Gratitude – Post 134 – Gertie Bujold

I am grateful for the life of Gertie Bujold. She is the mother of one of my dearest friends. Gertie worked as my father’s secretary in his car dealership when she was young, before she had children, and my father thought the world of her and for good reason. And as fate would have it, many years later, Gertie’s daughter, my friend also worked for my father and he admired Angie with equal fervour. Gertie has recently died and her passing reminded me of the advice and wisdom she passed along, not so much in her words, but in her actions, in how she lived her life, and …. it got me thinking.

I recently watched a video of a woman in a wheelchair, her body tired and thin, looking frail, and her memory had been stolen by Alzheimer’s. The music began to play, Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, and this woman began to move, her arms raised gently, her head swaying, her body remembering what her mind no longer could. It was claimed in the video clip that this woman was Marta Gonzalez, a former Prima Ballerina who had once danced to Swan Lake. Fact-checking has revealed that she may or may not have been a prima ballerina and isn’t who the video claims she is, but there is no doubt that this music spoke to her and her body responded when her brain no longer could.

As we look at the elderly, it is easy to forget what stories the cells in their body could tell of them. We tend to think they were always this old, always this frail, always this forgetful and slow. And to be honest, there are days when I forget my younger self galloping madly on my pony my bare legs holding me in place as if the two of us were one, I forget I once ran barefoot at track events, did back handsprings and walk-overs and spun around on the uneven bars and fell off the balance beam with alarming regularity, when now I can hardly turn around quickly in my kitchen without getting dizzy. But what if we paused and simply remembered and celebrated all the pieces of who we are and carry along with us and do so for everyone we meet. What if we remembered this body once pumped higher on a swing than it ever had before, learned how to ride a two-wheeler with no hands, arms raised high above her/his head, tobogganed down long steep hills with cold snow rushing into our face making us feel more alive than we thought possible. What if we remembered she once hit a home run and won a dance-a-thon and she still blushes when she remembers holding hands for the first time. What if we remembered when we look at someone who has lost her luster that she once had command of her days, once struck out in life knowing where she was going and fixing her internal compass in that direction. What if we remembered she survived childbirth, and in doing so, learned she could now survive anything.

And yes, my precious friend has just bid her mother farewell and her heart feels as if it is breaking. Her mother would tell her she will be okay, that life is travelling the road as it is meant to, and she would be the first to slap her knee and say what’s next and let’s get on with it. I hope Angie finds comfort in remembering her mother bustling around the kitchen, sewing great creations, her fingers knowing exactly what to do with hardly any thought, her wonderful laugh and willingness to find the joy in absolutely everything, her good-natured teasing and encouraging, her no-nonsense view of life, never asking more of anyone than she asked of herself and her always being up for any kind of fun with her laugh always locked and loaded. So, I won’t remember Gertie as she was waiting for release from her failed body, but I will remember who she still was inside, right to her very last breath – the woman who raised nine children and instilled in each of them a sense of purpose and curiousity and a profound ability to laugh even when it seemed impossible to laugh, who fostered and fed their musical abilities and intelligence and desire to be the best version of themselves. And who leaves them now, blessed to have called her mother and whose memories of her, all the versions of their mother will keep them warm until they too say, let’s get on with it.

ANGIE AND WENDI – University of Manitoba days – 1974

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Gratitude – Post 133 – Community

I am grateful for community, specifically the community I grew up in, in Northwestern Ontario on the Rainy River, just outside of Fort Frances.

I was thinking when I woke up this morning, while trying not to think about what may or may not happen south of the border today, November 3rd, 2020, as I sit at my desk to write, thinking about community and what it means now as compared to what it meant when I was a child.

In late spring/early summer my father would move his herd of Herefords from winter housing to summer pasture, down our long lane and across the River Road, through a barb-wire gate to fresh green pasture. It was a big deal. I felt like my siblings and I were on the Ponderosa, my father the Crozier version of Ben Cartwright. My father would make some phone calls to organize a “posse” to move the cattle. Doug and Blair would show up on horseback, Rock and Stormy their faithful steeds. Aarne, Annie and Ralph would be poised at their side of the highway and Cleve, Julia and Don on their side to prevent any strays making a run for it. But more often than not, neighbours would just appear and park their cars and wave their arms, blocking off potential “off ramps” and held their ground as the herd moved up our lane and across the highway. The older cows knew the drill having done it before, the younger ones falling in behind the leaders. It was usually uneventful in terms of escapees, the cows following my father’s voice more than they were chased, but oh my goodness it was exciting. The cows were bawling as they ran, the spring calves leaping and bounding as though with springs on their feet. There were whistles and shouts and sometimes the honking of horns and it was an utterly glorious chaos.  

The sense I had as a child was being part of a collective, a group of nondescript neighbours who would step up at any chance to lend a hand to each other when the need arose, often without plea or invitation. I remember the feeling of excitement, my stomach bubbling, my hands clutched in front of me to hold me together. I remember feeling immense pride for my father, his voice calming and steadying his cows, and the comfort that came from the feeling of belonging, the sense of community.

People went for drives on Sundays, dropping in to see friends when I was a kid. This wasn’t a choreographed event, but rather an impulse – pile into the car and see where you end up. Winter Sunday afternoons were meant for tobogganing and our hill was often covered with friends, with dogs running up and down, with children of every size. A huge pot of cocoa was brewing on the stove for after, when everyone came in to warm up. My mother would often bake a cake on Saturday, and the cake sat in the fridge at the ready in case someone “dropped in” and it was a “hands off” sort of thing, until further notice. Though Saturday was house-cleaning day, I don’t think it mattered if things were out of order if someone dropped by on Sunday. We didn’t fret or fuss to make the house look as though no one lived in it, ready for a photo shoot for Better Homes and Gardens. Life was cluttered and sometimes messy and you made the best of it. Sometimes the storm windows weren’t taken off until summer was in full swing. The grass got cut when someone had time, when we were little, and more regularly when we, the children were responsible. Mud behaved like hitchhikers, following us indoors without invitation, horsehair clung to every piece of clothing my sister and I had, and dust was a living breathing dragon. My mother may have worried about appearances, but if she did, she never let on.

No one drops in anymore, not without announcement or invitation. We’re all too busy, too afraid of interfering, of interrupting, or inconveniencing. I wouldn’t think of doing the “pop in”, as Jerry Seinfeld called it, to any of my friends without calling first. Why is that? What has changed? Is it the telephone, the internet? Is it that we now care more about what we look like than who we are? I hope not.

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Gratitude – Post 132 – Grandpa Stewart

I am grateful for my Grandpa Stewart. He took me on adventures, before I was old enough for school and while my father was busy clearing land and though it seems in my memory as if there were only a few such adventures, the importance is found in the details.

Frank Ezra Stewart, his middle name exotic to me, was my grandfather. I do not know a single other person with Ezra in the middle of a name or otherwise. My grandfather was amazed by the magic of cameras and as a result, photography became his hobby, a passion he passed along to my father. He crafted fine furniture, especially the size that would fit inside the doll house he built for his granddaughters, my sister and me. His adventures included walking in the woods with me in tow, walking back as far as the beaver dam on our farm, which was quite a hike for a five-year-old. He always brought along a small tin pail for me to carry and with it his wise words. “If you are carrying a pail to gather up treasures you come across, you will always see something you would otherwise have missed,” he said. And he was right. The only salamander I ever saw in my whole entire life was while on adventure with my grandfather and while carrying his pail. I didn’t carry the salamander home with me, but I did spend a lot of time examining its interesting body, the flecks on the side of it and its shiny blue back and how it slithered more than walked, but always in a hurry. We found the salamander under a log and no matter how many logs I turned over after that grandfather adventure, I never saw another.

Grandpa Stewart took me to the Alberton Municipal Office, a small white building that seemed more like a playhouse than anything else. I remember it being only one room, but I suspect that isn’t accurate. He opened the giant ledgers on his desk, and those ledgers seemed to fill the entire space, the covers thick and heavy, the pages wide, and the numbers he entered in the columns on those pages were precisely formed, each number a work of art. He was the keeper of all the important kind of information that a municipality needs to keep. Those ledgers housed the secrets, the instructions, the magic clues of life, in number form, written by his hand.

I had a lot of questions for my grandfather while we walked, most of them beginning with the word why, and the one that sticks in my mind is why do the leaves turn colours? He gave me a scientific answer, while I gathered leaves for my pail – the chlorophyll that allows a plant to make food from the sunlight is reabsorbed to be used in the next growing season and this allows the other colour pigments in the leaves to show through. He would have made the explanation plausible to someone my age, but I remember him pausing mid-sentence, as if examining his own concept of the process. “It’s magic,” he finally said. As I grew up, the sense of autumn magic prevailed.

I walk along the roads in my neighbourhood now and though the trees are mostly of the conifer variety – hemlock and pines and balsam – there are enough maples and birch for the forest to sing like an autumn philharmonic choir. As a result, autumn is my favourite season of the year. I remember being told, and I don’t remember by whom, but the words have stuck with me all these years – Leaves don’t fall in the autumn, they fly. A happier image there is not.

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Gratitude – Post 131 – The Hudson’s Bay Store, Winnipeg

I am grateful for The Hudson’s Bay store in downtown Winnipeg, on the corner of Portage and Memorial. Most importantly for me, I am grateful for the memories this iconic store conjures up.

The Hudson’s Bay store in Downtown Winnipeg is closing soon. I heard the announcement today (October 4) on CBC Radio while I was driving, and I gasped. I didn’t gasp because the Hudson’s Bay Company is in financial difficulties, as many companies are in financial difficulties during this pandemic, the landscape of our “shopping” experience often changing and shifting. The Hudson’s Bay store in Winnipeg made regular appearances in my childhood and though I haven’t visited the store since my days at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, it still plays a significant role in my remembering.

 My first memory of visiting the store as a child was the sight of baby carriages lined up “bumper to bumper” in front of the store along the sidewalk under the canopies and against the window, the babies asleep, no matter the season, while their mothers shopped inside on the six floors of goods and services. The sight of that seemed odd then, and unthinkable now. The Hudson’s Bay store was my first experience riding in an elevator and the elevator in those early days came with an attendant. “Men’s wear,” the shoppers might say, and the attendant would press the button for the appropriate floor. “Shoes, please,” and another floor would be lit. It seemed like magic to me, to step inside a box and arrive somewhere moments earlier you hadn’t been, a bit like time travel. And likewise, it was the first time I rode an escalator, a daring and risky business, the moving stairs threatening to gobble me up when we arrived at the top if I didn’t jump off at the appropriate time, and I have to say, I remember that sensation every single time I ride an escalator even now.

A customer had to have cold hard cash to use the bathroom, each stall requiring the insertion of a coin in order to open. There was a way around that as customers held the door for another to use without benefit of coins. I think that was an early version of paying it forward. Aside of the means of transportation within the store, the highlight for me was dining at The Paddlewheel Buffet on the sixth floor. Eating out was a big deal when I was a kid and having fish n’ chips while my sister had a hot turkey sandwich at The Paddlewheel Buffet was a treat like no other and after our meal, my sister and I would throw pennies into the fountain and make our wishes, wishes that always involved a horse. The Paddlewheel Buffet had exactly that, a paddlewheel replica of that which was used to power the steamships bringing supplies to the Red River Colony before the arrival of the train.

The Hudson’s Bay Company built their flagship store on Portage Avenue, opening to the public in 1926. “It took 300 men, 120 teams of horses, 20 trucks, and two steam shovels to excavate 150,000 tons of earth to lay the foundation of the store; 151 concrete pillars were driven by hand down 52 feet to bedrock to support the building; and two million feet of lumber, 100,000 tons of concrete, and 125,000 cubic feet of Tyndall limestone went into the construction”, according to HBCHeritage.ca. 

The building is now protected by its designation as a heritage site, despite the closing of retail operations. The building has been assessed with a value of $0.00 in light of the structural requirements to keep it erect. I would truly hate to see its destruction, though I can understand that option may be the only feasible solution. We in Canada have such few heritage sites, our history so shallow in terms of the larger world. It would be nice to cling to what we have, though I suppose in the end, it is merely concrete and limestone, serving the vision of a company that took a great deal from this part of the planet before we became a nation. My own nostalgia may have no bearing on the bigger picture, but I’m very happy remembering wandering the aisles and being awestruck, agreeing one of the very few times to wear my patent leather shoes and a dress, while on this auspicious outing in downtown Winnipeg, where shopping at the Hudson’s Bay store was something special.

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Gratitude – Post 130 – Finnegan

I am grateful for Finnegan. I think.

Finnegan is my cat. He used to be part of a furniture-scratching duo, Olympic level. I’m sure you can guess the name of his partner if you put some thought to it. Casey. Casey and Finnegan were brothers, two tiny malnourished abandoned orange kittens who found sanctuary in my house. It wasn’t long before they had perfected the destroy-everything-in-sight approach in response to my welcoming generosity.

Casey’s life came to an unfortunate end a few years ago and no number of his nine lives would have helped. Finnegan took his loss in stride, not being one to mope or focus on life’s heartaches. Cats are dedicated advocates of living in the moment. Often, when Gracie and I go for a stroll we come upon Simon, a large white cat, who thinks lying in the middle of the road is the best possible spot for an afternoon rest. I’ve tried discussing this with Simon, pointing out the inherent risks with his slumber selection, but he seems disinterested in my opinion, perhaps even slightly bored with my perspective and so he continues to lie in the gravel, smack dab in harm’s way, his body molding around the stones as if he were made of liquid, and Gracie and I fade away from his field of vision, taking with us our warning. I can almost hear Simon hollering at my retreating back, in between yawns and self-grooming. “You’re such a drama queen.”

I love Finnegan. I do. While I am gathering up orange hair that clings for dear life to everything I own, I chant about my Finnegan affection, a mantra to keep hold of my sanity, even if my grip is seriously threatened some days, most days actually. Finnegan sleeps all day and terrorizes the house all night. Gracie has been known to lie on Finnegan, all ninety-five pounds of her, to quiet Finnegan’s nocturnal antics, but it doesn’t seem to help. Finnegan likes to share Gracie’s bed despite never having received an invitation to do so. Gracie merely forfeits her big brown pillow and opts for the door mat while Finnegan stretches out unencumbered upon Gracie’s thick comfy bed, despite the fact that Finnegan has his own bed, the perfect size for a feline of his stature.

When Finnegan needs his fix of affection, he climbs on to my chest while I am reading and stares at me while stroking my face with his paw, the same paw that digs vigorously in the bin of kitty litter, digs as if he is on a mission to find gold or the centre of the earth, I can’t be sure which. Finnegan knows when I have washed the inside of my windows and he likes to celebrate my efforts by rubbing his body up against every inch of glass within his reach. I’m so grateful for his recognition of my efforts toward cleanliness, so very grateful that some days I’d like to share his thoughtfulness with others, with anyone really, anyone willing to give him a home. We could call it respite.

I’m not really a cat person. I had a favourite cat growing up – Muff. She was soft and grey with a white nose and white paws. I have a photo of Muff and me when I was about four or five, taken just before she went on extended holiday and never returned. Perhaps that is why I am not a cat person – I gave Muff every ounce of feline fondness I had, and the reserves were emptied.

You may remember Fred Penner singing about the cat came back the very next day. It should have been a warning to me before I opened my door to the orange mischief makers, but for now I will be grateful that Finnegan loves me and I will pretend the orange hair on everything doesn’t bother me one bit, or the torn screens, or the shredded sofa, or … 

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Gratitude – Post 129 – Summer

I am grateful for summer, August specifically, though it comes with mixed feelings.

It was warm today, the sun persistent, but trying not to be hot, surpassing that threshold without intention. August is ending, as I write this, the calendar waiting for lift-off, for the checkered flag that says – August is over.

I have noticed that conversations have shifted from planning backyard picnics to discussing the return to school and what that means for children, for parents, for teachers. Nights are cooler, the air through my open window is fresh, making me sink deeper under my blankets. Darkness settles in earlier, as if I hadn’t been paying attention to its approach and it seems to pounce on me. “How can it be dark already,” I say, looking for answers on my watch. My watch says nothing about the darkness or anything else really, other than how many steps I performed today, ready to applaud and send out virtual fireworks when I step past the pre-determined destination and it tells the time, but not the darkness.

As I found my enthusiasm to crawl from bed this morning, I was remembering an August 30th many years ago. It was late afternoon, my new baby was asleep on the bed beside me, her arms over her head, the sign that she was in definite sleep mode and I could rest my weary body beside her. The curtain was lifted almost parallel to the floor, an August breeze eager to get inside my house. I was new to this mothering thing, not quite sure of myself yet, though I had six weeks under my belt. Six weeks seemed to be the mark of survival. Mothers used to be obligated to return to work six weeks after they gave birth to a child, as if easing into motherhood was similar to running the hundred-metre dash. How hard can it be, “they” said. Get to six weeks and you’re home free.

On this particular afternoon, John Denver was in my radio singing Season Suite. One of the verses went like this – It seems a shame to see September swallowed by the wind – And more than that it’s oh so sad to see the summer end – And though the changing colors are a lovely thing to see – If it were mine to make the change I think I’d let it be. Before the song had finished, I was in tears, sobbing into my pillow so as not to wake my baby and I couldn’t stop. The image of August heading into the sunset, with merely a wave over her shoulder seemed a greater sadness than I could bear. Those with more mothering behind them nodded knowingly at my confession. Postpartum depression, they said., shaking their heads, convinced another new mother couldn’t handle the burden, the commitment, the interrupted sleep, the endless diapers. It will pass, they assured me. Steady as she goes. That was forty-one years ago, and that same “postpartum depression” hits every August 30th, with or without John Denver lulling me into sadness.

I loved everything about summer when my daughters were growing up. I loved bicycles piled at the backdoor, the wheels still spinning as they ran into the house to refuel. I loved their grass-stained knees and their unkept long hair tied up in something that resembled braids. I loved the eruption of forts in the living room on rainy days or under the swing set on hot days. I loved freezie wrappers piled high in the garbage can and snuck into cracks here and there and everywhere. I loved bathing suits that hardly had a chance to dry between swims and bare legs galloping on ponies, and giggles from the deep grass where they fell intentionally, their legs somewhere over their heads. I loved hay forts in the newly stacked hay, fresh from the field, the smell of timothy and alfalfa lingering on their hair when I tucked them into bed. I loved the freedom, the lack of order and planning, the be anything you want to be kind of days.

I bid you farewell, sweet summer. Thank you for warming the water in my lake, for your wind in the trees that allows me to hear the Reef Point cabin again, the screen banging like a starting pistol as we ran to the lake’s edge and thank you for letting me pretend to feel Rainy Lake water on my toes. Hurry back.

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Gratitude – Post 128 – A Misplaced Imagination

I am grateful for Write magazine, a benefit of membership with The Writers’ Union of Canada.

I have heard from other writers in the last several months, each expressing a sense of stifled imagination despite having more time to dedicate to their craft, time they would have spent commuting and/or at work outside the home. Worry and changes in their creative patterns have, at times, choked off the flow of ideas, blurred the images knocking on the inside of their heads trying to find their way to paper. I am familiar with the discomfort of a misplaced imagination. I would prefer to be a stranger to this particular malady, to keep a healthy distance from it as though we know each other only slightly, enough for the exchange of a benign nod, but …

I belong to the Writers’ Union of Canada and as a member, I receive the quarterly Write magazine, filled with resources, opinions, announcements, lots to feed my writerly mind. It is the one magazine, succinct and tightly written, that I read cover to cover, taking in every word, highlighting messages on various pages in the hopes I will remember them for more than ten minutes. The summer issue recently arrived in my mailbox, on a day when I was trying desperately to crawl out from under the heavy load of negative news. Lo and behold – I was rescued.

Write Magazine

Third column in, I read the wise words of Editor Rhonda Kronyk, sharing her story of consciously caring for her mental health during these uneasy and uncertain days. She and a friend have emailed each other every Sunday for more than two years, a weekly exchange they call Sunny Side Up. The exercise has helped them focus and to see the goodness in each day, not to miss something off to the side, and the spin-off is they often become part of making “good things happen”, and their exchanges have become even more essential these days for their sense of wellbeing. I exclaimed happily and loudly with a hearty YES when I was finished reading and her words were, as we like to say, exactly what the “doctor ordered”. I am, generally speaking, not a negative person. I write a blog about that for which I feel gratitude and it helps me focus on what is working in the world rather than the burgeoning inventory of what isn’t working. The idea of friends sharing their Sunny Side Up messages recharged my depleted battery.

It’s Sunday morning as I write this, sitting with a cup of aromatic coffee that I most likely will forget to drink, with photos and inspirational words in front of me, pinned to a large bulletin board above my desk, along with ideas and kind letters and memories. It all plays a role in launching me into the day with a joyful heart and to set my head into its writing mode. I turned the page in my Write magazine and read the soothing words of Ailsa Ross shared under Writer’s Prompt, where she wrote about protecting and feeding her own muse, of walks in the forest, of sitting by the creek and letting the sound of tumbling water bring her the metaphors and similes she needs, of finding stories in the night sky, of bringing back something from her walks, such as a broken alder branch that, while waiting in water in a jar on her desk, brings her new leaves that whisper words such as “hopeful, imaginative, bright.” Ailsa’s finding of her imagination fed mine. It turns out Ailsa and I both had the wonderful experience of being the Writer-in-Residence for Berton House in Dawson City, Yukon. Ailsa wrote The Girl Who Rode A Shark, and other stories of daring women, illustrated by Amy Blackwell and released in 2019, a book filled with stories of courage and adventure, stories of girls and women from around the world both historical and contemporary, a book which girls of every age would do well to tuck into a comfy chair with. My copy is at the ready. Thank you, Rhonda, and thank you Ailsa, for the sunshine and for the inspiration.

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Gratitude – Post 127 – The Village

I am grateful for Andrew and Ray, and for Abby and Ben. Let me explain.

Oran a azu nwa, translated to English – it takes a village to raise a child – is an African proverb, specifically from Nigeria’s Igbo people. The saying is familiar to many of us, but I am not sure we give it much thought. The Igbo people believe an entire village must interact with its children, to provide a safe and healthy environment to ensure the children grow into respectful and strong adults. Perhaps that proverb has greater significance now more than ever with so many families spread out across the globe, with children having less access to cousins and aunts and grandparents on a daily basis.

Many miles separate me from three of my four grandchildren and as a result, I can’t be part of their daily worlds, to share what wisdom, if any, I have worthy of sharing. I find other ways to let them know they are loved unconditionally, but it isn’t the same as being together, to pull them on to my knee when their world is difficult, to throw my arms over my head to share their joy. I find tremendous comfort in knowing my grandchildren have role models, have people who form their village.

I am thinking specifically now about four members of my grandson Linden’s village – Andrew and Ray, and Abby and Ben, my daughter’s close friends with whom my grandson spends true quality time. I am regularly in awe of their kindness, a kindness that runs to the very core of who they are, is not a costume they pull on from time to time, but rather a spirit that is firmly embedded in their character. They speak to Linden with focused intent, they greet him not as an extension of my daughter, their friend, but as a person in Linden’s own right, a separate soul. They treat him with respect and as such, have expectations of him that he honours. Each have their way of interacting with Linden, of telling him who they are and how they view the world.

Linden looks to these four to learn how to be a caring citizen of his village. They teach him by example – action has far more impact than words. Linden will form his foundation of what it means to be a man, to develop his strength of character as he watches Andrew and Ray and Ben solve problems, watches them interact with friends, with strangers, in difficult situations, in joyful moments, who laugh with him, who comfort Linden when he is frustrated or sad. Linden will grow into a man with a firm understanding that men can nurture, men can be soft and gentle, men can cry, men can be determined advocates, men can be artists/creators and teachers and stay-at-home dads; men can do anything.

I am thinking of one game night, not long ago. Linden is six years old and sometimes he gets wound up when he’s with his village, bringing on a headache. Linden’s “village” was quietly talking to Linden about choosing a game that might help him be calm and not to develop a headache. Linden had an idea. He does yoga for kids with instruction from an App on his mother’s iPad. Before anyone had a turn for that particular game, Linden asked them to bring their hands together, drop their head, close their eyes and whisper Namaste. And they did, practising intentional calmness while they played the game, without snickering and without thinking it odd that a six-year-old’s brain worked in this way. What better message can there be for a child than to be heard, to be seen, to have a voice, to think for himself. I am so very grateful for this these people and I am inspired by them. The world is a better version of itself with them in it and Linden is a lucky boy to be part of their village.

 

           

 

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Gratitude – Post 126 – My clothesline

I am grateful for my clothesline. I love my clothesline. Love love love it. I have mentioned my devotion before and those who know me, are well aware of my affection for the fifty-some feet of white “marine” cotton rope that I hung between two hemlock trees in my side yard, complete with pulleys. I built a deck upon which to stand while hanging my laundry, miscalculating the effort required to climb to its summit with two steps, again confirming my lack of credentials for building things, which never stops me from trying. That’s a bit of a run-on sentence. My apologies.

I was hanging my sheets the other day, the sun warm, the breeze ideal, and I was smiling my oh-I-love-you-clothesline sort of smile and it got me thinking, as most things do. Why do I love my clothesline with such devoted zeal? I examined the possibilities. My clothesline saves me a bit of cash on my significant Nova Scotia Power bill, which charges me 15.805 cents per kilowatt-hour, ranking 9/13 in Canada as compared to Ontario’s average of 12.5 cents per kilowatt-hour with a ranking of 4/13, according to energyhub.org, in case you wanted to know.

My clothesline creates an environmentally responsible activity, my dryer silent while the sunny breeze dries my clothes at no cost to me or the environment. The smell of my sheets fresh off the line is a fragrance like no other, that I breathe in deeply as I snuggle under my sheets at night. But surely there is something more at work here.

My clothesline always makes me think of Annie and when I hang my laundry out, she is with me and I am transported to a time when Annie tied a flour sack over my shoulders, a royal cape, while Annie did the wash, the sheets and pillow cases snapping in the wind. Annie would love my clothesline, too.

There is a profound sense of calm for me, that comes with using the clothesline, rather than the electric dryer. It is a relying on one’s self in a pure sense. It feels, in those moments, almost meditative, certainly soothing.

We, like many families, didn’t have a clothes dryer while I was growing up. My mother hung the laundry on the clothesline twelve months of the year, using a large wooden clothes rack in a spare bedroom on rainy days. She never considered this a burden, that I was aware of. It was a fact of life, simple. But perhaps she, like me, found those moments of laundry hanging a chance to pause the busy day, to reflect, to breathe deeply and forget all the ordinary chaos that swirls around us on any given day.

I hear others remind me that the clothesline doesn’t remove wrinkles and a dryer is required for that. A good wind solves that problem, but of course there are wrinkles, but I also love an iron, one that hisses and spits. My Grandma Sutherland would visit us and iron every tea towel in sight and then she would take on the pillowcases, spritzing them with lavender water to help us sleep, and then the sheets, and then my father’s shirts and then …. Ironing, to my grandmother, was a way to make sense of the world, to make parts of her life pristine and smooth and wrinkle-free.

I love laundry day. I miss the clothesline filled with soft flannel diapers and little t-shirts and socks no bigger than my thumb. I used to drive by a home of a large family and the clothesline was always busy. The clothes were hung in colour formation, like the rainbow, and every single time I drove past, I had to pause and take in the artistic expression that can only be created with laundry. I didn’t know the family living in that particular house, but the hanging of the colours never failed to brighten my day, to bring a smile and a pause. I wish I had taken the time to thank her, to have knocked on her door and said, “Well done!”

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Gratitude – Post 125 – The Soul of Nova Scotia

I am grateful for the soul of Nova Scotia, my adopted home, that has been tested in the darkest way.

I don’t often write about difficult subjects in my blog. There is no shortage of negative news swirling around day after day, the madness and greed, the ignorance and waste. It can be exhausting and draining, so I leave that to others. I try to focus on what shines rather than what harms. I can’t find my way to that place today. I feel lost in the abyss of life. Though the tragic unthinkable violence in Nova Scotia didn’t take the life of someone I knew personally, the madness touches us all across the country, brings harm to our lives, lets Evil in, allows the unimaginable to become real.

We think of our own little pocket of the world as being safe sanctuary, where we can pull the covers up at night and feel protected, our innocence intact, our hope polished to what we think is a bright impenetrable sheen. But then ….

We know madness and violence has no fixed address. It wanders and finds breath in the most sacred of places. We want answers, we want to blame, to point a finger and say, “It was you. It was you who stole our precious innocence.” But in truth, in our most human of souls, there are no answers. There is no explanation that can restore the lives devastated by loss, no words that will rebuild a community’s sense of shelter.

To quantify this act of inhumane cruelty is an added blow to those suffering. To call an act the “worst in Canadian history” reeks of ambulance chasing. We have all had our “worst” day, our greatest loss, our heart broken beyond what we think can be repaired. We need not compare, need not hold our “loss” up against another’s for measurement.

This Nova Scotia community, that I have driven through and admired its pristine quaint beauty, are experiencing their “worst” on a public stage. When the public forum and discussion has drifted away, these people will quietly go about the rebuilding of lives shattered, of putting the pieces back in some order that may look like it once did, but they are forever changed.

Evil won’t win. It never does, even when it seems mighty and too powerful to stand against. Evil can’t sustain itself, can’t be fed when acts of kindness and beauty rise up from the brokenness, hope finding new root, love having put its arms out to embrace one another, to hold each other close, to say I am here for you. Evil hasn’t a chance against love and kindness.

We light candles. We bow our heads. We reach out with money that we are able to share. We ache for each other. These seem small acts against something so violent and ugly. But even the smallest candle, even the smallest voice takes the light away from Evil and shines the path for us to follow. Refusing to give Evil a name, refusing to tell his story, weakens Evil even more.

The sun will rise tomorrow even for those who can’t bear to look right now, can’t bear to imagine that life might ever be ordinary again. One day soon they will feel the warm breath of life on their faces and will smile and will take up the path again, extending their hand and heart the next time Evil crashes through.

Posted in GRATITUDE | 6 Comments