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.

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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.

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.

 

 

Feeling like a poem on a Sunday morning

 

 

20180915_132835Nothing Lasts

by

Kathy Larson

Nothing lasts.
Not
That feeling.
The one that made you feel invincible,
incredible,
indomitable.
Not
That moment.
The one where love made all things possible,
all things exquisite,
and so
beautifully, terrifyingly painful.
Not
That breath.
The gasp that filled your lungs
with hope,
with longing,
with fear they’d burst you were so happy.
Not
That laugh.
The one you felt would always mean
joy,
acceptance,
a feeling of forever.

Nothing lasts.
Not
That despair.
The darkness that stole everything worth having:
the joy,
the light,
the love.
Not
That sadness.
The one that drained your life of
colour,
of music,
and of magic.
Not
That emptiness.
The void that made you hate your self:
your skin,
your every breath,
your right to be.
Not
That failure.
The one that was
infinitesimal,
not ruinous,
and judged so solely by you.

Nothing lasts.
Unless
You
Choose
To
Make
It
© 2018

 

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. . .

What’s it all mean, Alfie?

 

003

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!”?