Archive for the ‘loneliness’ Category

If you don’t, then I will …

November 30, 2010

The plate glass window gave no privacy. It was at ground level, looking out to the courtyard. Kay pulled the thick red drape across. She didn’t like the room and this made it worse. She would be a self-made prisoner of her hotel room. But it didn’t matter. It was only for two nights.

She selected a water bottle, some whole grain bars, a pen and note book, her map of Zurich and her camera and stuffed them into her black carry all, slung it over her shoulder and locked the door behind her. As she unlocked the tubular steel gate, she noticed a commotion on the road. Just in front of the cafe doors, a paddy wagon was loading a street person.

At least the police frequent the area,” Kay said wryly to herself, repeating “it’s only for two days” as a mantra. It was a small measure of comfort. She checked to her left and right. There was no reason why she shouldn’t cross, and she stepped out smartly towards the corner to head back to the station and then into town.

When she went past the circus area, she crossed the street to the other side to avoid a small knot of people. A drug deal was in progress. She hastened her step, consciously not looking, keeping to herself, passing between a police woman with arms crossed, waiting, and the midnight blue van with the circulating blue light. It wasn’t her business.

Soon she arrived at the canal and instead of heading to the station she followed the canal  into the old city where she sought a cafe. A hot steamy cup of European coffee would do much to restore her spirits.

The center of the city was filled with holiday-goers and upscale shoppers. There were quality stores for clothing and watches, for footwear and for financial dealings. There was little in sight for dining or cafe-people-watching. She walked along, alert to her surroundings, knowing she would have to find her way back to the hotel without the aid of Gretel’s white stones.

It was getting on in the afternoon, but the September sun wouldn’t set until after seven. She walked up to St. Peter’s church and was shooed out of it. It was too late.  She wandered down an adjoining street and found a place  filled with smartly dressed people where she found a small empty table and ordered coffee. At ground level, the store fronts were modernized and elegant. One story up, the stone carved window frames spoke of centuries gone by, with shutters wide open to let the least breeze in against the unseasonal heat.

It was, she decided, not really a pretty city. There was a greyness to it.  What was she doing here, she asked herself, wandering alone through less than exciting streets while her green luscious garden was growing back home? She didn’t like shopping at home and she didn’t like it when she was away. It was ridiculous to be window shopping day after day for something to do.

She had been traveling too long. She had no one to share her table; no one to share her meanderings through the street. Traveling with someone was much better, she concluded. But she would not waste the day, and she rose to tackle a few more streets in search of something interesting.

At six, she began to find her way home through streets that were ill marked. Finally she saw the station and knew she could orient herself from there.  By now, she was tired and putting one foot in front of the other with stubborn perseverance. It was time to find some dinner.
I’ll eat near the hotel.  I won’t be trying to  finding my way in a rough part of town in the dark.” She was determined to be home early, though in her effort to travel light she had brought very little to amuse herself for a whole evening in her miniscule hotel room.

When she came up Militarstrasse, she passed by the pizza place making a mental note that the men outside were swarthy and mafia-like. It would be a last choice, she thought.  At the corner, she poked her nose in the cafe, but it was dirty and the customers looked none too clean either. Outside the cafe, only men sat at the side walk cafe, but inside there were a few women. The proportion was about ten to one.  She would not eat here.

She passed by this establishment a few steps forward to the Irish Pub, but it had no windows to be able to see what it might offer.  As she came alongside it, she stopped to see the notice board. Strip dancing shows were continuous, a poster stated. The lovely ladies were displayed in black and white photos behind the glass encased notices. That was definitely not a place for dinner.

Across the street, another cafe offered it’s wares. The tables were rickety, covered with plastic tablecloths and the chairs were old and worn. It was six o’clock but there were only four men in it, drinking. A large television had a sports program running. The walls and the decor was all a muddied buttercup yellow making it look lurid. There was no evidence of food except for a soiled menu posted on the door.  Kay was uncomfortable about it and didn’t even come close to read it.  She continued on.

Beside the yellow cafe was a lingerie shop. Red lace garters and black brassieres  were lustily filled with dark skinned mannequins. Next to it was an African  jewelry store displaying the wares in a wholesale style, crowded together. There were mannequin heads with wigs in a rainbow of colors – cotton candy pinks, greens and blues; an electric blue, a lemon yellow, an orange and a purple – that sat on a shelf just above the necklaces and bracelets. Who would wear these?

It was evident. There was no decent place to eat up this street. So Kay turned back to explore the lateral streets, with no better success. She sighed and returned to the pizza place.

At Milano Pizzeria, the men at the outdoor tables eyed her, mentally calculating her interest to them. She went swiftly by them into the cafe and found herself in a dining room with thirty tables, each dressed in a linen cloth with folded napkin, silverware and a wine  and water glasses.

A tall, thin waiter who had been lounging outside the door turned back into the cafe.

“Can I eat inside?” Kay asked, warily in French.

“Of course!” he answered in French without an accent. “Where would you like to sit?”

The place was empty. She chose one with her back to the door, close to the door where people walking by outside could not see her easily. He handed her a menu and left her to make her selection.  Across two tables, there was a bar where a young man was rolling pizza dough in the air. The waiter returned, spoke to him briefly in Italian. The man at the bar brought out some glasses and filled them with red wine and the waiter whisked them away to his sidewalk patrons.

He returned to Kay in five minutes.

“Have you chosen?” he solicitously.

“No,” she said, forlornly. “I can’t read a word of what is written here. It’s all in German. The only thing I can guess at is Schwein.  That’s pork, isn’t it?”

“Yes.” His  mouth registered a trace of a smile. Diplomacy was good business if a tip were to be earned.

“Well, please would you chose something for me? Not too expensive. I just want a light dinner. And not spicy.”

“Cotelets?” he asked. “Everything is very good. I think you will like this.”

It was schwein with tagliatelle for twenty two Swiss francs. Expensive, she thought, but what was she to do? Whatever tagliatelle was, she would eat it. She had never heard of it before but she didn’t want to expose her ignorance. She nodded her agreement.

“And an entrée?”
She declined, shaking her head, “No.” He looked askance as if she had offended the propriety of eating out. An entrée was de rigeur!

“But a glass of house wine. Red. Please?”

“Of course.” And he went to place the order.

Kay sat, her head spinning, wary like a fox of her surroundings, railing against the expense of eating out day by day and not even getting what she wanted for dinner. There seemed no middle ground for nourishment for a tourist much less any low cost options.

Two men came in from the sidewalk tables. They sat four tables away from Kay and she watched out of boredom. They did not seem interesting. Then the waiter came to their table and sat with them. The lad from the bar brought them each a drink.

They were not noticing her, so she brought out her sketch book and drew them, noting the particularity of their shapes, the dark of their business jackets, the  light of their faces, in comparison, and the dark of their hair.  She drew them rapidly, hoping they would not see her doing so and perhaps object.  What if they did not want to be seen here. Her sketching of them might be interpreted as an invasion. A danger.

She flipped the page and began a drawing of the tables with the repetition of cutlery and glassware, serviettes, tables and chair backs. The waiter came carrying a pizza. She closed her sketchbook.

“Would you like a piece?” he asked.

“Oh, no thanks,” Kay replied.

“Go ahead. It’s mine. Really, have a piece.”

She felt as if she might insult him if she did not accept, so she smiled and allowed him to give her a slice on a small bread plate.

It was delicious. She had not expected her hunger was so strong; it was due to all the walking; but she was thankful that she had not ordered the pizza for dinner. It was thin crusted and there was very little on it.

Soon her dinner arrived. It was indeed a pork chop, a thin one, covered in an excellent creamy pepper sauce and it came with a small portion of pasta.

“Did you like it?” he asked when he picked up her plate.

“Oh yes! Your sauce master is an excellent cook! May I have a coffee? ”

” No dessert?” He seemed offended.

“No dessert.”

He brought the coffee and the bill.

When he left, she examined the bill. The main dish. Twenty two francs. Wine. Six francs. Tagliatelle five francs. Coffee, four francs. Total thirty seven. The Swiss franc was even with the Canadian dollar. Thirty seven dollars for a thin pork chop and hardly anything n the plate. That was outrageous.

So he had charged her for the pizza after all, she thought bitterly. They can see a tourist coming a mile away. But she was determined not to  complain. She felt too vulnerable, all round, to have to challenge the bill and she wanted desperately to have a pleasant part to her day.  Especially in this place, she would not complain; but she vowed she would not eat in this district the next day. But really! Five francs for a slice of pizza!

She brought out her money and placed exactly thirty seven francs on the table. At this price, with so little dinner, I’m not giving a tip besides, she thought.

He came and lingered at the table.

“Alors! A budding Picasso!”

“Picassa, I think. Do you want to see?”

“Fantastico!”

“Here. It’s yours.” Kay tore the page from her sketchbook and gave it to him.

His smile stretched wide and he took it.

She packed her things and left.  At the corner, she stopped at the grocery store, a grim little place with ready-made snacks. She took an apple, yogurt, a bottle of spring water and a cereal bar. That would give her breakfast. Thirteen francs for a Rothaus hotel breakfast was just too much!

In her room, there was a book, her journal and the television for the remainder of the evening.  From her bed, the only place to relax, she watched Pretty Woman with Richard Gere in dubbed Italian.  Kay didn’t understand a word, but she had seen it twice before, long ago,  and knew the story.

The next day she toured the city for galleries and points of interest. She ate her meal late in the afternoon and was back early at the Rothaus. Just as she approached, she once again saw the paddy wagon, blue light flashing, doors open just at the entrance of the hotel.

A man was being loaded into it. On the ground, a woman sat, dazed, the entire contents of her purse spread around her – condoms, syringes, pills, lipstick, personal effects. The police woman was urging her to gather her belongings and come with her, I suppose, the second customer for the wagon in blue.

Kay caught the police woman’s eye, pointed her finger towards the Rothaus gate and received a nod. Yes, she could pass by with impunity. She could get into her hotel.

At least the police frequent the area. It’s just one more night. I can leave early in the morning,” she calmed herself. “It’s just one more night.

Kay was telling her experience to an Italian friend when she got back home.

“Anyway,” she said, “what is tagliatelle?”

“It’s pasta.”

“Pasta? They charged me five francs for pasta? That’s outrageous!”

“But he didn’t charge me for the pizza. It really was a gift!”

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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.

Karma

July 19, 2009

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I set the house alarm and left, locking the door behind me, then realized that I didn’t have my camera.

I’ve walked the dikes so many times now, I should have them in my mind by memory, but I don’t. I don’t seen to have visual memory, funny enough, and I keep trying to record what I see either in photography or paint so that I don’t forget.  It was getting warmer out by the minute and I made a conscious decision to leave it at home. I would walk faster, and anyway, I’ve already photographed everything thirty times. You’d think I’d already had the ultimate image, but no…. it’s always the penultimate.

And so there I was, on Sunday morning, walking in Paradise.

There were very few cars in the lot which was a good thing, because in this unusual heat wave, parking under one of the grand willows at the entrance to the dike walks,  there is a large pool of shade and there was one parking spot left, right up by the big concrete dividers that delineate the edge of the lot.

I extracted my walking poles from the trunk, locked the car and set out. There wasn’t a human in sight.

Without the camera, I was able more acutely to hear myself and the birds.

I’ll always remember asking Mom if she could hear the birds that were chirping loudly, a flock having chosen her back yard for an early evening town-hall meeting.  “Birds?” she asked, puzzled. “Hear them?” She strained to listen. “Are there birds”  She shook her head. She couldn’t hear a single peep.

I vowed to listen to them while I could and here, early morning there was a leading edge symphonic composition of unrelated tonal  sounds going on with each orchestral section doing it’s own thing.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard so many different birds competing in a battle of the bands before. There was a persistent, overriding one going “Chi, we,we,we,we” . There was a beautiful melodic one, about sixteen notes long, whose tune I could not imitate nor remember. There was a ticking one going, “chi, chi, chi, chi” and a starling imitating a chickadee with a throatier version of the “dee, dee, dee” sound.

When a person pays attention with all one’s senses, it’s amazing what there is to hear and see. And smell also. There was a decided scent of mown hay permeating the air with an attenated sweet manure smell behind it. It had been spread more than a month ago and the awfulness of it had sunk into the ground, nourishing it, leaving the hot earth with this pleasant farm smell.

Without the camera I beetled ahead at a rapid pace, which is what I should be doing most days but never do if there’s something to photograph. But I havn’t been serious about walking as I should, so I was happy to halt, catch my breath and watch two birds grasp the same tall branch of a pink-flowered shrub. They were the size of bush-tits but all brown and they were swinging around the twig like a pair of acrobats.

When I resumed my walk, I reflected that not having a camera forced me into having conversations with myself.  I thought it might be a great exercise to go home and paint what I saw today.

I dismissed the problem of colour. I had that down pat – the brilliant summer sky, a mix of cerulean and French ultramarine; The far mountains,  a wash of French Ultramarine and closer ones simply a deeper version of the hue; the trees, a mix of viridian and burnt sienna; the sunnier greens mixed with a lemon yellow and a sap green.

It was the composition that I couldn’t carry with me – the way the shapes nestled together, the way the shadows defined the shape, the rhythm and flow of it. I tried to memorize one or two.

There was the way the dike path split the marsh grasses like a bolt of lightening diminishing to its pointy end far off in the distance, only to be stopped in the mid ground by two small poplars and the heron tree. Overpowering everything were the pure blue  mountains, receding in distinctly shaped layers of progressively lighter hue.

There was the way the dike sweeps down into the farm lands where the blueberry fields are ripe and ready. At the edge of these, the windbreak is made up of mid sized shrubs entangled with blackberry and wild rose. It’s an image full of curves and warm, golden grasses.

As I approached the Neames Road bridge, I tried to memorize the shape of it – its four creosoted posts on either end, the white railing with three tiers, the water flowing underneath,  everything reflecting in the water with the addition of a good swig of sky and a dollop of a single cloud floating in the water. Sounds like a blueberry float with whip cream on top!

On the way back, the sun was coming straight for me, as were a number of late starters their dogs or their children in tow. A few runners sped by, coming and going. I concentrated on trying to find word equivalents for the  bird songs and repeated them as one of my memory exercises. I wasn’t sure whether I would be racing for the brushes or the keyboard when first I got home.

Chi, we, we, we, we, I was repeating to myself as I was interrupted by a “kitty-wake” sound but I was sure it wasn’t a kittiwake because there were no gulls around. I stopped to listen and joined a conversation unfolding before me.

A middle-aged woman in a broad raffia hat sporting two braids down to her shoulders had stopped two petite Iranian ladies more or less appertaining to a leash-free teacup-sized dog with a tiny bow on it’s head.

“There’s a coyote hanging about. Several people have seen him this morning,” counselled the braided woman.

“Oh, we’ll be okay,” said one of the Iranians, smiling as they continued to saunter along. They clearly had not understood, neither the message nor the import of it.

“It’s your dog. The coyote will eat your dog. It’s like a wolf,” insisted the woman with the braids.

The Iranian women stopped, trying to make reason of the message.

“You had better carry your dog,” insisted Mrs. Braid.

Their eyes popped and one of them let their mouth hang open in horrified understanding.  They both nodded. The little muffet was called and one of them scooped up the handful and tucked it close to her breast.

“Oh, look,” cried Mrs. Braid. “There are two birds chasing an eagle.”

It broke the conversation and everyone looked. Two small birds, likely the size of robins or starlings were bearing down on the eagle high above the poplars. One flew in so close it could have dropped six inches and ridden on the eagle’s back without having to do any wing flapping himself.

The bald-headed eagle was angrily chastising his pursuers with that ki,ki wake sound . I had at least matched one of the choruses  from the bird symphony, now.

Mrs. Braid and I talked then about having seen coyotes and bears and other wildlife. We traded stories for quite a long moment before she announced that she had just retired from working as an art teacher.

“How coincidental!” I said, very happy with our conversation that just flowed. I explained my connections to art. Then I explained what I was doing to integrate myself into the art community as a newcomer, inviting groups of artists to salon-like gatherings so that I could get to know them and they, me.

“Would you like to come to one sometime?” I asked.

“Oh, I would love to,” she answered and started to cry. Not the sobbing kind, but the sniffly, trying-desperately-not-to kind, with an index finger reflexively wiping away moisture from the side of her eyes.

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” she apologized, dipping her head so that with the shadow of the had, I could not see them. “It’s so recent. I’ve just put my husband in a residential care facility this week. Alzheimers. ”  She struggled to force the tears back into her eyes.

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” I replied, with a look of concern for her.

“I’m only fifty-five. He’s only sixty-four. For the last four years, I haven’t been able to get out. It’s the first time I’ve had any time to myself. I’m not used to having time. Not that I’ve just left him there, though. I go every day between six and ten at night. That’s when I can be most useful, getting him to bed. Sometimes he recognizes me. Mostly he doesn’t. And I’ve never had time to go anywhere, not even grocery shopping, because he had to be watched. He didn’t understand anything anymore. While we were out walking, he would see a house and construct a story around it. He would think it was ours and we had renters. He would want to climb a fence to get into the place to see if they were treating it properly.”

“Like a two year old,” I sympathized.

“Yes, exactly,” she replied. “I couldn’t leave him for a moment, and I couldn’t take him anywhere. But finally, I stopped being humiliated and embarassed by the situations he got me into.”

Her situation came out in a torrent. The relief that she felt in finally having the burden of his care lifted from her shoulders alone and shared with the health system was huge, but at the same time, she felt guilty. A new round of tears escaped from her eyes. She was really in quite a fragile emotional state.

I thought to myself, I guess this was the reason I came out to the dike so early this morning. It was a bit like this chance meeting had been engineered by the invisible and all powerful Higher Power of the universe.

I tried to distract and reassure her. I told her about caring for my mother in a similarly senile state, though her husband seemed to be  far more difficult than my mother had been.  I told her about the drawings I was doing about feelings. How I had originally pounded marks onto the paper, in anger, and beat away the frustration in long, attacking strokes.  I told her about standing in front of my paints and closing my eyes to see what my feelings were and then finding colours that matched and images that expressed those states.

She had pulled her emotions together and stuffed them back in their box.  She said, “It’s the first time I’ve been back on the dikes. My husband and I used to walk here. I’ve been frustrated and lonely and feeling guilty to be enjoying all this beauty, this paradise. I had no idea I might talk to you or anyone. It’s so strange. I think I must have been sent to meet you here today. It is as if it  was meant to be.”

The similarity of our our situations and our thoughts amazed me. I said so.

Again, I invited her to join up with us at one of our artist groups.

“You know, you will not feel out of place. We’ve all had our griefs. Elizabeth’s mother has died of Alzheimers just recently and she cared for her daily for several years. My mom was getting senile and slipping deeper and deeper in to geriatric states of confusion, so I understand perfectly. Mrs. Stepford is going blind, and Thelma is desperately trying to get her granddaughter out of the Ministry’s foster home care system. Her daughter is too sick to look after the child. You’ll feel right at home. And you don’t have to wait until I throw another potluck. Just come for tea.”

It was time to be getting on. We exchanged names and promised to be in touch.  We said goodbye and I walked hastily back home, this time regretting my camera very much.

A young family with two children under the age of six  riding bicycles and parents afoot, pushing a baby in a stroller. The mother’s shadow was imprinted on the gravel walkway in perfect silhouette.  Just in front of her, the four year old was peddling furiously on her red an blue bicycle with training wheels.  Her shadow too was at a perfect ninety-degree angle, flattened upon the light gravel path. The moving shadow’s legs pumped up and down perfectly, the spokes were more noticeable here than on the bike, turning round and round like some fair ground ride.

It wasn’t long after that I got into my nice cool car, hiding as it was, under the willow tree, and made for home. I went straight for the computer before I could forget Mrs. Braid’s last name. I took the information and put it in my address book immediately, then phoned up to leave a message.

Someone on the other end picked up. I hadn’t thought she could get home so fast.

“Mrs. Braid?”

“Speaking,” the voice replied, quite formal.

“Mrs. Braid, it’s Kay here. I just met you on the dike a short while ago. I didn’t think you could get home so fast.”
“What did you say your name was? Kay? Kerrer? Is that right? I just looked up your number and was about to call you. Is this the right address. I just had the phone in my hand to call you….   I think we were destined to meet.”

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.

Valentines Day

February 18, 2009

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This is one of my recent daubings, not too serious, that I used as a demonstration to show a friend that she too could paint. I simply put on a ground of ochre then painted on the heart.  Then I used a stencil and a thin wash of the same red to make the pattern behind it. It’s the kind of task non-painters can tackle because they will get a simple image that looks good, and then they have learned to hold a brush, mix paints, applied an underpainting, experienced an opaque use of paint and a transparent one.

There’s a story behind this.

Both of us live alone. With no significant other, as  euphemistically each of us are,  Valentines Day comes with no one to celebrate it with.  The phone was ringing off the hook, you understand, but I’ve been screening my calls because Otto, my brother, is harassing me over family matters and I don’t want to talk to him.

While I was out getting my hair trimmed and set, Robert Redford left a message to say that he was stuck down at Sundance with his business concerns but wished me a fabulous Valentines Day. Despite his wrinkles, he could put his shoes under my bed any time.

I’m rather fickle, now that I’m single, so the calls kept flooding in. Paul Gross, Harrison Ford, William Petersen (CSI’s Gil Grissom), and on and on.  But despite their jet setting life-styles,  somehow none of these offers turned into a concrete commitment for a wine and dine.

Late Thursday, I had a chat with my good friend Doreen who similarly was in a quandry. Whom to choose from all the good offers?

On Saturday, she phoned around nine. She didn’t feel like a Valentines fling and she hadn’t accepted any of them. In preference, she opted for a quiet evening, a bottle of wine, a sane conversation. She thought she would just stay home.  Except the day was beautifully sunny and she had a friend, Jacqueline,  who had just moved into my town and since Doreen was coming all the way out to see her friend’s new house,  could come out and see me at the same time? Perhaps we could both see Jacqueline and then Jacqui would have a contact in town.

It would have to be in the afternoon. Jacqueline was going to Bedford House with her devoted husband for SVD dinner at six. Anyway, we would want to meet Jacqueline without Steve because, well, you know, the conversation changed the minute you inserted a man into it. No more conversations about recent pedicures, past loves and high school beaux, gardening finds, kitchen recipes.

I suggested that Doreen stay for dinner. A good bottle of wine and some conversation was in order.  And so it was arranged like that.

On Friday, I had a funny day. I had a client coming to see my art work. The client was proposing a showing of my art work in the lobby of her business. The house had been cleaned up beautifully and I needed it clean for Friday week when I was having my next Art Salon. There’s no point in cleaning up twice.

Once my visitor left, I just couldn’t get started at anything else. The house looked unfamiliar because everything was tidy and put away. I didn’t know where to start.  I sat in front of the television watching the CBC news, the business report, Don Newman’s Politics, the weather, even a bit of sports. Now there’s another man who could offer his shoes….

I washed my few dishes. I picked up the pile at the front door, all of which is slated to be delivered or disposed of elsewhere than my house. I decided to deal with the infamous package of a small baby crib blanket that I had made for a friend in Mexico who had just produced her first, an exquisite little boy. I had wrapped it in a gold gift bag complete with a bit of bright coloured tissue paper thinking that, if they opened it at the border, they would not have to destroy a beautiful wrapping job. This fit very nicely into a plain small liquor store box, the kind that holds twelve bottles.

Previously in the week, I had taken this to the Laity Street post office and the clerk brought out her measuring tape.

“Before you start putting it through as a sale, could you please tell me how much it will cost to go surface?” I asked.

Through half glasses, she looked up at me sternly, “Surface is $59.50. If you want to send it airmail, it’s only $75.00.” Her gaze held me, waiting for an answer.

Gadzooks! That was incredible! What on earth had happened to our postal system!

“For Pete’s sake” I expostulated.  “It’s a third of the return air fare to go there. I’ll deliver it myself!”

I took the box away from her, asking “Does size matter?” She disdained a reply. She was already dealing with someone else.

So on this Friday, I found a clean shoe box. I took away the fancy gift bag, wrapped the blanket in a pristine white Kitchen Catcher plastic bag and stuffed it into the box. It just fit. The card that went with it almost made it too much – a final straw – but I taped the box shut with clear packing tape and it would hold.  I wrapped it in Kraft paper and then addressed it to Dianella and went off to the post office at 224th Street in the drugstore.

When I got there, there was a small line-up. The customer at the counter kept looking back at the three of us waiting, apologizing, “Sorry, this is taking so long.” He hesitated a few seconds and nervously turned back to us again, “Sorry. So sorry.”

It didn’t matter to me. I had time. But as I often  do, I started to make some wisecrack out loud, just in case I could entertain myself with a conversation. The woman ahead of me replied and we had quite a conversation. I told her that I hadn’t lived in this community long, and she confessed that she had only been here two weeks.

“Are you visiting or have you moved here?” I asked.

“Oh, we just moved here.”

“What made you choose Whonnock?” I asked. Our town is a bit obscure and out in the sticks.

“My husband has retired and but he’s still working two days a week with a Veterinarian here.” Her accent sounded English accent. Well, it wasn’t really a clear English accent. I eventually asked her where she came from and I remembered her saying Australia.

She asked me what I did and I told her I was retired, but that I was starting a gallery and studio in my house.

You know how hard it is sometimes when you move to a new community. You don’t know where things are and you don’t know the best place to buy your vegetables. You would like a referral to a doctor or a dentist but you don’t know whom to ask. She was really a friendly natural sort, so I offered her my business card and promised her a cup of tea or coffee, her choice, if she would like to come to visit. She said her name was Jacqui and I promptly forgot it.

She was delighted and said she would come, but she and her husband were going to Hawaii for a month. She’d get in touch with me in April when she got back. She loved art and she would be just thrilled to come see my work.

By that time, the line moved forward, she became engaged with the post mistress and when she was done, it was my turn. We waved each other good bye and that was that.

The post mistress measured my shoe box and informed me that surface mail would cost $14.00 and if I wanted to send it air, it would cost $27.00.  There was no tracking on the surface mail, but I could insure it for $100.00 and if it did not arrive in six weeks, I could claim the insurance.

“So!” I reflected out loud “Size does matter!”

“Yes,” she said, conversationally, and next time you might think of using a bubble wrap envelope that we sell, if it’s something that can’t break. It’s so light that it reduces the cost as well.”

I went away happy. I’m still planning that trip to Mexico, but I don’t have to do it right away now; and Dianella will have the blanket for her baby before he has outgrown it.

Doreen arrived on Saturday and we had a good bowl of hearty soup before we went off to her friends place at two. I recounted my adventure at the post office and told her I had really enjoyed the woman’s company. It would be great if she took me up on coming for tea.

“There’s a lot of construction going on here. Even with this recession going on, this community is going strong. Here and Vancouver, it was officially reported that there is no slowdown in housing starts. Everywhere else the reports of job losses are devastating. I just can’t imagine what those poor people will do without jobs, ” I commiserated.

We got in the car after lunch. I had the map and navigated. I couldn’t find the exact address and we went down Kanaka Creek Road to a dead end and never found our cross street. Doreen called her friend and we retraced our route, found Lougheed Highway again and then our cross street that would take us up into a new housing development of Whistler-style chalets – all duplexes, all the same. The landscaping had not yet been done. Each place had a double garage. Each was perched on a hillside. There were lovely views out the back of  the Kanaka Creek Park Reserve and on the other side,  interesting repeating views of rooftops and gables. All was spanking brand new.

We found the house number and parked the car on the steep driveway. Doreen knocked on the door. The door opened and the woman answering gave a huge hug to Doreen and they chattered a bit in greeting. I stared in confusion.  I’ve got a bit of short term memory loss these days and I knew the face but I couldn’t place it.

“I know you!” I said, a bit challenging, a bit challenged. “I’ve met you before! But where?”

“The Post office! I talked to you at the post office yesterday.”
“Of course, ” I answered, relieved. It wasn’t someone I had known for a long time. I wasn’t really insulting someone with my faulty memory.

“Too much!” declared both Doreen and Jacqueline. “That’s just too funny! I can’t believe it!.

“When you told me you met someone yesterday, you said they came from Australia. Jacqueline is from South Africa. I never thought to put the two together. Isn’t that a hoot!”

To cover my embarassment, I said, “You were supposed to come to my house for tea, not the other way round. Isn’t this amazing!”

So we went in and had a cup of tea and a wonderful chat. Jacqueline truly is a lovely woman – graceful, gracious, interesting, accomplished. I’m impressed. She will be, if she too wishes it, a great friend.

So then Jacqueline recounted how she had come home from the Post office and recounted her day to her husband.

“What is is with all these Kay’s?” she had  said. “Doreen told me she was bringing her friend who lives here out to meet me tomorrow; then I meet this one in the Post Office; and then, we just met one last week. Where are they all coming from, all of a sudden?”

We spent a good half hour dissecting this coincidence:
How had I not remembered that she came from South Africa not Australia?

I confessed that I had guessed Australia then when corrected, my brain did not register it. Anyway, it hadn’t been hugely important, that fact, so I was just telling the story and Australia was good enough for someone you might never see again. It wasn’t a critical piece of information.

Why hadn’t Doreen connected the information? Well, Kay had said the people were from Australia, and Doreen’s friends were from West Vancouver. Kay hadn’t known that Jacqueline had been living in West Vancouver before they moved here.

Why hadn’t Kay remembered Jacqueline’s face and name, yet she the story was important enough to recount it to Doreen? No answer on that one – Kay was simply a bit memory challenged now.

We had a good three hour visit – a tour of the house and gardens, a cup of tea, and one of those conversations that ranged from toenail varnishing to medical science discoveries (Doreen being in the field of endeavour) .

When Doreen and I got back home for dinner, we decided that if we were going to get a visit in, ourselves, that we would crack the bottle of wine and she would stay overnight so she could enjoy her glasses of wine and not have to drive afterwards.

After dinner, I promised to show her how to paint. She with the PhD claimed to be an art dummy. I pride myself on being able to get anyone started on the ruinous addiction of painting.  We had two small canvases to work with. No point in biting off more than you can chew in one evening.

This amazing friend five foot two blond  not only can tell you the latest in DNA research, she has installed her own hardwood floors in her apartment, built her own furniture, painted her entire apartment herself, sewn her own drapes, but she tells me she can’t paint – artistically, that is.

I gave her a dab of yellow ochre and a small house painting bristle brush and bade her to cover the entire surface of her canvas with the ochre.  Then we had a glass of wine and while we let it dry. With acrylics, this is fast. By the time we’d finished glass number one, I gave her a dab of cadmium red and asked her to paint a heart on the canvas. I had a similar canvas prepared with yellow ochre and I demonstrated the heart. She followed.

While that dried, I repeated to her my lessons on composition (which you can find way back somewhere in these posts). I had a paper lace doily at hand so I demonstrated how one could  cut up the background space with other shapes to make the composition more interesting.

She had her own ideas about how she would add to her two basic elements but wanted to think about how that would look. We repaired to the living room and  sat back down with glass of wine number two for a bit of conversation while, multi-tasking, she decided what else she could do to complete her painting.

The results of hers were just great for a first painting! Brushphobia has diminished considerably. She claims that it was fun! so perhaps she will do it again.And no, for the moment you don’t get to see it. I ‘ll have to ask her permission to post it, so check back if later if you are interested.

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Painting is one of those things – if you like it, it keeps drawing you in bit by bit until you are addicted (in a very positive way) to its wiles.  It takes you away from the trials of daily life. It allows one to engage in a mental activity much akin to meditation where the single stroke of a brush can be the most important task at hand; or the exact mix of a grey is a crucial and pleasant artistic decision.

And there, my friends, is the story behind this little decorative painting, sitting in Doreen’s back-pack at the front door, waiting the time of departure; and I have her first effort sitting on my easel.

The Dreaded Valentines has come and gone

Fire, insurance and a day in town.

January 26, 2009

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I think I must have told you about the fire? If I haven’t then rest easy, it was not at my house. My friend’s friend, Harley was doing some home improvement in the basement late evening on New Year Day gluing baseboards as  a finishing touch for his new hardwood floors, using contact cement. It’s very volatile and one needs to have doors and windows open with a good cross draft to dissipate the fume, but it was the first of January. With bitter weather outside, Harley didn’t open up the doors and windows.

The electrical baseboard heater must have kicked on and it ignited the fumes which made an explosion he simply could not have contained. He fled for his life; woke all the family and got them out of the house in less than five minutes. Everyone but he was in their jammies. Of seven of them,  only two had shoes. The fire department was somewhat hindered by the heavy snow and dismal driving conditions. When they arrived in ten minutes, it was too late. The house had exploded in flame, collapsed and everything was burnt. There remained a pile of charcoal.  Everything was gone.

Harley is doing remarkably well or is simply still in shock. He’s tremendously thankful that  everyone got out safely. He’s herding everyone into doing the things they need to do.

Two of the seven were foreign students staying with the family. They too are uninjured. But they’ve lost absolutely everything they had with them. They are seriously shaken.

By miracle, the filing cabinet was not totally destroyed and Harley was able to retrieve everyone’s passports. My friend Dorothy was up one side and down the other of him for doing that. The house is condemned. If the house had collapse a little more, he could have been killed or seriously injured in the process and then what would the rest of the family have done? And yet Harley is pleased. These are the only things left to prove their existence, pre-fire.

The family are living in a hotel and are moving to rental house this week until their own house is rebuilt.  The insurance company won’t let them rent furniture, only buy, but they don’t know what they will need for furnishing the new house and want time to consider how they want to decorate if they are starting from scratch.

Meantime, they are surviving with furniture handouts from neighbours’ attics and basements and buying only the things that they will need but that will not affect their decor choices,  like beds. They have already bought a basic wardrobe each and now have, amongst all the other basics, shoes and coats.

So Dorothy  asked me to see if I had duplicates of things they could use, since they don’t have anything. They need every kitchen tool, appliance, dish, cleaning supply, and linen that you could think of. They need bathroom toiletries, towels, bed linens.

They lost the husband’s home based business – from his computer and all the information on it right down to the last paper clip. I can’t imagine how devastating that must be.

So Friday, I set about collecting things from my house that were duplicates and I took them into Dorothy on Saturday around eleven. I stayed for a nice cup of tea with her and one of her friends who was visiting.

Just before I left, I transferred all the chattels I had been able to gather – broom, mop, Corning Ware, a vase, wooden spoons, a bowl,  kitchen knives, two sauce pans, kitchen garbage pail liners,  cleaning liquid, dish drying cloths and hand towels, cloth and paper napkins. I brought face cloths and towels, a Queen sized comforter, and some toiletries. I included three ice cream pails with lids. I always find them so useful.

I had two small and one large  box full of goods plus plastic bag of the linens. It didn’t make a dint in my house. Now I’m keeping my eyes open for some more things to add; but the first load has been delivered.

When I knew I was coming to town, I let Doctor Gordon know. He is  ninety-six now, frail and bent over but sharp as a tack. (His latest acquisition is a Blackberry which amuses him to program and figure out). Doctor Gordon was my Mom’s only contemporary friend in the last three years of her life.

He asked me to lunch at the Sequoia Restaurant in Stanley Park. He was waiting for me at the main floor of his apartment building when I arrived.

“Where’s your walker?” I asked.

“Oh, I just use that in the house. I can do just fine. You’ll see.” But my heart sunk a little. If he faltered, could I catch him?

At the apartment, all he had to do was walk from the front door to my car door; at the restaurant though, we had no idea how close we could park. It was just the two of us and I worried about being able to hold him up if he started to fall.

Off we went.

“You’re my navigator,” I told him blithely. With no hesitation, he called out the directions. Left onto this street; right on Pacific into Stanley Park;  past Second and Third Beach, turn right and go until the Causeway. Drive under it and go round the circle halfway. Head North, turn left at the end of the road.  He never missed a beat.

We went past the area that had been devastated by the storm two years previously. Debris had been cleared away leaving a good view out into English Bay where a few tankers waited for entry to the Port of Vancouver. It was a lovely crisp and clear day.

Luck was with us. We got the closest spot to the ramp where he prefers to enter – the stairs are more difficult for him. Our mutual friend Noreen had cautioned me that I should keep a hand under his oxter to steady him. Much as he would like to be independent, at 96, he needs the support, but he did very well.

I was a bit amused at his determination. As we walked up the handicap ramp to the restaurant door, very softly under his breath, he kept repeating something. Finally, I caught it. He was saying “I can do this. This is good. Yes, this is good,” as if with each step he was conquering his faltering limbs.

At the restaurant, though the place was almost completely full, there was a window seat. My parking angel had done me well, and now the restaurant angel was helping out too!

I had an excellent visit with him, the best I’ve had yet, since I could hear him well and he could hear me and we weren’t distracted by other people or other things. He said this was his favourite restaurant. He dines or lunches there  at the Sequoia twice a week or more so the staff knows him well.

When we went back to the apartment, I brought him his belated Christmas present – a large batch of shortbread baked to and old recipe that  Mrs. Baxter had given to my mother. His nurse aide from the agency had arrived by the time we got back into his apartment. Julie fussed with him and then put away the cookies so that I could take the tin home. Gordon and I continued our  little visit. God Bless Julie. She makes his life happy and he is still in his own home amongst his own things.

After that, I went to see Noreen who lives in the same building. Noreen is a friend I made, having met her at one of Doctor Gordon’s dinners.  She is in the middle of Estate woes and so we had lots of talk to share.

When we met a few years back, we knew each other like soul sisters. Our liking was instantaneous. She’s twenty years older than I – a free spirit of the Beat Generation. She fled a staid, Ontarian family of the Establishment for the theatre in London.

Now,  her health fails  and she is frail, but her spirit is just amazing. She’s an inspiration for me in how she keeps bright and happy and never complains.  Her skills with the English language had been honed in her literary career, so her imprecations on her greedy and conniving siblings in the matter of her mother’s Estate gave us much to laugh about.

At quarter past four, I regretfully had to go. I couldn’t risk a parking ticket and I wanted to get back home before daylight ended altogether. The only exception I was willing to make was if I could have a bit of time with my nephew Ron.

I regained my chariot and headed out of town via the Cambie Street bridge. Curses on old habits! With the construction still underway, traffic inched along the bridge as three lanes of traffic merged into one. If I had chosen another route and I would have saved myself a half an hour.

As I waited my turn to merge impatiently,  I phoned nephew Ron to see if he had a bit of time for me. I could easily pass close to his house on my way out of town, but he wasn’t answering.

Before I was off the bridge, he phoned back. I could hear the happiness in his voice that I had called. He said to come right over and I did. I was glad to do so, because I wanted to deliver a belated Christmas gift of shortbread and cookies to him, too.

The snow at Christmas and my subsequent car  breakdown had prevented me from coming earlier.

It took another quarter of an hour to get to Sixth Avenue and to turn back to Great Northern Way. I had only driven three city blocks.

When I arrived, he was out in the driveway waiting for me. He had a parcel in his hands.

“I’ll just put it in the car. That way I won’t have to worry about you forgetting it when you go.”

It was just about dinner time and I suggested calling for delivery; but he said he wanted to eat in, and he would cook! The menu choices were pizza or hamburgers.

“It’s all the same to me but the thought of pizza is good.” I said.

I detected a trace of disappointment.

“I have the the barbecue already fired up,” he replied.

It was obvious he had already started preparing for hamburgers, so hamburgers it was. While he was defrosting them, his mother phoned. She was just outside the house but was checking to see that she was not intruding on other visitors. So we added in a hamburger and she stayed for dinner. Then Ryan asked if it would be okay if Sherry came over and ate with us as well. He was expecting to see her later that evening and she came.

Sherry is a friend he recently met at a neighbourhood bar and they sometimes played pool together and shared some conversation over a beer;  so they have become friends.

She’s lovely. I hope she remains important in his life even if she doesn’t become his special girlfriend. She’s a hair stylist and she loves riding horses. She stables her horse out in Pitt Meadows not far from my house. It’s not even a ten minute drive from here. She’s mature, friendly, calm. Seems happy.

I’m very thankful, for Ron’s sake. He’s got a woman friend. He still has his job and nothing is slowing down there, so that too, is to be thankful for.

I drove home in the dark thinking about how fortunate I was. I love Hugh and Ron, the two nephews I had a hand in rearing during their teenage years. I was happy to see the changes in Ron as he takes on a manly self-assurance. Hugh, you may remember, is in Ottawa doing his studies. We keep in touch by phone and, being a year older, is more sure of his path. He knows where he’s going.

As I was watching my late evening television show, I opened up the parcel Ron had given me. I was delighted to see my belated gift from Lizbet. She sent it down with Ron from Nelson after his Christmas visit to her. The box said it was an  Optima digital camera! However, inside was a disc for that awesome series, Planet Earth, and a very lumpy other Christmas present  which turned out to be the brush washing, brush protecting, water holding receptacle which only a water-colourist would treasure. It’s wonderful. I think I may try it out today! I’ve got a drawing that would be interesting to try expanding into a painting.

I feel very blessed to have a sister who is equally engaged in art as I am to whom I can talk about the fine points of our art. And I’m very thrilled with my Christmas presents.

I forgot to say that the drive into Vancouver was stunningly beautiful around the Mary Hill Bypass. The trees were covered in hoar frost and it was one of those winter wonderland kind of scenes – light, airy-fairy, briskly cold but wintery sunny. I took photos whilst driving (at a red light, but through a not perfectly clean windshield) and the quality of image is not there,  so they are only indicators of how marvelous it looked.

It’s been a day Maggie Muggins. So many people!

Tomorrow I shall stay home and keep all to myself.

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Coming home

April 19, 2008

Heather sent a package down with her husband when he came to Vancouver for a doctor specialists appointment. He was going to stay with Kay until the medical appointments were over.

“Mailman!” he cried out as he came in the door, a mischievous look on his face. He extended a large Kraft envelope to Kay. She, perplexed, tilted her head and lifted a brow questioningly.

“It’s Saturday. There’s no mail today. What is this?” she asked.

“Remember Mom’s dresser that you gave us? When we were lifting it up the stairs to put it in the spare bedroom, we had to take the drawers out. It was too heavy. When we did that, this mail dropped out from the above on the top drawer. I don’t know how it happened but it was stuck up there.”

“Hmmph!” Kay laughed and shook her head, as the import of it all fell into place.

Nonnie-Mom had become paranoid. She had wanted to hide the mail in case the boys saw it and got nosy. She had become fearful that they might know how much money she had; she became fearful that they might do her in because she had seen on television a case, right close to the Vancouver area where two teens had engineered a murder of their parents so that they could get the insurance money and the inheritance. How she could have suspected this of her two lovely grandsons who were living in our house and did so much for her comfort, I don’t know. It was just an aging thing that couldn’t be helped nor assuaged.

The other thing she had become paranoid about, for the same reason, was Hugh and his kitchen knives. He had worked in a major up-scale restaurant to earn his University money. One of his tasks in the restaurant was food prep – cutting up all the vegetables for the day in an efficient manner. To do this, he needed a sharp knife and since he was now cooking many of the family meals at dinner and preparing fresh lunches for Nonnie-Mom while everyone else was away working, he had bought himself an professional cook’s knife for his home cuisine.

The yellow-handled knife was large and very pointy at the end. He sharpened it daily with an old whetstone that his grandfather had used for the turkey-carving knife. He kept in a knife guard when it wasn’t out from his work. He treated it like a knight in armour would have cared for his parade sword. Nonnie was daily hiding this knife from view and dinner prep always entailed looking for the knife.

And so Nonnie-Mom raced to the door as fast as her walker would go to scoop the mail, sort it out, leave the boys’ mail there at the door and go, hers and my mail in her walker basket, to her room to hide it. She had several hiding places. One was under her pillow; another, in a shoe box in her cupboard; a third in this dresser drawer, underneath her scarves.

When she suspected that the boys might know about one of her hiding places, she would shift the mail to a new hiding place – a rotational exercise, since there weren’t really enough places to hide it in. In truth, she was very good about giving the mail to Kay on a daily basis. She would sit in her walker at the door at four o’clock waiting for Kay to get home. Closer to five, she would open the main door, lock the screen door and park there, looking out the glass and mesh to wait for Kay.

Kay had mixed feelings. The welcome was wonderful and this devoted show of missing Kay told her how much her mother had come to depend on her, in a loving kind of way. She desperately wanted all of Kay’s company. Shut in as she was, cabin fever was a major enemy. On the other hand, for Kay, all her time was vacuumed up and disposed of like so much dust, looking after things that the old woman could not do for herself.

As Kay negotiated the six stairs up into the front door, Nonnie lifted herself from the walker seat, undid the latch on the door and swung it open a little for Kay to enter.

Nonnie’s eyes lit up, her face beamed a magnificent smile while she clapped her hands in joy. Her devoted daughter, her patient care giver had come home! It was another of her paranoias, that her precious Kay might not come home. Then who would look after her? Perhaps it was a realistic fear, not paranoia. What would she do?

“Nonnie, you have to move back,” Kay commanded. “I can’t get in if you don’t move back.” Kay, laden with her briefcase, some last minute groceries and her sack full of her daily requirements could not get in the narrow crack that had been allowed by her mother, once again blocking the door swing.

Nonnie kicked her feet along the carpet propelling herself back a foot and opened the door another bit. Kay squeezed in.

“Mom, when you park there, I can’t get in,” she chided, as she gave her mother a quick peck of a greeting and let her worldly baggage drop to the floor. Her mother’s gnarled hand caught her face between them. They were soft, silky and mottled pink but the bones and the veins stood out beneath the skin. It was a brief and lovely blessing.

“When will dinner be?” Nonnie asked. Kay, who often worked late, had been unable to meet the six o’clock deadline that her mother had religiously met throughout her active life. Kay sighed inwardly. She had hardly breached the castle walls and she was now supposed to magically produce a meal for five within a half hour.

“Come this way,” commanded her mother conspiratorially. When Kay asked her what it was about, her mother simply shook her head and lifted her index finger to her mouth in a sign for silence.

It was the mail. They had to go find the hidden mail before anything else was done.

And here was the mail, stuck in the framework of the dresser drawer, delivered six months late.

Kay took the items one by one, read their addresses, calculated if any harm had been done and shifted them to her free hand.

There was a Christmas card to Judith. Kay had not affixed a stamp and it had been returned. There was a Christmas card from Freedom 55, the life insurance company; an advertisement from the Municipal art gallery with a request for donation; there was a PAL membership renewal; a brochure for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives;a thank you Christmas greeting from the young musician whom Kay had supported with a scholarship; and an Opus Framing boxing sale advertising that had had ended six months earlier.

None of it was critical. There were no unpaid bills. There were no appointments missed. Nothing was harmed.

She looked straight into her new “Mailman’s” eyes and laughed a short chuckle. Behind her eyes, he could see the wordless endurance;the reluctant humour and the silent pain of loss. It had not diminished. She would forever see her mother waiting at the screen door for Kay to come home but Nonnie-mom would never be sitting there, blocking the door again.

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.

Kay goes to the Gym 3

February 3, 2008

Pedal, pedal. Pedal, pedal. Pedal, pedal.

Pedal, pedal. Pedal, pedal. Pedal, pedal.

Pedal, pedal. Pedal, pedal. Pedal, pedal.

No need to count. The electronic counter was reporting on time spent, counting down from 25, second by second and slowly, ever so slowly counting ascending calories spent.

Kay regulated her rhythm on the reclining bicycle to the metronomic rhythm of a jogger running on the treadmill directly in front of her. There were three joggers running at much the same pace. Kay started to hum Bach’s fugue in G major which she was relearning at home. The timing was perfect, baroque in its regularity. Slap, slap, slap, slap… it continued on. Thirty minutes, these folks were doing. Slap, slap, slap, slap went the feet. Pedal, pedal, went Kay, round and round, left foot, right foot, and she started to think while the notes ran through her head. She was determined to do fifty calories or fifteen minutes, whichever came first.

If only her mother could see her now!

Every time that exercise was mentioned, Kay’s mother would quote an adage that she had appropriated from one of the vamp actresses of the twenties.

“When ever I get the urge to exercise, I go lie down on my bed until the feeling passes,” she would say with a mischievous smile. Mother had been a good athlete, a winner of foot races and high jumping events. Its deleterious effect upon her children was that they had little respect for sports and exercise.

Swimming was encouraged, but that was chiefly to ensure that the children would be prepared not to drown. There had been ballet lessons for a year or two. That had been considered much more appropriate for a cultured girl, but Kay had rebelled. Though she had dreamed of becoming a ballerina, had envied balletic agility and grace, she had felt like an awkward ugly duckling. There had been that disastrous parent’s night performance where Kay had lost her choreographic sense and done a boner.

While the ten other children danced to the left and then to the right, then twirled, Kay danced to the left and then to the right and then mistakenly sat down on the stage. The whole audience twittered then laughed out loud while shy Kay rapidly stumbled up, clumsily trying to fit back into the group of girls as the chortles continued. She was confused, horrified, ashamed and ran from the stage. That was the end of ballet classes.

Aside from mandatory high school Physical Education, Kay had never been in a gym except to watch games that other people were playing.

Forty years had passed by without a thought of exercise troubling her mind any more than it had seemed to trouble her mother’s. Year by year, she gained a pound or two or three or four. That pencil thin child of fifteen, at last freed of her baby fat, was obsessively concerned about her weight. She had turned into thirty year old, lovely and rounded; a forty year old slightly heavy, but attractively so; and a rotund fifty year old; and now she was sixty, broad in the beam, lightly jowled, heavy of arm, thick of thigh and she was peddling. She no longer recognized that girl in the mirror. “Where had she gone?” she wondered.

Pedal, pedal. Pedal, pedal.

The counter turned over a tick every left and right thrust she made. Slap, slap went the jogger just ahead.

“Neither of us is going anywhere”, mused Kay with a wry smile, but she conceded that it felt good.

As one jogger slowed then quit his treadmill and then another, leaving only a single jogger beating out the same tick-tock pace, Kay reflected that here was another similarity with Bach’s Fugue, with one voice after another disentangling as the fugue comes to its denouement.

There had been that first day on the machine where she poked the green Quick Start button and nothing happened. She placed her feet on the pedals and pressed the Quick Start button again. Again nothing happened.

“Excuse me, ” said the young woman, scarcely twenty and looking very trim if somewhat non-descript, “You have to pedal first and then you hit the Start button. The machines are difficult. You have to press it quite firmly.”

Kay started to push the resistant pedals and a light came on like an electronic advertisement. “Press Quick start to begin” it announced. She pressed it and red letters indicating 25 minutes starting to count down to zero came on.

“Oh Lord, it’s quandmeme simple!” she groaned to herself. “Thanks!” she said out loud to the young woman. Pedal, pedal, and the cycle worked like a charm.

That day, Kay had achieved a stellar four minutes of reclining bicycle without stopping. It was enough for the first day. Now she had been coming for four weeks and she had set herself a challenge. The last two weeks, she had achieved ten minutes of uninterrupted cycling. Today, she would do fifteen.

The worst part was the boredom. Pedal, pedal, pedal. It was not inspiring.

Pedal, pedal, pedal. Today she had brought a book, Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey and now she was multitasking – singing her Bach Fugue in G in her head, keeping pace, peddling to the jogger’s metronome and reading about this man’s time alone as a park ranger in the desert near Moab, Utah.

Kay read:

But for the time being, around my place at least, the air is untroubled and I became aware for the first time today of the immense silence in which I am lost. Not a silence so much as a great stillness – for there are a few sounds: the creak of some bird in a juniper tree, an eddy of wind which passes and fades like a sigh, the ticking of the watch on my wrist – slight noises which break the sensation of absolute silence but at the same time exaggerate my sense of the surrounding overwhelming peace. A suspension of time, a continuous present….

Pedal, pedal, pedal. Kay rode on, time disappearing as she read. It had not seemed so long with a good book to accompany her. She had immersed herself in the words, in the world of the desert, in Abbey’s escapade with a rattlesnake, and his friendship with a gopher snake who drove off the rattlers. Abbey is curious, visually perceptive, literarily descriptive and captivating.

Kay glanced at the numbers. She was at 50 calories and fourteen minutes and sixteen seconds. She’d made it!

She slowed her pace and completed her fifteen minutes, took her book back to the cubicle where she kept her outdoor shoes and her jacket and continued on to her circuit of other machines.

It was a good thing, Kay reflected as she went home an hour later, that she had lost her childlike inhibitions. She no longer cared if she was only one of three women in the gym. She was too old to be noticed. They young muscle men were interested in their own physiques; they weren’t interested in an old grandmotherly woman.

She no longer cared if they thought she was out of shape. She knew she was. How could she get back into shape if she didn’t do something about it? Kay totted up the family longevity and subtracted her current age. If she still had a good twenty plus years to go, she had better be in shape. Three recent falls had been the turning point. This hobbling with a cane business would only get worse if she didn’t fight it. And here was proof. She could do it.

In three weeks, she had gone from five minutes aerobic to fifteen. She smiled. It was better than lying on a bed and waiting for the feeling to pass.