As I set out on my walk this morning I took in the stunning view of the fields of grain in the morning light. The word’s to Sting’s utterly beautiful and heartbreaking song, Fields of Gold, slipped into my mind. As I walked, I looked around me and noticed all the simple, commonplace objects of the lives of the people I share this town with.
Gardens tended with care and love, trailers parked in driveways, wind chimes hanging from the corners of decks and roofs, bird feeders busy with early morning gatherers, cars, toys, bikes, flower pots, curtains fluttering in open windows, the sound of a baby crying. It all made such a beautiful picture.
And my heart filled with joy and with sadness. Because it’s been a tough year, and the last couple of weeks have been tougher still. I cling to the idea of beauty and of hope and with Sting’s words washing through me I smiled as I made my way through the sleepy streets of my little town.
Lately I’ve been feeling the pull of the past; I get these odd tugs at my memory and for fleeting seconds I go back in time and my heart offers up fragments of bits and pieces of the many versions of me that I’ve been as I’ve struggled to become this woman, this person, this identity.
Snapshots of my childhood flit across my inner vision — fields of grain and candy red poppies swaying in the heat of summer; a feeling that if I could float across them, be borne away on dry, whispering oceans of delicate beauty my life would be . . .
Just the other day the breeze through my bedroom window brought with it a smell of damp earth and of dust heavy with the warmth of the sun and as I lay there, in my bed, contemplating the reasons for rising that day I relived another morning from many years past of sheets twisted around legs and drowsy smiles and an inkling of what might come and in that moment I lived such delirious happiness that when I thought upon it now, all grey haired, crows feet and papery skin I marvelled at how far I had come and smiled, because regret is such a silly waste of time.
Mine is a poor memory, details have not been carefully curated and there are times when I’ve struggled to believe that my life has even been half of what I imagine it was, but where my mind fails my heart triumphs. One line from a song heard when I was sixteen can cause it to beat erratically and once more I am that young girl so sure yet unsure in my elephant-leg bell bottoms, platform shoes and pink plaid smock top striding down the dusty small town street of my youth wishing I was anywhere but there. A blue mustang pulls up, I hop in, Aerosmith blasts from an 8-track player, tires squeal, there is no better moment than the one I am in right now.
In reliving these moments past, these still-lifes, these clips and snap-shots of my life story I have come to recognize the finiteness of every hour that I have left and, consequently, I have wasted many of them thinking about all the mistakes I’ve made, the wrongs I’ve committed, the people I’ve hurt, the chances I didn’t take, the fears and prejudices I’ve allowed myself to be subject to, and then, in turn, I have used some of those hours to remind myself of the love I’ve given and been given, of the kindnesses I’ve shown and been shown, of the sacrifices I’ve made and of those made for me, of the successes I’ve enjoyed, and of the life I’ve lived, and though every hour may seem shorter than the one before I need only remember: these are my hours. And the heart will remember.
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.
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,
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,
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.
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.
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.
It’s been a busy month. I’m finally getting around to the next few achievements in my life thus far. It’s tough thinking about your life — what you have and have not done with it. I re-read my previous posts to get an idea of what I’d already written about and I was pleasantly surprised. My life has been a good one.
Here goes with some more of what sticks out for me:
36. Taking a road trip to Arizona with Tim, and my brother and sister-in-law Rick and Connie. We drove to Vegas, then to Sedona. The scenery was breathtaking. We stopped at the Grand Canyon — truly as beautiful as the postcards make it. I can see why Canadians flock there in the winter.
37. Going by motorcycle from our home in Bon Accord, AB to Dartmouth, NS. We were gone for three absolutely incredible weeks. We drove through every major city along the way, followed the Loyalist route and King’s Highway through Ontario and Quebec, had a lobster roll in Shediac, NB, walked the ocean floor at the Bay of Fundy, saw Stephen King’s house in Bangor, Maine, ate deep dish pizza in Chicago, drove by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cincinnati, slept like the dead in Toledo, and along the way we met some of the nicest and best people – on both sides of the border.
38. Taking our son to Disney World for his 10th birthday. This was the only flying holiday we ever had as a family. We had so much fun on that trip — we also took in Universal Studios — Ghostbusters, The Jetsons, Indiana Jones; went to Sea World — hand fed sting rays, pet sea urchins, got splashed by Namu; and went to Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Science center – Tim and Landon were completely in awe of all the space craft and the simulation command center.
39. Being elected President of our Local Union — SSD#24 Local 4625. I held this position for 7 years and it was one of the most rewarding and personal growth opportunities I’ve ever had. I learned so much about people during that time — and how important it is to be involved and knowledgeable about how work works.
40. Summer holidays spent in the back of a station wagon when mom and dad would take us home to Ontario. No air conditioning, eight kids — one in front with mom and dad, two in the back and five in the middle. My sister and I would be on the floor with pillows behind the front seat and the other three would share the seat. Dad telling stories about the Indian braves Falling Rock and Sharp Shoulders. Black flies, no-seeums and mosquitoes. Dad teaching us to skip rocks. The sound of loons in Northern Ontario when we were camped for the night. Mom making baloney sandwiches while dad drove — soft white bread, a slice of baloney and mustard — the best sandwiches ever.
30. Working as an Educational Assistant. I ‘fell’ into this job. And I loved it. I had to have — because it sure didn’t pay a lot. I worked primarily with special needs kids and it gave me a lot of pride and satisfaction to help them learn and thrive and grow.
31. Going to a writer’s retreat for the first time. It was scary and exhilarating. I am a writer!
32. Years and years and years ago starting an environmentally friendly products business with a friend. We made re-usable coffee filters, produce bags and cleaning supplies. It didn’t last — we were too early on the scene. But, I still have some of those filters and produce bags!
33. This is a joint one. Tim and I making the decision to move to Bon Accord from the city. Buying our big, beautiful house and making it our home. I’ve never regretted that decision. I am always happiest when I am there.
34. Once I spent a week by myself at a friend’s of my sister’s cottage in Ontario.
I was going through some stuff and just needed a break. It was a wonderful, liberating time. All that solitude was seriously good for my soul.
35. I won the Harlequin Romance Write Us A Romance contest back in the late eighties. I did it as a whim — had never read an HR novel — but thought, what the hey? how hard can it be? Well, once I started I realized it wasn’t that easy. I was so surprised and honoured that I won. That’s as far as it went though — it’s just not my thing.
23. Getting married. My husband, Tim, entered my life like a tornado. He was, and always has been, a force to be reckoned with. Funny, full of life, big-hearted, loyal, opinionated, joyful, energetic, frenetic, and in general a lover of life. I credit him with so much of the good in my life — loving him has taught me how to love myself.
24. Being there for the birth of my grandchildren. Not in the delivery room! But there afterwards to hold each of those tiny, precious babies as they entered into the world and our family.
25. Being a mom. I’ve said it hundreds of times — being a mother is the most important job I’ve ever had. And our son, Landon, has made that job such a wonder and a joy. Was I a perfect mom? No. But I gave 100% of myself to the task. It’s easy to look back now and say I should have done this differently, or, I could have handled that better, but, in the moments that were, I believe I was doing my best.
26. White water rafting. This was something I’d always wanted to do. So, a few years ago, myself and two friends embarked on a trip down the Kicking Horse River. It was the year before the huge floods in southern Alberta and run-off had been extremely heavy with water levels much greater than normal. Our trip was supposed to be category 3 rapids — they turned out to be mostly category 5. It was terrifying! But exhilarating and incredible. We saw some beautiful scenery — unfortunately we weren’t able to take any pictures. Hard to do when you’re clinging for life to the side of the raft!
27. My first trip to New York. Tim surprised me for Christmas in 2004. We had taken a trip to Ontario to spend Christmas with my parents, which I hadn’t done for many, many years. New York was a fabled place to me at that time. Some magical city that I didn’t actually believe I’d ever get the chance to see. Well, Tim made it happen. We traveled by train from Niagara Falls, New York to Manhattan. We were in Times Square for the 100th anniversary of the dropping of the ball on New Year’s eve. I will never forget the magic of that trip.
28. My mom teaching me to play cribbage. I was never much good at math — I struggled so much with it in school I felt like an idiot. My mother loves to play cards and whenever she had a few extra minutes you could find her playing solitaire or, if there was a friend visiting, cribbage or rummy. Crib intrigued me. What were these fifteen-twos and threes they were always counting? So, she sat me down one afternoon and taught me how to play. I have loved the game ever since. Really, I love playing any game (except Monopoly and Risk) and I attribute that love to my mother.
29. Writing my first-ever short story in high school and having my English teacher tell me I had talent.
Life has a way of showing you just what you need to see exactly when you need to see it.
I celebrated my 60th birthday yesterday. The day started out like any other — we woke up, we said good morning to one another, and we talked about what we were going to do. With the understanding, of course, that somewhere in those plans was a birthday dinner with family and friends.
My assumption was that it would be our son and his family, maybe my brother and his wife, perhaps one of my other brothers who live a few hours away and a few friends.
When we set out for town in the morning, to get breakfast and run errands, I was feeling emotional — I wanted more than anything not to be having this birthday. What was the big deal, anyway? Sixty, it’s just a number, and I’ve never liked having a big fuss made over me. Why couldn’t we just have a bbq on the deck, open some beer and wine and call it done?
All I can say is thank God I didn’t get my way.
Tim took me to The Old Spaghetti Factory for dinner. The one in downtown Edmonton. We’ve been going there once or twice a year for over 40 years. Crazy. I had expected to see the group I mentioned earlier and I wasn’t surprised when I saw them sitting there. And suddenly, I was happy. Because, this, I realized, was something they were happy to be doing for me.
Then, they surprised me after all. As I was turning around to grab Tim my mother walked up to me and gave me a big hug. Beside her were two of my sisters. I couldn’t believe it. They flew in to help me celebrate this milestone that I’d been treating like a millstone. A little later, after having been fooled into thinking no one else was coming, my youngest sister and my niece from Lloydminster arrived. More tears of joy and gratitude.
It was a wonderful celebration and I can’t explain how absolutely wonderful and special it made me feel. In the big course of things, a birthday really is just another day. It will pass, and then there will be another day. BUT, what yesterday showed me about birthdays is this: it’s not just about you and how you feel about it, it’s about all the people who make you who you are and how they feel about you. It’s about letting them show you their love and being able to show them in return, just how grateful and blessed you are that they are in your life.
And Dad, I know you were there, too. I had a dream last night that I was lost and in trouble. You helped me out, helped me find my way to safety. Everywhere I looked were dimes, bright, shiny and new dimes. They were pouring down from the sky and as I gathered them up I felt you smiling down on me. I love you. I miss you. Thank you for our family.
This Friday –May 11th — I will turn sixty. I’ve been a little preoccupied with that fact for a while. For a whole bunch of reasons. Not the least of which is my own mortality. I think, like most people do, that I fear dying mostly because I fear I haven’t lived.
So that got me thinking some more: what has my life, to this point, been?
Have I danced? Have I lived with gratitude? Have I embraced every moment of the life I was given as if it were my last?
Yes. And, No.
In sixty years I’ve done a lot. To celebrate this personal milestone, rather than wish it weren’t happening, I’m going to create a list of sixty things, memories, accomplishments from my life.
Here goes. In no particular order.
When I was fourteen I attended my first real play. With two of my cousins — Deborah and Susie. Our Uncle Bing was a foot soldier for Cleopatra in Antony and Cleopatra at the Shaw Theater in Niagara on the Lake. Thus began my love of live theater.
At sixteen I travelled by train from my home in Manitoba to NOTL to go live with my grandparents.
My dad ‘teaching’ my sister and I how to do the dishes properly — at least once a month. He’d hear us bickering — which was on purpose — and come in to find out what the problem was. Then, he’d take over — “let me show you how this should be done”. We’d just stand back and let him do our job. Thing is, the lesson stuck.
Going for a ride in my boyfriend’s best friend’s Mustang. We would cruise up and down the streets listening to Aerosmith while our respective others were cheating together on us.
Cruising down Portage Ave. with a different boyfriend listening to T-Rex sing Bang a Gong as loud as we possibly could.
The first live concert I ever attended was BTO — fronted by Bob Seger. I will never forget him singing Turn the Page. BTO? Barely recall them.
The first time I kissed a boy. His name was Charlie. We didn’t have a clue. But we learned!
Roller skating with my aunt Val — who is only 9 months older than me. I would walk in to St. Catharines from NOTL to meet her and we’d go to the rollerdrome not far from my Aunt Sheryl’s house. I was never very good at it, but boy did we have fun.
Falling in love with The Bay City Rollers and wearing everything plaid.
To be continued. . .
At eighteen, flying for the first time, by myself. I went to Calgary to visit my then boyfriend.
Having the courage to be rescued from an abusive relationship by three girls I did not know. One of them would become my best friend. We would live together for four years and attend each other’s weddings.
Ate smelts. My grandfather — Grampa Jack — took me to the annual smelt fry in NOTL. They were delicious! I’ve never had them again, but it is a fond memory. Doing this small thing started me on a path of not being afraid to try new things.
Meeting Tim Larson, a cute red-headed bus driver in Edmonton. He used to come in to the 7-11 where I worked nights and bug the hell out of me and my co-worker. I was his second choice for a date, but lucky for him, I said yes! LOL.
Giving birth to a beautiful little red-headed boy. I had fantasized about a blonde haired baby, but when I saw that gleaming copper. . . Love was all she wrote.
Finding out after years of feeling like a failure because I had not formally graduated high school, that I actually had — and that I had waaay more credits than I needed for a full diploma. When I think about that now, I just shake my head.
Enrolling in University. Majoring in English Literature. I LOVED going to classes and only wish that I’d had the same determination to finish that I did to start. I keep telling myself that one day I will.
Working as a Census Coordinator for Statistics Canada. It was a huge job, with tons of responsibility. I learned so much doing this job. It made me proud.
Winning the Jon Whyte Memorial Essay Prize in 1996 for my essay A Place to Call Home. It took a long time for me to realize how important this really was.
Skydiving. My best friend, Sandi, talked me into it. I was scared to death, but I did it. We had about 4 hours of ‘jump school,’ then they took us up in a little twin engine plane and forced us out. Literally. BY OURSELVES. Another reckless adventure that I’m lucky to have survived. I’m glad I did it, but I would never recommend anyone do it the way we did. To this day I can still recall that feeling of being snapped upward when my chute opened.
Having my first piece of writing published in a national magazine. And cashing the fat cheque that followed.
Writing an essay on the motif of stairways in The English Patient, by Michael Ondaatje. It was my course final, and it was brilliant. If I say so myself.
I wanted to continue on the numbering from day to day, but for some reason WordPress does not allow that feature. So that brings the total of memories/accomplishments to 22 thus far. Until tomorrow. . .
The weather has remained spring-like — I can actually go out in sandals most days. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been much rain so nothing is greening up or growing.
The river broke last Wednesday. It was amazing to see. I spent a day out just watching and taking pictures. Walked almost 11 km I got so caught up in watching the ice flow.
On the Athabasca — huge pieces of ice pushed up on to the shore.
Ice flowing on the Athabasca — it was like highways in the river.
Tim standing on ice piled up on the Snye.
Lots of repairs to be made.
Don’t think I’d want to be sitting there as the ice was driven into shore!
I am missing home right now. knowing that it is Spring and that my yards will be clear of snow I want to be there to get them cleaned up. I’m trying not to get too anxious about it, but . . . There will be time at the end of May. I’ll be home for about a week and I’m going to work hard to get everything ship-shape for the summer.
I’ve been trying to focus on my writing a little more these days. Working with my Aunt (ha,ha – she’s barely 9 months older than me) we are putting together a book of family recipes and stories. We have so many great stories in this family and it would be a shame for them to be simply forgotten. And when are stories told the most? Well, when you’re eating, of course. Though these days just about any recipe can be had by a simple click of a key, it would be nice to have family recipes preserved and handed down in written form.
Also, I’ve submitted a piece of poetry to a local magazine. Haven’t submitted any writing in soooo long. It was a bit scary. But now that it’s done I’m contemplating my next submission. There’s nothing quite so motivating as jumping in with both feet and saying ‘to hell with it!’
Tim and I got out for a motorcycle ride last Saturday. First of the season. It was incredibly windy, but a nice ride. We stopped at the Wood Bison lookout point near the Syncrude tailings ponds — I know seems kind of oxymoronic — but, hey this is Fort McMurray. While we ate our lunch a woodpecker – a pileated, I think – came by. I spent about a half an hour taking pictures of him. None turned out that great, but it was good practice.
Across from our apartment on what I call an island, but I don’t think it actually is, separated from us by the Clearwater River, lives a momma black bear and her cub. At first I thought she had two — might have been a different bear — lately I’ve just seen the single cub. I really hope that nothing happened, and that there is a mother out there with her two babies just happily foraging for grubs and goodies in the woods. Anyway, when I got home the other morning from my aquafit class I happened to see something big and black in the tops of the trees across the river. Dismayed, I thought it was garbage bags and got the binocs out to get a closer look. Lo, and behold! it was the momma and her cub up in the tree. I watched them for a while, amazed that they could be up in those skinny old trees like that. Then I decided to go across the street and see if I could get a decent picture. I couldn’t, but here it is anyway:
It looks like just a random blob in the trees, but believe me there are two bears there!
Well, I think that about sums up all the excitement in my life for the past week. I’m just a ramblin’ gal. Cheers!