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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This Troll Is My Grandfather

20171007_120126Because he’s crotchety and barks at people for no good reason. Not really, my grandfather isn’t like that at all, for starters, he only yells with good reason. The following is an abridged and incomplete list of reasons that my Grandfather has yelled being:

  1. Making noise in the backseat
  2. Not learning how to ride a two wheeler fast enough
  3. Pinching your sister
  4. Pulling your sister’s hair
  5. Calling your sister “weasel elbows”
  6. Doing anything besides sitting silently next to your sister without touching each other at all
  7. Trying to swim in a flooded basement
  8. Yapping at the neighbour’s car (that one was the dog)
  9. Not eating the fat on a piece of meat (that was me, the dog will ALWAYS eat the fat)
  10. Showing inadequate amounts of enthusiasm for Granddad’s current interest that he is explaining to you at length
  11. Being in the wrong gear while cycling uphill
  12. Speaking above a whisper volume when Granddad has a migraine

As you can see from the list, my grandfather is both an extremely reasonable and even tempered fellow, not at all troll-like.

But yet, I’ve kept this troll doll for ages. Clearly because of its wicked hairdo; I wake up every morning with my fingers crossed that my own tresses will have formed such an awesome “just rolled out of the cave and off to bludgeon a mammoth” style of their own volition.

All joking aside, I’m not a sentimental person. Tex actually stopped me from sending my framed degree from my Bachelor of Science to the second hand shop. Yet, I’ve carted this troll doll with me across the country and through multiple moves- why? Because I love my Granddad.

My love for my grandfather runs so deep that this tchotchke and I have been together for almost thirty years. At first I kept it because it was a fun toy, then I kept it because it was terrifying and I had grand plans of playing “hide the awful troll” in the same way that my sister played “hide the beady eyed ostrich”, scaring the bejesus out of me when the ostrich surprised me in unlikely places. But most recently I’ve kept it because it represents my relationship with my grandfather.

While unpacking after our recent move, I realized that I kept the troll out of the fear of not being reminded of the stories that accompany it. This is the point in life where being a writer is almost akin to being a super hero, as I realized that I could record the memories, and find a new home for the troll doll.

My grandparents took our family to Walt Disney World. It was supposed to be just me and Diana but then my mother threw a hissy fit, stating that my Gran and Granddad had never taken her to Disney World. This was how my father, mother and uncle went to Walt Disney World. I’d say “with us” but that isn’t true, looking back at the photo album my mother has and the notes she made about the trip, my sister and I spent about 95% of our time with our grandparents while my parents and uncle shucked their parental and uncle-y duties all devil-may-care, in favor of exploring the theme parks.

The first time I visited the Magic Kingdom was with my grandfather. My sister was ill and stayed back at the hotel with my Gran while my parents went on roller coasters and drank endless shots of tequila. (That last part may be a fabrication, but they did really and truly delight in not having a five and seven year old in tow.) The wonder and joy I felt at walking into the Magic Kingdom is tied with the sense of happiness and security I felt at having my grandfather all to myself in that wonderful place. My Granddad enjoys recounting the story of me running at a wandering character and hugging them with all of my might on that day.

That trip was the first time I realized that my grandfather was a flirt. Actually, flirt is the wrong word, my grandfather is charming, utterly charming and engaging with everyone. He just makes a point of being more so with the female persuasion. Disney Cast Members all wear badges with their names. Upon returning to the hotel, I remarked to my mother that Granddad knew all of the cashiers’ names.

As much as my parents delighted in their independence, my grandparents delighted in my and my sister’s joy. They rode the tea cups with us countless times. Diana’s and my explanation to my parents upon entering the ride with them (while they were sobering up before their next tequila binge) was “You spin the wheel whichever way Diana wants, as fast as you can, until Granddad yells “I’m gonna barf!””

My grandfather loves history, especially family history. Growing up, my sister and I donned crowns with electric candles on them and would wander around family parties at Christmas delivering hors d’oeuvres. Seeing us dressed as St. Lucia and honoring our Swedish and Scandinavian heritage made my grandfather so happy that we continued to dress up even as teens if asked.

Thus the Norwegian pavilion at EPCOT, which in the early 90’s still offered unique Scandinavian products rather than all things Frozen related, was a kind of heaven for my grandfather. For starters, it was staffed with gorgeous Norwegian women who were obligated to smile at my grandfather’s stories which he imparted in detail to his blonde, cheerful listeners. The variety of Viking related goods gave Granddad many talking points to remind Diana and me of our heritage. To this day my grandfather never misses an opportunity to share the tale of our brave ancestor Stoingvald who fought to defend his country even after his enemies cut off his legs at the knees. Our visit to the Norwegian pavilion of course prompted said story, so Granddad acted out the battle with Stoingvald on the roof of his home for all the tourists and smiley Swedes.

Granddad bought me this troll that night. I kept it because I wanted to hold onto the love that I hold for my Granddad and that my grandparents hold for me. I kept the doll because it recalled a time when vacations were as endless as the hugs and attention from my grandparents. I kept it to remind myself of my grandfather’s foibles and the way they make me smile. I kept it so I would remember all those stories each time my eyes lit on the troll while in the rec room.

But love, memories and stories aren’t housed in objects, they make their homes in our hearts. It’s through retelling that the memories live on. I don’t need the troll to remind myself to retell the stories of its youth, I can keep a picture of it and pen the words it holds for me instead.

 

This post is of course dedicated to my Granddad from whom all my stories originate because he is the original storyteller of our family.

To My Former Lover

I saw you on the street the other day. You were with someone else. I crossed to the other side because I didn’t want my desperation and feelings of longing to show. I think about you a lot. It’s hard not to; those squinting, dark hours we used to spend together before the day began, the afternoons at cafes, the late, late nights in university. You were a part of my family, my sister used to joke that if my mother didn’t have you, then what would motherly acts would she cling to?

My son is a year and a half now. It’s been that long. I know you’re not keeping count, but I am. Especially in the mornings, seeing you with other people, laughing, having a ball. I remember those days, when you’d wake me up; colours were brighter, sounds were sharper, with you it was like the world was in high def. To an extent, I know that I will always miss you, that some days will be a fog. But that comes with the territory, to know you so well- there’s no going back.

Not to be awkward, but I miss your body. Of all of your incarnations, the full one was always my favourite, but you knew that. The taste of you borders on sensuous; empires have been built on that power of yours. To say nothing of your smell, which we both know is your most attractive quality. Memorable, enticing, yours is a scent that is unmistakable.

I miss you. I just thought you should know that. I know it doesn’t matter, that you have the rest of the world while I’m left with the empty moments you once occupied in my day. But I wanted to say it all the same. And to add that nothing else looks quite as good in my mugs. Somehow a steaming cup of Earl Grey doesn’t have the same ring to it.

Coffee, just like Adele, I’d like to send my love to your new lover. And I do hope you treat her better and don’t give her tachycardia, because that would and does suck.

Miss you always,

Unwashed

That Time I Made A Murder-Suicide Pact

My life was ending. As far as I was concerned, everything good was moving four hours away, so in my car-less life there were only two reasonable options; kill or be killed. Luckily Sula felt the same way. And so, without vocalizing our intent, a murder suicide pact was made. The night before my best friend moved away forever, we decided that the best way to mark this occasion was to drink ourselves to death.

In lieu of beer pong, we took a shot for each happy memory, throwing alcohol down our throats in an attempt to obliterate the knowledge that spontaneously popping over after work, after church, before bed, just because, would never again be an option.

The evening started with wine. Toasting all the nights we had spent eating, “like peasants” as Sula’s brother would joke, with just one light on. We drank because never again would I keep a stash of my favourite vino in Sula’s fridge because I was there so often. Pouring out the last our bottles; red for Sula, white for me, we celebrated all of the hours spent sitting in our pyjamas working diligently on our respective projects.

I poured stolen Baileys onto ice cubes to commemorate when Sula learned how to crochet left handed in order to teach me the beloved pastime. We tossed back a second mug of that delicious, creamy liquor while reminiscing about my inability to line dance and the Friday nights that we walked down the street to the local bar to take lessons after dinner.

With a bit of spray and a satisfying crack, cans of cider were opened and consumed as Sula and I talked of all the weekend when we spent first the morning at the Farmer’s Market and later paddleboarding or cross country skiing at the local provincial park in the afternoon. It was at that point that we decided to take our goodbye party on the road. Specifically down the street to that same bar where I used to crash into strangers while attempting to learn the electric slide.

At the bar, while slugging back beer, we sat on top of a picnic table and stared up at the night sky trying to brainstorm ways we could continue our craft nights, sewing tutorials, dance lessons and hiking trips. In the place of a solution, we ordered more beer.

Initially we believed that our attempt had been unsuccessful, until we woke up the next morning with the most killer hangover in history. Sula and I spent the day running back and forth to the bathroom or dry heaving into the sink when the other person beat us to the coveted porcelain spot. Despite our painful heads and certainty that the end was near, at six o’clock Sula packed up her belongings and drove off forever. I couldn’t have pictured a more appropriate send off.

This post is dedicated to Sula who is once again heading off into the frigid north. Good luck lady, I’m glad that you graduated from crouching in the woods with bears at night to walking the tundra during the day. And even more glad for the giant anti-polar bear rifle you carry.

Wild Gratitude

I slept outside last night. Shortly after nine, I walked up a grassy path to a tent that had been set up earlier in the day. The thistles and overgrown grass were soft and bent under the weight of my steps. Illuminated by the spotlight that was the moon, the tent waited patiently on a soft spot of dirt.

The air had just enough of a chill to remind me that I was alive. The wind, which would pick up to a strong breeze later on, caressed my bare face and hands, “be happy you’re here” the gusts said softly as they passed over my ears. Above me, the sky seemed to grow, declaring its dominion over the slumbering world. “You are here, you are mine”, the blackness spoke benevolently to my eyes as I tried in vain to take it all in.

Tromping into the brush to relieve myself before retiring to bed, the trees chided my wobbling form as I struggled to find a good position. “Try not to pee on your shoes” they reminded, the branches chortling their amusement.

As I zipped up my sleeping bag, the coyotes sang me a feral lullaby. In the middle of their song, the wind joined in to create a harmony, swishing the through a nearby field of wheat. Through the nylon fabric of the tent, the moon became a nightlight. “Goodnight world, thank you” I whispered, settling down onto my pillow and pulling the warm covers closer to me. The cold kissed my cheeks gently and pressed itself against my nose. “You’re welcome” it replied.