Yo! Universe, Thanks Again

You can’t always get what you want but, if you try sometime, you just might find, you get what you need*

Advertisements

I was just telling a new friend of mine about how many times it has happened to me, in my life of 52 years, that the Universe has basically provided me exactly what I need…I mean, what I need has just dropped into my lap.  Pretty cool.  This post is about a few of those instances and how they happened and just how cool it is…

The most profound instance of this was the meeting of my husband.  At age 22, I had just driven solo across Canada from Comox, BC to Borden, Ontario to join the Basic Army Logistics Officers’ Course.

Day one, October 1988, I arrive at the school hallway with its long line of hooks under a very long hat shelf to hang up my Army Issue gabardine rain coat and to shelf my beret.  It was a wet and cool day.  I was trepidatious.  I didn’t know a soul on this course.  There were about sixty other young officers from all over Canada.  I am hanging up my coat facing left when a tall, dark and handsome green-eyed young officer hangs his coat beside mine. Catching my eye, he says a simple, “Hi” with a cute grin.  I completely melted and saw stars right then and there.  A feeling enveloped my being.  I knew that this guy, whatever his name was, would be very important to me.  Then he scored a perfect 100 on the opening placement exam and I gulped.  He was intelligent and gorgeous.  When I saw him kick a soccer ball and I realized that he was also athletic, oh my god

A year or so later, even though I did not ask to be posted to Germany (when everyone else did ask), both he and I got posted to Germany, same battalion, same company, working side by side as platoon commanders.  Coincidence?  I think not.  We have been married for 26 years.  Thank you Universe.

But what is amazing about this story is all the shit that had to go down before we actually met on that day at Logistics school, hanging up our coats.  You see, I had been at Waterloo University when my summer job money ran out and no one was able to help me.  I fetched about for a way to attend higher education. I wanted to qualify for a good career.  My mind came to the idea of joining the army and the many and in-depths steps that had to occur to get in and then take, tolerate and pass the brutal training…then the nightmare of military college…then a short posting to Comox…then the drive to Ontario then hanging up my coat beside my life-mate, enduring months of training and then a posting over-seas…together.  Jeezus.

So, many other much less spectacular things have happened too.  Just this week at a friend’s house.  She gives me a random book to read saying I will love it.  The next night at book club, finding out that that very book is the one we shall read next.

Needing a sleeping cot for my visiting family…verbalize this need to my hubby, (the same cute guy from Logistics school) while driving on a country road.  Thirty seconds later, my eye catches something on the side of the road.  It’s a perfectly fine sleeping cot. We pull over and put it in the back of the car.  Thank you Universe.

A competition is announced at Paddy’s Pub where I worked for a couple of years upon moving to Wolfville.  ‘Whomsoever signs up the most folks for a loyalty card shall win an IPOD.’  Those words were said and I knew in my being that I would win that IPOD.  It was the latest technology.  Friends were digitally storing their music and photos on them.  A month later I walked home with that new IPOD, feeling like it was a million bucks.  Thank you Universe.

At a high school basketball game, I paid for a 50 / 50 ticket and again that whole body feeling enveloped me.  An hour later I was called up to collect $90.  I know it was just 90 bucks but, what the hell.  My friend Layla is ALWAYS winning contests.  Me, not so much.  But, it’s that feeling of potential good fortune that I love.

I fell in love with our little bungalow while walking to the first day of school with Leo.  The feeling enveloped me again.  I knew that one day, we would live there.  Eight years later, after the previous owner had raised his family, we did.  It is quite the story, but, we are happy as clams there with its ample open space, closeness to trails and proximity to everything we need.

For over a decade, I practiced yoga by attending group classes, eating up as much mat time among community members as I could get.  Sometimes this got expensive as I was paying over $60 ++ per week on yoga classes.  When my new office was directly above a yoga studio again I felt the Universe providing for me.

I began to toy with the idea of becoming a yoga teacher.  My friend Melanie had gone to the Bahamas to study at the Ashram on Paradise Island.  Over a glass of wine and a hot tub soak after yoga at Daisy’s house, she told us of her experience being immersed in yoga.  Not once did I think I could do something like that. My search for a teacher training continued.  I tried out a lot of scenarios that would fit my family’s lifestyle.  One day, late in the afternoon, Melanie showed up at my office with her bike helmet.  It seems she had forgotten her bicycle after class.  She asked me what I was up to.  I told her I was on the hunt for a good, affordable yoga teacher training.  She said, ‘Why don’t you just go to the same Ashram I went to in the Bahamas?’

There is was again…Melanie forgot her bike after class (who forgets a bike while walking with their helmet tucked under their arm, right?), comes back, recommends this place to me.  The full-body feeling is there…this adventure will happen.  And so it did, twice, in fact!  The story is at this link.  Alas, I didn’t end up maintaining the teaching aspect of my yoga practice.  But, studying yoga in depth was incredible.  I learned that yoga is a lot of things, the least of which is attaining a yoga body and doing poses on a mat.

Said realization led me to the epiphany of the damages of self-loathing due to the pressures on mostly woman to achieve today’s body aesthetic.  That whole body feeling happened when I reached out to find help and it came in the form of a podcast called Life Unrestricted.  Thank you Universe.

Last one for ya…

At a wedding for my niece up in Ontario.  Dean, Leo and I have just driven for two days to Hunstville.  We prepare for an amazing wedding by two foodies where everything is over-the-top wonderful.  We dress and take the bus to the Summit building.  Suddenly I feel my head begin to pound with a headache.  If I don’t get an extra strength something soon, I will have to bow out of the festivities and I really did not want to do that!  You see, I adore dancing and socializing and being with my big fun family.  So, I began to quietly but frantically ask around.  There’s no jumping in a car to get to a drugstore.  Remember, we had bused to a remote area.  No one could help me.  Then my eyes fell on my sister.  I whispered to her that my head was aching and asked if she might have a pill.  She was carrying a tiny little black clutch purse.

She opened the purse.

There was nothing in there. Nada.

Except one little red pill.

An extra-strength pain-killer.  She plucked it out of her clutch purse and happily handed it to me with as much surprise on her expressive face as was on mine.  What possessed her to put one pill in a purse and carry it to the wedding?

There was that feeling again.  Thank you Universe.

universe

(Pictures found in google images…thank you!)

 

Remember to take a moment and leave a comment.  Comments are awesome!

 

*Songwriters: Keith Richards / Mick Jagger
You Can’t Always Get What You Want lyrics © Abkco Music, Inc

Connecting Moments

As I drove up the mountain to my friend’s house, to edit the final chapter, the CBC reporter on the radio announced, “Grief councillors are recommending people reach out to talk to each other for support.”

This post is a guest submission from my friend Sarah who is an incredible young mom of two beautiful children and wife of a lovely man.  At one time she was headed to be an astronaut!  Life took a turn, as it is known to do, and now she helps students as a Councillor at Acadia University.  Sarah is also an incredibly gifted yoga teacher who has studied under a Guru in India.  She is one of those friends who is so good, you hope it will rub off on you.  As you can tell, I cherish her.  Once I was speaking to her Dad who was in yoga class and I pointed out that he was visiting again from Ottawa, how nice.  He told me he needed to get his fix of his Sarah.  He missed her so much.  I think a tear rolled down my cheek when I returned to my mat, I was so touched by that.  A good Dad.

A couple of years ago, Sarah took up a pen and began to write.  Here is a submission which includes, in part, a tragedy that has just rocked this sea bound coastal province of Nova Scotia.

Almost a decade ago, when I had a horrible set-back with psychosis, after yoga class one evening I asked Sarah, whom I barely knew then, if she would come to my house and sit with me because I was feeling very badly.  She came and sat quietly by me while I tried desperately to quiet my mind.  I remember thinking that she was an angel.

Here is Sarah’s story:

            I actually just tasted my coffee. Like, tasted the taste of it. Since beginning my new job counselling in September, I have been drinking coffee routinely as I start my work day; I’m not sure I’ve even been tasting it. Now, its delicious: hot, smooth, with a slightly heavy and bitter finish. Can I really taste the rose that’s described on the tasting notes on the bag under the fist being pumped into the air: Viva La Resistencia! coffeebag.pngMy partner visits these grower co-ops and walks the steep mountain sides to pick the berries after being awoken at 4 a.m. when the women rise to begin making the tortillas to fuel the next day’s harvest. How does that raised fist live in them? Do they ever taste their coffee?

And no, I can’t taste the rose…but I can taste berries.

Plus, I got the amount of milk perfect: it’s the exact shade of my mother’s and grandmother’s tea.

“Shall we put the kettle on?” was always their way of coming together, of making time, of soothing the fatigue of so much caring; a moment to offer something back to themselves, together. I wonder how often they tasted it?

             Before making my coffee, I was meditating on my purple kidney-shaped cushion, my grey tea-cosy-shaped toque on my head, my grandmother’s light blue knit afghan on my lap.  The fire crackled. I felt my breath—short, ragged—and I couldn’t get my head into the right position. Translate: I felt a lot of unpleasant sensations in my neck and where the back of my skull meets my spine. I experimented with small adjustments: it didn’t really change. I lifted the eyebrows above my eye and ears (if there were ones there too), and the muscles on the top of my head lifted off like a helmet: relief! Then they immediately returned, as though they needed to protect my head, in case I randomly tripped and fell.

            And yet, it felt so good to be sitting, early in the day, quiet. And it felt good because of what preceded it: three snow days in a row, a busy weekend, my partner leaving for a conference, and my parents-in-law taking my son, so that I woke up in bed with my daughter curled up tightly behind me, almost pushing me off of the bed this morning, got her on her bus, and then on a Monday, I find myself alone at home with a day to myself.

teacup

            With my perfect cup of coffee beside me, I sit down to write, and a bird lands outside my window, just out of sight, and when it ruffles its feathers one of its wings appears in the window. I stand up and lean over my desk to press the side of my face to the window trying to see it. It’s gone. When I look down, I see a little dead army of lady-bug-look-a-likes that appear on the window sills in the top floor of our house this time of year– smaller, more spots than their famous counterparts — some of which have curled up in a ball, some rolled over, some with their wings spread as they colonize the sill.  Why are there so many dead insects in my writing space? Because writing time is too precious to spending vacuuming them up.

            I sit back down. Outside, a chickadee hops, flutters, from frozen broccoli plant to frozen broccoli plant, then onto the bare kale stalks in the next bed that look like mini palm trees, but in the snow. I ate one of the frozen baby heads of broccoli that were still left on the plant yesterday: soft and sweet. Beside the broccoli are three frozen heads of cauliflower, bowing down towards the snow with their frozen weight. How could I have missed them?! Not to mention the garlic, which is still sitting in a silver bowl in our back hall, waiting, waiting, more patiently than I, as I raked the snow off of the bed yesterday hoping it might melt more quickly. I may have to use precious greenhouse space if it doesn’t melt.      

            I have just finished co-writing a chapter of a about succulent sustainability: how does making use of precious greenhouse space for garlic make any sense? As I drove up the mountain to my friend’s house, to edit the final chapter, the CBC reporter on the radio announced, “Grief councillors are recommending people reach out to talk to each other for support.”

            “Mom, can you turn the radio off?” my nearly-seven year old daughter asked from the back seat.

            “Of course,” I said, looking back in my rearview mirror to see her serious face beneath a grey slouchy toque that’s standing straight up. I suddenly remembered that she also absorbs the news, only the holes in her sieve are bigger.

            “It’s just so sad all the time,” she says.

            “I know,” I say, looking back at her again. Our eyes meet.

            “Did you hear the part about the little girl?” I asked.

            She nods, “What happened?”

            “Well, she was at the Santa Claus parade and she was running beside one of the floats, and she must have slipped and fell and got hit.” I paused. “Like hit by a car, and she died.”

            She nodded very seriously.

            “What also feels really sad to me,” I said, “Is that there were so many people who saw it. They were right there, but it happened so fast that no one could do anything about it.”

            The weight of the non-reversal of time, of finality, hovered between us. In a little over 24 hours later, when she found herself stuck in the washing machine, while I pulled on one of her legs, trying to birth her from it, she might feel it again.

            “Who was it?” she asks.

            “I don’t know yet. They often don’t release the name until the family has been able to tell others on their own time. Once we know, do you think we should send the family something?” I asked.

            “Do you know them?” she asked.

            “No, but it would be nice to send them a card just the same.”

             Two weeks ago, I sat down with five students in our weekly mindfulness group at Acadia in the basement of the chapel.  We are facing each other in a circle, sitting on bolsters, cushions. I am sitting on a block, hard under my sitting bones. We have sat for 20 minutes, walked for 5, and sat again. My instructions are body-focused: how do we come into direct contact with the body? Can we feel particular sensations without constructing a narrative; can we feel directly rather than through an image?

            My students have asked me to speak about positive body image in relation to what we’ve been practicing.

            I’m not sure I’m the one to do this. The person I think of as being qualified stands in the mirror, praising themselves with how they look, satisfied, content, untouchable by self-doubt, self-consciousness, social pressures. I laugh. I did feel like that once, but that version of myself was perhaps the most confused, and could never speak to this or imagine the place that I am at now.

            This has been a major area of practice for me. And, for the first time, it feels like an invitation I can meet. The night before I had an initiation dream: metal pikes pierced through my toes.

            Fifteen year before, I rolled out my orange yoga mat on the tatami floor of our Shikoku apartment, four patches of my mat worn thin where my hands and feet landed in downward dog. Part of my practice was driven towards maintaining my body at a particular size (in a determination, I see now, to avoid painful feelings of shame, which I also now appreciate as a measure of how deeply we care), and simultaneously I was seeing, really seeing, painfully seeing, and experimenting to figure out how to work with the way controlling my body in this way was impacting me. The practice was simultaneously co-opted by my patterns, while also letting me see them….actually, I think that’s exactly how it’s supposed to work: entangled and healing, at the same time. This practice was it for me: learning to see what was happening, feeling it directly, so that I could attend to what was happening.

            Sitting with the group, my chest is fluttering, and my mind is trying to take the reins, but I keep coming back to my breath, to the firmness of the block..

            In these moments, my own struggles are a gift. The same way that my perfect cup of coffee came together this morning, so did these struggles. All of these conditions make it impossible to control, and hard to find somewhere to place blame; all of these conditions are so helpful because there are so many entry points to healing.

            Two weeks ago a dear friend wrote on her facebook post, on her 22nd birthday, about her struggles with eating as a teen. When I wrote her a message about how I deeply admired her courage, she wrote back thanking me for being a support towards healing. At that time, it took the form of coming over to snuggle with a baby and drink chamomile tea while wrestling through pre-calculus problems at our kitchen table.

            Now, it’s a group waiting for me to begin.

            “So,” I began, “I was asked to talk about positive body image and how it relates to what we’ve been practicing. And, what I might suggest, what if we’re to leave the image altogether? What if, instead,we use this practice to help us cultivate a relationship that’s curious, caring, mutual, attuned? What if we notice and make space for pleasure?”    

             Thomas Merton said, “The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them”.

                As I sat this morning, a faint squeaking of metal and scuttle of little feet arose. There was a mouse inside the bottom of the stove, shitting and storing food in the metal runners of the bottom drawer. I opened my eyes and banged on the floor three times: “I’m here!” my banging proclaimed, asserting my presence.

            It was silent for a few minutes. I realized how loud and terrifying the sound must have been to the mouse. I settled back on my breath feeling annoyed about the mess under the stove and ashamed for my reaction. A few minutes later, I heard it again, but without the metal clinking. I opened my eyes and saw its tail hanging out of a little crack beside the dishwasher. The tail bobbed up and down once, and then disappeared. I smiled. I closed my eyes, settled again. When I got up a few minutes later and put on the kettle for coffee, I got down on my hands and knees to look for the hole. It’s only about 3 or 4 mm wide. How did it do that? I looked around at the floor under the overhang of the cupboards. Ugh. I’d have to clean the floors, but for now, I stuck with making my coffee.       

By Sarah Smolkin

penny beach (2)

 

 

(Photos by moi, except for the fist on the coffee bag which is from JustUs Coffee Roasters in Grand Pre, Nova Scotia and the coffee cup is from google images. Thank you!)

 

It is a very special thing to receive your comments…go ahead.  Leave a comment~

The Best Job in The World – Mom

Our son, Leo, came into this world in a bit of a nightmare situation back in 1999 but, regardless, he was one of the easiest children ever to raise and to love.  He challenged us a bit with court-room type drama once in a while but, it seemed it was mostly for good reasons.  He ended up being our only child, even though we hadn’t planned it that way, and funny, since both Dean and I come from large families.

Baby Leo (2)

He never once got into anything or made huge messes.  Never opened the cupboard under the sink or dismantled the chandelier like his Uncle Jobe. He would ask me daily for his nap time saying, ‘Nap now, Mum’ as he put his chubby hands together by his right ear and tilted his head as if it was his pillow (the American Sign Language sign for bedtime).  He would then sleep for about three hours.

So, this one crisp autumn day, we were running around on a country soccer pitch with our two big Northern dogs, Delta and Grizzly.  Leo was wearing his blue hooded, hand-knitted sweater from Nanny in Newfoundland.  We had this old soccer ball that Dean was eager for Leo to fall in love with, soccer being Dean’s passion.

The dogs were racing around.  Leo was racing around.  I was watching Leo’s every move (as was my normal then).

Suddenly, from about 50 feet away, Dean passes that soccer ball to Leo.  Let me rephrase that.  Dean hauled off and belted that soccer ball toward Leo.  There was 2-year old toddler Leo.  Watching that ball sail toward him.  It became slo-mo for a sec, and then WHAP!   Leo caught it right on the middle of his smooth, baby,  forehead.  His blond head snapped back slightly and then forward again.

I screamed, ‘YOU ASSHOLE’!  At Dean for doing this to my baby.  We raced to him.  I picked up Leo expecting major tears.

He didn’t even cry.

Dean was mortified.  He hadn’t expected the ball to fly at Leo’s forehead.

***

After our move to the Annapolis Valley, our Leo being about four years old then, we started off in a duplex up on Pleasant St as was told in this story: A Simple East Coast Life.  So, at the time, Leo was usually getting up in the middle of the night to get a drink and to pee.  He would routinely wake me up to let me know what was going on with him.  This one day, I kindly explained to Leo that it would be perfectly fine if he were to get up and do his thing without disturbing me and also without tripping over the dogs where they would inevitably lay in the doorway of our bedroom (the bathroom being across the hall).  The power of plain language is going to be highlighted here.

That night, middle of the night, Leo gets up and taps me on the shoulder, ‘Mommy, I don’t want to disturb you but, I am going to get a drink and go pee’.  I claw myself out of a deep sleep to acknowledge my mistake (he didn’t know what ‘disturb’ meant!)  While I’m at it, I remind him not to trip over the dogs.

Well, he stepped successfully over the fur-heads enroute to the bathroom.  I hear him do his pee.  I hear him fill the water cup, sip, then, step, step, step…

OOOOOPH…

splash!!

Scurry of large dogs away from the wet spill.

‘Sorry Mommy.  I tripped and spilled my water.’

All this time, Dean is still snoring.  Men.

***

First year of University, in our same town.  Leo is eighteen now and in residence.  One day, early on, I get a text:

‘Mom, I’m gonna need another towel asap.’

Leo was always a pretty confident guy.  Always pretty sure that every need and necessity would be met.  Living on his own was going to be a bit of a curve.

***

Leo to his dad by text, ‘hope I’m not pushing my luck with this one but could you get mom to give me some new linens for me to put on my bed?’ (Keep in mind that I have asked him to bring his linens home to wash each week.  He did it once in six months.)

***

This year, in a house with five guy roommates:

‘mom, can I cook this frozen pizza in a microwave?’

Me: ‘no honey.  In the Oven.’

Leo: ‘I don’t think there is  an oven.’

Me thinking, how does one not notice an oven?

***

‘ok so keven and I left a bunch of dishes in the dishwasher for way too long and now they’re all moldy, what should we do?’

***

‘the lightbulb in my bathroom stopped working, any tips on the fix’

***

He had this way of hearing and observing me and drawing conclusions.  Like this one day when he was four, we went to a friend’s house who had just been brushing his teeth, with the residual paste on his lips.  I asked, ‘did we catch you at a bad time?’

A few days later, a canvasser comes to our front door.  Leo and I go to the door together, as was our way then.  We open the door to find a man with a tie and clip board but, he also had a bit of white toothpaste on the side of his mouth.  Leo asks me: ‘Mommy, did we catch him at a bad time?’  It was weird, but I knew instantly why my little guy would ask that.

***

One final one for ya… this one day, Leo was very disappointed because he wasn’t allowed to go for a play with a friend because something else was going on.  He began to cry pretty hard in disappointment.  His face red.  I said, ‘Buddy? Are you going to be okay?’  Leo looks at me straight on and says: ‘I’m having a hard time’.  He had overheard me say this to a friend who was sad.

Make no mistake about it.  Being a mom is the best thing I have ever done.  The best gift I have ever received was a precious little guy to raise and love and form a family with.

(Photos taken by me)

Remembering Matt

Wilson L. Matthew Jan 14, 1966 – Dec 1, 2003
brother, uncle, teacher and friend
Nothing loved is ever lost and he was loved so much

After reading the previous post by Al Kinsella about the loss of his father, Eric commented about the power of the poem Al had written.  I took the opportunity to then ask Eric if he had a story for my blog and here is what he offered.  It is a story about a mutual friend who lost his life suddenly and way too early.
A guest submission by Eric van Wesenbeeck:
Writing this was a way of dealing with the grief of a lost friend, who left us way too early in life…

 

A while ago, I was invited to a surprise birthday party for Jim’s mother. Jim O is an old high school friend whom I still keep in touch with. In fact, we were neighbours for a few years when our kids where just young and even now we live in the same town. A mutual friend of ours, Matt, planned to come up to Barrie for the weekend to join the Saturday evening festivities. Matt lived in Bradford where he worked at his dream job as a high school English/Drama teacher. We saw Matt a few times a year when he would come to Barrie to visit friends and I looked forward to seeing him again, soon.

He first came to our house for dinner with me, my wife, Chris and our three kids. As always, Matt brought his old guitar with him and entertained the kids (okay, all of us) with a few of the hundreds of songs he had filed away in that jukebox brain of his. Afterwards, we headed off, guitar in hand, to Jim’s parents’ house for the party. On the way, Matt and I chewed the fat, toasting our common interest in music and pop culture, savouring the latest gossip of our many mutual old high school friends and digesting hearty servings of what life had recently dished up for the two of us. Matt had just broken up with his latest girlfriend and, although he hid it well, I could tell he was heartbroken. Matt had had a few serious relationships but unfortunately for him, none had worked out in the long term. I figured the evening’s party may be a convenient distraction for Matt on what may have otherwise been a cold, lonely November Saturday night.

We had great time at this Irish birthday party and a happy surprise it was for Jim’s mother! Her friends and relatives from Ireland, New York City and next door joined in to celebrate. The Irish beer and whiskey flowed and it wasn’t long before the atmosphere in the rec-room had transformed to that of an Irish pub with card games, darts, billiards, laughter and song. Ah yes, song. One of Jim’s aunts sang a few haunting Irish folk songs that mesmerized the gathering. Of course, Matt had brought in his guitar and it wasn’t long before he had many of us singing along as he pounded out the chords on his trusty Gibson six-string. As he wound down his “set”, Matt called me over to help him sing the next song, “I’m One” by the Who. Going back over twenty years to grade eleven, the love of music was something that closely bonded Matt and me. The only difference was that he could play and sing it – I could most definitely NOT. Consequently, I awkwardly stumbled through the verses and then enthusiastically helped Matt belt out the chorus in my tone-deaf voice. We had a great time.

Later that evening, as the revelry wound down, Matt drove me back home. Before leaving to crash for the night at Jim’s house, Matt stood in my driveway with me and we chatted for a long time. Matt was usually up-beat and lighthearted and rarely exposed his darker corners but that night he was particularly reflective and nostalgic and it seemed, just a little melancholy. Chronic health problems had caused him several setbacks in life, back as far as I could remember. He divulged to me a drug habit that he had only recently wrestled into control. He lamented that yet another relationship had failed. He felt that he was missing out on a certain part of life as he watched his friends get married and raise families of their own. Matt loved kids and I think he longed to be a father. I felt bad for Matt and tried to comfort him with my words. I reminded him of all the kids at school who loved him – he was an extremely popular teacher because of his gift for connecting with the students with whom he was so involved. I reminded him of all his siblings and the many nieces and nephews who looked up to “Uncle Matt”. I (regretfully) suppressed an urge to reach out and give him a hug. It was getting late, so Matt, feeling a little comforted, hopped in the car and drove across town to Jim’s house.

As Matt drove away and I made my way to bed, the tune “I’m One” kept playing in my head. I hadn’t listened to that album in years and Matt’s rendition of it had rekindled the flame I carried for this old “favorite band”. The next day, I pulled my “Quadrophenia” CD out of the dusty archives and threw it in my car for future listening.

Two weeks later, on a Monday morning while at work, I got a call from Jim. Jim somberly announced to me that our friend Matt had passed away. I sat in silence, stunned. Jim explained that Matt had gone to the hospital by himself on the weekend, not feeling well. He must have been feeling awful because with all his past health problems Matt had spend too much time in hospitals and now hated going there. He wouldn’t go unless he really wasn’t well. He passed away two nights later with congestive heart failure. Just like that, Matt was gone. I was shaken and had to leave work to clear my head. I got in the car and drove to the lakeshore and stared silently out onto the foreboding gray waters. I thought about Matt. About the conversation we had only two weeks ago. About the years we had spent together in school. About the music, friends, parties, camaraderie and life we had shared. I remembered him singing recently at the party. I loaded the CD I had left in the car and listened to “I’m One”. I listened to the track again and again. Suddenly, the lyrics spoke to me with such clarity. Matt had sung them so passionately and now I knew why. This angst ridden song of a misfit trying so hard to fit in somewhere and be “someone”, reflected perfectly what Matt was feeling. Matt felt he was only “one” and he wanted so badly to be more than that…

matt grave

It’s seems to me, that Matt never realized that he had, in fact, become more than that. There were over 400 people at his visitation, funeral and interment. Standing room only. Many were students, who felt like they had lost a big brother. Through his classroom enthusiasm and antics, his passionate dramatic creations and his rousing participation in floor hockey, Matt had so closely touched so many students. Matt was awarded, posthumously, an award for teaching excellence. A student achievement award was created and named in his honour.

I won’t easily forget Matt. I visit his grave occasionally and take a few moments to recognize all the good things in my life, even if, at that moment, things may seem kind of bleak. I remind myself to enjoy each day to the fullest because each one is precious and a chance to leave a positive impression on those I meet. In the end, we are all just “one” and that’s really not so bad, is it?

~Submission and photo by Eric van Wesenbeeck…thank you)

__________________________________

For me, Matt was one of those school friends that I met in kindergarten in 1971 and besides grade 10, we spent our all of our school days together right up until grade 13.  Matt and I served on the student’s council at St Mary’s together, we hung out in groups on weekends and we played ball on the paved (yes, paved) yard at recess, after school and sometimes on weekends.  Matt loved ball.  He knew all the calls the hand signs the lingo.  He could be very dramatic and it was contagious.  We lived a couple of streets away from each other and attended the same masses at St Mary’s church.  Losing Matt felt like a blow to my stomach and a dark inner pain that just wouldn’t stop.  Dean, Leo and I were in Honduras on Roatan when I received the email from Flo that Matt had died. ‘WHAT??’ I exclaimed and my fist flew to my mouth with the shock of the news.  When you are school friends for so many years, back when people just did not move away, you really got to know someone and it is profound how much they feel like a part of you.  How well they knew and understood you.  They would just have to.  Matt used to call me ‘Marth’ and he was the only one who would.  I’ll never forget him.  He was a good friend and will always be missed.  Go well Matt.  Rest in Peace.

 

I’m One
Every year is the same
And I feel it again
I’m a loser, no chance to win
Leaves start fallin’
Come down is callin’
Loneliness starts sinking in
But I’m one
I am one
And I can see
That this is me
And I will be
You’ll all see
I’m the one
Where do you get
Those blue, blue jeans
Faded, patched secret so tight?
Where do you get
That walk oh so lean?
Your shoes and your shirt’s all just right
I’m one
I am one
And I can see
That this is me
And I will be
You’ll all see
I’m the one
I got a Gibson
Without a case
But I can’t get that even tanned look on my face
Ill fitting clothes
And I blend in the crowd
Fingers so clumsy
Voice too loud
But I’m one
I am one
And I can see
That this is me
And I will be
You’ll all see
I’m the one
I’m the one
I’m the one
Songwriters: Peter Den

 

While Sitting At Your Grave

Though things we knew not how
When it was clear and loud
I hope you’re watching now
I hope we do you proud….
~Allen Kinsella

Guest writer Al Kinsella…

Here is a poem I wrote a few years ago on a Nov 6th. Today would have been my father’s birthday. It would always require a visit to the cemetery where I do a ton of thinking. Well it’s that day again today – he has been gone for 6 years now and here is a poem I wrote in 2015 while sitting at his grave.

 

I thought of you today

I know you’re no longer here

Had so much left to say

I say in thoughts and tears

 

The more I think things different

The more they just don’t change

I find I’m more and more like you

is it funny or is it strange?

 

Though things we knew not how

When it was clear and loud

I hope you’re watching now

I hope we do you proud

 

Not a day goes by I don’t realize

You would never not bother

I think of you daily to my surprise

Happy Birthday Dad my Father

 

Although on this special day

when you are not here to celebrate

Watch over us and pray

And make our worlds illuminate!

 

 

 

*****

Photo by me (not Al)

Fire on the Rifle Range

Again I realized that there are some of us who need to lead but, there are more of us who just want to follow

In my early twenties, I was posted to Lahr, Germany.  Initially I was a transportation platoon commander in Supply and Transport Company in 4 Service Battalion in the Canadian Army.  To put it simply, I had a platoon of 30 soldiers who drove MAN 10-ton trucks (these bad boys, as seen below)

10 ton Man

which would carry supplies: ammunition, water, rations, various needed items, and spare parts for forward fighting troops and other support units within the Brigade. During peace time, we conducted training operations such as weapons use, field exercises and fitness competitions to improve morale, esprit-de-corps and to prepare for future deployments. As the Platoon Commander, I routinely conducted all manner of administrative duties, personnel evaluations and reports, test and inspection readiness, subordinate training, orders groups, equipment maintenance checks, and many other duties in accordance with my rank and position.

For the weapons aspect, a couple of times per year, we would all dispatch by military road move (huge convoys of jeeps, light and heavy trucks, trailers, kitchen trucks and the like) to a Gun Camp in Valdahon, France for two weeks of training on the shooting ranges.

While there, we were assigned to a room and a cot in one part of the camp.  The other two-thirds of the place was inhabited by French and German units.  We shared the mess hall with them and as such, had opportunities to observe them.  Our uniforms kept us together as a unit but apart from them. It was interesting to consistently see and remember this all this time later, that the Germans were the physically largest of us all.  The French were the smallest and we, the Canadians, were right in the middle. The female soldiers were almost always the smallest of all and there were only a few dozen women there in total, myself included.

As an illustration of one aspect of being a female officer, while there, one of my colleagues, a fellow officer no less, decided he would make a move on me.  I hadn’t yet started to date Dean (the guy I was completely in love with but hadn’t been able to solidify a relationship with…yet) so this guy figured he could go for it.  He cornered me in my barrack room and started to physically block me from leaving.  He had this creepy look on his face.  It dawned on me that I was alone in this huge old building with him.  I was going to have to get defensive if he tried anything.  So, with two hands on his chest, I pushed him back and told him I wasn’t interested.  He seemed surprised.  He didn’t bother me again, but, can you image thinking that that tactic would work?

So back to the story at hand…

this one day, I was on the rifle range with a couple dozen soldiers.  I used to really enjoy shooting on the range.  The controlled breathing.  The focus.  The single-mindedness of it.  There was nothing but the trigger and the target.  Nothing.  I would take position.  Take preliminary aim.  Exhale slowly.  Hold it.  Confirm aim.  Squeeze the trigger.  Check.  Repeat.  Writing this in my fifties, I am there again.

There was a sergeant who was in command of this particular range, of which there were many in this training area.  Technically I outranked him but on shooting ranges, the ranking soldier is the one in command of the range and wore an arm band indicating this.  He had done a specialized course to be qualified to command the range.  This guy was a know-it-all, loud mouth with an attitude from Cape Breton, as was apparent by his accent.  I have always found the Cape Breton lilt to be endearing.  Not on this guy.

prone shooting
These are US troops shooting on a small arms range in prone position, just to give an idea of what it looks like. (I didn’t have a camera back in 1990, sorry)

Anyways, we were there shooting our C7 semi-automatic assault rifles and I, my Browning 9 mm pistol as well, and enjoying a hot, very dry day.  It was so bright that it was actually hard to see our targets and the holes we made in them, from where we lay in a line in prone position.  Then Sergeant Attitude says he’s going to get out the tracer rounds in order to be able to see our target shooting better.

It’s too dry for tracer! I thought, with alarm.

Tracer is a training round that has a small, burning, highly visible pyrotechnic flame coming out of its back end.  It is like shooting lit matches down the range.  The kind of matches that don’t extinguish easily.

Alas, I didn’t say anything to dispute the idea and then someone shot tracer and started a field fire almost instantly.

Next thing we know the whole Battalion is out chaotically fighting fires in acres and acres of dry-as-tinder hay.  We worked for hours, burning and blackening ourselves, ruining uniforms and boots and breathing a lot of smoke.  Water trucks eventually showed up but the village was ill equipped for such a huge fire.  I recall a water tank truck with a little garden hose type attachment spitting out drops of water.  Grampa Dalton would have said, ‘Don’t send a boy to do a man’s job‘.  He was usually referring to a trick in the nightly card games of Euchre but, that’s what I thought when I saw that water truck. Finally, proper fire trucks arrived from a city and we were stood-down.  We ate, drank a few beers, showered and hit the rack (army-speak for bed).

I pondered the hours of fighting the field fire and the exact moment I found my command voice.  When I would see a soldier not knowing what to do, or not moving fast enough to help, I would loudly encourage him or her to

‘MOVE IT’!

‘COME OVER HERE’!

‘TAKE THIS RUG TO THAT PATCH OF FIRE, SOLDIER’!

And… they responded to me.  Little ole new-to-the-Battalion me.  It was invigorating and felt right, like I was falling into step.  Again I realized that there are some of us who need to lead but, there are more of us who just want to follow.

As far as I know, nothing was ever investigated about the use of tracer rounds on a hot and dry day in Valdahon, France in the ’90s.

I often wondered though if the fire would have happened had I just opened my mouth.

 

 

(Pictures found on google images.  Thank you.)

Ode To The Joy Of A Parents’ Love

A poem by my eldest sister about the simple recipe of loving, guiding and nurturing a child…

parents with child on beach

Cradled warm

Soothing care

Guiding hand

Nudging gently

Show me a child adored

And I’ll show you

Peace in the world

Happiness in our homes

A positive definition of self

Everyone will want some

Yes, it’s a simple recipe!

~by Eva Player

 

 

(Images found on google images.  Thank you.)

 

 

Bare Foot Summers

Summers in the 70s lived by the soles of our feet, lakeside

My family had this amazing situation: the seven of us (my brothers and sisters and I) plus our parents.  We would leave the city behind for the two months of the summer and move two hours car ride north to the lake.  At the lake, we would shed our footwear and mostly run around bare foot.  It was incredible.  We were fleet of foot.  We would run through the tender green hay in the early summer which would be blond and tall by the late summer.

When I ponder that aspect of my childhood, I remember the immense sense of fortune at having this place as a retreat every summer and, when not doing morning chores, the sense of freedom and connection with nature that we all shared.

Most days, I would live in my bathing suit…no sunscreen, EVER – we didn’t even know what that was.  No hat, no sunglasses, no shirt, and as stated, no shoes.

Our lakeside acres had patches of earth that I knew to always be damp and mossy.  Patches that were warm and dry.  Tough prickly grass in the big fields.  Slimy slippery rocks like the ones on the path by cabin #1.  Annoyingly painful gravel of the camp roads which would pry an ‘ouch!’ and a hobble out of me every time.  The thick green moist grass outside of Grampa’s kitchen window where the sink water drained. The wet grainy sand of the beach as I would wade in for a swim, digging my toes in and enjoying the sensation.  The soft tufts of maiden grass that grew in the yard up by the porch of #2 cabin.  The baked planks of the redwood-painted docks.  The bottom of the canoe as we would catch frogs in the cove and the sensation of gliding over water that I felt through the fiberglass.

I knew these things because I detected them with the soles of my feet time and again as I would nimbly move over our twenty lakeside acres all summer.  Once, riding on the shoulders of my eldest sister’s future husband Peter, he remarked that I had leather-bottom feet. I shrugged.  It was my normal.

I was betrayed by them a few times, my bare feet: I knew the agony of a piercing by a hawthorn, stepped on absentmindedly, chubby arms crossed across my round belly, shivering from swimming for hours, as I made my small way past the tool shed.  I cried and bawled unabashedly with the pain, like little children do, and neighbours took me to have it removed by a doctor, such was my carrying on with it. (Mom and Dad were in town so the Pattersons came to my rescue – read a funny account of my brother Mark and the Pattersons in this story: The Camp).

Another betrayal of my barefoot days is in this story: Barefoot Heathens in which my Father forbids the ‘going to town’ barefoot.  We had been discouraged from ruining our school shoes which would be passed down from older siblings until they were worn and gone.

My brother Jobe and I would race through the tall hay in the lower field arriving at the frog pond slowly, lest we scare the frogs away.  We would creep the edges and wade carefully to grab an unsuspecting frog by its tiny waist just above its powerful legs.  Now and then, our bare feet would betray us and one of us would slip down the slick clay bank of the frog pond and into its stagnant waters, the stink and slime on our skin.  Once, we found ourselves a baby snapping turtle in that pond.  Just the once.  We held it like an Oreo cookie while it stretched its neck, beak and clawed feet doing its best to injure us while we ooohed and ahhed at how tiny and cute it was.  Then carefully letting it dive back into its swampy home, as we did with all the little pond frogs we caught.  (This wasn’t what we would do with the big, meaty bullfrogs we would catch in the cove though.  Those guys became breakfast and a crisp dollar bill from the Pattersons for helping to quiet the cove where their tent trailer sat.  The dozens of bullfrogs would ‘ribbit’ their love songs loudly all night long.)

These days, decades later, I find myself in my fifties and marvel at how we were back then.  Mostly carefree.  Mostly enjoying the simple things in life.  We wouldn’t use a telephone all summer.  Now we can’t be without one for a minute, carrying it on our person like it is a lifeline.

We would actually write letters on paper, stuffed into carefully addressed and licked 8 cent stamps on the envelopes, to friends in the city.  S.W.A.K. loudly printed on the back flap: ‘Sealed With A Kiss’.  If we were lucky, we would receive a hand-written letter from them a couple of weeks later, delivered by the mail truck guy into the big old aluminum mail box at the top of the gravel road.  Its red flag up and encouraging us to come. Scurrying barefoot to check the mailbox each day until finally it was there: a letter for me!  Savouring its every word and studying the envelope for clues as to when it was mailed from the city.  The impossibility of receiving news from two hundred miles away.

Times sure have changed as I am about to post this story and knowing that it can be read world wide, in the blink of an eye.  I am ever so glad to have made those simple but priceless memories at the lake, and through the soles of my leather-bottom feet.

 

IMG_1753 (1)

 

(photo courtesy of google images and the last one was taken by my hubby)

My Bad Little Girl Summer

A bite of scorched popcorn brings to mind the taste of Du Maurier cigarettes smoked the summer I was 8 years old, over four decades ago…

When I was eight years old my brother Mark taught me how to smoke.  He preferred Du Maurier which, at the time, were 75 cents a pack. He even gave me the confidence to buy them. I was to tell the store owner that they were for my Uncle.  Things being the way they were then, this actually worked.  Never mind that I was a little girl and that I was apparently sent to buy cigarettes by a loved uncle.

The other day, forty-four years later, I was biting into scorched popcorn and there it was.  The forgotten taste of Du Maurier and all the memories of my ‘bad little girl’ summer when I tried my best to keep up with two of my older brothers and all of their mischievous adventures.  That was the summer I learned how to lie to Mom and Dad and to be devious.  I was normally a very well behaved child, so this new-found deviousness was a somewhat bitter pill of guilt and subsequent worry.

We would run through the field of long blond hay and go up to the abandoned barn next to our lake-side property where we spent every summer.  There was an ancient hemp rope tied way up in the loft of the barn rafters.  We would swing on that rope and then let go with abandon and tumble into the very dry hay below, our woops mostly held in due to the danger of being found out and sound carrying so well anywhere near the lake.  Going into the barn was trespassing.  We were forbidden by Dad to go there, but, we went there almost every day anyway.  It was fabulously fun and exciting.

Later that summer, a large family arrived to rent #2 cabin for three weeks and we all became friends.  Mark thought Maureen was quite something.  She was very friendly and kind to me even though she was a teenager.  When I told her that Mark liked her, she blushed and lowered her dark lashes and head of shiny hair.  We were swimming at the time and so carried on with our game of back flips in the water.  After that though, suddenly our simple swinging on the hemp rope turned into heated games of ‘spin the bottle’ and ‘strip poker’.

Maureen’s Dad had a pick-up truck and he would take a dozen of us into town to get ice-cream.  Clutching a shiny quarter each, we would stand in the back of the pick-up, the little ones holding tight to the teens while the pick-up would bounce over the camp roads and then onto the highway to Maggie River, two miles away.  Racing down the pretty country road, over the Trouble River bridge, bugs hitting us full tilt, eyes squinted while our hair parted crazily in the whistling wind.  No shoes, no shirt, no hat, no sunglasses, no sunscreen, no cellphone.  It was a carefree time.

At night we would have huge campfires with s’mores (graham crackers, chocolate and browned marshmallows) or we would boil corn and roast wieners on sticks or pop some popcorn, drinking spring water (fetched from the artesian spring down the road) directly from a huge thermos on the picnic table, bending and turning our heads to allow the cool water to splash right into our mouths.  No bottled water.  It wasn’t invented yet.  We would sing all the old songs and there would always be a couple of guitars.  The children would sit on blankets near the fire and the adults would be on the chairs or a stump of wood with a stubby of Molsen Golden. Many times I fell asleep by the campfire and one of my older brothers or sisters would wake me when it was time to go.

We would look up at the night sky to see a gazillion stars twinkling and then a lonesome loon would call on the lake.  In the field the fireflies would flash, lighting our way to our beds. The copious crickets singing us to sleep. It was magical.

On rainy days we would play card games in one of the cabins or, sometimes we would play large games of Monopoly for hours or Rummoli and Euchre.  No screens.  Not a single one there in cottage country, not in 1974.

Other nights we would go around and gather all the kids, a couple of dozen all hailing from different cabins of large families.  Then we would start a game of ‘sardines’.  One kid would run and hide somewhere in the forest of the 20 lake-side acres.  Then we would run around and try to find the hiding person.  We would squish in with him or her, thus: sardines.  Often I would play this game in bare-feet.  My feet were very tough from the weeks of running shoe-less.

Behind all of the fun, that summer, was my guilt at now being a ‘smoker’ with a two-smoke per week habit.  I felt sick about it and just wanted to quit. Thankfully I found quitting a pretty easy task.  I just stopped.  My brother Mark however went on to smoke cigarettes for several decades.  Thankfully he has now joined the ranks of non-smokers.

I don’t blame my brothers for dragging me into their mischief back then.  Again, all this stuff had to happen to get me where I am today, in a happy life with a wonderful, albeit, small, family.  It’s just that sometimes I think back on these things and can barely believe we lived that way.  I haven’t exaggerated it either.  Today we live so differently.  Our controlled, safety-concerned, washed and dried lives of today where we now have to teach our children how to play outside.

Campfire-and-Lake

High School Out Trip🛶🏕

In Grade 12, there was this out trip that we all participated in.  It was a several day canoe and portage adventure trip up in Killarney National Park and it was meant to be a fun, team-building, learning experience.  It was also somewhat of a survival experience and, for me, a challenge to remain positive and friendly no matter what the weather was doing.

The preparatory meetings began.  ‘All grade 12s going on the Out Trip with Mrs Ducky, report to classroom 105 for a planning meeting’.  All of us gathered from the four corners of the school.  We found a seat and glanced around.  The atmosphere in the room was palpable with hormones, comparisons and expectation of fun to come.  Mrs Ducky ensured that each of the forty or so of us made contributions to the planning.  What needs to be packed.  How to pack it (in plastic bags just in case it rains).  What to expect (an arduous journey) and the timings and itinerary for the trip, including car pooling and who would be in each canoe.

When we finally got up to Killarney National Park, we were ready for the adventure ahead.  We piled into our crafts and were told to stick together, lest we get lost.  Mrs Ducky and Mr Watson should remain within site, they told us.  It was huge water surrounded by vast wilderness and craggy rocks and with many inexperienced canoeists, anything could happen.

Poor Sue (the same guy from ‘Fun and Foibles At The Camp‘ went in the drink just off shore.) He was with a couple of classmates who didn’t know how to balance the canoe while trying to switch places.  Over they went. Sue’s sleeping bag remained wet for the whole trip.  Gotta ask yourself, ‘What happened to the plastic bag for it, Sue?’  Years later Sue joined the Army.  He learned a ton about survival and staying dry then.

Anyway, the trip was magical.  We canoed, we raced, we sang, we splashed and we teased each other.  Sue even demonstrated gunnel-bobbing just off shore of one of our sites.  At times it rained horribly and at times the sun peaked out to shine on the motley, rag tag crew that we were.  We had several portages that we would tell each other was, ‘only five football fields long’ – helping mentally to push through it and get ‘er done.

One day, while making lunch for the group, Mrs Ducky squealed at Mike to stop eating the bread rolls.  He looked up with cheeks stuffed full like a chipmunk and pointing a sausage-shaped finger at his chest tried to say, “Who me?”  Those in ear-shot giggled at this even though it would mean we would be short for supper.  The food was strictly rationed and Mike was this lumbering, big guy with fuzzy black hair and so funny.

At another site that lent itself to bathing, a few of us actually went for a swim and washed our hair.  I was one of them, being so used to this kind of thing at the camp all my life.  The water was so pure and clean and felt like silk as I dove in.  The water in the lakes up there in Northern Ontario parks was so pure in those days (1985) that for drinking water, we were all instructed to bring a melmac or metal mug on a carabiner that should be hooked to our waistband.  With it, we would simply scoop water out of the lake and drink it down as we paddled, or at any time on the trip.  No bottled water.  No tanks of water.  No filter, pump or drops. Just lake water.  No one got sick.

A few of my classmates were quite miserable on this trip and I felt badly for them.  They didn’t have the experience in nature that I had been so fortunate to have.  They didn’t want to squat in the woods or to walk barefoot into the water or sleep with camp-fire smoked hair.  It was a foreign place, nature.  They were home-sick.

loon

On the other hand, It was bizarre how much I enjoyed the whole experience and again reveled in the physical outdoor challenge: loving the sights especially the starry sky or a glassy-calm lake; the sounds like the lonesome, haunting call of the loon and smells of nature like of fallen pine needles under foot on a forest trail.  I ate it all up and reveled in the wisdom of the team effort and of observing my classmates who may or may not be in their element.  Did it bring out the best or the worst in them?  Interesting to see and had me recalling that game about picking who you would want in your lifeboat.

Loving this stuff would serve well in my future.  Of course I didn’t have any idea that in 22 months I would be at basic training in Chilliwack, British Columbia on Canada’s West Coast and that I would be struggling beyond belief…

 

(Pictures credit to google images and whomever took them – thanks folks!)