Saturday, April 30, 2011

When The Kids Are Asleep...

The kids are all in bed.  Liam's snoring.  Zander's drolling.  Noa's curled into a little ball, sighing.

I grab the baby monitor, the key from the hook by the door, my lyric book.  Flip-flops hit the patio stones, still wet from the afternoon rain.  A low haze hangs around the garden and I'm already imagining digging in that dirt and making it grow into something beautiful.  I have wiped away all traces of the work day, cleansed of makeup, grey joggers - hems now damp and heavy from my route across the way - sweatshirt too big and so cozy, hair messy and piled behind my head.

The purple door waits.  Cast in shadow and skeletons of the grape vine I didn't trim back before winter.  The key sticks but concedes to my persuasion.  It's been months since I've been alone in here.  Not since the lightning strike last summer that knocked out our screen.  It's cold.  The crack beside the air conditioner beckoning the cool air to come inside and rest.  The new monitor glows brilliant and hangs the room in grey-blue.  The overhead doesn't work - blown fuse - but the lamp adds it's own rainbow to the shadows, it's multi-coloured mini-shades playing tricks and daring imagination.

There have been times of near-burst seams, when teenaged boys and their guitars and stench strain the confines of these florescent quarters, when neighbours quake at the violent amplitude and equilibrium is challenged, when I check the bathroom with one eye squeezed shut and question the investment.  But I am far removed from that now.  The silence is sweet.  The soft hum of technology is peace.

Aunt Carol's old midi keyboard sits beneath the speakers.  I balance my lyrics and chords behind it.  A new song.  Spilling out upon a click track - oh, how I wish this piano was real - all 88 keys.  I am confined by it's limitations.  Am. C/G. F. Am. E.  And on it goes.  I watch the screen.  Watch the spillage of notes as it scores what grew within my head onto bass and treble clef and it is poetry.

I create an extended genesis.  Run through double doors, shutting them in my wake.  Steady headphones on my messy head and sing into the microphone behind triple-paned glass in this asylum of egg carton walls.  And again.  And again.  Melodies and harmonies and I wonder if that bridge is too short...?

Time doesn't wait.  Midnight ticks by the top of my screen.  I am not done.  But I am still mother and have children to tend to in the morning.  I say goodnight.  Turn out the light.  Wrestle my key from the lock.  Rewet my hems as I dash through darkness to bed.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Growing Up Trailer

A double-wide.  Dirty white.  Red brake lights stuck to the back-end like a calling card.  Dark paneling and green ceramic.  Planted on an acre and a half of good old Normanby township.  A four-season perennial where the water wasn't orange.  It was the safest place in the world.

An apple tree trumped the front yard.  Wide reaching boughs that bloomed pale pink in late spring and dropped bombs that stunk of old pie in autumn.  Coarse swing rope stuck us with tiny slivers but let us soar - sneakers straining for that hanging limb just beyond the reach of our outstretched toes - Grandma visiting and pushing us, sing-songing Robert Louis Stevenson* while we giggled and stretched.

Branches hid wonderland in shadow - a tree house that smelled of mould and rotting carpet - precarious footholds hammered into applewood flesh, a stairway to hide-and-seek heaven where I would sneak away to chew the Chicklets gum I stole from the drug store counter.

Raspberries grew along an old foundation line and blackberries grew behind the barn.  We harvested plums in the backyard and picked currents along the road.  We boiled beneath summer sun in the neighbors strawberry patch, plucked potato bugs from the garden and ate sugar snap peas straight off the vine.  We milked the cow, strained the milk and churned our own butter in an old washing machine that sat near the piano.  We skipped to The Candy Man's doorstep and caught the short bus at the end of the driveway beside the pealing black mailbox.

We read stories, curled together on the old plaid couch.  We ate dinner, squished together around a table built for four.  We decorated the refrigerator with finger-paintings and built cityscapes with lego.  Jigsaw puzzles and rag curlers.  Dad's potato pancakes sizzling on the cast iron wood stove.  A banana crate toy box.  Rubber boots.  Fights over toys.  Uno.  Crokinole.  Love.

It never mattered that it was a trailer.  The stigma didn't touch us.  We were happy.  We were family.  We were home.

And that's what mattered.


*How do you like to go up in a swing, 
Up in the air so blue? 
Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing 
Ever a child can do! 

Up in the air and over the wall, 
Till I can see so wide, 
River and trees and cattle and all 
Over the countryside-- 

Till I look down on the garden green, 
Down on the roof so brown-- 
Up in the air I go flying again, 
Up in the air and down! 

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Poor Shoeless Jesus

"Mommy, you know what?" Liam is in his booster seat behind me, caught in that lazy after-church haze that keeps eyes at half mast and voice sweet and cracking.
"What, Liam?" Only half interested because I too am weary and sinking.
"Desus doesn't have any sooes." It's a statement - not a question.
"What do you mean?" I turn in my seat so I can see him, legs straight as running shoes press against my own seat, new library book on his lap, fingers playing with the curling cover.
"Desus doesn't have any sooes.  He dust wears bayow feet evwywhayow."
"Jesus walked a lot, Liam.  I think he probably wore sandals most of the time."
"Nope."  He's quiet for a moment.  "He wayows a towoowl.  Wike a dwess.  Kinda wike a zombie costoom."
"You mean a robe?"
He shrugs.  "Yeah, I duess.  It's white.  Know how I know?"
"How do you know?"
"I watched a movie at turch.  Desus didn't have any sooes."

And to a four year old it's solid, undeniable fact.

Friday, April 15, 2011

My Mother's Hands

There were nights when the darkness was too thick and the country silence too heavy and the comfort of my sister sleeping on the other side of our little paneled bedroom too far and I would call out for her.  She would slip in without a sound, tiptoe across the ugly brown printed carpeting - distilling annoyances over scattered legos and baby dolls - and sit softly beside me on my little mattress under a wall covered in drawings I traced but claimed to have done freehand.  Sometimes she would sing.  Mostly she would run a finger over my face.  Gently.  Tracing my features.  Soft touches over nose and forehead and eye lids.  Soft touches like sand paper, skin dried out from daily dishes and baths and gardening and mothering.  And somehow, in that roughness, there was more love.  The cracked skin.  The worn cuticles.  The short, unmanicured fingernails.  This was her heart.  Love worn on her hands as she brushed my hair to sleep and never had I known a woman more beautiful.

And now I have children of my own and as I hold them in those sweet end-of-day moments when they fight sleep I feel the way my calloused fingers catch in blond locks, the contrast of their youth against my day-weary touch, my roughness against their softness and I am immensely satisfied to see my own heart shinning there.  They are just like her's.  I have my mother's hands.  Wounded and scratchy and worn.

And breathtakingly beautiful.

Thursday, April 14, 2011


We are still fallen from winter.  Painted in grey.  Clouded in weary.  Brittle and stoic in our brigade against the dropping mercury.  We are hard.  And we are begging to be broken.

And suddenly, there you are.

I can see the tip of your head - peeking through the kitchen window like a mischievous child, giggles rustling through winter-dried branches, stretching for sunshine and green.

I feel the breaking.  The shedding.  The hibernation of ski pants and snow boots and sleds.  The stirring of the rake.  The dreams of a garden.  The creaking of the porch swing as I nestle beneath the quilt with my father's newest book.  The whir of bicycles and the slap of friendly games of street hockey.  The clothesline and the scrape of sidewalk chalk.  Robins.  Mud.  Rubber boots.  Walks along the old train bridge.

And we pick ourselves up.  Dust snow from our shoulders, shake weary from our hair and turn our faces to the sun.  And breathe.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Violets for Vi

I am seven years old.  Barefoot.  I smell of outside.  Of dirt.  Of dandelion milk.  Of stale water from the steel rain basin behind the shed.  I sit at the crest of the ditch, scratchy grass between my toes, holding the beige cereal box counter.  I am important.  A freelance agent collecting invaluable information for some bigwig boss.

Cars aren't nice yet.  Most people are driving what they bought at the beginning of the 70's - long boats with hard bench seats covered in old quilts - and every time one passes I push down the button on my counter, keeping an accurate account of the vehicles on Highway Six.  Sometimes it's how many black or green but today it's all of them and there are moments when it's all I can do to keep up.

And I am happy - here at this little cottage beside the road, north garden overgrown to nothing but twisted sticks and vines too thick to pass through - front door crossed with twigs, cement stoop dusty and covered in leaves from many autumns past (they can't use it anyway - the little rabbit-eared television blocks it on the other side) - the south yard dominated by a massive weeping willow, boughs hung heavy and sad like a million veils that wave gently and whisper sweetly and beneath it's mighty green canopy I am in Wonderland and I am Alice and I am always a little sad when I don't find the Cheshire cat no matter how hard I search or wish.

The south door squeaks as I enter the cottage and dust motes dance in the sun coming through the kitchen window.  It's never bright.  It's always warm.

She is a wide woman, round face rouged in love as she accepts the three little violets I picked from her lawn.  "How many today?" she asks, her voice warbling, her question sincere.

"Seventy-two!" I say proudly and show her the proof on the counter before tucking it away in it's safe spot beside the sink.

She serves me noodles with tuna.  Peas from a can.  Pudding with a skin on it.

She is comfort.  She is safety.  And it doesn't matter that she smells like old person and won't let me play upstairs because she loves me beyond a capacity I have to understand, simply because I am there in her care and she has enough love to fill a thousand oceans and she will live forever simply because love lives forever...

I am thirty-one.  The cottage sold years ago.  Messy bramble cleared away.  Leaves raked.  Windows washed.  Wonderland stripped from the yard.  Magic gone.

And so is she.  Passed away from the shadows of aged pain into the arms of Jesus.  I am grateful for her life, for the way she treasured me and built into me and kept on loving me even though I stopped going to visit.  And now the excuse of 'busy' seems wasted and I wish for one more day that I could pick the violets from my own yard for her and greet her weary, sweet face and kiss her papery cheek and say thank you and mean it with my whole being, knowing that much of the goodness in me is there because of her and her heart - vast as the sea.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Drive-Thru Moment

Gray skies, a wide expanse of threat - winters last grasp - broken by sudden sunshine and robins on brown patches of death that will soon birth new green life.  I've ignored that wise mantra: more than four, go to the door - and joined this parade of exhaust puking, impatiently chugging, anti-green buggies.  Watch me crawl...for a coffee, no less.

The cavalier squeals in to the line, Ace of Base pounding out the open sunroof, big ol' trucker hat hiding his eyes as he rocks out like it's 1993 and all that she wants is another baby...Old enough to drive but not old enough to buy that cigarette that sends coils of cancer up from between his fingers that thought they were so clever when they wrote in the road dust on the passenger side: I wish my girlfriend was this dirty...

I'm laughing.  It's a show.  People are the greatest entertainment.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

He Was A Tree

He was a tree.

Reaching inspired roots into my cerebral depth.  Gangly boughs affixed with hands so broad - thumbnails the size of bottle caps, palms like canvas - never touching the blackboard but moulding us into free, creative thinkers.  Soft spoken like a slow wind through fresh bud leaves.  Caught in a proverbial time-warp of polyester pants, brown loafers and almost afros, this giant man-child of the sixties.  Each leaf a frond of wisdom to collect and hoard in an old hardcover for moments of self-doubt.

He'd take a wide stance in front or sit on the edge of his desk.  Or he fumbled at the turntable until A Hard Days Night hailed us as he matched Ringo's rhythm against his hip with a mighty slap, slap, slap of that mighty palm.
My sixteen-year-old self*
"Everyone learns differently.  If you work well at a desk, do it.  If you want to lay on the floor, do it - there are some pillows in the corner.  If you want to sit on a cafeteria tray in the middle of the football field and throw gum balls at seagulls, do it.  As long as you turn in quality work."
For the first time in my life silence was celebrated, thought was respected, abstract approach was promoted and The Beatles became a constant, impassioned soundtrack - be the first to arrive and own the choice for the day -  I fell so hard for Yesterday that I would rush from Biology, a spirited streak of blond and thrift store and knock-off Birkenstocks, to spin the Help! album beneath that perfect, scratchy needle and sink into the joy that was WRITTEN WORD and sharpen my pencil four times because if I used a pen I would be less interesting and he inspired me to be anything but ordinary as I scribbled out the first draft of my first novel.

The world is full of teachers.  Some are good.  Very few are exceptional.  I was lucky enough to have one of the exceptional.  A blade of grass beneath his far-reaching branches.  A sixteen year old girl sitting cross-legged on a dusty school floor being shaped and pushed and permitted to be and say what I felt and dreamed and there was no better gift than this.

* this was actually taken in the football field during an English Writing class for my stint as the school poetry magazine editor

Friday, April 1, 2011

Birthing Music

I find my way without a map.  Somehow hardwired with a euphonic G.P.S. that allows me passage through various organic scales.  Major and minor.  Therapy in black and white.  This little finger dance that I can stick a pin in and say, I like that (because it's for me and no one else).  And the kids bang around in the background and I scribble frantically with a nubby pencil whose groove might inspire a rhythm if I could find a place to settle among these eighty-eight keys...

A B C D E F G spells JOY and I sink into it and forget to watch the clock and realize it's seven o'clock and I have three kids who haven't had their dinner...

So here it is.  The first song from the rescued piano - my new friend.  Poorly recorded but nonetheless...


Happy Monday, get myself up. Good morning - fill up my cup.  Take the coins from beside the bed, before you use them for cigarettes...Get the kids off to school, no kisses - that's not cool.  Steal one in the parking lot anyway.  This is my cliche...Say hello to the boss.  Check the clock, what time do I get off?  Can I get you another cup?  It's only decaf but at least it's hot...Five months to a holiday.  Ten years til Saturday.  Who needs it anyway?  This is my cliche...Home again and unprepared.  Dog-tired and no one cares.  Pick up the sock and the daily grind.  Get dinner on the table on time...Grab a book and crawl into bed.  Try to read but the words blur through my head.  Close my eyes to catch a wink when I hear the sound of little feet....I'm fine.  You're good.  Home is where the heart is.  Life is a highway.  This is just a rest stop from my cliche...Happy Tuesday - get myself up.  Good morning - fill up my cup.

Pull you in for a moment or two because I like you.