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.

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. . .

My Zero to Sixty is a little slow

slow slug snail shell
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.

and. . . I’m 60

birthday-cake-cake-birthday-cupcakes-40183.jpeg

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.

A poem for today

I’m supposed to be working on a short story submission, but I got looking through my old poetry. I really like this one. Blackie was such a good dog. And I still miss her.

 

Blackie

©Kathy Larson

 

She was our first, and only, family dog.

We got her from the SPCA,

A little ball of black and tan fur.

Our son, for whom the puppy

Would be a companion and also

‘life lessons,’ named her:

Blackie Bear Rosa, a mouthful, for sure,

But he couldn’t settle on just one,

So we laughed and said why not?

Within days she became just ‘Blackie’;

It was the name her ears perked up to.

This puppy, who would eat with her

Back legs waving in the air made us laugh,

Made us glad to buy chew toys and treats

And special dog blankets and an old fashioned

Wind-up clock that we wrapped inside a baby

Blanket to keep her quiet and comforted at night.

While she was little she held our son’s attention,

But as with most ‘family’ pets, she soon became

Mine.

And I loved her, utterly and completely.

She was my companion on the days waiting

For the school bus to bring our boy back,

She took me on long, soul-searching walks,

Walked me out of depression, walked me out of

Walking out.

For fifteen years she was part of us and when

We had to take her in and put her to sleep

Part of me went with her.  I cried for weeks after.

Walking in the door expecting the pit-pat, pit pat

Of her coming to greet me, or waking in the night,

Sensing her still there, at the side of my bed,

Dropping my hand down to touch emptiness.

All that remained was a lighter spot on the carpet

Where her rug had lain for all those years.

In time, the pain lessened, but not the loss.

Now, I remember her as a dear friend,

Visit her in photo albums, and, on occasion,

When we’re all together, say, “Do you remember when. . .?”

 

Day 76 — It seems I’m falling behind

It seems I’m falling behind in my goals. But perception isn’t always accurate.

Despite the longer gaps in my blog posts I have been quite busy working on my goals. Purging is continuing in all its forms and I am feeling lighter, clearer and more in control every day. My daily walks continue and my body and mind are definitely the better for that.

I spent the first two weeks of March back in my home near Edmonton. The first week, I watched my grandchildren while their parents went on a holiday. I had a great time and it was the perfect way to start off a new month. I love great beginnings!

The second week involved taking care of business at home. Vehicle check-up, personal check-up — the joy of having to find a new doctor — sigh. Then there was chores at home — the house needed a good cleaning prior to company arriving. Window frames needed painting, a shower head needed fixing, and electrical switches needed replacing — thank you Landon!

During that second week I was struggling. Struggling with the enormity of repairs and maintenance our house needs, struggling with feelings of self-doubt, struggling with anxiety over all the things I cannot control. When I get like that it can be very difficult to remain positive and to see that there is a way out from all the dark thoughts, the overwhelming need to BE IN CONTROL. Lucky for me I had my grandpuppy Hades to walk every day and, later in the week, we were expecting company.

Walking Hades got me out into the fresh air and allowed me to escape my internal drama for an hour or so. And because I could turn it off for that little while it made returning to it easier to cope with. Slowly, I was able to tell myself that I was doing fine, that everything would be fine, that my house was fine — you get the idea.

By the time our company arrived — Tim’s brother and his wife — relatives we consider good friends, I was, not to be facetious, in control. My house was spotless. The dangerous electrical switches had been replaced, my vehicle was given the thumbs-up, the shower worked properly and my window frames were painted. I could relax. Kind of.

Because, of course, you want everything to be perfect when you have guests. Not that I needed to worry — our guests are incredibly easy to get along with and so much fun to be around that we always have a great time. Spending a few days with them got me to let go and just enjoy our time together.

Something that was said to me a long time ago when I was a girl of about 13 or 14 by a friend of my mother’s came back to me during that second week. I had been complaining  to her about how messy our house was and about how I hated always having to be cleaning up. Why, I remember asking this person, couldn’t my mother keep a clean house (sorry Mom) and how embarrassing it was to me when people came to visit. My Mom’s friend, whom I had been babysitting for, said: Kathy, people don’t come to visit your mother’s house; they come to visit your mother.

Since then, I have, of course, heard that same adage repeated in many different ways and forms. And I’ve always thought how true it was, while in the back of my mind a little voice whispered: yes, but not your house. Your house will be neat and tidy and people will come and visit and be SO IMPRESSED. 

Well, guess what. I finally realized the actual truth of those words. No one cared that I had spent two days dusting, washing and scrubbing — they cared that they were there. With us. Laughing, visiting and living.

When I think back to those days when I was that snotty, opinionated girl I see that our house was not dirty — it was messy — how could it not be with ten people, a dog and two cats living in it? But it was always (almost) filled with laughter and fun. Just about any day after school we could come home and find my Mom sitting at the kitchen table having coffee or, occasionally, a golden Cadillac or a grasshopper with one of her friends while they played crib or double solitaire. My brother’s and sister’s friends came and went like our house was their own. My parents made them all feel welcome and comfortable.

We didn’t have a lot, but what we had they weren’t ashamed of.

Why, oh, why does it take so long to learn these simple lessons?