For Dad

I wrote this for my brothers and sisters last July when we gathered at my sister’s cottage in Ontario to spread our father’s ashes. He had died the previous October and this was to be our final, group farewell to the man we called Dad. Like him, it isn’t perfect, but I think it captured who he was pretty well.

Here goes:

Dad
he loved licorice all-sorts
and off-coloured jokes.
he loved a girl named Sheila.
and his eight brothers and sisters,
though he did once tie them to chairs.
he liked crossword puzzles, Tim Hortons coffee and McDonalds.
he said things
like “pass the salt and pecker” at the dinner table and
we’d snicker and giggle
while mom gave him ‘the look’.
he loved walking and riding his bike.
he was an explorer.
he took us through abandoned farm houses when we were kids;
loved getting us all in the car just to go for a ride.
to this day I love doing that, too — going
for a ride with no real destination in mind.
it’s the journey and the togetherness that matters;
that was his lesson.
oh, and it’s okay to share a bag of chips and a pop
with your brother or sister.
he told stories — some true, some half-true and
some just plain fantasy — but they were all enthralling.
he loved people, and though he pretended to hate
some of them some of the times,
his big heart always betrayed him.
he could be infuriating, embarrassing,
and exasperating.
he never apologized
for who he was,
and that is a rare and noble thing.
not many in this world are strong enough
to be who they are.
he loved the eight of us — Kathy, Tracy,
Duane, Scott,
Shawn, Lori,
Carey and Jennifer.
and though he could, at times,
be tough on us, he could also
be incredibly soft.
he never had much
in the way of material things,
I remember a pair of alligator skin cowboy boots,
and he loved the 12 string guitar his brother Stewart
made for him,
but, really, that was about it.
in the end, and yes, this is a cliche,
it’s not about how much stuff you have,
it’s about how much love you have
and how much love you’ve given.
Dad,
we miss you.
I wish I had told you that more when you were with us,
but, there’s no sense in having regret,
something else you taught us.
I only hope you know how much you are loved
and that to us
you are everything.

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.

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.

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.