Hello~ it’s Alice

Alice
Alice (Photo credit: Danny PiG)

Hello~ it’s Alice

Cheerio, Darlings!  It’s Alice peeking through the clouds of Heaven.  As summer winds down I felt it timely to share a wee bit of Alice Wisdom with you.  Soon the chills will be upon us and we must have a plan to fortify the home and its members!

 

No home should be without honey and pure fruit juices.  A spoonful of home honey every morning helps to fortify your defenses.  Use the fruit juices to prepare hot drinks for colds and chills.  Black currant is best, dears!  They must be pure juices. 

 

Finally, have a wee tot of whiskey in the house, love.  A teaspoonful in a toddy is a grand pick-me-up when you come in chilled to the bone!  Adults only, dears!

Now, Mother have a look in the medicine cabinet and make sure that you are prepared!

 

Until next time,

Ta~Ta!

Alice

x

Word Press Challenge- I Remember… The Sister

Word Press~ DP Challenge

My Earliest Memory~ The SisterThe Sisters

My earliest memory is of myself as a three-year-old child awaiting the arrival of another, the sister.  Throughout the lead up to the sister’s arrival, there were comings and goings, blurred images.  There were the preparations, piles of snow-white diapers, the rosebud flannelette bedding, soft as bunny ear sleepers, and the wooden crib.  There was, the kindly German speaking housekeeper hired to manage the home, when my mother went to the hospital, the one who served the bright pink borscht soup and encouraged me to “eat up, eat up.” There was my father flitting in and out to attend to work and visit with my mother, my uncle’s cheerful, teasing presence and Grandfather Boomba’s, quiet, watchful eyes from afar.  Colouring pictures for my mother, waiting patiently for her return, watching the cherry tree from the kitchen window, its limbs bare, stalwart, anticipating winter’s coming storms.  Finally, my father arriving home, flushed and excited to share the news, Marge had a baby girl!  You have a sister, Grace. Let’s have a cigar, James! A sister.  I cannot remember much emotion surrounding the news on my part, rather I believe that I hoped that the sister would play school with me, and allow me to cart her around in a baby doll buggy. A sister.  This sister, a fragile, teensy little bit wrapped in a white knit blanket, arrived home on a cold, late fall afternoon, a winter fairy.  A sister tucked so snug, her little pink face barely visible from beneath the blanket tightly swaddled around the wee body.  The sister with such dark eyes, almost black, centered in a teensy pink face, grub like, she was so fresh to the world, a fascinating fairy child for entertainment. Immediately, I would discover that the sister, fairy child could be quite stormy, heartily screeching out, and dependent of the safety found in my mother’s arms.  The sister was establishing and asserting her unfairy like ways into our lives with amazing speed and tenacity.  In my young mind, there wasn’t anything magical about this one.

I recall a memory, a moment.  Hearing some sounds from the hatchling, I tiptoed into my parent’s bedroom to view the little sprite wriggling in the crib, her little pink fists tightly clenched into balls, limbs jerking, poking up and out from under the blanket that loosely swaddled her limbs.  The sister sounded like a restless kitten, mewing and peeping as she struggled to unwind.  My mind wondering, what if I just picked her up and carried her to the kitchen, to my mother?  I carry Betsy, the plastic wetting doll, I can carry this one.  The sister was wiggly so I quickly grasped the writhing body by the legs plucking it from the crib.  Upside down, quickly becoming agitated, hysterically frantic by the time I walked the short distance to the kitchen, the sister’s face the colour of beets. Here’s your baby, stated in a rather disgusted tone of voice.  My mother leaping from her chair, grabbing the sister and righting her body; the eyes back up toward the ceiling.

This story would resurface in conversations over the years, my mother adding in the part, she held you by the legs upside down almost damn near dropping you on your head! Luckily she didn’t! 

The sister would be fine and forgiving with this fact as she quickly learned that had she been dropped on her head, it would pale in comparison to the bumps and crashes she would later experience. The sister is a brave one, far stronger than me. I am grateful for her presence and love. My earliest memory is of a three year old awaiting the arrival of another, the sister.

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/08/05/writing-challenge-remember/

Tea With Alice

Lily's Tea Cup
Lily’s Tea Cup (Photo credit: Joe Shlabotnik)

Tea with Alice was amusing, if not, slightly charming.  My Grandmother Alice enjoyed a spot of tea, Earl Grey being the tea of choice.  Alice used a cooking pot to boil the water before transferring some of the scalding liquid into a metal teapot to warm it up.  Then, my grandmother would take a minute timer and tip it over, the sand slipping through the tiny channel of glass.  After 3 tips of the timer, 3 minutes, according to Alice, she would dump the warming water into the sink and fill the teapot, adding Earl Grey to the mix.  From my vantage point at the cluttered chrome table, I could see Alice’s prep area, a tiny room that extended off of the kitchen area, as if built as an after thought, Where shall I cook, Charles?  There was a window through which Alice could observe her two sisters who lived in the house next door.  Looking to the right, Alice could see her garden of pansies.  Usually, Topsy, the cat was sunning on the brick borders or the adjoining sidewalk between the two houses.  Painted white cupboards attached on either side of the sink area.  The counter top was wooden.  There was a plunger on the floor.  Beneath the sink was open shelving crammed full of various odds and sundries, a container of Ajax, a tobacco tin, plastic bucket, oil, paper bags, bolts, washers, and a mousetrap.  The Scotch and Sherry were hidden behind the plastic bucket. The everyday cutlery sat in a large empty tin of Nabob’s Instant Coffee.  The yellow handles looked like they were fashioned from bone. Open shelving lined the wall opposite the sink, where Alice kept her box of saltines, sugar biscuits, canned ham, flour, and baking items.  Did I mention the cookie bags and cake boxes?  I should tell you that Alice stashed cash in the bottom of cookie and food packages.  Like a  resourceful little mouse wife, Alice managed to stash a lot of cash.

The stove was in the open area of the kitchen, where I would patiently sit, watching and waiting for our tea to brew.  Alice preferred her tea strong and would let the tea brew for five minutes, before pouring the dark, amber liquid into a teacup.  I preferred my tea, weak.  It’s practically water, Grace!  Carnation Evaporated Milk to flavour the tea, turning the liquid to a creamy, caramel shade.  Alice would pour a drop of canned milk into her cup and stir it slowly with a teaspoon, the creamy milk creating swirls in the dark liquid.  The biscuits were usually Peak Frean’s Sugar Biscuits, the thin wafer deliciously sweet with sprinklings of fine sugar.

We always sat across from one another, Alice with her back to the mudroom, mine to the stove.  Picture this, Alice’s drying rack hanging directly behind me to the left of the stove.  Always, there would be bits and pieces of personal garments hanging from this suspended contraption.  Slips, nylons, knit wool socks, when my Grandfather was alive; Alice never wore socks, only nylons. Sheer scarves would dangle, along with the occasional brassière.  I always thought that this was rather unusual and out-of-place to air your laundry in full view of the guest, so to speak.  If the space heater was blowing or the window open, it was not unusual to find a sheer half-slip or a pair of nylon stockings on your head or dangling off a shoulder-blade, all the while sipping tea.  It was rather cheeky and quite disconcerting to politely pick the undergarment off and return it to the drying rack.  Alice was rather proper in her deportment therefore I never understood this rather improper arrangement she had with her laundered undergarments, scarves, and guests.

A comfy Queen Ann style chair sat beside the stove, under the suspended drying rack. Alice would sit and read the daily paper; teacup perched on the stovetop, before retiring off to bed.  It was the very same chair that held her tired shell, the morning I looked in the window and saw her sitting in the chair, dead, with a half-slip covering her hair.

Alice’s sister, Molly fascinated me.  Molly was constantly soaking her feet in hot water.   Newspapers would be spread under the bucket to catch the splashes and drips.  Sometimes, when I would enter Alice’s kitchen, Molly would be soaking her feet as she rested her ample bottom on the Queen Ann. My grandmother, Alice, said that Molly worked in a local Fruit Cannery and had, rheumatism. Molly’s legs bowed as she ambled with an awkward, stiff gait.  Aunt Molly never spoke, ever.  We would look at each other and I would say politely, How are you Aunt Molly?  She would nod and grin.  Whereas Alice was pretty, Molly was crone like, slightly frightening, her feet plunked in a bucket of hot water, watching and grinning. I’m ashamed to admit, I imagined Molly flying about the night skies on a broomstick.  Molly read trash magazines; that’s what my father called them.  The National Enquirer was her choice.  This tidbit piqued my curiosity as I was only allowed to read real books, forbidden comics, no sensational trash.  Once I located Molly, sunning in her chair, I would stroll by, attempting to crane my neck enough to see the tabloid cover shot of the MAN WITH TWO HEADS or some other fantasy alien creäture.  Purposely, I would venture to the side of my Grandmother’s house, lurking about, hoping to find a forgotten copy of Molly’s trash tabloids. That opportunity ended abruptly, my childhood days spent visiting Alice, over, and by the time I was seven.

That’s the perplexing thing, why did our occasional visits to see Alice cease? My father appeared uncomfortable in his childhood home; he didn’t seem to handle the small, claustrophobic space that well.  Pacing about the perimeter of the small kitchen, sitting for a few minutes, standing and pacing, that’s how I remembered my father’s actions.  Sometimes, my Grandmother would bring out some of my father’s tin toys with wind up keys.  Minstrels, feet tapping  on a tin stage, wind up cars, a one-eyed sawdust teddy bear, and mechanno covered the living room carpet.  Our visiting time was usually up, shortly after we arrived.  On the car ride home, father would comment on his mother, She’s an odd old bird, junk and stuff everywhere, never throws anything out.  Dad does everything for her and the sisters.

 

It was about the time that our visits ended when Alice began to take it upon herself to preach the word about, Cod Liver Oil.  Alice decided that my sister and I could use a bit of fortification and took it upon her self to administer a tablespoon-sized dose of the ghastly oil.  We weren’t impressed.  The grown ups crowding, Molly, grinning that crazed grin, watching as the spoon got closer and closer.  My sister would cry until my father picked her up, puckering her mouth shut, refusing the vile liquid.  I would resist for as long as possible until finally weakening, succumbing as the hard edge of the spoon was pushed into my mouth.  It was about that time that I decided that it would be best for all if we never returned to Alice’s house.  We never did, not as children.

Life Lessons Inside The Glass House

Mums flowers
Mums flowers (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My father enjoyed gardening, in particular, growing prize chrysanthemums, which he would enter to show.  Every fall, dad would choose the best of the mums, name some after his girls, and take the blooms to the Royal BC Chrysanthemum Club show event.  Dad would ready for the show the night before, carefully choosing the perfect blooms.  Next, dad cut the long stems, gently pulling off any brown or wilted leaves from the length of stem.  “Patience is important”, he would say. We would crowd around the bloom, our eyes searching earwigs.  Spying one, dad would deftly remove it with tweezers.  The perfect bloom carefully placed into a tall white bucket of water where it would stay until being loaded into the back of the wagon.

As we grew older, experienced, my sister and I were allowed to enter our own chrysanthemums for show.  My sister chose to grow purple, spider mums.  I chose white disbuds.  Dad was a talented, meticulous mum grower and won many “First Place.” We were proud of our father and his efforts as we carried the armloads of blue ribbons and certificates to the car. Few growers could match dad’s talent.

Grandpa Tom would discuss the plants, look over the greenhouse improvement plans, and offer advice on the fickle heater in the space.  My sister recalls gardening with Tom and credits him for her affection for gardening today.  My grandfather was a believer in fish head fertilizer and would bring the bag of heads for us to dig under and into the growing soil pile.  We hated the stench!  “That’s the secret ingredient,” he would say.

When I pass a florist, I am automatically drawn to the white chrysanthemums, disbuds, their perfectly round heads with the petals curving to a tight centre.  Elegance. I can never resist purchasing a few.

Word Press Challenge~ A~Z

Word Press Challenge~

Create a short story, piece of memoir, or epic poem that is 26 sentences long, in which the first sentence begins with “A” and each sentence thereafter begins with the next letter of the alphabet.

 

Piece of Memoir A~Z

Always you cross my mind.

Because of you, I always think twice. 

Cautiously, I peek through the window, called Life. 

Desiring only understanding, I seek Peace from your actions. 

Ending each day with a silent prayer of Hope. 

Finally, sleep comes calling and I can dream. 

Gorgeous images swirl through my head. 

How are you now?

Is it true what they say about Heaven

Judgment time with the Almighty One must have enlightened you. 

King of Hearts and Souls; what was his ruling on your life? 

Loving you from below the Heavens, I sail on through the land known as, Life. 

Memories are everywhere. 

Nothing escapes your touch; I see you everywhere.  

Oh, what I would give to sit with you again. 

Perhaps, you could answer my questions that silently simmer. 

Questing after a sign, I seek meaning in my life. 

Realizing that we can’t sit again. 

Silence surrounds me. 

Talking to you from my heart. 

Universal rays reach forth, caressing me. 

Vindicating me, validating, vilifying me. 

Why did you choose to leave me questioning your love? 

X-raying the memories for evidence of a man with a heart. 

Your daughter, left. 

Zealot, silently defending my love for you.

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/07/27/daily-prompt-orderly/

A Life Lesson

An example of Louis Slobodkin's artwork, the c...
An example of Louis Slobodkin’s artwork, the cover of The Hundred Dresses, written by Eleanor Estes. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A Life Lesson

“After a long, long time she reached an important conclusion. She was never going to stand by and say nothing again.”
― Eleanor EstesThe Hundred Dresses

[1]

There is a beautiful children’s story titled, The Hundred Dresses, written in 1944 by, Eleanor Estes. [2]  It is the tale of a poor Polish immigrant’s daughter and this young woman’s illustrations of the one hundred dresses she wished to own. It also depicts the cruelty of peers, and the optimistic spirit and strength of the young character. If you have never read this beautiful, humbling tale, you must.  With a few tweaks to the setting, Este’s story caught my heart and I remembered a story my mother shared.  This was the beginning of our personal Cold War period, we were drifting apart.  However, our wishes were similar.  We wanted to fit in with peers, we wanted to be accepted, and we both wanted a pretty dress.

It was another episode of teen angst and a teen’s foolish desire to fit in.  I continued to needle away at my mother, pricking at her with my demands and words, “I don’t have any nice clothes!  I wear the same things all the time! Everybody else has nice clothes, I have nothing!”  Which was partly true.  I had hand made clothes, refurbished silks and damasks, cut and stitched.  My mother, an artistic, creative, inventive woman, could artfully combine textures, patterns, and colours of fabric.  My mother delighted in the process of combining satin and silks to form a Japanese inspired kimono complete with frog closures, Grace!  Mother found pleasure sewing beautiful dresses for me.  Always seeing with a brilliant, artistic eye, mother had undeniable flair and style.  Tops were colour blocked, shifts were embellished with rickrack or ribbon at the neckline and hem.  Christmas dresses were luxe velvet with Peter Pan collars. Money was tight so mother would source unusual and beautiful fabrics, remnants from the fabric stores along Dunbar Street.  On a whim, mom would pull the curtains down and remake them into outfits for the girls. My mother chose Vogue patterns for their clean, elegant lines.  There were several years of Christmases where my sister and I would choose our choice of coloured velvet, “I’d like green velvet.  Please, put a Peter Pan collar on the dress.”  Always, my mother would oblige and delight us with a stunning dress.  I recall one beautiful dress my mother made for me to attend my Grade Seven Graduation in.  It was the 60s and op art was the rage.  Mother found a green, yellow, lilac and turquoise blue, Pucci inspired print, which she fashioned into a sheath style dress. [3]  Next, she attached a sheer lilac fabric overlay.  It was haute couture for a rural Coquitlam elementary school graduation. Shoes, you need the right shoes, Grace.  We’d hop on the local bus and head to the Army and Navy Department Store, in downtown Vancouver, to source out lilac suede shoes.  I admit, my mother had a flair for design and she created gorgeous pieces of clothing for us to wear.  Suddenly, mom’s efforts weren’t good enough for me.  I wanted a store bought outfit and I was determined to berate and wear her down, eventually into submission.  I wanted a pretty dress!  Crying, slamming the door to my bedroom, flouncing around, quite certain that the world was going to end if I didn’t get a new store bought dress.  After awhile, my mother flung open the bedroom door and harshly reminded me to, “sit up and stop the damn nonsense!”  Never gentle in her approach when harried or cross, mom preferred to bark out words.  I knew to stop the nonsense.

My mother proceeded to share a personal experience.  The setting was a classmate’s birthday party my mother had been invited to attend. “ I owned two dresses, one for church and one for school.  I wore my school dress practically every day.  The old man didn’t care.  One day, a girl in my class invited me to her birthday party.  I was so excited to be invited to a party.  Arriving at the hostess’ house, gift in hand, I couldn’t wait to play with the other girls.  They were popular girls and they had more pretty dresses than I did.  I was flattered and surprised to be invited to the girl’s party.   Afterward, one of the girls told me I was invited because they wanted to see if I would wear the same old, school dress.  The girls were laughing at me.”  My mother had tears in her eyes.

I felt ashamed when mother left the room.  I recalled a time mother had a party to attend.  Up late, sewing until after midnight, mother spent hours reworking and fashioning a gilded empire waist number, with a bronze satin sash, only to toss it. I don’t like it; people asked if I was pregnant!

My mother’s words, the tremor in her voice, the shame, mirrored in her lowered eyes, as she retold the birthday party disaster, pacing back and forth in front of my bed, haunted me.  I vowed that I would behave better, demand less of her.  I felt sorry for her.  I decided that I would find a way to earn money; beginning to appreciate that money would be helpful if I wanted to independently shop. I also vowed that I would never see my mother ashamed again and it became my mission to find a way to please her.

Many years later, I was wandering the Children’s Section of a local bookstore for a book to give my daughter.  I discovered, Eleanor Este’s heart rendering story.  Turning the pages, my eyes skimming the print, I realized the book paralleled my mother’s story.  My mother is 84 and life has not always been kind to her.  Insecurity and anxiety resurface.  Frugal, my mother subsides on a government pension and savings; she exists in the subgroup, titled, below the poverty line.  Mom no longer sews, however her eyes light up when she receives gifts of pretty tops and the occasional colourful, Vera Bradley tote.  The designer, painter, and seamstress in her automatically comments on the pattern, the colour, and the workmanship.  Always, there is gratitude in my mother’s eyes, as, child like, she hastily opens the gift, I’ve always liked a damask print. My it’s a bit bright, Grace!  Purple and blue are per-r-fect colours. They chintz out on the button threads, don’t they?

I want my mother to feel pretty for her remaining moments in time and to know that I recognize the efforts she went to, designing and sewing my clothes, trying to please and protect me, hoping I would fit in, safe from the cruelty of taunts and comments.  I want my mother to realize that I caught her pain and observed her strength.  I want my mother to know that only now do I fully appreciate the life lesson she taught me, many years ago when I wanted a pretty dress.

My Grandmother Alice’s Trifle

This is Alice’s recipe for, trifle, as found in her cookbook~ Us Two Cookbook~ Jennie B Williams, from 1909- Gaskell-Odlum-Stabler Limited, Thomson Stationary Co. Limited, Vancouver, BC.

Any kind of stale cake, sponge or pound cake preferred, one tablespoon of wine (sherry), one tablespoon of brandy (Alice loved a shot of brandy!), strawberry, or raspberry jam, one half-pint of cream, one and one-fourth cup of blanched almonds.  In a dish put first a layer  of cake, then a little brandy, then jam, then cake, wine and nuts, also a little cream whipped; begin again as before, then add a few macaroons and make a wall of lady fingers.  After all the cake and wine are used, over the top put plenty of whipped cream (stiff).

* Consider adding a mix of summer fruit to the dish to make it a slightly healthier, 2013 version!Image

Love,

Alice and Grace

It Is Always Winter

When I recall my father, it is always winter.   I’m not sure why that is.  Upon calling forth memory, I visualize his smiling face, then, a postcard-screened scene of the perfect winter appears.  Snow, blanketing the ground.  Frosty shades of blue, the softness of the scene, like peering through mohair.  Sunlight streams through the dancing flakes of snow. Evergreens dusted, branches bending, sunlight streaming through the limbs, frost glistening, sparkling diamonds upon the earth.  A deer standing behind the tree, alert and frozen on the landscape.  Perhaps, winter evokes a memory of fragile beauty, frozen in time, a precious beauty that will fade and disappear.  Some of my fondest memories are of times spent together, shared during the coldest winter months.  My father died on winter’s cusp.  My sister was born as winter peeked through the window, nature’s gentle touch, leaving a dusting of frost on the windowpane to prepare her for the cold nights ahead.

I recall one particularly harsh, relentless winter, unusual for the West Coast.  The snow piled halfway to the roofline of our house.  High banks of snow massed at the sides of the driveway, the endless shoveling, forming mountains of snow, standing fort like in front of the house.  My father decided that the conditions were perfect to create an igloo, for you girls to play in.   My sister and I waited impatiently for him to finish carving out the igloo’s entrance into the perfectly shaped dome.  Wind swept snow compacts well and interlinks the ice crystals.  Perfect conditions, girls!  My father dug, shaped, and carved away at the mountain of snow until the rounded pile was formed into a perfect dome.  We lost track of time; it blurred from morning to evening as we created our snow ice masterpiece.  Finally completed, my sister and I crawled inside of the structure.  The solid white walls, smooth and damp to the touch, leading upwards to the rounded roofline, the cold air inside, chilling our rosy cheeks and little noses.  Our pure delight in the simple beauty of the snow house.  Awed by the effect; we discovered that we could almost stand inside the structure.  Inside the dome, my father placed two small, wooden crates for us to sit on.  We collected a plastic tea set, apple juice, and a sleeve of Saltine crackers to dine.  Bundled up in snowsuits, scarves, and mitts, we played inside our frozen playhouse from dawn to dusk.   It was if we were miniature characters, enclosed within the simplest of snow globes, frozen in time.

My sister and I were the friends of choice for the neighbourhood hooligans who scampered into the yard, just to get a “pass” into our wonderful world.  We had a small window to peek out of and through it we could view the twinkling stars in the inky sky. We rolled snowballs to keep handy incase of a rogue attack.  Protection.  Our snow house would endure that winter.  Finally, slowly, deliberately, the sunlight warmed and melted our magical world away, until we were left with pieces of dirty bits of snow, reluctantly melting on the ground.

Another memory.  The temperatures dropped below zero for a prolonged period, causing the local lake at the end of our street to solidly freeze over.  Some of the neighbourhood children were taking advantage of this gift of nature, skating on the lake’s frozen surface.   We longed to join them.  One evening, my father arrived home, earlier than usual.  Inside the Sears Roebuck shopping bag was two brand new pair of skates.  Gently, touching the soft, chalk-white leather, my fingers slipping over the surface of the boot, I could imagine wearing the skates, twirling pirouettes upon the lake’s surface.  The steel blades, shiny and sharp.   Aching to try the skates on, would they fit? They’re a bit big, Grace.  Wear an extra pair of socks.  You’ll grow into them.  A perfect fit!  Driving the short, never-ending distance, to the edge of the lakeshore, headlights shining onto the icy surface to light our way, my father tested the thickness of the ice.  Never walk onto ice, girls.  Ice must be thick and tested by an adult.  Pushing the snow shovel, dad cleared a patch of ice.  Smooth as glass, I wondered, could we see the fish below the frozen surface?  Carefully, dad tied our laces, giving the slightest tug at the beginning of the skate boot to offer support to our wobbly ankles.  Next, my father held our hands and walked us onto the ice.  We were apprehensive, What if I fall, Daddy?  Will the ice crack? Coaching and encouraging, Hold your arms out like wings, Grace. There you go!  Holding us, gliding us along the slippery surface.  It’s all right, Grace.  I’ll catch you if you fall.  The car’s headlights illuminating the surface, under a moonlit night, stars as our witness, we learned to skate on the arms of our father.  We learned to be brave, to fear less, to fall down, to get up, and to try again.   More than that, we learned that the man we called, dad, was kind and gentle, a man who enjoyed spending times with his little girls, our hero, a man who would catch us if we fell.   It was a magical moment in time and if I had the power, I would have conjured a lifetime of magical experiences.  Alas, as with all that is magical, there is an elusive, fleeting quality, that in the end leaves the audience wondering, What happened?

On a chilly December morning, earlier than usual, I would awaken and go to the window.  It was as if a conjuror had stepped forth to create a beautiful, magical show to delight my sleepy eyes.  The perfect postcard picture of winter. Transfixed, I watched the sunlight’s brilliant rays streaming through the window, illuminating the sleeping garden.  This morning, there was an unusual clarity to the view. The winter colours, brilliant in nature, a staggering beauty to behold, more than an everyday occurrence.  Tumbling snowflakes perfectly spaced apart, falling to earth from a cloud placed overhead.  For a moment I was transported into a magical kingdom of beauty and light.  Standing in the middle of a snow globe, a magical space, the flakes like glitter raining down upon us, my sister delighting in the scene, my father holding her close.  In that moment it felt as if we were connected by a mystical love or energy, interconnecting and binding us together for eternity.  Later that morning, the telephone’s ring and the words, Dad passed away early this morning.  I already knew.

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.