When Kelsey was really small, my sister Cathy went to the UK for a few years.  She came back about halfway though for a visit; at that point, it was also about halfway through Kelsey’s whole life.  Understandably, the two year old didn’t know that aunt from adam.  So, when we all went to the airport to collect Cathy, Kels wasn’t sure how to deal with all the emotion surrounding this “aunt person” who showed up out of nowhere and made everybody cry. 

Later at Gram’s house there was a bit of a party.  The crying turned to talking and laughing.  Kelsey’s older sister seemed right at home with the aunt, but Kels wasn’t having any of it.  Then, the aunt brought out a big bag, out of which there stuck some curious and soft looking ears.  Aunt Cathy lifted out a beautiful tin lunchbox for Carly and Carly loved it.  Kelsey, recognised at that moment there was something special about those ears sticking out of the bag, and more so something about that aunt and all the stuff going on around her visit.  And so shyly she expressed it to the aunt:

“I ‘yike’ you.”

The aunt pretty much melted on receipt of that innocent expression of trust and all she could do was pull that bear out of the bag.  Kels and the bear (and the aunt) fell in love with each other instantly.

That bear, symbolic of the love that little girl came to understand that day, has stuck with her through all kinds of good and not so good adventures.  And Kelsey, in turn, reflects that love with steadfast genuineness and honesty.    

Happy birthday Kelsey. 

And many more and… well you know…


yorkshire sister

20 December 2009

I’m not a fan of greeting cards.  I think they’re a giant rip off, and usually I’d rather say what I want in a phone call or a gift or a visit. 

Nevertheless, sometimes they’re just the thing, like when your sister lives on a different continent and thinking that her receiving mail from family at home is a priority.  Like during the holidays. 

So there I am standing in the Hallmark section of a store a week or two ago looking for a Christmas card for Jane and I’m blubbering like an idiot amidst all the sugary sentiment and dreamy winter scenes.

A sister is a part of you – she is connected to all things and more than DNA.  A sister is always there in the way you see, the things you feel and how you feel about yourself.  And that magic doesn’t diminish when she moves across oceans. 

But it doesn’t make you miss her any less when she’s far away.  And I was missing Jane a lot standing in that Hallmark aisle at lunchtime.   

Yesterday was her birthday and I was thinking about her place in my life – from that stubborn and independent little pig-tailed girl, to the beautiful and content transplanted Canadian Yorkshirewoman she’s become. 

I love you sister.  No less than if you lived around the corner.  Thank goodness for technology.

(And many more and shut the door on ricky hubble…)

I usually find that having to hear someone’s private cell phone conversation in public is a minor annoyance. Sometimes a major one. But yesterday morning, not long before I reach my final stop, I hear the most wonderful storytellingest, sing-songiest poetic voice with a Caribbean or West Indian inflection, talking slowly and deliberately, with rising and falling pitch and pauses added for impact – I really want to stay on the bus and listen to the rest of the story.

“So I tried and tried to find it for her,” said the rich womanly voice, “but I searched and searched and searched and searched and it seemed to be nowhere at all – nowhere at all in this big, big city.

“So I tried and tried to ring her to tell her the unfortunate news, and the line was ringing and ringing and ringing and ringing and ringing and there was never, never an answer.

“And I thought that she had given me another number so I searched and I searched and searched and I found it in the bottom of my bag, so I rang that number and it rang and rang and rang and rang and then, she answered!

“Oh and we had the loveliest chat and we discussed another idea.  A great idea.  And so today I am off again in the city, and I’ll search…”

And as I get off the bus I think how nice it must be to turn every conversation into something that sounds like a folktale, to reflect one’s world as though painting a picture every minute.

The room in which Cathy and I are staying in Montreal is on the 32nd floor, and has two windows abutting one another in the corner looking north toward Mont Royal and and west.  The corner windows are lovely, giving the effect of a panorama.  Looking over the lights of the city, I’m reminded of one of my favourite songs by one of my favourite songwriters, Victoria Williams.  She finds magic in the ordinary; wonder in the moment.  She’s got muliple sclerosis and there’ll be a day when she won’t be able to make her art or her living, but she’s unfailingly positive and insightful and humorous and true to her vision.  True to the words of this song. 

“What kind of song would you give if you had a song to give?  What kind of life would you live if you had a life to live?  Would you want to make something good that you could look on, give you lots of pleasure?  Yeah, you would.

What about this thing that you gave, what if it weren’t quite perfect?  What if there was something bad about it?  Would you love it just the same?  Would you still care about it?”

a bright star among our kind

27 September 2009

Back in university I took all the available Romantic Literature classes. These classes were recommended to me because they were being taught by the engaging and eminent Canadian author Alistair McLeod. But I came to fall in love with the Romantics; their explorations of the human spirit and beauty and ways of seeing, and innovative ways of exploring art. These were my kind of people.

As anyone might, I was fascinated with John Keats and what he managed to achieve in his young life. How does one become one of the greatest of all poets in a mere 26 years on the planet? Art like this – seemingly out of nowhere and of such immense skill and richness is what makes me believe in a higher power.  And what would he have achieved if his experience and view upon the world had ripened with maturity?

One of the papers I wrote at the time was a comparative study of Keats’ “Bright Star” and that of another lesser known poet (my apologies to him but I can’t remember who it was). I came to love that poem, and have reprinted it in my online journals more than once.

That winter I became very ill with a rotten flu which sent me to bed for days, and it was one of those nights in bed when a ghost who lived in our house at the time manifested himself to me in human form. Up until then my girls and I had experienced his presence in a number of ways, most notably when he knocked things off the plate rail in the dining room. But it was not until I was awakened one night that I actually saw the ghost, as I rolled over and opened my eyes to see him hesitate for a moment before he walked into my closet. I nicknamed him John Keats then, as I’d been studying the poet in bed while I was confined there.

Of course the ghost was not John Keats – as I’m sure the furthest he’d ever travelled was Italy where he died. But he was so ingrained in my consciousness during those weeks that it seemed the natural name for the otherwordly fella who’d decided to hang around in the sick room. The ghost actually looked more like Johnny Cash, but he was alive at the time and naming him after a dead poet seemed much more appropriate.

All that is why I’m really looking forward to seeing Jane Campion’s new movie “Bright Star” about Keats and his love affair with Fanny Brawne, the inspiration for that poem. I think it might be a good time to take our poet back off the bookshelf and revisit his notions of inspiration and beauty with a perspective some seventeen years or so have given me.

long hugs

25 September 2009

I’m not sure if it’s because it’s a small town, but there is something remarkable about this sustained bond between people that seemed to rematerialize like a magic thread after thirty years of carrying on lives apart from one another.  For a few of those folks I reunited with last weekend, it was a given – we’ve been tending those old friendships all along, and seeing them was the main reason I went to the class reunion. But what I have also been relishing and enjoying since coming home the other day is the feeling of being recognised and welcomed and cared for by people I hadn’t seen or spoken to in all or most of those thirty years.

Sometimes you had to look at a nametag because a person had changed so.  Which this particular writer couldn’t do gracefully or surreptitiously because she couldn’t read the darn things without pulling out her glasses.  Most often when the recognition took hold though, even if it was delayed, the person stood before me as a bright and shining testament to a life lived in another time; a life that eventually led me to this one.  And there were still things to talk about.  I still felt pleased when boys flirted with me.  The prettiest girl then is still the prettiest girl now, and the funniest girl then is still the funniest girl now.  And the hugs and handshakes were natural and welcome.

One of the reasons I looked forward to the event was because I’m proud of the person I’ve come to be, and was glad to share it. Sure, thirty years gave me as many pounds on the scale, and various lines and sags, but the things those thirty years gave me outweigh those many times over: wisdom and growth and knowledge and confidence and experience and two wonderful daughters.  And I can’t describe how gratifying it was to see how all those things transformed my long-haired, jeans-clad teenage comrades from a million years ago.  That’s what I cherished in each of those new/old faces because with every year and its trials, successes, missteps, joys, failures and challenges, they are lovelier and handsomer and stronger and sexier and smarter and more beautiful than they were at 18. 

And that’s a gift I’ll carry around in my pocket for the next thirty years – or at least until the fortieth.

me, hallmark card writer

9 September 2009

Today there was a little jokey back and forth exchange on facebook between several of us old friends who will be attending our upcoming 30th year class reunion.  A few were complaining, “damn it all, I didn’t lose that 30 lbs.!”  I said “the nice thing about being 30 years older is – who cares?”  

We can say now:  “It is what it is” and get on with the day.  And It’s stronger and better and smarter and so much sexier at 48 than it was at 18 (even if it’s a little more jiggly). 

Anyway, says my facebook self, thirty years on, there is so much more inner beauty in there now that our bodies have to get a little bigger and the bits and bobs get pushed to new places to accommodate all that gorgeousness burgeoning inside.

Okay, it’s hokey. 

But it’s true.