Archive for the ‘life work’ Category

Coming Home – part 2

July 10, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everything seemed fine.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Coming home

July 4, 2011

Where is the beginning?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But that is an art gallery,” I said,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Are you Kay?”

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

“I am ,” I said.

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

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

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

“I notified everyone,” she replied defiantly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fast forward to last night:

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

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

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

To be continued.                                    .

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.”

Wing nuts

July 2, 2009

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I had trouble focusing the camera on the wing nut. Most likely I had the camera set on the  wrong focusing mode or the wrong light setting. But I rather liked the first fuzzy pictures, above. There are delicate colours in it. No matter that it is not sharp.  You can still tell it is a wing nut.

The remainder of the pictures were fun for me as compositional exercises.

Poor Jim!

April 8, 2009

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Sheers         Photo copyright KK

Nephew Hugh has been in town, on spring break from his Political Science School back in Eastern Canada. He came for some sunshine and spiritual renewal. Kay actually thought he might have been feeling a bit adrift, homesick, although, with this dysfunctional family, she wondered why a soul might be longing for more dysfunction.

Kay drove into town on Sunday; met friend Suzi at the Art Gallery to see the landscape show and have lunch in the Gallery Cafe; drove to her friend Dorothy’s place for dinner and an overnight stay. All of this was a prelude to picking up Hugh early on Monday morning to bring him back to  her home in Richmeadows.

On Monday, their plans were to meet at seven thirty at Beans and Company, have breakfast togther, all three of them,  and then Dorothy would go on her way to her horrifically early dental appointment. Hugh and Kay would begin their two days of visit. Dorothy was the only habitual early riser amongst the three and she didn’t understand late-rising humans.

Kay and Dorothy were to leave the house at seven fifteen so Dorothy was up at six preparing herself for her appointment and then her work but she called Kay at seven leaving her only minutes to wash, dress, make up the bed she had so kindly lent Kay for the night and to pack her few belongings. Kay scrambled.

By the time she put her shoes on and got out to the car she was miraculously clothed but was not awake.  Kay ran her hand over the back of her head. She was not sure that she had combed her hair nor brushed her teeth. Haste is not something a late-riser does well.

It was good that Dorothy was driving, though Kay began to suspect her apparent alertness. Dorothy had passed the rendez-vous spot and had been obliged to back track. She claimed there was no parking space on the south side of the street but Kay couldn’t be sure. Kay was still ridding her eyes of sleepy-dust.

Eventually Dorothy found a spot on the north side of the street smack dab in front of Beans and Company.  Though they were five minutes late,  Hugh was not there.  Kay searched from front to back and couldn’t find him; then continued to  turn in circles and pace the length of the shop, occasionally popping her head out the front door to scan the street, looking for his face. She still was not really awake.

Dorothy made soothing noises to calm Kay to no avail, then cried, “There he  is!” and there he was, indeed. A tall giant of a man, a lumbering man, youth still predominant on his face, both confident and shy. In no time, Kay and Hugh were hugging right there in the middle of the cafe. Despite all their family ups and downs, Hugh and Kay were the best of friends.

Over two-egged breakfasts, hash browns and toast, an hour went by in the space of ten minutes, it seemed. Dorothy had to leave. Hugh and Kay packed up and left too then walked back to Kay’s car just a few blocks away.

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Their first stop was Kitsilano Beach. Joggers were jogging. Dog owners were running their canine friends. Others were simply out for a stroll. The sky was cloudless. The sun drenched the beach in a warmish spring light. The enormous willow trees were running brilliant yellow sap in the weeping branches but there were neither buds nor leaves just yet.  The ancient cherry trees were burgeoning but not flowering.

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Kitsilano Beach is a manicured beach. The logs are distributed every year in logical progression for sunbathers to lean against. The sand is raked and cleaned. Drift wood is piled up and burnt. One could not possibly find a free-booting crab or a clam shell here like is possible at Jericho Beach and Spanish Banks, even though these latter two beaches are also managed by the City Parks.

They walked the asphalt path around to Vanier Park and returned, talking all the while. When they got back to their starting point, they sat on a park bench and watched the world go by.   When their two hours of parking meter were up, they reluctantly headed back to the car and left, destination Richmeadows.

Talking all the while of family and friends, they ate up the highway, the hour long trip zipped by, again in a fast ten minutes.  They stopped at Best Buy and picked up microphone and head set for Skype that he would set up for her. The only thing that registered the time they had spent was their requirement for another cup of brew which they sipped like tourists at a sidewalk cafe, Hidabucks.

The whole day went like that. Conversation, more conversation, and the time sliding by like lightning. When finally they got back home mid-afternoon,  Kay chopped celery and onion and sliced cheddar cheese for a tuna melt and he made up the mix, salted, seasoned  and toasted them. Hugh brushed off the East Lake lawn chairs and  they sat in the sun to eat their lunch in the back yard. It was beautiful and the temperature had risen to twenty degrees! It felt like summer.

He’d had a late night; Kay had had an early morning uprising. A nap was in order. Hugh had the living room couch with two afghans for warmth and Kay crawled under the duvet upstairs, glad for forty winks.

At seven, she locked the front door,  Hugh still sleeping on the couch, and left for a short meeting of the Art Studio Tour group. She was back by eight.

Hugh was in the kitchen preparing dinner.  He’d trained as a cook in an upscale restaurant during his undergrad years. One could  always depend on Hugh to cook a fine meal wherever he was.

They ate perfect steaks with perfectly fried, whole button mushrooms cooked in the steak brownings and dashed with a bit of fine wine. They had garlic and parsley butter to liven the steamed bok choy.  Every mouthful was a treat. It couldn’t have been better at a five star restaurant.

And then they resumed the conversation, comfortably sharing stories that can’t be shared in just the same way by telephone. Mrs. Stepford came to visit for a little while and regaled them with her first bodice-ripping  story and explained the synopsis of her new murder mystery that was ready for editing.

When she left, Hugh and Kay talked till twelve, when she finally begged off, announcing it was time to retire; but it was one o’clock before they climbed the stairs and turned in.

Kay was up at eight the next morning, ruminating that Hugh had been burning the candle at both ends, with his studies and his socializing. Kay  followed her normal routine – checking and answering e-mail, sipping on a hot cup of coffee and playing a few games of Freecell. And she waited.  She would have company for breakfast, this morning.

About ten-thirty, Hugh descended, fully rested.

Now,  Hugh was travelling very lightly. In his back pack, he had only a change of clothes for his dinner date with Ron and his parents. Ron’s the next person in Vancouver who is to be graced with Hugh’s visit. So Hugh descended the staircase, sans housecoat,  clad only in his undies, knowing Kay would be typing away on the computer, absorbed,  and would not be paying attention. He was on his way to take his shower on the main floor bathroom, his clothes for the day clutched in his left hand.

As he passed the front door, he saw a very tall man peering through the sheer-curtained glass side window. Hugh hesitated an instant just in front of the door, curiosity over-coming his strong sense of modesty, and then he continued on. Before saying even “good morning” he said loudly for me to hear, “There’s a gentleman at the door”. As if in confirmation, there was a rapid knocking at the door.

Hugh was caught between a desire to protect Kay from an unknown male soliciting at the door and a desire to protect Kay from the sight of his masses of flesh. He hastened behind the bathroom door to shower and get dressed.

As Kay arose from her computer desk,  she saw his tall naked figure flash by – the thin black covering of his undershorts between waist and hip caught her eye.

At the front door, there stood the former owner of the house, coming to pick up some mail that had been misdirected by a company that refused to actually acknowledge his change of address.

Jim, the former owner, is renowned for his curiosity about other people’s lives.  He is apt to recount all his speculations to whomever will listen. Not two weeks earlier, having heard about the vacant house next door,  he had stopped by Kay’s house and promised to loan his Great Dane to Kay should anybody bother her.

“I keep an eye on this place still, ” he boasted. “I watch what you are doing with the garden and the renovations on the house. I pass by every night while I’m walking Tiny” he continued as he gestured towards his giant dog who was panting and salivating right beside him.

Kay had felt as if she were being stalked; she wondered if she should be more worried about Jim than any potential stalker.  She thanked him warmly for his offer and promised to take him up on it, knowing full well that she never would. Besides, she thought, what amount of ruin would a Great Dane wreak on her antique china collection if ever he were permitted into the house?

“I’d invite you in for coffee,” she hesitated, “but we’re just getting up”
“Oh, that’s okay, ” he replied off-handedly, a touch of grin at the corner of his mouth, “I’ve got a lot of things to do.”

Kay reached out to the mailbox that was affixed to the porch pillar and fished  out Jim’s mail and handed it to him.

It was hours later when Hugh had gone and Kay was recounting her two days of gossip to Mrs. Stepford that the light bulb went on. Kay and Mrs. Stepford burst into a fit of laughter. Jim would be analyzing every centimeter of bare flesh he had devined behind the lacy curtain.

When her laughter was finally under control, Mrs. Stepford shouted,”COUGAR!”  He’s going to think you’ve found a young lover!”

More laughter.

“I never explained anything, ” grinned Kay. “He has nothing to go on, and he’s going to construct a whole story. He’s going to walk by the place night after night with that Great Dane and wonder if I’m living with someone now.”

“He’s going to be looking for muscly improvements to the place – major diggings in the garden; trees being shaped and pared; hedges being trimmed. A constant newcomer mowing the lawn. The car being washed by a virile young thing, torse -nu,  dressed only in shorts, woolen socks and and hiking boots.”

“What will the neighbours think!” shouted out Mrs. Stepford in glee.

“I’m over sixty, for Pete’s sake! Think what they will!” rejoined Kay followed by another fit of laughter.

The new roof

December 4, 2008

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I slept past the bz-bz-bz-bz of my alarm – over twenty minutes of it. When I finally got up and shut the maddening thing off, I thought that a few minutes of resurfacing from deep sleep would be in order and I crawled back in between the warm sheets, turned on the light so that I wouldn’t go back to sleep and lay there for another half hour. I don’t do that often, but I was up late last night getting ready for a dinner I was having here tomorrow, and I kept on thinking about the things I had to do. There was no time like the present; just a little scrub of the downstairs bathroom sink; a little vacuuming of high traffic routes in the house; wiping down the little spills in the fridge that have been ignored in the name of art (I’d rather be painting); and the collecting of recycling for the morning’s pick-up.

I heard the trucks arrive and decided it was time to move. My Lord! It was eight thirty already! The roofers were not only here,; they were beginning to move in. A medium sized flat-bed construction truck was parked in the driveway. A truck to haul wastage was backed into the corner by the fence where I usually park my car. A whole gaggle of young men were milling around like ganders with roofing products in their arms or on their shoulders. There were fourteen of them in all, most of them under twenty-five. Only the boss was older.

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There seems to be a dress code amongst these guys – black jeans, black hoodies pulled up over the pate this early on a December morning, with baseball caps underneath in case of sunshine breaking through. Most of them were wearing harnesses. The slope on my roof is considered so steep that the quote was accordingly increased by a few thousands. Now that’s steep!

It means that the workers have to be attached and two-by-fours  have to be nailed into the roof for them to brace their feet on while they wrench up the previous layers of roofing.

Bang, bang, bang BANG; Bang, bang, bang, BANG.

The first motif of the fugue begins. Each individual has a different rhythm. The second voice starts.

bangbangbangbangbangbang with a rapid even tone joined by a hard hitter.

BANG, BANG hiatus BANG BANG.

Were they doing different tasks? Soon all the fellows on the roof were either levering the former, moss-riddled shingles off or banging away in a lusty, vigourous cacophonic symphony of hammering. Nothing so musical as Handel’s Harmonious Blacksmith but nonetheless percussive.

I went outside and got my instructions from the boss. I was to stay inside so as not to be knocked over by debris falling from the roof. When the compressor stopped, then and then only could I exit from the house. This would occur at ten o’clock, twelve and two.

I took many photographs to record the proceedings – the silhouettes of the men wrenching tile, the lithe fellows climbing the ladder holding on with single hand as they blithely carted fity to ninety pounds of materials to the top, the pail of nails for the automatic nailgun curled in rounds like ammunition.

It was only a short while into the project that the boss came to see me with a long face, if such can be said about a thick-set stocky man measuring five foot four. He had known that there were two layers of roof shingles, but they had discovered even a third. It was a layer of cedar shakes. The shakes gone, it revealed that they were only nailed to strapping – a typical old-style method of roofing – and there was no plywood underneath. I would have to pay for sheeting the roof in plywood. There would be more wastage to haul; The bill rose by a few thousands. I was relatively philosophical about it.

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My career had been in property management. I’d worked with many roofing inspectors over the duration and  almost always, there was a risk of finding unknown conditions lurking underneath the surface. The roof was now half off. There was no going back. There was only one choice    – bring on the plywood. It would take almost another day. He would have to pay the crew…. Normally, he would have to double the cost of labour and materials for the company administration and profit….  His words hung in the air and trailed off into nothingness. What else, I wondered, could he throw at me?

I acquiesced. He gave an order for someone to pick up the plywood.

After taking several more photos, I went back in the house and began to calculate. Was he being exorbitant? Was he assuming he was talking to an innocent homeowner who knew nothing? This company came with a recommendation from several friends and neighbours, but they were less knowledgeable than I.

I looked up the closest lumber yard on the computer. Retail price on a four by eight sheet of three-quarter plywood cost $12.39. The house was nine hundred useable square feet on each level. Allowing for the slope, not doing any complicated calculations, a generous estimate would be fifteen hundred. Divide that by the thirty two square feet of the standard plywood sheet; multiply that by the price of it. That came to about six hundred dollars.

Then I considered the crew of twelve who were crawling like nimble ants over the upper epidermis of my house. At the current, still high rate of twenty dollars an hour (despite the economic crash, the effects of which had not reached our local economy still fueled by the Olympic dream) could cost two thousand for an eight hour day. No, the contractor was not far out in his rapid calculation. I could just pay up and shut up.

I continued on with my daily chores. Later, I went out again, took more pictures. The stripped roof revealed a rolled edge. I had wondered about its construction, and there it was, harmoniously curved by means of long strapping made from one by twos.

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I went off grocery shopping and stayed out for a coffeehouse coffee. When I came back, much of the back roof was done.

When I came to review progress, one of the lads yelled out, “Watch your language! Customer coming!” at which I had to chuckle.  Barely a word was said while I walked about, took more pictures of the progress.

In the back yard, large abstract pieces of cut plywood were strewn about. The plywood sheathing was well under way; the torch-on vapour barrier was applied; the shingles covered them. I could see the effect my choice of Castle Grey Duroid was going to make in the end. It looked good.

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They are still banging away out there. Dusk is falling. The young lad who is shovelling debris into the junk bin is doing a fine job of cleaning up. Two workers are cooperatively nailing shingle to the rounded edge. One on a ladder is reaching up from above ensuring the soffit remains properly fixed below the roofing edge; holding the roof shingle absolutely parallel to the roof edge while the other nimble fellow reaches down from the top to power-nail the shingle to the strapping.

The sounds are diminishing. There’s a chorus of masculine voices charrying back and forth as they consider then determine how to close off the roof for the night. The sky is clear. With luck there is no danger of moisture entering, save a heavy dew. Roof top tarps are coming out. Materials and tools are being packed back into the truck. There are still the phtt-phtt sounds of the automatic nailer, rumbles, as materials are being moved along the roof; a bit of pounding and scraping; but they are almost finished for the day.

Cleaning house and gardening

February 25, 2008

I’ve had a visitor, Saturday and Sunday, which made me very happy. She’s a former colleague from work who has become a very good friend.

Used to be, when Mother came to visit, I’d go on a cleaning binge, and now that Mother’s gone, I do it for visitors. I’d been brought up better, you see. A house should be spotless. Cleaning should be done on a rotational basis. Mondays for laundry, Tuesdays for ironing, Wednesdays for dusting, tidying, mopping and vacuuming, Thursdays for washing floors; Fridays for special projects like the drapes, polishing silver or cleaning out a cupboard; Saturdays for shopping; Sunday for Church and meditation.

Or that’s how it used to be – before wash and wear clothing. Before automatic washers and dryers. Before stainless steel cutlery. That’s how it used to be when I grew up. Girl children were trained to take over all these functions and Mother was an exacting task master. She knew she was preparing us for life. She was preparing us to be acceptable, admired even. What would people think if they came into your house and saw a speck of dust.

On the days that Uncle Keith came, we did extra cleaning because he was exceptionally tall for his time – six foot three, maybe – and Mother imagined that when he came, one of his guest duties would be to examine the premises for dust lurking in high places. Before Uncle Keith came, we got out the ladder and dusted the tops of door surrounds. On the upstairs landing, we dusted very carefully between the posts of the banister and railings. We dusted the light fixtures. We would not have wanted him to go home after a visit and expound to Aunt Kay, his wife, on layers of forgotten dust That could not be borne!

I hated all that mindless cleaning. I do understand its value, but I don’t have to like it. Avoidance is my favourite response to cleaning requirements. I had wonderful excuses to get out of it when I worked full time.

When I lived with Mother, caring for her, she already had a cleaning lady who came in once a week to help her with the harder tasks, even though, in her lifetime, conveniences had been invented and the tasks had become a quarter of what she had needed to do when she first got married.

Friday was the housekeepers day and in Mother’s leisure days of retirement, no engagements for lunches, tea, bridge parties or walks in the park would be made for a Friday morning.

Esther, her housekeeper was “professional” domestic. She came from an early pioneer farming family in the Lower Fraser Valley. Her parents had felt that she would always have work if she had this training and they were right. She knew what to do. She was immersed in the feminine arts of housekeeping. Though she was from a farming family and they were not wealthy enough to have such niceties as silver plate and fine china, she knew and understood the care and keeping of them. She knew how to set a table. She knew all the arts of laundry – how to get out certain stains, how to keep things looking white – and the arts of pressing clothes to look crisp and sharp, rivaling or surpassing how they now come, straight out of a dry-cleaning establishment.

She knew how to polish wood so that it gleamed, without using silicone laced sprays from a can. She knew how to fix scratches in walnut furniture. As children, before housekeepers, we had the task of taking fresh walnuts and rubbing them over minor scratches in the French polish of the dining table, rubbing, rubbing, rubbing, rubbing until the scratches turned dark with the nut oil and the white stains from water damage or heat regained their dark hue.

Esther knew how to organize her work efficiently. In the three hours that she came, she would start with gathering up everything for the laundry; separating out whites and lights from dark clothing; putting the washer on to work while she dusted, mopped, tidied; cleaned the venetian blinds, polished the mirrors; cleaned the bathrooms; vacuum the rugs.

For a little extra money, she would do mending for Mother. She was also a fine seamstress. When Mother came home from Bangkok after a tour in the Orient, she brought back some fine Thai silk yardage. It was Esther who made up the cloth into light, airy summer dresses for her.

Somehow, the work of the house has been tainted in our minds as menial; but it was never so to Esther. She was proud of her abilities and proud of her finished product – a well-kept home. She walked to out place, decked out as a lady carrying a generous-sized designer carry-all; when she arrived she would change into cleaning clothes; when she left, she was again dressed as a rather elegant lady with clothing she had designed herself, a hat and gloves, and would walk back to her home as she had come.

Now, as I stood looking at my new home, my very own home, my dream come true, I was appalled at my housekeeping skills. I had not really dusted since I had taken possession of the house. Oh, occasionally I had wiped away something obvious. I swept the floor when my feet started to stick on it; the laundry gets done when I need clean clothes to wear. But now I had a guest coming. A very neat and tidy guest. Ack!

I had cleaned it out thoroughly when I came in (I can live with my own dirt, but not with other people’s dirt), but had done very little since. In my defense, I’ve been working pretty hard at dispersing Mom’s estate and I’ve had more of my share of boxes of stuff impeding movements in my house. There was not much opportunity to do vacuuming, for instance, because I couldn’t have moved one around the house with all the stuff that had been unceremoniously plunked into my house as we hastily emptied Mother’s house for sale and brought the unknown boxes of stored items to my house for sorting, distributing or chucking.

I could hear that guest going back to the office saying, “It’s a cute little house. Very cute. A heritage house. But you should see the dust on top of her furniture! And the kitchen floor? Looks like it hasn’t been swept in a week. The windows? I don’t think they’ve been cleaned since the ‘Fifties. Her front steps are covered in green algae. The rugs are littered with bits of fluff and dirt tracked in. There are boxes everywhere. I don’t know how she lives in it!!!”

I could see myself being nominated for the “Housekeeping Failure of the Year” award.

My friend came and went. We had a lovely time. Food is always a more important thing to me than cleaning. I gave her two impressive meals. Lunch on Saturday was a home made fennel soup and a Caesar Salad. I put out some Camembert and paté to have with French Bread. We had little slices of an apricot and almond paste that she brought for dessert. For dinner, we had Basa filets and fennel root in fresh parsley and garlic butter with rice. I still had fresh frozen blueberries in the freezer which I thawed, heated and put over a tiny portion of ice cream. (We are watching out line.) I used the dishwasher (which I only use as a dish dryer when I’m alone) so that I didn’t have to do dishes.

When I dropped the milk jug on the floor and an entire jug of milk spread all across the kitchen from the living room side door to the outside back door and from there to the floor beneath the kitchen sink, she helped me mop it up.

“Never mind,” she said, “the jug didn’t break. That’s got most of it. You can get the rest of it when you get around to washing the kitchen floor.” I picked up a nonchalant hint of laxity in that comment – “when you get around to it” – as if she, herself would tolerantly let what was left, if any, to dry and flake as milk does, until she had time and inclination to wash the floor properly.

We went out walking in Kanaka Creek Park in the early afternoon, and then I wanted to show her Jerry Sulina Park on the Pitt River dykes. It was a fine sunny day with the Golden Ears peaks still holding onto winter snows and the purple crocus and tiny white snow drops pushing up through the pale gold winter grasses. There were lovely reflections of the clear blue sky marrying with the mountains and the grass tangles and wintering ducks gliding chevron patterns over top of them.

We spent the evening beading, which she came prepared to teach me, and watching an English murder mystery. She confessed over the beading tray that she had just left everything, at home – the dinner dishes from Friday and her breakfast dishes – in the sink; she hadn’t done laundry since her husband had left on a vacation two weeks before. She didn’t like housekeeping any more than I did!

She left early on Sunday morning. I went out into the yard and did a bit of maintenance there. I’m still pulling out or cutting out winterkill for the irises and the phlox. There’s lots of tree debris from the windstorms to be picked up that I haven’t bothered with since it’s been too rainy to go out there and enjoy the fresh air and to do raking. I puttered at putting together a compost bin that the next door lady gave to me when her house sale deal went through. I tied up some honeysuckle so that it will thread long the trellis slats above the solid fence. I watered some plants that the neighbour gave me – some fall crocus, liatrus and butterfly bush.

The grass seedings that I planted in the fall are coming up, covering the trampoline area from the previous owner’s arrangments. Crocus are pushing through. I planted two big bulbs that might be Allium or might be Elephant Garlic. I took some time to think how I might put in pathways and more plantings since I don’t really care for too much lawn in the back yard. It was glorious – the physical activity, the fresh air, the warming sunshine.

So, who wants to clean? I’d much rather be out in the back garden with time to think, with time to dream, breathing God’s good air and taking in the mild scent of the old cedars that surround the property.
And thank goodness for visitors, or the house would never be cleaned!

Visitors and thoughts about retirement

February 5, 2008

After they left, I thought about Christmas; how just after all the celebrations and visits are done, you look at your house that was sparkling clean and ready for visitors such a short time ago and now the little bits of daily living are creeping back into that pristine lodging as the first tiny spring buds of normality return.

Here I was, house empty again after an all too short, three hours visit. It wasn’t Christmas. It was February, but the snow was falling again after four days of respite. The silence which I appreciate so much on most days, was sounding thunderingly quiet and the view out the window was decidedly grey. I walked slowly about the house noting that I had forgotten to give them some homemade chutney that I’d put out so that I wouldn’t forget to give it; and I had forgotten to show them my little sun porch at the back. Three hours hadn’t been long enough.

So what was the best thing for me to do for the remains of the day, now that they were gone? I thought about digging into the big paper box of estate duties, correspondence, bills and miscellanea that I had to do (Heaven’s knows what is lurking there to bite me, I haven’t looked at the pile that was there waiting for me since I came back from Ottawa a whole month ago). I rejected that. What a way to let down a five star afternoon! What a way to break a magic spell!

I thought about playing the piano, but that would have been an abrupt and jangly transition from my now pensive and peaceful mood.

I looked at the dining table with the remainder of lunch sitting on it and considered tidying it and doing the dishes, but that too seemed such a letdown, so I rejected that, too. No one else was coming. Dishes could wait until I felt like it.

In my night owl manner, I had stayed up to odd hours of the night for a week running. Then knowing I would have visitors and I couldn’t let anyone see the disorderly depths that I had sunk to, especially for a first visit to my home, I set my alarm clock for an early rising so that I could get some daytime hours of sorting, boxing, putting away and getting ready as well.

In that silence that followed, I looked at the clean and tidy living room which even this morning had been strewn with the sorting of various boxes of papers in toppling piles, waiting for their final destinations. The long flowered couch looked mightily inviting. The thick green afghan so tidily rolled at the end of the couch promised warmth. I had no desire to start any activity that might return the house to its daily disorder and so,

gently,

kindly,

unusually,

entirely out of character,

I gave myself permission to take an afternoon nap.

And a nice long warm nap it was, too, wrapped up in that thick green woolen afghan, two throw pillows at my back, and the long four-seater couch stretching before me to cradle me and my long legs into the land of nod.

My friends come from Idaho just outside of the city of Coeur d’Alene. I knew them when I was teaching. We were all living in the Slocan Valley of British Columbia. That was thirty years ago. I went to Europe, to France, to Art School. They continued on in their lives and eventually, as so many of us did over the years, their careers morphed into something completely different.

He had a penchant for carpentry and began buying houses to fix up and sell, then began building brand new ones. He’d created a comfortable income from that and knew how to enjoy life on his own terms. Freda had moved her way inexorably up the ladder in her school district until she was running it.

She has flair, this girl. She knows everyone in town; everyone in the School District; everyone in school. Because of her work, she knows half the State politicians. That’s how she gets things done.

Everyone loves her. She’s bubbly and dynamic and yet contains that depth of feeling and empathy that makes a life long friend. She has a fierceness about her that no one would mess with. She stands her ground. And yet her softness and kindness is legendary.

Even today, we talked about that time when her closest friend in Coeur d’Alene, dying of cancer, was not getting the care she needed as her friend’s three sisters, her caregivers, so unthinkingably fought over the potential upcoming inheritance. Freda got a lawyer and took them to court to ensure her dying friend’s care! I swear, this is one person you really are privileged to call Friend.

The years go by and we work in the same job year after year, not counting the changes that come with promotions and special projects. We finally get tired of some of the political nonsense that pervades our jobs, whether it be in the corporate world or the public sector. It’s the politics of who rules who, who makes the decisions, whether those decisions are wise or not. It’s the competing interests of one department of the organization over another. Eventually, if you don’t have to stay, then you don’t. The mental stress isn’t worth it. And you can go do something else.

Now don’t misunderstand me. I loved my job while I loved it. It was exciting and I met people from many and various walks of life. I made good work friends with so many of them. I enjoyed the responsibility and the constant learning. But after twenty plus years, and it not being my life’s work, I was ready for a change. All the petty miseries of it crashed in on me when I was doing double duty, looking after my dying mother. When it was time to go, all those pluses disappeared. I wanted to leave. It was time to go.
Fortunately, we are in an an age when there is lots of work and not enough people to do it. We could go hammering on a construction site. We could unstressfully work in a coffee shop. Barrista Kay! I thought, with a smirk.

One of my colleagues took a sabbatical and amongst other things she did with that time off, she worked at Starbucks. And loved it! I’ve dreamed of running my own art gallery, but I don’t know much about how to do that. I’d like to volunteer in a public one until I do know how. Wouldn’t that be cool!

I saw a lady holding a party for young girls, each of which was dressed up like a princess. The girls were awed and giggly. The attending mothers were thrilled. Now wouldn’t that be a fun way to earn a living?

But back to my visit with Freda and Alan. Just lately, Freda, like a number of my friends, has retired, glad to be free of the politicking that was driving her crazy. For such an active woman, sitting around was not an option (although she can take a vacation and enjoy it to the full) . She took her exams for a Real Estate license and began practicing right away. It’s slowed since Christmas in the USA because of the mortgage crisis, but for the preceding months, she instantly had more work than she could take on. That is to say, that if you are dynamic at what you do, you most certainly have the ability to take on something new and become dynamic and successful at career number two.

Freda’s husband Alan is a great hobby cook. Good thing, too. Freda doesn’t like to cook at all. After our first burst of hugs and a tour through my new-to-me house, we fell into our previous modus operandi of telling about our lives through stories. I set them laughing about Charlie the Painter (see previous post). Alan was about to tell a road trip story when I signalled for a halt.

“We’d better sit and eat lunch while we talk or you’ll be leaving here in an hour needing to find a place to eat and I’ll be regretting that the quiche in the oven has turned overly brown and dry. ”

I shared my lemon grass soup recipe with Alan: a fresh lemon grass stock as the liquid addition, paper thin slices of celery, a bit of finely chopped fresh parsley and a tin of mushroom soup to make it creamy.

We downed a delicious new red wine discovery, Luigi Leonardo, a Sicilian product. Unfortunately, I had purchased the last two bottles at our local liquor store. Due to renovations, they were liquidating end of stock items and this was one of them. It might be impossible to get it here again.

We ate baby bok choy smothered in a butter and pesto sauce. The Caesar salad sat on the table untouched. It was a bit much – quiche, a veggie and soup – for a lunch. The salad would be a fine dinner – I wouldn’t have to cook.

Alan told his tale of speeding on the highway. He loves his cars and he had just bought a new luxury model suburban. “Turns on a dime,” said Freda.

“It has Idaho licence plates. The cops see you coming. I couldn’t have been going more than ten k’s above the speed limit and I saw the police car with flashing lights behind me. I pulled over and he stopped right behind me. I knew I was in for it.”
“You might as well admit it when you are caught, ” he said. “So I got a ticket and lumped it.”
“I noted the time on my dashboard when we took off again, driving sagely within the speed limit. The cop warned me that although the speed was 100 in this zone, it was 90 only a few miles up, and I kept that in mind.”

“Not four minutes later, I saw a cop coming towards us and pass. In less than a minute he turned around and was coming up behind us, his siren going and his red light flashing. I thought he must have an accident to get to; but we were his target. Can you imagine? Twice in a day. Twice in five minutes, really. They must look for out of State licenses as targets. They must have a quota, and who from out of State is going to come back and fight a ticket?”
“The cop said I was going 120. Now do you think I would be going 120 four minutes after having received a speeding ticket? I told the policeman all that. He told me to get my speedometer checked. It’s a brand new car. You don’t think I’d be starting off with a faulty speedometer do you? But I have to check back in within a week with them to prove I’ve had it tested. At least he gave me benefit of the doubt. It ruined my timetable for getting here though.”

We went on to discussing common friends from the old days. Where was Elena? What was she doing? Had I heard from Margaret? Did I know that Martha was undergoing cancer treatment? There was altogether too much of that going around. I knew of five people in my acquaintanceship that had cancer and were in various stages of chemo or radiation.

We had moved onto a feminine bit of gossiping that would have fazed many a male. But Alan loves his Freda; and he loves women in general. You can see it on his face. His eyes have some gently carved laugh lines. They light up as he watches the banter go back and forth. These two are a healthy, happy couple and it shines through.

Now all of this might sound a bit banal, with talk of people you don’t know – Freda, Alan, Elena, Margaret and Martha – but this is the stuff that friendships are made of. The caring for individuals that we know. The network of support that weaves through our lives whether we see each other daily or whether we see each other after a hiatus of two years or ten, makes the fabric of our lives.

Regretfully, Freda rose and announced they had to go. Alan rose with her, and I followed to go get their coats. They were expected in Whistler by four.

I saw them away, standing at the front door, not willing to go out in the steadily falling snow. It was cold out and slippery. Outside, there was a general greyness with a polka dot screen of white falling snow. It was accumulating on the ground. Since their arrival, an inch of fresh white had deposited on my car and on the roundabout.

I could be a Realtor too, I thought, as an odd non sequetor. The silence that comes with snow wrapped around me. The silence that comes from guests leaving wrapped around me. I was alone in the house, savouring the flurry of friendship that had come in the door and warmed it up toastily for three hours.

I napped my nap. I got up and had a hot cup of café au lait. I sat down to write. I didn’t want to lose the moment. I wanted to capture it somehow; to freeze frame it; to solidify something elusively undefinable and extraordinary. Friendship.

I didn’t know where to start; and once I did, I didn’t know how to end. After all, it’s wonderful when friendships are endless.

I got up from my computer and went for a second cup of coffee. I stepped out of my little study into a blackened hall. Where had the time gone to? Without a light on in the house but that of my study and the computer screen, it was very dark.

Friendship had lit my whole day. My whole afternoon.

Writer’s cafe 3

January 28, 2008

Please read writer’s cafe and writer’s cafe 2, just previous posts, before reading this one.

Aimee held a pink sheaf of papers in one hand, a blue sheaf in the other. Tall, dark and willowy, she rose above us. Our group had reduced to eight.

“O.K” she stated loudly to capture our attention. “Tonight we are going to write for ten minutes and then share what we have written. It doesn’t matter what you write, but it has to contain these five words. Has everyone got a sheet like this?” and she held up her photocopied sheet with five lines for five words yet to be revealed.

“Here are the five words. By the way, does anyone need paper? A pen? I’ve got some here.” There were heads shaking from side to side. Everyone had come prepared for this event.

“O.K.” she resume. “Here they are. Cat. Hammer. Cell phone . Planet. And fork.”

She waited between each word to let each person write these words at the bottom of their pink photocopies. “You’ve got ten minutes, starting now and then we will read them out to each other.”

Here is what Kay wrote:

The cat was hammering a nail into her cat house (no – not that kind, I mean the kind a cat lives in).

She had decided upon a Victorian scroll over the front door. She was going to ask Mistress to paint it orange in hopes that some mice might think it was cheese and come sauntering by. But the phone rang.

“Damned cell phones!” grumbled the cat. “You can’t go anywhere without the blankety blank things catching up with you.”

“Planet Mouse Café calling,” said the voice squeaking at the other end of the line. “Is that Harriet the Cat?”
“Yes,” said Harriet the Cat, wondering how on earth the Planet Mouse Café had found her telephone number. Only land lines were listed on the Internet.

“You left your silver fork last time you were here. It’s got you name engraved on it.”

“I don’t own a fork!” Harriet the Cat retorted hotly. “Where did you get my telephone number?”

“It was on the washroom wall, Miss,” said the Planet Mouse Café owner.

“Well, it’s not mine. I don’t even eat with a fork. Is this some kind of trick>”

“Squeak, Squeak, Squeak” tittered the Maitre de mouse and hung up.

“Got her that time!” he exulted.

Damn Cat. Damn Cat house. He’d have to find another way to trap that cat!

More next time….

At the end of ten minutes, Aimee offered to start by reading her creation. It was wacky and wonderful. Then each read out their story. Each was kooky and inventive. It was marvelous to hear how each person had brought their own experiences to craft a tale in so short a time. There was experience in the gathering.

It was going to be a good group to join, Kay reflected, as she joined in the after-chat that ensued the telling of tales.

Writer’s cafe 2

January 28, 2008

Please read Writer’s Cafe, the previous post. This is a continuation

Slowly the writers arrived. There was Morris, an elderly man who had seen hard times. It was written on his lined, stubbly face and his gnarled hands. This man had stories to tell.

Ian whom Kay had seen at the Library Speaker’s series the evening before, arrived shortly afterwards. He sported a navy blue sailor’s cap with a blue visor. His eyes were bracketed with crow’s feet that doubled as laugh lines. He seemed a merry sort with a serious side to him.

Portly Mrs. Stepford was settling in with her coffee. Then Beth arrived dressed differently than the previous evening at the Library Speaker’s program. Kay had sat beside her by chance,  introduced herself and by miracle had remembered her name when she appeared today within the chair circle. Beth was with her friend Moira whom she introduced.

“It’s not fair changing your clothes and your hair style the day after I meet you,” challenged Kay in a joking way. “How am I supposed to remember you if you do? I’ve a bad enough memory as it is.”

“Oh, we all do now,” replied Beth. But almost everyone was new for Kay and she was working hard to keep people straight.

“I’m Sarah, from last time,” said a voice behind Kay and Kay swivelled to see her. Her mind went blank. Was she supposed to know this person?

“You know, from the Philosopher’s cafe,” Sarah continued. “I’m the manager of the cafe. ” A light bulb turned on in Kay’s mind as she re-registered this outgoing young woman. “Brunette, five foot two, always dressed in black. Sarah,” Kay noted silently, trying to force some memory to stick up in that sieve-like brain of hers.

Janice arrived and sat beside Mrs. Stepford. Janice had known Kay many years before in the Kootenays when both were teaching in a small country school. The hiatus between then and now had been over thirty years but the warmth in their reunion had been as if they had seen each other just last week.

Everyone was sitting, waiting for Aimee the dynamic leader and initiator of the group. Aimee was charged with endless energy. She was now sorting file folders full of papers on one of the tables, extracting piles of photocopied materials that were, in a way, coded by the colour of the paper they were printed on. The participants began to distribute the pink ones to their neighbours. Aimee announced loudly, “If this is it,  let’s move our chairs in closer so we can hear each other.”

There was a general shuffling and scraping of chairs and tables as they were positioned towards the centre. Coffee spilled. Papers were stained. People resettled, getting ready to begin.

Just as Aimee requested that we each introduce ourselves and mention what we had already written, a mother and daughter arrived. More shuffling and repositioning of tables and chairs occurred.

Ian started introductions. He was a cartoonist and illustrator. Next to him, the elderly man was Manuel. He had been an orphan very early and lived in various families before his teen years. He hadn’t much education, he said, but he wanted to tell his story. From his insistence, it seemed he wanted to select someone from the group to edit it and type it too. He was a man with a purpose. Mrs. Stepford suggested that he get a student on work assignment to help him type it. There was general agreement that this was a genial idea, though Manuel was disappointed that he hadn’t resolved his dilemma on the spot.

Mrs. Stepford reminded everyone that she was blind and writing was the only thing left for her to do. She was writing for her son and her granddaughter. She wanted them to know what her life was like where she had grown up in Hungary before the revolution. She wanted them to know about her ancestors, the qualities of her life and her escape from Hungary with her parents.Janice challenged her with, ” Excuse me, but how can you write if you are blind?” It was a good question and everyone leaned forward a little to hear the response.

“Well, I’ve had an operation on my left eye and I can’t see anything with it. The other one is not very good, but I write with very big print and then reduce it afterwards. I can’t paint anymore so writing has filled a creative need.” Mrs. Stepford continued on about her draft novel and her poetry.

She ended her personal blurb with “…and that’s about all,” then looked at Janice, signaling that the baton was passed.

Janice mentioned that writing was a pain for her, an effort. She had started writing on the school newspaper then had worked with Ma Murray writing for the Lillouet News. In her career, she had become an activist in the Union and had written extensively for the worker’s newspaper. With a waggish grin, she turned her head to the left. It was Kay’s turn to confess.

Kay rambled on about retiring, her mother who had passed away, how she had moved to the community only six months ago; how she was writing about hers and her mother’s relationship through life, about dying and death. It was hard to keep Kay from going on and on, as if to introduce herself she had to explain her whole life.

Abruptly she ended, turned her head to the left and the mother and daughter duo took up the task.

The mother had written for the newspaper; now she wanted to write for herself. Her daughter had just finished University. Now she wanted to turn her writing skills to a novel, but she didn’t know what yet.

Kay mused that this slip of a girl had hardly had enough experience in life to be writing a novel but you never knew. Some wonderful writers had published early. It wasn’t up to Kay to judge. For that matter, there was no judging to be done. This was just a sharing experience, not a contest.

Fay arrived in the midst of this – small brown skinned individual with a genteel British accent that was hard to define. There was a quiet moment amongst the others as she settled herself and then was invited to share her name and her writing experience.

“As a scientist, all my writing has been documentation,” she said. “Now I want to write stories.” It was that simple. She declined to add more details.

Aimee took back the reins of the meeting and provided her own view as a writer of poems only. One more latecomer arrived. It was Spring, a Chinese translator. By way of introduction, she scrambled in her carry all back and with shy triumph, she held up a blue book with white writing. It was all marked in Chinese with the exception of the title.

“Just published!” she said. “It was why I was late. I had to finish my work and then, the day was so stressful, I had to take a little rest before I could come.” Her accent was  pronouncedly Chinese.

Everyone clapped in appreciation of her feat. To be published! Kay wondered how she could write in English when she seemed not to have mastered the English  language.

And so it went until the round had been done. Everyone had brought a unique experience to share. Each had a passion for writing, whatever the form might be.

Moira stood and excused herself; she had children at home waiting for her. Manuel said he had to go, stood and left, disappointed that he had not been able to settle the matter of having a typist, and editor and a writer wrapped up into one.

Aimee stood and announced a time for coffee break. Dara stood and proposed that we move into the cafe. It was virtually deserted. The group was getting smaller. There would be room. Everyone rose and gathered their belongings. The evening’s written exercise was about to begin.

(to be continued)