~ Claude Monet
Through an open window she heard notes. At first the soft pitter- patter of sound that quickly gathered to pounding momentum. Outside, a staccato rhythm clipped the walkway. From the heavens came the boom clap of thunder and then a whisper in the pause: I love you. I am by your side.
Slowly she rose to standing. Broken memories glittered about her feet.
A current hummed within the stillness. Fireflies flitted through the open window to hover above a wooden desk. The glow from a hundred glimmers of light lit upon the blank pages of a waiting notebook.
The story was hers to write in all of its beautiful form. Piece by piece, the memories altered, mended, whole. The largest piece, the foundation, evidence of a fierce strength and an enduring love, shone brightest.
Her fingers reach to lift the fallen pen from the ground. One hand shields her eyes to the sun. She gazes up to the place he waits. The clouds have thinned. The air is silent. The storm has ended.
Bare feet stand in a small pool of freshly fallen rainwater. Sunshine warms the asphalt. She takes a breath and lets the steamy heat rise up through her lovely bones. A hot breeze playfully slaps her cheek.
From the pecan tree comes birdsong so lilting, notes mirror a symphony.
Electric, she has risen. A tingling races down her backbone. She envisions the feathers that flow from her spine. Wings. Arms lift in unison.
Truth and love are resilient. She casts one last look back before soaring on.
moments of life. The achingly silent ticks of time. Within the silence you will hear echoes of laughter. A formed nest, a child’s spoon dipped egg, a found feather, a clutch of acorns. Simple treasures.
Late in the afternoon a door opens and a small woman steps out. She tucks a lock of auburn hair behind an ear, pauses to inhale the salt air that blows off the ocean. Waning sunlight announces the end of day. Her blue eyes rove the landscape in search of beauty. Today she’ll walk a familiar route home, a route she knows by heart. There is time and light.
The fence comes into view. A solid structure of connected mid century modern blocks. She stops and recalls a moment from her past. A craftsman sets the blocks into place, trowels a row and begins again. This memory elicits a smile. The open squares fenced a perfect hideaway, a spot to peek and play between the tangled ivy. For a moment she pictures two children; their laughter rings through air. Her fingers graze over the blocks, trace the roughness.
The woman covets beauty. Not perfection. Rather, she prefers the imperfect, the missing and broken. She finds beauty in the everyday objects left among fauna and man. Slowly, she lifts the camera from her bag and aims it at her subject. One last shot. A story in the making.
It’s time for some good byes. Winter’s sighed one last cool breath and left a namesake, Winter rose, a gift for tender Spring. As the visual softens and blurs, she notes the rows of Helleborus beneath her feet. These evergreen perennials are neatly placed within shaded borders. Petals open bluish purple to blotched, maroon pinks. Pale green, bell-shaped flowers reach from underneath variegated leaves.The shutter clicks. She imagines the ire of roused, rosy-cheeked woodland sprites, iridescent wings whir beneath sunbeams.
Suddenly, the woman senses a presence behind her. The spirits of her ancestors stand united. Souls whose calloused hands dug soil and transported the woodland plants by wheelbarrow to this very bed. Their whispered voices sound as peaceful notes; their words carried back and forth on the back of a cool breeze. She imagines them kneeling as they arrange the plants before her. The woman sighs, it was so long ago and she is weary.
It is time for Spring, she thinks, a time of new beginnings.
Along the walk back home, her beautiful mind deconstructs the objects. Drawn in by their elements of shape, form and colour, she pauses to scroll the photographs before her. The lens of a camera is the conduit through which she takes simple to majestic. A finger points to push the button, a frame clicks and a moment is captured in time. She imagines these images altered by subtle shifts of light and placement.
It’s a shame, she thinks. Blindly, we rush past the everyday. One day we realize. That which we forget, is forever lost.
You were born beneath an ireful star, launched into a destiny predetermined by a past. So, it is fitting that I wait for your arrival at the darkest hour of night.
In dreams, I am certain you return.
It is winter’s cusp, a time of confusion and crossover. Hail mixes with sunshine. Green shoots wither with frost. A time of sorrows passing and joy’s celebratory re-birth.
I wait on a barren beach, protected by crisscrossed driftwood, tucked in and sheltered from raging winds. Even the gulls have left.
In the distance, the thundering rollers call. Waves tumble and break to slip upon the shore. A heavenly mess, the water’s advance and retreat orchestrated with military precision.
From a safe vantage point, I see only unending swaths of gloom. The sky beyond is thickly brushed with inky, blue-black strokes. My eyes glance up toward the heavens. There waits the moon, full and ripe as a melon. Flickers of starlight sparkle through darkness.
A grey drop cloth of cloud obscures the distance. A split begins to form. Winds rip asunder the gauzy veil. A moon beam illuminates the watery path ahead. In the distance a red rowboat approaches. A man holds an oar.
Slowly, the shroud rises, carried off, held by the beaks of forty-eight diamond doves. Their wings rustle and heave as the curtain rises. You return in peace.
Lost at sea, a drift with one oar, the tides have brought you home. I leave my wind worn shelter and stand at the water’s edge.
Sailing closer to land, you fix your gaze upon mine. The ocean’s song rocks the rowboat with a final push to settle upon sand. My hand reaches out to steady you. Once on solid ground you straighten and pause. Reaching into your pocket, you pull out a stone. “This is for you.” You look away and lower your head.
“Thank you,” I reply.
Cool to first touch, the stone becomes warmer; a talisman nestled in my palm. I turn it and note the imperfections, see the flaws beneath a smooth surface. The passage of time has softened its form. The stone is actually glass. Once fragile and abandoned, its story has shaped over time. It ends in the form of a heart.
“Don’t cast it,” you say.
My fingers reach for a stick that rests upon the sand. Words whisper through wind, “This is for you.”
I press letters at the ocean’s edge.
That is all I seek. It is the gift you gave back to me.
This Christmas what I wish for doesn’t come packaged inside a box or glammed up in a gift bag. Long ago, I boxed the photographs and tucked away the memories of Christmases past.
Perhaps it’s the wisdom of age. Or just plain old weariness. I long for simplicity and gifts that can’t be placed underneath the tree. There is nothing I need; the possessions I own just fanciful and temporary, faded and broken.
I long for Peace. Peace on Earth. I want to live in a world that is kinder, a more compassionate place. A world where wars become stories in history texts.
I long for love and belonging. No child forgotten.
I long for family to circle round. The world is way too big now.
And finally, as I think about the upcoming holiday season, I whisper a “thank you” to my friends. You hold space in my heart.
“Grandfather, Great Spirit,
Once more behold me on earth and lean to hear my feeble voice.”
It wasn’t a fancy car but it was reliable. My Grandfather drove an aging Valiant Wayfarer utility wagon. This was in keeping with his humble style. A simple man, my grandfather had his own brand of street style. An aura of authenticity hovered over him. I imagine that it pleased him to note that the Valiant was manufactured in Australia.
A plaid wool blanket was folded across the Valiant’s back seat. This gentle touch offered soft comfort for a snuffling Boxer named Mitzi. In the winter months it provided warmth from the chill. Along the road of life, Mitzi and Grandfather traveled as true companions.
I recall Grandfather tidy in a crisp white shirt, sleeves rolled to the forearm. Look again and you’d glimpse a tattoo; the lower half of a mermaid’s fin. Overtop of his shirt, he wore leather- tabbed suspenders. They attached to buttons hidden under the waistband of his pressed woolen pants. His low boots appeared oiled. The leather had the sheen of rubbed chestnuts. A copper bracelet encircled his right wrist. He believed that the power of this element bewitched and tamed the demon called arthritis.
Understand, my grandfather needed the full use of his hands. They were his tools. An oiler by trade, he knew the most intimate parts of a boiler’s engine. His intuition understood every hiss, puff, and pause of machinery. His strong hands worked the land. Muscled arms heaved soil, necessary to build shelter for family. Born on the land, he was a descendent of carters and farmers.
My grandfather was a gentleman in more ways than one. A trademark felt fedora graced his head. This was the only fashionable touch of formal style he held to. It recalled a time of common etiquette and classy formality. He practiced simple courtesies such as opening doors for women. When a lady entered the room, he stood and removed his hat.
When I learned to drive a car, we would meet in the country. Grandfather had a precious sister that he visited each week. It was their ritual yet they made room for me.
Together we’d cruise in the Valiant. His favourite spot was a nearby provincial park. Gravel crunched under tires as the car wound along the rough roads. Finally, Grandfather would park the Valiant in a clearing. “Time for some fresh air,” he’d say. As we walked into the forest, my grandfather would pause to point out the trees.
“That’s a cypress. Notice the small, woody cones,” or whisper, “Look up. Find the tallest tree. Over there.” He’d stand stone still while my eyes followed skyward from the point of his finger. “There’s an eagle’s nest in that fir tree.”
When our time together ended, grandfather walked to my parent’s car and opened the driver’s door. He waited as I settled behind the wheel.
“Drive carefully,” he’d caution. “I’ll go on ahead. Follow me along the highway. I’ll lead you back to the turn off and then be on my way home.”
The dark two- lane highway was dangerous to drive. Evergreens rustled and swayed. Sometimes, I’d lag behind in speed and when that happened, he’d pull over to the shoulder of the road and wait for my car to catch up.
Up ahead, I’d see my grandfather’s car stopped and waiting. The car’s lights shone upon the Valiant. A man wearing a fedora stood tall. As I passed by, my grandfather doffed his fedora. It was our signal. We could both carry on into the night and find our way home.
A staunch fighter for worker’s rights and health care for all, he believed in bettering community. As a younger man, he rode the train from Alberta to the West Coast. At the city’s terminal station, he stood strong with the other unemployed and desperate men. Beat up and ordered to leave town, the men stood stronger together. Those were the meanest years of the Great Depression. He took whatever work he could find.
A loyalty to Queen and a new country shaped his nationalist spirit. One World War had been enough for his scarred body and gentle mind. In search of family and the opportunity to own land, he emigrated from England to Canada. The familiar grassy hillsides and vast farmlands would become a memory. His tender heart coveted memories of childhood and family left.
It was the tilt of his head that I recall. The way in which it tipped ever so slightly left. It was as if he had purposely paused a beat in time or stalled the moment. I sensed he felt the need to fully appreciate whatever was before him. Perhaps he knew too well how quickly moments vanish. A shy smile and twinkling eyes lent him humble, boyish charm.
This unassuming man possessed a gentle spirit and a watchful eye. At certain times in our life, he suddenly appeared. I believe he sensed the need to connect and guide. In those moments we exchanged few words. It wasn’t necessary. He was loyal and protective.
To me, he was known as grandfather. In his presence I felt the buzz from the purest magic, sent forth by an unseen hand. The magic came from a place beyond reason and beyond us. It felt real and true. In youth, I did not appreciate the gifts he gave me. They weren’t material in form, yet they were significant. These invisible gifts shaped me into the woman I have become. When I forget who I am, I close my eyes and remember.
Occasionally I drive along the stretch of highway that we used to travel. Whenever I do, I think of him. The winding road is now straight. Two lanes of highway became four. The ancient trees that rustled in the darkness are gone, long ago clear-cut. Behold an expansive housing development that continues for miles. Now, endless light shines from a stretch of apartment windows, illuminates the darkness.
Up ahead I see him. He is patiently waiting. Passing by, he tips his hat.
We wonder if the smallest actions matter. They do.