Friday, December 31, 2010


I tend to drive in silence more often than not; a concept that used to have me pretty well hyperventilating.  My ignition was basically attached to the radio knob; it went on before my seatbelt. Brian never, ever has a radio on when he drives and I thought he was downright weird. If for some reason, I was alone in a vehicle with no radio, it made me feel anxious and antsy. I’m not sure how it happened, but now I never think to turn it on. Sometimes it even catches me off guard that it’s an option.  ‘Hey! I could listen to the radio!!’ It is now a treat rather than the norm.

I have found, in silence, that I am a thousand times more observant when I’m driving. That’s not necessarily a good thing, because it’s not the road that I’m observing. It’s the sky and the trees and photographs. I tend to view my surroundings in 4x6. I truly do. I've noticed that I translate my world into what my lens would capture. It’s all light and shadow and composition with a view to zoom and crop. It has become an unintentional obsession that I am searching for the photograph in the scene, as if it is one single piece of a gigantic puzzle.  I’m pleased when I find it, until I realize that I don’t have a camera with me and then the delight changes to regret.

I have grown comfortable with the silence in my car. I see the photos more clearly without the distraction of voices. Other voices - I still have my own that I have difficulty muting. I try to direct them when I get that uninterrupted opportunity. I say: 'Okay, we've got this time, let’s think about how we’re going to get organized, get focused, get productive.’  I force my thoughts in that direction, as it seems that they don’t offer themselves up otherwise. Lately, that file seems to be generally buried at the bottom of an overwhelmingly massive pile.

When my thoughts drift … now actually, that is a totally inaccurate word … my thoughts don’t drift – they jump, they leap, they pole vault, they scramble and tumble. Drift sounds gentle and pensive.  Mine are hyperactive.  I can see those little suckers in there, gorging themselves on chocolate and then running about like maniacs, totally wild and out of control. They are not lazily drifting.  See … I just did it there.  I have totally forgotten where I was going with this.

Oh yes ... I was going with ‘Thoughts’, and how, as I was driving along in the silence, a random thought popped into my head.  “ LISTEN. Your word is Listen.

Say What?’ I responded, because it's rude not to answer. ‘What are you talking about?’ ‘Your WORD is LISTEN. Oh yeah … it had completely slipped my mind that for the last couple years I have picked a word. The new year was just on the horizon and it was time again. My mind had not gone anywhere in the vicinity of that subject. It is quite cool when the ‘pop up’ is relevant and timely. It could have just as easily surfaced in mid-March. The message was clear - my word  picked me. It happened like that last year too – also in the radio free zone of the car. Last year's word was EMBRACE.  I did.  The word for 2009 was SEE ... did that too.

For 2011 … I am to Listen.

Listen to the words and needs of others. Listen to the sounds of nature. Listen to my own heart and instinct.  Listen is a soft and gentle word. Hushed.
SILENT and LISTEN are spelled with the same letters.

The radio will remain OFF.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Close But No Cigar

I almost did it. Or at least for a minute, I thought I did.

For the first time in the history of my being responsible for Christmas, I almost had all the presents wrapped before Christmas day.  I was almost ready.

Year after year, for 37 of them, I would find myself on Christmas Eve day feeling stressed and rushed; irritated with myself that I was needing to spend five or six hours wrapping gifts, baking cookies and sometimes still shopping.  Every single year I would growl and grumble at myself and say ‘NEXT YEAR I will have all this done and will leisurely enjoy the pre-Christmas season. I will have everything bought, wrapped, baking done, the house clean and I will sit and bask in the glow of the Christmas lights.’

Has never, ever happened … even once.

When I was surrounded by kids and critters, we lived on fast forward. Constant chaos.  I never caught up with the laundry in 20 years. There was much stuff, much activity; days were a blurr of motion and commotion.  I had to accept that peace and serenity were concepts that were unattainable and unrealistic and for the most part, I didn’t care. But I carried an expectation of myself to give my children the vision or at least the illusion, that Christmas was magical, beautiful and peaceful- for even the briefest of moments. Just the calm before the storm, but a glimpse of possibility ... "how-things-could-be".

It’s that darn television’s fault.  All those people – perfectly ready when friends and neighbours would drop in … house sparkling, stockings hung; them - all pleasant and smiley in their Christmas prettiness … hair combed, make up perfect and children sweetly smiling in red velvet dresses and socks that matched. I knew it even smelled good in there – like freshly baked gingerbread cookies. Never scotch tape and wrapping paper strewn everywhere, mish-mash piles of plastic bags with unwrapped gifts, and plain old ordinary, grilled-cheese sandwich life happening.

We’d get home from church about midnight and I would stay up for hours, making sure that when they awoke and came downstairs, that the Christmas tree would be lit and every single thing would be in order. Peace on Earth. Santa’s treasures would not be obstructed by clutter and disarray. Goodwill to Men. And Women. And children. And dogs. And EveryTHING. In all likelihood it was for my own need to achieve order and serenity for one single moment in the year, but what I envisioned  was that my brood would have warm and wonderful memories of the magic of Christmas, and that somehow would make up for the bedlam the rest of the year.

NEXT YEAR, I would tell myself ... I will absitively, posilutely be organized and ready DAYS ahead.  Perhaps even WEEKS ahead. After all,  I have had a fair number of runs at it.

I did truly, honestly believe that THIS was going to finally be NEXT YEAR. Three full days before Christmas Eve, I started wrapping gifts. I even put names on them so I didn’t have to re-open them because I couldn’t remember what they were.  I was downright giddy with the vision of being In Control. I truly thought that I was. I was congratulating myself and doing a Happy Dance. Joy to the World!!!

I’m not sure what happened.  There seems to be a chunk of time dropped completely out of the space between that day and Christmas morning.  A time warp tricked me into a false sense of sanity.

In the end, I was worse than ever. I was not only wrapping on Christmas Eve AND Christmas morning, I found myself for the first time in history, coming down to a regular weekday messy kitchen. For the last few years, I have been quietly reflective on Christmas morning, thinking about how things have changed with the kids gone. This year I didn’t even get to sit down for a cup of coffee. I do not know what made me believe that I had things under control; obviously I was hallucinating.

I was up at 7 am, working like a maniac, trying to pull things together by the time the crew arrived in the afternoon. It was a re-run of the nights that I would be scurrying around, vacuuming at 3 o’clock in the morning. I still wanted them to walk into something that looked like a television Christmas. I also wanted to be able to sit down and visit instead of the indelible image I have of my mother-in-law never leaving the kitchen or enjoying her company during holiday gatherings.

I was spinning. By the time of the expected arrival, I had cooked, carved and cleaned up the mess of two turkeys, had the gravy made and potatoes and turnip mashed and every dish done.  It was exhausting and crazy, but the transformation and order was shades of Christmas morning past.

They all walked in moments later. Was I greeting them at the door with hugs and happiness? Oh no. I had just got out of the shower - wet hair, no make up and trying to wrap last minute gifts on my bed. I was feeling tired and old and crusty and was ready for a nap. With grace of God, I hopefully will get another stab at it.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Not So Bright

Many years ago I heard a strategy that I thought sounded like a good idea at the time.  If there was something in your life that was bothering you, or your mission was to get a new one, you were to totally rid yourself of the old one and then you’d be forced to do something about it rather than just settling. Made sense.

For at least eight years, the tree that I use in the livingroom has been long past its due date. It was over 20 years old and had become so sparse that I had to bend the branches on one side towards the front, then stuff garland into the holes and fill it in with a couple dozen branches from another defunct tree. It was basically only a half of tree, and not a good one at that.

Year after year I promised myself that next year I would have a new one. They go dirt cheap at the auctions in the summer – beautiful, good quality artificial trees for just a few bucks.  The problem is, the only time that it ever crosses my mind is when I drag it out each Christmas. I refuse to pay the two or three hundred dollars that it costs for a nice tree during peak time, so year after year I say to myself ‘This will be the LAST year I have to do this.  NEXT year I will get a new tree.’

Well, here we are - the season is upon us and once again I am needing to resurect my pathetic sad old tree.  Grumbling at my incompetence, I went to the basement to drag it up yet one more time.

But I couldn’t find it. I searched every room numerous times. And then it hit me. I had instituted the old ‘rid yourself of it’ tactic.  It came back to me that after Christmas I had Brian take it to the dump so I would never be tempted to get one more year out of it.

All fine and dandy if it would have August that I remembered this brilliant move. I even begrudge half price that they are now when I know they practically give them away in the summer. 

The other day, out of the blue, the nostalgic fragrance of evergreen came upon me and brought back memories of Christmas past.  Ah-hah! I thought. I can get a Real Tree!!  That will be a wonderful treat. It’s been quite a number of years since we've had one. When the kids were here, we always had a real tree as well as the phoney one. That was important to us. It came from the time that Jaime, at four said 'When do we get to put the tree together?' What self-respecting country folk lets their child believe that one "puts a tree together". From that day on, there was a live Christmas tree in this house. But when they all left, it became a mess and fuss that I determined that I could live without.

I mentioned my idea of a real tree to Brian and immediately he was on a mission. He's a fan of Real things. He borrowed a truck, which cost him twenty bucks in gas; the tree was forty and another ten for sand. Seventy bucks. That would have gone a fair way towards the decent artificial one that I'd have for next year too. Oh well.  A beautiful, full, fresh, gorgeous big tree would be such a treat. And Christmas Tree Smell. Mmmmmmmmmmmm.

Back in the day, we would have great fun picking a tree - it was an event. This time, Brian brought one home in a net. Never got a tree in a bag before; actually never let Brian out on his own to pick out a tree on his own either. Times change. I have become a lot less fussy about a lot things.  I could release control enough to let him choose all on his own.

So I open the tree. It’s a little on the puny side compared to the image I was courting. I wait for the branches to fall. I wait. And wait. Thinking that they’ve just been traumatized, I wait til morning, at which time I must face reality. The middle of my tree seems to be missing. Turning it doesn’t help. Hmmm…looks suspiciously similar to the one that went to the dump except that I can’t bend the branches toward the front. And it doesn’t smell.  At all. Really ... AT ALL. 

What to do? Back to the basement. Why I kept the bag of ‘fill in’ branches but threw the tree out, I don’t know, but I was glad I did.  They didn’t snuggle in like they did in my phoney tree, but it filled sufficiently to block some of the light and support the goods.

I stuffed it with gold net garland and reams of beads, then added my favourite antiqued white iced pointsettias and dried hydrangea. I used every strand of coloured lights I could get my hands on, being forced to mix styles to get the coverage.  I topped it off with some collected treasures, like the paper angel that Daniel made in kindergarten a quarter century ago.

Holes, phoney branches, and lack of fragrance notwithstanding, it’s done;  it’s fine and I’ve learned a few lessons along the way. 

#1) Sure … rid yourself of the old but you need to remember that you did that.

#2) Even the Real Thing can have major holes.

#3) Don’t buy a tree in a hair net.

#4) If you have enough stuff to load something down, and can turn the lights out and squint, anything looks fine.

#5) There's always next year.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

My Babes

Donkeys have been a huge part of my life for 28 years.  The four-legged, long-eared ones; some two legged ones have been for much longer than that.

For me, there is not an animal-joy that can compare to the excitement of a new born babe.  The softness of their fur, their velvet nose and incredible ears – holding them in your arms like a baby is something to experience. It has been such a delight to me, and as Chief Dan George says: “My heart soars.

But equally emotional on the other end of the scale, is the day they leave.  It is not for missing them that I am sad. I am always confident that they are going to a wonderful home where they will have even more love and attention than I can give them. It is for the moms that I grieve.

This weekend, all three of my summer babies have gone off to their new lives.  Summer Solstice … I called her Sully, but her new parents are calling her Summer, is joining her sister, ‘Colette’, who they adopted last year. They are great folk who have obviously love her a great deal and have kept in touch and sent photos to keep me updated. I am so happy for both Sully and Colette, to have each other.

Paddy O’Malley was adopted on Thursday by a lovely young couple with two small children.  I could instantly tell that he was going to have a wonderful life.  In fact, I saw myself in the mom – the excitement and enthusiasm of getting her first donkey – I can still feel that. But it was her genuine concern for Maggie that endeared me to her. She kept saying ‘I feel so badly for her.’ And so did I.

That’s the very hardest thing about raising donkeys. Not letting them go, but watching the mothers frantically looking for their babes. I cry every time.  I can’t even think about it without crying. I tell them over and over – “I’m SO sorry, I’m so VERY, VERY sorry.”  They are my dear friends and I hate to see them grieving. It just tears your heart out to see them running and pacing, and hear them crying out. I can’t look out the window.

When this young couple got Paddy – who I have I have actually called ‘Chocolate’, I warned them: “I just need you to know, this won’t be your only donkey. Be prepared to fall in love. He is just going to be your first, he won’t be an only child.”  I was speaking from experience. Donkeys, for animal lovers, are like potato chips, you can’t have just one.

The phone rang on Friday, it was Chocolate’s new parents. They were smitten in record time. ‘Yep, we’re in love.’, the husband confirmed. ‘Can we get that little white one too.’ ‘Sure, when?’ I asked. ‘Would an hour be okay?’ was the answer.

I am so happy for Paddy O’Malley and Molly Malone.  Not only are they going to have the most wonderful life with people who clearly love them already, and will grow up with two darling little children, but they will get to be together. 

It was a little easier on me to have all three moms lose their babies at the same time. When there’s one missing, they particularly panic.  This time, they seem to have settled quicker, going back to their old pattern of hanging out with the girls.

They'll be okay, and so will I.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A CreatEV Soul

I write like I talk. Too much.  It’s because I’ve got so many WORDS whirring around in my head at all times and I have to get them emptied out on occasion. That occasion being Constantly. 

The thing is, anyone who comes to this blog via a creative connection, hoping to see what it is that I do with my hands, will be saying; ‘WHOA!! YIKES!!!! Too many WORDS!!  Get me outta here!” And I'd never see them again.

When I started this blog back in 2007, it was with the intention of using it as a tool to showcase my work. Somehow, it took on a life of its own and I find stories pouring out of my fingertips; stories that are really of little interest to many/any. I’m just basically talking go myself; and that’s okay. Writing has always been a passion and it gives me an excuse to Just Do It.

However, I am keenly aware that it is not serving the purpose for which it was originally intended. So am I getting back on track? Nope. Too late for that. I’m taking another train.

I have started yet ANOTHER blog. Imagine – three blogs for the person who couldn’t stand the word BLOG. It wasn’t the concept that bothered me, but the actual word ... it sounds 'gaggy' to me. Or boring ... a

This new addition will be not be WORDY. I will work at keeping them to a minimum.  It will soley be about CREATION.  What I’m working on, what I’ve just finished. I’d like it to be more interesting than just things that I make, so I hope it could become more interactive where people could ask questions or share tips  about techniques, products, ideas … that sort of thing. If it was creatively interesting/educational, hopefully the words will be relevant and tolerable.

Everyone who signs up as a follower, up until January 31st, will have a chance to win an Ol'Soul who will be touting my favourite saying: "Take my advice, I'm not using it."  

I shall continue to share the musings of my head and my heart right here on EVolution, and I will continue to practice my photo art and share my favourite quotes on The Daily Muse. Meanwhile, over on the other channel, it will be what comes from my head, my heart and my HANDS ...  nurtured by  a creatEV soul.

PS  There's a link button at the top of this page.
PPS:  I would love to share the blog links of other creative souls - let's TRADE!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

November Lesson

The weather here for this entire year has been nothing short of spectacular. It was reported that the farmers have enjoyed their most bountiful crops in history and that is a quite LONG time.  Winter was easy - we didn't have a single day that we were snowed in (much to my personal disappointment); spring - I can't remember, but I suspect that I would if it had been rainy and miserable; summer was glorious and this autumn has been heavenly.  And NOVEMBER.  

Well ... November to me is a morose month - gray, drab, damp and cold. It's a Nothing month; a pit between vibrant, dancing October and joyful, memory-making December. It could be that I have made it into a major disappointment in my mind because I am so in love with October. Perhaps I feel it would be disloyal to her, considering our intense relationship. December has my attention for reasons other than nature. The internal and eternal light of Christmas offers a soft glow that feeds me.  November has offered me nothing.  November is a shroud that hangs over me,  enveloping me with its grayness.  I am not a fan of grayness. November is IT to me, not SHE.  October, she dances.  December, she glows. November, it hangs.

This year is remarkable.  I have not even been able to use the November quote on my Daily Muse blog because that type of day has not yet come. If it weren't for the bareness of the trees, I could call this Indian Summer.

I have been looking for things to do outside each day, even though I should be up my studio, focused on the task at hand. I have been sitting on my back porch, in awe and gratitude. People from the south would not begin to understand what I'm talking about, but people around here surely do.

So ... the other day, I was 'sitting in awe' and the lake called me. She said 'COME! Come before it's too late!!!!'  I try to listen to my inner voices, which actually is what keeps me going in circles for the better part of my days. I asked two photographer friends if they wanted to run away with me and spend the afternoon on a photo shoot excursion at the lake.  When the weather is so unseasonably warm, our first thought is that we need to focus on all that yard work that we often get stuck doing in the bitter cold, or the Christmas decorating that usually has to be done with mittens on. So when my friends said 'SURE!', I was delighted. I wasn't overly surprised as they are spontaneous and adventuresome friends - MY kind of people - that's why they are My Friends. They are also very rich in wisdom - knowing that an afternoon spent with friends who share a passion, will carry us further than a raked lawn or clean windows.

It was glorious. The sky was October blue. The waves, which can be as crashing as the ocean, were quietly lapping in a meditative rhythm. There were brilliant golden leaves lit up at the tops of the poplar trees. They were like celebratory flags, remnants of the autumnal bliss refusing to give way to November. In the distance, it looked more like an illusion of mist than the real thing. It was a soft and gentle day all round.

There were treasures found. Interesting rocks and sand scrubbed driftwood but the most significant was a beautiful piece of rare aqua beach glass.  A gem that had been tossed and churned for countless days and then graciously deposited right at the feet of a grateful treasure seeker.

Although together, we were each in our own space and time. The lake allows that. 

There were very few people there, which added to our feeling that we owned the day and the place. But we watched with interest, a group of young people, in and out of the water in little boats. It was apparent that the group had a purpose, and when we walked by we were a little taken aback by an obviously lifeless body bound up in blanket. We couldn't let that go without asking, so a nice young man explained that they were shooting a movie and that was 'Henry'. We wondered whether Henry was being dumped or recovered, but he couldn't or wouldn't say. The young man, I mean - Henry wasn't talking at all.

Although it was too late for poor old Henry, we wished the young man well and carried on with our own mission - capturing the day. 

Generally, in my mind, there is nothing to take pictures of in November. Dry and dead leaves, sad and hopeless flowers, withered vines... even the naked trees that I actually do admire, are sullen against the drabness of a timeless sky. Unless they have light and shadow they do not dance and they do not speak to me. But this day, they not only spoke, but they sang on our evening drive home. It was a strangely moody tune of hazey pink that made all three of us feel that we had been transported to somewhere foreign and exotic. It was too elusive to capture, which is appropriate as it was a feel rather than a vision.

November, you have redeemed yourself in my eyes. You have showed me that there can be another dimension to absolutely everything, even to drabness. I greatly appreciate your gift to me. I wonder though, was that gift, that lesson more about ME than it ever was about YOU. About ME taking the time to see and appreciate what is in front of me - black or white, colour or gray, naked trees or vibrant. About ME needing to be told again and again and again: "Everything is something."

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Remembrance Day

One day, when I was a teenager, my mother ventured into the storage room that she had aptly named ‘The Hell Hole’. It was a room in the basement piled sky high with mountains of stuff. If it was consigned there, it was never seen or thought of again. There were times that I was keen to explore it and see what secret treasures it held, but it was impossible to get further than three feet past the doorway. "You take your life into your hands when you go in there." my mother would rightly declare.

It was therefore quite remarkable that she had found and dragged out an old wooden trunk. There were hundreds of letters, tied in bunches with ribbon, which she was systematically destroying. I asked her what she was burning. “Letters from your Dad when he was in the army.” she replied. This from the woman who had invented the Hell Hole and filled it to the brim with every little thing that had ever come into her life, or ours. And I really do mean 'every little thing' - the Hell Hole would have qualified for the Hoarder's show.  “Don’t do that!”  I protested. “Why would you burn them?”  “Because they’re mine and they're personal.” she said with surprisingly little emotion. A strange and unfortunate moment that I wished that I had not witnessed.

She missed two. We came across them when we were cleaning out the house.  I have them and likely should feel guilty, but I don’t.  It has given me the smallest glimpse of their life during those years.  They are crisp and unwrinkled. I picture my Dad writing them on his bunk, and my Mom reading them over and over, running her fingers over the words. That they have remained in such pristine condition for 65 years is amazing. 

My Dad did not go overseas because of medical issues, but nonetheless it still stole three years from them. They were newlyweds with a baby girl, and being stationed in Nova Scotia would not have been much different than being across the sea in terms of travel and communication. No Skype or email.

The story went that when my Dad had originally gone to sign up, which would have been before he was married, he was told that he was not eligible because of a past injury.  So he carried on with life, and was totally blinded sided when one day just months after they were married, he was met at the track by uniformed Military Police with a warrant for his arrest. Apparently, a conscription letter had been sent to him at my Mom’s family home in Toronto. Her sister, thinking that he wouldn’t have to go if he never got the letter, had destroyed it and never told anyone. There was little time for goodbyes as they shipped him off, leaving Mom to manage on food stamps, in a strange town far from both their families. The only person that she knew was their landlady, Mrs. Culbert. In my mind, I picture this woman I never met to be an elderly angel because I have a feeling that she saved my Mother's sanity during those years.

I’m so glad that the two letters survived. It has given me an image of my Dad that I never got to see – a young man deeply in love and missing his wife. My Dad was not young by the time I came along. His written words were brief: 'To Ma: Love, Pa and the Kids'. He was witty and silly, he was not mushy or demonstrative, so his romantic words to my Mother are a real treasure. Perhaps it was that which made her uncomfortable sharing them; or maybe it was just a weak moment more to do with something else that was going on in her life. At any rate, it still is a curious thing to me and I am ever grateful for the two I have. I share a snippet of them with my apologies to my dear mother: "Sorry Mom …but I am the Keeper of the Memories now and I think it’s important that our generation and the next and the next, understand and appreciate the sacrifice that you all went through – even those who did not fight and those who waited at home. We have the responsibility to keep the humanity in history - the faces; the voices; the tender hearts."

 Part of a letter is dated March 28, 1945:

My Darling:
Hi ya sweetheart. How’s my honey now?  Me?  Ah, just the same – only 1 day older since I wrote you.  But then its one day closer to us being together, so that is a little encouraging.  By the sound of the news today, it may not be so long until that day rolls around.  Sooner the better, says I.  Guess I’ll have a little trouble writing, cuz there’s a few sitting around here shooting the sh--, and you can imagine what they’re talking about.

I just remembered Darling that it’s getting around Easter again and I’d better send this card. It isn’t so good, but at that I’m kinda lucky to have it.  Anyway, I send it Darling with my deepest love and best wishes for a happy Easter. Surely by next Easter we’ll be settled together and happily for life. 

We have been thinking at each season; anniversary, etc that we would be together the next one, but they still keep going by with us miles apart.  Surely, our luck will soon change, Darling, so keep your chin up for awhile yet.

My Dearest, I had better sign off for now because this will be too heavy and I am Scotch and sending this with the card.  So my beloved, I love you with all my heart, body and soul. Also the girls.  I miss my family plenty.  For tonight, as always, my love:  I love you. Good night; sweet dreams; God Bless my family.  Love and Kisses xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx   Harold

April 7, 1945 (four days before their third anniversary)

My Darling…  Do you remember April 11, 1942? That was the day you put your foot in it, eh!  In one way it seems ages ago and in another it seems like only a short time.  Guess if we had been together all the time, it would have seemed much shorter.  Gee, I hope that we spend more of the next three years together. If not, I don’t know what I’ll do. Surely the Good Lord won’t keep us apart much longer.

Well my Dearest, I have to go, so will send my truest love with the card I got and hope it’s the last one I have to send you and will be able to hand you the next 60 (in person). Yes, I love you Darling, more and more all the time. And the children.

Good night my love and Happy Anniversary to you, sweet heart.  All my Love & Kisses:
Xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx    Harold

 One month later, right to the day, the instrument of surrender was signed at Rheims, France with the following day, May 8th, 1945 being declared V-E Day.  (Victory in Europe)

I can only imagine the emotion that both my parents felt.  I have a thousand questions for my Mother that will forever remain unanswered. I didn't have the questions until we found the letters and it became real. It was when I heard the voice of the words that I finally pictured them as a young couple, and began to understand the scope and depth of that time in history.

I  wonder if my mother ever regretted destroying those letters. I suspect as she aged, that they would not have seemed as much personal or embarrassing, as loving and wonderful; a testament to their youth, their love and the difficult time that they endured.

We are charged to REMEMBER. We can do that better when, along with the facts, we are given the faces and the souls.  It is when the human stories make their way into our hearts that we remember and understand best.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

A Toast to Good Health

Well, it’s got to be done. A while back I wrote about the theory that my finally-wonderfully-strong nails had to be from the fact that I had been drinking a pint of Guinness each and every one of the fifteen days that I was in Ireland in May.

As I feared, the effects have worn off. My nails are right back to how they have always been – soft and tearing.  Nasty. 

There’s only one thing I can do. Get back on the Guinness.  I’ve been talking about it for a few weeks, but I am too cheap to pay $22 for eight cans of beer. I don’t even like beer. I won’t pay $36 for a bottle of Bailey’s, which I really do like, so it’s highly doubtful that I would open my wallet for beer - nail health or not.

When we were watching the feature on 60 Minutes about Zenyatta, that incredibly beautiful, magnificent thoroughbred mare, they said that she enjoyed a Guinness after a work out - the only beer that she’ll drink. "See.", I said to Brian, "There must be something to it."

Friday night, Brian, being the sweet and thoughtful guy he is, came in with a case of Guinness. AND a bottle of Baileys.

So mid-day yesterday, I had a nice hot bubble bath, cozied up in my robe and a blanket and poured myself a beer ... in a wine glass. Decidedly decadent for me in the middle of a Saturday afternoon. It didn’t taste the same as the ones that were on draught at the pubs in Ireland, but I got it down. Medicinal purposes, ya know.

A little later, my son went to the refrigerator and I heard the ‘pssst’ sound of a can opening. My gasp was totally involuntary. Brian was sitting here too and he laughed hysterically.  Standing with his coke, Daniel looked confused. "Oh," I quickly assured him, "It’s okay." I had no intention of confessing what had caused my reaction. Brian was still laughing  "She thought you had one of her beers.", he said, "She'll tell ya - you can have all the food you want in this house, but just don’t touch her beer!"  "That's RIGHT", I confirmed, "I'm serious, definitely, do NOT touch MY beer."

At supper, Dan said, "You gotta tell me – what’s with the beer?"  I don’t imagine that he’s ever seen me drink one, and certainly not be that possessive about anything. "It’s her nails.", Brian told him with a big grin, before I could respond. “What??” Daniel asked. “Yes, you heard right, it's for her NAILS, she says.’, his Dad confirmed.  "Mom,”, Daniel said,”I have heard a LOT of reasons for drinking, but that one is pretty lame.” “Well, no it’s NOT, it’s a health thing.” I countered, “Zenyatta does it.”

Then we tuned in to watch Zenyatta come from 18 lengths behind to finish second in the Breeders Cup at Churchill Downs, just by a nose. An incredible show by a spectacular beast.  “Yep, very impressive indeed,”, I said to the guys, “and she ONLY drinks Guinness, ya gotta wonder.”

So.. now I have to make sure I drink the Guinness every single day for two more weeks. Actually, I’ll have to make it 15 more days because there are eight in a case. It’s gotta be done.  I’ll report back how my nails are. And if I win any races. 

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Final Apple

I was 5 when my parents built a new house in the apple orchard across from the old farm house where we lived. I remember gingerly walking across the thick wooden plank to look down into the wet hole of the foundation. I still have the smell the fragrance of the dank mud and the new wood. I have the vision of our very first night – everything stark and overly bright. I have the echoes of blank walls and bare hardwood floors. That stuff that makes it homey and absorbs the sounds had not yet been accumulated. I have happy times, sad times, pets and people all centered around that little corner of the world.

That house conjures up a thousand memories, many of them centering around the apple trees that surrounded it. Perching up in them, confident that I was in my own world where no one could see me, but I could see them. The smell of the apples baking on my Dad’s dirty old woodstove in the garage – so delighted that we were to be able to ‘cook’ something ourselves. Playing for hours on end under one old tree where the swing and sandbox lived. Trying to duck under the branches when Trigger the pony would decide that he was taking a short cut to the barn.  Watching my own children conquer the same trees that I climbed as a child.

One of my most vivid childhood memories is November 22nd, 1963. Since we lived in the US for a good part of the year, I was well acquainted with JFK. I had collected campaign buttons and wore them with great pride. I cheered for him to become President because he had children and because I figured he had to be related to Jim Kennedy – an ancient rubby-dub Irishman who worked for us.

It was the last recess and I was sitting at the old piano at the front of the classroom, trying to eavesdrop because it was unheard of for a visitor to come to the school in the middle of the day. I heard the word 'President' and 'assassinated' and was excited because I figured it must mean that he got a promotion, that there must be something bigger than President.  When the teacher told us that assassinated meant 'dead', I just didn’t believe her. She was wrong. When my Dad picked us up at school, I told him what she had said and he confirmed, with uncharacteristic solemness, that it indeed was true. Him, I believed. I can see the day, feel the day – typical November – gray, cold and early darkness; it too was solemn. When we entered the driveway, the hired men were all out under the apple tree, filling bags of fallen apples for the horses. I wondered why they were doing a happy thing on such a sad day – didn’t they know. Shouldn't everything stop. That is the image that comes to my mind with thoughts of that day – men with big burlap bags stooping under the apple tree.

Snow apples, Russets, Spies, Crab apples, ones I didn’t know the name – but my favourite were the Delicious. I would run out after school and scour the long grass and fallen leaves for one with the least worm holes. Organic apples they were, all the way.  With eating around the worms, the scars and the bruises, it would often take four or five apples to equal one. In the spring Bud and I used the tiny little green ones as ammunition in ridiculously dangerous attacks on each other. I'd use them as heads for stick people, long before I knew of the existence of apple head dolls. I'd fill my pockets with them and coax the foals to become my friend.

Apple pies and apple sauce … I see my Mom in her apron, standing at the sink with piles and piles of apples. When I helped her peel them, each one would be a personal challenge to get the peel off in one strip without it breaking. Success was sweet because it was so rare.  

The very first time that I visited Mom's grave, I did not take flowers – I took apples from our yard and laid by the headstone and mourned the loss of my mother and life as I knew it. 

The day came in 1990 that we had to sell our childhood home. It took my sister and I months and months to tackle it. It was no longer stark and bare; it was filled with the accumulation of 31 years of living. It held not only the memories, but also the last physical remnants of the lives of so many we loved: our father, our mother, our sisters and brothers and grandparents. All gone, but with bits and pieces of them left there - us the reluctant stewards, needing to make decisions of what to keep and what to let go.  We would go in to the house, make a cup of tea and sit there trying to figure out where to start. Then we would both say, ‘I can’t do this today.’, and spend the time talking instead.  It took us a full eight and a half months to deal with it – almost like the gestation of a child.

We offered it for sale privately so that we were in full control. One fellow said, ‘Nice house, first thing I’ll do is clear out all these old apple trees.’ ‘Then you won’t have it.’ we bluntly informed him and walked away with him still standing there in the driveway.  The wonderful young couple who ended up with it, won our hearts because they answered the first question properly: ‘What about the apple trees?’  ‘We LOVE them!’, they replied and their enthusiasm and sincerity endeared them to us forever.

Their love and care was evident from the beginning and there was great comfort in that. But still, in spite of how happy I was that they had it, and how they welcomed and encouraged us to come back any time, I could not do it.  Seven years it took me to enter that house again. It was changed enough inside that it didn’t make me sad, but as I left, I automatically turned to see what time it was. There was a picture where the clock should have been and the reality of life and loss and change was like an electric shock.

I went back today, for what I know will be the very last time ever. After 21 years, our lovely couple has moved and this is their final weekend. It is one more step away from my memories, my childhood and my childhood home. There will be no connection with whoever moves into it now. They won't know us, won't know our attachment; there is no need to go back.

There was no one there today when I stopped by to walk about and reminisce. I was glad - I wanted to be with my own thoughts.

The circle drive which was so huge when I rode my tricycle around it, has shrunk. The immense old maple tree that I thought was the most gigantic and splendid tree in the world, apparently has shrunk as well over the years.  It turned into just an ordinary tree.

The garage door where my Mother would bounce off one side or the other, then stick the chrome back on with bandaids, is still narrow.  A fifties garage was not meant for a big boat sixties car.  An inch and a half clearance on each side took a special skill that apparently none of us in our family ever mastered.  The vehicles bore the proof of that. 

I sat by the planter where ‘Pete the Budgie’ was buried after a full military funeral – army men and canons surrounding his tiny tin casket. It’s likely still down there, we planted him so deeply.  I gazed into the window that my mother’s face is forever etched into – peering out when we drove in the driveway. ‘The kids are home.’, she’d say. "WHEN do we stop being the KIDS?",  I’d tease her, being the mother of two myself at that point. "Never. You’ll ALWAYS be The Kids", she’d firmly respond. But she was wrong. Before we knew it, before we were ready, we were nobody's kids anymore.

I wandered around the yard that had nurtured my dreams and imagination. I gazed up to the tops of the trees that were eye level when they were planted. I laid my hands on the same trunk that my parents had touched. I gathered up a bag of imperfect apples for the donkeys, thinking about that gray November day. And I scoured the ground under the Delicious tree for one that had the fewest worm holes and bruises and ate around them. 

My sister just lives a mile down the road, so I stopped over there for a cup of tea and a chat. She wasn’t home, so I left the most perfect apple I could find on her doorstep.

The final apple.