hours after Frank had gone back home …
I was cleaning up the studio more since this guy is coming to photograph me in the studio and there, in the pile of things I was tidying up (that I had abandoned tidying because I was distracted by R’s many requests for this and that) was the stud finder. Like, five minutes more, staying at my own tasks, I would have had it and he could have pounded some nails into the walls to hold up my heavier paintings. There’s not a chance that he is coming back. He simply lives too far away.
Anyway, Dear Cuz,  I empathize. You know you had your keys at home. They can’t be far.  The car-key imp is playing a trick on you, so they will turn up. Do you have a spare?

Your ever-loving Cousin

K

Endings and beginnings

March 29, 2010

Hugh is  elated. He has been appointed as an Intern to an International Mission for Canada in Europe. It’s his first job in his own field.

Kay , bursting with excitement for him, has been pointing out potential pitfalls, handing out advice that rarely meets the mark because, really, Hugh is an intelligent guy and has it all in hand. He’s  good at planning what he needs and procuring it, mostly through the Internet. Over the three years of his studies, he has carefully fostered contacts, too, and he’s been briefed before departure by a number of professors, research gurus and friendly field service officers, all of them friends.

He is nervous, anxious and excited all at the same time.  Wouldn’t you know, though, he gets the flu a week before departure and it develops into a secondary infection. He’s out of commission for two days and then struggles to get his affairs in order – emptying his room to storage so someone else can rent it while he is gone; collecting his visa which is supposed to be ready at the Embassy (but isn’t); getting to the bank and arranging his financial facility; completing his taxes because he won’t be here at tax time; ordering two suits and a few good shirts so that he can present himself well; buying two pairs of dress shoes because he’s sure he will not be received well in either hiking boots or running shoes.

The comforting thing, he mollifies her, is that Skype exists now. The only difference to their twice weekly calls is that he’ ll be calling from his new posting and he’s another few thousand kilometers away.
He says, “It’s not like when you  stayed in Europe; and Skype is still for free.”

“No,” she agrees. “When I left, it would be ten months before I got back home.  Long distance phone calls were prohibitive. I wrote letters, but I wasn’t staying in one place.  I was moving around. There was no place for anyone to write me until I got an apartment just before I started school.  I felt dreadfully lonely. No one around me spoke my language except other back-packers like me. I struggled with French. I could barely speak it. My Lord! What ever got into me – going off for a year like that, all alone,  without even being able to speak the language!”

“It was six months before I found anyone to talk to, and those were a pair of Norwegian girls. I thought I would go starkers with loneliness!”

“Darned if I was going to give in, though. I started to take second-language lessons at the University and then things eased up.”

“Your aunt Lizbet was in school in Geneva that year, but there was no phone where she boarded. I couldn’t call her. She wasn’t much of a writer. She spoke the language, at least. She’d taken her Masters in the teaching of French. When finally she wrote, she too was feeling very lonely.  I suggested that she come visit me for her birthday in December and she said she would.”

“Then, in a panic, I didn’t know what to do.”

“She didn’t turn up at the train station at the appointed time when I went to meet her.  She just wasn’t there.  I turned up for every possible train and went back home after midnight, my head spinning. What had happened to her? Had she missed the train? Was the train delayed? Did I have the wrong day? Perhaps she had not been able to get a reservation for the day she said she was coming?”

“On Saturday, I went to the train station from morning to night for every possible connection just in case I had made a mistake and still she was not there; and then I knew that she was not coming.”
“Should I tell the police? Or had I gotten something wrong? She had said Friday, but what if she meant the next Friday. Had she had an accident on the way? Had she been abducted? We had both been warned about the white slave-trade .”

“I waited, each day my stomach churning and my head filled with tragic possibilities. Should I call our parents? But what could they do from there? And what if it were nothing and they came all the way from Canada to find everything was alright? The expense of travel was prohibitive. I decided to wait.”

“A good ten days later, I got a letter. Her classmates had for the very first time invited her to join them for dinner and it turned out to be a surprise birthday celebration for her. She had stayed. But she had no way of getting in touch with me.  She rationalized that I would understand; that I would get her letter of explanation in a day or two and everything would be alright.”

“It was. But I had felt ever so vulnerable, ever so sick about it, all of that time that I didn’t know.”

“Auntie, Auntie,” interrupted Hugh, ” It won’t be like that. I will have a work place. I have a rooming house already, thanks to Cousin Barb. We have Skype and if need be, the telephone. I’ll call you twice a week – maybe more because I won’t know anyone there in the first month or so; and you can always just e-mail me.”

When Kay and Hugh finished their phone call, Kay returned to her chores in the basement where she was sorting out boxes of books to keep or not to keep – boxes that had been stored for two and a half years now as she settled into the new-to-her house. While she was mechanically opening boxes, chucking books into the keeper box or the other, her mind began to dial back to that earlier time.

How thoughtless she had been. Perhaps it wasn’t so much thoughtless as ego-centric. She had never thought how her mother might have felt, her rebellious and rather naive daughter winging off to France for a year without a place to stay nor a relative to depend on, with nothing but her clothing on her back, whatever she could stuff into a backpack and a wad of American Express cheques.

It’s the way of the world for the young to leave the nest, to try their own wings.  A generation later, it was Kay herself who told her nephews that it was their time to find their own paths, to find out who they were and what they wanted from life; that they didn’t have to ask permission to go or have a fight about it. All they had to say was, “I’d like to go live on my own now.” And here was Hugh, doing it.

Not to say that he hadn’t been fending for himself all these years of University; but it was his first job in his own field; and he would be living abroad.

As Kay’s heart twinged at  his leaving, she thought back to her mother. She had been the same age or just-about as Kay was now. And then Kay remembered the last of the three summers she had come back to work to allow herself to return to France to finish her Diplome.

“I’ve met a man,” she said to her mother,” and I’m going to meet his mother this fall.”

“You can’t go with that ragged coat,” Mother had replied, eyeing Kay from head to foot. ‘I’ll buy you a new one. If you are going into a new family, you will need to show you come from a good family.”

So they went shopping and Kay selected a brown and white herring-bone coat that reached to her ankles. It had a rust-coloured leather collar and buttons to match.  With her leather boots and three inch heels, her long blond hippie hair flowing down her back, she looked like a tall, slender Russian poet.

Kay admired her figure in the mirror. She would turn heads, she thought, with smug satisfaction.

Had she said thank you, thought Kay? Not just the words, but a proper thank you? Or had she just thought it was her due – parents buy their offspring clothing – or had Kay had any idea of the the reconciliation that this gesture had been from a mother to her headstrong daughter? It had been such a concession on her mother’s part.  She was letting go, for once, without making a fuss and showed for once, a certain trust in Kay’s judgment.

Kay sighed.

It was odd how life brought these bits of wisdom to her too late. It wasn’t a regret, exactly. Mother had come from a different era. One didn’t express one’s emotions. All her longings and vicarious wishes for Kay lay under the surface, bottled, capped, bundled and wrapped in a tight explosive corner of her heart. Kay’s too, thought Kay.

Kay was grateful that time had taught her to say what she felt. Kay had not wanted to make the same mistakes she felt she had grown up with. She was determined to let the boys, these nephews of hers, know that she loved them and encouraged them.  It had worked with one but not the other. Hugh was close, but not Ron.

Kay felt especially grateful about Hugh. She would not lose him for years at a time as she had been estranged from her mother. Hugh had become a friend – a deep and lasting friend. She would have the pleasure of sharing his adventures, she knew, and wished, far too late for it ever to happen, that she had been able to do the same with her Mom.

How different the world had become in thirty years! How much smaller the world had become because of all these electronic gadgets! And how much more open had become the ways of speaking one’s emotions to the people we loved.

Hanky panky

February 2, 2010

“Have you got your lunch? Have you got a handkerchief? Have you got your bus fare?”

The litany repeated every morning when I left for school, then later, when I went out to work. As if I could forget!

“Yes, Mom.” The reply was  a “stop-nagging” whine.

It changed on Sundays. “Have you got your handkerchief? Do you have some money for collection?”  Always, a nice girl would need a handkerchief. One did not touch one’s face. Or at least, we were not supposed to, but I was always getting chided for this sin of commission. And of course, if you had sniffles….

I brought the shoe box up to my nose. It was full of handkerchiefs and there were a few head scarves as well. It had an old smell, not musty, but of face powder and bath salts that women seldom use these days.

I noticed one day that my friend Geraldine carried cloth hankerchiefs and remarked on it.

“One day, I’ll come across the box of Mom’s handkerchiefs and I’ll give them to you,”  I promised. “I don’t use them, myself. I picked up a lot of them for her at the Lutheran Church at their Christmas and Easter sales. It’s amazing how many brand new handkerchiefs I could pick up there, for less than a quarter a piece. After a few years, the lady who ran the thrift table saved them for me. ”
“People brought them back to Mother, too, as presents – from Switzerland, from Germany, from England.”

“My box runneth over with handkerchiefs, ” I mused.

And here was the box with wrinkled and mussy handkerchiefs still smelling of Mom and her toiletries.

Just as mother was reaching her teenage years,  Kleenex made its debut in 1924, designed as a facial tissue made of  “Cellucotton” to wipe cold cream or make-up from one’s face. But it was The Depression and resources were scare. A cloth hankie could be used over and over again, but a tissue could be used but once.

I left the sixty-plus handkerchiefs to soak in a basin of hot water laced with a delicate-fabric soap and came back to rinse them and dry them a few hours later.  In a futile attempt to save time, I did not take them to the basement and the automatic clothes dryer, but began to stretch them, as Mother used to do, flat on the bathroom counter, but I quickly ran out or space and began to hang them out on the towel racks, along the edge of the laundry basket and all along the bathtub rim, and I was only half way through.

Later in the afternoon, I came back to do the other half and take the dry ones to iron.

As I pressed the first one, a light translucent cotton printed with a gay pattern of red and blue flowers, it came to mind that I must have learned to iron on these practical little squares of cloth, something that a child of seven could not ruin easily in her first domestic ironings.

As I continued on the task, I became conscious that I only had six matching handkerchief. Every other one was different.

Of the older types, there were ones with cut work lace (above) and embroidery (below),

with tatted edges or ones with crochet

The needle work is often hand-done with a finesse that is rarely seen today and the fabrics are so sheer, sometimes, that I marvel at the delicacy of it. How do they spin the cotton so fine so that the fiber is strong enough not to break in the weaving process and yet so small in diameter that  the fabric is almost see-through.
There are plain ones and flocked ones, there are silk ones brought from China by some thankful student;

there are ones with crocheted edges in variegated colour;

There are ones made especially for Christmas,

Some are geometric, or striped – regular horn-blowers for days of groggy flu or sinus numbing colds,

and some have curious, modern calligraphy upon them.

And this nest one was her favorite. It was the kind a flirtatious woman could drop on the floor and her eager swain would stoop to rescue.

Father passed away in 1983.

One day when I was visiting, before I came to live with her, to care for her, we had a cup of tea in the afternoon and she was being coy. Something was on her mind that she wanted to say but she wasn’t sure what my reaction would be, I discovered later.

Finally, she told me she had received a letter from one of Dad’s and her university acquaintances whom they had kept in touch with all their lives. He was an prominent Engineer – a brilliant man, she assured me.

“I can’t read his writing any more,” she said. “Would you read it for me?”

I struggled with the chicken scratchings that marked the page.

“Mom, this isn’t writing. It’s code. It’s unreadable!”

I was teasing her. There were occasional words that were recognizable. With a bit of effort, the entirety could be decoded. I read it to her haltingly as I deciphered it.

“He’ll be here on the twenty-fourth. He’s asking you to have dinner with him.”

I suspected that she already knew, that she had already read the letter and knew its contents.

She had an expression on her face that made me think of a wary animal waiting, not knowing if she were to be caressed or smacked.Timid. Unsure.

“That’s fabulous, Mom!” I said.  “How exciting! You do want to go, don’t you?”

“Yes, but what will you children think. Do you think I am being disloyal to your father?”

“Heavens, no! For Pete’s sake, Mom. Dad would want you to be happy. He would want you to enjoy your long term friendships still. I don’t think he want’s you to be a nun and cloister yourself away.”

Now I knew why she was being shy and coy! She was over eighty, but she was thinking of him as a suitor, a beau, a potential boyfriend.

On the twenty-fourth, I was summoned to get her to the hair dresser, then to help her dress. I brushed her clothes to ensure there was not a hair out of place, nor an escapee dangler left on her shoulders. I polished her favorite necklace – a Haida silver man-in-the-moon pendant.

She sat at her dresser, her sterling brush set sitting before her, as she trimmed her nails and put on polish, then selected a bracelet to go with the pendant. I put it on for her and secured the latch of it. She selected a perfume and dabbed it behind her ears.

She powdered her cheeks and brushed on rouge then wiped it away gently with a paper tissue.  Nervously, she fingered the little cut crystal pots with silver lids that were her pride and joy – her symbols of ladyship – and moved them, reorganized them, tidied them.

She leaned into the mirror, puckered her lips and carefully drew over her lips with a strong red lipstick.

Into her evening bag, she slipped into it  a twenty dollar bill, her lipstick, a compact with rouge, her driver’s license (though she no longer drove), a comb and a nail file.

“Do I look OK?” she asked when she was all done.  She was unsure. Excited. Like for a first date.

“You look wonderful, Mom,” I assured her. “There’s not a thing out of place. You look beautiful!”

“Have you got a handkerchief?” I asked. She hadn’t. It was the last thing to do.

She opened the top drawer beside her, pulled out a wad ironed handkerchiefs and picked out this one, her very best, with hand-made Belgian lace and a ruffle on each corner.  Soft and refined. The kind one could drop, for a suitor to pick up and admire. And she tucked it into her sleeve.

It’s threadbare now, but that doesn’t matter. I think I will keep this one, in memory.

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.

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!

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.