Twinkle, Twinkle

I’m not musically gifted. As a child, I took piano lessons under duress for years, rarely practiced, and never progressed very far. I refused to participate in recitals. As a young adult, I took some lessons in an attempt to uncover previously hidden talent, but it didn’t work out that way. I did manage to tackle a few pieces in the Royal Conservatory’s Grade 7 book—but only a few. I’ve written about this elsewhere:

“My most impressive musical accomplishment is Mozart’s Piano Sonata in C; except for the part toward the end of the second movement where a bunch of flats insinuate themselves into the music line and trick me every time, I think it sounds pretty good. Most of my repertoire is at a much more elementary level, so I like to keep the book open to that page. That way, if anyone passing by the piano notices all those dense black notes, gasps, and says “You can play that?” I can leap right in and play a few bars. It’s a sham. I consider it more fanciful than dishonest.”

As I enter my elder years (okay, I know I’m a bit past the entrance..), I’ve decided I need something to challenge my sometimes sluggish brain. I could try playing the piano more often—say, once a month instead of once a year. I could hunker down and finally master Spanish—another one of my half-baked enthusiasms that stalled somewhere near the “barely adequate” point. But I’ve been thinking about the violin.

img_5360.jpgMy mom played the violin in her high school orchestra. I only know this because there was a violin in our attic when I was growing up. I never heard her play it. My youngest son, given the choice between piano lessons and violin lessons at the age of eight, chose the violin. At first, we heard he had real potential. “A good ear,” they said at the conservatory. Maybe so, but his dedication rivaled my own. Minimal. That chapter in his life ended after a few years when we left his violin in the trunk of the car on a hot May day. When he arrived at his lesson, the instrument tumbled from the case in several pieces. I was the only one who was amused, and my chuckle stuck in my throat when I remembered that the violin didn’t belong to us. We had it repaired, returned it to the Conservatory, and to my knowledge he’s never picked one up since. The somewhat creaky strains of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star in its multiple variations have stayed with me, though, as has the image of cats running for the door when he began to play.

 

Now they are running from me.

Two days ago a friend who plays and teaches strings indulged me with a brief lesson in how to hold the bow (awkwardly, it seems, with all the wrong fingers) and how to play the first few bars of Twinkle Twinkle (nothing new under the sun, I guess). She loaned me her back-up violin, and I’ve been practicing like crazy. The tune is still creaky, I keep fumbling with the bow, bumping it into the wrong string, and having to re-adjust my fingers. But the tune is recognizable and I’m feeling somewhat compulsive. Given my history, that probably won’t last when the going gets rough, but I’m going to give it a try.

So far, I can play six notes on two strings, and I’m feeling pretty chuffed! Fortunately for you, wordpress won’t let me post recordings unless I upgrade. Maybe when I move on to Mozart…

 

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Revisiting Laura

A few days ago, after a reading marathon, I closed the cover on Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilderby Caroline Fraser. As an unrepentant admirer of “Laura”, I was intrigued by Fraser’s revelations about Laura’s life that filled the cracks between her books and placed her story in the context of both a larger story of American expansion and a tighter circle of personal relationships. I was intrigued, too, by the extent to which her children’s books side-stepped the family’s poverty and Pa’s often poor judgement.

Those of you who’ve read Shifting Currents know that much of my early life was spent imagining I was Laura. My parents started out reading the books to me, but they must have finished them on their own after I began to read for myself, because their contents were frequent topics of family conversation. Dad marveled repeatedly at Laura’s memory of details like the buttons on her Aunt Dora’s dress. Mom felt sympathy for Ma, who was dragged from one home to another by that ever-adventuresome scalawag, Pa. My brother and I built covered wagons out of cardboard boxes in the living room. Of course, by the time Jack and I had moved to the farm with our own children, I had morphed (matured?) into Ma.

In 1984, our family took a driving trip west in an over-sized van with a canoe on top, hauling a pop-up camper trailer. Our intention was to reach the Canadian Rockies, but in those days we were still farming, and by the time the hay was off the fields that year, it was early August. In order to fulfill our promise to reach the mountains and still get home by Labour Day, we veered south, where the Rockies curve east. When we saw the sign for Pepin, Wisconsin, both Erica and I insisted on a stop. From there on, our trip became something of a Laura-extravaganza as we passed through Minnesota and the Dakotas. (We also saw the Rockies.)

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Mother and daughter on the Banks of Plum Creek, summer 1984.

I’d read many of the details in Fraser’s book before in other, less detailed accounts of Laura’s life. As this well-researched tale moved into her later years (she didn’t begin the books until her mid-sixties), I found myself focusing on the recurring questions of veracity. It’s an issue that’s plaguing us on so many levels these days. I’ve struggled with it too, as a sometimes-writer of memoir and essays about my own life, based on my own memories. Are Laura’s books “true”? Are they novels, as Laura claimed and Fraser confirms, or are they memoir/biography, as I have always assumed. How do we know? Does it matter whether Laura really remembers those black-berry-shaped buttons on her aunt’s dress? Are the stories any less true because the chronology has been shifted? Does the fact that rich, stuck-up Nellie Oleson is a composite character compromise the point about haves and have-nots? And what about the gaps that are clearly not gaps in memory but intentional omissions?

According to Fraser, “Her story, spanning ninety years, is broader, stranger, and darker than her books, containing whole chapters she could scarcely bear to examine…‘All I have told is true but it is not the whole truth.’” But, when does omission become the sin of delusion?

When I speak about my own memoir, I rely on the words of Tobias Wolff to excuse myself for sometimes altering details in the interest of the story. In the introduction to This Boy’s Life, he writes, “This is a book of memory, and memory has its own story to tell. But I have done my best to make it tell a truthful story.”Just a few days ago, I read a definition that appeals to me a lot: memoir is not about the writer, it’s about something universal of which the writer is an example. So, how much can you let memory tell “its own story” if in doing so it falsely presents the writer as an example something universal?

The underlying themes in the Little House books—their universal something—has to do with self-sufficiency, honesty, and hard work as quintessential American values leading to success. The boot-strap philosophy. While I don’t find anything in Fraser’s book to convince me that the specific “stories” Wilder tells are untrue, she does make it clear that the over-arching, real-life story of the Ingalls family is not one that convincingly reflects those values. In one family episode—completely ignored in the series—Pa moved the family out of Burr Oak, Iowa, in a hurry to escape an accumulation of debts. He was at various times dependent the largesse of government and charity: homesteads, themselves, were a gift from the government; during their bleakest years, the family accepted handouts; and the government paid much of the cost of Mary’s education at the Iowa School for the Blind. Their brief time in “Indian Territory” was in clear violation of the law, as Pa probably knew. And, as hard as he worked, he was never a successful farmer. His bootstraps were never quite strong enough to support his dreams.

In the most troubling sections of the book, Fraser delves deep into the complex and unhappy relationship between Laura and her daughter, Rose. For me, this was the saddest part of the story. The woman whose work idealized the frontier family and whose own parents served as role models had never been able to establish a healthy relationship with her own clearly troubled and ethically challenged daughter. When Wilder died at 90, Rose was 70. Their writing lives and their financial lives never became untangled as Rose insisted on mentoring her mother, who in turn found it difficult to write without her daughter’s input and approval. However, Fraser debunks the notion that Rose was the “real” author of the Little House books, drawing on letters and edited manuscripts to show that Laura’s comfortable style was her own, and that Rose’s contributions served primarily to add drama to the tales.

To my surprise, Fraser dubs Little House on the Prairie the “most unnerving, original, and profound” of the Little House books. It was, for me, the most difficult to read to children, focusing on the family’s intrusion into Indian Territory and their demeaning attitude toward those whose land they were taking. I think I spent as much time trying to explain the evolution of attitudes as reading the stories. But I was intrigued by Fraser’s singling out of that volume, so last night I dug it out and treated myself to an evening of being Laura. Something I haven’t done for a long time.

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The 1953 edition, now on its third generation of children…Hard to hold together while reading!

It isdreadful, the way she presents the Osage Indians. Cringeworthy, by today’s standards.  But we must remind ourselves that we are visiting another time. And the description of building the log cabin, digging the well, making the rocking chair—and Garth Williams’ wonderful illustrations of the little house—remind me that I used to read the whole series every few years. Maybe it’s time again.

 

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Morning Visitor, Part II

It wasn’t quite so funny again this morning around 2am, when once again I was awakened by a ruckus in the kitchen. Of course, after the adventures of yesterday morning, we’d closed the kitchen windows tight. But there it was, in the kitchen again. How could this be?

Early yesterday evening, Jack took this picture. Who knew that raccoons could climb walls? Not me.

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The creature was pushing the cat dish around the kitchen, but when we appeared it made a mad dash–not for the open door, but for the pantry, where Mr. Raccoon (I feel quite sure of its gender) settled down on a shelf, crashing numerous ceramic bowls in the process. Luckily, there’s no shortage of those around here.

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Those of you who know this house know that the pantry is a cul-de-sac. A narrow space with cupboards along one wall and shelves at the end. How to get him out? And how did he get in??

These critters can be vicious, and neither of us (especially me) dared go into that narrow space and try to pry him out of the corner. We made a lot of noise and banged on the walls to frighten him out of his perch, but we only succeeded in scaring him–um–shitless, as you can see. Finally, my personal prince charming donned his battle gear, grabbed a shovel, and succeeded in pushing and shoving until the fellow found the way out. No photos of the action itself–I was busy blocking the way back into the kitchen.

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I spent the morning scrubbing…a not-particulary-welcome opportunity to do some deeper-than-usual cleaning.

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And…here’s how he got in the second time. Remember the wall-climbing? An upstairs window that opens onto the little roof above the bay window below. Today, we really will get that live trap baited. And until we’ve got him, I guess we’ll be closing windows at night.

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Morning Visitor

It wasn’t quite light this morning when I woke up to a strange clinking sound coming from the kitchen. In my half-awake state, I assumed Jack was already up and had let the cats in. Our cats are nocturnal animals who often spend their nights outside hunting mice. But what was the clinking sound? I stretched to onto Jack’s side of the now half-empty bed and bumped into Jack–not up.

The fog began to lift. Obviously, he’d been up in the night and let the cats in. And something appealing had been left on the counter. Damned cats.

I stumbled into the kitchen prepared to do battle.

The raccoon daintily licked the last of the butter off its front paw and looked at me over the up-ended butter dish.

“Ah. Good morning. Nice place you’ve got here. I was looking for a bagel to go with this butter. I don’t really care for oatmeal.”

Obviously. A canister was tipped over on the counter and a small mountain of oatmeal had overflowed onto the floor.

“How the hell did you get in here?” I asked.

He didn’t need to answer. Just sauntered across the sink and made an exit through the open window above the counter—where he’d found the screen to be only a minor inconvenience—in the process knocking an oil lamp onto the floor where the chimney shattered into a glittering mass of shards.

I’m really sorry I didn’t have my camera in hand. But I’m sure you get the picture.

By now, Jack had joined me. So had the cats, who appeared to take this invasion of their space in stride. By the time we crawled back into bed after cleaning up the mess, it was 6:00. Too early to be up, too late to go back to sleep. And the cats decided this was a good time to walk around on our heads.

“Guess we’ll have to get out the live trap again,” said Jack over coffee.

A few years ago we had a serious problem with raccoons. They knocked over the bird feeders, pooped on the deck, dug in the garden. We live-trapped them and drove them to an uninhabited spot several miles from home. Then we learned that they will return unless they’re taken fifteen milesaway. Really? In that case, we may have had only one raccoon that we recycled every week or so. Indeed, Jack was sure he heard it say, as he loaded the cage into the car for the umpteenth time, “This is the part I hate.”

We’ll set the trap again, I suppose. Bait it with butter? But we’ll also close the kitchen windows at night for the rest of the summer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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What’s a Quaker anyway?

Over many years, and in many conversations about childhood and religion, I’ve been pelted with questions about Quakerism. Although I fomally abandoned my ties with Quakerism in middle adulthood, no longer able to accept even its dogma-free tenets, its echoes stay with me. Unlike the many lapsed Catholics I know, who feel burdened for life by their abandoned faith, I’m grateful for the worldview Quakerism granted me. Indeed, it still forms the basis of my own.

I recently stumbled on this ongoing series of short videos that, at first glance, seem to do a good job of introducing people to the history, beliefs, and practices of the Society of Friends, otherwise known as Quakers.

http://quakerspeak.com

Here’s a snippet from an essay-in-progress, “A Quaker Childhood”.

____________________________________________________________________________________________

I am twelve. I am sitting beside Cathy in Meeting for Worship, which is an hour of silent worship after First Day School. When I was small, I had to sit with Mom and Dad, but for the last couple of years I can sit wherever I want.

I don’t go to meeting every week, and I don’t have to stay the whole time. I know I can quietly get up and leave whenever I want to. Or I can read the book I have with me. The room is silent except for the muted sound of traffic on the street in front and the occasional throat-clearing of the adult worshippers. Mom and Dad are sitting in one of the facing benches at the front and Mom sometimes glances over at me. Some women come to meeting in slacks, and some come with their blouses sloppily tucked in their skirts. But Mom always get a little dressed up. Not too much, because people here aren’t fancy. Only one woman ever wears a hat — the same one who wears purple dresses. Today Mom’s wearing a light green dress with buttons up the front. Dad, of course, is wearing a suit. He always wears a suit.

Cathy is a year older than me with long blond hair. Like her mother, she often looks dishevelled. Just last week, on our way home from Meeting, Mom said “Not that it matters, of course, but I don’t know where Helen gets those clothes.” I am busily counting the slats on the Meeting Room ceiling when she pokes me in the side. You are not to whisper in Meeting, but she leans over and says, quiet as a breath in my ear, “I have to speak.”

We know, of course, that people speak in meeting when they feel moved to do so by the still small voice of God that is in every man. And woman. We have been led to believe that when God wants to speak through you, you will know it is God and the urge to share his wisdom will be irresistible. That’s when the early Quakers quaked. I do not believe God is speaking to Cathy. I am right beside her, and she seems quite her usual self. I shake my head at her: Don’t do it.

She starts to do a little quivery thing with her hands and feet. None of the bowed heads or pensive gazes into space seem to notice. I want is to leave. I can already feel my face getting hot with embarrassment. I open my book and pretend to read.

Everybody is looking at Cathy now. Some people smile. She just stands there looking vaguely angelic. I stare straight ahead.

“God is Love” she says in a loud voice. Then she sits down.

Some years later I watched the movie A Friendly Persuasion,in which a young Quaker boy in Meeting for Worship leaps to his feet and makes the same startling observation.

It was too late to ask Cathy where she saw the movie.

 

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“When old men plant trees…”

Every day I brace myself for more evidence that the world is slipping into an abyss of natural catastrophe and political/cultural disintegration. I’m rarely disappointed. I try not to fear for my grandchildren, but how can I not?

The Antarctic ice shelf is collapsing much faster than predicted. I live in a province that has just elected a blow-hard with a very shady past to lead it for the next four years, echoing that megalomaniac south of the border. And who knows where that will end? I watch in horror as the world order that began to take shape about when I was born hangs by a more and more fragile thread. I won’t go on. You get the idea.

Back at the farm…Jack is being treated for a metastasis of the kidney cancer that left him with a single kidney a year ago. Now the rogue cells have decided to take up residence in his lungs. He’s begun a medication that—if it works—he will continue with indefinitely. He’s tolerating it amazingly well for now, and life goes on as usual. Still, it’s cancer…an elephant that moves with you from room to room.

And so, it does feel somewhat inappropriate that what I’m mourning today is not western civilization or my spouse’s good health, but a tree.

When we first arrived here in 1972, most of the trees in open areas were elms, and most were dying. Dead and dying elms lined the river; the shade groves in the pastures were clumps of elms—no longer offering shade, as the sun poured between naked branches. A large stand of elms created a grey belt just at the bottom of the green hill. During our first year or two, the government paid landowners a stumpage fee for every dead elm they cut down. We were heating with wood then, and appreciated the government’s largesse.

For the next decade, volunteer elms began showing themselves. I’m not sure when we first noticed this one. It was obviously just beginning in this very embarrassing photo (from the early 1980s, I’d guess, from Robin’s age).

Here’s a quote from Shifting Currrents that I feel the need to share along with the photo:

“I tried to filter out what I couldn’t (or wouldn’t) deal with—the messy basement, the muddy barnyard cluttered with equipment, the stack of firewood that refused to line up with the geometric precision of the neighbours’…”  

Oh dear. Several of those failings are pretty evident here. There must have been a lot of filtering going on!

 

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Dutch elm disease, carried by the Dutch elm beetle, was on the wane for many years after the scourge of the 1970s. Long enough, in fact, for that little tree to become an elegant source of shade as well as a reminder of our long tenure in this place. When the disease reappeared about ten years ago, we contacted an arborist about saving the specimen we’d come to love. We’ve been having it inoculated every year since. Two years ago, we began to see some yellowing branches. Our arborist hit it with a double dose. Last year, a few more, another double dose. This year…I’m afraid we’ve lost the battle. The arborist is coming back in two weeks to give it another treatment, but I think it may be too late. The leaves are shriveling over much of the tree. The ground beneath is littered with leaves. It’s June.

 

IMG_0394It won’t break my heart to lose a tree. Over the years, we became so enthusiastic about planting trees that our yard is now heavily in shade. I’d be happy for a bit more light to break through. But this particular tree has become a symbol of survival against odds. At a time when I’d like to be reassured about survival on various levels, I hate to lose it.

In keeping with the Greek proverb, though, we’ll no doubt fill the hole it leaves.

“Society grows great when old men [yes, and old women too] plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit under.”

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“When old men plant trees…”

Every day I brace myself for more evidence that the world is slipping into an abyss of natural catastrophe and political/cultural disintegration. I’m rarely disappointed. I try not to fear for my grandchildren, but how can I not?

The Antarctic ice shelf is collapsing much faster than predicted. I live in a province that has just elected a blow-hard with a very shady past to lead it for the next four years, echoing that megalomaniac south of the border. And who knows where that will end? I watch in horror as the world order that began to take shape about when I was born hangs by a more and more fragile thread. I won’t go on. You get the idea.

Back at the farm…Jack is being treated for a metastasis of the kidney cancer that left him with a single kidney a year ago. Now the rogue cells have decided to take up residence in his lungs. He’s begun a medication that—if it works—he will continue with indefinitely. He’s tolerating it amazingly well for now, and life goes on as usual. Still, it’s cancer…an elephant that moves with you from room to room.

And so, it does feel somewhat inappropriate that what I’m mourning today is not western civilization or my spouse’s good health, but a tree.

When we first arrived here in 1972, most of the trees in open areas were elms, and most were dying. Dead and dying elms lined the river; the shade groves in the pastures were clumps of elms—no longer offering shade, as the sun poured between naked branches. A large stand of elms created a grey belt just at the bottom of the green hill. During our first year or two, the government paid landowners a stumpage fee for every dead elm they cut down. We were heating with wood then, and appreciated the government’s largesse.

For the next decade, volunteer elms began showing themselves. I’m not sure when we first noticed this one. It was obviously just beginning in this very embarrassing photo (from the early 1980s, I’d guess, from Robin’s age).

Here’s a quote from Shifting Currrents that I feel the need to share along with the photo:

“I tried to filter out what I couldn’t (or wouldn’t) deal with—the messy basement, the muddy barnyard cluttered with equipment, the stack of firewood that refused to line up with the geometric precision of the neighbours’…”  

Oh dear. Several of those failings are pretty evident here. There must have been a lot of filtering going on!

 

familyslidescan185.jpg

Dutch elm disease, carried by the Dutch elm beetle, was on the wane for many years after the scourge of the 1970s. Long enough, in fact, for that little tree to become an elegant source of shade as well as a reminder of our long tenure in this place. When the disease reappeared about ten years ago, we contacted an arborist about saving the specimen we’d come to love. We’ve been having it inoculated every year since. Two years ago, we began to see some yellowing branches. Our arborist hit it with a double dose. Last year, a few more, another double dose. This year…I’m afraid we’ve lost the battle. The arborist is coming back in two weeks to give it another treatment, but I think it may be too late. The leaves are shriveling over much of the tree. The ground beneath is littered with leaves. It’s June.

 

IMG_0394It won’t break my heart to lose a tree. Over the years, we became so enthusiastic about planting trees that our yard is now heavily in shade. I’d be happy for a bit more light to break through. But this particular tree has become a symbol of survival against odds. At a time when I’d like to be reassured about survival on various levels, I hate to lose it.

In keeping with the Greek proverb, though, we’ll no doubt fill the hole it leaves.

“Society grows great when old men [yes, and old women too] plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit under.”

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Not That it Matters

 

Over my first cup of coffee this morning, I said “I’m going to write a blog post today.” And so I am. I’ve had any number of fantastic ideas to build on lately, but of course they’ve evaporated.

It’s been a month (exactly) since I posted photos from that mavellous Mexican garden. Two weeks since we packed up our Mexican home. I’m still in the process of settling back into this one, and having to come to terms with the fact that my compressed nerves/disc problem is not going to be resolved quickly. I am simply going to have to try to enjoy a life of limited mobility for awhile yet. It’s getting old—as the young would say.

Which means, of course, there’s no reason not to get a lot of writing done.

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In fact, I have another writing project on the go, and I’ve been sharing bits of it now and then with fellow writers. I don’t know exactly what form it will take. “A collection of short memoir and essays triggered by childhood memories.” I thought of that last night before I fell asleep. It works for now.

Here’s a segment from a one of those essays, “Not That It Matters”.

“Look at Rose. Can you imagine wearing a plaid blouse with that striped skirt? Not that it matters.”

That was my mom, and it mattered.

Mom studied to be a secretary and married her high school English teacher at eighteen. He was an “older man” of thirty-one. She was a mother at twenty. He was a college professor at thirty-three. She was Eliza Doolittle to his Henry Higgins.

The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain.

It matters.

The embryonic cells that were to be my mother were already madly multiplying by the time my sixteen-year-old grandma married my not-much-older grandpa at the point of the proverbial shotgun. It was 1924 in the small, eastern Pennsylvania town of Bangor. The teen parents settled in with her mother, who ruled the roost with an iron, Methodist hand and cared for one, then two baby girls. The second was born less than a year after the first, prematurely; “small enough to fit in a mason jar” my grandma said, forever etching the image of a home-canned infant in the family’s collective consciousness.

Her dad worked in the rail yards and on a wrecking crew. Her mom moved from one textile mill to another, sewing the sleeves on blouses or the ears on toy bunnies. Neither ever went to high school. Her mom stumbled over the words in Disney Golden Books. The only reading material in their home was a Bible—and much later, the TV Guide.

Not that it matters.

Until…your husband is a university professor and you’re thrust into the world of PhDs and their 1950s wives—who are the grown daughters of foreign diplomats, or bankers, or school principals. Graduates of Home Economics programs or liberal arts majors from Radcliffe. Who don’t know what a wrecking crew is and never stop to wonder how the sleeves became attached to their blouses.

Until…the conversation begins over cocktails, and you’re not sure what you’re supposed to do with the olive on a toothpick, and the liquid between you and the olive is caustic. Then, the woman on your left says, “Where did you go to school?”

And you know it shouldn’t matter. Really. It shouldn’t.

So you blush, and look down. At least your clothes are so glad that your clothes are just right. And you say “Well, actually, I was just a secretary.”

Everybody nods and takes a sip of caustic liquid from their funnel-shaped glass. You try to see what they’re doing with the olive so you can do the same thing. And hopefully, get to eat it.

“No ordinary secretary,” says Dad with a twinkle, whenever the subject arises. “Smart as a whip.” Which he is, of course, too kind to say in the presence of an ordinary secretary. “She could have done anything, but she married me.”

You smile at him sweetly in those moments, but you know you couldn’t have. You’d have been a secretary. An ordinary one. You stir your drink with the olive.

The woman in the red dress has a teenaged daughter who made the cheerleading team, and the one with the navy-blue high heels thinks her two-year-old son is coming down with chicken pox. You wonder if they’re really all smarter than you, because you can talk about your kids, too.

Then the older woman—the one with the henna-red hair—carefully extracts the toothpick from the glass and plops the olive into her mouth, chewing slowly as though the morsel were a fine chocolate.

The library board is looking for volunteers, she says.

Is she looking at you? You look at your olive. Is it ready to be harvested? Is your toothpick far enough above the liquid to allow for a drip-free capture? You take another sip to be sure, careful not to wince.

You glance up and see a latecomer enter the room: a stout woman with cropped grey hair, wearing an orange blouse that is coming un-tucked from her too-tight lavender skirt. She speaks in a voice that is too loud.

You look down again at your smart grey suit with the black blouse and the pearls. Real pearls that were your grandmother’s.

Not that it matters, you say to yourself, carefully extracting the olive from the glass, sliding it off the toothpick with your front teeth, and chewing it like a fine chocolate.

Of course, it might not have been like that. You were a smart cookie, as Dad used to say before such language was considered demeaning. You probably figured out the olive on your own. And you never pretended to like gin. So I am taking liberties with your younger self in my attempt to understand you, long past the time when I could ask.

 

 

 

 

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Notes from a garden

It hasn’t been a winter for blog posts, somehow. Not for lack of things to think about and write about, certainly not for lack of time, but rather for lack of energy and focus. Our stay in Mexico has been dominated this year by the search for an explanation and relief for my ongoing hip and leg pain which began long before we left home in December and continued to worsen during our first months here. After a couple of false starts, the explanation finally came a month or so ago with an MRI showing a badly herniated disc. The relief? I’m still working on that. The resolution won’t really come before I get home.

And so I have spent an inordinate amount of time this winter sitting. Sitting at my desk, but writing less than usual. Sitting in the comfy chair beside my desk, but reading less than usual. Somehow allowing the months here to pass without engaging in much, and learning to get around the city by car instead of on foot.

Today I am sitting in the sunshine (yes, I do know what’s going on at home), on the patio of a beautiful home on the hillside outside Guanajuato. We have come for the first time to the home of a friend who’s asked Jack to help her learn to use photoshop. I’m here to lounge in the sunshine and enjoy the views and gardens. I think there’s a meal in the offing as well.

I’m always in awe of such garden creations…thinking of my annual angst over where to put this year’s twelve tulip bulbs or how close together to plant the new shrubs beside the house. I just don’t have the spatial skill to imagine such a creation, and without a doubt I lack the commitment to bring it to fruition. So I’ll just enjoy the work of others. The thing about this particular garden that amazes me most is that it’s just a six-year old project–building of course on much existing vegetation.

There’s a soft breeze—cliche, I know, but it’s true—blunting the heat of the sun. I’m looking from one hilltop to another, with the city in between. Lately, my mind has been shifting homeward, but at this moment I could stay on this patio forever.

I won’t of course. In ten days, I’ll be winging my way home, glad to see kids and grandkids, looking forward to spring in northern Ontario, whenever it arrives. Perhaps it’s waiting for us to get home!

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A Rosy Glow

A few days ago, I glanced up at the kitchen window here in our Mexican home, and I felt a sudden sense of rosy optimism. This is so unlike me that I looked again. Yup. Rosy.

“Jack. Look at the light.”

“It must be the sun.”

“But the sun has never been there before.”

Shrug. Who knows? The world is stranger and stranger…

But again–in the upstairs bedroom window. The same odd glow.

The windows looking out into the callejon, the very narrow alley that is our “street”–are textured glass, a nod to privacy in this densely inhabited neighbourhood. I slid the pane aside and gasped. There, on the house opposite, almost close enough to reach out and touch, was the source of that aura.

The underlying structure of all the houses here is a rough brick. For many families, that’s as far as it goes. Covering the brick with a smooth finish is costly and adds nothing structural. Until a few days ago, many houses in this barrio—including the one reflecting in our window—had a surface like this:

But it seems the city has a beautification program that involves free paint for the front facades of anyone who is willing to do the painting themselves. We’ve been noticing a general sprucing-up in this area of the city. Now it’s moved even closer to home.

 

 

The crews come in with ropes, pulleys, sprayers and brushes, and the work is done in no time flat, swinging among the overhead wires! The view from our upstairs window:

The view from street level:

I have a hunch the free paint is limited to colours on sale at the local Comex–but I don’t really know.

 

 

 

It’s a colourful city, up close and from a distance!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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