Archive for the ‘memory’ Category

Solzhenitsyn

November 16, 2009

I’m reading The Oak and The Calf , a memoir of Alexsandr I. Solzhenitsyn. You may remember his novels The Gulag Archipelago, Cancer Ward and First Circle. I think I read them in the early ‘Seventies.

When I came across this book in the thrift store, I only remembered his last name and associated it with a monumental struggle to have his work published. Then I checked out his list of publications and recognized that I had read several of his books and was deeply affected by them. They rang with truth. The stories seemed not so much stories in the sense of fabrications, made up tales, but as documentaries in novel form, to protect the innocent and the guilty.

The Oak and the Calf is a memoir about his struggles to publish after memorizing his books, one by one, without writing them down for fear of being sent back to the gulag in Siberia in which he had spent a greater part of his adult youth. Sixteen years, if I remember rightly, and being released only in his ‘Forties. Even when he finally did write them down, they were typed, single spaced, both sides so that they would be compact, the easier to hide them until they could be safely brought out.

I am always astounded at the strength of the human spirit against massive adversity and how some individuals manage, with grit and determination, to soar above the imprisoning machinations of power and evil mankind.

I’ve only read the first 110 pages so far. Solzhenitsyn has finally dared to bring out the first of his novels and his instantaneous success had been wonderful. Khruschev has appreciated his work and therefore the work is published with official consent; but then Khruschev is overthrown and Solzhenitsyn is thrown into panic to hide the remainder of his works in case he is tarred by Khruschev’s support and his own anti-Stalinist, anti-party-line writings. He prepares to go under the radar, to make himself small and unnoticeable.

He finds in his own spirit that each of these moments of adversity, there is a lesson that he must decipher about life and living. I thought this passage was quite interesting so I am sharing it with you:

Solzhenitsyn writes:

Later the true significance of what had happened would inevitably become clear to me, and I would be numb with surprise. I have done many things in my life that conflicted with the greater aims I had set myself – and something has always set me on the true path again. I have become so used to this, come to rely on it so much, that the only task I need set myself is to interpret as clearly and quickly as I can each major event in my life.

(V.V. Ivanov came to the same conclusion, though life supplied him with quite different material to think about. He puts it like this: “Many lives have a mystical sense, but not everyone reads it aright. More often than not it is given to us in cryptic form, and when we fail to decipher it, we despair because our lives seem meaningless. The secret of a great life is often a man’s success in deciphering the mysterious symbols vouchsafed to him, understanding them and so learning to walk in the true path.”)

– end of quote –

I am thoroughly enjoying this book. Although it’s a memoir, it reads like a novel written in the first person.

Advertisements

To the gods of adjustable water temperature

August 2, 2009

Kristin at 3982W36As I knelt before the gods of adjustable water temperature and let the ablutions of cool water run over my head, I reflected on the skill at which I had managed to keep water out of my ears and soap out of my eyes and how this skill had been acquired over a number of years. I wondered upon this simple act of washing my hair.

As a child, my mother washed my hair, her hands in moving blessing upon my head, being so careful to keep the stinging soap from running in rivulets to my eyes; and how, if that were not successful, I would wail and let her know of my distress. Patting with a soft towel came next, to stop the stinging, and then to wrap my child’s head in a turban of towel.

Later, I was consigned to undertake the ablutions of my tresses by myself. The most vivid recollection of this is standing by the upstairs sink and putting my head under the flowing tap, sudsing up and then letting the water runnel about my head until all the soap was gone. There was a lovely, deep blue towel that Mother had had forever, with a carved pattern of same coloured diamond in it. With time, it had become, it seemed to me, far more absorbent than newer towels. I struggled with the act of making my own turban. It had a tendency to loosen and fall about my face and shoulders. My hair was long. I wore it in two braids; and when I washed it, it took a long time to dry. I was ten.

As an aside, I kept the last of those midnight blue towels until last year when it finally could go on no longer. It was almost threadbare and had a hole or two in it, but the selvedge was still strong and unfrayed. It had survived hand washing and wringer washing then automatic washing for sixty yeats. It had been dried out in the sunshine on the line for twenty years or so and later in a dryer, for another forty,  and still it had it’s deep midnight blue colour. It had served remarkably well.

We envied the Swiss girl down the end of the block who had blond braids right down to her waist. We marvelled at the length and breadth of them and how she could wear them, crossing right over the top of her head in a crown or looped around her nape and pinned with curl of them around her ears. But she was different. Foreign. And we never really made friends with her.

She was, perhaps, like my freckled friend Susan who also had long braids down to her waist, but hers were copper coloured. She boasted that when she washed her hair, she had to put her head near the open oven door to dry it.

Then I wore my hair in an upturned bouffant of the ‘Sixties in adulation of Jacqueline Kennedy. It took quite a bit of coaxing and wrapping in uncomfortable curlers to achieve this so-desired look; only to be defeated by the mists and fogs of Vancouver that could ruin it in a trice.

In between then and now, I have searched for an acceptable look with the minimum in care. I had high hopes for a permanent wave but it didn’t suit – and didn’t work either. The curls went their way, not mine. The smell of it was gagging. How could I possibly have thought it would make me beautiful?

I reverted to the long hair and even braids when I turned hippie, and only gave that up when I had to go back into the corporate world, the world of work and conformity. I went, silently kicking and screaming, as a hippie in disguise.

Now I have a bob. It starts out short and is well enough cut to last a few months, going through stages as it lengthens. As I allowed the tap to bless my head with flowing water this morning, I was thankful.

I am thankful for the blessing of adequate water. I am thankful that I live in a corner of the world where I can keep clean by means of a good soak in a tub full of water. I’m thankful for the electricity that heats it; and the mixing valve that can adjust the water’s temperature to my seasonal desire for it. I am thankful for small things and small rituals and find miracles in them.

Karma

July 19, 2009

zz 711 small

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.”

Memories

February 24, 2009

I responded this morning to a Bill, a fellow blogger who was bemoaning his inability to remember names.

He isn’t alone in this. I carefully listen for people’s names when I am being introduced and repeat them in my mind several times while in the blathering introduction part of the conversation about where one lives and works, and who one knows and doesn’t know. If I don’t catch it in the first two seconds, I’m not shy to say:

“I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name,” and then I keep on repeating it in the front lobe of that sometimes ineffective organ just behind my forehead.

I try to use that person’s name before I wander on to the next person to whom I will grant the privilege of forgetting their name but saying, “Well, Alice, it was very nice to meet you….” I make a mental note, try some other mnemonic gimmick to help me remember, like “Alice the Palace”, or “Alice in Wonderland but with red hair”.

I have a solution for this, but it hasn’t caught on yet. We should tattoo children with their names on their foreheads in the year of their birth in a formula that everyone understands.
Simply “Gloria” for instance. But later on, if she prefers to be called Ria, Sweetie, or Glore, we might be out of luck on the memory thing.
Of course, if one has multiple names like one poor individual I knew who, in addition to her first name,  legally inherited the first names of all her grandmothers – Ocean  Evangeline Katherine Gertrude Alice – and then had a double barreled, hyphenated last name, it might be a bit much.
She was tagged Ocean when she was a babe and we never called her anything else in her growing up years. Well, maybe. We might have tagged her Sweet Ocean as an innocent infant, and when she was in the terrible twos, we called her Riptide from time to time.

When she got to be thirteen she rebelled. She wanted to be different from the others of her Love-generation that were called Fern, Amazing Sky,  Tamarak, Otter, Sturgeon, Torrent, Heaven Scent, Cedar, Sunset, and Hollyhock, to name just a few.  She took a firm stance and wouldn’t reply to anything else but Evangeline. The tattoo wouldn’t be much help then, would it?”

Re-tattooing is a messy business, I understand, so perhaps this isn’t a definitive solution; but as we Love Generation parents become the Love Generation Greats (grandparents, that is) there is becoming a population boom of mentally-challenged name retainers.

For a while in my late Fifties, I called everyone at home Dear. That helped a lot until I got in trouble for it at work when I called my boss Dear and he didn’t like it. Then there was the time, I called another of my work colleagues Dear, inadvertently. His wife happened to work for the same organization and heard about it from some sniggering fool. I had a lot of explaining to do. He denied familiarity. I did too. I even claimed that I was losing my memory and just called everyone Dear to get over the embarassment of forgetting. She didn’t buy it. I was in upper management then and should never have admitted my lapses in memory not only limited to names. Oops!

I changed to ‘Luv, but some thought that was too familiar and the dicey situations continued to compound. One is supposed to remember the Regional Director General’s name AND title. “‘Luv” simply isn’t adequate in those situations. It was time to retire.

Retire, I did.  Unfortunately, I’ve moved to a new community and live on my own, peacefully. After looking after a family of five, the quiet is just heavenly. The downside is that I don’t know anyone here and have had to start learning names all over again.

I had several people over to dinner the other night. There were eighteen of us, to be precise. I knew Mrs. Stepford and Aimée because they have become regulars in my life. I knew Stephen and Janice because, miracle of miracles, these two lovely people had been in a remote teaching community where I taught briefly thirty years ago and they came to live here twenty years ago and I rediscovered them when I turned up here two years ago. The rest of the invited guests I’ve known only for a short time – it was, after all, an evening for me to get to know the artistic community better.

But I was the hostess, yes? It fell to me to introduce everyone.

So here’s my new trick.

I put my right hand on the shoulder of a guest on my right hand side and then do the same for the person on the left hand side. I say, “You know each other, don’t you? and look somewhat hopefully to each one of them with the best smile I can produce.

If they do, hopefully they will say “Hi Craig!. Of course I know Craig” as the other says “Alice! Nice to see you”.

And if they don’t, hopefully they will fill in the blank when I say, “No? Well, this is….?” and I trail off, and the person fills in the blank “Heather” and the I do the same for the other person, if they haven’t already jumped in to say their name, and I haven’t had to admit to my total lack of memory.

Or, everyone is sitting about in an expectant circle when a new arrival appears.  I say, “You know everyone, don’t you?” and of course they don’t, but those who don’t know the invitee wave their hand a little like they might have in elementary school and proffer their name…”I’m Bill” and Fred, George and Janis follow on. I haven’t had to remember a single name, though I’m repeating after everyone in that frontal lobe of mine to see if I can’t make one or two of them stick.

Well, I’ve got to go now. I’m going with whats’ername to do some shopping.

I’m going to see if we can’t stop into the Tattoo shop  on today’s rounds.

Valentines Day

February 18, 2009

w-182-small

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.

dodys-valentine

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

Blueberries, painting and a bike ride

August 6, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and

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

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

and

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

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

“Excuse me, just, get out of my way!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One thing leads to another – compulsion!

April 25, 2008

It started quite innocently, Kay thought.

“Why don’t I just have Mrs. Stepford in to see my house all cleaned up for the Art Studio Tour on the night before?” she said to herself. “The paintings will all be hung; the house will be unencumbered of the moving boxes (nine months later); the house will finally look as I wanted it to.”

There were altruistic reasons for this invitation. Mrs. Stepford was undergoing her lens replacement operation on Friday, the day before the studio tour. She would want to see it, but she wouldn’t want to see it while a mob of people came through nor would she be tolerant of mouthy aliens coming to mock the creations of advanced practitioners of the visual arts. Philistines!

There was another reason. There was little likelihood that Mr. Stepford would come unless he got a private showing and Kay needed him to see that she could bring her house into order. He had a healthy dose of skepticism on this as he ticked the months off on his fingers every time they had talked about making progress on the putting away of moving boxes.

Kay reflected that it wouldn’t take much to do, having them on on Friday night, the night before the show. Just a pot of coffee; maybe a little dessert. Mr. S has a sweet tooth. All it would take was a little raspberry sorbet.

Not much later, Kay thought about Lily. Lily was opening her studio as well. She wouldn’t have a chance to see any of the other artists because she would be stuck minding her own store. Mr. and Mrs. Stepford were great friends of Lily. If Kay were very clear that it was only for an hour, she could handle four people coming.

Kay phoned Lily and asked her to bring Mark, her husband, along with her. After all, Kay thought, Mark and Mr. S knew each other very well and it wouldn’t leave an orphan male wandering about amongst a henhouse full of art-women. Lily was pleased to accept, though she hesitated. She was meeting with Renée who was sharing her studio and showing and selling hand made fabrics.

“Well, I’d love to meet Renée!” said Kay. “Bring her along!”

That was Saturday.

On Sunday, over the fence, Kay was talking to her neighbours, Lara and Glen. After a conversation that went this way and that, Lara said, “Do you by any chance have a copy of the map for the studio tour?”

“I’ve got one in the house.” Kay replied. “I’ll bring it over a little later.” Kay continued on with her garden work. There were two young men coming to clean out the gutters on Monday who had offered to take away all the garden waste to the dump if only it were bagged up and ready for them. Kay was diligently raking up all the winter windfall of cedar and fir branches, cones and other debris.

Later in the afternoon, Kay walked around the corner and past Mrs. Stepford’s house to Lara’s. Lara and Glen are warm, wonderful neighbours, ready to lend a hand anytime; ready to stand on guard against intruders of the homus erectus variety while Kay was travelling; They were watchful and caring.

Lara and Glen knew everyone in the neighbourhood and the conversation flowed with tales and gossip. Hot in the conversation pot was the disposition of the property that lay at the end of both of their gardens. A full acre lot in a residential part of the city was almost unheard of. The owners had died and the estate had sold the land to developers. The huge cedars and firs had been measured up by a tree surveyor just two days before. Rumour had it that the plans were for five duplexes, at best (in the contractor’s view) or three new homes with suites if zoning for five could not be obtained. The whole neighbourhood was waiting for the development application so that its collective voice could be heard.

Kay was feeling so comfortable and happy with this conversation that a luminous idea came to mind. As she was leaving, she said, “Why don’t you come over for a quick preview on Friday night. I’m having the Stepfords in. About seven. Bring the kids. It’ll just be coffee and tea.”

“What were two more?” Kay said to herself. “Well, three with Kate, but Kate was only ten, so just count that as two more,” she said, minimizing the work that it might entail. But when she stopped to think about it as she was climbing the stairs back to her own home, she was already up to seven; eight counting herself, and then Kate.

On Monday the gutters were cleaned. Mrs. S was having hers done. Kay had been putting this off, hoping for a more auspicious time, grossly undefined; but since Mrs. S. had her young handyman in to do it, Kay obliged. The cost of the power washer rental could be halved between them, he had promised. That sounded auspicious, and here they were, streaming water down the gutters; cleaning moss off the outer edges of the eaves, and incidentally, leaving streaks of water through the winter film of dirt on the windows.

Gordon the handyman said, upon leaving, “If you want any other work done, we’re available. Painting, lawn mowing, tree removal, vinyls siding wash down, getting the algae off the steps, window washing, yard work, anything really. Just call.”

“Nothing just now, ” Kay thanked him. She had been counting the hundred dollar bills flying out the window. Four for the raccoon and the squirrels in the roof. Two for lawn maintenance start up, moss de-thatching and lawn aerating. Two for the gutters. She gulped as she added it all up together.

Late on Monday afternoon, the sun was streaming in the western windows splashing a beautiful glow on the kitchen counter, highlighting the mass of items still to be packed away somewhere – pottery platters, the blue and white plate collection; several ornaments from her mother’s estate; ten long play records that Kay suspected were perhaps valuable, from the time of the Beatles; crystal salt and pepper shakers. All of these were mixed in with tools that she was using for finishing off the hanging hardware for some of the paintings she was going to show – hammer, various picture hooks; picture wire; multi-head screwdriver; tape measure; ruler; linen tape and on and on. It was quite an unholy jumble that had to be sorted out before Friday.

Sunshine, she thought, could make anything beautiful. Even this explosion of material goods that were strewn along the counter, covering every inch of it. In a moment of pause, she looked up at the source of the light and her spirits slumped. There was one thing that the sun could not make beautiful. Windows with a winter season of scum upon them. How could she show her home and her work if the windows were not clean. Especially now that they were streaked in runnels from the power washing exercise.

She grabbed a cloth and opened the window. As far as she could lean out, she cleaned. She got a chair and stood upon it. It gave her six more inches of cleaned window. But the rest? There was no way she could reach it. There was no way she was going to get up on a ladder outside to clean the windows and there was no other way to do it.

With profound regret for her flying hundreds, she telephoned Gordon the handyman and asked for a quote. Even before she heard it, she knew she would say yes.

“Listen, Gordon, while your guy was power-washing the eaves, he managed to strip the paint off the front steps and railings. I’ve got visitors coming in. What can you do about it?”

He promised a sweet deal on the window washing and, if Kay found the matching paint, he’d fix that up at no cost.

Kay found the paint that night and calculated her odds. In a rainy place like the Wet Coast, two fine April days in a row were unlikely to see a third. What if the guys didn’t have enough time. What if it rained and then the paint wouldn’t stick. Near midnight, Kay went out to the front steps and treated the knot holes and the cracks with filler. In the morning, she got out the paint bucket herself and gave it a coat of the nearest thing she could find – grey primer. It wasn’t quite the same colour as the other railing and it was mat, but it looked cleaned and cared for. It would do. The alkyd coat could come later when the weather was warm.

It was Wednesday afternoon when she called Mrs. S in for coffee. “Look what I’ve done!” Kay gloated a little prematurely. I’ve gotten all the boxes downstairs or put away. The metal box that had treasures in it is now serving as a closed shoe box in the study; the open wooden shoe box is now holding some small paintings for people to look through; the kitchen nook table is now free to be a kitchen nook table; I can get at my linen drawers. I’ve made huge progress!”

Mrs. S. was suitably impressed. She toured the main floor and commented on the placement of paintings and drawings, giving freely of her expertise in hanging art work.

“I can’t stay,” she said quite firmly, “Kathy is coming for her painting lesson in fifteen minutes. I gotta go. But congratulations, girl, it’s looking good! I’ll call you later when I’m finished and we can have a cup of tea to linger over.”

Ring-a-ling! Ring-a-ling! The phone was demanding attention. It was Mrs. S.

“Can Kathy come to your salon on Friday night?” she asked. I was telling her all about it.”
“It’s not a salon. I was just inviting you in for coffee,” Kay replied with a bit of panic.

“Well, Kathy wants to come with Kurt. They want to see your work and they want to see what you’ve done to the house.”

“Is she standing right there?” Kay said suspiciously.

“Yes,” drawled Mrs. S. Kay could hear her chortling on her end of the phone.

“Of course she can come. I had been thinking they might like to come. I just hadn’t got around to it yet.”

“You can come!” Kay heard her say gleefully and she imagined Mrs. S triumphantly announcing it to her painting student.

“Let me talk to her,” Kay insisted.

“Of course you can come, Kathy. And Kurt. Bring the kids if you need to. You don’t need to get a baby sitter. Lara and Glen are coming too, and Kate. See you Friday at seven”

That evening, as Kay was sorting out another box of treasures to be relegated to the basement she began to feel the import of this snowballing cup of coffee. If all those people were coming, surely Maggie would want to come. If the head count was up to twelve or more, what would two more do? After all, she couldn’t invite Maggie with out inviting her husband. Maggie was another of the hosting artists. She wouldn’t get a chance to come out during the tour either. And so Kay called Maggie.

With all those folks bound to arrive on Friday, what kind of a hostess would she seem to be if there wasn’t just a little something to nibble on. Kay needed crackers and cheese at a minimum. Maybe some taco chips and a dip. Something easy. And what if not everybody drank coffee or tea? What about the kids? They’d want cola or soda pop. And so Kay planned a trip to the big box superstore.

On Thursday morning, early to beat the bridge traffic but not so early as to be caught in rush hour, Kay drove to the store and came home bearing crackers, Balderson’s white cheddar and two rounds of Camembert, roasted deluxe nuts, flowers, pickled artichokes, guacamole dip, a case of Coke in tins, cranberry juice for virgin cocktails, celery and peppers for the vegetable tray.

It was as she was heaving the Coke case up the front stairs a step at a time that she became aware of the algae that encrusted the steps. She looked at her brightly shining railing, spotless clean with new paint and then looked at the green film that covered the other wood surfaces. If she hadn’t cleaned up the railing, the stairs would not have looked so bad! What was it that they said about first impressions? Good Grief! She was going to have to clean the stairs.

Kay settled her groceries on the almost clear counter and in that five minutes of bringing in, had completely covered it again. Niggling at her, the stairs were calling out her name. “Kay! Kay! Come clean us Kay! What will people think, Kay? It’s as bad as having dandruff!’

So dutifully, before it got forgot, Kay filled an old ice cream pail full of hot water and laced with cleaning agent. Careful not to spill, she carried it over the entryway carpet and out to the front steps. A scrub brush in hand, she tore away at the steps lifting up all the green algae and rinsing it away.

“I swear, I am going to remember this colour next summer when I go to paint the trim. I’m going to paint the stairs green and then no one will know if they have algae or not,” she chafed.

She looked at the shoddy stairs, now much, much cleaner, and thought that if only she had time and good weather, perhaps she could touch up the stairs with paint on the morrow….

Now, I can’t tell you the end of this story, because Kay is still in the kitchen, putting away food, arranging flowers, packing up those things on the studio table, sweeping, putting photos into mats and then into glassine envelopes to keep grubby paws from marking them. Kay is thinking up all the things she still has to do. And who knows? Kay will invent more things to do before she is finished.

That’s our Kay.

Now, how many people were coming?

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.

White Rock

April 14, 2008

“This is so built up! I don’t remember this!” Kay complained feeling somewhat disoriented by the massive growth that had developed in the little forested community that she had visited so often in her youth and then not so often afterwards. She was looking for a gallery that Mrs. Stepford had recommended to her. It was Ron’s gallery and Deveraux’s; that is, they both showed there regularly and with good success.

Driving down 152nd, there were new developments both sides of the road. There were massive housing complexes and Senior’s residential complexes and those thirty to fifty store shopping centers. All of this progress had wiped out the fields and the forests and it went on for a couple of miles.

Her tender thoughts of a cottage town with small one-storey houses, many of them beach cottages, were being ripped off memory page. Only a few of these small cottages remained, dwarfed by the pink stucco palaces and monster homes of the ‘Nineties and of the Twenty-first century.

As 152nd approached Boundary Bay, there was a three block shopping district of one-storey stores more reminiscent of Kay’s vacation days. The street curved into another street. It had one more block of three storey commercial buildings with shops on the ground floor and then Kay and Marcel were once again driving through a district of single family residential homes. It was a confusing mix of styles representing a century of habitation – beach cottages, pioneer homes, ranchers, monsters, all higgledy-piggledy as if their order had been arranged by a throw of dice.

The street sloped steeply down to the frontage road that paralleled the train tracks and the beach. At street level, Kay’s heart leapt. The stores were all touristy, most of them were eating establishments. There were at least six fish and chips establishments, several coffee purveyors, a few ice-cream specialists and a dabbling of Real Estate agencies. There were gift shops filled with tasteless tourist gizmos and hand made jewelry stands. It was just the kind of summer resort town beach trade she had remembered from twenty years ago. It felt right. It was human scale and promised good times, a day off, a lunch out, sunshine and soft breezes.

There were only two blocks of this and then the road climbed back up into waterfront homes – no longer the beach cabins of the ‘Thirties but still home-like with well-wooded lots, mature landscaping, bespeaking the aisance, the comfort of their owners.

Kay and Marcel crossed the train tracks and descended the seawall. It was a sanitized affair with a path paved in red interlocking bricks and protected from the sand and surf by a tubular iron rail fence painted in turquoise. Kay reflected that the colour had probably been chosen to disappear from view on a sunny day of summer where the sea just might have approximated the colour. This choice was somewhat hopeful, given that eight winterish months of the year, grey cloud prevailed and grey interspersed the summer months as well.

There was a breakwater layer of large sharply broken rocks that edged the descent from seawall to the beach and a smattering of people. A few with their canine companions had crossed into the nature zone. These hardy souls were strolling in amongst the low tide sand-flats rippled with that curious pattern of sand ridges. The tide was a kilometer or more out to sea. A lone sailboat with three sails hovered midway to the horizon. The view was idyllic.

Kay and Marcel chose a place where the rocks were less cumbersome to cross . Marcel leapt from one rock to another and was down in a trice. Kay picked her way cautiously, carefully testing each foothold for balance; with a delay, she too reached the sandy shore. They walked quietly. The deceptive April day had turned cold at the water’s edge. Kay shivered but did not complain. Being out, doing “nothing” was a treat to be savored.

With her ubiquitous camera, she selected a group of people and their tidal reflection for a shot; and then a seagull doubled in importance by its mirror image. It seemed as if time had been suspended. As they looked back on the shoreline, they could see that the storefronts had been preserved to look like they had long ago, but back of these were massive four-storied apartment complexes built into the steep hill that had replaced the beach cottages of yore. They all had balconies overlooking the sea and some were glassed in to protect their inhabitants from the discomfort of the sea winds.

But the cold reasserted itself. After fifteen minutes, Kay and Marcel turned back, renavigated the rocky pile back up onto the seawall.

Over a coffee at an ice cream shop, Kay and Marcel sat silently, each deep within their own thoughts. Kay was lingering in Autrefois, the Land of Time-gone-by. After a long time, she spoke.

“Father had some work in White Rock one summer. He was off surveying all day long. Mother had us three kids with her. I don’t think Lizbet was born yet. Maybe it was the year she was born because I can remember the motel we stayed in quite well. ”
“It was high on the hill, a very steep hill. Father went down it in first gear it was so steep, and we hated climbing back up it when we went home after a day at the beach. Mother would pack us a lunch and we would spend hours looking for sand dollars and digging moats for the castles we shaped out of our small bucket-filled shapes that were overturned.”

“There were crabs under rocks. There were tiny little pink shells that we collected and blue mussel ones. We took sticks and drew pictures in the sand. When the tide came in, the pictures were blurred at first and then erased altogether. The water came in warm and comfortable over the long hot sand. It was perfect for dipping, for wading, for splashing each other as we shrieked, laughed and cried as children do whilst playing at the beach.”

Kay went silent. Marcel nodded. It was a memory. There was nothing to be said.

The bottom of the coffee cup was showing when she spoke again.

“Aunt Rose lived nearby on a small side street in the forest, the second one-acre lot away from Zero Avenue. It was an adventure to go there in the summer, to stay there without our parents, to go down to Peace Portal Park and count the cars clearing the American Customs and heading for the Canadian ones. That was Otto’s idea of fun. He had us categorize them by make and he knew how to distinguish them, even then, before he worked for a car dealership. Rose’s farm house is gone now.”

“I liked the swings and the simple roundabout that you pushed until it was circling; then you hopped on and kept up the momentum with one foot still pushing on the ground until it was circling by itself without help from anyone. When it slowed, one of us would get back off and push.”
“I remember straining to go higher and higher on the swing, flying through the air until I got dizzy with it all and pleaded to stop, to come back down.”
“And there were teeter totters. Otto was heavier than anyone and he would keep me screeching in the air as his fat bottom controlled the totter and I felt teeter.”

“Rose had a glassed in sun porch with a bed in it for summer time and for guests. I was too little, ever, to be allowed to sleep there alone, but Otto did. Rose taught me to paint. She let me pick a photograph of someone else’s painting, a sailboat with reddish sails on a cerulean sea and sky and I copied it using her oils. She did large sun-filled landscapes of wooded paths that were quite good and quite popular in the ‘Forties. I wish I had one of them now. Who knows what happened to them all.”

Their cups were empty. Marcel had listened with half an ear. His mind was traveling away in other directions and they weren’t his memories. He really didn’t care but he took pains to not let it show.

They went home then, traveling back up the steep hill, stopping by the galleries Kay wanted to see, and back up through the ever-expanding commercial districts of the wealthy middle class with their corporate giants of designer clothing, mega-grocery outlets, world-franchised coffee houses and Realty offices. White Rock had become big business.

It was no use complaining. It was the way of the world to constantly develop; to tear down the small and build up and out and dig parking underground. But Kay mused about how it had been. She had enjoyed the memories and she had had a grand day. She wouldn’t likely be back 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.