Archive for the ‘snow’ Category

Fire, insurance and a day in town.

January 26, 2009



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Where’s your walker?” I asked.

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

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

Off we went.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I detected a trace of disappointment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tomorrow I shall stay home and keep all to myself.



A White Christmas

December 25, 2008


We live in a micro-climate, from coast to thirty kilometers inland, buffering the continent with an oasis in winter for the people of the interior and those in the East.

After they retired, my aunt and uncle made a yearly excursion Out West for the cruelest months. They could walk without fear of slipping on ice. They could sit, warmly wrapped, in any of the technicolor parks still grassy green to watch the non-migratory ducks and geese gabble their news to each other and scold their spouses and their young. In Ottawa, the park benches were buried in white; the windchill was untenable; and what was there to see? A desaturated landscape, blurred of all its detail by the omnipresent snow.

In January, it was always in bad taste to phone up a colleague in Ottawa and tell them the tulips were coming up, but we loved to do it with sadistic glee. In Ottawa, the Tulip Festival occurs in May.

Last week, a cold front made its way in, turning down the temperature to a chilly minus fifteen degrees Celcius. That’s cold. Even the Fraser River froze over.


But the streets were dry and the driving was reasonable. Philosophically, these dips in temperature rarely last long. One just wraps up with an extra sweater, turns on the gas fireplace for an hour or so to pump in a little more heat, and waits it through.

I think it was Sunday that the first flakes began to fall, not frankly, straightforwardly. No, they began under cover of night, like an army of white aliens creeping in when you might least expect it.

The weather advisory had forecast snow. Pandering to typical West Coast wimpyness, the Weather Channel was displaying details on a poppy red background. It announced ten to fifteen centimeters of snow.That’s four inches, for any of you who are still operating on Imperial measurements.

For any who had known a real Canadian winter, it was laughable. In Ottawa, they must have been sitting in pubs warming their hearts over a good glass of cool beer and cracking up with laughter. Snow warning? They dealt with that kind of snow day after day for six months of the year.

But Vancouver is not used to this kind of weather. Vancouverites don’t know how to drive in it. Municipalities all round don’t have snow clearing equipment and the budget for snow is miniscule. Their stocks of ice melter are ordered some years and never used. Add to that the changing demographic, where fifty percent of the people living there come from tropical and semi-tropical climes. They have little experience driving in the stuff. It creates chaos. If you can, it’s better to just stay home, and some businesses actually phone their employees and tell them to just  stay there.

On Monday, as is my habit, I stumbled out of bed and made my way to the window. What would the day bring? How should I dress?

There before me was a beautiful, pristine carpet of snow making clean all the grumpy greyness of winter. It was deep enough that I wouldn’t be driving anywhere, despite the fact that I was preparing for a Boxing Day party with an invitation list of thirty.  I decided to stay home and do other preparations. I declared my own “snow day” and had a lazy time of doing little.


On Tuesday, the temperature had not relented. It was still in the minus ten range. The snow, I had discovered by making my way over to Mrs. Stepford’s house, was light, dry and fluffy. I decided to clear my walkway.

Now you must understand, I have an entrance driveway that goes right around in a semi-circle from the left side of the property, up to the front door and back out the right side. It’s ten feet wide at least.

I got out my snow shovel, booted up and donned my gloves and parka. First I shoveled a path to the sidewalk. It was surprisingly easy. I had discovered the dynamic of the snow pusher.

A year ago when I first went looking for a snow shovel, I learned that the item I was looking for was really called a snow pusher. When I thought that out and tried it, snow pushing was much easier than shoveling and lifting the snow to deposit it somewhere with a lancing motion either in front or behind of me. I simply walked with the pusher before me and it gathered the snow, even a large quantity of snow, to the edge of the driveway and then I lifted it onto the pile at the side.

Once the first swath had been cleared, it was easy to push the snow to the side and accumulate it in a growing wall of white, like building a dike or levee. I found that if I pushed the first shovelful to the inner part of the circle’s edge and the second to the outer one, then I walked half as much. In the end, I had a lovely herring bone pattern appearing on the asphalt that was being revealed by my diligent shoveling.

Where the postie had taken a short cut through the broken fence from the neighbours, I cleared my side of it right down to asphalt so she could navigate easily.

Within fifteen minutes, my parka was tossed onto the front porch. Despite the cold, I was working up a good bit of internal temperature that did me for the duration of my toils.

The worst part was by the road where the snow plow had deposited a dirty sepia pile of road battered snow. It was wet with ice melter and soggy. It was heavier than the pristine snow.

All in all, though, it took me a little less than two hours to do the whole thing.  I thanked myself for a year’s worth of going to the gym, strengthening my arm muscles and my back plus developing a much better aerobic endurance. An hour after I had come inside and wet my whistle with a few cups of hot coffee, I arose from my chair and became ruefully aware that I had, nonetheless, used some muscles that I had not used in a great deal of time. They complained.

The day was cold and sunny. I enjoyed looking out on the long shadows patterning the snow with an echo of the trees above and took some photos. Mid afternoon, Mrs. Stepford and I went shopping, just in case the days ahead continued to play havoc with our Christmas entertainment plans.

The next day, as I repeated my morning window check, I found that the alien white stuff and once again made great inroads. Six inches. Fifteen centimeters lay round about. All the clearing I had done was as if for nought.  Mrs. Stepford called saying “Well, what do you think of that!” and we agreed it was unusual but very beautiful.

Mrs. Stepford who has not been well – the flu, high blood pressure, diabetes, encroaching blindness – feisty and independent, says, “I’m going out there to clear the walks for Mr. Stepford’s homecoming and clear off the driveway so it’s easy to get his car in.”

“Idiot!” I say back to her. We are not too polite to each other sometimes, scrapping like sisters, is more like it. I rattled off all the reasons why it was inadvisable for her to do it herself and persuaded her to get a neighbourhood kid to do it for her. This she did, with the promise that her helper could help me as well.

As it turned out, her helper quit after half an hour, exhausted and teenagerish, unwilling to do more. Youth, these days! It ain’t what it used to be. There was nothing for it. I needed to go out for some necessities, so I set to clearing the walk. Once again, the snow was powdery and light. I’d learned some tricks to saving my energy and the work went well. In two hours, I had cleared the snow; came in for an hour’s rest and then went about my business down at the shopping mall. The only thing I hadn’t done was the second pile of snow plow droppings on the north side of the driveway at roadside.

I tackled that in the late afternoon. If ever it melted and then froze again, it would be impossible to dislodge. It might be weeks before the snow melted sufficiently for me to get my car out. Once again, I donned parka, mitts and boots and headed out with my shovel.

This time the work was quite different. It was a muddied, salt encrusted pile. There was dry powdery stuff underneath, but compacted. The freeze had already set into the pile and the mass was more solid, wetter, like half set concrete.

I could no longer put my shovel underneath the pile and lift. It was semi solid and far too heavy. I had to chip at it with the blade from above, pounding down on it – a movement that jarred my wrist. A slice of the grey mass would tumble to the ground, and then another. When there was sufficient, I lifted it onto yesterday’s mound of snow leavings where it sank in and settled.

This swath, ten foot by four, – just five percent of my total task –  took an hour to chip away, shovel and lift  to the mounting pyramid of snow.

When I finally kicked the snow from my boots at the door, I too, sank in and settled – into the nearest comfy chair and had a good snooze.

The rest of the day was useless. I had used up all my energy. The television played one thing after another – Recreating Eden,  about a successful young landscaper on a  tropical island designing for resorts and the well-heeled. There was a lot of sunshine, clear skies, sandy beaches and wafting palms. Next came the Secret World of Gardens  with climbing vines reaching towards cerulean skies. I had toast and soup for dinner and it warmed me from the inside out.

After a hibernation of several hours, I got back up some energy and cleared out a lot of useless wrapping paper; I gathered my recycling and put it at the roadside at midnight. I never can get up for their eight in the morning deadline.

It was cold out. Sparkling ice crystals floated in the air. It was crisp. I admired my herringbone patterned asphalt. Streetlights cast a peachy glow on the snow between the patterns of tree shadows. Natural night owl that I am, I admired my handiwork again at three and went to bed. Not a new flake had fallen.

The phone rang at nine and I ignored it. My friends know better than to phone before 10. I snuggled under the duvet and thanked the Lord for ducks that were willing to give up their eider down for my comfort in this northern land. It was warm and cozy. I had no will to move from my little warm nest.

By ten, though, my sense of responsibility was calling. I had much to do to tidy the house before guests came. Without looking out the window for once, I got up and dressed ready for the day.  I made my way downstairs  for a cup of coffee. The phone rang and Doreen at the other end of the line in a cheery voice (she’d already been up since six-thirty, I’d wager) says, “well, how do you like them apples?”

“Apples?” said I, not yet really awake.

“Have you seen outside?” she said coyly.


I’m really slow, maybe a bit stupid in the mornings.

“The snow!” she crows, happily and cascades into a waterfall of laughter.

“What are you going to do today?” she says, with that coy voice that says she already knows.

With the cordless  phone still plastered to my right ear, I walk to the front door and look at my cleared sidewalk with the lovely herringbone pattern. All gone!

There were easily twelve inches or thirty centimeters of white sitting on my cleared sidewalk. You can’t even see the difference between the three foot piles of cleared snow compared to where I had shoveled only yesterday afternoon.  Well, maybe just a little.  There’s a small hill at each side of the roundabout.

“You’re going to have to do it early today,” she warns, assuming a lecturing tone.  “It’s heavier and wetter. If you don’t, when it thaws like they say it will this afternoon, then it’ll be too heavy to move. It’ll crust over. Trust me. I’m from Ontario. I know snow.”

Doreen and I talked for a while, about plans for our day, about what we did yesterday – or rather, about what she and her visiting Mom had done yesterday, since my activity was summed up in a single sentence. I shoveled snow.

I had a cup of coffee to wake me then donned my winter apparel and reacquainted myself with the snow pusher. Indeed the snow was heavier. After an hour, I’d done the quarter of what I’d done the previous day. I resolved to clear the roundabout to my doorway.

As I cleared, I could no longer get behind the shovel and just push the lot before me until I met with yesterdays piles of it. The pile was three feet high and I was adding another foot to it. The roundabout was beginning to look like a moat!

A few nice things happened. As I was lifting a shovelful, the snow compacted together and then a portion fell away just enough to make a crevice in the clump. In the middle of this was the purest of blues, a transparent aquamarine. For any readers who paint, I’d say Magnesium blue was the pigment I would pick for it. It reminded me of the clear glacial lakes in the Rockies or the colour of the submerged part of an iceberg.

Mrs. Stepford came out to clear her walk despite advice to the contrary. She has an independent and sometime foolhardy spirit. You have got to hand it to her. She had a colourful scarf wrapped in a turban like manner around her head to keep the snow off her hair and to keep her ears warm. She looked like a Russian Babushka as she shoveled away and it was so visually pleasing that I went back into the  house to get my camera.

While looking into her yard, I could see her cedar hedge, each of the trees capped with a good packet of snow that stayed just like that in a kind of headdress that reminded me of a gaggle of wimpled nuns.


After two hours, I’d done half the roundabout and could do no more. I came in and heated up a big bowl of cream of fennel soup of my own creation.  I was surprised to see that it was only two in the afternoon! It felt like I had been working for hours. It was still snowing.

My wet-through jacket is hanging over the heating vent as are my sopped gloves. There’s a lot of melting going on outside despite the temperature still being below zero.

It’s four o’clock now. I’ve written this and I got out my chalks to draw the graceful cherry tree swamped in snow. I’m going out for dinner and I’m headed for a nap before I do.

When I checked the forecast on the television, there’s a poppy red warning for more snow. When I looked outside, there’s a one inch covering over the asphalt.

And it’s still snowing.


January 29, 2008

Not a single sound.

Reaching intently for any sound,

I hear the hum of my own body.

Only my ears producing sound

There is snow.


The Lower Mainland is covered five inches thick in white cleansing snow. Only locals would know that the Lower Mainland means Vancouver in British Columbia, all it’s bedroom communities, all the way up the Lower Fraser Valley. One big blanket of pure white snow.

Well, really, snow has covered the province, but in the Lower Mainland, we hardly are prepared for snow and the rest of the country laughs at us, simply waiting out the snow. Schools and Universities are closed. No one goes to work if they don’t have to. The roads don’t get cleared and the driving is dangerous, especially this time since there was a hard frost and black ice on the roads last night. There was a train derailment last night and it has disrupted all commuter train traffic for many of the Valley residents.

I love these days. The snow settles as tatted lace on every fine branch. Everything looks so pristinely clean. All sounds are muffled. There is no traffic and thus, no noise.

Now that I am at my computer, I can hear the gentle clack of computer keys, rustling like an icy brook as I type away. The computer is humming a steady electronic burrrr. Suddenly. in a loud burst, the furnace will come on, fanning delicious warmth into the house, then go silent again.

Outside the window, I can see that someone drove around my circular driveway during the night because there is a single car track paralleling the curve of it, if you can say parallel for something round. Equidistant maybe would be better. The track has been filled in with snow, this constant fine dry snow that is still falling, and the imprint is soft edged and clean. There are mysteries to be solved in the tracks of this silent blanket of snow. Perhaps it was the early morning newspaper delivery.

I’m not going to clear the walkway, so the postman most likely will not come.


I’m cheating a little. This next picture is of my neighbour’s back yard from my upstairs window. I can spend a long time just looking at such beauty as this. Perhaps it’s because it will be gone in mere days – a visual treat that we rarely get needs to be savoured. It can lift the spirits and all cares are taken away, if only for a short while.


Wherever you are, whatever you do, may you find beauty in the world that surrounds you.

Wintery pictures

January 6, 2008

Today, I’d just like to refer you to a site with some wintery pictures:

Avoiding Christmas

January 2, 2008


The warm sodium lights seemed to be throbbing up from the earth’s surface in suburban patterns of cul de sacs and highways. Snow lay in the yards and large undeveloped patches but had melted from the roads and the trees. The snowfall had not been consistent everywhere; it seemed to have chosen select communities in the Lower Fraser Valley. By the time we flew over Burrard Inlet with its sulphur docks in Port Moody and the Lions Gate Bridge in Vancouver, out into the Georgia Straight for a landing from the west, all traces of the wintery white were gone.

Below, the lights were crisp and clear, cheerier and richer in colour at this end of the Christmas holiday season than they would be at any other time of year.

I had been up at seven, Ottawa time; on a bus to Montreal by nine, arrived at Pierre Elliott Trudeau Airport in the community of Dorval by eleven. I ate an early lunch, fully aware from my flight from Vancouver that there would be no meal service and only tightly compressed sandwiches bound in swaddling plastic wrap or junk food to be had from the airline’s “cafe” menu. I sensibly downed a Caesar salad and a clear glass of cool water then went to security check-in.

Beyond the point of no return there were few shops to linger in. There was a coffee stand with croissants, sweets or sandwiches that you could take with you on the airplane, more sensibly boxed (therefore not crushed into eraser-like carbohydrate wads). I bought an oatmeal cookie telling myself that it was whole grain cereal with only a bit of sugar and a cheese croissant for my on flight sustenance. I bought a cup of decaf which I immediately downed. I would not be getting a decent cup of this until I got home again.

You may have noticed that I haven’t posted for three weeks. I took the luxury of a holiday to visit two of my cousins and my nephew Hugh and a fine relaxing holiday it was, too. I met with two friends, one recently met through our mutual friend, Mother’s university friend who was in touch with her until the very end, and one of my colleagues from my former workplace.

Cousin Beryl in Ottawa spent a week with me and then went on holiday with her partner of 30 years. They were off to play indoor tennis, Patrick having recovered only recently from a knee operation and still unable to go skiing. She works too hard, very devoted to her job as director of a humanitarian organization and needed some downtime, some renewal time.

Cousin Clara, whom I had started this holiday with, had gone on to Toronto to visit her daughter’s family and then on to Florida where she spends some winter time in the comfort of a warmer clime.

Coming back through Montreal, there was no point in going up to her house during the three hour period I had before my flight. She wasn’t there. The whole city felt empty knowing that Clara was not in it. It was somewhat the same feeling I had leaving Byrel this morning as she saw me off at the bus station.

I had stayed in her house while she was away on her holiday. All the personality of her decor could not make up for the the fact that she was not there. The house all of a sudden felt empty. We have similar tastes in music and I played her CDs a good part of the time I was alone but it was not the same. I felt a good measure of joy in talking with her as I do with Clara.

Beryl is one of those rare people who speaks her mind clearly without hesitation. We had a parting hug before we left the house. When we got to the station we looked like two people who barely knew each other. As we were standing in line up with about seventy other people headed for Montreal, she said, ” I never understood really why you wanted to come to Ottawa for Christmas.” It was a question.

In my inimitable way, I blurted out my inability to sit down at the dinner table with my family this year. Too much water under the bridge. A damning situation. A log jam of emotions, if you prefer which, by the way, I did not say out loud. I’d had great cooperation and assistance from my sisters, but Otto had been obstructive. I wanted a neutral territory to celebrate Christmas on. I could perhaps have sat down at the table for an hour with him, but not stayed in the same house with him listening to him extol the merits of family and how wonderful family was when he had taken care to tell me how odious I was over the matter of Mother’s estate.

I must say I hadn’t been very tactful in answering Beryl. My original idea in my getting away at Christmas was to avoid unpleasantness. To be somewhere where every decoration, every change from tradition would remind me of my Mother’s passing. But as I began to think where I might go, I knew that Hugh would be alone and missing the festival of the year that he most delights in. If I were to make the trip, I would most certainly want to spend some time with Beryl. Clara was reasonably close by in Montreal, and so as I conceived of this trip, I wanted to ensure I saw her too. They are both “safe-haven” kind of people.

So that was the explanation I gave to her forthright question. We parted company only five minutes afterwards. I was on the bus and grumping somewhat about ending this delicious holiday with a full day of travel – two hours of bus, three hours in between time before the flight, five hours of flight – and I had time to reflect.

These two cousins are like sisters. We understand each other. We are of the same generation, and unlike direct family, we don’t have to see each other. We’ve chosen to do so.

I met Beryl and Clara after a forty year hiatus. I had know Beryl and seen her only occasionally before I was ten and then not afterwards. Clara had visited only once in my hippie-dippy days at our mutual age of 23. Many years later in my working career, as I was often travelling back and forth for my job, I often flew into both Ottawa and Dorval. On these trips, I reconnected with these fine women. It didn’t take us long to uncover our common ground – how we felt growing up, what we were doing now, our successes and failures in our relationships, marriages, and partnerships.

My father and their mothers were siblings, but it’s our mothers and our upbringing that we feel are the common thread. We talk about the vicissitudes of childhood and early adulthood that were more characterized by the upbringing of our Mothers and their culture than our common thread of our parent siblings. Fathers had less to do with the day-to-day management of children and they figure quite differently in our affections and family heartaches.

So as I ruminated on these things on the bus to Montreal, passing through a rich sepia world of farmlands and small forests all softened by a fresh dusting of snow that was still falling, I regretted that I had not mentioned how much I had come to love Beryl and our Cousin Clara; how any opportunity where I can add on a visit to one or the other, I will; how I am vastly proud of Beryl for her humanitarian work; just as I am of Clara for her stubborn determination to learn to paint and now that she is proficient and sure of her skills, her volunteer work with difficult medical patients, teaching them to paint, bringing joy to their impoverished lives.

I ruminated on the gifts these two ladies had given me. Both had given me their trust in speaking freely of their lives, their loves and their families. It’s not sugar coated. It’s down to earth real. We take a Giordian knot of relationships and try to sort out the whys and wherefores of family, of our joys and hurts and we try to find ways to heal them or heal ourselves.

They have both given me a welcome that made me feel that I was important and valued. Now, how great a gift is that! And it didn’t die after three days…. you know that aphorism about fish and visitors stinking after three days. We were still sharing stories as avidly after a week as we had on the first day. And if we don’t see each other for another year, or two even, now that I’m retired and travelling less, we will catch up the conversation as if it never had stopped. That’s a mark of a good friendship.

Beryl phoned a day after my return to the Wet Coast. I asked her what she had meant by her question on my reasons for coming to Ottawa.

“Oh, the weather,” she explained. “Why would you want to come knowing we might have snow?” I had completely misunderstood the intent of her question. And, well I might. In Ottawa, people go away to have a break from perpetual cold and snow. On the West Coast, we are inundated with perpetual rain. Grey skies prevail. We only have two seasons – cold autumn and warm spring. The heat of summer lasts two weeks and the snows come for two days and melt away. Had I understood the thrust of her question, I might have answered, “Oh, we don’t get snow. I thought a white Christmas would be glorious!” Instead, I fueled a day’s worth of rumination on family and some of my most favourite people whom I was leaving behind until next time. Dummy me! I’m glad I misunderstood.

In all of this rambling, I haven’t even talked about seeing Hugh again. It was wonderful! But that’s another story.

Manners and renovations

April 29, 2007


Lizbet was truly shocked.

We were sitting over breakfast, finishing off a nutty slice of Squirrely bread and jam, lingering over coffee when Franc picked up the empty jam jar, twisted his finger round inside it then licked his finger with a mischievous look in his eye.

Eeugh” Lizbet complained as she screwed up her face and looked a me, raising an eyebrow as if to say, “Is he always like this?”

His mischievousness increased with her signs of horror. He held out the jam pot to her wriggling, begging collie dog who was waiting eagerly for a tasty breakfast morsel. Franc looked back at Lizbet to see what her reaction would be. Lizbet was tensed, not knowing quite what to say or do. Sara, the collie, would not take without being given permission. Her muzzle quivered in anticipation. It smelled sweet and good and she continued to quiver, but the command didn’t come.

Don’t!” cried Lizbet. “Don’t you dare!” Franc laughed and pulled away the jam pot, out from under wriggling Sara’s nose.

Gotcha!” said Franc, and Lizbet settled down, mused a moment before saying,

Isn’t it funny how our manners have gone downhill since Mama’s gone.”

She admitted to me later that she had really enjoyed Franc this visit. She had discovered his sense of humour; had really appreciated the work that he had done to repair things and put her house in order.

Franc had come prepared to work. He’s not happy if he has nothing to do and he happens to love this beautiful heritage house that was built by the post master during the gold rush in 1896. It has great fir posts and beams, solid fir floors, Victorian decorations, a warm weather, open porch and the newly rebuilt enclosed sun porch. He’d laid the sun porch floor two years ago with reclaimed oak and he felt that the house was now part his.

The snows were heavy this year in the Kootenays. The heavy pack sliding off the sun porch roof packed weighty force carrying the eaves trough with it, shearing off the sturdy nails that held it. Franc removed the remaining bent and twisted aluminum trough and cut it down into manageable size for removal. He bought a new system, less likely to accumulate an icy weight, and installed it. He allowed me to hold his ladder while he drilled. I also got to climb perilously up three steps of a ladder to hold the other end of the eave in place while he fitted the two sections together and sealed them with silicone. Once the first two screws were drilled into place, I could go back to my raking up of last year’s leaves from the front yard grass.

Franc will do lots of repairs if he has a sympathetic fetch-and-carrier around to bring what he needs while on a ladder. It took him about two days to get the eaves up because, as he was working, it started to rain lightly, enough so that the silicone would not set.

That didn’t deter his restless spirit. He tackled the baseboards in two rooms that had none. Now that the fir floors in the three bedrooms had been bared and refinished by a contractor, it was worth completing the details in these rooms.

The house had been renovated in the ‘thirties or ‘forties covering the floors with a tar based linoleum and then again in the sixties, keeping up with the times, recovering the walls with wood paneling veneer in teak in the living room. In the hallway, vinyl board covered the walls above the wainscoting line and plastic laminate in mock wood pattern updated the fir paneling and plaster that had been there before. If this house was going to regain it’s earlier charm, there would be many decisions to make.

While we waited for the rain to go away and the sun to dry the eaves, we spent some time considering whether we could redo the wainscoting with the original fir paneling or whether we should gyproc the entire hall. The vinyl had to go. Franc pulled off a laminate panel and saw that it was faced with mahogany veneer! What if we just turned the ugly laminate around and varnished the back side of the panels. Was that a possibility? Just gyproc the upper reaches? That posed a problem of joining them together because the gyproc would stick out a half inch further than the laminate. When you changed one thing, it always resulted in needing to change another thing. So we had some fun discussions about what possibilities we had and what we were going to do with the house, whether to keep or to sell.

When the weather abated and the rain reduced to mere spitting, we went out into the garden and Franc dug over the rock garden. It must have been magnificent in its original state but it was overgrown with crab grass. We tackled two pools of dirt created by the rock formation. It was not easy to pry out the mass of grass root that clung between the rocks. When the mats of grass were liberated, there was virtually no soil left for plants and it was so low in the rock basin so we had to find some soil elsewhere on the property, back behind the row of fir trees where I had composted garden waste two years before.

With the addition of a bag of steer manure and leaf mold, we managed to fill back up the basins (not two square feet each in total) and I planted some white rock cress and some purple which I envisioned cascading over the rocks in spring time and flowering till mid summer.

The majority of hard work done, Franc left me to putter in the garden and to clean out more crab grass and dandelions. That left Franc free to haul away the accumulation of debris from the renovations – old carpeting from three rooms and vinyl flooring from two, useless strips of wood that had resulted form flooring repairs, cardboard, three old computer monitors, a broken sled, and on and on.

Lizbet’s next door neighbour lent him her chain saw so that he could cut down the deadwood from the acacia tree. He trimmed off the water shoots from the Lombardy poplar and properly finished off a four year old fir that had been damaged by the snow plow one winter day.

There’s always two year’s work in front of you, with a house” he said philosophically. “ It takes two years to finish the list of maintenance and repair and then you have to start all over again.” For a man who has never wanted to have a house, I noticed that he was particularly happy at the end of day to have accomplished so much and to reap the praise of his abilities.

Enough for today. There’s more to tell, but I’m off to join my painting group, so gotta go. I’ll catch up with some more tonight.

Snow shroud

March 2, 2007

Late night.

Snow falls steadily

Not a footstep mars

its crystalline surface,


wrapping the house in a pure

white shroud.