Walking Through One of My Childhood Homes

I’ve been breaking into her house at night, wandering through the rooms, running my fingertips over the surfaces of the furniture. Just to remember. Just to be there. I walk in, and my route is always the same; tossing my jacket or sweater carelessly on the green leather chairs she recovered, stepping lightly onto the plastic walkway that protects the carpet from so many dirty footprints. I glance at the mail on the table in the entranceway, now the table that my TV sits on. Invariably there would be a letter from a charity. She loved supporting those organizations- if she wasn’t able to help someone directly, she’d offer money instead.

From there I walk straight into the kitchen. A couple years ago she painted the cupboards. It brightened up the space so much. The radio plays classical music because the radio always played classical music, that is until after dinner, at which point she’d retire to the den and watch the news before bed. When I was younger, before boyfriends and then husbands entered the picture, the kitchen table was the kid’s table. Our family was too large to sit altogether in one room, so us rowdy, cookie-loving cousins were relegated to the meal prep area. This was the table that I told the story of the gravy boat over. All the cousins went along with it, but only the youngest fell for the yarn- hook, line and sinker.

According to legend, gravy boats got their name because of the unmanned ships that pulled into each port every holiday, empty but for gallons upon gallons of gravy. Aunts, mothers and grandmothers would all arrives at the harbor with pails, buckets or even small bathtubs to be filled with that liquid goodness, the walk back to their houses becoming a waddle from the weight of the gravy. Sitting there as I told the story, each of the cousins pictured her, slowly but determinedly, hauling home the gravy for our holiday meals.

Throughout my teens, there were her classic cowboy chocolate chip oatmeal cookies in the cupboard next to the fridge. Later, when she stopped baking, there were still cookies in the cupboard but they were made by Dare. I remember the familiarity of the yellow cutlery tray; it contrasted the metal cutlery so forcefully, as though THIS cutlery tray would be recognized for its lifetime of service. From there, the view of the yard would be partially obscured by the plants sitting on the windowsill. She loved plants and gardening. Long after the winter, she would nourish her poinsettias; hers would be the last live one on the block.

To the left of the window was one of the kitchen chairs, which sat next to a table, upon which sat her telephone and address book. Past this table was the dining room. The center of so many gatherings. I never picture her here though- she was always a bundle of activity, bustling from one room to the next, one task to the next whenever the lot of us descended upon the house en mass. She is everywhere and nowhere; she’s in the kitchen checking on a dish in the oven, she’s clearing the table in the dining room. She’s sneaking up behind me to unsuspectingly to yank my left hand out from under my body and set me off balance, just to get a glimpse of the ring. She’s standing in the hallway, looking for bags to bundle together leftovers for guests, or in the den cross stitching. Or she might be downstairs, on her treadmill if footing is treacherous outside. God forbid she went outside, there’s no locating her- she’ll start in the backyard, weeding and watering, go to fetch something from the garage only to offer to help a neighbor. Could be someone next door or the woman two streets over who just had twins.

I pad quietly up the back hallway, looking at the pictures of my family; graduation photos, extended family, the picture of the whole family when half the cousins were still wishes for the future. Her bedroom is across from the den. As a little girl, I played here; lounging on the fur rug that I to this day don’t know whether was real or not. My last stop is always the bathroom. During family functions this was a haven of quiet. I’d hang out staring at the small blue tiles on the floor, the dated coloured bathtub that I remember being bathed in.

A year and a half ago, when the house was sold, I wasn’t upset. She declared that she no longer wanted to cook or care for a home. Quickly, her things were packed up and sent to the senior’s residence of her choice. At the time, it seemed to me like her logical next step. I wasn’t concerned or sad- she had told me that she would live to be 104 and I believed her. But now that she’s gone, I find myself returning to her gardens, her kitchen, all the rooms that contained, if only ever for brief minutes in her bustling life, her. Those walks through memory bring me comfort.

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All of the Good Bits

Some of the last words that my grandmother uttered before she wasn’t able to talk anymore were “I’m not going”. The statement was in response to her family’s attempts to put her in the hospital where she would receive an increased standard of medical care. I love this so much. This anecdote is pure Grandma- a woman who knows her mind, has made up her decision and by God you are going to respect it. That’s the woman I lived with my entire life, the one who inspired me to show that same determination. And the one who strong armed me into celebrating my marriage with Tex.

Our wedding took place on Tex’s family’s farm two provinces away from my family. There were fifteen people there, including Tex and myself. A month later, a party was planned for Tex’s entire family. I’ve been married before. Tex hasn’t. So I wanted his family to be able to celebrate our nuptials, whereas my family had already done that. Admittedly with another man, but a party is a party right? My Grandmother, who wasn’t able to attend the ceremony because it was on top of a steep hill in the middle of nowhere, was having none of this. She hijacked her own 91st birthday party and ordered a three tiered wedding cake. I was not included in any of this. I was merely told after Grandma had picked out the cake and everyone had RVSPed. Classic Grandma.

The same trip to trip Hawaii when Grandma became a boozehound, she also was a mountain climber. Just for a point of reference, my grandmother was 81 at the time and Haleakalā is 3,055 m high or 10,023 ft. for my American readers. “Dad!” my sister, mother and I cried when he brought Grandma back from their hike up the mountain together, “I can’t believe you made Grandma do that!” Looking back, I realize, there was no making Grandma do anything. Ever. Somehow, she funneled all of her octogenarian determination and hiked for hours and hours to summit Haleakalā and take the triumphant, laughing photo of herself and my Dad that’s in our family’s scrapbook. I hope I’ve got half her fitness when I’m that age.

My grandmother has always been a wildcard. Once, she drove across country with four children and her husband, a chemical engineer. My late grandfather drove most of the way and he did so in the same manner that my own chemical engineering husband completes tasks- thoughtfully, at his own pace, so that it will be right the first time. At some point in the trip, my grandfather got tired which was fortunate because my grandmother was tired too- of watching the scenery plod past her. My Grandpa laid down in the backseat and Grandma took the wheel. When my grandfather awoke a couple hours later, he was astounded at how far Grandma had driven. With four children, there are four more sets of eyes to watch for cops and four more people to silently cheer as you set land speed records with an Oldsmobile.

Despite the fact that my grandfather made an excellent wage as an engineer, he gave Grandma very little to run their household, which meant that she frequently got creative. This was how my grandmother ended up being the only woman in a refinishing and reupholstering class. She would dumpster dive to get her materials and then spend her nights sanding the wood down and pulling the fabric taut to cover surfaces. My grandma was full of ingenuity and chutzpah. Many of the pieces she refinished and recovered live in our house. When the movers transferred her furniture from my Grandma’s house to mine, they commented about the nice quality of it, some forty years later.

My sister commented today that something she misses most now is the fact that when my sister asks Grandma how she is, she doesn’t hear the words “Oh, I’m fine” in response. In my whole entire life, I have never once heard my grandmother complain. I’m fairly certain that even after she bumped her head and needed stitches, when she awoke to the firefighters peering over her, she undoubtedly answered “I’m fine” when they inquired how she was feeling. I have this suspicion no matter her state, even if Grandma was dizzy, in a huge amount of pain, with blood from the cut dripping into her eye and she would always answer “I’m fine” with that same cheer and intonation. It wasn’t until I heard Diana say this that I remembered how much I loved this aspect of my grandmother. I’m sure in the coming days, weeks and months I’ll add to the list of everything I will miss about this wonderful woman.

All Hail Cookie Owl

Appearances are very important to my mother. Whether it’s appearing to be a good hostess, mother or much younger than her years, my mother’s vanity has always been an entertaining part of my life. If only because in every instance, I often end up dashing these dreams of competency and youth upon the rocks.

Once upon a time, when I thought My Little Pony was the answer to all the world’s problems, I was in Brownies. It was a horrible, weekly event that I was forced into under the guise of “making friends”, “appearing normal” and “trying new things”. I resisted the group at every turn. In an effort to support my participation, my mother agreed to become one of the leaders. The first week that she joined, everyone sat in a circle and we were asked to give our new leader a name. All the leader’s names ended with “Owl”, there was probably justification for this but as I spent the majority of the meetings calculating how many seconds were left until my parents picked me up, I don’t remember it.

Anyway, so my mother sat there, next to Sleepy Owl, Happy Owl and Sneezy Owl. These weren’t actually the women’s “Brownie Names” but I don’t remember either the women or the names, so they very well could have been small bearded men for all I know.

Sneezy Owl asked the group whether anyone had any suggestions for the new Owl’s name. Ever the helpful child, I raised my hand. “You should call her Thunder Owl because she yells a lot” I suggested. My mother was mortified and gave me the kind of look that said that the car ride wasn’t going to be fun so perhaps I shouldn’t count the seconds this evening. She ended up being Cookie Owl, only the second most boring name after Happy Owl. Regardless, she could pretend to maintain the facade of being a perfect parent.

Although my mother denies that she yells, more often, she denies her age. The most recent example of this would be the name she demanded Mini-Tex call her. Everyone can breathe a sigh of relief, it’s not Cookie Owl. Even though her own mother became a grandma at fifty and willingly took on the moniker “Gran”, at fifty-eight, my mother decided she was to young to be a grandma and refused to be called any incarnation of the title, not granny, not buba, not grams. Instead she invented her own name – Gemma. She took the “g” and “m” from grandma and made a hip title so no one would dare offer her a discount on the early bird special.

One would think that denying the existence of a grandchild would be the pinnacle in narcissistic acts, but this week, my mother took it one step further. She chose to deny that she was a parent. No, she wasn’t parading around claiming that we were sisters, she chose to instead deny her role as a step parent.

Gary, a family friend and trusted contractor, made the jump last year to boyfriend status. My mother even upped the ante by having him move in with her. Since then, they have attended each other’s family functions, she routinely makes meals for his children and Gary’s sons often sleep over. Which led to the following conversation.

Unwashed – “So as their step parent”

Mom – “Whoa, whoa, whoa. Hold on. No one is anyone’s step parent.”

Unwashed – “I’m sorry, do they regularly sleep at your house?”

Mom – “Yes”

Unwashed – “Do you often make them meals?”

Mom – “Yes, but”

Unwashed rudely cutting her mother off – “Do you worry about how they’re doing in school and whether they’re attending.”

Mom in an obvious state of discomfort – “Yes, it’s different”

Unwashed obnoxiously talking loudly over her mother – “STEP PARENT!”

I’m not actually sure why my mother is denying her step children’s existence, they’re even teenagers so it would totally feed into her love of being mistaken for being much younger than she is. I think it’s one of those times where I just have to shake my head and smirk inwardly as everyone calls my mother “Cookie Owl” to soothe her ego. For the record, “Thunder Owl” is much more bad ass. It’s what a Hell’s Angel’s member would demand to be called if they weren’t too busy dealing cocaine to attend their children’s extra-curricular activities.

That Time My Gran Terrified An Olympian

My Gran can be pretty scary when she wants to be. Of course she’ll hide behind that fascade of pie making, dress-fitting, grandmotherly goodness but underneath, my Gran is as tough as nails. And when she wants to, she’ll remind you of this fact.

Once at Thanksgiving, she commented that I was looking slim. I brushed the compliment off saying “Oh it’s just because I haven’t put on my winter fat yet”. My Gran looked at me sternly and said with a thin lipped voice “You’re not going to do that again this year”. That winter, and only that winter, I didn’t put on weight; each time I met a donut I liked, I thought of my Gran’s expression and left it on the plate.

I wasn’t the first person she scared, nor I imagine, will I be the last but once upon a time, when the strap was still an approved method for teaching, my grandmother terrified the bejesus out of an Olympian.

It was a Canadian winter in the 1960s, which is to say that the drifts were up to your nipples and it was still snowing. This was a particularly bad night for weather, but in spite of that, the twin boys’ parents had gone out, leaving them at home with a babysitter- my mother.

My mother can be as flustered as my Gran is fearsome. And on this howling blizzard of a night, these two boys were taking advantage of that, running wild around the house, whooping, hollering, causing all sorts of mischief. Finally, my mother couldn’t take it anymore, she called my Gran, “Mom please come help, they won’t listen.”

As frightening as my Gran can be, she is always there for her family, so on went her sweater, her coat, her hat, her mitts, her boots, all this just to cross the street. Once she arrived, my Gran was at a loss, along with being an accomplished seamstress and cook, my grandmother keeps her home spotless. Not wanting to drag snow into her neighbour’s house and create puddles, my Gran opened the front door which my mother had left unlocked and jumped out of her boots into the house.

Seeing this tall, angry woman who had just walked across the street barefoot when it was thirty degrees below zero Celsius, the  boys stopped in their tracks. “Both of you, go to bed” my Gran said sharply. Supposedly they never misbehaved again out of fear that the woman who doesn’t need shoes in the snow would return.

My grandmother never laid claim to inspiring the one twin to shape up his act and begin rowing his way to the Olympics but she’s a humble woman. I’m just glad she never told me to do such a thing, otherwise I might have found myself backspringing my way across sweaty gym mats rather than in front of a computer telling my stories.

Five Things Friday: The Murderous Family Christmas Edition

It’s Friday in New Zealand. It doesn’t make any sense, but time zones are like that; they’re tricky devils, sometimes, for example last weekend, they jump backwards an hour for no reason at all. Time zones don’t obey the laws of physics. Scientists thought everything had to obey the laws of physics. And everything does, except for time zones. Also Cher.

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This lack of adherence to physics is the only possible explanation for this woman. Photo Credit: MTV.com

Anyway, on with Five Things Friday

  1. My In-Laws Gave Me Coal For Christmas

It wasn’t actually coal, it looked more like severed tree roots. Regardless, it sent a message -be nicer to our son; this is your Christmas gift. Following celebrating an early Christmas with Tex’s family this past weekend, I found a “present” at the bottom of the bag of produce they had brought from the farm. It was underneath the beets and the lone zucchini which was the size and shape of a baseball bat.

I turned the oddly shaped, dirt clod coated bulb-ish/shrub-ish thing over in my hands trying to find an identifiable feature so I could figure out whether to cook it or plant it. Finally I gave up and called my mother-in-law Zoey*. “Did you give us a piece of a tree?” I asked. “Pardon?” Zoey replied masking her obvious disapproval of my naughty behavior over the past year with confusion.

“I’m holding a plant” I said. At least I thought it was a plant, it very well could have been dirty petrified wood. “Is it for the garden?” I questioned further. “Oh!” Zoey burst out, “it’s the horseradish”. So it wasn’t coal, it was condiment ingredients. Close enough, it ended up making me cry. Message received -I should be nicer to Tex.

 

  1. I Drove Over Two Men With My Van

To clarify, I drove over a pit AND two men with my van. It was horrifying and I cried in the way that one does when they’re about to commit murder. I’d never patronized a Jiffy Lube before, consequently I was shocked when the garage doors opened and in lieu of a friendly mechanic trotting out to relieve me of my keys, a youth in a pit beckoned me to drive over him. Then to make matters worse, another young man jumped in with him. Double manslaughter, goody.

I drive infrequently because I loathe it, but more importantly because I’m terrible at it. The examiner had to coach me through a three point turn on my licensing test. Thus, the pit/youth situation spelled certain doom and jail time to me. However I somehow managed to very slowly maneuver the van over the pit and the youths lived to scare another unsuspecting customer.

 

  1. Babies + Oranges = Mistake

Mini-Tex is into eating exactly what I’m eating. I made the mistake of consuming citrus in front of him so now our floor is like a high school cafeteria- sticky and more than a little gross. I debated not washing it and leaving the job for Tex but thought better of it upon remembering the number of baseball bat sized zucchini my mother-in-law has in her garage. Death by squash is never pretty.

 

  1. I Don’t Actually Have A Fourth Or Fifth Thing

Cher took them to another time zone. I’m sending a search party to Taiwan and Austria, I’ll let you know when my other writing points turn up.

 

 

*Names have been changed to protect the identities of lovely, thoughtful women whose fondest desire is for their families to have well seasoned, delicious, local food. She also would never think of using her zucchinis for anything other than baking and is so gentle that she makes people who would never hurt a fly look aggressive. My mother-in-law is compassionate to the point that I’m pretty sure she mourns the dust-mites that accidently get sucked out of the air by the vacuum cleaner.

The Time To Say “I Love You” Is Now: Trying On My Grandma’s Shoes

When I was small, my mother would always say “When I grow up, I want to be like your grandmother.” Even before I recognized people as models, I knew that my paternal Grandma was admired by others for her character and for her generosity. Later, as a teenager and a young adult, I independantly decided that my grandmother was someone whom I aspired to be like.

My Grandma was into vintage before vintage was trendy, she was the orginal hipster; she would dumpster dive in her wealthy neighbourhood, looking for treasures that she could breathe new life into by refinishing or recovering. When my father would mention that my grandmother had rescued a chair that we were sitting on from the trash, the image of my Grandma upside down, with only her stockinged legs and good leather shoes poking out of a dumpster would pop into my head. This, among other actions of hers reinforced to me the importance of being a steward of the earth and reducing one’s impact on the planet. When my mother deplores my dirty hippie-isms, I remind her where they started.

My grandmother taught me to be resourceful. As a young woman on a tiny income with four children, my Grandma wanted raspberries but knew that she wouldn’t be able to purchase enough for her large family with three growing boys. So my Grandma planted rows of raspberry canes in her backyard, in addition to her large vegetable garden. I carefully observed my grandmother and learned from her. As an adult, it was this ability to stretch a dollar and find unusual solutions which allowed me to go back to school full time after buying a house in the same year.

Despite never being paid for a day of work my whole life, my grandmother worked tirelessly my whole childhood; she had countless charities that she supported. Alongside the eight graduation photos of my cousins and I, my Grandma keeps photos of her “adopted” children from other countries that she sends goods and money to. When I was little, she drove a couple of nights a week for “Meals on Wheels” after spending the day baking for the local youth shelter. On her trips abroad, my grandmother gathered the little shampoos and soaps and upon returning home, would take them, along with other goods that she had to the women’s shelter. My Grandma is the impetus for my own charitable acts, I continually try to live up to her example.

While I admire and aspire to each of these qualities, what I love most about my grandmother is that she’s brave. Most recently, she demonstrated this trait by moving into a retirement home. At almost 92 years of age, Grandma made the decision that she had cooked enough, cleaned enough and taken out enough trash for a lifetime, so she turned to my uncle and said the name of a retirement home she’d heard about on the radio. Next thing the family knows, badda-bing, badda-boom, Grandma is out of her house, mixing and mingling with other nonagenarians, and ever the young hunk loving woman, even some octageneraians. This willingness to break out of one’s beloved and familiar mold and bolding choose a different life captures my grandmother’s determined spirit.

For a time, I was worried about my Grandma moving to a new place, having a different routine, I wondered how she would feel no longer living in the same house that she spent the majority of her life in. But when I visitedmy grandmother at her new residence in June, I found her socializing with her tablemates as if they were old friends and pushing her walker about, on a mission to find the salon in the building. Even as an elderly person, my grandma continues to be brave, pushing forward with determination. As a mother myself now, I find myself repeating my own mother’s words to my little boy; “When I grow up, I want to be like your great-grandmother.” Those are some big shoes to fill though.

My Gran, the Stage Hand

One doesn’t so much see the stage hands, because they dress all in black and their job description dictates that they remain out of sight, as notice the stage hands’ work. Stage hands are the reason that productions like “Phantom of the Opera” and “Lion King” exist. They work tirelessly to make sure that props are in their appropriate place, that sets are rearranged, they might even work to help light the production, depending how small the play is.

My Gran is the stagehand in the life of our family. During holidays and special events, she works tirelessly, out of sight. And much like the underappreciated, unseen soldiers of a theatre production, she doesn’t demand accolades. Her food has been both the backdrop and center of every get together since I was born. At dinners, the turkey emerges, golden and beautiful from the oven, the bird and my grandfather, who would carve the meat, would star in the show entitled “Thanksgiving Dinner”. During lazy afternoons spent on my grandparents’ deck or sitting chatting in their living room, the plates of appetizers would sit unassumingly on the table. No one goes hungry at my grandmother’s house. And no one goes home with their belt buckled either.

In the same way that my grandfather taught me how to tell stories and star in the show of life, my grandmother quietly educated me on the value and joy of being in the background. It was from my Gran whom I learned my love of cooking. She taught me that the best cookbooks aren’t the ones from a store, but those published by groups of church ladies whose love of God only just trumps their love for their kitchens. Standing next to my Gran, chopping vegetables to help prepare dinner for our family, I memorized her favourite recipes. I watched the way that Gran always had one eye on the clock, coordinating seven dishes so that each would be hot and ready at the same time.

Gran is an expert in setting the stage; she taught me that a beautifully set table is a form of pageantry. My grandmother would painstakingly explain over and over again, for my fumbling left-handed brain, how to fold a plain square of a napkin into a decorative piece for the table. She sets the crystal into place settings with the same care and discerning eye that an artist uses while adding brush strokes to a masterpiece.

Although she is often unseen in the kitchen, busily working, unlike a stage hand, my grandmother does not dress in black, rather, her appreciation for a beautiful home extends to her own appearance as a hostess. My Gran is always stylishly and impeccably attired.

Like any background worker in a production, my Gran wears many hats, one of which is costuming. My grandmother would often share her sense of style and taste with her family, through her sewing machine. From the time I was small, the dresses and outfits that I loved most were the ones that my Gran sewed. The most important events in my life have been marked by the dresses that my grandmother created: every picture day from kindergarten to grade four; the day that my feminist mother finally agreed that my sister and I could wear bikinis, causing my Gran to disappear into the basement to produce two identical lime green two pieces; my grade eight graduation, in a blue dress my grandmother and I made together; my uncle’s wedding, again in a blue dress created by my Gran, a deep navy that I loved and wore whenever the opportunity presented itself, and most recently a pink number befitting a bombshell. Each time that I pulled one of these many garments over my head, it was a reminder of how deeply I was loved. I would appreciate the care that went into every piece and sometimes recall funny memories from when the articles were made, like when my grandmother yanked the pink fabric of the bombshell dress back and forth to make yet another dart, her mouth full of pins as she muttered “your mother is a cylinder”. In my mother’s defense, I’m sure that my Gran meant a shapely cylinder.

In the same way that one begins to read the credits at the end of a film as you age, to appreciate the work of those whose voice is only heard through the setting of scenes and camera filters, through my late teens and twenties, my appreciation for my grandmother’s subtle storytelling grew and I looked forward to hearing her thoughts and viewpoints on a given subject. Though different from my grandfather’s showy, dramatic tales, slowly in my eyes, my Gran became a star in her own right.

All of the Words That Go Unsaid

My sister is the inspiration for this series of posts which will be a departure from my normal humour. During the brief period that she tweeted, Diana expressed multiple times that our Granddad was her favourite person. Immediately after the first time she tweeted this, her next tweet was “How do you tell a person that?” My answer- you just do.

In these next couple of posts, I want to communicate the love and gratitude I feel towards my grandparents. I’ve chosen this particular set of people in my life because at thirty-one, I know I’m running on borrowed time. I’m one of the few people my age with no less than three living grandparents and I recognize how precious and special that is. So without further ado, let’s start with my sister’s favourite person.

Granddad, this post could have been entitled all of the words that go unheard. I love you, even though my voice falls within the exact range of hearing that you’ve lost. I love you even though since you’ve gone deaf, you can’t hear my stories any more. I love you because you are the one who molded me into a storyteller. You’re the reason this blog and all of my ridiculous anecdotes exist. I learned the craft of humour and exaggeration, of careful weaving of details while sitting at the dinner table listening to you talk about gypsy children in Europe. I learned that stories change over time and become better, hyperboles grow and become their own parts of the tale; the bear that the gypsy children led around became more ferocious. You taught me the power in confessing one’s own follies, your frantic gestures conveying your panic as you reenacted tossing coins at the begging children and their “pet”. From you, I learned that every problem is an adventure, and every adventure a story and the bumps along the way only serve to make the narrative more engaging.

Since you lost your hearing, you can’t hear my stories now, but that doesn’t matter because I’m still listening to you. Just as you taught Diana and I to do, because each time you gently beckoned “Come here, I want to show you something”, although the tone was light, it was understood that we were to come now and listen carefully while we were at it. You are teased, somewhat unmercifully for this habit, but even when those explanations meant that my math homework took 80% longer because my Granddad had to explain how nautical miles were calculated even though it was a basic subtraction question which had nothing to do with the speed of ships and had merely mentioned the terminology, I still loved every minute of it. I adored your descriptions of each ingredient’s function in a loaf of bread as you carefully added the warm water, then the salt, then the butter to your delicious dough. Try as I might, my bread is never as tasty as yours.

All of those lessons are ingrained in Diana and me. Every time I mount my bike, I relive your lectures on bike safety; “Let me show you something” pointing to the various road signs, explaining their meaning. It was you and Gran who decided that eight was too old to be riding with training wheels anymore, so the two of you spirited Diana and I away for a weekend, then spent forty-eight hours gripping the backs of our bike seats, running behind us. Not to mention the countless rides we made as a family; you, Gran, Mom, Diana and I traveling along a path towards a picnic spot. To this day, I still hear your voice shouting at me as I approach a hill “Gear down”! Gear Down!” Is it any wonder that I prefer my silver Trek bicycle that you chose for me to a car any day?

I never learned how to dance well, but that didn’t prevent me from delighting in your and Gran’s skill each time that I watched the two of you dance together in the living room, the garage, at the Coyote Cave, or on television when Mom would painstakingly set the VCR to record “Club Dance”. I felt so special and grown up, attempting the steps you would repeat as we moved across the dance floor. I sometimes joke that “Baby Likes To Rock It Like A Boogie-Woogie Choo Choo Train” is the soundtrack of my childhood because I heard it so often. That lesson of life long activity and dedication to one’s passions has stayed with me.

Granddad, I love you, and you are one of my favourite people in the world for all the reasons I mentioned and hundreds more. And even though my son bearing your name probably tipped you off to that, I still wanted to write these words, because you are important; I am so grateful and blessed that you chose to take such an active role in my life.

He Said, She Said, Engineers versus Artists

She Said: Marriage According to the Great Unwashed

(Tex has added in his two cents in italics)

In a word, being married to an engineer is awesome. I love it. 

I always know where Tex is and what he’s doing; I’m kind of like Santa Claus but without the beard

Around about when we first started dating, Tex linked me to his Google Calendar. To say that it’s a comprehensive document is an understatement. It includes when to check his tire pressure (the 2nd of every month), any outings he has tickets for within the next couple of weeks and his work locations for the next year. I’m not saying I know when my hubby goes to the loo; if he starts slotting that activity in there too, it wouldn’t be shocking. After Tex sent me his schedule, I was supposed to create my own. That was a year and a half ago.

“By the way I need to borrow the car tomorrow to do this thing. Didn’t I tell you about that? Remember?”

 

The keys are always in the same place. Actually everything is in the exact same place

Or rather I should say Tex’s keys are always in the same place. It’s a crap shoot as to where I’ve stowed mine. This makes it easy to take my significant other’s keys. Please note this kind of behavior will get you into trouble on occasion. Along these same lines, Tex has routines and protocols for everything in our home, up to and including washing pots and the proper storage of baking soda. Everything is very easy to find and is grouped with like items when Tex has organized or tidied a room.

Since we’ve moved into our new place, there’s a constant litany of “Unwashed where did you put the colander/spatula/baking pan?” and she’ll respond with “It’s in the garage/shed/under the couch.” Of course it’s there. That is the obvious place for a frying pan.

 

Everything in the house is in perfect working order

Engineers love problems. They live for problems; the show “How It’s Made” is engineering porn. I’m always surprised whenever I see it on TV during the daytime, because I know there’s engineers out there, watching saying, “Oh, oh yeah, look at how well they figured out how to make paint spackle. Oh the hydraulics.”

pencil-sharpening

Somewhere, an engineer is getting worked up over belt sanders. (Photo Credit: all-that-is-interesting.com)

Along these same lines, whenever something in our house breaks, Tex launches into engineer mode, taking our tap apart, determining where the problem is and whisking Mini-Tex and me off to the local Rona to locate the necessary part. (It’s possible I’m only along for the charity popcorn that is always sold at the hardware store.)

 

Our car seat is installed properly

Remember what I said about “How It’s Made” being engineering porn? Oven manuals, car seat directions, really any kind of manual is like a dirty magazine for engineers. I’m not saying that I’ve found instructions for the lawnmower under Tex’s side of the mattress, but let’s just say I wouldn’t be surprised to find them there. Whenever we purchase anything, Tex reads the manual from cover to cover then adjusts the item so it exactly meets his specifications; our car door opens after pressing only one button and it never beeps when it locks. Afterwards he files the manual so he can always refer back to it even though he never needs to because he has an eidetic memory. (But won’t admit to it because then he would have to confess that he’s actually a super villain.) He then carefully explains to me how the item works and all of the minor changes he’s made to improve its function. I half listen because I know that if something breaks I can always call my husband in a panic and say “Tex! The dishwasher/dryer/car is broken!”

 

Everything somehow relates to science

It doesn’t matter whether the topic is weather, cooking or machinery- an in depth explanation of the science behind the subject always follows. Yet I still can’t recall the basic rules of matter.

Unwashed’s equivalent is celebrity name dropping and referencing obscure Canadian authors. For example her post about Desmond Howl “Oh you don’t know Hornjob McGee? He appeared in little known indie film “That Greasy Summer.”

 

He Said: Marriage From Tex’s Perspective

(With Unwashed’s comment in italics)

By contrast, this is what it’s like to be married to an artist- bedlam.

Nothing is ever where you left it including the car

For a period of time, Unwashed hid various pieces of mail and vital items like my phone charger. It was only after I had exhausted my own search of our apartment that I questioned her “Have you seen my ID badge for work?” “Oh” she replied nonchalantly as if she wasn’t a magpie squirrelling away my belongings and correspondence “they’re in the Very Important Place.” “The pardon?” I asked “The Very Important Place” my wife repeated “I put everything right here” and then she pointed to the most random of hiding spots in our home. It wasn’t a loose floorboard under the bathroom cabinet but it was close.

Admittedly, sometimes I do tidy Tex’s belongings away for company and then forget to move his items back. And the car wasn’t my fault; we had just moved here and I drove past the house three times before finally throwing the car into park and walking home. I will cop to forgetting that I had done this and where the car was parked though.

 

Your laundry flies stand-by and there has been an exponential increase in the number of lost socks

They say purgatory is a place between heaven and hell, currently in my house there is a laundry purgatory or one might say it flies stand by as it exists neither clean in my drawer nor dirty and obviously in need of washing in my hamper. I suspect one day I will be searching online classifieds and find a “Missed Connections” ad written by one of my socks.

In my defense, I once witnessed Tex systematically search for an hour for one lost sock. He found it in the end. I am neither that thorough, nor do I possess the memory to retrace my steps and the steps of others exactly to locate lost undergarments. As for the laundry, I’ve created a complex system that there isn’t enough time to explain, be assured that all of my and Mini-Tex’s clothes are found and cleaned on a regular basis. Tex’s shirts make it into the wash when they can hence the stand by comment.

 

I’ve been forced to take bizarre and ridiculous pictures of her

I had to take a picture of her covered in chocolate icing, holding a wad of flaming bills while riding a pig and I was supposed to not only understand the symbology of this but at the very least hold the camera steady. Not to mention catch the terrified pig.

This is a complete exaggeration. Ok not complete. There wasn’t a pig though. I did make Tex take artistic photos where I composed an image of multiple juxtaposing elements and then posed myself in awkward ways to enhance this effect.

 

Arranging a room has less to do with what will fit and more to do with the “chi” and whether it makes a room “warm” or not

I’ve moved sectionals more times than I care to count. And I had to buy a big, really expensive chair to provide her with a place to read and feel artistic or whatever it is that she does when she isn’t riding pigs.

Again, he’s totally fabricating the pig thing and what can I say? Chi is a moving target. Happily I don’t have to move it.

 Also, did anyone else notice that Tex didn’t comment about the memory thing? I expect I’ll find his blaster ray gun in the basement any day now.

Grandma Getting Arrested Was Not My Fault

It wasn’t so much that she was arrested as dropped off in the middle of the night by police. Despite what everyone will tell you, it wasn’t my doing. Really if anyone should get the blame it’s my maternal grandfather, he was the one shouting at the bouncers. But I’m getting ahead of myself here.

About a decade back, my Dad took my whole family on vacation; me, my sister, my Mom, my Dad, my Gran, my Granddad, my Dad’s mom and even my boyfriend at the time, we all went to a resort.

The vacation was exactly like this. Only substitute all the kissing and racy bits with shuffleboard. (Photo Credit : amazon.com)

The vacation was just like this. Only substitute all the kissing and racy bits with shuffleboard. (Photo Credit : amazon.com)

If you’ve ever seen “Dirty Dancing” this resort was exactly like that, only without all the interesting sexy bits and desperately attractive men lurking in every corner. Also I never once saw Patrick Swayze. Not exactly a place where a teenager would go to have fun for a good time. However Diana and I were with our family so we were happy. Though I must confess the evenings were quite slow. One night at dinner my family decided that we would all go dancing.

This was around the time that my Mom’s parents used to go out and win West Coast couples dancing competitions. My parents would also attend said competitions but didn’t podium. My boyfriend and I, inspired by watching these two couples had begun to take ballroom dance lessons as well.

Unfortunately Diana was only eighteen at the time so my parents were unsure whether she would get into the bar at the hotel. Exasperated my Gran blurted out “You MUST have a fake ID.” And not surprisingly, Diana did. It was passed around and scrutinized by every member of my family but my grandfather who was in the washroom at the time. After everyone inspected the Northwest Territories driver’s license, it was deemed an acceptable fake.

After dinner everyone returned to their respective hotel rooms, except for my sister and I who always want to spend more time with our maternal grandparents. We sat on their bed chatting merrily while my Gran and Granddad got dressed in their matching cowboy dancing outfits and my Granddad donned one of his impressive western hats. The mood in the room was jovial and excited.

Walking over to the bar with the prospect of spending an evening with his family and getting to dance with his two granddaughters, my Granddad was his extroverted self. Seeing the bouncers’ hackles go up at the sight of Diana and me, he waved cheerfully. “It’s ok boys! They’re my granddaughters.” Grabbing Diana’s shoulders he proudly added “This one’s eighteen!”

“Granddad!” Diana and I shouted indignantly in unison. “What?” My grandfather asked stopping in his tracks. In Manitoba, where my Granddad grew up, the legal drinking age is eighteen. In Ontario it’s one year older.

Kicking at the ground Diana turned on her heel and left in a huff. Walking into the bar Granddad’s shoulder were hunched “I didn’t know, I didn’t know.” He repeated sheepishly. However soon the music started and the mood lightened as the couples began to dance.

A group of three men a little older than me stood awkwardly around the bar. Thinking of my sister who was probably sitting in the hotel room bored to tears while my eighty-four year old grandma knitted an afghan, I had an idea.

“Hey do you want to keep a hot girl company?” I asked. The boys shrugged but then listened eagerly when I told them my room number. They left the bar soon after.

In the mean time, after realizing that she wasn’t going to spend the evening cha-cha-ing with her family, my sister had found another under age youth sitting on one of the resort’s rolling hills. Together they sat in the darkness and shared bottles of booze that the young man had pinched from who knows where.

The three men from the bar, having given up any hope of finding fun in a place filled with middle aged people dancing the East Coast swing, headed over to my family’s hotel room. They knocked on the door.

By this time my grandmother had changed into her nightgown and was getting ready for bed when she heard a rapping at the door. The sight of the three lumbering young men inquiring if there was a hot girl inside ( I hadn’t bothered to give them Diana’s name), spurred my elderly grandmother into action. “No. Only me.” she replied curtly, “Now please go home.” Then, strapping on her fuzzy slippers, my grandma walked off into the night in search of Diana.

This entire time, the hotel police were parked a distance from the hill that my sister and her new friend had been illegally drinking on. The officers were well aware of the illicit goings on, however the amount of flack they’d receive from the patrons of the hotel for busting the privileged teenagers for the offense was greater than the good that would come from stopping it. At any rate, my sister and the young man were not causing any harm.

Around the time that Diana and her companion packed up their bottles and headed back to their respective rooms the hotel police received word that there was an elderly woman wandering around the property in her nightgown. Off they sped in their cruiser to avert disaster.

Diana arrived back at the room just as my parents and I did. Everyone was confused as to where my grandmother had gone at twelve o’clock at night. Then for the second time that night there was a knock at the hotel room door. My father opened it to a squad car with its lights flashing and an official looking man in uniform standing next to his mother. “These nice men gave me a ride back” said Grandma as she stepped past my father into the hotel room.

Although I technically did send a group of strange young men to my family’s hotel room searching for my sister, I still contest that Grandma wandering around in the middle of the night and being dropped off by security is NOT my fault. Clearly its Granddad’s lack of awareness around Ontario’s drinking laws and his overactive bladder.