Ginger Shampoo

woman taking a shower

Photo by Leah Kelley on Pexels.com

by Kathy Larson
© 2019

 

I am in the shower, at my parents’ place. I left in such a hurry to get here that I forgot all the essential stuff — shampoo, conditioner, body wash, deodorant — all of it. There hasn’t been time yet to get out and buy replacements, so I’m going to have to use theirs. Through the water running over my face and in my eyes I scan the shower caddy in the corner of the tub looking for shampoo.

Mom’s got some Vo5 that’s supposed to smell like green apples. Pass. There’s another bottle, nearly empty, of some dollar store brand I’ve never heard of, and then, I see it. Body Shop Ginger shampoo. Ah, that’s what I want.

It’s dad’s shampoo. He uses it because of his psoriasis. I remember telling him about it years ago.

I’ve got sensitive skin and an especially sensitive scalp, so I’m kind of picky about the products I use. When I told him about it, I remember, he was dismissive like I was trying to lay some kind of quackery on him. He was like that. You’d tell him about something you liked, or something you’d heard about that was a bit different and he’d say something like: “There’s probably no damn ginger in there. Just a load of bs. I like my _________, thank you.” And then, like with the ginger shampoo, you’d find that he tried it. And liked it. That was dad.

It makes me remember Neil Diamond and his album Hot August Night. I was fifteen or sixteen and was upstairs in my room listening to said album for about the zillionth time. Like most moody teenagers I spent as much time as I could shut up in my room whenever I could get it to myself. With seven brothers and sisters we all had to share a room with a sibling. I shared with my sister who was a year younger than me.

Dad usually gave me grief about whatever I happened to be listening to. He particularly hated Queen, couldn’t stand Joni Mitchell and just generally despised anything that wasn’t country music. And I mean country like Charlie Pride and George Jones. To this day I can’t stand either of them. When The Snakes Crawl at Night. Please!

So, when Dad came pounding on my bedroom door I readied myself for another fight about my music. When I opened the door he surprised me by asking what it was I was listening to. Being all prepared for an argument I didn’t know what to say right away. I guess I just gave him a blank look. This was confusing — he never showed any interest in anything that I liked; I just didn’t know how to react. Then I managed to collect myself and told him who it was and showed him the album. He stood there looking at the pictures of a wild-looking Neil Diamond and reading the liner notes for quite a while. We listened to that amazing record together and I played him a couple of my favourite songs. I really like this, he said. And I felt ridiculously, incredibly happy and proud.

Why am I remembering this now? While I dance around in a shower that refuses to stay one temperature — it either blasts me with cold water or scalds my boobs with hot. I want to scream. My heart hurts. It’s been an exhausting three days since we found out my mother fractured her leg. And that both she and my father are in the hospital.

I’ve come home because he is dying. He has end-stage kidney cancer. The man who was once larger than life, who in turns terrified me, frustrated me and, who, more than anything, I wanted to make proud is small and frail and frightened. He needs me and I’ll be here until he no longer does.

I pour his ginger shampoo into the palm of my hand and as I rub it into my hair begin to cry.

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A new year, same as the old year

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I was going to write “Wow, 2019 – a new year” and then I stopped because, really, it happens every year. No surprise there. 2019 came in for us without pomp or ceremony. A quiet evening at home with my Mom and my husband. We played cards, had a couple of drinks, watched It’s a Wonderful Life and then counted down the last hour of 2018 by watching Canada Celebrates, or something titled along those lines.

Tim put out his ‘fireworks’ — a patch of sparklers lit up on the front step and we giggled, sipped our Prosecco, gave each other a hug and then went to bed. Whoot! Whoot!

Once upon a time having New Year’s plans was a big deal. If you didn’t have tickets for a party or a show, or weren’t invited to someone’s house for a big bash then you were essentially a social misfit. Going out for New Year meant buying an expensive outfit, having dinner reservations, maybe even booking an over-priced hotel room. Partying until the wee hours of the New Year meant something.

What, exactly, I don’t know.

Years ago, twenty-nine of them to be exact, we moved out to a small rural community about thirty minutes drive from the city. Suddenly, going out for New Year became a bit more inconvenient. Also, as we had a young son, partying until the wee hours was no longer very attractive — to me, at least. Nothing could stop my husband from that particular enjoyment.

Our New Year’s celebrations changed to having a few friends and/or family in, or going to their place for the night. We would drink, eat, ring in the New Year and play endless games of Risk, Poker or Stock Ticker. And I found that I rather preferred this low-key way of ringing out the old and ringing in the new.

Everyone was in a safe place, there were no huge costs involved, the food and entertainment was enjoyable and our children were close at hand to share in the fun. I found I did not miss, not one tiny little iota, the pomp and ceremony of those fussy New Year’s Eves of my younger days.

Having lunch with a friend today, we talked about many, many things, one of them being how time changes how we perceive things and how accepting that things change is, generally, not simply okay, but also necessary.

There is value in everything we do, and joy in the remembrance of those things.

Maybe the heralding of a New Year each and every year does become routine, but without that opportunity for annual introspection how could we look back on our lives and appreciate all that we’ve done and all the distance we’ve covered?

Happy New Year.

Thoughts

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Be grateful for the life you have.

Be thankful for all you’ve been given.

Ask forgiveness for your sins and errors.

Live your life without fear or anxiety.

Love with all your heart.

 

Wouldn’t it be nice

 

I woke this morning with my demons gleefully doing their best to destroy me. I tried for about 15 minutes to silence them, but today they were pretty fierce in their attack — so, I got up and made coffee.

Then, I went — don’t ask me why — in search of my old journals. Started reading some stuff I’d written over 20 years ago. Needless to say that was embarrassing.

And that’s when the Beach Boys made their appearance. Wouldn’t it be nice, they sang, and then I filled in the rest.

Wouldn’t it be nice to go back and tell that younger version of yourself to not be so fucking self-indulgent, self-centred and selfish? Most of what I read that I’d written those long years ago I didn’t even remember — and it made me embarrassed that I’d bothered to write it at all.

So that makes me wonder if, perhaps, I’ve completely misunderstood the purpose of journaling. While I always thought it was a way of expressing your innermost thoughts, the stuff you don’t tell even your best friend, and a way of purging the mind and soul of your darkest secrets, it turns out that reading that stuff later on is a tad unsettling.

I read about troubles in my marriage, parenting faux-pas on a grand scale, and bitter arguments with friends. I read about how I had handled these events, and I was appalled at how badly I had actually mishandled them.

Now, here I sit, sipping coffee that is too weak, because, when your demons send you tilting you forget how much coffee to put in the filter, feeling like the world’s worst human being. All because of some words I wrote a long time ago.

These feelings will pass. The immediate urge I had to pick up my phone and call or text apologies to those I felt I had harmed is passing. Can you imagine the surprise and discomfort following through on that would have caused. More angst!

What should I do with all those old journals? The first thought to come to mind is to burn them. I sure as hell don’t want another visit in those fraught pages. Do I want anyone reading those thoughts after I’ve died? What if I were to drop dead today?

I know that not everything I put in my journals was sad, bad or depressing, it just happened that that is what I stumbled upon today. Still, revisiting the past like that is a severe jolt.

In a way, I suppose, it’s a good thing.

Looking back on that younger version of myself I can see that despite my mistakes, my vanities, my frailties I was trying. Trying to understand myself and those I love and trying, most of all to do the right thing.

Hopefully, those that matter most in my life know that, and hopefully it is enough.

And, hopefully, the next time my demons come to visit I can tell them to take a flying leap. The past is in the past; my journals are proof of that.

 

 

Is that a cow or a deer in the road?

Getting older is a funny thing. It’s not at all what I thought it would be. When I thought about it in my 20s and 30s.

Way back then, when I thought about getting older, it was something far, far off in the distance — like that wavery, shimmery image you sometimes see when you’re driving down a summer road and there are no other cars in sight. It’s there, but it’s not quite real.

Then, suddenly, it is there, right in front of you. The line on the horizon is clear and sharp and you see, plain as day, that there is a deer, or maybe a stray cow, standing in the middle of the road. You hammer on the brakes, your heart leaps into your throat, you nearly pee your pants, but, miraculously, you avoid a collision. The cow stares back, unperturbed; the deer flicks its white tail saucily and bounds daintily on its way.

You’re left shaking, maybe crying a little, glad that you’re alive, that the cow or the deer is alive and you restart the car and carry on your way. A lot more cautiously. And it occurs to you that life is unpredictable, and oh, so tenuous. You vow to be more careful, to pay better attention, to enjoy every moment given to you from that moment on.

But, as time passes the memory of that moment fades and you start wondering if it really happened the way you think it did. Was the cow or the deer really just standing there, or was it meandering across the road? Did you really screech to a halt in a panic, or did you simply tap the brakes as you swerved to miss the animal? Were you imagining the fear and the emotion of the moment, or did saying so just make for a better story?

Getting older, as it turns out, isn’t nearly as scary as I once imagined it would be. I mostly travel at a safe speed, pay better attention in my travels and tend to see things as they are, when they are.

Instead of not expecting the unexpected, or being unprepared to expect the unexpected, I’ve learned that just over the next rise, or just past that next shiny spot in the road is something that’s going to challenge me and that I can pretty much handle whatever it is in my path.

Sometimes I miss that feeling of invincibility I had when I was younger, that romantic notion that age could never catch up with me, the feeling that the road in front of me was going to stretch on into forever. Then I look behind me and see the road full of the obstacles, the yield and stop signs, the people and places I’ve passed by and through on my way to making it to where I am now, and I’m glad and I’m grateful.

 

 

… and, it’s almost Hallowe’en

 

Wow. October 29th. Two more nights until the ghosts and goblins are out and about.

Oh, wait. I think they’re generally about all the time, these days.

Everywhere you look people have decorated their front entrances, lawns and porches with pumpkins, skeletons, witches and all manner of ghoulish creatures. Not me.

Call me the Scrooge of Hallowe’en. I just don’t see the need for all the fuss it gets. Once upon a time I didn’t mind it, but as the years have progressed I’ve actually come to hate it.

Like all occasions — I can’t call it a holiday, because it’s just not — it’s been over-commercialized to the point of ridiculousness.

We can send Happy Hallowe’en cards to loved ones, for Pete’s sake. Honestly! Why?

The proliferation of pop-up retailers in the two months before Hallowe’en is testament to the fact that there is big money to be made for this one night of fright. I absolutely refuse to give them one red cent of my hard-earned money.

When I was a kid we looked forward to Hallowe’en for about a week — not months. Costumes were cobbled together from our parent’s old clothes, worn out bed sheets and pillow cases, and our makeup was shoe polish, some of Mom’s lipstick and flour dusted in our hair. And it was all we needed. We used the same stuff from year to year and it got passed down from brother to sister with no problems.

Now? You’re looking at about 50 bucks for a store-bought costume that will see one year’s wear, and, because they’re so cheaply and shoddily made they’ll be garbage by the end of the night. And why? To go out and collect candy that kids don’t even really care about anymore.

Candy was a big deal for my brothers and sisters and I when we were little. There wasn’t a lot of extra money in our household and it sure wasn’t spent on buying us treats. It was that way for most families. A treat was exactly that — an occasional chocolate bar, bottle of pop or bag of penny candy. We treasured it, we fantasized about our favourites, we suffered agonizing anticipation on those occasions that we knew would bring us our hearts’ desires.

Today kids get ‘treats’ on an almost daily basis. I honestly don’t think they give a hoot about the goodies they get trick or treating.

Meanwhile, retailers are laughing all the way to the bank.

And, sadly, our poor environment pays the price. Candy wrappers, chip bags and juice boxes are littered up and down streets, in school yards and at bus stops for weeks afterwards.

Discarded costumes and all that plastic that makes up the bulk of Hallowe’en decorations gets dumped in the garbage where it will languish in a landfill for eternity — if it isn’t just allowed to blow away on the next big wind.

I know that this kind of waste isn’t specific to Hallowe’en — it’s the same for Easter, Valentine’s Day, Thanksgiving, Canada Day, Christmas, Mother’s and Father’s Day, etc., etc. For some reason it just bugs me more.

I think it’s time we really examined how and why we celebrate things like Hallowe’en. Is it because it really has meaning for us, or is it simply because the retail industry has done such a great job on selling it to us, and convincing us that we’re cheap and ‘no fun’ if we don’t buy in?

You know what I did like about Hallowe’en? Watching It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown with my family. It was sweet and simple — and we loved it.

Zero to sixty — the finish line is in sight!

As with everything I do, procrastination plays a HUGE part. I’ve been thinking about finishing this list off and on over the last couple of weeks. Today just might be the day I do it.

51.  Seeing Bruce Springsteen in concert — twice! The first time was a birthday present from Tim. (He always gives the best presents!) I was so excited and didn’t even care that our seats were in the nosebleeds at Coliseum Stadium in Edmonton. When we got there though, we were redirected to the box office where our nose-bleed seats were exchanged for second row seats on the sidelines right next to the stage. I nearly died. Being that close to the Boss and his E Street band was amazing. The second time was a trip to Toronto for his Wrecking Ball tour. 63,000 people in Rogers Stadium, and Tim, me, my sister Lori, her husband Ted and my sister Tracy were part of the magic. I didn’t sit throughout that marathon of a concert and I belted out every song. Have I mentioned that I LOVE Bruce Springsteen?

52.  Teaching myself to crochet. I love handmade things. Anything that someone puts themselves into to create is wonderful in my books. I’m drawn to things like needlepoint, knitting, crochet, sewing — anything tactile. So, years ago I tried knitting and it didn’t go well. I can do a lovely stocking stitch, but that’s about it. When I got pregnant all those years ago I wanted to make a blanket that I could bring our baby home from the hospital in. I turned to crochet. It took me nearly the entire nine months to make it and it was a little lopsided, but I did wrap our son in it for his trip home. That blanket is stored away in a box along with other treasures from Landon’s childhood. Where it, and they will wind up is a mystery. I just like taking them out from time to time and holding them. I unfold that blanket and smile.

53.  Bungee jumping. Another birthday present from Tim. This one was for my 40th birthday. I was petrified when I was standing up there on that tiny platform, but then I told myself “if you can jump out of a plane, you can jump off this” and I did. It was incredible. I highly recommend it.

54.  Learning the hard way that pyramid schemes are nothing but a scam. A friend and I, back in the days when money was a bigger issue than it is now, decided to risk investing in what was a ‘sure thing’. The only thing ‘sure’ about it was that we were going to lose the money we invested. Some things you’ve just got to learn firsthand.

55.  Losing friends and learning that sometimes it just happens. Then realizing that friendships give you so much to be grateful and thankful for, that, even when they are over, they’re still part of who you are.

56.  Sharing my love of theatre with my granddaughter and my love of gardening and cooking with all my grandchildren. The opportunities get fewer each year they grow older, but for the times that I have been able to share with them I hope it’s made an impression.

57.  Being able to go to the last Black Family Reunion in  2017 and having my grandchildren meet all my crazy-wonderful family. We had realized by this time that my dad was terminal and that it would be his last reunion, also it was just after his 80th birthday and a few months before his and mom’s 60th anniversary. There were other milestones celebrated at that reunion as well, and I’m so glad we were there to share in them all.

58.  Eating New York style pizza for the first time at Grimaldi’s under the Brooklyn Bridge. That experience explained to me why I had always loved and revered Gondola pizza from Manitoba! And it has inspired me to try making my own Neapolitan style pizza. It’s a work in progress.

59.  Learning to like myself — it’s been a long, hard road, and there are times when I still don’t like myself that much, but mostly, I think I’m okay. If I could undo all the wrong I’ve done, I would, but then, who would I be?

60.  Embarking on a new life story at the age of 60. And the journey begins. . .

Progress

 

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Mom — thank you for asking the hard questions!

 

Okay, so I had a talk with my mother yesterday. We were just chatting — I had sent her some flowers the other day on a whim and she had called to say thank you. We were talking about everything and anything — the dream I’d had about my father a few days earlier, the nightmare I’d had the night before, moving, being bored, a new baby born into the Black clan, etc., etc., etc.

At one point in the conversation she asked me: “So, why aren’t you writing?” I was a little taken aback. Not that she would ask such a question, but because she asked. I really didn’t think anyone paid attention to whether I wrote or not. It’s such a personal thing, and I do so little of it, really, that I figured it was mostly un-noticeable.

Anyway, after I got off the phone I really started thinking about why I don’t write anymore. I know focus is a problem, but that’s simply an excuse. And it occurred to me that I really don’t do much of anything anymore. Since I stopped working. Since I retired.

The other day I wrote a little bit about man’s search for meaning, and for finding purpose in life. Well, I guess my purpose had been working, at any job, for so long that work had become my purpose. Not the satisfaction of any particular skill or achievement, but simply the act of working.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed all the jobs I had — except selling encyclopedias — that I was dreadful at, but I know I was good at just about everything else I did, and especially as an education assistant. Then, some things happened in the last year/year and a half at my job that really made me doubt myself and my abilities. Coupled with some big personal family issues I began to spin into depression and became unable to cope.

With the help of a great doctor, some fantastic meds, counseling and support from friends and family I was able to get out from under the feelings of despair, anxiety and depression that had taken hold of my life. I made the decision, for my personal well-being, to not return to work. And, I think that I’ve been unconsciously doubting the ‘rightness’ of that decision for the last little while.

Because I’ve not come to terms with not having a job anymore, I’ve been unable to move forward with anything else — especially writing.

Writing was that thing I always lamented I didn’t have enough time for, because I was always working. And yet — I accomplished more writing when I was working than I have since having all the time in the world to do as much of it as I care to. Crazy, huh?

Last night, while out for a walk, I decided that something needed to change. I thought about how I used to think when I was working, how I used to make plans all the time for what I would do with my free time — my days off, my holidays, my evenings, my weekends.

This morning I got up and I made a plan. For my health and for my personal life. It’s a pretty simple one, but it’s a plan. I’ve given myself small goals to accomplish daily, weekly and monthly. Essentially, I’ve decided to treat retirement as a job. A job that I  control, and that can provide me with as much meaning and purpose as I choose to create.

Thanks Mom!

 

What’s it all mean, Alfie?

 

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I am reading Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor E. Frankl. My friend, Heather, gave this book to me for my birthday a couple of years ago. I’ve been reading it slowly ever since.

It’s a tough read — not just because of his experience in the concentration camps of Nazi Germany, but because it deals with profound ideas about what ‘meaning of life’ is.

Lately, I’ve been struggling. (When aren’t I, some would say.)  What is the meaning of my life? What is my purpose? These are questions that plague me daily. And so far, I don’t have any answers.

I go about my days with a huge ball of uncertainty in my gut. What, exactly, am I doing with my life? When I look back on it, especially having worked on my Zero to Sixty project — which still isn’t finished — I can see that I’ve done a lot of things, but none of them, with the exception of being a mother, really amount to much. I’ve dabbled but never committed.

Frankl says; “One should not search for an abstract meaning of life. Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life to carry out a concrete assignment which demands fulfillment. Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated. Thus, everyone’s task is as unique as is his specific opportunity to implement it.” What, I can’t help asking, is my concrete assignment in life?

Writing has always been a constant in my life, and I’ve had several small successes with it, but is it my purpose? And, if it is, why hasn’t it manifested in a greater way? Is it because I’m lazy or lack confidence or ambition? Is it simply a matter of not being good enough, not possessing the right combination of talent and desire? No, I believe it is because I lack one simple, fundamental and very necessary attribute: the ability to focus.

Why didn’t I become a teacher, a nurse or a professional BlackJack dealer? Why didn’t I pursue one of the many interests I had to completion? When I look at so many of the people I know they have all focused on one aspect of their life — they zeroed in exclusively on one special talent or ability and made that the central focus of their life. Whether it is pottery, waitressing, nursing, driving bus, working in an office, being an administrator, teaching — they all have one thing in common — strong focus.

So, the question is: Can I discover focus at the age of 60, can I cultivate it into something meaningful? Can I, before I die, identify and satisfy my purpose? Can I, as Viktor Frankl advises, “Live as if you were living already for the second time and as if you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now!”?

 

 

My Zero to Sixty is a little slow

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Photo by Chris Peeters on Pexels.com

 

41.  Dealing BlackJack at Klondike Days. I had to attend dealer’s school for two weeks prior to KDays. It was fun, nerve-wracking and a little scary. During one of my shifts some guy got mad because he didn’t like the way the cards were coming — yelled at me, swore at me, threatened me — coolest thing ever happened — the Pit Boss jumped in right away (like they said they would) temporarily closed my table, removed me and had the guy thrown out. I decided dealing cards was not a career I would pursue.

42.  Living in a tiny pre-war house with Tim before and after we got married. This house was seriously small! It had a dirt basement and an oil furnace/heater thing in the basement that was supposed to keep us warm in the winter. It didn’t do a very good job. Because we were young, we spent a lot of time in bed, keeping ourselves warm. We shared this house with two cats and a dog. They entertained themselves while we were at work by knocking things off shelves, and Brandy, the dog, would get the belt to my house coat and pull the cats around the house with it. Even better was its location — right next to the train tracks, Edmonton municipal airport, 118th avenue and Kingsway Mall. But, boy, was it cheap!

43.  Being there for my parents when they needed help. My dad was diagnosed with cancer; my mom fractured her leg. They needed someone to stay with them for a while to help out. I am so glad I was able to do that for them. It gave us a chance to get to know one another again, and I was able to spend precious time with my father before he passed away.

44.  Singing with my sisters. We haven’t done it in a long time, but when my sisters and I were younger we loved to get together and serenade whoever happened to be around. We did this at our parents’ anniversary parties, in restaurants, at weddings, even in my living room. None of us are very good on our own, but can we harmonize!

45.  Hiking the Sulphur Skyline trail in Jasper — twice. The views are spectacular.

46.  Learning calligraphy. I love the ornate, yet simple beauty of calligraphy. It is something I mean to take up again.

47.  Writing poetry. I never thought I could, or that I could write good poems. Then I took part in a month-long poem a day challenge and discovered that I could. Do both. Now I write poetry when the moment seizes me. I’ve never had any published, but there’s still time.

48.  Taking English riding lessons. They were a birthday gift from a friend. I learned everything from the ground up — saddling, caring for the horse, horse etiquette and the basics of movement. It was a fun 8 weeks.

49.  Teaching myself how to bake bread. Who doesn’t love fresh, homemade bread? I remember our mom making it and coming home to the smell of fresh bread, it being still warm from the oven and biting into a fresh, warm bun slathered in peanut butter and honey. I had to learn how to do that.

50.  Starting a home-based writing business. I mainly did resumes, but also letters and other forms of correspondence. I helped a lot of people get jobs and that felt really good.

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