Other (not always) wordless friends:
Let’s not bicker about who made the bad man go away. Let’s just be happy he’s gone and get back to being Canada.
With the shreds we have left of it.
Ding dong. Gone!
milly befriended a stranded star
whose rays five languid fingers were;
and molly was chased by a horrible thing
which raced sideways while blowing bubbles:and
may came home with a smooth round stone
as small as a world and as large as alone.
For whatever we lose(like a you or a me)
it’s always ourselves we find in the sea
‘maggy and milly and molly and may’, by e.e. cummings
I’ve written before about my relationship with May. I love it for all it’s taught me, through the best of times and the worst… until it’s no longer possible to take this month for granted, or not acknowledge it in some way.
This year I’d like to celebrate May by saying yes.
I’ve decided to play that game where you open up to things that normally cause much consternation followed by umm, I don’t think so, thanks, and a hasty retreat to the cave.
In this game there’s no thinking allowed.
Merely, yeses. (In response to requests within reason, I might add; I mean, there have to be some rules because I can tell you right now that I am NOT going to accept an invite to go to, say, Mars. No matter how great the in-flight movie is or who’s paying. It’s just not my thing.)
Ah, but, you see? There I go again, talking about my thing. And as much as I adore my thing and am already looking forward to climbing back into its perfectly shaped embrace… for one month, I will not give it priority.
I will be open to whatever is on the other side of no.
In fact I’ve already begun. Instead of pretending my ankle isn’t sprained and that it will miraculously heal on its own even though it’s only gotten worse in the past couple of weeks, I said yes to seeing someone who knows about these things.
It’s almost like the possibilities are truly endless…
So off I go, with a limp in my step and a yes on my lips.
(Is it just me or is weirdly bright outside the cave?)
Will keep you posted via smoke signals.
Or carrier pigeon.
I’ve known ‘e’ for close to twenty-five years—since he was but a lad in his mid seventies—and he hasn’t changed a lot, though he’d probably beg to differ where walking is concerned. Not as easy, he’d say. Well, at three years shy of a century you’re allowed to take your time.
Sometime before her 101st birthday, my friend Judy said (and these are her words) that if you lived long enough you’d eventually lose it from either the neck up or the neck down. She might be right but it’s about degrees. And attitude. She lost the ability to get around on her own, but it didn’t stop her doing much.
‘e’ is much the same.
Maybe it’s that generation, something in the water. Or, more likely, not in it. Some pretty amazing role models where aging is concerned. And yet society doesn’t celebrate this kind of aging… Funny bunch, society.
Things about ‘e’ that I happen to know: he likes chocolate but not fish. He reads widely and avidly and is currently addicted to a series of excellent detective novels. His memory is mind-bogglingly sharp. He played football when helmets were made of leather and lined with sheepskin and once had a rustic cottage in the Gatineau. He is among the kindest people you might ever meet, and possesses one of those smiles it’s impossible not to return.
Here, then, is but a thin slice of this dear man, ‘e’…
How long could you go without talking? Better part of the day.
Do you prefer silence or noise? Silence, with a limit.
How many pairs of shoes do you own? Three or four. You should change shoes ever day, better for the feet.
If you won the lottery? Give away to loved ones, children.
One law you’d make? Can’t think of one.
Unusual talent? I’ve been told I’m not a bad singer. Started lessons at age 21; good but not professional quality.
What do you like to cook? Nothing. Never do.
Have you or would you ever bungee jump? No.
What’s the most dare-devilish thing you’ve done? Swam to an island quite a distance from cottage and back at age 10.
Do you like surprise parties, practical jokes? Neither.
Favourite time of day? Late afternoon.
What tree would you be? Why would I want to be a tree?
Best present ever received? The luck of two good marriages.
Best present ever given? Probably some small gift to my mother.
What do you like on your toast? Orange marmalade.
The last thing you drew a picture of? I don’t draw pictures. Am most unartistic.
Last thing written in ink? A letter.
Favourite childhood meal/food? Mother made cut out heads (cookies) from Dec. 5 to 25. Each day we kids took turns taking one.
What [past] age is your favourite? 20
Would you go back if you could? No.
Best invention? Car
Describe your childhood bedroom. Wallpaper, big window, faced west; I liked the window open.
Afraid of spiders? Not particularly.
Phobias? A little afraid of heights. I wanted to be paratrooper in the war so I tested my nerve by jumping from the high diving board at the local pool.
Least favourite teacher and why? Ms. Davies in grade 2. She had a moustache and her hair in bun. I was strapped once and thought it was unjust; my dad spoke to her to straighten things out.
Favourite children’s story? Was read to but can’t remember titles.
Ideal picnic ingredients? Hot dogs.
Best thing about Canada? Sober second thought.
Best thing about people in general? Ability to accept each other.
What flavour would you be? Chocolate.
What colour? Red.
What would you come back as? Myself.
It’s raining a bit and cold and someone says the word ‘stroll’ and it sounds so exactly what I’m in the mood to do. Had they said ‘walk’ I wouldn’t have budged. I don’t feel like a walk. I want to stroll.
So I go to the beach because there’s no better place to be on a rainy afternoon-almost-early-evening in August.
Strolling implies not thinking, which makes it almost like a walking meditation. However I soon discover that the batteries are low in my camera and nothing is reliable. Sometimes it takes a picture and sometimes it flashes its ‘batteries are low’ signal. I consider not caring, consider not taking any pictures. Walking without taking pictures is also a kind of meditation and sometimes I can do it. Sometimes I crave not taking pictures.
Today there is milkweed and a seagull that limps and another that is hunched like an old man against the rain, a scowl on his beak, eyes all squinty and annoyed.
And perched tidily on the bottom step of wooden stairs leading from sand to playground, a tiny pair of purple lace-up sneakers with the heels squashed flat to make slip-ons. I beg the camera to work but no amount of thumping its battery end persuades it. If I wait ten minutes or so, it may be charged enough for one tiny purple shot. But there’s no guarantee and it’s raining and I decide to simply add ‘shoes’ to the list of things I’m trying to remember, to the picnic table buried to its very top in rocks and sand. And a sign that makes no sense.
And then the rain slows down and the sky brightens for a minute. It’s that kind of weather. I consider going back for the purple sneaker shot but, nah, it’s only shoes. I skip stones instead and test the camera while I do it.
I test it again.
And then I seriously consider going back for the shoes.
But of course it stops working at the very idea.
So the corn cob that’s abandoned on the sand, unattached from its picnic, goes undocumented. As does a squirrel eating what looks like a timbit, and a white feather, perpendicular among slick stones shaped like eggs…
A repeat post from 2010 when my mother was in a nursing home.
It was her last Remembrance Day and one I’ll never forget.
I only went in to see Phyllis, to get her dressed and give her breakfast. I always leave at 10. But when we walk to the common room for a bit of exercise, the chairs, each with a photocopy of ‘O Canada’ on its seat, are lined up in rows facing a podium. There’s a large screen at the front and poppies everywhere.
I consider staying the extra hour or so but Phyllis isn’t interested in ceremonies. Me neither. I prefer observing my two minutes of silence, alone and in my own way. We find a sunny spot at the back of the room and I read a piece by Barbara Kingsolver in the National Geographic, about water, while Phyllis sleeps in the chair beside me.
It’s nine thirty. I’ll take her back to her room at quarter to ten.
But at twenty to ten they start arriving.
Soon there’s a row of four men and one woman seated beside the podium, facing the rows of chairs. “Residents who served” I overhear someone say. One, in a wheelchair, sleeps with his head back and mouth wide open. The woman sits quietly confused with her ankles crossed, and a happy man with a British dialect tells everyone who passes “you’re wonderful”, and to the man with dementia beside him who’s beginning to nod off and fall sideways, the happy man says Are you alright, Tom?
Someone straightens Tom out and asks what it was he did during the war but Tom just looks straight ahead. The happy guy answers for him, says: What we all did… sink or swim.
More residents are wheeled in. A few come with aluminium walkers or a nurse. None come unassisted. The room is filling up with bodies and sounds. Phlemgy coughs, orphaned words, mumbles. The woman who yells all day I want to go home, somebody help me, what am I going to do? arrives, pushed in her wheelchair by a nurse and placed at the front of the room. Where am I? Where are you taking me? she yells. She has terrible teeth and long thin hair. I’ve never seen her family; she may be one of the many abandoned to the system, completely dependent on the mood of staff and Ministry guidelines, at the mercy of Long Term Care politics and rubbery cream of wheat.
‘One Tin Soldier’ plays in the background. By The Original Caste. I remember hearing it when I was very young and didn’t really understand what it was about. Listening to it now, surrounded by so many drooling tin soldiers of yore, it takes on even deeper meaning and I realize I’m staying for the ceremony… and for these men and women who did what they did, and for others who continue to do in this mad world because it’s, sadly, still the only way any of us knows to say thank you. I stay because we’re all a product of our past and because we’re all connected whether we like it or not.
I stay for my dad whose only comments about the war had to do with unexpected kindnesses from all sides. He didn’t speak of heroics.
The German man down the hall from Phyllis is brought in to sit with former enemies and it makes me wonder at the word ‘enemy’. Circumstantial at best. They all sit quietly confused together now, eating the same gruel, wondering perhaps what it was all about anyway.
Oh, yes. A madman. There’s always a madman.
Tom keeps falling over so his son moves him off to the side where he can keep him upright. He’s brought his dad’s beret and medals and pins them on a slightly stained beige pullover. The son takes pictures of Tom, asks Tom to salute. Tom just stares straight ahead.
It would be easy to leave. Wake Phyllis and go. I don’t want to hear ‘In Flanders Fields’ and cry with strangers. But I stay because it’s such an honour to sit among the muddle of their confusion, their dignity and continued bravery in this forgotten place of forgotten people where the beauty of old age is seen as ugliness, as something to pity.
During the ceremony I watch a daughter put a pink sweatered arm around her mother, pull her close and kiss her face. Another daughter is her mother, thirty or forty years earlier, so striking is the resemblance. A man in a motorized wheelchair wipes his eyes with a facecloth, says it bugs him that he can’t stand up to pay his respects. The happy man occasionally blurts out: Too much talking, too much talking and he’s right of course; there’s always too much talking. I notice his breathing is difficult, like my dad’s the year he died.
I notice the woman who yells all day is quiet.
And when eleven o’clock comes the whole room is suddenly hushed except for the sleeping veteran who snores loudly beside the podium and the happy man who says Hallelujah. But the muttering and coughing and shuffling stop. It’s like these people, who aren’t sure of much, can still sense what’s important. Maybe that’s what makes us human.
As the ‘The Last Post’ is played, and while I blow my nose, Phyllis wakes, looks at the rows of silent backs in front of us and says: Wow, it must be a good movie.
The ‘residents who served’ are recognized and the anthem is sung and then later a video clip is shown, based on a true story about a guy in a Shoppers Drug Mart who was outraged that the store observed two minutes of silence, causing him to wait—two minutes—to pay for his purchases.
The happy man is saying Too much talking, too much talking, and when the video and the ceremony end, and we’re thanked for being there and all is done, the happy man, breathing hard in his veterans’ seat, says: Peace at last, peace at last.
On our way out, I stop and ask Tom’s son if I might shake his dad’s hand. He beams, says Sure! and explains to Tom what I want. Tom in his beret and strip of medals pinned to his sloppy sweater, stares back, silent. His son helps him extend a hand. It feels soft and weak, the kind of hand that hasn’t worked in years except maybe to scratch an ear, adjust a bib at lunch. I hope that on some level he might still understand what a handshake is. And even if he doesn’t, I do.
I try to find something in his eyes to connect with but they stare in a kind of trance; I wonder what they’ve seen and whether I’d have the stomach for knowing.
Thank you, sir, I say, and Tom’s son tells him: Dad, say you’re welcome!