this explains everything

So I’m in bed Sunday morning reading and loving the stories, the reminiscences of various Canadians in Everybody’s Favourites as they recall special books from their childhood. I make a list of titles to get—for me, for friends, nieces and nephews, ones to browse through at the library. I note that many of the books mentioned I haven’t read and I begin to wonder what kind of childhood did I have??

Then a title jumps out at me: Island of the Blue Dolphins.

I know this book.

I can see the cover, a darkish blue, the illustration of a girl on the grassy edge of a cliff by the sea, a cradle floating in the water. I remember that it’s a slim hardcover and suddenly I’m overwhelmed with a whim to see it, maybe even crack it open again. I go down to the basement, sort through my sadly unsorted kid collection.

I find it.

And I’m right about the cover; it’s exactly as I remember. Only it’s not Island of the Blue Dolphins. It’s a completely different book— Child of the Western Isles, by Rosalie Fry.

No dolphins.

Familiar as I am with the cover, I don’t remember ever reading it but it has drawings [by the author] and so I take it upstairs and snuggle back under the covers and after a page or two… I do remember… and I’m eight or nine or ten again and it’s summer and I’m not sitting on my front porch amongst pots of wax begonias but am right there on one of those wind-swept, wildflowery all-cliffs-and-rocks-and-sea islands off the coast of Scotland wherever Scotland is, and I’m tearing around with Fiona, who was born in the Western Isles, lucky bugger, but left as a child with her family to live in a city where a few years later she became unwell and the doctor ordered her back to the health-giving properties of life by the sea with her grandparents where she adventures about, rows boats, plays with oyster shells, befriends seals and finds a lonely cabin to live in before eventually uncovering the mystery of a long-lost baby brother.
Spoiler alert: there’s a happy ending.

How could I have forgotten this story? I used to want to be Fiona (that is, when I wasn’t wanting to be Nancy Drew). In fact, I think it may be Fiona, Child of the Western Isles, that’s responsible, at least in part, for my love and fascination of watery environs, of gulls and oysters and wind-swept hills. Not to mention lonely cabins and row-boats.

It may even be this story that led me to invent a baby brother one year. When my teacher asked if my parents would be coming to the parent/teacher night, I replied that no, they wouldn’t be going because my mother was in the hospital having a baby, a boy, I said. I’m not sure if I gave him a name. I only remember my mum and dad coming home from the event and telling me how surprised Mrs. Thingy was to see them…

This book, I notice, is one of the handful I own that is stamped with the name of my elementary school and that I possibly forgot-to-return, aka pilfered. So ancient is it that it has a strip of foolscap glued onto the back inside cover with the word Due handwritten at the top and a list of dates written below it in a variety of ink and handwriting styles. March 1st [no year] is the last date. I really can’t give it back [by that I mean I really don’t want to], but I’m thinking I’d almost like to write to the school and pay for the book. [But not the late fines!]

Then again, I wonder… is owning up a noble and good idea or am I just inviting the very-late-and-possibly-pilfered-book-patrol to show up at my door with a warrant?

the happiness vortex

I can’t explain the pleasure I get from visiting the local dump.

Pretty sure it started with weekend jaunts as a kid when my dad would take in a load of old lumber and then nose around for wotnots, spare parts, a hubcap. It was like a free garage sale. That was when you could still nose around and the junk really was mostly junk. Treasures were rare. Now there are fines for scavenging.

Oh the irony.

Because it’s not just plywood that people are dumping anymore. Now the bins are heaped with treasure. You could open several stores daily with the amount of quality goods being pitched.

A woman with a load of furniture tells me she’s a professional recycler, she’ll come to your house, pick up any junk you’re getting rid of, sell what she can, keep what she likes, and take the rest to the dump. She says she’s furnished her whole house this way, including appliances, and makes a decent living on top of it.

I watch a guy toss in two whole bikes.

What are the odds both are broken? And anyway, didn’t people used to fix bikes?

While I’m considering this, another guy tosses in another bike, a tiny one, so tiny it was probably ridden exactly three times. And okay, so the kid’s grown out of it. You’d think there might be someone it could get passed on to… like maybe dear old Sally Ann?

It’s staggering the amount of crap we have in our lives and the ease with which we toss and replace it. In the few minutes I’m there I see more than a few bins replaced or the contents squashed to make room for more. There’s always more. The bulldozers and bin movers and squashers are busy everywhere you look.

Despite all that, I’m oddly happy here.

And it’s not just me. The staff are consistently cheerful. From the guy in the booth when you arrive, to the one who tells you what dumpster to use, the woman in the building that takes cardboard or the guy in hazardous waste, the people you pay on the way out… everybody’s so friendly, so pleased to see you. It occurs to me that I’ve never met one cranky employee at the dump. Ever.

Sure, it could be drugs.

But I have another theory. Isn’t it just possible that all those people letting go of all that stuff, all that purging, creates a giant cleansing vortex? And who wouldn’t be happy in a spanking clean vortex?? By which reasoning it can be assumed that a shopping centre, a place where stuff is accumulated, would be one of the less therapeutic places to work. [It’s starting to make sense isn’t it?]

Anyway—not that anyone’s asking—given the choice, shopping centre or dump, I’d pick the dump.

For the vortex, obviously.

Plus I’m pretty sure they get dibs on the loot.

it’s just that they’re everywhere…

Hello, Sigmund. It’s me.

Yes, again.

I’m fine, really. No, really I am. I’m over the whole, you know… thing. I don’t even think about it anymore. Ever. Except when I’m walking around and I look up and there one is. Have you noticed how they’re everywhere?? Is it just me? They’re everywhere, right?

It’s just that I don’t really understand what the problem ever was. I mean, the guy could make anything. He built real houses, the on-the-ground kind, the kind people live in, have keys for. He tore apart and rebuilt the inside of our bungalow at least twelve hundred times. Nothing was ever a problem. Give him a few pieces of wood, some nails, and he could knock you up whatever you wanted. A couch, bookshelves, carport, fence, spice rack—the sky was the limit.

So you’ll excuse me if I find it hard to fathom that when I made my (what I still believe to be miniscule) request, he stood there and said—as if this made any sense at all: sorry, kiddo, the pear tree isn’t big enough for a tree house.

I can tell you, Sigmund, I nearly dropped my ice cream cone right there and then. Neopolitan.

Oh yeah? I wanted to say. Well, dad, it sure as hell looks big enough from where I stand…

But I didn’t say anything. Shock probably. And then he went whistling off in some direction, and eventually I took my neopolitan and my skipping rope and went slurping off in another, and that, I guess, was supposed to be that.

Thing is, Sigmund. Every other tree in the world is big enough… have you noticed?? Every other tree.  In the world.

But it doesn’t matter.

I’m fine.


I’m going to have a lactose-free cone now. Vanilla.

And if you don’t mind I’d like to be alone.

Best treehouse ever…? Click here.

That—in a pear tree—would do nicely thank you.
Is that asking too much??

(Late addition, because I will keep adding them as I find them: tree villa)


whale, that’s my story and i’m sticking to it

Dear Young Niece,

First, may I apologize for bad puns.

Second—I’ve decided not to send you the book, Whales of Canada, which was going to be your latest pocalog prize for successfully naming the largest whale, which, frankly, is hardly a giant feat given the willingness of google to do this kind of work for us. And by us I mean you. (And everyone else in the world. Including me.)

And I say not sendwhen what I really mean is not send yet… because I do want you to have the book. Eventually. By which I mean in the not too, too distant future. I know you like whales and my hope is that reading about them will appeal to you more than wanting to wave at them from over-crowded tourist boats, that you might choose to curl up, enjoy the book’s photos and recite fun and fascinating whale facts to your family over dinner or while they’re trying to watch Dancing with the Stars.

I’d actually got so far as writing you a note introducing the book; I’d even addressed the envelope into which I was about to slip it when I glanced at the index of twenty kinds of whales, each chapter title being a mini cetacean lesson in itself. (During which time I learned the word ‘cetacean’… and that it includes dolphins and porpoises.) I scanned pages of photos, a cross section of a whale’s head showing how it feeds and a chart showing how a blue whale is twice the size of a Brontosaurus. I flipped through tidily written chapters on diet and range and history and habit that debunk myths and offer up some general commentary on the state of whales and what’s to become of them if we don’t smarten up:

“Perhaps the best thing we could do would be to stay out of their way—with our oil tankers, effluent outpourings, radioactive spills and nuclear tests.”

And as I perused and flipped and scanned, it occurred to me that I couldn’t remember when or where I’d bought the book, or even if I’d ever sat down and read it properly myself.

The point is I suddenly loved it far too much to give away.

I know. It’s hard to hear. But stuff like this happens.

I’m hoping you’ll take some comfort in the fact that you had no idea the book was meant to be your prize. My change of heart, therefore, shouldn’t be too earth shatteringly depressing for you. Not to mention that I’ll be on the hunt for something to replace the book with (because you’re still owed a prize, google search notwithstanding). And given what amounts to more than a soupcon of guilt arising from a twisted sense of selfishness on my part, it should be something good.

But, I hope, for your sake, not too good…

oceans of love,
auntie c.

thirty truths: 1

In the spirit of this year’s self-imposed de-cluttering theme, I’ve dedicated April to ferreting out a truth a day from the large container where such things are kept and lugged about for no good reason. 

TRUTH #1—I can’t skate, I never drink beer, rarely eat maple syrup, would rather have a bagel than a doughnut, execute a pretty sad J-stroke and really don’t understand hockey (although I like watching it and miss the song).

Note: being able to identify grounds for having my passport revoked is my only saving grace…

we’ve got compartments

I hope this doesn’t come off like bragging but I know exactly where my S-hooks are.

Finally cleared out the basement workshoppy area—such a hopeless tangle of semi useful debris it didn’t even have a name.

One of us has wanted to do this for yonks. The other, more meh, got his way, way too long. (Please note: this wasn’t a job one of us could have done alone given that much debris was of mysterious parentage, needing ‘the other’ to classify.)

So, for eighteen years, if you needed, say, a rope, you had to fight your way through a jumble of paint tins, sacks of multi-coloured wall plugs, rubber tipped springy things that stop doors hitting walls, vacuum cleaner bags for long deceased vacuums, a plastic barrel of shims (used to slide under things to make them level I was told—apparently everyone needs five hundred); you’d have to move aside a trillion tins of assorted nuts and bolts, electrical stuff, hinges, plumbing bits, dried up drywall compound, tubes of caulking, a toolbelt (never worn), paint brushes, dozens of pencils, fuses, batteries, wood filler and individual cartons kept for the sole purpose of housing individual sheets of instructions no one ever reads; you’d find at least one broken hack-saw (kept because we didn’t know we also had an unbroken hack-saw) before you found any sign of rope. Unless of course you were looking for the hack-saw, in which case you’d find the rope first.

—Anyone still awake?

The point is… whatever you were looking for, it was just easiser to get in the car and drive to Rona.

Ah, but not so now, she said drunk on organization after a few glorious hours in the furnace room over the weekend!

Go ahead. Ask me for an S-hook.

Or a patch to fix an inner tube. Nails? Are you kidding me? What size? What colour? We have compartments. Sandpaper? Fine or coarse? Rope? There’s a drawer for that. Maybe you’d prefer a bungee cord (red or blue?), plastic coated fencing wire or two kinds of ordinary garden twine? Could your Theraband ball stand to be inflated… maybe just a titch? If so, come on over to our house toute de suite, I know where the pump is.

Even the reluctant other is impressed.

And hell, it’s hard not to be. For the first time in eighteen years we sleep at night, filled with contented smugness, knowing the exact location of stuff we almost never use.


It was once explained to me that those rusted clunkers you see in farm-yards are the modern day equivalent of the horse put out to pasture.

Supposedly a habit passed down through generations—when a faithful, hardworking nag gets to a certain age and can no longer pull that plough or take you by buggy to the general store, you don’t put it down, you retire it in a field of buttercups and give it all the fresh water it can drink.

Once cars began replacing horses, and it was the old Buick that was packing it in after years of loyal service, the car, so legend has it, was given the same kind of respect: a place in the backyard rather than the scrap yard.

True or not, I love this theory.

I get attached to cars.

From my first—Tommy, a gold Dodge Dart who I bought from an old boyfriend for a dollar and loved despite a broken tortion bar and fallen off exhaust, who my niece still remembers riding in as I drove her to Toronto for a week’s holiday. Good old Tommy had broken windshield wipers and no shocks and every bump made my niece’s head hit the roof but she was too young and too happy to be on this adventure with her eccentric aunt to suggest anything might be weird in a bad way.

Then there was Ernie. A dark green Volvo when I lived in England that drove me through the alps blasting David Bowie through all those claustrophobic tunnels. And the Datsun that played Joan Armatrading and Simply Red and which I drove into the ground. And the Camry, Peter’s car, which became our first ‘family’ car. Compared to what I’d been used to, I felt like a movie star when I drove it.

I should mention it’s not only my own cars that I form relationships with, but rentals. I take pictures of them at the end of holidays. Years later the picture means nothing. Silver Taurus. Blue Honda. Who cares? But at the time, I’m so grateful for the thing not getting a flat or overheating, for getting us around safely, that I find it hard to walk away without at least a silent nod of thanks.

This morning our old Nissan (unnamed, though in a certain light might be taken for an Edwin or Marcella), too old for re-sale, was picked up by the auto wreckers. When Peter saw my face he reminded me that they were going to “recycle” it, which, however sweet of him, sounded like what my parents said about Tipper the lunatic cat who no one but my ten year old self loved, who finally flipped his last lid and became ferocious, attacking indiscriminately, and who was taken away in a cardboard box one day “to go live on a very nice farm”.

The last time a car of mine was picked up by the wreckers, I convinced myself it was not going to be crushed or even recycled, but kept as a service vehicle for the scrap yard. Living out its last years in a dignified and useful way by shuttling workers to and from coffee breaks and shift changes.

And frankly, short of looking out the kitchen window and seeing the Nissan there in the garden amongst the rusting hulks of Tommy and Ernie, the Camry… amongst cedar saplings and blackberry vines and the memory of Bowie’s “Heroes” rattling round my brain… this is the happy, deluded image I choose for my most recent, faithful, and dearly departed friend.