promises, remembered

 

I wrote this post several years ago on the first day of Ramadan. I now live a thousand plus kilometres away but hearing that Ramadan has started I immediately think of my lady in the dry cleaner in the town where I used to live. Can picture her hunched over a sewing machine, a tiny television set tuned to an Arabic language station, the always-exhaustion in her voice and in her eyes and the day those eyes smiled and how it left me feeling that our connections might sometimes feel strange or tenuous but they’re always there, that regardless of everything else, we are all connected, in moments, in milliseconds sometimes, and in the most surprising memories.

This following first appeared as “Promises”, on July 10, 2013.

A couple months ago in a post that began as one thing but ended up being about my dry cleaner, I wrote about how my dry cleaner’s husband kept telling her that he wanted her to have nice hands and how this frustrated her because she worked too hard to have nice hands. She would love to wear polish, she said, but who has the time.

It reminded me of a dance that went on for years between my mum and dad, who’d also come here as immigrants.

I promised myself I’d buy my dry cleaner some really good nail polish and give it to her, and today I did. When I entered the shop she was sitting at a sewing machine, head covered in a shawl. I’d never seen her in a head scarf before and wondered at the reason for it but didn’t ask.

I gave her the polish. Hot pink. I explained why, reminded her of our conversation and she laughed, said she loved the colour, asked how much she owed me and I said, no, that it was a gift. She was surprised and delighted and then told me it was the first day of Ramadan. She said it’s especially hard when it falls at this time of year because of all that daylight stretching late into the evening. The month-long fast, which includes no food OR water or anything, ends each day when the sun goes down and begins again when it rises. Much better in November, she said. Even March is good.

She normally walks an hour to work but for the next month she’ll be getting a ride. I was happy to hear it given the humidity and heat.

I said I hadn’t realized Ramadan began today, that it was just a fluke I came in, but that I was thrilled to be able to offer some small thing to mark the day and happy to have learned something so wonderful and I thanked her for that. She smiled, said she’d pray for me.

I said I’d do the same for her.
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not a rhetorical question

 

What if the compassion that caused our banging of pots led to our demanding that the needs of front line workers be met. What if we had banged pots until they were.

What if we spent two years putting our money where our mouth is so that small businesses came out ahead and the behemoths felt the pinch. And what if we continued that way forever and ignored how deprived we feel at the very idea.

What if we wanted better than to go back to normal.

What if we had stopped throwing garbage on the planet so that when our lives filled with masks we wouldn’t cover the earth with them.

What if we didn’t feel sorry for ourselves.

What if, after two years, we had taught our children (by our own example) to become people who care more about those who have less, and less about what we are missing out on.

What if kindness was the most enviable thing.

What if we had learned to talk to each other.

What if, after two years, we actually understood each other better instead of being convinced that only one of us is right.

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the way of love

I’m talking about books of course, book love.

The way a book finds you just when you didn’t know you needed it.

The way a friend who isn’t known for popping things in the mail sends you a book and you think: oh dear because it’s not your usual kind of book and now what? and you open it and begin reading, just to say you did, and before you know it you’re ‘away with it’ because of course it’s your kind of book, you just didn’t (yet) know it and you’re just a little surprised at how she’s glimpsed a side of you you didn’t realized showed.

The feel of the paper (we all have our favourites).

The art of the cover.

The marginalia!! (either finding it — the joy of second-hand books — or adding your own, which is a whole conversation in itself; I would love to have a book club meeting limited to the book’s marginalia; in fact I’m reminding myself that there is a book circulating right now among five friends, each of us encouraged to add notes before passing it along to the next person; each of us using a different ink so we know who’s who)

The books of our childhood, of our lives, that just by opening to a random page or illustration take us back to some summer afternoon and yellow peddle pushers, cool grass on bare legs, an afternoon of pages, a stack of buttered saltines and solitude and never once feeling alone.

Please note: I will never borrow a book from you, at least it would be very very unlikely, because I’m too familiar and relaxed with books. I bend them backwards and fold down pages, mark them up; I take them into the kitchen where the olive oil and blueberries live and to lunch and on tea breaks with chocolate. I stuff them into beach bags among mustard sandwiches and leaky water bottles and leave them under maple trees at night when it might rain and sometimes it does.

Would I lend you mine? Depends. If it’s one I’ve formed a strong relationship with, probably not. But I would love to buy you your own copy to christen with salsa and jam.

~

After all this, and in the spirit of book love magic, what do I stumble across this morning but this passage, by Jill Robinson.

“Once in a very rare year, there comes along a new book, and I say, as I am reading, as my eyes eat words without a blink, as my heart and mind grab each other, This, I say, is The Best Book. I know before the first page is gone. I sense it building. And as the book finishes, I go as slow as I can. I don’t want to leave the book’s world.”

~

And on the same page, my handwritten response:

Treasures that come to us in the arrangement of letters and punctuation. Who knew in grade one that the alphabet we were learning would be everything?

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heart beats and a contrail

When it comes to geese and contrails little has changed in the decade since this was originally posted. Me, I’ve moved to a place where there are more of one and fewer of the other but the other day at sunrise I saw, for the first time ever, a bright red contrail above the apple trees, which I at first took for a sliver of cloud in the morning light then saw the speck of plane, the line behind it growing like someone drawing on a giant canvas and I was sorry I didn’t have my camera but I never have my camera when I go outside early in the morning to greet the trees and I thought of running inside to get it and then a whisper of sanity from somewhere suggested I just stay put, just enjoy the moment, the sweet gift of it and the whisper (in the usual way of whispers) was wise because of course moments don’t wait for people running into houses, much less last forever, and it was all so much lovelier to watch the thing fade naturally than to try and capture it with a net.

All of which reminded me of the following, originally posted January 12, 2012, a completely different kind of moment except for the parts that always feel the same.

Ten thousand geese fly over my house at dusk, honking madly as I set out for a walk. And the moon (and is it Venus?) hangs over a fat white contrail in the not yet completely dark sky.

I consider the heart beats, the energy above me; do they notice things like juxtapositon of moon and man made cloud?

Christmas lights are on and cars pass, faces in my direction, possibly wondering why I’m standing in the street, writing on a scrap of paper in the now almost dark.

Because of the geese, I want to say.
And Venus, if that’s what it is.
Because of the moon and… everything.

I want to say look up!
I want to point.

But the contrail has been blown away and the last of the vees has passed by. The sky has turned black leaving only the sound of the wind and tires on the road. Just the moon and maybe Venus to see— and anyone can see them anytime. No need to point.

I put away my pen and carry on walking.

 
 
 

xmas stockings

For the next wee while I’m re-posting some of my favourite pieces with a short blurb explaining why I chose them. This one, from December 21st, 2012, has come to mind every year since. Or, more accurately, the woman has. I’m not a fan of many things that happen in stores at this time of year, but she was/is a testament to the power of the season.

So I’m in the men’s sock department at Winners and this elderly woman keeps bumping into me and leaning across whatever I’m looking at until I say: sorry, am I in your way?  And she says “What do you think about these?” She holds up a three-pack. “I like the argyle,” she says, “but why do they have to put in the others?”  The others are big bold stripes and she’s not sure her neighbour who takes out the garbage for her will wear them. She gets him a little something every year. “It’s so hard to know what kind of socks someone will like,” she says.

She’s the picture of Santa’s wife. White hair, wire-rimmed glasses. Rosy cheeks. A beige anorak. Navy slacks.

She shows me a single pair she’s also considering, black with a tiny red line at the top, asks what I think and I tell her they’re classic, that no one would have a problem with them. She agrees, but keeps looking. I continue looking too. I say the bold patterns make the most sense, easier to match them up. She laughs, says yes, but easier still is to buy all the same kind, which is what she did for her husband. Dozens of the same plain black, she says. Never a problem making pairs. She tells me she’d wait until he was down to one or two then fill the washer, every one of them turned inside out.

“That way they don’t get fuzzy from other things, or all pilly.”

It all seems a bit too much work, I say, all that turning inside out and back again and she says pooh, it’s no trouble, you just pile them on the chesterfield and sit down and go at it for a few minutes.

I tell her I’m not actually very fond of socks, the sheer number of them and the way they take it upon themselves to disappear one day, turn up weeks later or not at all. But mostly I really hate sorting them.

Something changes in her face, she goes quiet. Her eyes are blue. She looks at me through her Mrs. Claus glasses and I have an idea of what’s coming.

“I’d give anything to sort my husband’s socks again,” she says, then turns her head.

She tries to smile, shrugs, ruffles through the display as she tells me he died three months ago, that the family’s coming together and she can’t let herself get sad because they’re coming from Nova Scotia and Kingston and there’s the grandchildren to think of. She stops, looks up again. “But…” she says, and her sweet blue eyes are suddenly red-rimmed and we’re standing there in the socks and her lips are trembling—and I put my hand on her arm and I say, “But it’ll be hard.”

And she nods. Composes herself and we each say this and that and eventually laugh a little and then goodbye and the whole time I want to hug her but we’re in the socks at Winners and I have the feeling she’d rather not make a big thing of this, that she’s doing the best she can.

When I leave her she’s still debating about the argyle/stripes combo or the single classic black.

I buy a couple of three-packs.

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Count my blessings.

 
 
 

here and there

There, at this time of year, I’d be in my kayak just as often as possible, throwing Lulabelle onto the roof of my twenty-three year old Camry (best car in the world) and heading to a small local marsh connected at one end to Lake Ontario but me and Lulabelle staying in the pond where it’s pristine and quiet, just us and the banks of earth-fragrant reeds, egrets, a blue heron colony, thousands of blackbirds rising in clouds at dawn and disappearing-who-knows-where, the magnificent swan ballet, a family of deer watching us from shore, an eagle named Eddie.

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But I am here now, and not there, and Lulabelle is in our new garage still waiting to be dipped into something briny. I’ve been too busy getting from there to here, too busy unpacking and putting in a garden, harvesting berries from the dozens of bushes (blueberries, haskaps, blackberries) that are also here, discovering beaches and tides, where to dig clams, pick oysters off rocks, which seaweeds are tastiest. Busy getting to know the landscape and marvelling at maritime skies, finding the farmers who grow veggies the old-fashioned way, raise meat and eggs ethically, who bake bread and pies and croissants, who make cheese and soap, a mill that will spin your wool for you, a young family of fisherwomen and men where we buy fresh haddock and smoked salmon and the corner mom and pop grocery that sells off-the-boat mussels every Friday.

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There, at this time of year I would take my breakfast, a banana, yoghurt, tea, and park in the lily pads with a book.

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Here I walk barefoot on sand, naming every bend on the shoreline: First Point, Second Point, Toad Point, What’s the Point, Around the Bend, Sandy Point, and Bring a Chair Cove.

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There, at this time of year, the marsh closes to paddling to allow the birds peace as they prepare for migration.

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Here there are apples to harvest and juice, rows of berry bushes to clean up.

But unlike there, here our paddling destination remains open until freeze-up and while I am both excited and nervous to paddle tidal waters for the first time, Lulabelle is calm and ready and as eager here as she ever was there.

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mss typed accurately and intelligently, obvious slips being eliminated

Ah, those were the days. When ads had private addresses and manuscripts were typed intelligently by people like Miss W.L. Pope of Handsworth who could spot an obvious slip when they met one.

I found this delightfulness in the sepia tinged pages of The Writers’ and Artists’ Year Book 1935, a hard cover, novel-sized book published by A&C Black Limited, Soho Square London, which also includes ads for writing schools, journalism programs, private tuition “ENGLISH FOR AUTHORS AND JOURNALISTS” by Mr. Hubert Wolff, a request for British songs and lyrics (please send to the British Song Society; “write now for a free prospectus”), ads for Literary Agents anxious to read, among other things, the highly sought after “travel and adventure stories from authors who live abroad”.

The actual point of the book is writing markets. And to that end there exists an A-Z listing between the thick block of front and back page advertisements.

And wherein you will find magazines looking for submissions… magazines such as The Aryan Path, founded 1930, India, (“mysticism, philosophy, comparative religions and brotherhood”),

Boys’ Friend Library, founded in 1895 and requesting 64,000 word ‘short’ stories (adventure and mystery),

and The Boys’ Magazine, founded 1887, “stories suitable for boys of better class”, hobbies, handicrafts, stamps, engineering, etc., no fiction and nothing exceeding 600 words” [are we meant to understand that boys of better class have a limited power of attention?],

The Boys’ Own Paper, founded 1879, (“fiction, articles on games, travel, adventure, and construction and other subjects of interest to boys about 12-16 years old. Both stories and articles are acceptable but must be bright and full of incident.”),

Cement and Cement Manufacture, founded 1928, (“articles in any language on the manufacture and testing of Portland cement”),

Dairymaid, The Midland Counties, founded 1928, (“brightly written, informative articles of 1,000 to 1,500 words of interest to homes in large towns in the Midlands, also articles interesting to housewives, including plain needlework, art needlework, knitting and cookery”),

Draper and Drapery Times, (“constructive articles describing better ways and oncoming productions immediately helpful to either the textile manufacturer, wholesale or retail trader”),

Home Companion, founded 1897, (“strong, dramatic serial stories appealing to artisan working girls and women, a love element, quick movement and exciting, homely people, original but human in plot and simply told, 4,000 words”),

Mabs Fashions, (“articles of interest to women”),

Mabs Weekly, (“sister magazine to Mabs Fashions, containing serial stories, dress ideas and renovations, fancy work for the home, beauty and cookery”),

Nuneaton Chronicle, (“uses short informative articles on out of the way Warwickshire archaeology. Payment is not high; the Editor is very courteous to contributors”),

Peg’s Paper, founded 1919, (“weekly fiction paper for girls, short stories 2,000 to 3,500 words, or long stories to 10,000 words, serial stories, a strong love and dramatic interest necessary”),

Post Annual, founded 1921, (“annual popular illustrated magazine dealing with Post Office questions, designed to extend public understanding of postal service, lightly written articles 2,500 to 3,000 words on Post Office matters, stories having a Post Office flavour, humorous drawings dealing with different aspects of the Post Office”),

~

The edition contains markets in Australia, Canada, India, South Africa, New Zealand, the U.S., as well as notices of literary contests, advice and warnings to composers, info on copyright, libel, agents, pen names, pseudonyms, submission of photographs, censorship, literary prizes, markets for writer/illustrators, for writers of greeting cards, various schools of film and playwriting, and numerous ads similar to the above for intelligent typing and ‘duplicating’ services (“ten pence per thousand words”) by Dorothy Allen, Miss Stuart, Nancy McFarlane, Miss E.M. Shaw, Mrs. Haggard, et al.

Interesting to see what’s changed and what hasn’t, much. Sport, engineering and adventure being encouraged for boys and domestic arts and romance being doled out for girls. Some progress in that area but maybe not enough since 1935.

I’m also sad that stories in many magazines and papers have long gone out of fashion, and that there seem to be fewer (paying) markets for writers (of cement and drapery especially) and saddest of all… the loss of post office intrigue and humour. Surely that is one rich vein waiting to be tapped.

 

curbside everything (almost)

I am so in love with curbside living.

I get pineapple, bananas, avocado, clementines and various other exotics from Valles (including Covered Bridge chips from New Brunswick; the best); organic apples, potatoes and parsnips, sardines, juice, laundry detergent, dish soap, chick peas, goat yoghurt and a million other wonderful things (and mostly all Canadian brands) from Today’s Natural Solutions; Georgian Bay trout from Healthy Meats; locally grown (and preserved) peaches, homemade sauerkraut, butter tarts, apple cider (non alcohol’d), local greenhouse mesclun and cucumbers (we are SO lucky!!), onions, eggs, cheese, squash (I said butter tarts, right?) from Hy Hope Farm; excellent apple cider (alcohol’d) and homemade mustard from Slabtown Cider; more (Ontario and/or Quebec) cheese from Country Cheese; local frozen veg, pastry dough and potato scones from McMillan Orchards; books from Blue Heron Books and the Whitby Library; joy from my backyard labyrinth and the lake; pizza from Corrados; The Best eggplant parm and The Best parmesan cheese from Antonio’s

I don’t necessarily do curbside with all of the above but most have that option and every one of them is small and delightful to shop in, careful about protocols, and the staff (in every case) is brilliant. And they are LOCAL.

This isn’t anything new to us, being long-time pooh-poohers of big stores. (Honestly, I can hardly think of one thing I need to go into a giant grocery store for that I can’t get from one of the above-named places, and that includes extraordinary olives.) And other than tropical fruit (and only in winter) we don’t buy out of season, but these days I have an even greater interest in spending my dollars in ONLY small, local, independently owned shops and curbside is just the cherry on top. Like having a personal shopper.

Cannot imagine the hardship so many small businesses have faced this past year. Here’s hoping there’s a groundswell of support that continues down the road.

So grateful to each of my go-to’s for sustenance and nourishment.

Including the lake.

And my labyrinth.

Nourishment comes in many forms.

yellow cup

Yesterday a cousin sends pictures of alpine snow heavy on branches, mountains, rooftops, and me here in the rain feeling snow envy, sending a message back to her… “A slice of heaven!” I write and forget my laundry on the line and then this morning I open the blinds and see snow heavy on branches and rooftops and the morning light is just starting and I put the kettle on and go out to the porch, my laundry frozen and me here in coat and boots and a bright yellow cup, lemon balm tea as the sun rises through a slice of heaven.

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