mrs. moes cookies

 
Ten thousand years ago when summers were long and the sun shone every day, when you could play outside up and down the street after supper until the streetlights came on and the lawns had that almost-evening coolness that felt so good on bare legs and made a soft place to lie down and wonder how many leaves or blades of grass or grains of sand or snowflakes there were in the world and if numbers big enough had even been invented, when afternoons were lived on bicycles, beside the lake, or in trees, and long before your parents grew old, long before you even knew such a thing was possible, in the days when people were still called Mrs. whether they liked it or not     —  Mrs. Moes made some cookies and brought them over on a blue plate.

You had at least three at the picnic table with a glass of Koolaid (flavour forgotten) and your parents had coffee and your mother may have been a little miffed at how well those cookies were going down… it’s possible she said something like too buttery if you ask me… and when the plate was empty and washed and you were sent next door to return it to Mrs. Moes and to remember to say thank you…. you could hardly believe it when she smiled and said You’re very welcome  and did not refill the plate.

Years and years later, in your twenties, you asked Mrs. Moes for the recipe for “those cookies that day” and she knew exactly what you meant and she recited the recipe to you right there as you scribbled down what she said.

Maybe you got something wrong because they didn’t turn out anything like you remembered. Or maybe the magic was in the blue plate or the surprise of the gift or the happy unlimited picnic table munching.

Did she ever ask you how they turned out?

Maybe. Maybe not. You don’t remember.

Did you ever make them again?

No.

But you still have the recipe you scribbled that day.

Its purpose no longer to magic up a plate of possibly too buttery cookies, but as a portal to a time of cool nighttime lawns and numbers too big to imagine.


 
 

everything i know about football in a nutshell

 

I know that I don’t like the game. It strikes me as only slightly more boring than golf or baseball but in a different, more intolerable way.

I also know that I loved sitting in the bleachers in Edmonton sometime in the eighties, wrapped in a wool blanket, sipping from a thermos. I LOVED that this boring game brought people together in frigid temps, and not a soul complaining. I have no idea who was playing. The Edmonton team and somebody else I suppose. Who cares? The blanket, the thermos, the frosty-air-happy-vibe is what I remember.

I know that in high school I made the mistake of attending a pep rally and was hit in the head by a football.

And I know what an excellent plan was hatched when I used to hang out with semi-athletic friends who liked to play frisbee and soccer and who one afternoon decided on an impromtu game of football and used me as a decoy to score a touchdown (all I had to do was stand beside the goal post, receive the ball and take one step to my left—the theory being that the other team wouldn’t be watching me because by then they’d figured out I was useless). Brilliant strategy except for the part where I didn’t understand my role and stood there with the ball wondering what do I do with it again??

I know (or at least have heard) that a typical football game lasts about three hours, during which time there are only about 11 minutes of actual play.

I know that in England football is called American football because in England football is soccer.

And I know that if I was forced to watch football it would be CFL games only. (I know about the difference in downs but I don’t understand or care.) I’m a sucker for the cold, and hearty souls. (It occurs to me that part of what I don’t like about certain sports is that they’re played in warm weather and who wants to run around in the heat? That and the fact that I just don’t like sports.)

But who didn’t love seeing that snow last night?? And the no-whinging attitude of players and fans. Took me straight back to those Edmonton bleachers. Oh, sure, it might have been freezing and unpleasant at the time but that’s the stuff sweet Canadian memories are made of.

Also… that the Argos won doesn’t hurt.

(sorry, Calgary, you know I’ve always loved you… and I promise to stop saying the word Edmonton in your presence… and of course Toronto)

 

 

love on route

 
This is not a love post. It’s a pretzel post. Which, really, is almost the same thing. Still, I’m sorry if the title is misleading.

(If it’s love you’re looking for you might want to give this a miss. Unless you love pretzels, in which case I’d definitely say stick around.)

Also, if you love the On Route stops on the 401, it’s possible we’re soul mate material. (People laugh when I use ‘love’ and ‘On Route stops on the 401’ in the same sentence but they are usually people who don’t know that every On Route stop has a secret picnic area.) You heard that right.

The one in Cambridge, for example, backs onto a pioneer church inside which I found an elderly man reading a paperback western. He was there to guard the church and to answer questions about it. The question I asked was whose land was it before the church came along, indigenous-people-wise. He said he’d never thought about that but now that I mentioned it he did remember when he was a boy (because he’s lived in the area all his life) there was an Indian (his word, he’s from that era) who lived somewhere nearby and one day stole a pie that was cooling on a window ledge. The pie-baker was prepared to be outraged except that the next day a piece of fresh meat was left on the same window-ledge. I asked him if he’d ever read Susanna Moodie. He said no but that he’d get his daughter in Guelph to look her up for him.

Most On Route picnic areas aren’t as exciting as elderly men and their memories, but they’re all very lovely, tree’d and quiet and only a few minutes walk from the gas pumps and fast food. They close for the winter sometime in October. But do look for them on your next journey. They’re quite hidden.

But, pretzels, yes. I’m getting around to that.

As if picnic areas, history, and clean bathrooms aren’t enough of a draw, on my last visit to the (Trenton) On Route (en route to Montreal) I discovered Neal Brothers oven-baked pretzels, which I can’t even tell you how they added enormous pleasure to the not-especially-scenic drive to Montreal but lasted through my stay there (because there is plenty to eat in that city besides pretzels) as well as the drive home.

I’ve since found them in my favourite local grocery shop, saving myself a return trip to Trenton.

Feel free to file this under Essential Road Trip Info.

You’re welcome.

 

simon says

 
A boy in his driveway the other day shouts hello as I pass. He says his name is Simon, what’s mine? I say Carin and he tells me he has a Batman tee shirt. He opens his coat. I say that’s some great tee shirt and he says yeah, then tells me he’s seven. Not that I asked. He continues talking, about being seven maybe, or the tee shirt, just chattering away… all of this in only seconds; I’ve barely slowed my stride. His mum is raking leaves, smiling. And in all the chattering somewhere the boy asks… in a way he might ask a chum at school, or anyone… “How old are you?”  His mother’s smile immediately turns into a nervous laugh, she puts down her rake, edges Simon toward the house and tells him that isn’t the sort of question he’s supposed to ask. Meanwhile I’ve answered by saying “Well, I’m not seven!”, as I continue on my way. Also laughing nervously.

And for the rest of my walk all I can think about is why.

Why is that not the sort of question Simon should ask? And is it only not the sort of question Simon should not ask people of certain ages? And how should Simon know which ages those are? And who decides that anyway? And doesn’t the whole way his mother reacted give off a vibe that suggests to Simon, if only subliminally, that there’s something *wrong* about certain ages and THAT’S why we don’t ask.

And if there’s something wrong with certain ages… what, exactly  is that wrongness? I mean if Simon were to ask his mother Why can’t I ask?  what would she say? Something about politeness probably. But why is it polite NOT to ask someone their age when you are seven and you ask everyone ? (And everyone asks you.)

Of course I was taught the same lesson as a kid. (But we’re back to the why… Is it to spare people the embarrassment of admitting they aren’t seven, or twenty-seven or thirty-seven or whatever decade + seven it suddenly becomes an embarrassment to *be*?)

North America’s twisted version of age aside, what really bothered me was my own response, that weird bit of laughter I threw out in order to make Simon’s mother feel okay about the whole thing. By laughing it off, by saying “Well, I’m not seven,” I condoned her discomfort and was party to the stupid lesson Simon was being taught.

Why didn’t I just answer the question?

Conditioning, that’s why. (And, mostly, conditioning almost always sucks.)

The thing is I happen to be a non-ageist kind of person. Even as a kid (just like Simon) I barely noticed someone’s vintage. I still can’t see how it matters. It’s their energy that registers with me. One of my favourite people to hang out with lived to be 101 and it never struck me as an unusual match.

I also have friendships where *I’m* the 101 year old.

And a few in between.

The thing is this: dullness and negativity, ego and bullshit appear at every mile marker. So do joie de vivre, curiosity, kindness, engagement with life, humour, a creative spark and the balls to be yourself. A tedious schmuck at sixty was probably a tedious schmuck at thirty.

Only with better abs.

My walk takes me on a loop and eventually I’m heading back toward Simon’s house. I resolve to tell him as I pass that I’m fifty-eight. I’ll throw it out, casually, maybe mention that I have a fondness for the colours green and orange and yellow and that I do not  know how to tap dance. Not that anyone asked.

But the leaves in front of Simon’s house are raked and no one’s there.

Too bad. Because I think Simon would have found that particular line of chat quite normal. And that would have been so much better a lesson than the last.

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it was never home and it always will be

 
(Schmaltz warning)

Toronto.

Seems like I’ve been coming or going, to and from it, forever.

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First time was as a kid visiting family friends who lived on Admiral Road in the Annex. This was before it was The Annex.

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And then I moved there myself.

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And lived in at least a thousand apartments and houses.

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Then I moved away.

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And back.

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And away again.

And back.

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Away.DSC02461

Back.

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Away.

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I live away now.

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But when I visit, and despite all the changes and the traffic and the lack of space and the changes… so many changes… I still remember the places that used to be and how the Annex was just a place we drove to on a Sunday for lunch and the kid we visited had one of the those table hockey games with flippers and levers and we played with it on the third floor and then after lunch walked around Bloor and Avenue Road… a perfume shop and a delicatessen come to mind…

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And I remember so much of what came after that.

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Changes, yeah.  DSC02484 DSC02485

But this place that was never home, that’s got this reputation for being cold, where when I first moved at eighteen my (envious I wonder now) friends back home said how could I stand the way nobody spoke to each other, nobody looked at each other…

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well, every time I come back, this supposedly aloof and unsociable town in flux says… even after all these years… hey, good to see you; how you been?

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in this tiny space was everything

 

Years ago I lived in a tiny furnished apartment on the second floor of an old Toronto house — and in this tiny space was everything I needed.

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A single closet the size of a phone booth in which I managed to hang all my clothes and all my coats, as well as store my shoes and winter boots.

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A bathroom in the hall, shared with the woman in the apartment next door.
I heard her come and go but we never once, in all the time I lived there, met face to face.

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At the end of the street, a fruit and veggie monger. In winter I would sometimes buy expensive tomatoes from some faraway place where tomatoes were grown to be luscious. I ate them with basil and listened to Joan Armatrading and Van Morrison and had a white cat and a bedroom made almost entirely of windows.

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I once called a friend to come and eat tomatoes and basil with me and she came, expecting, I think, a whole lunch but it was just those perfect tomatoes.

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Basil.

Oil and salt.

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Joan Armatrading, and Van.

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And it was enough.

 

 

this morning, the smell of chrysanthymums

When they were still fresh, a month or two ago, my single pot of blooms took me directly to a wooden fence made by my dad from driftwood gathered at the beach. Planted alongside was a row of perennial chrysanths. Burgundy. Still the only shade I consider ‘real’ and their smell, decades later, is still about summer winding down, jackets, the grass feeling cooler, street lights coming on sooner.
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This morning I notice how they’ve faded, they look more bronze than burgundy.

I lean down, inhale, expecting to be on that fence again but it’s a different smell, earthier, a pile of raked leaves from the pear tree (burgundy and bronze!) and some going brown. Leaves I’d raked myself, a few more every day, the pile growing until my dad said it was time to haul them away. (What did he do with them? Burn them? Bag them? Dig them into the garden?)

I only remember the raking and the leaping and the laying, starfish-like on top, staring up through a canopy of bare branches. I remember tossing handfuls in the air and the dewy wetness of the middle of the pile.

That’s the smell this morning. The middle of that sweet pile.
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