A Moment

Their moments were fleeting; at times, raw. This, was that moment.

“Annie?”

She giggled. A child’s head popped up from beneath the table. His daughter, a sprite of girl straightened and met his stare. A paper doll dangled from her fingertips. The style of  doll was familiar; he knew Jacqueline had sketched it, had painted in the model like features and cut it to form.

“I didn’t see you,” he laughed. “How long have you been here?”

Annie shrugged.

She was his light beam; her smile tamed darkness.

In that moment she charmed him. Feet planted, Annie straightened and dared: stay. Her ruffled blonde hair, wide bangs cut short, and one off- centered, green eye, opened wide; he had noticed her tricks.

Instantly, Annie lowered her head and the spell was broken.

He crouched beside her. Gently, his fingertips smoothed the tussled strands of her hair into place. He cupped her dimpled chin and waited for her to look up. When she did, he traced the freckled path along her cheekbone. Surgical tape stuck to the skin above her left eyebrow. One edge of the tape had lifted. Carefully, his fingertip pressed the errant corner into place. He knew she hated the eye patch, always picked at the edges to get free of the gauze covering.

He lingered in that moment. She was his black cat bone, his good luck charm.

 

 

Layers

~ vintage blanket
~ vintage blanket

 

It snowed this weekend and the world became just a bit more enchanted. Layers of water and ice glistened over the street. Ribbons of snowflakes tumbled and bedecked the boughs beyond my window. Lights twinkled, evermore bright, as darkness dropped a veil atop the blanket of white. A hush settled upon the land. The world was beautiful to behold.

I’ve learned to look closely, to appreciate the layers of a life.

Everything layers. The snow that buries treasure. The cut pine boughs that house an errant spider. The branch of Winterberries that feed the birds. The words we write; the silences we keep.

Look closely.

My eyes scan the room to view a mother’s treasured sideboard. Once it stood stained and polished, waiting for Sunday. On that sacred day, she’d set out the silver and china serving dishes. Her best effort. And we would celebrate family.

Look closely.

A patina of paint and wax covers the oak sideboard. The top sanded, the edges worn. The silver stands in a cast iron urn, a twist on up cycling.  The china serving bowls rarely make an appearance. I see the candle burning down. A daughter’s attempt to hold on, let go, to illuminate the night.

Look closely.

My fingers lift a gilded frame. The sepia photograph is of a woman. I trace her portrait.  She is standing on a deck, leaning against a railing, looking out to sea. Dressed in her finest clothing, her fingertips hold a hat. A lady always wears a hat. She was a believer in proper etiquette. Beyond her rolls the Atlantic.

Look closely.

I recall her eyes, shades of indigo grey. Behind their depth is another layer. Doubt. I imagine her pausing, pondering, “Should I leave England?” I dust off worry and discover bravery. Carefully, I lift another layer to expose joy ~ he is waiting for her to cross an ocean.  On another continent, he goes about his life, planning, constructing, beholden to a dream.

Look closely.

A certain magic fills the room. A whispered breeze kisses my forehead. I see my Grandmother; she is still beautiful. Time has gently taken its toll. Her once bright eyes have paled. They  glimmer, wet pools of faded blue. Her finest dress, threadbare. A pin of pearls is elegantly placed beneath the collar of her blouse.  Beside her armchair a weathered curtain hangs, the faded Irish lace rustles.

Look closely.

Everything is layered, weathered, chipped, cracked and broken. Be still. Pay attention to the forgotten. It is within glorious imperfection that we find beauty. Lift the layers gently, see beyond the cracks. Everything and everyone has a story to tell. The magic of the world works in whispers. You only need a heart that feels to see the wonder that surrounds us.

A Lady and A Crown

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Sometimes it’s the small things that hold the most meaning in our lives. They show up as everyday actions, expressed through the simplest gestures and the gentlest of comments. Yet make no mistake, this is what love looks like.

This Mother’s Day my mother wants only an ice cream cone. She says, “that will be enough.”

Mom opens the passenger door and slides onto the empty seat. She smiles from under her new straw hat. “Do you like it?” Her words sound timid.

My fingers reach to adjust the brim of woven straw. “It’s jaunty, Mom. Wear it lower on the forehead.” She pulls back. In that moment I catch my tone.

A memory returns. It is of a different mother.

This mother waited in the car or stood on the street. This mother adjusted and rolled the brims of her sweet babies’ hats, made certain they were safe.

This mother’s children scampered down the steps from school or daycare, their small heads bobbing, their hats askew. Her fingers reached forth to roll and adjust. She was the mother who smoothed the cloth, caressed a cheek.

Voices warbled as chubby little hands rifled through backpacks to produce a rumpled painting or a sample of schoolwork. “Do you like it, Mom?”

I always did.

There is something achingly similar in the whispered words of young and elderly. The shy questioning notes that search for reassurance and approval. The eyes wide, searching.

My mother’s voice calls me back to the present.

“Do you like it?”

I nod. “It has flare, Mom.” I smile and tug it closer to her ears.

A truth snags hold. Some days, I am mothering her.

While I steer, Mom shares a happy story. She speaks of a friend. “I was just about to sit down to eat when the phone rang. It was Francie.” Breathless words continue, “ She tells me there’s a new park bench across the street and insists we go and sit on it. Christen it.”

At first she resisted this adventure. There were excuses. The dinner, the six o’clock news- Francie persisted.

My mother sighs. “I told her, dinner could wait.”

I nod. “Good choice, Mom. Sometimes we need to lose the plan.”

My mother’s world is small. She plans each day around breakfast, lunch and dinner. She eagerly awaits the Friday paper, the daily news and me.

She explains how they ambled to the nearby park and sat on the wooden bench. “Two old girls,” she laughs. “Francie told me I needed a straw hat. When I told her I didn’t own one, she pulled a floral pop up umbrella from her bag.”

Mom acted the part, raised her hand above her head, lifted her hat and shook loose her fine grey hair. In that moment she was twenty-five. I glimpsed the shimmer in her eyes and felt the swish of hair.

She is beautiful.

My hands flutter and smooth the top of her head. She eases the hat into place. “Francie held the umbrella over my head,” she says. “I felt like royalty.” She pauses and raises one hand. Fingers lower the car’s visor.

“I’m looking for a mirror.”

I lift the cover to reveal one.

She gazes at her reflection. “Do you like it?”

“You look pretty, Mom.”

Sunlight streams through glass. She looks in the distance. Swiftly her fingers reach. She shuts the cover over the mirror and lifts the visor.

“We’ll do something for Mother’s Day,” I say.

“Nothing fancy, just take me for ice cream. That’s enough.”

Silence fills every bit of space. A silence so vast it reminds us of all we never said. A veil of crepe settled over memories, the years spent tip- toeing around the shards that filled up spaces. Somehow we managed to hold to one another. I told her, “You are worth so much more.” I vowed that she would never break again.

The car pulls to the curb and I watch as she walks the short path to the front door, see her turn the key in the lock and notice that she looks back to wave good- bye. This is her signature.

It is the hug I will not receive, the kiss on the cheek that is missing and the spoken words I will never hear.

I imagine my mother walking through the lobby and checking her mailbox. She stops at the elevator and pushes the button. As the door opens, she smiles.

Her finger touches the second floor light. She stands and absorbs the familiar creaks and groans of the pulleys that lift her higher.

At the second floor the elevator stops and the door clunks open. My mother exits and begins the short climb up the three stairs to her suite. Her veined hand grips the rail as she slowly places one foot ahead of the other. She hears the familiar sound of voices chattering down the hall. Laughter rings, a television booms. She inhales the spiciness of turmeric and smoke that seeps from beneath a door. On her head is perched the new straw hat. She smiles.

 

If I wait long enough my mother will appear in the apartment’s window and look down upon the street.

Our eyes meet and I see her, a beautiful woman wearing a straw crown.

Elegance

Mahogany Cabinet redux~ annie sloan chalk paint
Mahogany Cabinet redux~
annie sloan chalk paint

 

The elegant bones were the give away. Once hers held richer presence. Austere yet luxurious, polished and shiny, shades of auburn and chestnut beckoned.

She stood behind a door, snugged against a wall, opposite a front window, preferring to stand in the light. The overcast  days cast too many shadows. Yet it was from behind the door that she listened.

Beauty fades, even hers. Bought on time; she should have seen the coming settlement of account. She was disposable. The carpenter’s base upon which she stood once solid, now broken. The scratches, scuffs and scrapes of time, earned and more than paid for.

Behind a glass exterior were hidden her best kept secrets. Evidence of coveted treasure and tales from a far away land. Slipped away whispers of hushed conversations as the china teapot passed from hand to hand.

Yet she stands whitewashed, transformed.

The Nest

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The nest loosened from the crutch of a branch, sailed on the back of a gust, to land upon the boulevard. Far from the tree, it lay empty, in a discarded heap.

 

A hammering wind pounded at the city’s core, splitting and tossing everything that wasn’t nailed down. Sheltered inside her home, a woman sat at a computer. She read the words that came across the screen. “A real rip-snorter,” her friend wrote on chat.“ I’ve already brewed my morning coffee and poured it into a thermos. Just can’t function without coffee.”

The woman smiled in silent agreement. First World Problems.

Throughout the lower mainland, people hunkered inside and watched through candle lit windows as the earth heaved and trees upended before their eyes. Splinters of debris fell upon the streets; tree limbs hit the ground, scattered askew like victims of a crime scene.

She sat front row, safe within the darkness of a home and listened as the wind howled outside the window. She saw the towering evergreens bend and accept fury. Temper, temper, she silently scolded. The blast rattled the window panes.

Storms didn’t worry her anymore. She had lived through many.  There was something edgy in the bluster. As the gusts gathered momentum, she pulled a blanket higher to cover her shoulders. Tucked in, she wasn’t afraid. As the maniacal fury shook the window panes, she sighed. It will pass.

She had sensed the wind’s approach, felt the electricity deep within her bones, had noted the eerie silence that hung in mid-air. Far away, somewhere over the ocean, the wind’s muffled howls announced a supernatural force. With a huff and a puff, the winds unleashed. Afterwards, a hush settled upon the land, false comfort from an untrustworthy and sinister phantom’s whisper.

Once upon a time she had rocked her babies to sleep as the wind blew outside their window. Frightened, they asked in turn, “ Mama, will it blow us away?” Her hands tucked each child closer, arms brought them nearer to heartbeat; their fear calmed by a steady rhythm. And she changed the story. They learned that big, bad wolves can be tamed and that it’s wise to straighten and face a storm with brick strength. And they knew her love was constant.

 

Outside her home, the evergreen branches shuddered, cowered under the force of the wind. Snug, she waited for the storm to pass.

They always do. She understood storms; their patterns so predictable. While the center unraveled, broke apart and nicked that which stood in its path; she kept calm in the knowledge that this one held no lasting power. Faith comforted her as she drifted to sleep protected by gentle dreams.

 

It was the chirping that woke her. Sunlight streamed through glass. As her sleepy eyes opened, she understood there was some truth to words, those clichéd daily mantras of positivity that arrived to her inbox. Yes, yes, the sun shines after the storm and true, tomorrow’s a new day. There was no need to attempt a conversion; she clung to hope. There was no choice.

In a sunny room high above the street, she surveyed the storm’s aftermath, the messy beauty left. Beyond the window, a bird’s nest lay in disarray.

She wanted to touch it, keep it. The nest symbolized a home, a place of protection and love. At that thought, she paused. Instinctively, one hand reached to cover her heart. What was it about a discarded nest that caught her eye? How could she ever sanely explain the need to protect such a simple yet complex object?

To know this woman, you’d understand. Born beneath a shield of loyalty, an invisible string circled around her, included those she loved, slip knotted by others that came before. Guardians of hope and love, shoulder to shoulder, family united, they circled.

Hers was never a life of entitlement; it was a life of enough. She lived simply, feathering her nest with bits of beauty and heartfelt devotion. Flawed objects intrigued her and once she heard their stories , a precious connection made it near impossible to let them go. Protective, she took care to nurture for she understood loss. You had to leave her.

Go and get it. Swiftly, she crossed the street, hoped the neighbor wouldn’t peek through the shutters and see her, a grown woman standing on the boulevard, bent over an object. Would he even notice? It seemed no one was home anymore. When did the street become so silent? Was it when the children left?

Carefully she cupped the nest. Gently she placed it into a discarded cardboard box. A temporary place, she mused. Something so humble deserves a grander setting. Her probing fingers turned it over; she felt twigs snap beneath her touch. She marveled at the nest’s intricate construction, strong yet fragile. One section had torn away.

The nest had belonged to an enterprising crow. Tiny dark feathers lined the hollow of the cup. Tufts of spun animal hair padded one turn of the nest’s edge. Rabbit, she wondered? A long length of string was woven in between thin twigs. Strands of tinsel glittered and peeked from between smatterings of mud. Beautiful in all of its ugliness, the nest had been carefully curated. It was a home to warm the eggs and coddle the fledglings that it had once housed.

How earnest, she thought. How sincere the want to nurture, how it clutches and pulls at one’s heart to be both resourceful and creative, to make a protective space, a home.

At the thought of home she paused and looked off into the distance. She recalled one home. It was long ago. For a time, she had lived with her grandfather, a silent, hidden away Scot. After he graced her with a second floor bedroom, he had all but disappeared to the attic. To this day, she could not recall his voice. He had made room for her, shown a hint of kindness and a touch of love.

In her humble opinion, this was the loveliest room in the house. Along an outer wall was a window with a wide angled view of the backyard. It wasn’t much of a yard. Grandfather had portioned off a rectangular patch to plant vegetables, constructed a compost box, nearby. There were few flowers planted except for Lily of the Valley. In the center of the yard was a majestic cherry tree. Its sturdy branches touched her windowpane.

At first she was afraid to sleep in the room. From behind the curtains came scratching sounds. It was the tree summoning her.

She recalled how she had stood at the window and watched the cherry tree change with the seasons. Positioned high above the ground, it was as if she had sprouted wings. From this viewpoint, she looked down upon the gnarled branches. The tree brought gifts to behold.

It was a wondrous time to be a child within this house. There was music and laughter. Sometimes, a family member would place her high into the cherry tree and run away. As she clung, cheek pressed to bark, she learned patience. He always returned to swing her around until her feet touched ground.

Winter was her favourite season.  Vulnerable, the tree allowed a look deep within its angles. On one such occasion she had spied an abandoned nest.

And then one morning in early spring, a bird returned to the nest. Fascinated she watched as it dipped and fluttered to finally reveal three eggs. The eggs reminded her of the ocean, how the waters blended, washed and mixed from dark to the lightest shade of blue.

Under a blanket of stars she had drifted to sleep. Songs threaded through dreams, the notes traveled up through the clouds and beyond delighting the stars. The stalwart cherry tree stood, a sentry outside her window.

Snap shot memories surface on a whim, the grainy Polaroid images of long ago spent in a small house on a quiet street. She remembered how the wind sang as it passed through the cherry tree’s branches. Sometimes the notes rang soft as a lullaby. Other times, the notes were ominous, a slow, steady drumbeat of noise.

Now she stands, on a storm strewn street. In her hands is an empty and broken nest. She thinks, there is a certain beauty and strength here.

The woman yearns to return to her earliest memory of love, to a gentler time, to a moment when the window frame lifted to allow a peek at the world. Beyond the glass, life beckoned. She aches to rewrite her story. It was in that space of endless time, that she had felt at home.

She lifts the nest from the worn box and places it upon a glass pedestal plate, something a wee bit fancy. The woven twigs, the simple bits and bobs that fill it suggest an understated elegance. She sets the pedestal onto a worn whitewashed sideboard.

The nest was once strong and protective. This fact is not lost on her. Once upon a time it was a home. She notices the length of thick string that circles round. She resists an urge to pull the string loose.

Here on the sideboard the nest will sit. People wonder, why keep it? She smiles. Of course its true that the sun loves the moon. It will always return to kiss and tame the darkness. There is magic in the universe and beauty in the broken. The nest reminds her of all that truly matters in a life.

It’s also true that hope endures. The solid cherry tree still stands on guard in the middle of a backyard. She imagines that a gentle soul inhabits the room with the best view. She prays that the child is loved. The branches continue to tap on the windowpane. As the seasons change, the tree leaves gifts for another child to behold.

 

 

Two Minutes About A Storm

Two Minutes About A Storm

 

I have seen many storms in my life. Most storms have caught me by surprise, so I had to learn very quickly to look further and understand that I am not capable of controlling the weather, to exercise the art of patience and to respect the fury of nature.

Paulo Coelho
Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/storms.html#ThVdLkLO3ue5iYQj.99

Storm watching isn’t for amateurs. Gale force winds pummeled the house. Gusts tunneled through the nooks and crannies. Wind whistled like a freight train, assaulted the weak in its path. A rip- snorter of a storm had caught the West Coast somewhat by surprise.

Surprise because it is seasonally too early to experience such chaos. Drought like conditions created this “perfect storm.” Stressed coastal trees, their root systems dried and brittle from a lack of rainfall and necessary water restrictions. Meteorologists describe this type of storm phenomenon as a Pineapple Express. There was nothing sweet about this rebel train.

As a child I feared storms, cowered with fright as thunder clapped and lightning struck just beyond my world. I peeked through my bedroom window, listened to the rhythmic taps; imagined slender witch’s fingers a ‘waiting to snatch. A blanket was my armor. It’s different now. Altered, older, stronger, I have faced fear.

Trepidation and wild curiosity fueled me. I ventured outdoors to stand in the fury. The advisory recommended, stay indoors. Foolishly lawless, I steadied for the fight. The street was eerily silent, the quietest calm. The only sounds heard were the snap of branches, the crash of metal falling, and then, the unrelenting screams of wind. Nature unleashed a beast.

Bravely I filmed. In between scenes, wild became calm and still. Stealthily the beast circled, at first the only clue, a faint whooshing as it whistled and teased the branches. Momentum gathered to unleash a fury.

Evergreen limbs jitterbugged, a frenzy of branches whipped about. Pinecones scattered. Boughs snapped and thumped to the ground. Later I would hear the news, power lines fell and arced. Someone’s forgotten laundry sailed past my windowpane. A cast of tea towels, ghosts to a gathering. Sirens screamed.

Defeated and spent the storm abated. The clouds parted and a heart formed within the gossamer. Humanity ventured out from the safety of their shelters and began to tidy the debris left. Usually silent neighbours spoke, stepped in to aid one another with the clean up. Random acts of kindness shone.

Sometimes it takes a storm to remind us of the grace that follows. Life storms happen and in the moments of peace and quiet that follow; we realize how much there is to be grateful for.

 

 

 

The Cradle

Annie Sloan~ Pure White Chalk Paint
Annie Sloan~ Pure White Chalk Paint
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Cece Caldwell~ Santa Fe Turquoise Chalk paint
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Grandpa’s Barn Red paint peeks through the sanded edges of the cradle.
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A coat of Annie Sloan Soft Wax slips over the paint.

Grandpa fashioned the wooden cradle by hand and painted it Barn Red. I remember that afternoon; his hands set the cradle onto the linoleum floor. My small hands reached forth, rocked the cradle. His gentle eyes looked into mine,
“For your doll, rock her to sleep,” he said. He turned to my mother, “I found the pattern in the newspaper.”

I recall the cradle was the colour of a shiny fire truck. Grandpa used any old paint, whatever was on hand. Barn Red sat on top of the work-bench, so Barn Red it was. It wasn’t about beauty or matching decor; it was about finishing up a project. It was about frugality. It was about the hand-made gift, lovingly bestowed on a young child.

Over the years, the doll’s cradle was set aside. My sister and I grew older, chose other forms of play. Somehow the cradle survived several moves, furniture purges, life changes, re dos and pure neglect. Yet, I always knew where to find it.

A few days ago, I thought about the man who fashioned the wood into a doll’s cradle. An urge to sit awhile in his space, hold to a memory over took me.

It was clear how to find him. I searched the cobwebbed crawl space until its rocker came to view,hidden behind the box of Christmas decorations. Slowly, I lifted the cradle. The heaviness of the plywood, the slivered edges, and the pea green paint, pricked for attention. I craved evidence from a moment.

Confidently, my hand gripped the block as I sanded the sharp and dented edges of the cradle. Each layer of paint lifted to show moments from a life. The memories that linger. The horrid pea green paint my mother applied in the mid 70’s, a wish to update and repurpose the cradle for magazine storage. Turquoise, her favourite colour from a 60’s craze to match a floral slip coloured couch, came to the surface. Still I sanded. Where was the red I remembered?

Slowly the layers of paint lifted until patches of Barn Red peeked through, evidence, it was real. I had found the moment so long ago.

This week I restored the old wooden cradle with chalk paint. Pure White by Annie Sloan covered the patches of colour that remain deeply ingrained within the wood. One coat of Santa fe Turquoise by Cece Caldwell, slip covered white. Once slipped in wax, the chippy old cradle’s patina shone restored. My hands reached forth, rocked the cradle.

The cradle’s story lives, once again made real, a grandfather’s simple loving action layered by moments that survive time. Love lives on.