Archive for the ‘friendship’ Category

Elusive dreams

January 8, 2013

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I awoke from a dream that ended up in a hut in Cambodia, with me hiding behind a curtain, desperately hoping an invading group of men would not see me. Before them, a group of women and children had passed along a nearby bridge, like lemmings migrating or fleeing perhaps. There had not been a sense of danger to the first but there was to the second.

The dream was far more complicated than that, but as waking comes, so our dreams and their accuracy disappear.

I was left with an uncomfortable feeling as I lay in the dark, conscious of the warmth and safety of my current condition, It was an unnamed anxiety that I left to unveil itself by lying still, soaking up the darkness, savoring the plummy feel of the warm sheets, the crispness of the cotton, the darkness of the room. Dawn had not yet broken.

I encouraged my mind to go into free fall, hoping that in a waking dream-state, I could recapture the meaning of the dream; but it became more elusive and my thoughts became more concrete, more tangible, but drawn from my personal miasma of memory, not the from the dream.

I cannot say how I made the various connections that landed me in the domain of my past loves, past affairs and other intimate but not-so-pleasant relationships. Quickly, I was sombering into disastrous affairs from so long ago and briefly feeling the hurt and bewilderment of them again.

Why did my brain still store up these negative events, unwise decisions and embarassing moments in time? Do we remember everything we have ever done; these peccadillos sitting there somewhere deep in the chasm of memory just waiting for the trigger that will release them from the subconscious bog to the troubled surface of consciousness? Do we not all make mistakes as a part of growing up and finding our way? They are over and done with. Why to they reassert themselves?

If I did not want to spend the rest of the day beating myself up for things from a distant past, I had to flee this self-indulgent reverie-gone-wrong, so I covered my head with the blankets to block out the coming light and switched on the bedside lamp. Slowly I lifted the covers to adjust my eyes to the brittle light of day.

As I watch a dear friend suffering with depression struggle with her thoughts she cannot lay to rest I liken my fleeting struggle with hers, all the while questioning how some can escape the debilitating battle locked up in our minds and how others are drawn back into a miasmic bog they cannot escape.

Fifteen minutes into this written “capture” of my dream-wakening, the details are slithering away like a disturbed nest of wood spiders running for a bolt hole. I have sent the negative thoughts back to the bottom. I’m analyzing in a purely rational way. I’ve locked out the baddies.

How did I learn to do that? Why can some do it and others not?

Like everyone, I have made mistakes in my life that I cannot undo, cannot even atone for. I even know that, in aging,  I have not necessarily learned my lessons from them. I can still, and do still, fall back into them from time to time but with a bit more success in managing outcomes. Maybe.

It makes me more humble in dealing with my friends with troubles. I’m a wayfarer with them, not a judge, as I listen to their tales. I’m more compassionate, less critical, more empathetic.

Day has broken. Outside the window, seagulls squawk and chatter, seals come up for air after a search for breakfast, the blue heron stands stalk still waiting for fish to wash up with the incoming tide, the eagle sits glaring down from its pine tree perch. A high tide laps persistently at the gravelly winter shore. Life goes on.

I’m headed downstairs for my first cup of coffee.

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

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.

Advice is what it’s worth

April 3, 2010

Having Nephew Hugh in Europe has given me an opportunity for texting.

Late yesterday afternoon, my computer beeps at me and Skype is flashing at the bottom row of my computer. So I open up the program and see a line of text from Hugh.

“Are you there, Auntie?”

The time stamp is 12:45 my time, and 9:45 his.  But it’s now past two o’clock  my time, and so past eleven o’clock his time.
“Is it too late for a chat?” I ask.

“Everyone has gone to bed, here. I think it might be rude to be chatting away all alone in this entry way where I get a signal, so maybe just a few lines of  text?” he writes back. He’s in a student center for a maximum one month stay.

I find texting a little disjointed and unnerving. This will not be a surprise to anyone in the younger generation, it’s so common, but for me it’s new. I write something and press enter to go into the next paragraph and OOPs, the message has already been sent. So I continue on to say the rest of the thought, being slightly distracted by a little cartoon pencil wavering back and forth over an inch of an imaginary line. I’ve learned that this means that the other person is madly writing something.  But it doesn’t occur at the speed of thought, so I press enter and the remainder of my message goes. At the same moment, up pops another message from Hugh, having foreseen where my thoughts were going and he’s answered what I just sent. Same time stamp on my send and his text message arrival.

Now who gets to go first? Is there an etiquette?

It’s Hugh’s first day free to wander. All the contacts he has been given are away for the Easter four day weekend. He’s alone in a new city, emptied of it’s citizenry, all the stores closed but for a few pizzerias. There’s not even a store clerk to try his nascent language skills upon. He’s lonely and happy for an Auntie who will chat with him; who will tickle the plastic ivories of texting in her cyberspace voice. Auntie thinks, It sounds like something out of The Twilight Zone, but Hugh wont know that reference. And she tucks the idea away.

“What’s new today?” I send back to him as the quavering pencil flickers but no message comes.

Eventually:

“I walked out to the airport and back. I’m surprised how small a city this is. I haven’t talked to anyone.  I’m thrilled with the birds. I’m surprised about that. I spent some time in the laundry room here ironing all my shirts, profiting from the fact that everyone was away and I could have the room to myself.”

“The birds? What do you mean?” I shoot back to him.

“There are all kinds of birds I’ve never seen before and they are singing in European languages. I’m just fascinated by the sounds.”

“Do you know what they are?”

“No. That’s why I think they are so interesting. And they are so pretty.”

The phone rings here, and I answer it. Before I can explain that I am elsewhere engaged, Carol is going on about Easter plans and wanting to see me and I can’t find a wedge to interrupt her with.  As I recover from my fear of multitasking, I manage to write a line to Hugh: “Be back in a minute.”

Carol is coming for tea, at least, on Sunday and maybe dinner. She’ll see. She’s broken her arm and has lost her energy and oomph in the process. If she has enough energy….

And Carol and I sign off.

The beauty of texting is that Hugh has seen none of this. It’s seamless. It could have been a doorbell that rang, a cup of tea put in the microwave, an interruption from Frank who is doing some repairs for me, or time to put off a phone call until later. All he knows is that I’m gone for an undefinable but short time away.

Less than five minutes have passed.

“What else did you do today?” I write. The conversation is back on.

The pencil seems to be furiously writing.

“I walked down to the Canadian Mission” he says. “Here, open this. It’s a long web site, but you will see the Mission.”

I open up the site that he sends and there it is, from Google Earth, the gates of the Mission to which he is attached in full view, in full detail, from outer space, right down to the precise design of the gate, to the precise size and shape of the pillars holding them in place, to the trees that surround and the car that is going through at the time of the shot. It’s fantastic. This program must have put a lot of spies out of business!

In like vein, we text on. Frank comes by to ask a question about the repairs. He’s ninety-nine percent computer illiterate and marvels at my ability to keyboard without looking at the keys.

Then Hugh mentions the things he has not brought with him and he has found but the price is way too high: a beard trimmer, toothbrushes and floss, Tylenol. “Nothing extraordinary, but very expensive here, though the tax is already added in, so that helps a bit. Maybe could you send me a care package for my birthday?” he asks.

“Just buy them there,” I advise. “Once you add postage, they become just as expensive. And get a European beard trimmer. You’ll need it there and you’ve already got one for when you are back here in Canada.”

Once again, he mentioned his alone-ness.
For Pete’s sake, I thought. He’s only been away since Monday. That’s only five days! I thought back on my own travels and the months I was away, without people I knew. I left a record of that time in paper scribblings  that are squirreled away somewhere. Father saved all my letters. Later, when I went back and forth, I saved all of Frank’s letters, which tell half of the story. I may even have the other half, since when we separated, I gathered his important papers and kept them for the day he would want them again.

But all this texting will just disappear into the vapors of the heavens, or will reside on some unthinkably mammoth-sized server until they become outdated and disappear. His first impressions will simply disappear.

The last of my messages to him was a bit of free advice. It’s something I’ve reflected upon that concerns those moments in a person’s life when the change one goes through is so great that one leaves behind the past and embarks on a whole new phase.

Often we don’t recognize it until it has come and gone. But as life evolves for me, I begin to recognize these moments and cherish them. I try to use these moments for self-growth and positive introspection. It’s a time for evaluation and adaptation.

A line of text arrives;

“I went back to that pizzeria for dinner. There was no-one there but the pizza maker. But I was smart enough to ask them to not give me a raw egg on top, like they did the first night.”

And so I said”

“I always found that when I had an excess of time to myself and nothing specific to do that I ended up reflecting on myself and on all the rattle-trap that I didn’t want to focus on. It usually resulted in me coming to terms with certain things.     Your pizza sounds a bit better. I didn’t realize it was a raw egg that you got the other night. I think I would have asked them to put it back in the oven for ten minutes!

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.

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.

Another day in Paradise

October 12, 2009

I was walking in paradise again this week after a long absence from the Alouette Dike, partly because I was away on summer holiday and then in Vancouver looking after cats.

Birds are flocking prior to their migration south. It’s getting colder. Up by the big oak tree, I could see black birds arriving like dive bombers with a tic. They would flap their wings furiously for a half second then bring their wings close to their body and propel forward like a bullet. When the momentum failed the wings would start again flapping furiously.

With wings outstretched, a cape of scarlet red spread wide across the shoulders. In bullet form hurtling through space, the red could no longer be seen. So these flashes of scarlet kept coming on towards me and the tree, but of course, they were going so fast there was no hope of a photo.

These are red-winged blackbirds and we seldom see so many at one time. There are ones that live here all year long; but there are some that have summered up north and will winter down south. They stop by here to see their more (relatively) sedentary cousins, then go forth. It seemed like there were hundreds of them in that one tree plus the ones coming from afar to catch up with their local kin.

There is an excellent Wikipedia description of this bird and their habits, if you care to go looking. Just Google red winged black bird.

Our days have been sunny, but the temperature is dropping dramatically. It was 3 degrees above, Celcius, last night and tonight it may hit zero. There was hard frost in Burnaby but none here.  While the afternoon was pleasant at about 14 degrees, the evening became crisp and cold.  Knowing this would be so, I have brought in all my tomatoes from the garden with the exception of the “cherry” tomatoes that are hard and bright green, no trace of yellow.  They look like marbles that kids would play with.

In the back yard when I went out to the compost pile (which by the way is a haven for compost denizens these days with all the fruit peelings I’ve been contributing – nectarines, peaches, pears, quetches and the like) I heard a clamor in the trees that was unusual.

I don’t think I ever had seen so many robins flocking together at once. They are stocking up on food for the long flight south. All our fruiting trees were plentifully adorned this year and there is lots left to glean. Both in the cherry tree and in the mountain ash, there are fruits that have gone to alcohol. The dear little robins are a little cocky. They don’t fly away when I get closer to them. Some are a little less steady on the branch. Some are greedy, with little bunches of red berries hanging from their beaks as they ponder how they can have them and eat them too.

I savor these moments.

I remember mama when she could no longer hear the birds, and so I am always thankful for my still good hearing and my still good sight.

It is, over and above, the Canadian weekend for celebrating Thanksgiving. I went with a friend to Dorothy’s new-to-her house for dinner this evening. It was scrumptious and wonderful – ham, fennel in garlic and parsley butter, scalloped potatoes and Concord grape pie with ice cream for dessert. Dorothy had invited one of her friends too, so we had some riotous conversation that had us laughing merrily.

I’m especially thankful for friends and for family – Hugh, Ron,Lizbet, Heather and her husband. Here’s wishing that you, too, recognize the Paradise that we live in, whatever that may be for you, and enjoy it while it is here.

Happy Thanksgiving, to all.

Heat

July 31, 2009

The ceiling was unfinished. Rather, it had been finished in a rough basement kind of way with Masonite board , the canvas-like side painted white and showing. In several areas, the board had been ripped away exposing old and new wiring, heating ducts with canvas-tape joins and water pipes in varying sizes.

Above her head, Kay could see the main air ducts issuing from the furnace , fitted close to the thick fir beams that ran from north to south and above that, two by six joists at right angle to the beams, holding up the sub-flooring which was made of rough thick fir planking.

At one time, there had been no stairs to the basement and then, perhaps the house had been raised because, just at the door to the basement, Kay had noted a rough cut, inch thick fir floor and an equally thick sub-floor immediately beneath it.  They didn’t build houses that way anymore; hadn’t done so since the ‘Fifties. Wood had become too dear. Labour too. Economies and efficiencies had been discovered.

As Kay inspected the ceiling from her supine position, she wondered why the joists and the underside of the sub-floor had been painted, in different places  white, or pasty pink or hospital green. “Labour intensive. Useless”, she thought, as she peered into the dark corners of the underfloor immediately above her for spiders or bits of ancient dust that might fall during the night.

It was Rose who had insisted that she sleep in the basement. Kay had ambivalent feelings about the adventure.

“It’s far too hot. That’s what Colin and I are doing, ” sweet Rose had insisted when she telephoned. “And all the kids too. Otherwise we can’t sleep. We’re camping. Don’t you have a cot you could borrow? A mattress you could put on the floor. ”

Kay had shuddered. She would never sleep down on the basement floor, no matter how much cooler. There were spiders and wood bugs. If there was a new object on the floor to crawl under, they would.  It was not is if  they couldn’t climb; but that was more effort. They would be more exposed; less encouraged to come.   Only a raised bed with proper legs would have the slightest chance of convincing her to sleep there. They would be less likely to bother her; they might stay hidden in their dark haunts near the edges of the basement floor and in the high  corners.

“There’s the day-bed in the sun room. I could take that down stairs, ” she said.

“I’ll be over after I’ve got Katy to her friend’s house. Katy is going to camp with them for a week.  I’ll help you get the bed downstairs.”

Kay couldn’t say no.
Rose came at five.

It was a practical Danish-style couch that could be taken apart in pieces. When the back was lifted off, it became a single-size bed. The mattress was mostly coils with little padding. It was light and transportable. The frame was made of teak with teak slats running crosswise. For shipping, the legs screwed off. In two easy trips down the outside back steps and in the basement door, one trip for the frame, one for the mattress, the bed was installed in amongst the paintings that were stacked in rows around every available wall space. It blocked the narrow path to the framing table. It blocked the path to the freezer and the storage room. But it had a curious elegance, sitting as it was , perfectly centered on the Chinese wool carpet with sculpted pink roses that she had bought from her friend at a recent garage sale.

Rose left shortly after. There were still two children and a husband she had to feed for dinner. She had many other things to do.

Kay settled back into her house, locking all the doors against the record-breaking heat. It was forty degrees outside with a humidity factor of six and thirty-one inside.

She turned on The Weather Network for the local forecast to find out at what hour the lowest temperature would come. The temperature would drop ten degrees overnight, they said, the coolest at two in the morning then rising to its hottest already by eleven. Kay vowed to be up still at two to start up her system of cooling the house.

It was hot.

Trickles of water ran down her temples. Kay’s hair was dripping; her neck slick with damp. Her dress was sopped. This was no genteel heat.

Kay had no intention of cooking supper.  She cut up a previously cooked piece of cold fennel and ate it as it was along with a hard boiled egg. She scooped out a portion of  ice cream from the bucket into a small bowl and covered it with a handful of fresh picked blueberries and a sprinkling of sliced almonds. The cool of the ice cream invaded her mouth and, for a fleeting instant, reminded her of what cool could be. Then she collapsed onto the living room couch, positioning the two end cushions under her head and fell asleep.

It was the phone that woke her. Her clothing was damp through. Her hair was positively wet. Her head felt as if it had been partially boiled.

“Hi!. How are ya!” Mrs. Stepford’s cheery voice rang like a Chinese gong  through the receiver. “How are you managing with the heat.”

“Groggily,” muttered Kay. She shook her head to rid herself of the thickness in her brain.  It was too hot. She looked at her watch. She had been out for more than two hours.

After sharing a few details of daily happenings and plans for the evening, they signed off. Kay sat as if stunned before the television, unable to muster energy for anything else.  It was a program about regenerating the brain.

“I could do with a bit of that,” thought Kay, as her brain soaked and  muddled in a too-warm soup of the day.

About eleven,  two or three phone calls later – one with Nephew Hugh, one with her sister and a late night check up from Mrs. Stepford, Kay turned into her office  to work on her files.  It had to be done. The court date was rapidly approaching and, FreeCell game by FreeCell game, Photo manipulation after Photo manipulation, Kay had been avoiding doing anything at all about it. Now it was crunch time.

Before getting down to business,  she opened the back door and let the fan pump twenty-eight degree air into her thirty-one degree house. She set the window fan in the upstairs window on full and the kitchen and bathroom extractor fans on to draw away the stifling heat. Then she turned to her office work.

Still at it at two, the optimum hour of cool,  she upped her cool-down techniques. She opened both front and back doors and let the blessedly cooler, fan-pushed air in one door and the stifling warm air out the other.  She doused the lights and stood in the blackened interior. There was no use in attracting moths and flies in the middle of the night. Maybe, just maybe, they were able to sleep,  though Kay’s hours of activity had been turned upside down, and she could not.

She stood, then,  by the front door, screen open, door open, looking into the indigo sky. There were no clouds; no moon. A single star shone fiercely, caught between the feathery branches of two tall trees, and further along, the Big Dipper’s handle arched across the night but the vessel was lost in another bank of giant trees. The air was cool, lovely, refreshing. It caressed the skin. It whispered promises. Promises that could not be kept. For a second day in a row, all time heat records had been broken. The two week forecast left no hope. There was no end in sight.

At three, she turned in, checking all the windows, closing all the main floor ones and locking the front and back door. She shut off the fan. She collected a pillow, an old  duvet to soften the day bed’s coils, and a sheet to cover herself  while she slept in the basement.  She descended into the cooler cavern. She made up the bed and lay on it.  With her emergency flashlight, she probed the corners of the joists and the mechanical works above her. A restless fly zoomed into the bright light’s path and just as fast, was gone. It startled her.

Perhaps it was better not to know.  She took off her glasses and laid them on the improvised night table, an upturned milk crate. She doused the light and put it beside the glasses.  She covered herself with the light cotton sheet. Perhaps that and her gardian banks of paintings would save her from the hauntings of the night. And she slept.

Perylene Maroon

July 18, 2009

Lizbet has been visiting. She left yesterday and I was sorry to see her go. We have a common interest in art, although her work is very different from mine.  She’s a fine watercolourist.

On Wednesday, we drove down to the Big Box store to load her up with cases of canned goods and various other items she likes enough to buy in quantity. Canned peaches and canned pineapple are two favorites. She’s partial to the Dempster Cinnamon Raisin bread and the Squirrelly no-flour whole grain bread that she can buy there at an advantageous price.She picked up a kilo of fancy nuts and a few other things while she was at it.  In Nelson, she doesn’t have access to this kind of discount store and we are all counting our pennies now in retirement.

I convinced her that the seven cent difference in gasoline might be easy on her pocket book as well.  We drove up to the forward-most pump and she leaped out of the car.  I did  the same. After all, the gas tank was on my, the passenger, side. She dove back into the car to get something – her credit card or who-knows-what. All that matters is that while her head was buried in the car I was exclaiming over the candy red metallic painted Model-T Ford replica that was parked on the curb of the gas station.

She, meanwhile, was goggling over a MKX Lincoln on the other side of the gas pump.

“Perylene Maroon, wouldn’t you say? Pure Perylene!” she exclaims.

“Looks like Candy Red – what do you call it when it kind of sparkles right in the paint? Metallic? Yeah, Metallic Candy Red! Just look at that colour!” I return to her.

“No!” she says. “It’s maroon.”

We’re sisters. This is a common kind of misunderstanding we have. We don’t even listen to each other. We aren’t even talking about the same vehicle but we’re ready to defend our side of the fence with fierceness. It’s the opportunity for a great squabble that will end, we are sure, in some kind of stand off where no one is really offended. Or maybe just a few ruffled feathers and then we straighten it out and we’re a little sensitive for a moment or two. In this case, in hindsight, nobody even had to lose!

She pulls her head out of the car. “Look!”, she commands. “It’s Maroon.” She’s pointing at the the MX5.  Simultaneously, I’m saying, “Look! with the same directorial passion, arm outstretched to the Model T look-alike. “It couldn’t be a more pure Candy red  – an Alizaron Crimson. And Oh! That one there is pretty nice too. Metallic Burnt Sienna.’

I turn around to look at the equally metallic paint job on the MXK. She jerks her head in the direction of my outstretched arm, right down the arrow-like index finger to the car she had not noticed before.

“See, I told you,” we both say simultaneously.

“Oh!” we both say with a startled surprise, and start to laugh.

“I didn’t hear you,” we both say in unison.

“When you were talking to me, your head was in the car,” I say while she, talking at the same time says, “You got out of the car as I was speaking to you. Nobody ever listens to me.”

“Good grief!” she says. “You are about the only person I can have these kinds of conversations with.  People must think we are completely  starkers. We’re babbling along in conversation defining everything in the colour of Windsor and Newton pigments.”

Lizbet, as I’ve mentioned before, has a talent for meeting people. Next thing I know, she’s marching over to the owner of the Lincoln who is about to get back into her car.

“Excuse me,” calls Lizbet. “Excuse me, ” she calls a bit louder until the lady turns around in a bit of a surprise as if Lizbet were about to announce she had a flat tire. Lizbet’s voice reduces from her normal classroom volume to a conversational tone that I no longer can hear. She’s gesticulating, pointing to the red Model T, laughing, telling her story about our argument on the subject of car colours.

The lady turns towards me, some thirty feet away now, and calls as if she were calling her kids in from the back forty, “It’s Cinnamon. Metallic Cinnamon, they called it.”

I nod my head, smile, glance admiringly at her vehicle and get back into Lizbets car. Lizbet keeps on talking. The woman puts one foot on the dashboard and makes to climb into the car. Lizbet starts to make her way back to our vehicle.

“She just got the car,” Lizbet informs me. “She’ really happy with it. Great for camping. They’re leaving tomorrow for a week holiday.” She added in more detail – number of kids, the  woman’s name, her husband’s name, where they were going.  In less than five minutes, Lizbet had the woman talking to her as if she were her best friend. It always startles me. I wouldn’t even have dared to ask about the car’s color.

“How did we get into that conversation?” I ask Lizbet. We are both making a concerted effort to not get into inflamed conversation of misunderstanding.

“I told you the Lincoln was Maroon,” she answers. “You didn’t listen. I’d already said that and then you were telling me to look at it. Nobody ever listens to me.” She had a huge smile on her face like she’d won a prize.

I began to laugh. We both began to laugh.

“Perylene. I just love the sound of it. And Quinacridone. Where do they come up with these names?” she says. We both shake our heads, still chortling. Lizbet drives off and finds us a parking space.

Just a wee scrap of useless information I found on the Lincoln site,

  • Cars with metallic paint are worth more than cars with flat colours and usually demand a premium in dealer showrooms. Metallic cars are said to sell faster as used cars, and could be worth more than a flat-coloured counterpart.
  • Loud colours such as reds, yellows and oranges are generally more popular on sports cars and compacts, while larger vehicles such as SUVs and trucks, tend to me (sic) more neutral.

And there you have it.

Between you and me, though, I never admitted that I didn’t have a clue what pigment colour she was talking about. It’s not one that I use. So I looked it up on the Internet, as I often do to keep my facts right.

She was right on. It was a perfect colour for the Model T – like a fat ripe cherry or only slightly darker than a red candy apple, all aglow.

It you want to look it up, I found it on this site:

http://www.handprint.com/HP/WCL/waterr.html

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Chocolate for tea

July 8, 2009

Sarah had been to the house only once before and then the visit had been short. They had met at the walking club, and one of those funny connections-things had happened.

At the end of walk when the trainer had been running the women through their stretching exercises, Kay had addressed one of the women in a knowing way, “You’re background is Dutch, isn’t it?” .  With a name starting  van der, it was certainly Dutch, but then with married names, it could have been her husband’s. Kay was proud of her half-Dutch origins and was always trying to make connections.

The woman agreed, yes, her parents had immigrated in the ‘Fifties, just after the war.

A third woman who had been walking and talking with Kay the whole way, spoke in Dutch to Kay leaving Kay with an “I-didn’t-get-it” look on her face.

The third person was Sarah. “Do you speak Dutch?” she repeated, this time translated to English, with a broad smile developing on her lovely features.

“Are you Dutch too?” exclaimed Kay, astounded.

“No but I went there in my twenties, and married a Dutchman. It only lasted five years, but I learned to speak Dutch fluently. I loved living there; and I loved the language.”

It was one of those small-world phenomena. There had been four of us walking. None of us knew each other; it was the first time we had met; and three of us had this strong Dutch connection. Only Keenan, the fitness instructor was not. With a name like Keenan O’Reilly, she was of  Irish decent.

Then Sarah had joined Kay’s writers’ group. They exchanged their short literary drafts. Sarah came for tea and they had  become great acquaintances, but there was a deep friendship to be had. Both knew it. There were too many connections of interests and personal histories.

And so Sarah called on Wednesday asking if she could come for tea. She arrived late afternoon at Kay’s door, cheeks all aglow, her eyes shining with life, carrying a bakery box and a glazed muffin.

“Sorry, I’m late,” she apologized as she crossed the threshold into Kay’s little house. ” My director came in just as I was leaving work. I couldn’t put her off; and she went on and on. I just got out of there ten minutes ago. Here. I thought we might like something to eat.” And she handed over her gifts of food.

“You must be ready for a bite, then,”  and without pausing, “the kettle is hot, just waiting to know what kind of tea you would like. I bet you are hungry.”

As Kay finished making tea, she unravelled the string on the bakery box and lifted the lid. Inside were two exquisite pastries, cookies really, made in the shape of tea cups.  There was a perfectly round disk of oven-browned sugar cookie for the saucer and a spherical-half  cookie for the cup. It was filled with chocolate truffle just short of the rim and the handle was made an add-on of pure dark chocolate.

“Oh Sarah! This is beautiful! It’s so very beautiful!” said Kay. “Just look at them!”

“But I’m allergic to chocolate! Oh Sarah! I’m so sorry. I won’t be able to eat them.”

Kay had already transgressed the first of  politeness rules. One never refuses a gift; one always accepts it graciously.  And she was about to continue on making it worse and worse.

“Oh Sarah! ” she said in increasing distress. “Why don’t you take them to your family. I’m sure there is someone there who could really enjoy them. Your daughter, maybe.”

“No, no. Keep them. You will have a visitor coming, maybe. ”

And so a tug of war ensued as to the fate of the two exquisite chocolate cups and nothing was decided, except Kay took photographs of the cups shining in the afternoon sun that was streaming through the kitchen window.

It was hot and sunny. Kay and Sarah took their tea to the garden and the tray of sweets that Kay had already prepared for the visit. They sat talking over several cups of tea, as if time had been suspended, until Sarah’s cell phone jangled. It was her husband. Was she not coming home for dinner?

Sarah gathered her belongings in haste and they promised to find another time to visit. Sarah waved from the car door as she got in and sped away, back to her familial responsibilities.

Kay turned back into the house. There on the counter was the box of pastries. They were now hers. How long could she wait until she found the right person for those beautiful little tea cups? And with a engulfing wave of etiquette guilt, her heart sank. “There were only two of them. I bet Sarah was hoping to indulge in one, herself, over tea!”

Kay beat herself up for a few minutes; but what was done, was done.  There would be a perfect reason for having these teacup pastries.

The next day, Heather and her husband came to stay for a week. Lizbet arrived the same evening. At dessert time, there were four at table. Kay could not serve two pastries. It wasn’t like you could cut a tea cup in half.  Besides, the dinner had been mundane and there were the strawberry man’s strawberries to eat up.

The visiting family left on Tuesday, and still no perfect occasion had arisen to serve her chocolate tea cups. The house returned to a blessed silence.

Kay spent the next few hours catching up on herself – washing sheets, putting away dishes, making beds, reading e-mail, writing a last minute birthday card to Nephew Ron, preparing the recycling to put out in the evening.  All the chores were done in a Zen-like peacefulness. She was alone with her thoughts, absorbing all the familial chatter and gossip of the last few days. She was  tucking it away, just like she was doing with the laundry, to be brought out and used on another occasion.

It was about four in the afternoon when the telephone first rang. It was Rose.

“Could I come over? I have the kids’ report cards. I want you to take a look at them and advise me what to do.”

Rose is about forty, looks thirty. She has two teenage children and Nicola who has just finished Grade Four. Nine? I calculated, but she looked more like six or seven. She was a tiny waif of a thing, blond hair straggling over her shoulders in light-white strands. Her mother was petite, but Nicola even more so, and she was shy.

“She’s brought some chips, I hope you don’t mind?” said Rose, half apologetically. “Nicola said she would rather eat them than cookies.” Nicola was holding a foil bag of tortilla chips proclaiming to be EXTREME! in the advertising. Flames licked at the edge of the tortilla pictures and clichéed  little devil with pitchfork stood gloating on the upper right hand corner of the package.

“They’re not too hot, spicy, are they?” Rose asked, trying to engage the little waif into the conversation. Nicola spoke in a whisper as if the quiet of her voice could help her disappear altogether.  Nicola’s head turned from side to side.

I gave Rose her tea and brought out a can of  cola for Nicola.

“Would you like ice cream in it? Then it will all foam up into a float. Would you like that?” The waif-like head nodded up and down and a tiny wee “yes” came out.

“Ooooooooooh! I know what I have for you. It’s perfect!” said Kay.

She brought out the box and put it down low for Nicola to see. She opened the box and there inside were the two tiny chocolate tea cups.

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Nicola’s eyes went wide. For the first time, she raised her eyes to Kay’s. They were shining in wonderment. She didn’t say a thing but the eyes held the question, “For me?”

Would you like one?” offered Kay. Her mother looked down, enjoying that special moment of her child bubbling with excitement and anticipation as only a child can do.

“Yes, ” she peeped, as if it took all her effort to break the spell.

“Yes what?” prompted her mother gently.

“Yes, please,”  came the ever so slightly raised voice of Nicola.

They took all their food treasures – Extreme tortilla chips and chocolate tea cups – to the living room. Kay settled Nicola with a low nesting table to put her pastry and coke float upon. Rose gave the report cards to Kay and Kay began to read. As she read, she watched  as Nicola demolished  the cookie with reverence and awe.

The handle went first. She snapped it off and popped into the mouth to melt slowly. Then she detached the saucer. She cracked it in half and gave the other half to her mother. Like a mouse, she nibbled at its edges and slowly, savoring it, reduced it to a crumb.  Next came the cup. Nicola, it seemed, was not too good with chocolate either. She handed it to her mother and watched raptly as her mother bit off little chunks and let them dissolve on her tongue.

Rose and Kay came to an understanding about tutoring for the eldest boy for the summer without giving any details away to the little waif with pitcher ears.

“Well, that’s it, ” said Rose. “We’ll talk again tomorrow.” Her cell phone jangled and after a short conversation which ended in “Stir fry,” Rose stood to leave.

“That was Kevin. He wanted to know if we were coming home for dinner.”

They left.

As she stood at the door, her mother bent down to Nicola’s ear and whispered, “And what do you say?”

With shy, happy eyes, Nicola looked straight up at Kay, locked onto her eyes and said quite audibly with a shy smile, “Thank you.”