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…)

When my sisters and I came into this world, my mother had no parents, one sister and one first cousin.  Her cousin Allan Park was a half generation older than her.  Like most of our family, he was known to us more in story than life.  That scar on his head was legendary.  It was from a war. 

World War II  was mythology to us kids born in the sixties.  I have fuzzy recollections of my dad watching the news on tv and seeing footage from Viet Nam but that wasn’t real, it was on tv.  

Allan’s war, to us, was a story wrapped up in that scarred head we saw a few times over our lifetimes.  All we knew was that we were lucky he was with us, that his injury very nearly killed him and if it had everything would be different.  

In 1979, the story of that scar revealed itself via the words of national favourite storyteller, Farley Mowat, in his novel And No Birds Sang.  It was a different story than the one any of us had known.

The blanket that screened the shattered cellar door was thrust aside and a party of stretcher bearers pushed in amongst us.  Al Park lay on one of the stretchers.  He was alive, though barely so… unconscious, with a bullet in his head.

As I looked down at his faded, empty face under its crimson bandages, I began to weep.

I wonder now… were my tears for Alex and Al and all the others who had gone and who were yet to go?

Or was I weeping for myself… and those who would remain?

 – Excerpt: And No Birds Sang, Farley Mowat

You want to talk about how a story can bring new light to a family? 

To a nation on Remembrance Day?

Happy birthday Aunt Martha.  Lots of us are thinking about you. 

It was supposed to be windy and rainy with snow flurries and cold today, like winter.  But instead we got this perfect October day: clear and crisp, with a sun shining so bright on that red and yellow and orange vegetation it hurt your eyes. When Cathy and I noted your birthday, she said “the sun came out for her.”

And I don’t doubt for a minute that’s true. Actually you were the one who taught us about magic like that. And to appreciate perfect autumn days like this one.

Aunt Martha, we remember you on your birthday and in many other moments because you are central to some of our most important memories. You were like the grandma your mother didn’t have the chance to be.  And we really hope you know now that you really did imbue her spirit.  You did.  We’re all carrying around a piece of her.  And you. 

And it’s on perfect October days like this that we’re particularly thankful for it.

It was one of those weeks.  I’ve been having a lot of those lately. 

Friday afternoon comes, and I’m finally presented with that longed-for three-day weekend which I recieve as if it’s a bundle of new line-dried sheets. And I haven’t even left the office yet when my sister sends me a text:

“What are you doing?  Want to do something?”

Heavens me, of COURSE I want to do something!

Before I catch the bus to go home, it’s decided.  Cathy will come into town and stay over and we’ll have a sister night. 

Not long after she arrives, we step out into my immediate neighbourhood and pick up two bottles of Zinfandel, a pizza from the little Italian restaurant around the corner, and have a glass of wine on their patio while we wait for it.  On the way back we pick up a movie I’ve been wanting her to see, and stroll back with all the goods and enjoy the sisterly gab that goes with it.  By three in the morning, the week that has preceded all this has melted away and we’re crawling off to find sleep.

Saturday morning, we wake to sunshine and August 1st (Lammas) breezes.  I make us coffee and more sisterly chat goes down over checking email and sharing news.  We get dressed and stroll into the Beaches to get us a pedicure.  While sipping more coffee, Cathy gets a light summery red polish and I get fuschia.  We enjoy foot scrubbing and leg massages and warm towels and silly magazines.  Over the walk back we admire our good lookin’ feet (thanks Mom) and Cathy soon heads back home and to her family.

I’m not in the door five minutes when Mia calls and asks, do I want to have dinner some time this weekend?  Because she’s just been to the market and has bought new corn and field tomatoes and peaches and cherries and and a big fat steak.  I say why not today because it’s luscious and sunny and given this particular summer we can’t count on this sunshine again tomorrow. 

Later I get myself together and pick up a couple of Scottish beers and a bottle of chilled Italian white at the LCBO and go to Meem’s.

She’s making homemade cherry pie when I get there.  We have the beers and more familial catching up and move outside and then switch to white wine.  Her garden is lush and green and overgrown and showing all the benefits of this rainy summer.  I envy that she’s got bedding hanging out there. 

She hands me a tablecloth…

Mission Hill ChardonnaycroppedWebSize

 Little bit of heavenWebSize

 homemade cherry pieCompressedCroppedWebsize

Wanna talk about the perfect summer meal?  Fresh corn on the cob.  (The kind that makes you go “mmmmmm” with every bite.  Field tomatoes.  (Sprinkled with fresh basil and drizzled with olive oil doesn’t hurt them either.)  Barbequed steak, medium rare, over a big plate of arugula, which you drizzle with olive oil and squeeze a wedge of lemon.  Salt and pepper. 

Mia comes from the part of the family that makes homemade pie.  (So does my mother.)  (I don’t.)

Homemade cherry pie.

We ask ourselves several times: could there be a more perfect meal?  (We decide no, and toast again.)

I take the streetcar home, which takes longer than the subway, but it’s above ground. 

And it’s summer.  And all is well again.

wasn’t it a party

7 July 2009

When I was a kid, the funnest moments ever were summer and Christmas events with my cousins.  The EVENT OF THE YEAR was that weekend when our Michigan cousins would come to stay at our house and we’d all go over to spend a day at Boblo Island amusement park.  I was one of the bigger kids, and eventually we were allowed to tool around the island on our own.  One year we decided we would break the record for rollercoaster rides.  I think we rode it 27 times or something like that, which probably wasn’t a record of any kind.  Another longstanding favourite ride was the Wild Mouse.  Before Boblo got an honest to goodness rollercoaster, the Wild Mouse was the ride most anticipated.

 

Mouse

Christmas parties were boisterous, noisy affairs.  We all loved the after dinner sing-alongs, during which Grandpa Herb would entertain us with his electric guitar.  Us kids would sit around on the floor and request our favourites like Hey Jude, If I Had a Hammer, and Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport.  Dad and I got an acoustic guitar one year for Christmas, and Dad took it up and began to play along with Herb.

herbdad3      

Since we’ve all grown and made families and lives of our own, our visits seem to occur at few-and-far-between weddings and funerals.  And that’s just too bad because we’re as always just as happy to see one another today as we were way back then.  When we heard cousins were planning a surprise party for Aunt Sharon’s 70th birthday over the 4th of July weekend, we were really glad for the opportunity to reunite.

So anyway, the day after Canada Day, Cathy, her kids and I leave the Manitoulin to drive to Bay City for the party.  We decide to break up the trip and leave a day early and stay somewhere along the Bruce Peninsula for a day at a beach.  Alas, the weather doesn’t cooperate with anything resembling laying-around-on-the-beach-sunshine, but we have a good time poking around the little town of Southampton, and spending the night in a rather smelly 70’s style motel.

Next day we’re back on highway 21 pointed in the direction of the Sarnia/Port Huron bridge.  We shop at the duty free and then a Port Huron mall.  By the time we get to Bay City at dinner time, we’re ready for a beer and seeing everyone at Janet’s “pre-party party.”  Coming into the city, we watch for the big Texan Restaurant sign to wave us the same greeting he has waved since we can remember.  I had noted a number of lifelong landmarks along the way, but the Texan is a favourite.  We didn’t have signs anything like this in Amherstburg growing up, so he was wonderfully exotic. 

 Texan    

 

We all trickle into Janet and Mike’s and have a relaxed and happy party in their pretty backyard.  Not surprisingly there’s a great spread of food.  We enjoy showing off our children; many of the littlest ones I’ve never seen before.  Everyone jokes that Aunt Sharon, who loves a party more than anyone, is going to be pissed about missing this one. 

Next morning we cut up potatoes for the giant bowls of potato salad.  Mike makes us cups of coffee and cuts up the watermelon for Janet’s last minute *&%$)@!!%$*? fruit salad. The twenty somethings, who extended their own version of the party into the morning hours, attempt to sleep in and nurse hangovers.  Except Renie who is up before anyone, decorating her beautiful and seemingly endless 4th of July cupcakes.  We each squeeze in a shower at moments we find it free, and actually get out to Brian’s country home not long after the allotted time.  There we find a beautiful party setup sitting amidst a gorgeous summer day.  We start drinking sangria and everyone just wants Aunt Sharon to get there.  True to form, my wonderfully theatrical aunt receives the party with joyful aplomb.

 

SharonSurprise

There’s lots and lots of picture taking going on.  Cheeky Uncle Rod hangs a Canadian flag in the tent near the 4th of July cupcakes.  Aunt Sharon opens the presents we weren’t supposed to bring.  Little kids make friends instantly, as little kids do, and run around wielding light sabres and eating cupcakes.  Everyone grazes on turkey, pulled pork and corn on the cob.  There is a slide show of old pictures, which we watch a couple of times.  Mimi gets pushed in the pool in honour of her 30th birthday, and kids and grownups swim. 

Michael and son Zac and their band provide the entertainment. It’s a wonderful moment when Michael busts out grandpa Herb’s old electric guitar and plays Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport.

 

Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport Compressed 

We party late into the night; us cousins and our various spawn are not in any hurry to pack it in.  Next morning we descend on Aunt Sharon’s home where she and Lloyd are cranking out breakfast and coffee.  No one really wants to leave, but it’s back to the real world for most of us. 

Before we leave on the final leg of our roadtrip, us cousins talk about doing a party again next year, maybe on the island.  I hope we do.  This kind of familial spirit really shouldn’t be wasted.  Anyway, it’s still really fun.

5769_1182750172508_1340843991_497418_5877354_n[1]

I sleep over at Cathy’s on Saturday night, so that we can get up early and go to the market, then head up to Tobermory to catch the ferry.  Before we’re out the door, Julie calls and says there is a wicked storm going on with six foot waves, and the ferry ride – if it runs – would be so not pleasant.  Since we’re all packed, we decide to drive around up to Espanola and cross the bridge onto the island.

I’ve done this drive before, and like the last time, enjoy the gorgeousness of the landscape, particularly around the Espanola area.  Not long after leaving Barrie, we start to notice small Inukshuk and other rock sculptures along the side of the highway, appearing regularly all the way to Espanola.  We are also struck by the rock cuts through which the highway threads.  Each jagged surface looks as if it contains dozens of ancient faces.

As soon as we get on the island, it seems, the sun bursts through and by the time we get down to the cottage, it’s warm, still and sunny.  We arrive ten minutes before we we’re expected, and have an enjoyable catching up with Dad and Julie before our first wonderful meal of the week: chicken, mashed potatoes, carrots and greek salad.  And wine. 

I get the front bedroom to myself, and next morning, I lay there and listen to the rain falling, and relish the thought of five days of not going to the office.  In fact, I lay there for probably an hour just enjoying that.  On getting up, I have to re-think my planned reading spot.

rainydeck

It’s okay – when you find a place that rejuvenates you, any corner serves as a good reading spot.  I really don’t do much else other than read.  Until Lainey and I go for a walk to look at the balanced rock sculptures she and Chris made the day previous.  We make a few more.

elainerocks 

A little later, Cathy and I decide we need to get some Guinness in the house, and maybe we’d like to have gin and tonics for Happy Hour.  We’re hoping the little LCBO outlet in Sandfield has some of the former.  If not, we’re prepared to drive to the bigger store in Mindemoya.  But we don’t have to drive further than Sandfield!

On the way back, we take a picture of the sign indicating “Smeltzer’s Road” in honour of our cousin Lisa who is also visiting elsewhere on the island.

The sun comes out in the late afternoon again, and we soak up some of it on the deck. Dad barbeques the steaks we brought, which we eat with asparagus, salad and cooked cabbage and more wine.  Later, Cathy and I lurk our loved ones’ facebook picture albums while Chris makes a stop-motion movie with his camera and some of Grandpa’s jellybeans.

Tuesday the weather is dreary and chilly again, but Cathy and I brave a brisk walk out Lakeshore Road.  Then more reading.  And talking.  And Guinness and nacho chips and Cathy’s fresh made guacamole for Happy Hour.  Julie cooks up a mess of fish for dinner, which we have with green beans and wonderful salad.  We chat, and chat, and pick the remains of the salad and then all go to bed early.