On paper, it probably didn’t look like a good idea. A home and family in a bit of an uproar, lots going on. He was the the fourth of five and the youngest son. He was animal crazy just like me and we have been friends for 50 years. My parents used to take us out sometimes on a Sunday, we would drive out to the country to go and see horses. For his birthday, Dan’s oldest brother and sister got him a dog. They went to the pound and picked out a young dog. Now, according to dog lore, they did everything wrong. This dog was cowering in the corner. He didn’t respond when they called him over. But whether it was something in his eyes, or they were just dead fluke lucky, he was the right dog. When Dan met this dog that was it. He named him Faithful. While he was a very friendly dog who loved pretty much everybody, his very soul burned out his eyes when he looked at Dan. You see, Faithful knew. Now Dan was a smart kid and a natural with the dog. He trained this pup up to the point where he could take him anywhere. The tradeoff for that of course is the same as it is for children – they get to go more places and people are always glad to see them. My parents didn’t even like dogs and they loved Faithful. Everyone did. He responded to hand motions, and sang on cue – he was perfect company. Many, many years later my daughter Katt did an Independent Study Project on the local SPCA and began working on my husband in earnest to adopt a rescue dog. She was pretty determined and as my husband is powerless against her he agreed. We already had two grown dogs so determined that a younger dog would be a better fit. Talk about a pig in a poke. She picked this dog out via a thumbnail sketch from a Rescue site on the internet. He was was brought to Toronto in the back of a van with a dozen other rescue dogs from Alma in northern Quebec – where he had been tossed in a cardboard box with 3 brothers outside an animal shelter in the dead of winter. When he arrived, it was clear he was older than we had expected. He was coloured like a German Shepherd but his personality was all Lab. He was all about the food and the love. And he loved Katt. She was it for him – though he loves us all when she isn’t around. She named him Chase. He is exactly like the dog in the movie “Up” who can speak. “Squirrel!” He passed his obedience school lessons on the first night. He gets to go canoeing in Algonquin Park and attend classes with her at University. Chase reminded me of Faithful right away. It wasn’t just his calm demeanor, or his intelligence. It’s that – somehow – he knows what Faithful knew. He knows that things could have been so much worse for him. That there was a life of abuse or neglect that could have been his. That it was just a toss of the dice that he ended up here – with owners that adore him in his forever home and will care for him for the rest of his life.
In grade school I had a long walk to school. At least it seemed long. I crossed Lawrence Avenue which was quite a busy street and didn’t get crossing lights until I was much older. But I was able to come home for lunch which was a treat for me. My mother was creative and I would often have interesting shapes or combinations of food, plus gourmet treats (look in the freezer – it’s Peach Melba!)
I walked to and from school with my best friend Mary Curcio. We would play Bewitched, or Lost in Space and I would carry a story line over many days.
In October when I was in grade two, my Mom mentioned at lunch that she was heading up towards my school, did Mary and I want to get a ride back with her? I said “Sure” and went to get Mary. My Mom said she had to leave right away, so if we didn’t get back in five minutes she would have to go without us. I know that she said this, but I didn’t really hear it.
Mary was not a quick kind of girl. She was very thoughtful and never ever hurried. When I tried to impress upon her to hurry up so we could get a ride, it didn’t seem to make any difference. I kept looking out to the door and 10 minutes later saw what I feared – my mother driving up the street without me.
I ran outside and up the sidewalk, screaming and waving my arms. I didn’t understand the total panic that I was feeling – but if was very real. When my Mom stopped the car, I almost laughed at myself for my overreaction, but she was actually just stopped at the stop sign at the top of the street. She started going again. I was about 4 houses back and downhill. She didn’t see me.
The desperation I felt as I ran screaming after her bumper was almost overwhelming. And I don’t know why. I had just had lunch with her, and would see her after school in a few hours. I had time to get to school on my own, as I did every other day. Yet…I was sobbing and couldn’t stop.
I had the same feeling for the first time in a very long time just last week. After not seeing my daughter for nearly four months, I had flown to the Yukon Territory to meet her in Whitehorse. After a long journey, we finally arrived to check into one of the top hotels. Can you picture a top hotel in Whitehorse Yukon? I bet you can.
I reminded the front desk clerk that my daughter would be arriving separately and she was to get her key as soon as the room was ready. She said; “Oh your daughter was here ten minutes ago…you just missed her.”
My body folded exactly as I imagine it would had I been kicked in the stomach. It was the same feeling of desperate loss. I burst into tears. The poor clerk was very concerned – “I’m sure she’ll be back! I told her the room would be ready in a couple of hours.”
I looked at Blaine and he kept very cool. However, he did understand and left immediately to look for her in the car while I watched from the window of my fourth floor room to try and see her on the street.
I don’t think I had ever gone so long without seeing one of my kids before. It was exacerbated by the fact that she was so far out in the wilds – two and a half hours north west of Whitehorse, past Lake Lebarge where they cremated Sam McGee! She had no texting, no email, no phone, and limited access to Facebook only after 11:00 at night. She had a fantastic research position at the Arctic Institute of North America. It seemed she was doing great and have a wonderful summer but I really wanted to get a hold of her and see for myself.
We knew where to look – Starbucks or the book store. Blaine found her in Starbucks. When I saw our rental car coming back down the road, and I could just make out her arm showing through on the passenger side. I bolted out of the room, down four flights of stairs and out on to the street. Where I hugged her. And sobbed. And kept sobbing. I’m crying now just remembering. I am sure that I embarrassed her something fierce. But she didn’t let go.
On my grandparents island in Haliburton, a perfect path led through the woods to the bunkie. The light was mottled through a canopy of leaves above, and the ground was soft and quiet – a blanket of pine needles and soft earth over the exposed rocks.
We would sneak down and play in the bunkie when the hot afternoon sun would drive us off the rocks by the water. My little brothers would get tired and head back to the cottage but I would stay until I was called up for dinner.
I begged to be able to stay there by myself. Of course, they never let me. They did agree that it would be the perfect spot for the boys when they were older. I knew even then that they would ruin it – with their stolen beers and crushed cigarettes. With their friends who were loud and messy.
The summer I turned 11, my parents went out to the Yacht Club’s big party. I was mortified that they insisted on getting a babysitter. Helen was only a few years older than me, and about 4 inches shorter. She let me stay up and watch t.v. with her after the boys were asleep. Then, Helen was shaking me roughly and hissing into my ear, “Your parents are home!”
I bolted up the stairs and was in my bed before they came into the cottage. I made my jaw go slack and slowed my breathing to mimic sleep. I heard the muffled conversation from downstairs as Helen left – walking home alone down the cottage road with just a flashlight.
A cloud of Shalimar wafted into my room just before my mother did. She leaned over me, watching me in the moonlight and shaking her head. My mother was always beautiful – delicate and perfect. She never looked lovelier than that night.
“My God how do we keep kidding ourselves?” she said, in a loud stage whisper, “It’s not a stage she’s going through!” My father came in to the room and tried to shush her. “C’mon lovely, let’s call it a night”.
“Look at her. Just look at her! You know people can’t even believe that she’s my daughter! This massive klutz. This loser. Pathetic.” My mother then spun on her heel and careened into my father’s always waiting arms.
That fall I left for boarding school. I never lived at home again. As I got older, I visited the cottage less and less. There were summer jobs, and studies abroad. Eventually I married and moved down South. I haven’t been back in many years. Even now though, these many years later when I smell that certain forest smell I am right back there – skipping along down the path to the bunkie.
Last year, my brother sent me a photo of his lovely little daughter. She is standing on the porch of the bunkie with my mother twirling her in her little princess dress. My mother looks very happy.
A few years ago I broke my back coming off my horse. I was very lucky. My helmet was cracked – which was a pretty good indicator of the force of impact. Had I not been wearing the helmet, I would probably be typing this with a blower straw rather than my hands.
Six weeks after the fall, I returned to the fracture clinic at the hospital for my followup. The doctor told me that I was healing very well and could begin moderate exercise. I told him that was good, as I had already been playing tennis for two weeks!
This is just to show that I do not step away from things without good reason. And right now I am out. On the DL. This is what happened.
About a month ago in the frenzy of pre-move packing, I was carrying a large box down the stairs that was almost too heavy for me. The bottom of the box gave way, and I used only my right arm to stop the contents from spilling out. I felt something tear. It eased quickly and I carried on.
A couple of weeks after that, I did EXACTLY what my yoga teacher says is the reason many woman get injuries – I reached into the back seat, while driving, to grab my purse. As I swung it into the front seat, it caught on my tennis bag and I felt something tear. Again.
This also eased off and I was able to continue normal activities. To be fair, I was being extremely conscious of hitting the tennis ball in front of me – because hitting behind me as I am wont to do was really quite painful. My tennis game actually improved with this better focus and positioning.
On Monday, we were walking in the fields when my two stupid dogs were roughhousing and collided right behind me, taking me out at the knees. My husband laughed – I fell right on top of the two dogs and it did look pretty funny – but stopped laughing when he saw that I was crying. It wasn’t the fall – it was the surprise that had me fling my arms back. (You remember what surprised arms look like right? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Bmhjf0rKe8) The pain was excruciating, but after an hour of hiking it eased off once again.
Yesterday I was walking in the fields with the dogs – alone this time – when something caught their attention and they wouldn’t heel. The two older dogs were frantically digging in the middle of the pasture. I went over to see what had engaged them so and saw the puppy in the middle looking from one to the other. They had come upon an extremely large nest of field mice. As the two dogs dug, the puppy snapped at the baby mice as they flew in the air and swallowed them whole.
I stood and watched for a second or two and then the remaining mice used another tunnel to escape their furry foes – and ran out en masse, right over my boots. I screamed like a girl. Twice. And leapt backwards, throwing my arms back once again. The pain made me weak in the knees. And this time it didn’t ease off.
I tried to play tennis later that morning. Nothing if not an optimist, I was sure it was moments away from going back to nearly normal. It did not and I could not play well at all. My signature trick shot – hitting behind me without even looking – couldn’t happen. My serve was beyond weak and I couldn’t hit an overhead with power to save my life. So I am on the DL.
Conveniently, I was already seeing my doctor yesterday afternoon for a referral for foot surgery. Isn’t getting old fun kids? He checked my shoulder and sent me for an x-ray and an ultrasound – even while noting that really only an MRI would give us any real information.
At the x-ray clinic I was unable to do up my hospital gown. I told the lady if I could do it up I wouldn’t be there! Now I have to use my other arm to position my bad shoulder to do hard tasks like reach for groceries or put on mascara. It sucks. So I am taking the weekend off of tennis. We’ll see.
My father has been gone now for nearly 20 years. He has been in my thoughts a great deal lately. Here are some of the things that he tried to teach me:
# 1 – We took relatives visiting from Des Moines, Iowa to the Guild Inn. This was an incredible old hotel, with antiquities surrounding the grounds, artist’s studios and an exact replica of massive English cedar maze. I was just four. I ran with my sister and three cousins, all older, deep into the maze. It was late afternoon and I was tired. I couldn’t keep up and was soon completely lost. What had started out as a magical adventure, turned into something much darker as the late afternoon sun slipped behind the clouds and I was surrounded by 9 foot hedges. I started to cry. And then I started to scream.
Very soon thereafter, I could hear my father was calling to me – “Wheeere’s Leslie?” – in a sing-song voice completely at odds with the sound his body made crashing through the hedges. He sounded like a bear coming at a dead run. He broke through the woods in front of me; sweating, and bleeding from dozens of scratches. He lifted me up on his shoulders and I could see our way out of the maze.
Lesson – Sometimes, only sometimes – fuck the rules.
#2 – My father was a very large man, tall and broad, with a deep thundering voice. He was noticed and deferred to in many situations. When we would be in line at a concession stand, at the fair or the beach, the young person serving would always try to serve him first. We would be standing there, impatient, hot and thirsty and my father would say “I think this young man was ahead of me.” and point to the little boy standing in front of us. The boy was shocked and the kid serving might have learned something as well.
Lesson – Play fair.
#3 – When I was about 11 we were at a lovely resort in Northern Ontario where my Dad was the keynote speaker at a conference. In the afternoon, he tried to arrange for me to go horseback riding. They wouldn’t let me go with the guide by myself and my Dad didn’t want to disappoint me, so rather than prepping for his address that evening, my Dad went riding with me. Now I was a pretty good rider – I hadn’t yet made that switch from horses to boys – and it was wonderful for me to be riding on lovely trails through the woods. I’m not sure that my father had ever been on a horse. At one point the guide advised that this was a good place to – “open ‘em up a bit” – and my dad suggested that the guide and I go on and he would follow at a slower pace.
I flew with the guide through the open fields, and I can almost remember how blissful that felt – to be completely without fear. When we reached the other side, we let the horses catch their breath and waited for my Dad to catch up. I could just see him in the distance, coming our way. Now he had told the stable that I could ride but he was not experienced. They, correctly, gave him a smaller, placid horse that would give him no trouble. So here comes my very large father, on a old horse barely taller than a pony. And they were trotting. A very bouncy trot. Man-china busting kind of trot. And it suddenly dawned on me. He was not having fun. I was having one of the best days EVER and he was beyond uncomfortable. He must have been miserable! “Are you okay Dad?” I asked when he caught up. “As lONg aS you’Re haVing Fun hoNey!” he said, as he bounced right by us.
Lesson – It’s not really fun unless it’s fun for everyone (but you can suck it up for your kids)
#4 – When he would be working on the weekend and my mother would come to the office to join him, he would have her call just before she left the house, so he could go down into the lower level parking garage and be there when she pulled in so she wouldn’t have to walk through the underground garage alone. The first time my father drove home a girlfriend of mine to an empty house, he told her that we would wait in the car while she got inside and checked things out. When she had taken a good look around, she would blink the light to let us know everything was okay, and we would drive away. I have done this maybe a hundred times since then. This taught me about caring for people.. But it also taught me about paying attention. And that steps could be taken to perhaps change the outcome of events. My father would sit calm but vigilant while he waited for that light to blink, and I know that if anything had seemed even slightly amiss, he would have entered the home, and whatever situation was unfolding.
Lesson – Show Up
#5 – One of the biggest lessons was the one I didn’t learn. My father got his degree at night school, while dealing with a full-time and very demanding job, a wife and two daughters at home. When I had the grades to attend University, and he was willing to pay for it, he was flummoxed/gobsmacked/stunned that I didn’t want to go. He tried desperately to convince me to go, but nothing he said – nothing anyone might have said – could have changed my mind. What a jerk I was. This ranks right up there in the list of mistakes that I have made in my life. I was a fool not to have gone to University when it was offered to me. (I did go back years later, after I was married but it was different by then. I had been out in the world for a while and I was much more certain about those things about which I was certain.)
Lesson – Remain teachable. (there is much that you don’t know that you don’t know)
#6 – My father was abandoned by his father when he was four years old. His mother worked long hours in their family store and brought home the vegetables and fruits that were going to be thrown out. My father decided at a very young age that he would not be poor for his entire life. He would work hard – so very hard – to give his family, and himself, the finer things in life. He got really excited by every new car, every nice hotel room, every steak dinner that filled the empty places that he had grown up with. He had been both rich and poor and chose to not be poor anymore. He never put on airs – he and my mother were both clearly mutts who came from poor families and often went without while they were growing up. He made sure that my sister and I wanted for nothing – while still understanding and appreciating the value of everything.
Lesson – Work = Rewards. You can choose the life you have.
#7 – Most important of all, my father taught me that there was nothing I couldn’t do. For a young girl that was extremely important. He believed in me. He thought I was smart and talented and able. I took that vote of confidence and respect into every job interview I ever had, on every first date, in every social or business situation. Long ahead of the curve, he hired a black women to head up one of the departments in his company. He hired an openly gay man in the late ’70’s when it was more than uncommon to do so. He respected people for who they were and what they could do – and that was enough.
Lesson – Who you are is far more important than what you are.
I miss him still.
Do you remember the “Freedom 55” commercials for London Life a few years back? The guy was suddenly able to meet himself in the future. I have been thinking about this spot lately as I am turning 55 this June. Time to make some choices.
(Interesting side note about that commercial: I worked on the London Life account and Freedom 55 didn’t actually exist. It was just a concept title to get people interested. There was no there, there whatsoever.)
Now I am building a new home, that will be the last home I ever live in. Thus, it is imperative that I create a place where I can live happily at 55, 65, 75 and beyond. How do I want to spend my last few years? Will I be healthy and able? Our new home is being built for very active people, with hiking trails, tennis courts and a big gym. Yet we are making it a bungalow because we are going to be too old to go up stairs!
This is a First World problem, no doubt. But it involves making major decisions based on imagining how your life will play out, ten or twenty years from now – choosing, or at least imagining how every aspect of your life will look, well before your are actually living it. And some of these choices are huge. You know the expression “well it’s not cast in stone.” In this case, it actually is. It’s a matter of making choices based on your best guest for the you in the future. (This is exacerbated by the fact that I have no spacial ability whatsoever. The architectural drawings were useless to me. Even when we got underway – does this look like a house to you?) Looking at every aspect of your life, staring from the great broad strokes – where do you want to live? How will you be spending your time? What will matter to you? A good hospital nearby? Friends? Where will your children and potential grandchildren live? This is coupled with the most minute details of your day to day – no moment by moment existence. How will everything in your future you’s life look and function? Where do I want to sit and watch t.v.? Is there enough to light to read with my fading eyesight?
I damn near made a big mistake when picking out the new bathtub. I choose a super deep, high sided tub and pronounced it perfect. My husband, however, pointed out that I will be hoisting my ancient body into that tub when I am a 70 year old. Do I really want to launch myself over four foot hurdles just to get into a wet and slippery danger zone? I was nearly responsible for future me’s broken hip! I had to pick a tub that an old lady could get into. It has a lower spot on the sides so I can step in easily. I almost got the one you sit in and then close the door to fill it up but I am ever the optimist. But I keep forgetting. I keep getting stuck between the people we are today and the people we will be in 10 or 20 years – older, retired, living a life certain to be different in many ways from how we are living now. I am having a hard time imagining it.
A good friend told me the trick to living together happily when your husband retires is very simple. “Don’t make him that first sandwich.” Even if you have to go out and just drive around, make sure you are not home at lunch, otherwise your days will look like that forever.
One thing for sure. I want lots of places to lie down. I think I’ll go have a nap right now.
#1 – The people that are gone. Nothing makes you notice the missing more than the Holiday Season. Sure, other things like weddings are tough, but the wedding is a one time thing (pretty much) and Christmas is a tradition that must radically change to avoid having the glaring empty chair where someone loved once sat.
#2 – There is more need than time or money. People are incredibly generous – I just wish they would spread it around more throughout the year. I have delivered more than 200 presents this year – all of them to people I have never met. And I still feel like it’s nowhere near enough.
#3 – It happens in the winter. What a dumb idea. Let’s see, let’s make an event that needs an excruciating amount of errands and shopping, and combine it with a bucket load of travel, both on our highways and in our skies, and let’s have it when the weather is most likely to be unpleasant or dangerous. What fun!
#4 – People buy me presents. Now I know for most people that is probably a good thing. But I have always found receiving Christmas gifts some sad combination of competitive, threatening and embarrassing. Now my best friends know better than to buy me anything. And if they do, they are not surprised that they are re-gifted or donated, often quite quickly. Gifts that do come, come with a condition; a gift of five festive soaps with the request “please keep at least one.”
#5 – The Food. With the lovely array of baked goods and chocolates exploding at every event that I am not able to resist, I am at risk of developing scurvy. Combine this with the fact that my usual physical activities are curtailed due to the holidays and I am in grave danger of becoming trapped in my own clothes.
#6 – The Music. The carols started playing before U.S. Thanksgiving this year. Most of them are insipid or cloying. But a few, just a few, break through and move me in spite of myself. Like this one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g608gU3W-54
#7 – The Lights. Driving through our area, I do love to see the houses all lit up with their Christmas finery. Each house has it’s own take on how Christmas lights should look, and each unique endeavour combines with the next to form a glowing tableau. We have a single, Christmas tree lit up outside our barn and every time I come down the driveway my heart swells at the sight of it.
#8 – I hear from people that I haven’t heard from in a long time. No longer sending any cards, the number that I receive dwindles each year but I still revel in each handwritten envelope that appears in my mailbox. Also, through the phone, email or Facebook, people reach out to reconnect, for no other reason than to share good wishes.
#9 – Candlelight A.A. Meetings – combined with a pot luck. Always moving and lovely.
# 10 – Oh hell, I feel all soppy now. I’m going to go make a Peppermint Hot Chocolate, have a sugar cookie and read all the cards I got this year. I’ll put on James Taylor’s Christmas CD and light a fire. What a wonderful time of year!
Merry Christmas Everyone!