A Peek Into Heaven

Two people on the shore of the Pacific Ocean
Two people on the shore of the Pacific Ocean (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For many childhood summers, always during the month of August, our family would pack up the car, tossing in the bright plastic buckets and shovels, oversized towels, a large, loaded cooler, dented and scratched from use.  These items crammed into the trunk of the Wagon.  We would head to the ferry terminal to sail across the Strait of Georgia, to Kaye Bay Lodge, on Vancouver Island.  My sister and I cherished this time, as it was an opportunity to spend uninterrupted time with our father, in what could only be described as our Camelot.  Fortunately, those were the days before cell phones and computers; we were completely disconnected from daily life, as we knew it.   Dad would relax, explore the beachfront, and swim in the chilling Pacific Ocean with us; we knew where he was and that fact comforted my sister and me.  My sister would hang seaweed and kelp from our father’s head and shoulders.  Our Prince of Tides.  If the tides were right, we would dig for clams.  My father taught us how to look for the tell-tale bubbles, barely visible under the low puddles of seawater.  Other times, we would walk farther out, our tiny feet feeling the damp, cool sea floor, to pick oysters for supper.

Freedom to play for hours on the warm, sandy beachfront and opportunities to mix with others awaited us.  This vacation was the highlight of our year and became a wonderful family tradition, especially when my cousins began to join us.  My sister and I would compare it to taking a peek into heaven, imagining that if we could actually do so, we would be blinded by the brilliant rays of sunlight, multi shades of blue from turquoise to azure, and an earth below us, that sparkled like diamonds in the light.  The white, fluffy clouds, cushioning and carrying our tired, little bodies.  On the beach, there would be precious moments of love and laughter, children and adults spending time together, singing around a campfire, the sharing of meals, and arms encircled, as we held one another close, allowing nightfall to curtain the scene, bringing another beauteous day, to an end.

A peek into heaven, it truly was.  We couldn’t wait to rise at dawn, arguing over who would get which, Kellogg’s mini cereal box.  Our cabin was rustic, made of sturdy logs, one of the original structures on the property.  There was a small front step to rest on.  Yellowed, wild beach grass grew on either side of the structure.  The occasional shell would find itself relocated to rest just outside the cabin walls. We never explored the backside of the cabin, too afraid of what we might discover.  At night, in our tiny room, we would draw the curtain to avoid looking through the thin glass window and to keep the night away.  I still fear the darkness of night.  The silence allows my mind to activate and I begin to remember memories, both happy and sad, however, then, the silence was comforting as the rhythm of the ocean’s waves, crashing to the shore, lulled us to sleep.  We were content, dreaming of our beautiful days spent at the beach.  A peek into heaven, it truly was, for my sister and me.

Lunch Time

You asked me to describe my school lunches.  What did I eat for lunch?  This I do remember.

Queen Elizabeth School was a mere three blocks from the first home that I lived in.  My mother believed in “hot” lunches and children “home” for lunch.  It was the 60s, a decade of social and cultural change.  JFK, sexism and racism, people were breaking free.  I hardly recall a child that stayed at school, on a regular basis, for lunch. There was stability in the west side neighbourhood.  Picture this, manicured front lawns, solid, tall oak trees, their boughs reaching out, protecting and canopying the children that played on the boulevards beneath, moms inside, domesticating the home. Occasionally, I would lunch at school.  On those days my mother prepared my lunch, carefully packing my new silver thermos into the plaid, tin lunchbox. “Now, be careful with the thermos, Grace!  One drop and it will shatter.” The thermos intrigued me with its fat, torpedo shape, gleaming silver shell, catching the rays of sunlight. The lid tightly turned, protecting and chilling the liquid milk inside. It appeared solid, indestructible.

Those days, “lunch children” would be sent to the school’s cafeteria, located in the basement of the school.  Nervously, I would join the short line and as silent as mice, we would tip toe to the cafeteria, behind our beautiful teacher, Miss MacVicker.  Cardigan sets, pencil skirts, kitten heels, she was a fashion icon.  I would sit next to my neighbor, Bruce, a scientific, little fellow. I imagine him as a research professor now, searching for another galaxy or discovering a cure for autoimmune disease.  Bruce loved dinosaurs and could recite any and all details of their existence!  He read encyclopedias. In his basement, Bruce had every model of dinosaur, from ferocious Tyrannosaurus Rex to the smallest of raptors and he could tell you every fact about each type along with every detail of the Jurassic or Triassic period.[1]  However, the best thing about Bruce was his chameleon! [2]  Imagine living next door to someone who owned a lizard that changed colours! We spent hours experimenting, trying to force changes, the chameleon flicking its long, pink tongue in disgust.  Once, I actually thought I saw the reptile-changing colour; its feet turning from green to blue, as Bruce held it captive, wrapped in my mother’s turquoise scarf.  “It’s getting angry,” Bruce would declare.  Bruce was fascinating, smart and curious, traits I admired.  Besides, he had a chameleon!

We were children of the Wonder Bread era.  Lunch children sat in rows ordered chronologically; youngest students to eldest, tin lunch boxes or brown paper bags, placed in front of our little crossed legs. Napkins placed upon our laps.  Quietly, unfolding our wax paper wrapped, Wonder Bread sandwiches, silently acknowledging the day’s fare.  “Oh no. Egg salad, again,” would be the lament.  Then the sniffing, as we raised the item first to our noses, then to the light, inspecting it with our sharp eyes, looking for bits to toss or avoid.  Trades were encouraged.   “I’ll trade you a peanut butter for a plain jam.”  Buttered bread with sugar and cinnamon sprinkled on top was a coveted delicacy among the young lunch crowd!  Tapioca pudding, oh no!  “Ugh!  Grace eats frog’s eggs!” I would flush with embarrassment. “Fish!” The disgust was audible. We little ones quickly learned that fish was definitely frowned upon.  Homemade cookies and a thermos of milk rounded out the meal. Carefully, I unwound the lid and poured the white liquid into the small silver thermos lid.  Sipping carefully. Quietly watching the other children.

One afternoon, running home from school, my lunch kit came unfastened.  The silver thermos rolled out and hit the ground.  “Test it,” Bruce declared.  “Shake it and listen.”   When I picked it up, I knew. When I shook the thermos, I heard the chinking sound of shattered glass tinkling inside the base of the thermos. My mother’s words, “Be more careful!  I just bought you that one.  Now, you’ll have to do without.” My thermos shattered!  The solid, strong, steel like exterior, a false front, so easily broken.  Insides made of glass, broken and fragile. Shattered.

I preferred to walk home to a hot lunch.  It was a reprieve, an escape from the classroom. I took comfort in knowing that I had a house a ‘waiting my return, like a familiar blanket held close to the body, the house wrapped its walls around me, protecting me. Even then, I would imagine returning and the house would have vanished.  The panic welling up inside as I pondered my next move.

Entering the kitchen, my lunch would be placed onto the table.  Campbell’s Tomato Soup, Chicken Noodle, Alphabet, Saltines, grilled cheese, simple fare, repeated throughout the week. Delicious!  Sometimes Playbox biscuits! “Howdy Doody” [3] would be on the radio and I would listen with delight when Princess would sing my favourite song, “High Hopes.” [4]  I could picture that little ant pushing that big rubber plant, as I’d sing along with Princess Summer, Fall, Winter.  That show was responsible for nightmares for years to follow.  The thought of Howdy, Uncle Bob, and Princess actually seeing me through the radio was disconcerting to say the least.  Bruce thought that they were probably lying to the children about the seeing part.

You asked me to describe what I ate for lunch. It really doesn’t matter.  My mother made my lunch. I had a home, my mom, a little sister, and a friend.  This much, I do remember.