The early wake up call. “Mom, can you pick me up at the Sky Train Station? I worked a night shift” My son, now an adult, still occasionally calling mom for a ride home! Disheveled, flattered, I manage to throw myself together in relatively decent style. Arriving at his townhouse, my son suggests I view the garden. The small plot of earth carefully arranged with green shoots, annuals and perennials reaching for the sunshine. Lavender bushes. The window box of herbs. The three raspberry canes, looking forlorn, yet hopeful, the promise of bearing sweet fruit. My son asks questions and seeks advice on gardening. “What’s a good rose to grow?” Depends, if you want a rambler or a climber. Touched, I lovingly recall the little boy he once was and the times we spent looking at the gardens in our neighbourhood, planting the Mother’s Day gift of lupin seeds, a memory from the story we shared, Miss Rumphius, placing picked flowers into a vase, floating rose petals in a bowl. I ache to go back in time. What struck me is that the little things we often take for granted, count. Pivotal moments in time. The walks and talks. Simple acts, like planting flowers, teach us to appreciate the beauty in life.
Precious gifts of time that we share with one another. Years ago, my father and grandfather taught me, through their simple actions, to find peace in a garden, to create beauty, to nurture life, to discover hope in the bleakest of conditions. Their gift of time, passed on to me, passed along to my son.
My mother grew up in a charming, solid, Craftsman style home , a style influenced by the English Arts and Crafts movement as well as by Oriental wooden architecture, made popular from 1905- 1920. This style would have suited her father, a serious Scottish student of architecture, and a draftsman, a man who was at ease with the rigidity of straight lines and angles. Upon immigrating to Canada, Grandfather James, would work with the City of Vancouver, designing and drafting many projects. A man of few words, grandfather spent hours building and shifting the classical structure of the house to suit. The child recalled that although her grandfather, “Boombah,” wasn’t much of a communicator, his mind was sharp and his watchful eyes held a flair for detail. In carpenter overalls, a hammer hanging from the leg strap or back pocket, Grandfather James was always building and creating projects throughout the house. At one point he raised the original bungalow, creating a basement area. Birthday parties would be held in this space. The child enjoyed wandering silently, following her grandfather about the back yard, watching him repair the fencing, hammer on a post, or sketch his plans onto a scrap. Grandfather would hand her the tape measure or thick black pencil, motioning with his hand when he wanted its use. The intuitive child understood the man’s grumbling ways and quietly followed him about the yard. Occasionally the child would help locate his false teeth, usually left on a pile of lumber or a fence post in the back yard. Although they rarely spoke, he would smile and nod. The child knew that she was watched over and that in his odd, curious, silent way, Grandfather cared for her.
A distinctive feature was the shell of the house, Spanish stucco with bits of bronze glass embedded in it. The child loved to gaze at the sparkling glass, the early morning sunlight bouncing off of it, pretending that the sparkling glass bits were jewels, golden nuggets left by a genie, escaped from the tall silver lidded pitcher kept on the windowsill in the living room. The top half of the house consisted of wide planks of plywood, painted a dark, forest green to blend in with the natural surroundings. A tidy path of stepping-stones, wound from the sidewalk to the front steps. If you followed the stepping-stones, the path would wind around the perimeter of the house. The child would pretend that she was Dorothy, following the yellow brick road, tugging Bear along the journey, step by step. 
The sidewalks on West 13th and Camouson are now shaded by majestic oak and elm, their long branches reaching across, joining together, to form a canopy over the sidewalks. Every autumn, their spirally arranged leaves drifting and blowing to the boulevard were raked up into a high pile. The nuts a welcome winter meal for chipmunks and squirrels, the pile of leaves scattered and tossed by the children from the block. From a young age, children played on the front lawns of the properties. Mothers relaxed on the front steps or went about their daily business inside the house; knowing that their children were safe. No one feared abduction from the front lawn. If a child strayed to the sidewalk or boulevard, other children, pulling and riding wagons up and down the 13th Avenue hill, protected one another from harm. There were the occasional falls and bumps, which were largely ignored. It was on this sidewalk, in the late afternoon that the child would patiently wait for her uncle to appear arriving home after his studies at UBC. These were happy times, small gatherings of family and friends chatting on the sidewalk or doorstep of her grandfather’s home. The child watched her uncle and a friend toss a rubber ball into the sky, so high, she thought it would touch the sun and disappear. It was on the boulevard alongside the sidewalk that her uncle would snap a photograph of the child wearing her new birthday outfit. It was a two-piece ensemble, navy blue plaid top with a sailor style collar and tie at the front. The short skirt was pleated. The little girl wore white ruffled ankle socks, leather Mary Janes. Her hair was styled by Mr. Derry, the local hairdresser at the barbershop on Dunbar. The child disliked Mr. Derry’s pixie cuts but she loved the silver sparkles that he’d toss onto her head. The delight from the adults, the attention and focus made the child smile as she posed for the photograph. It was a costly store bought outfit, carefully selected by her uncle. Although, now grown, the woman fondly remembers that special day.
A visitor to the house would notice the beautiful pink rhododendron bush, a genus as old as time that grew in the garden beside the front staircase. A stand out in the front garden. The ancient flowers, the color of ballet slippers. As a child; she would delight in picking up the soft, velvety petals that spilled from the drooping blooms, the dark green leaves used to scoop up an unsuspecting creature. Grandfather planted that bush when he first obtained possession of the house. Snowbells, their tiny, pure white bell shaped flowers drooping to greet the seeds germinating beneath the earth. Among them, stood the tall foxgloves, purple, and pink. The child slipped the soft flowers onto her fingertips and delighted at her velvety nails. Sometimes she was a tiger, stalking quietly through the ferns, peeking from behind the branches of the rhododendron bush, claws spread open to frighten her prey. On other days, she was a wicked witch with long petal fingernails; one touch would poison Bear and send him into a deep sleep. There was a blood red, climbing rose that inched up the side of the house. The child pretended that the rose climbed up the castle walls. Some days, she would collect the spent petals and flowers and hand them to her mother, who would arrange them into a glass bowl on the kitchen table.
Before her time, another little girl, the child’s mother would explore the garden; walk the dirt paths around the perimeter of the house, imagining herself as a woodland sprite or a graceful cat pacing through the tall grass. Daffodils, their lemony colour as bright as the sun bloomed in the garden under the growing rhododendron bush. Purple, pink, and blue hyacinths scattered throughout the front garden, their intoxicating perfume scenting the air. Plantings were left in a natural state with many of the varieties native to B.C. and grandfather would journey to Hyland Barnes to select his plantings. Mother would share, “The old man really liked gardening; he was into it with a vengeance.” There were several fruit trees throughout the backyard, a plum tree that the child’s mother would later pick plums to preserve. An unfortunate pear tree that rarely produced fruit, surprised the family the year it produced a single, magnificent golden pear! “A rather puny apple tree that always produced sour fruit, covered in blemishes,” attempted to survive throughout the years. Like her daughter, the child’s mother would pick the rose petals from the ground and artfully place them into a glass bowl on top of the table.
The child could watch a variety of creatures make their home in the garden. Spiders spun silken, glistening webs between the branches of the rhododendron bush. Ladybugs flew to the daffodils, tickled the child’s finger, until taking flight. Bees buzzed busily amongst the lilac bushes. The child pretended that they were making honey for her bear. Worms could be seen, wiggling up to view the world beneath the garden flowers. Black ants marched in line and the child would patiently follow them to their hill. Treasures, such as the tiny, turquoise robin’s eggs that the child found on the ground beneath the tree. Simple gifts from the universe.
There were wrought iron rails that followed the stairs to the front porch landing. The child would sit on the stairs and run her hands through the spaces and twist her fingers around the twirling, black rails, hard and so cool to the touch. Once the child had a playmate that managed to place his head between the rails, causing panic and commotion when he couldn’t release his head from the iron bars. The child’s mother was called to gently ease the playmate’s head from its ironclad jail. That followed by a lecture that ended with, “You two are damn lucky I didn’t have to call the Fire Department!”
At the top of the front cement stairs there was a landing, sheltered by a wide, enclosed overhang with decorative post supports. This sheltered porch provided a certain solidity, protecting the little child and before her, her mother, arriving home from school or play. Entering through the plain, cream coloured door, a guest would notice the small foyer and to the right, a living room behind leaded glass paned doors. The squeaky oak floors led down a hall to the kitchen. The child would sit in the nook at the south end of the kitchen, watching the birds alight upon the cherry tree.
A robin, flying by, looking down upon the low pitched, gabled peak, would see a beautiful cherry tree in the centre of the back yard. A perfect home for a stick formed nest to hold and protect the tiny blue eggs. The cherry tree changed with the seasons. In the spring, the branches would sag with the weight of the snow-white blossoms that hung from the branches. In the winter, the tree stood bare and stalwart, a solid, sentry sheltering the house from the elements. When the wind blew, the branches that reached close to the house, would tap upon the windowpane, both frightening and yet calming to the child. Was there a spirit outside the window? It was this majestic cherry tree that entranced the child. Every morning she woke to its beauty. Every evening, the child would take comfort in knowing it would be there when she awoke, an old friend. This beauty took center stage; it’s brownish black bark, rough and scratchy upon her velvety soft cheek. The branches reaching toward the sun and stars at night, the child imagined that she could climb to the very top of a branch and pick a star into her tiny, plump hand. Some days, standing upon the back porch, you would see the child, book in hand. Tossing the Little Golden Book toward the centre of the cherry tree, the child would delight when the impact occurred. Like snow, hundreds of little bits, exploding and scattering white blossoms, flurried toward the ground. Sometimes, the child could convince her sister to stand under the majestic cherry tree. When the blossoms fell, her sister would dance and twirl with delight, her arms lifted above her head, peals of laughter. Always, this game would end in tears, as the book would miss the branch or rebound, finding its target, whacking the little, round, blonde head. The cherry tree watched over the child as she sat under it, back touching its trunk, reading a book. From her bedroom window, the little girl could see it, underneath an ebony sky, the white blossoms of the tree, illuminating the deep, dark yard. Upon nightfall, the precious child sailed off to dreamland, her mother’s calm voice reciting the poetry of Eugene Field’s, Wynken, Blynken and Nod; the melodic rhythm of the words luring her to sleep.
Wynken, Blynken, and Nod one night
Sailed off in a wooden shoe —
Sailed on a river of crystal light,
Into a sea of dew.
“Where are you going, and what do you wish?”
The old moon asked the three.
“We have come to fish for the herring fish
That live in this beautiful sea;
Nets of silver and gold have we!”
Said Wynken, Blynken, and Nod.
The old moon laughed and sang a song,
As they rocked in the wooden shoe,
And the wind that sped them all night long
Ruffled the waves of dew.
The little stars were the herring fish
That lived in that beautiful sea —
“Now cast your nets wherever you wish —
Never afeard are we”;
So cried the stars to the fishermen three:
Wynken, Blynken, and Nod.
All night long their nets they threw
To the stars in the twinkling foam —
Then down from the skies came the wooden shoe,
Bringing the fishermen home;
‘Twas all so pretty a sail it seemed
As if it could not be,
And some folks thought ’twas a dream they’d dreamed
Of sailing that beautiful sea —
But I shall name you the fishermen three:
Wynken, Blynken, and Nod.
Wynken and Blynken are two little eyes,
And Nod is a little head,
And the wooden shoe that sailed the skies
Is a wee one’s trundle-bed.
So shut your eyes while mother sings
Of wonderful sights that be,
And you shall see the beautiful things
As you rock in the misty sea,
Where the old shoe rocked the fishermen three:
Wynken, Blynken, and Nod.
My father took pride in enhancing and modernizing the interior of Boombah’s house, planting chrysanthemums and tending to the garden. My uncle would later share that,
“The garden never looked better than when your father lived with us.” My father, experienced as a bricklayer for a time, replaced the drab, yellowing, brick fireplace. On either side of the fireplace there were doors inset with leaded glass panes, “horrible to clean,” my mother would lament. Curios and vases were placed on the shelves inside the cupboards. Dad discovered a cracked plaster wall in the living room area and covered it with walnut wainscoting to elevate the room’s stature. My mother felt that, “The place looked quite decent once your father fixed it up.” The flooring was oak hardwood, which seemed to squeak with each footstep. My uncle and grandfather had two small bedrooms on the upper floor of the house. There were two small attic doors, which led to creepy areas under the roof. One terrified neighbourhood child ran off after my uncle opened the doors to show the bear in the attic, which was actually a small bearskin! Many years later, my uncle would send me a letter stating, “It was a very good time for all of us in that house, by far the most pleasant time your mom and me had ever experienced in that rather unhappy house. Your dad’s presence really curtailed much of your grandpa’s angry behavior. This was a great benefit to all of us, including, Boombah. Looking back it was a wonderful time for all of us. “ These were happy times for us, a family full of hope and promise.
“It has been said, ‘time heals all wounds.’ I do not agree. The wounds remain. In time, the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens. But it is never gone.”
― Rose Kennedy
An interesting reflection, Your house is threatened by fire. You have time to grab one thing. Let us assume that all people, pets, and stock certificates are safe! What do you save? Describe it to us. A physical description. Tell us its story. Where did it come from? What does it mean to you? How did your family come by it?
So many treasures, which one to choose? I am torn between two items, both of which I associate with my father’s family. Narrowing to one, I choose the pocket watch. It came into my possession one winter afternoon, several years ago. My father had come for a visit. Just as he was about to leave, my father reached into his pocket and placed a pocket watch into my hand. “Keep this,” he said. “I want you to have it.” I paid little attention to it.
The pocket watch lies in a blue dish, situated on top of the front hall table. My grandmother, Alice’s table. Odd, that the pocket watch ended up on this table, as I didn’t thoughtfully plan its placement for aesthetic reasons; I simply placed it there. The pocket watch lies close to the front door, as if not certain of where it belongs. Will it stay?
I hold the pocket watch in my hands, examining it. The round, silver case is slightly tarnished. It is classified as an open face pocket watch. “DAX,” manufactured between 1927- 29,  also known as a dollar watch, made to be affordable and durable, designed for the working class man to toss into his pocket. To be tossed away when it stopped keeping time; it was considered non repairable. The silver case is rounded and flattened without sharp edges. At the base of the clock face there is a sub second dial, located at six o’clock that denotes the seconds. The words, WESTCLOX, DAX, SHOCK RESISTANT, are printed in upper case letters. The clock face is made of white paper with bold black numerals; the clock hands are black and have sharp pointed ends. Researching this item, I discovered that the factory where these watches were produced indicated that, historically, women worked in watch factories, later painting the numerals and hands with a “glo” paint. They would lick the tips of their brushes to fashion a point resulting in radium poisoning.  This would be the beginning of worker’s rights and safety legislation for women employed in factories. The glass front has three faint scratch marks. The pendant clasp is located at twelve o’clock. Attached to the clasp is a gold chain, with a fastener to slip through a buttonhole. Someone has added this feature to the simple pocket watch. To set the time, one must pull up on a small stem at the top of the clock, set the time, and back wind.
The watch has fallen silent. Occasionally, when held it will tick. I have discovered a way to get DAX to reluctantly and briefly keep time. If I tip it gently, lift the tab, and slowly back wind, I can hear the sound. The precise tick, tick, is comforting, soothing my heartbeat. I will it to life as if that will bring those I love back to me. I have so many unanswered questions to ask. DAX teases me and resists, halted. Time pauses. “Hold me,” it whispers.
A memory. I see my father. It is the late 70’s. The pocket watch’s golden chain is extending from the vest pocket of his stylish, three piece, pinstriped suit. I recall how modish and debonair my father was. Perhaps, the pocket watch was an item that held memories, possibly treasured, now handed into my care.
For many years, I have attempted to ignore the pocket watch, passing it by as I made countless trips past the front hall table. Many times I have considered removing it from the blue dish on the table. Time has passed, days to weeks, weeks to months, and months have become years. The pocket watch remained silent. Occasionally, I would stop and pick it up to study the locket attached to the chain. In that moment, time would briefly stop as I let my memories surface. There are two pictures inside, one of a pretty, fine featured woman, bobbed hair, head tilted down, eyes cast to the side. She is shyly smiling at a man. The pose is familiar, my grandmother, Alice. The man standing beside her is my grandfather, Tom. He is handsome, the most beautiful eyes. Wearing a simple white shirt with suspenders, he is smiling, a sideways grin, proudly facing the camera. They look happy. The second photograph is of my father, their son. He has a clipped beard; it is beginning to grey. Facing the camera, his eyes are twinkling and focused. My father always smiled with his eyes, and if you looked long enough, they would reveal a vulnerable, gentle heart. The golden chain is puzzling, an attachment. Where did the chain come from? It is far too elegant for the simple DAX. Who owned it? The initials on the locket front are inscribed, TS, my paternal grandfather. I assume that grandfather owned the chain and that someone had carefully placed the photograph of his wife inside for safekeeping. Who placed the photo of my father into the second compartment? Precious. You are worthy; I will protect and keep you close to my heart. This explanation would suit what I recall of my grandfather. Once a week, on a Tuesday, just before noon, we would meet at his sister, Isabella’s home. Bella would prepare a hot lunch. My grandfather would take us for a drive to a nearby provincial park. It was such a simple event, driving the tree lined gravel roads in a car, we let time slow down. Isabella had a brief reprieve from her daily reality, protectively caring for and managing her adult son. Afterward, my grandfather would drive Bella to the local shops to do her banking and shopping for the week. Always, my grandfather would stop and buy us ice cream. That was our routine; we followed it without failure. My grandfather was protective, and demonstrated care through simple gestures. Driving home I would see grandfather’s red Valiant station wagon pulled to the side of the highway where he would be standing, hat in hand, waiting for me to drive past. As I drove by, toward the turn off for home, grandfather would nod. We would wave, our signal for “all is well, see you soon.” It was a simple, yet profound gesture, I have never forgotten.
What was my father trying to tell me through the gift of the pocket watch? That time passes; that we were running out of time, or that family time is precious? Birthdays and Christmases would come and go without a card, gift, sometimes not even a phone call. I would always wait for his call. I would make him wait for mine. We began to keep a glass wall between us, our conversations becoming cautious, polite, yet, our goodbye hugs told the truth. My father never apologized, “I’m sorry if my actions hurt you.” I never asked him, “Why?” It seemed so unlike him to stop being responsible and present in our lives. Wasted moments. We thought that we had forever to make amends. Our love was true.
Now I am the keeper of my father’s pocket watch. It doesn’t faithfully keep time, it’s flawed, mismatched, and it’s worthless. I never speak these words, however, I would be lying if I wrote that I did not think them. I simply smile, hold it tightly pressed to my palm and thank him.
I am ashamed to write these words for when I look back upon this action, I can see that my father was demonstrating a simple act of kindness, a reaching out of sorts through this simple gesture, bestowing a watch. Perhaps even trying to tell me that he was sorry for all of the misunderstandings, sadness. Although, worthless to some, the pocket watch evoked memories that he wanted me to treasure. The circle shape, a symbol of eternity is fitting for the pocket watch. It would link me to family, grandparents and back to my father. It belonged with me, an unbroken circle. Perhaps, as simple as my grandfather’s endearing wave, the modest pocket watch was a symbol for eternal love and the chain, a symbol of joining together, of holding on to another.
I am getting older and I know this; “time waits for no one” and we run out of opportunities to demonstrate care for one another, to get a second chance, to share one more minute. Eventually the clock stops ticking and it becomes too late. Now, I am the timekeeper, life is fleeting. Gently holding the pocket watch, I remember the good times, the sad, the importance of forgiveness, to seize opportunities, to live in the moment, and to love. I am careful to honor and respect time. I choose family, always. I hold my grandchild a bit more tightly each time we say, “So long.” It is important to me that the child knows love, in a world that often forgets. One day, the pocket watch will be passed to another member of the family along with this story. I shall choose wisely whom to bestow it upon.
Moments We Treasured
Weekends were eagerly anticipated! Dad would be free of work responsibilities and home for the weekend. We would celebrate Saturdays at home with dad! At 8 o’clock, every Saturday morning, the smell from the kitchen would waft through the hallway, greeting my sister and me, as we slowly woke up. In the kitchen, the frying pan would be quietly spitting and sizzling on the stove top. My sister and I would be lured from our beds. Tousled hair and housecoats fastened, we would scoot down the hall to the kitchen. It was Saturday and we were about to be treated like royalty. Breakfast was British style, fried kippers, bacon strips, and eggs. Toast would be popping up from the toaster. Inspecting the toast we would turn up our noses, declining the pieces that were ever so slightly burnt around the edges. “Puts hair on your chest,” Dad would tease. We would roll our eyes and giggle. We didn’t want that to happen to us! Accepting a few rashers of bacon, refusing the kippers, my sister and I would feast. HP Sauce, fit for HRH graced the table and we would squirt it all over the eggs and bacon. The table would be neatly set. My father had a discerning eye for detail and presentation; he would place all the necessary utensils and accompaniments at the ready, waiting for our small hands. Syrup would be decanted into a small pitcher. Freshly squeezed orange juice would be poured into two small glasses, waiting for us to sip the sweetness. In a separate frying pan dad would be warming pancakes. On Saturday mornings dad would indulge his girls. “What shall I make today?” he would ask. We would beg for animal pancakes and giggle with delight as dad created cat and dog style shapes to please us. There was never an animal or word that dad couldn’t create out of batter in a frying pan. We delighted in our father’s attention and loving actions. Expected to sit quietly at the table, place a napkin on our lap, and use our best manners throughout breakfast, was the first rule of the morning. We would never dare to break it, not out of fear of punishment, out of respect and love for our dad. It would never have occurred to us to defy or disappoint him. We wanted to live up to his expectations for us. I craved this time with Dad, feeling safe and loved. Our two Siamese cats, stealthy Kemo and the over-weight Sheba, would slip in and out from under the table, hoping for a scrap or two, madly mewing, intoxicated by the scent of kippers. After finishing our meal, my father would have us clear the table, scrape the dishes clean, and ready them for the sink. Dad was obsessive about cleanliness and he would scour the kitchen. On Saturday mornings, the windows would be open, year round, as dad cleaned and shined the counters, glass panes, and oven. We were each given jobs to do. Dad expected that we would act responsibly and complete our chores. Once completed, we would plan the day’s outing. Even as we aged, my father continued to make his special Saturday morning breakfast. I knew that dad had left for good, when these special moments ended. I would fill my weekends with other plans, however, on the occasion that I sat alone in the kitchen on Saturday mornings, I would imagine him there. Many years later, my sister would comment that this was one of the saddest times for her as well. Dad just stopped coming home, not all at once, bit by bit, he left. Sometimes, my sister and I would smell breakfast cooking and know that dad had returned, most times, the kitchen remained silent and still, awaiting his presence.
I see so much beauty around me! Sunshine, the silence of snowflakes, heartfelt hugs, smiles, doors held to let a stranger pass through. Babies, a whole world of endless possibilities ahead of them, courage when it counts, the wisdom of elders, simple, random acts of kindness. I remind myself that it’s a “wonderful world.” Join in.
my Dad. It has been just over one year since his passing. I pray that you are at peace. With Winter comes snow and when the flakes start to fall, I stop, pause, and think of you. I try to smile. I try to understand. I buy a bouquet of white Chrysanthemums to honor you. To this day I have unanswered questions and a broken heart. You know I tried and that I loved you. I know that you loved me. That should be enough. Did you leave us the biggest gifts? The gifts of compassion, forgiveness, a capacity toward kindness. Today I remember you, Dad and I thank you for gifting me the most important qualities to possess in life.
Alice was my grandmother. I would like to tell you that our story began at the time of my birth. Well, perhaps, it did. I was told that Alice came to the hospital to see her new granddaughter. Many years would go by until we met again. Why, you might ask? I do not know why. Imagine finding your grandmother in a mall. That’s how I found, Alice. Before I tell you about this chance encounter let me share this with you. I recall a time, long ago. A relative felt that it was high time that Alice met her growing granddaughter and drove me to Alice’s house. Knocking on the door proved futile. Alice was not coming out to greet us. This is what I saw from the vantage point of the car window; a curtain in the attic pulled slightly aside. Alice. I could not comprehend why a grandmother would not want to know her granddaughter. I wanted her. The mall? Years later, walking through the mall I saw her with my grandfather. I went to her and introduced myself. Alice was noticeably flustered, yet kind. I told her that I was driving now and would come to her. That was how I came to know Alice, my grandmother. I am now a grandmother and I find it incomprehensible that Alice let the years slip away. There is nothing that could keep me from time spent with my granddaughter. Why did Alice act this way, you ask? I have no clue. I do know that Alice loved me. I write this to enlighten others. If you are an Alice, pick up the phone, write a letter, find your grandchild. If you are the grandchild, go and find your Alice. Tell her that you love her. Make up for lost time.