wordless wednesday (summer postcards)

 

I was not one of those kids who got bored during the summer holidays. Curiosity might have been part of it, I don’t know. I remember practicing to be Nancy Drew by picking up gum wrappers, thinking they might hold clues to something. Curiosity maybe, or just early litter warrior tendencies.

For what it’s worth, here follows my own (as well as I can remember details) instructional on summertime activities of the kind that guarantee… absolutely guarantee, non-boredom. You are welcome.

Play Tom Sawyer unsupervised at the edge of the Welland Canal. This is before it’s fenced, when you can still get to the edge of it, sit yourself right down, dangle your feet over the water, tie a string to a stick and a marshmallow to the string and hope for the best.

Use your mother’s sewing chalk to draw a hopscotch on the sidewalk.. Use a wee bit of chain as your thrower thingy. Lands just right.

Climb a tree.

Eat lunch in a tree. (Potato salad recommended.)

Read a book in a tree.

Read a book under a tree.

Ride your bike across the canal to steal peaches from orchards that are no longer there. Stop to watch tadpoles in ditches and a horse in a field and get slightly lost but don’t let that concern you. You have peaches.

Bury people and self in sand at the beach then gritty with sand, eat ice-cream then swim all the dreck away.

Spit watermelon seeds for distance AND accuracy.

Sprinklers.

Hide in a boxwood hedge in order to read comics while you are supposed to be taking tennis lessons somebody other than you thought was a good idea.

Orange popsicles. Also cherry. Not blue. Not rainbow. NOT banana. Maybe grape. Not chocolate.

Creamsicles.

Cheerios in the morning like that kid on the TV ad whose day is made perfect simply by eating Cheerios in the morning. (There’s a rare and specific quality of morning air… not sure if it’s light or temperature or a combination of many stars aligning but even now it conjures up the excitement of those ‘Cheerios mornings’, pedaling into one horizon or another, the bliss of freedom.)

Start a club and call it the Boogie Woogie Club. Hold the first meeting in your rec room but don’t actually have any idea of its purpose. Disband the Boogie Woogie Club. (Trust me, it’s still a wild ride for a couple of hours.)

Dance in your bedroom. Think:  man, I have some moves…

Sing ‘Country Roads’ in the backseat of an Oldsmobile your dad calls Mabel on the way to some rented cottage on Oxtongue Lake where you meet an older girl who is a little free and easy with her favours to various chaps, nothing of which you will understand until years later when, in retrospect, you realize there was a reason you weren’t allowed to join her on her evening blueberry picking outings and who you become pen pals with and when you grow up and move to Toronto (where the free and easy girl lives) you stay with her family for a few weeks until you almost lose your mind from the madness of their life and find a shared apartment instead, where your new roommate turns out to be a middle-aged diabetic alcoholic named Peggy who is often passed out in her bathrobe when you come home from work.

Go fishing with your dad on Oxtongue Lake.

Clover.

Honeysuckle.

Freshly mown grass.

Tag. Hide and Seek. Simon Says. Red Light Green Light. Fort.

A yellow transistor radio set at CHUM. Disregard static.

Graze in the garden… red currants, carrots, peas, pears, plums.

Drink straight from the hose. Ignore awful taste. It’s faster than going inside.

Have picnic suppers on the beach when your parents get home from work.

Koolaid mustaches.

Remember your dad’s Hawaiian shirt and your mother’s muumuu and that one night when you all danced in the rain on the patio.

Remember the sweet nothingness, the very point of summer.

 

Other (not always) wordless friends:

Cheryl Andrews
Allison Howard
Barbara Lambert
Allyson Latta
Elizabeth Yeoman

 

 

a story of perfection

 

Once upon a time I used to spend hours trying to arrange the garden so that the tall blue things would grow behind the shorter yellow things but not bloom before the red things and I’d get frustrated if it all didn’t work to plan.

We had just moved into our house. There was still a lawn then, and a couple of tidy but boring flowerbeds with unloved plants. (The beds were boring not because they were tidy but because they were unloved. You can always tell.)

We planted a veggie bed and took up the lawn and enlarged the boring beds and laid down some stone paths (that become a labyrinth in winter) and although I was still trying to control the reds and the yellows, I began to notice things moving around on their own. And instead of fighting it, I eased up a little and watched the changes, the way the joe pye weed took over the space that was once thick with lupins and though I love lupins and missed them, the joe pye weed brought new pleasures. And dragonflies.

It seemed the garden knew how to be.

And it occurred to me that it didn’t need a foreman or a director orchestrating the blues and the reds. (It needed a maintenance manager for sure, but not a lot else.) The garden knew what to do all on its own.

It knew that this grows well here and that doesn’t. No matter how much you try to force the issue… this will grow and that will not. And it knew that the daisies didn’t want to grow in a clump and somehow they became willy nilly singles and twosomes in places of their own choosing.

So I surrendered to the wisdom of the garden, accepted the job of maintenance manager and let the plants pretty much decide what works.

The result is a chock-a-block, semi-naturalized space with a variety of things, some planted by me, many pooped by birds or self sown and appearing in areas of their own choosing. The dragonflies rest in the sun on native solomon’s seal and the flutterbys flutter by and everything is hale and hearty because nothing is there against its will. *Nothing requires extra watering to stay alive (except the veggies), nothing needs fertilizer. Just the maintenance of clipping and weeding and the joy of daily walks to see what’s new and — oh yes, very definitely yes! — commentary en route. (Plants love a bit of chat.)

Every year it’s the same but different… a drift of bee balm has slowly taken over from black eyed susan while the black eyed susan has moved in among the grape vines and the prairie sunflowers have nudged out the yarrow but make room for the salvia… and the pleasure I get from watching these changes, the symbiosis of the plants, is beyond measure better than anything my wee human mind trained in symmetry could ever plot out.

Perfection is a myth in all its forms.

And even if some form of it were achievable (the gardens of Versailles? the hanging sotsits of Babylon?), I’d opt for the imperfection of happy surprises around every corner. Every time.

For which I take no credit.

“A little studied negligence is becoming to a garden.”  Eleanor Perenyi

 

wordless wednesday (not always wordless)

My first cat was named Peter. I was maybe eight. One day I went looking for Peter. I wanted to pet him and chit chat a while. I found him in the basement laundry hamper. I couldn’t be bothered turning on the light so I just stood there in the dark petting him and telling him this and that in the way of chit chat and I gave each of his feet a tiny squeeze until it seemed I’d squeezed more than four feet. I counted again. Definitely seven. I ran upstairs, announced to my mother that Peter had grown three new feet and she said no, actually, he must have had his kittens overnight. It was the first I’d heard that Peter was a girl. We considered changing his name but nothing else fit. So Peter he remained. Cannot think of him as a girl even now, even with seven feet. And I’m pretty sure he was grateful we let him be who he was.

 

**Note: the pic is not Peter, but who’s to say it’s not a distant relative of one of his faux paws?

 

Other (not always) wordless friends:

Cheryl Andrews
Allison Howard
Barbara Lambert
Allyson Latta
Elizabeth Yeoman

 

how to see wine country in two and half days (with wine being only a smallish — though pleasant — part of things)

 

Avoid traffic. Leave early. Eat your banana breakfast in the car.

Somewhere in the countryside near Beamsville realize you’ve forgotten your notebook so stop at a back-roads Dollar Store and find a gorgeous red spiral bound one with creamy lined pages.

Let the holidaying begin.

Quick stop at a winery you heard makes a raw and organic beverage without sulphur. Anticipate a pleasant conversation. Be disappointed. Your host is a cranky soul who should a) have stayed in bed, or b) better yet, avoid work that involves speaking to people, or maybe c) have some sulphur.

Go directly to lunch on a shaded patio with a view that is so lovely you forget to take a picture. Also the fries are excellent.

Find a sleeveless polka dot blouse for $2 at a thrift shop.

Head to second winery (also no sulphur) where conversation (with owner/winemaker) is top notch and much is learned and wine samples are offered (siphoned) directly from fermenting barrels, a rare treat.

Make annual pilgrimage to house you grew up in. Marvel how stone planter your dad made two thousand years ago is still there, as are the chicks and hens he planted (consider calling Guinness… or is it normal for chicks and hens to live this long? Surely they owe their life to neglect). See Minerva (new owner) sitting on shady porch. Wander in to say hey ho and end up spending the better part of half an hour realizing she is as sweet as ever but losing her faculties and it won’t be long before she can’t manage the place and whoever buys it won’t be so welcoming and so perfectly and wonderfully eccentric. Chat away the time and ask to see the wildly overgrown backyard (because she has done almost no yard work since moving in a dozen years ago)  which still has the shrubs, trees, rocks and shells that your mum and dad put there, and see how the patio and carport your dad made is crumbling and a field of weeds blocks what was once a path along the blackberry bushes… but Minerva’s eyes are bright with love for the place. Isn’t it beautiful, she says, and it is, yes, it’s absolutely beautiful in the most bittersweet way. Ask to take pictures and she will say yes, dear, take all the pictures you want.

Share hotel pool with Serious Swimmer doing laps. Better than Marco Polo.
Dinner.
Walk along shoreline.

Discover remnants of old fort and be reminded of the people who used to live on this land (before forts). Do some research. Find out their names. Be reminded there wasn’t always a pedal pub pedaling by on the street at dusk with merry/raucous passengers singing Sweet Caroline. (Although, really, how raucous can anyone be while singing Sweet Caroline? )

Day Two:

Be happy that you are alone for morning swim. Until you aren’t. Until Serious Swimmer arrives, turning bliss into a wave pool. Pretend you are in the ocean.

Take three things to patio:  red notebook, breakfast date ball, peppermint tea.

Drive along Welland Canal as far as Thorold. Be surprised at how pretty the streets of Thorold are and how really extraordinary is this canal that connects Lake Ontario with the higher elevation of Lake Erie, a canal you grew up around, played Tom Sawyer on, but have never driven the entire length of (eight Locks) nor have ever seen the ‘steps’ of Locks 4, 5, and 6, which allow freighters to climb over the escarpment. Watch two freighters pass in opposite directions. One, coming into the Great Lakes from the St. Lawrence Seaway and/or Atlantic Ocean, and the other, ocean bound. Watch a couple of sailors embark on ocean bound one. Chat with young family from Woodstock who share your awe. Wilt a little in the heat.

Continue to end of canal (Lock 8) at Port Colbourne where you see sand piles like those you remember from Lock 1 where, as a kid you used to climb them until someone realized they posed a danger of air pockets into which you or your friends could easily fall and suffocate and so they were removed. Probably coincident with the end of the unsupervised lawn darts era.

Stop at the most unlikely place to buy books (near Fort Erie). Buy several. Many of which will be donated to the library at a women’s shelter.

Find yourself on a heaven-sent patio overlooking Lake Erie eating freshly caught pickerel for lunch. (Heaven-sent because it’s the real deal, nothing fancy, great music, and on this scorching day it’s shaded, with an unexpected cool breeze off the lake that you learn is common, even constant, on this shore. A slice of old Crystal Beach.)

Stop at one more winery. Be grateful it’s air-conditioned, has a four-legged host (Simba), and an owner who talks you through the tasting while explaining the wine history of Turkey, from whence she and her partner came twelve years ago with zip wine knowledge.

Remind yourself that your parents, too, came to this country with their own variation of zip (and so many others!) and how proud they were to be all things Canadian, just like Simba’s mum and dad. Raise a glass to that.

Remind yourself of the people who lived here first. (Not as sweet a story.)

Another swim, another dinner, another walk, more tea on the patio.

Morning of last day.  Another book store and then farmers’ market where the bat mobile is picking up some new potatoes.

Be unaware of gallery hours and arrive a half hour before it opens. Be happy to have this time to sit in the shade of a park-like garden with a view of backyards and bridges and remember growing up in this town.

Inside gallery find Carolyn Wren’s exhibition celebrating “meditation in the repetitive tasks of life”, featuring installations such as the entire text of Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own hand-embroidered on canvas, a video showing Wren hauling a sack of 50 one pound rocks up and down a hill, depositing a single rock each time she reaches the top (to a voice-over of Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus). Dresses representing maps made for pilots during the war, made out of Dupont silk because they were light and durable, and which women used after the war… to make dresses. And more. So much more.

Take country roads to find a view for lunch.

Find (another) thrift shop en route and buy two pairs of jeans for a dollar each. Be told they’re on sale because who wears jeans in summer?? 

Who indeed.

Don’t attempt an answer.
Just embrace your one dollar summer jeans… and run.

More Niagara.

 

 

 

 

this is not a review: ‘taxi!’, by helen potrebenko

 
 
Years ago a friend of mine used to take a lot of cabs. Partly for the usual reasons of not wanting to walk in the rain late at night or because it was faster or simply more convenient and she was feeling flush and in the mood for a bit of luxury but mostly she took cabs for the conversation. She loved discovering a driver’s story or hearing their general thoughts on life; sometimes she’d have semi heated debates and sometimes she was sorry to have to leave the cab because the chat was so good, better, she said, than most exchanges one has in a typical day at work.

So I was keen to tell her about Helen Potrebenko’s Taxi!  which is billed as a novel and narrated by ‘Shannon’, a Vancouver (mostly downtown east side) cab driver in the 1970’s, but which, in fact, feels more auto-fiction than fiction. Like her protagonist Potrebenko also drove cab in Vancouver’s downtown east side in the 1970’s. The style and structure of the book parallels the episodic and fractured structure of Shannon’s driving life, more like journal-keeping and there’s nothing like a traditional arc or through line or even a premise for the story other than this is what it’s like to drive a cab, in case you’re wondering.

Which in another’s hands might be a disaster but somehow Potrebenko makes it work beautifully. Not only makes it work but you step right into that cab with her protagonist Shannon, where you do NOT want to go (I assure you Shannon’s accounts of fares will turn you off any thoughts of pursuing this as a career), but this is exactly the point… she doesn’t ask you to join her. You simply choose to. And then you choose to stay for the ride. But her? She’s just doing her job, driving, revealing a slice of life that most people haven’t the vaguest idea about (including my conversational friend) because what we learn mostly from Taxi!  is that we have no idea how privileged we are if we don’t have to do this, or any job we despise, for a living.

Incidentally, the aspect of female cab driver is a whole other discussion on not only the times, the mid-seventies when things were still only beginning to change for women and men didn’t like it, but the double demeaning role of woman/cab driver and the inner dignity it must require to listen to the crap that riders dish out, the condescending comments, presumptions and attitudes. That and rules that applied only to women drivers such as not being able to work certain hours for reasons of safety.

What I loved most about the book was how Potrebenko managed to show us a gritty view of the streets and the sadness and horror of certain lifestyles, the futility felt by so many, yet contrasting it all with extraordinary humanity, creating a portal by which we see the not so rosy truth of ourselves as a society, the bits we’d sooner turn away from or pretend don’t exist, leaving others to the reality. And this is how the reality continues. For others.

Slivers of loveliness:

“A monotony of passengers gets in and out of the cab…”

“But there were two flights of rickety steps to go up. Why do poor people always have to deal with those treacherous stairs? Is it a commandment?”

“She was a beautiful young woman of about 16. At 5 a.m. she had split with her old man and she had no money and nowhere to go. Shannon gave her $2 for breakfast… She’s an Indian. A really beautiful and healthy Indian woman. There are no jobs for her. Nobody in this democratic society would give her a job. Indian men can get longshoremen’s jobs and a few other kind of labourer’s jobs, but there aren’t any choices for women…. Months later, Shannon was driving down Hastings with a passenger in the car when a woman tried to jump in front of it… she was no longer beautiful but covered with the spit and vomit of Hastings Street and it had only taken three months.”

“There was a man lying on the sidewalk by the West Hotel and Shannon stopped to see if he was dead…. he wasn’t… [but] there wasn’t anyplace he could be taken where he would be helped.”

Potrebenko chronicles the changing face of Vancouver… the increase in drugs, suicides, porn shops, sex trade, racism, murders, unemployment.

“There are more beggars on the streets. People think colourfully ragged young men playing a guitar are romantic.”

“In the afternoon, she drove a couple… to the airport. Aging swingers… on the edge of the ruling class… These people were a different type… Mean from years of cursing each other in private… and being polite with only sarcastic overtones in public. Seething with chronic mean.”

“The man worked for The Royal Bank… He asked Shannon if she was married then told her women shouldn’t drive cabs. [He said] I treat my women employees just the same as the men. I say to them: Honey, if you work hard you can go places. Honey? [Shannon said] Do you call your men honey? You know what I mean. [he said]”

“Shannon thought the fascist philosophy was a very comfortable one. You simply cheered for the winner, who proved by virtue of winning that he should have won. No analysis, no doubts, no troubling moral questions.”

“The man told Shannon it was attitudes like hers that retarded progress and she asked him Steinbeck’s question, which is how come progress looks so much like destruction?”

Should be included in the CanLit cannon as required reading. Doesn’t matter that cab driving has changed, the life she describes for women, minorities, and others, has not.

 

*Note: above-mentioned friend did not love the idea of the book as I described it. Too unpleasant, too raw, she said (I’m paraphrasing). But this is the experience of the cab driver, a character you say you admire. Doesn’t matter, she said, I don’t want to read about it. I respect her honesty and I suspect she’s not alone (this book remains relatively unknown after all) though it seems a lost opportunity to add a rich layer to her cabbie admiration. Of course she may yet change her mind. Will keep you posted.