September 25, 2009

Walls and Windows

Last week I was rifling through my CD collection, looking for something different, when I found Paul Simon's Graceland album. I put it on and was struck by the poetry of the lyrics. Each song painted a different picture and every day, when I listened to the album I heard more and more in it - a far cry from my response in 1986 when the album first came out. Back then I was carried away by the African rhythms and the words were, to me, more of a prop than anything. The fourth song on the album, called 'Gumboots' has a particularly fantastic line. I even posted the line on my Facebook page: "Believing I had supernatural powers I slammed into a brick wall." I believe the song is about love but the line stands alone for me like a mantra. A few Facebook friends, one now in Toronto, one in Salt Lake City, one in Vancouver recognized the lyric and responded like the album really meant something to them too. I love when that happens - when a little community comes together for a moment over a joke or a shared passion for something. I guess that's the beauty of these 'social networking' things.

Anyway, last week, after I had found the album I put it on and started cooking dinner. (My kids, who had never heard the album, asked if it was some of my 80's music and then scattered.) That line about slamming into a brick wall jumped out at me and I've been thinking about it ever since. Now I think I know why. When I was younger, a lot younger, I didn't exactly put bath towel capes over my shoulders and leap off the shed roof, but I did want, like many kids, to be, to do, so many things. In many ways I wished I had been born a boy, because I believed they had much more fun than girls. My closest sibling in age was a boy, two years older than me, and he and I played together most of the time. I always got along well with boys because I found them less complicated than girls. When I was eleven and twelve I used to wear cut off jeans and baseball shirts and kept my hair short. I remember going into Woolworth's to use the bathroom, and when I asked for the key, the woman at the counter said, "Um...would that be girl's bathroom?" She really wasn't sure. Not too long after that, when I was walking with my friend, Toni, who was extremely pretty, some boys called out, "Toni's got a boyfriend!" That was my first 'brick wall'. I knew that even I could not be both a girl and a boy, and since I was 'at that age' I was pretty sure I preferred to be recognized as a girl. When my mom took me shopping for grade eight clothes I let her buy me a flowered blouse. Even so, my young life continued to include a series of attempts to be something I was not destined to be. Granted, I had many successes, but I would invariably take on too many extracurricular activities, and then crash hard when I could not handle my superhuman efforts.

After my high school graduation I took a trip by train to visit my sisters in Winnipeg. Travelling alone was so unnerving that I stayed in the one car the entire time, even though I knew one could move around most of the train - so I did what came easily. I introduced myself to the only person my age on the car and he and I stayed up almost all night talking. During my third year of post-secondary education I decided that I should go to Europe. After all, everyone else was doing it, my friends were all well travelled, and it seemed like a rite of passage for college students. My sister, Clare and her friend had recently come back from four months in New Zealand and Australia and I wanted to be able to do what she had done. I began saving money and looking around for someone to travel with. When none of my friends proved to be available, I began to think about going alone. The more I thought about it, the more I knew I couldn't do it. Every fibre of my being told me it was a bad idea. The travelling given up for now I decided to try treeplanting - my brother was making loads of money and I had UBC to save up for now. One day on a slashburnt slope - seven hours of pure torture - was all I managed. I came home after the first day with badly stretched achilles tendons and could barely walk for a week. Oh, the humiliation! And yet another brick wall. A few days later, my mother's friend offered me a job working for her at the Kootenay Lake Summer School of the Arts as an administrative assistant. She had told my mom that if she had known I was going to try treeplanting, she would have talked me out of it. She had once owned a treeplanting company and knew it would not be the right kind of work for 'someone like me'. I was choked when I heard that, but relieved about the admin. position, a job I loved and held for three summers.

Last week my 19 year old neice, Hailey took a train trip to Toronto with a friend. Her friend stayed in Toronto and Hailey flew to Prague. She was going to travel around Eastern Europe and even had some family connections to visit in Croatia and Italy. I had just seen her in August and knew she was very nervous about her upcoming trip. I even laughed and reassured her that if she wasn't nervous about travelling by herself in a foreign country there would be something wrong. After landing in Prague, Hailey discovered she was unable to use her credit card anywhere, and Prague was packed with visitors in preparation for a Papal visit. She must have found an internet cafe because she updated her status on Facebook with "What the heck am I doing here?" Having not slept in days she called relatives for help. Another aunt came to her rescue, and offered her own credit card number so Hailey could fly back to Canada. This morning I read Hailey's newest facebook status update: "defeated...but in an odd way, relieved." Do I know that feeling! 'Brick walls' are hard on us but in the end, can prove to be our greatest friends. There is that old saying after all: "When a door is closed, somewhere a window opens," usually a window into our own natures and our limits, with a better view of the path we are meant to be on.
Thank you Paul Simon.

September 21, 2009

Musings on amusement parks

The third weekend in September is what is locally referred to, with varying degrees of enthusiasm in our house, as 'Fall Fair Weekend'. In the six and a half years we have lived in Agassiz we have learned one should not plan birthday parties for that weekend unless they do not want any kids to come, to avoid driving the shortcut to Harrison Hot Springs because it goes right by the fair (which causes worse traffic than an accident on the Lions Gate Bridge), and to feed the kids before you go the Fair otherwise you will end up buying four dollar hot dogs, five dollar snow cones, and small, six dollar bags of warm, greasy, cinnamon-y mini doughnuts in addition to the typically exhorbitant cost of the rides. My youngest daughter describes the experience aptly as 'a fun ripoff ', mind you, there is much more to the Fair than the amusement park. Adults can enjoy live (generally country) music in the beer garden while they visit with old friends. There's a tractor pull, a parade, a goat milking competition between local dignitaries which usually includes the mayor and a school principal, 4H competitions, an Elvis impersonator, and the annual crowning of the Corn King or Queen - not a beauty competition, but actually to award the grower of the best corn. The Agassiz Fall Fair and Corn Festival is a huge highlight for the local farmers, many of whom have lived here long enough to have roads named after their families. The Fair is a meeting place, a celebration of the harvest, and a chance to relax after the rigours of summer...

But back to the amusement park thing...I've never been one for amusement parks and carnivals. Once a year in Nelson, where I grew up, a travelling amusement park would come to town. Lots of kids would go every year, but for me, one ride on the Salt and Pepper Shaker was enough to last a life time. When I was in grade seven, I went with my dad to Vancouver to visit relatives. My Grandad treated us to a day at the PNE and invited my uncle's step-daughter, Denny, to come with us. Grandad bought us what seemed like five foot long strips of tickets and let us loose on the park. Not being an experienced rider of rollercoasters, I sought the more benign rides like the octopus, the train, etc. and was quite happy with these until my more experienced step-cousin's patience wore out and she coaxed me onto the old wooden rollercoaster. After lining up for enough time to get really scared, it was our turn to climb into one of the little cars. After all the cars were full, we started to climb slowly up, up, up the first slope. "This is no big deal," I thought. We reached the top and my stomach lurched - we were so very high! The coaster paused at the summit before plunging with great force straight down. Gravity lifted me right off the seat with only the metal bar to hold onto - no seat belt, no five-point harness like on modern roller coasters. I literally believed I was going to die. I think I screamed, but perhaps I was too terrified to scream. The rest of the ride was a blur and when we finally came to a stop and Denny hopped out, I found I could not move. My body would not get itself out of the car. I couldn't even speak, and the operator had to come over and help me out. Denny ran off to another lineup, most likely for the Salt and Pepper Shaker, but I staggered off the platform and sat down on a bench to get my bearings. It took seven carousel rides to calm myself down, and after the seventh I was relieved to have used up all my tickets.

When I met up with my Dad and Granddad again, my dad asked me to go on the Ferris Wheel with him. I had recovered from the roller coaster and agreed to go on the Ferris Wheel. Besides, I had been on one before, and after the experience I had just had the Ferris Wheel would be nothing. When the wheel started turning and my Dad was telling me about his childhood memories of Ferris Wheels, he put his hand on mine. "You don't have to hold my hand, Dad, I'm not scared," I said. He smiled and said, "Oh, but I might be." On the way back to my Grandparents' place in Whiterock, Denny and I sat in the back of Grandad's big brown Cadillac, feeling every rise and fall of the road in our stomachs.

My family's participation in the Agassiz Fall Fair and Corn Festival varies from person to person. My oldest likes to go with all his friends on the Friday night when the carnival is alight in the dark and all the kids from miles around have come to scream their heads off. My second son, much like my husband, can't be bothered with the amusement park part of the Fair at all. He doesn't like rides and gets disgusted with the unfairness of the games. My girls and I enter baking, crafts and artwork into the agricultural exhibition and this year was no different. The prizes are modest amounts of money which the girls, in previous years have put towards the cost of their wrist bands for unlimited admission on the rides. This year, the girls didn't want to spend their money on rides, but my little one expressed a desire, on Saturday night, to go on the Ferris Wheel, so I treated her to a ride with me. Dusk was just starting to descend on the day and the lights of the Fair glowed like old fashioned Christmas decorations. The carny buckled us into our bench and as the wheel began to turn I put my hand on Katie's. "It's okay, mom, I'm not scared," she said. As our bench rose to the top of the wheel I felt my stomach fall and I had to look straight ahead. As the wheel turned I told my daughter about the time I went on the Ferris Wheel with my dad and what he said to me. I felt exactly the same way as he must have all those years ago, and I realized that just because I'd once ridden the famous wooden roller coaster at the PNE, it didn't mean I wouldn't be still unnerved by the height of the wheel. After a few turns I could relax and enjoy the view - and it was beautiful - but I kept on holding Katie's hand. Just in case.

September 14, 2009

Twelve o'clock low

I read a quote from a writing instructor once that said, "Write about what keeps you up at night." Today I am. I had a hard time going to sleep last night after I found out my uncle Wayne, my dad's younger brother had died on the weekend. It's not that we were particularly close - I hadn't even seen him in about 25 years, but I have, fairly recently, gotten reaquainted with my cousin, his son. I was filled with sadness, particularly this morning when I went to count Sunday's collection at the church office where I sometimes fill in as secretary, and there was a funeral going on, with very few people present. I wondered if my uncle would have a funeral, or a memorial, or something. He had been in rough shape for a long time and so I truly hope he will finally rest in peace.
Years ago when I was on the early side of my teen years I remember Wayne coming to visit my family as he used to do every so often. The well loved Canadian folk singer, Stan Rogers had recently died and Wayne had brought my parents a record that had been sold posthumously, I believe. My mom put the record on, and as the familiar baritone filled the room, Wayne put his arm around my mom's shoulder. She put her arm around his and they rocked back and forth, singing along with tears in their eyes. At the time I had mixed feelings about this display. I thought they were a bit crazy, but I knew my mom was empathizing with Wayne. And I loved her for it.
Wayne's death will not have come as a surprise for his son, who had visited him frequently over the past couple of years and witnessed his demise in person. It must be hard for him all the same, but I hope he is finding comfort in the fact that he was recently with most of our family at our happy reunion in August, representing Wayne's section of the family, a role he will continue to fill even more so now.

September 9, 2009

Food, glorious food!

I swear I spend fifty percent of my time thinking about food. Add a couple of percents to that fifty now that school is in session. Summer time is fairly easy when it comes to feeding the family. I just make a big protein-rich salad every morning and stick it in the fridge to cool for supper. Other than that everyone just forages...and forages.
Now that school is in I have to think about 'litterless lunches'. I have to make sure there is bread thawed for breakfast or get up early to make pancakes or porridge. I have to make sure they have something filling like loaves or muffins for an after school snack (my Kitchen Aid mixer is my trusty sidekick during the school year) otherwise the kids will come home and eat all the bread I'm saving for breakfast and lunches; when I'm working and too busy to bake I have to make sure there are ingredients for something they can make themselves. I make a big pot of soup/chili/stew every week, which becomes, on the second night, the dinner waiting warm on the stove, ready at any time for the family going in five different directions at different times. Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining. I realized long ago that if I wanted to have a great amount of control over what my children eat, I'd have to spend the time, the money and the energy required to satisfy my own standards. My teenagers spend their own money on junk food and going out for lunch, but when they eat at home I insist they eat well. My daughter said only this morning that she will remember this line of mine all her life: "Do you have any protein in that lunch?" I told her that I first heard it from my own mom.
"Real food" was a term I heard repeatedly from the time I was a small child. According to family lore, it was all packaged soup and Velveeta in our house before my mom became enlightened by some university students boarding at our house who started teaching her how to make granola. One Christmas my mom requested the book Recipes for a Small Planet. I remember being secretly so happy to discover that I could afford the book, and so I bought it for her. I learned to regret it when she presented us with bowls of what my brother and I called 'vulgar wheat'. When she introduced us to tofu, she served it raw, and I thought if I poured enough soy sauce on it it would eventually taste okay. Needless to say I ended up with a quarter of a bottle of soy sauce on my plate, and was no further ahead with the cubes of cold soy protein.
It wasn't all 'weeds and seeds' (as my dear departed Nana used to call it) and experimental forays into 'health food', however. My mom is a fabulous baker, and we regularly enjoyed homemade bread, cinnamon buns, cake, and lemon meringue pie. We devoured roast beef and mashed potatoes on many Sundays, spaghetti and meatballs, and what mom called 'egg pie', which was plain quiche and very good.
Nevertheless, as a child, I was always hungry. My mom used to think there was something wrong with me because I ate so much. My childhood friends like to tell embarrassing stories about me - about how I used to open their cupboards and say, "What have you got to eat?" Back then I probably spent about fifty percent of my time thinking about food. Nothing really changes, does it?

September 4, 2009

The new t-shirt

Note to self: (I apologize for beginning this post as if I were Bridget Jones - I do love that scene in the book/movie when she, not a cook, decides to host her own birthday party and decides on an elaborate menu of Thai dishes that, pretty much, turn out to be "Blue Soup, Omelette, and Marmalade.")
Back to the subject at hand. Note to self: turn a blind eye to the slogan on eldest son's new t-shirt, which reads in large black letters, "SHAKESPEARE HATES YOUR EMO POEMS." When he showed it to me I had a sudden vision of him being knifed on a bus by an offended emo person, and told my son how I felt about it. Number two son, in his usual way said quickly, "Don't worry Mom, the emos will be too busy slitting their own wrists to worry about Ian and his t-shirt." Ack! Where did these horribly insensitive children come from? Granted, they are sixteen and fifteen and 'at that age,' so my friends tell me.
My mother, on a recent visit shocked me by telling me I was like my eldest as a teenager. I'll feign a Miss Piggy voice now and say, "What, moi?" Originally scoffing at the idea that I could have been as snide, as critical, as aloof, as impenetrable as my eldest son presently acts, I could not avoid the truth of Mom's claim for long. As time's sheer curtains were parted in my memory and long forgotten scenes played like silent films in my brain, it slowly dawned on me that I had been like my eldest in many ways - and I continued to be so until the effects of first love and the subsequent heartbreak served to knock off my edges with the harshness and precision of a stone sculptor's chisel.
I suppose the next time my boys go for society's jugular I will be able to comfort myself with two facts:
1) The t-shirt is, I would assume, available at CD Plus stores everywhere. Soon my son won't be the only one wearing it, and its shock value will diminish.
2) One day my sons will fall in love.

September 3, 2009

Welcome to my brand new blog!

I think it is only fair to tell/warn you of what this blog is going to be about, so here goes...

I am a mother, so it will be about motherhood.
I am a wife, so it may include occasional musings on marriage and family.
I am a reader so it will be about books.
I love music so it will be about music and musicians.
I write so it will be about writing.
I am a part-time extrovert so it will be about social situations I've been in and how they sometimes go awry.
I am a runner so it will contain some thoughts on my progress or lack thereof.
I am a daughter so it will be about the truths my parents told me.
I am a Catholic so it will, no doubt, contain musings on that subject as well as expletives such as "Holy Mother of God!!!!"
Most of all, however, I am a storyteller who loves to laugh at life and its inconsistencies so it may at times be funny...God willing.