Thursday September 18 , 2014

Archive for November, 2008

The Second Class Lives of Bus People

I reconnected with bus people recently when my beau and I attempted a return trip from Ottawa to Pembroke and back again to Ottawa. I used to be a bus person, myself, but once you’ve owned a house and car, even if you give up both, you’re never really a bus person again. You’re only ever a poseur, as I realized when the return bus to Ottawa failed to arrive in the laundromat parking lot where we were waiting with our bus people comrades-in-resignation – and my beau phoned his parents to come and pick us up and drive us home to Ottawa in his mom’s Le Baron four-door convertible.
Boy, did I ever feel like a desserter on the front line. We’d formed a real bond with our little group of bus people, regulars on the Ottawa-Pembroke circuit, sharing our bus stories and commiserating about the sorry state of private inter-city bus service in this Trans-Canada’ed country of ours. So it was a little like “smell yuz later, suckers!” when we sheepishly backed away from our new bus friends as if we weren’t headed over to the gleaming white convertible with my beau’s mom hanging out the window, “pile in – I’ve brought a pumpkin pie for the trip!”
It all started out fine. I’d even read 100 pages of “The Book of Negroes” for my book club by the time we reached Pembroke on the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend, which I’d been able to do because we couldn’t sit together on account of there were only single seats left by the time we got on the bus – in spite of our very early arrival to the bus station. I had a sense of foreboding about that, too, because there were people left behind who couldn’t get on the bus at all and I wondered how Greyhound planned to address that issue. Or IF it planned to address that issue. Because it didn’t appear at all to me, as we pulled out of the station, that it had any such plans at all.
Yet, if I’d known about the no-return trip in spite of pre-payment Greyhound treatment awaiting us on Thanksgiving Monday, I’d have been grateful to be one of those lucky bastards stranded in Ottawa, giving the departing bus the finger and resignedly heading back inside to wait. For what I don’t know. The next day’s bus to Pembroke, perhaps?
Anyway, Thanksgiving came and went with my beau’s parents and Monday afternoon his mom drove us to the laudromat to wait for the bus. That’s right. The laundromat. It’s where one catches the Greyhound out of Pembroke. We waited in the car, joking about the crowd gathering for the bus – who was the most likely to behead someone, who was most likely to be the beheadee, the usual bus humour circa 2008. After a couple of hours of waiting, a bus showed up, my boyfriend’s mom headed home and we joined the group of bus people lining up to get out of Pembroke. Then we noticed the bus was full of people and nobody was getting off – except the bus driver, who ignored us completely, went into the laundromat to use the facilities, walked by us again without making eye contact, got back on the bus, and drove away. With the bus!
“WTF?!” the little bubble over my head shrieked. I felt like the time I was making my way home from school on my crutches (I had a broken leg), the only humanoid in sight, and my mom drove by me without noticing my desperately waving crutch attempting to flag her down – but the other bus people, the real bus people, just rolled their eyes. “Happens all the time”, said the potential beheader in the plaid shorts and Metallica tee-shirt. “They treat us like dirt, don’t give us any information, just drive off like we’re not even human”, said the potential beheadee in what looked to be a candy striper outfit, although she was well into her fifties and had what appeared to be a months worth of luggage with her – including an ancient mother who just nodded “yes” to everything she said and kept both hands firmly on her purse.
“Are they sending another bus?” I asked, incredulous. “Oh, they’ll say they are. Go into the laundromat and every twenty minutes or so the lady behind the counter will say they’re sending another bus from Petawawa. But the buses come from North Bay so she’s full of you-know-what”, said a student looking type who turned out to work for a tech company in Ottawa and who was in his thirties.
“Shit?” smirked the beheader, wiping off his pop bottle glasses on his tee-shirt. He was quite sane as it turned out, just a bit of a fashion disaster, with a very matter-of-fact attitude towards the lot of bus people in this country, one of those hapless fellows who takes bad luck with a knowing shake of the head followed by a far off look-see for the good times down the road that are no doubt going to pass him by soon, too. Maybe even splatter him with a bit of mud as they head off in search of the horseshoe-up-the-ass guys who get all the luck and don’t have a weight problem.
“But we’ve pre-paid, we have return tickets. Surely they would have known in North Bay that they’d need another bus for passengers getting on between North Bay and Ottawa.” I have trouble with random corporate injustice. It makes me so crazy I vote NDP every chance I get – which is often these days, as it turns out.
“Oh, they know. They just don’t care. It’s a monopoly, Greyhound sucks, the drivers hate their jobs. There might be another bus, but I’ve waited for buses that never came, not even just to drive by leaving you running after them screaming at the top of your lungs to STOP – LET ME ON – I’LL STAND. They just don’t show up.” The beheader sat down on his flowered suitcase.
And then I remembered another time I’d been stranded in Pembroke. It was just after Greyhound closed the Pembroke bus station and opened up the laundromat parking lot for bus people to wait in for buses that would never come. It was winter, too, and we were just lucky that our ride had waited long enough to take us back home after two hours of waiting. I spent the night sleeping in (on?) an easy chair, while my beau luxurated on the loveseat, our beds having been bequeathed to another set of guests.
Meanwhile, I was watching a young woman who had a three-year-old with her, thinking back to the time I took three pre-teens on the bus to Toronto and my middle one had seen a truck load of little pigs go by on their way to market. She looked at me, with that look of knowing, two big tears rolling down her cheeks. “They don’t know” was the best I could do, but it wouldn’t have mattered what I said. She knew.
Eventually, the taxi that had taken the techie to the laundromat parking lot hours earlier showed up with passengers for the next bus. The driver make incredulous gestures that his earlier fare was still waiting and the discussion turned to the possibility of pooling our resources to take a taxi from Pembroke to Ottawa. Seriously. I mean, bus people aren’t the type of people who can just not show up for work – regardless of whose fault it is (Greyhound’s). They don’t have credit cards to rent cars with. They depend on an affordable and reliable inter-city bus service to get them back home again after brief holiday visits to friends and families. Their next best option was to share a taxi – and for $200 split four ways, it was looking a helluva lot more attractive than spending the night in a laundromat parking lot in Pembroke.
That was when my beau’s mom showed up and we turned back into the car people we really are even though we don’t own a car.
Still, I’m not so fair weather a bus friend that I won’t say this to every Tom, Dick and Harry I meet now so maybe you’ll want to cross the street when you see me coming: Canadians need a National Bus Line.

 

“Knock Knock”

“Who’s there?”
“Mammogram.”
I went for my first mammogram a couple of weeks ago after putting it off for a decade or so because I’m small of breast and I’d heard too much about the unmannered way in which mammograms are done to be eager to have one.
In fact, now that I’ve actually had one, I wonder if they mightn’t cause breast cancer so unnatural is the mammogrammatical process.
I know, I know – how dare I criticize the sacred mammogram what saves countless lives yaddayaddablahblah. How dare I not have one for a decade while insisting instead that my doctor perform a proper breast exam. Because I didn’t just not have a mammogram, oh no, I told my doctor straight up that I wasn’t going to have one. And she sighed for ten years in a row and said how stupid it was that I wouldn’t go for a mammogram and then she’d perform a proper breast exam and give me the cancer all-clear for another year.
Anyway, I’m going to be fifty next year, so I decided to bite the bullet (literally) and get the thing done so they could get my mammogram baseline started. Oh, and I’m on the pill, too, which is pretty much unheard of at almost fifty so if I don’t finish this entry you’ll know that stroke finally caught up with me and I’m getting what I deserve for ignoring all medical convention (and menopause) and staying on the pill way past my due date. If I can find a willing doctor, I’m planning on staying on it until I’m a hundred, too. What the hell? I’m already fifteen years past when I should have switched to something called “hormone therapy” that costs ten times as much as the pill to do essentially the same thing.
So I left home without deodorant or perfume and headed to the Riverside Hospital for my mammogram. After a brief wait, I was ushered into the mammogram room and so it began. I had to relax my shoulders while having my little breasts pulled away from my body and squished between surfaces so a picture could be taken which, of course, didn’t give the information required the first time and so the process had to be done all over again. And again. Again. One more time. And then I was sent home, wondering all the while if my breast would ever reattach itself to my body. I also wondered how the hell women with implants fare without popping a leak.
Then, about a week later, I got a call, “You need to come back for another mammogram and an ultrasound. The doctor has concerns about the pictures of your left breast”.
Now, this is when most women start to worry, but I really didn’t because I’ve had such thorough breast exams every year by my doctor or one of her student doctors that I knew it simply wasn’t possible they’d missed something as specific to the breast exam as breast cancer over and over and over. What worried me was having to have the mammogram again because I simply don’t believe they can be good for our breasts. They may save lives, but in the meantime, they’re pretty hard on breast tissue and I’m not sure why the technology can’t be refined somewhat so that our breasts don’t have to be stretched away from our bodies as if they are separate entities and flattened between surfaces as it they aren’t full of sensitive nerve endings. Over and over and over again until the technology works the way it’s supposed to and takes the right picture.
But no woman in her right mind is going to say, “Nah, I’d rather risk the possibility of breast cancer, thanks”, because when you’re sitting in the waiting room for your first mammogram you have an hour or two to re-assess your life in the event you should get some bad news and you almost always wish you’d started the mammogram process earlier, so sick would you feel if you’d neglected to get a jump on breast cancer through sheer laziness, no matter how much you doubted the whole process. Otherwise, I’d work less and travel more and give up worrying about my retirement – which I’d kind of decided a couple of months ago anyway when the U.S. economy tanked and I realized we’d be next and why try at all when our governments can’t even be bothered to regulate the financial industry on which all our retirement savings depend.
So I went back for more pictures and then a two hour wait for an ultrasound. Now, I don’t mean to whine, but I don’t get paid if I’m not at work and I know that’s an anomaly in Ottawa so I’m thinking of having buttons made putting it right out there for all healthcare practitioners (i.e. doctors) to see: “Not being paid because I’m waiting for you”. But women aren’t allowed to complain about anything breast cancer related because we’re supposed to be grateful for every little innovation that still doesn’t save our breasts but does save our lives so who am I to complain about losing half a day’s pay to have my breast stretched and flattened and then smeared with gel while a cold implement is run over it and a technician studies a screen looking for signs of breast cancer.
As good luck would have it, though, the ultrasound, according to the technician, revealed nothing more than fat globules that might have been mistaken for suspicious lumps and so I got dressed, only to be told to undress again in order that a doctor could re-do the ultrasound and take a closer look at the screen to get a better gander at those fat globules that might or might not be suspicious looking enough to possibly be cancer.
Well, he squinted and adjusted his bi-focals and squinted some more and moved the implement around and squinted some more and finally motioned to the screen to have the technician take a closer look before decreeing all was well, that the fat globules were mere fat globules, and no longer suspicious looking, or at least, not suspicious looking enough to be cancer. Then he left the room and the technician left the room and I got dressed thinking to myself how interesting it all was that at no time did any medical personnel actually perform a manual breast exam.
So now I’m left wondering two things: Is it possible that by the time a medical professional reaches a certain expertise in terms of equipment, he can no longer remember how to perform a manual breast exam? And, if an ultrasound is necessary to better detect breast cancer, why are we bothering with mammograms, let alone manual breast exams?

 

How I Broke My Hymen

The circus was in town and my brother and his friends were taking me and my friends downtown to the Memorial Gardens for the big top. I would have been about seven, which means he would have been about ten and his friends, Freddie and Eddie (seriously) a couple of years older.
Freddie went to the Catholic school and was a tough kid who used to scare us with stories about crazy nuns and priests who would just as soon pop you one as look at you. He also watched way too many cowboy movies with my brother (he was our next door neighbour) and years later my mom told us that once she’d overheard my brother telling Freddie that our grandmother was coming to live with us. Freddie, not taking his eyes off the movie, said, “I don’t have a grandmother”. So my brother, also not taking his eyes off the movie, asked, “Why not? What happened to her?” To which Freddie just shrugged and kept on staring straight ahead, “Somebody shot her, I guess.”
My mom still tells that story, so if you’re passing through the Sault and she insists on bending your ear with it, just go with the flow and don’t let on that you’ve heard it already, okay?
He was a tickler, too, so you had to watch your back around him because once he had you pinned down and laughing he just wouldn’t let up until you’d gone way past screaming in terror to playing dead. I learned to play dead early on because we lived on a street full of kids and it was pretty much Lord of the Flies every day after school and on weekends. Sometimes even on the way to school. I got punched in the face and ended up with a bloody nose one morning when a couple of truant brothers cornered me just past the corner store and demanded money or they’d punch me in the face. I told them I didn’t have any money (I did, but, I sure as hell wasn’t going to give it to them) and one of them punched me in the face and my nose started bleeding. Then Judy Hicks who should have been at school already (I was late for some reason) and who had been watching out her kitchen window came running out with a pair of scissors in her hand yelling that her mom was right behind her with a shotgun and they took off.
I think her mom was probably at work and Judy was taking a day off, but they didn’t know that, and Judy was pretty crazy looking with those scissors in her hand. Their names are Mark and Kim Dietz so if you ever meet them, be sure to punch them in the face hello for me.
Anyway, Freddie was a bit of a nut (sort of like Judy Hicks, although she took it upon herself to be my bodyguard pretty much for the duration of elementary school after that incident) and if you didn’t play dead it was quite possible he would tickle you to death, so I learned to close my eyes and go limp. Which, ironically, became a survival technique in my clown nightmare, too, when one night I figured out that I could wake myself up by closing my eyes in the nightmare and going limp just before the clown condemned me to death.
I don’t know. My good ol’ days came later in life, I guess.
Anyway, Eddie was a notch above Freddie because he’d been diagnosed with a learning disability and put in the Opportunity Class, which had calmed his rages so he wasn’t a bully anymore. I suspect he may have been a bit medicated, too, because he smiled way too much for a twelve year old boy and his personality was pretty much the exact opposite of what it had been when he was failing grade three over and over and over.
My friends were the twins, Kelly and Frank Jr. And yes, you guessed right, it was all Kelly’s fault that I broke my hymen that day at the circus. You also may be asking about parental supervision since Memorial Gardens was at least three miles from our house but that would only tell me that you are either under a certain age and believe what you saw in The Lion King or you’re my age and still believe in the odds of two sets of super sleuth twins being born into one family. In my reality, parents actually thought circuses and carnivals and fairs were safe havens for children and not the paedophile heavens they actually were. But more on paedophiles in another story. The tales of my youth could fill a book and star a paedophile in every chapter.
Which kind of makes me wonder what happened to all the paedophiles of my youth because you just don’t see them out and about the way I remember them being. Or is it that only kids can see paedophiles?
Anyway, as usual, the circus was nothing compared to the action in the stands and Kelly had managed to have half the crowd turn on us by the time the elephants had gone trunk to tail around the ring for the grand finale. (As an aside, I remember feeling so sad for the elephants even then that I stopped going to the circus when I was nine or ten, which was about the time my younger sister ended up on a mailing list for a Save the Whales campaign that had her so distraught we had to tell her the campaign had worked and the whales HAD been saved and she was just getting old leftover stuff in the mail for the next few years.) Then Kelly had the idea that we should head up back through the stands and hop seats down to the ground floor – just like circus people would do if they were in the audience instead of in the show.
So we headed up to the back row and began our hop down based on the assumption that everyone had left their seat down and that no one had been so anal as to put it up so that some little girl who was seat hoping at the end of the big top would land her winkie smack on the back of a seat with no seat to land her foot on and break her hymen – which is exactly what happened.
The pain I remember as excruciating and it hurt when I peed for a couple of days afterward but the blood was something else – AND we still had to walk about three miles to home. I was wearing light coloured peddle pushers, too, so the bright red blood showed up so alarmingly that everyone we passed thought to comment on it as we made our way home. By the time we got there my underwear was stuck to my winkie and I had to soak it off in the bathtub – which was the only break I got because it wasn’t actually my bath night – and then, believe it or not, my grandmother made me sit in what she called a sitz bath but which smelled like rubbing alcohol and stung so bad it was like I’d just mis-hopped seats all over again.
Later, my sister explained the significance of what had happened, news I shared with Kelly the next day. He was suitably impressed that I was no longer a virgin, which was the significance of what had happened according to my sister who was the ultimate authority on all things significant, and since neither one of us knew what that meant, stayed impressed for quite some time.
Meanwhile, I grew up believing myself not to be a virgin, which I can honestly say is a good way to grow up because when I actually wasn’t a virgin, after a particularly unmemorable encounter with a real estate salesman who lived in a trailer out near Searchmount ski hill, I felt much the same as I always had about my place in the world.

 

A Summer Day

It was a nice summer day and I was walking up Bank Street in the Glebe
Picturing myself looking just like Jean Shrimpton in a photograh I’ve seen of her in the Book of Life in which she’s walking up Fifth Avenue in New York in her Mary Quant mini, meeting the lens of the camera with her “I am the 60s you will want to remember when you are an old and dying boomer” gaze.
You remember Jean Shrimpton, don’t you? The mini skirt model, a brunette. But not just any brunette model – a brunette model who could wear blue eye shadow just like Twiggy, a blond, did.
Twiggy, by the way, now looks exactly what Baby Spice of the Spice Girls fame will look like tomorrow morning when she wakes up at 10:00 a.m.
I’m a bit young to be remembering Jean Shrimpton, to be honest. I only remember her because I devoted hours of my life as a kid studying the Book of Life. In fact, I studied it so much, I believe I lived the 60s every bit as much as Edie. Which I suppose would mean I lived the 60s in the 70s.
So, Jean Shrimpton. That’s who I was picturing myself looking like as I sauntered up Bank Street on that nice summer day back in ’07.
Except my skirt wasn’t a mini skirt and of course I wasn’t wearing blue eye shadow.
Afterall, Jean Shrimpton was probably 21 in that photograph.
No, my skirt was an age and leg appropriate “just above the knee” length – even though the economy was good back in ’07, none of us realizing the house of cards was about to have the support wall dealt to the dealer.
But I don’t pay any attention to skirt lengh fashions – I never did – and now I’m almost a decade over 40 when the fashion rule is quite simply “you’ll never catch a break in fashion”.
Anyway, there I was, doing my no eye contact unless a weirdo walks by (my eye goes to weird automatically) summer saunter up Bank in my brown skirt with the light blue teacups all over it neatly tucked up at the back into my underwear and my shocking pink way too tight, way too thin tee-shirt over my see-thru bra that I had no idea showed my nipples off to all and sundry to perfection.
No, I didn’t have socks on with my sandals but I did have a particularly awful haircut and I’d just dyed my hair maroon.
So there I am, a fashion disaster, heading up Bank Street in the most fashionable part of Ottawa (in that Tilley hatted and Roots sandalled way of the Glebe) and I’m passing by Loeb’s when Panny McHandler who sits leaning against the Loeb all day with his cap on the ground beside him turned upside down for Da Man to drop loonies and twoonies into pipes up, “hey pinkie – nice teacups”.
Now, being brought up to feel guilty BUT also to rage against the random and mindless sexism lunging at women from all sides of life, I always get that sick, deflated feeling when Panny McHandler types (and they can be anywhere wearing their “haha – you’re still trying” attitude like a frickin’ badge) say something that could just be a rustic version of a smile and nod or could be a refined version of “wanna fuck?”
A minor digression. When I was fifteen or so I lost my period, probably because I was dieting in that anorexic way teenaged perfectionist girls of average size sometimes do when they accidentally lose a pound or two and believe it has magically altered reality in such a way that movie stars will fall at their feet to worship their beauteousness if they can lose twenty or thirty more.
So I was on my way to see the new gynecologist in town. It was early afternoon and I was missing class for this important excursion, walking down Pim Hill in the Sault, on my way to the General Hospital.
Coming up Pim Hill was a boy I recognized as bad, younger than me, with bright blue eyes and dark skin.
I was wary. He was clearly not following the rules.
As he passed me, our eyes met and he sneered, “wanna fuck?”
I’ll never forget that feeling of being grossed out, but oddly flattered. Mostly because that’s pretty much how I still feel when an unsavory man is attracted to me. The uncanny thing is that when I was in the gynecologist’s office and I’d had an exam I really wasn’t quite prepared for or I would have shaved my legs with my older sister’s shower razor and not my mom’s electric one which left a fair degree of stubble, the gynecologist says, “have you been fucking around”?
I mean, really. What are the odds? Again, grossed out, but oddly flattered. And wishing I’d worn my older sister’s nylon panties instead of my Buster Browns.
So all this runs through my head as it does any time any man ever says anything even remotely complimentary to me and I’m all set to smile and say “thanks” when I think, “yabbut, he’s kind of being an asshole and if he wasn’t sitting on the sidewalk being Panny McHandler I’d just give him the finger”.
So I did. I gave him the finger.
Then I saw my reflection in the Loeb’s window. The first two things I saw were my nipples, like two very excited raspberries poking out of the inside of my tee-shirt. Then I saw an unevenness in the hem of my brown skirt with the light blue teacups all over it that, as I turned, got worse until it was quite clear that I’d walked up Bank Street with the back of my skirt tucked up into my underwear.
But that’s not all. Oh no. You remember your mother telling you to wear clean underwear and make sure it had no holes in it? Well mine always said, “who gives a shit what your underwear looks like, no one’s going to see it”.
Yes indeed. My underwear didn’t just have the usual faint old menstrual stains on it. Oh no. It also had holes. A couple of medium sized holes (medium-sized for bikini-sized underwear, anyway). It was what married men call “my wife’s underwear” underwear.
And there’s ol’ Panny McHandler snickering, just like the time I thought I’d finally arrived early for school and I was lined up outside waiting for the other kids to show up and the bell to ring so I could be first inside when I hear a knock at a window and there’s Kelly Johnston, my neighbour from up the street, pointing at me and calling for all the other kids to come and laugh at me standing out in the snow thinking I was early when I was so late everybody had already gone inside and the day was well underway.
But I guess the beauty of getting older (old?) is that you can only feel the embarrassment for a second or two before it’s just another funny slice of life and you realize you’d have been better off not wearing any underwear at all that day and why are you keeping stained old underwear anyway and why not just take them off right now and throw them in the upside down cap and let somebody else get that grossed out, oddly flattered feeling.

 

Dead Dads on Remembrance Day

I have male friends whose Dads have died in the past few years and they really miss them, their characters, their antics, the much maligned divorced dad living in a dump relationship they remember having with them growing up. Or they miss the patriarch presiding over a dying age of parties and bad parenting when men were men and women did all the real work so that men could tell everybody what to do.
But my father died when I was just little, my sister a baby, my other sister and my brother under ten years old, so I have no real memories of a relationship, just a few scenes like photographs of him sitting at the kitchen table in his housecoat and slippers, or in bed, when he would have known he was dying, that there was no way out of the cancer that was killing him. When he did die, I was young enough that it didn’t matter to me, all the people coming and going from our house made it seem like something exciting had happened, that’s all, although I remember my older sister sleeping with my mom and crying when the phone call had come from Princess Margaret, way down in Toronto, that he was dead. It was years later, when my kids were the age I was when he died, that it struck me how hard it must have been for him to leave us behind and I mourned his untimely death then.
Meanwhile, out in Saskatchewan, my mother’s sister was going through her own difficulties and couldn’t attend my father’s funeral because her husband had just been killed helping another farmer (her husband was actually a vet) bring in the harvest during a storm. His tractor had rolled over on him and he’d been crushed. Like my mother, my Aunt had four little kids, three boys and a girl to my mother’s three girls and a boy (which everyone thought was harder except we were into the ’60s then and I doubt my mom would have agreed based on my older sister’s coming of age years), but my father had been a lawyer in a small city, my aunt was stranded in a tiny house on the TransCanada in a town of a couple of hundred people – on the prairie. That part was definitely harder.
Luckily (thank Gawd for luck, eh?) both sisters had had it drilled into them by their own father, just before he slipped out on my grandmother to hook up with Bunny and produce eight more children to add to the six (or seven, if an “uncle” raised with my mom was actually his – which he probably was) in my mother’s family – to get their teaching certificates because a woman without a profession was setting herself up for trouble. Men could not be relied upon for money, honey, so get the professional designation that will allow you to work in this sexist world of ours.
He truly was ahead of his time, my grandfather, who I met once at a cousin’s wedding just long enough for him to comment on one a cute little trick I was and that I must of got all my looks from my mother, no offence to my father who everybody agreed, “was no Clark Gable”. If there was one thing my mother’s family had in spades it was looks, they agreed, although to my eye my grandfather looked like a potato in an ill-fitting suit. Still, when I met a couple of his offspring from his relationship with Bunny, they looked like movie stars.
The reason I’m writing this now, though, on Remembrance Day, is because both my father and my uncle were older when they married, as were my mother and my aunt, although still almost a decade younger than their husbands, so both had fought in the Second World War and lived, only to be struck down a mere dozen years after it was over. Neither were the type you’d associate with soldiering, both were tall and thin, destined for education and white collar professions. When I first saw a picture of my father wearing a tee-shirt and not one of those broad-shouldered suits, I was so shocked tears came to my eyes. His shoulders weren’t much broader than mine, for heaven’s sake. The idea of him overseas, fighting for King and Country, seemed as absurd to me as it probably had to him because, according to my mother, he never talked about the war, just took a lot of pictures during his down time to document the tedium and hung his uniform up in the basement cloakroom, with his helmet, guns and whatever other paraphernalia he thought he shouldn’t throw out but didn’t want to look at ever again.
I don’t know if my uncle talked about the war, but my aunt was a member of the Legion. Both she and my mother had been out in Halifax for the war, my aunt having worked her way up to a ranking of some sort, my mother having enjoyed the parties and dances. It was a lifelong bone of contention between them, that my aunt persisted in playing cards and drinking at the Legion, while my mother had put the war so firmly behind her that the most she’d say about it was, “It’s all nonsense, Remembrance Day. You went because you had to go. The war was harder on those men who couldn’t.” And certainly for her, it wasn’t the war that was the defining time of my father’s life, it was getting cancer and dying at age 45, only a few years into his career as a criminal lawyer, four young children left behind to be raised by a stay at home wife and mother who would have to go back to work because he simply hadn’t been practicing law long enough for her to do anything but put that teaching certificate to good use.
Anyway, my point today is really about a dream I had last night, not the dead dads of our lives. I was living back in one of my old apartments but the kitchen was vaguely like the kitchen in the house I grew up in, that my father’s father had built in the late ’40s and that my mother had lived in until just a few years ago. My ex and my beau and my kids had snuck in while I was out and “decked the halls” of the kitchen with all sorts of Christmas decorations – lights, ornaments, a little ceramic glowing tree inconveniently placed on the counter beside a pile of dirty dishes. They’d dimmed the lights so it looked extra Christmassy, but also kind of dingy and in need of a good scrubbing. My first impulse was to pare it all down, I was calculating in my head what would have to go, what I could stand to let stay, when I realized – wait – why can’t I just work around this for a while? Why do I have to strip it all down to what’s aesthetically pleasing instead of just letting the season take over the kitchen for a while? And this real feeling of peace came over me and I thought, “I’ll just let other people celebrate in the way that they want to celebrate instead of riding against their tide.”
I’m in Ottawa and what sounded like a single Snowbird just flew overhead. I’m going to let this one go.