Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Golden Earring


Golden Earring (A Flashback)

There were many a time I could have easily given my Mother stroke when I was a youngster. It’s bad enough that I lied to beloved nuns about her giving birth to a phantom baby that kept us up all night or that I ran amok half naked all over the neighborhood (and by neighborhood I mean our sprawling front and back yard, maybe through the wooded path) but the day I got my ears pierced was what you might call a humdinger.

It was one of those glorious sunny summer days where me and my Mother piled into the car with First Niece buckled safely in the backseat and First Sister ‘n’ Law, otherwise known as Lead Foot, at the rudder. First Sister ‘n’ Law’s driving style = bat out of hell. My poor Mother, who has never developed a stomach for rapidity, always held on for dear life, her own feet practically pushing right through the floor. It may as well have been a Flintstone car! We four were out and about doing the traditional weekly errands – groceries at the Capitol on Portland Street (which always meant a new Archie comic for yours truly), Pop Shoppe refills in behind Penhorn Mall (which was always a coo because I got to pick out the flavors once my Mother’s colas were acquired and secured in the take-home crate), a quick lunch (probably at the Wooclo lunch counter with an orange Jell-O and a dollop of whipped cream for dessert), and then we hauled ass to Cole Harbour. First Niece had an appointment to get her ears pierced. Something her little heart begged for until Bookend Brother and First Sister ‘n’ Law grew tired of her nagging and relented.

My Mother opted to stay in the car for a rest and a cigarette while we three were in the salon. First Niece skipped through the front door and proudly announced she was there to get her ears pierced. The Very Nice Lady welcomed us and led First Niece to her station where she climbed up into the big chair, into the kiddie booster seat, and steadied herself while the strong scent of barbicide and hairspray invaded my airway.  The Very Nice Lady let First Niece pick out which pair of studs she wanted. Easy peasy. The Very Nice Lady, for lack of a better phrase, loaded her gun while she imparted easy cleaning techniques to First Sister ‘n’ Law. First Niece sat patiently waiting while the adults above her talked amongst themselves. I watched her carefully watching the gun. I had a feeling in my gut. It wasn’t the Jell-O. You just know when something is about to go awry. Even at that age, my instincts were razor sharp. And then, the shit hitteth the fan. The Very Nice Lady pointed her weird gun at First Niece’s left lobe and pulled the trigger. The caterwauling that ensued set First Sister ‘n’ Law sideways. First Niece went into full meltdown mode. First Sister ‘n’ Law lost her marbles. I watched the whole frenzied scene in disbelief. First Niece held onto her face like she’d been shot JFK style, flat out scream-refusing to get the other ear done. First Sister ‘n’ Law’s voice went up higher than my Alvin and the Chipmunks record. She was that exasperated at First Niece’s revolt she stormed out of the salon, got in the car, slammed the door, and cried to my Mother about how unhinged her child was. So yeah, it was just me, First Niece who writhed and wailed worse than Linda Blair in the ‘Exorcist’, and The Very Nice Lady who hadn’t moved a muscle or taken a breath since she shot the pretty gold jewelry into my kin. She attempted to try and convince First Niece to brave the other ear now that her Mother had gone outside. First Niece wasn’t having any of it. She sassed The Very Nice Lady in such a way her mouth should have been washed out with soap. And, that’s where I come in. To save the day. I made my way to stand in front of First Niece and gently consoled her. I told her that everything would be okay and that one more ear and she’d be done. She pouted and folded her arms tight up under her chin like a defensive pretzel, “I am NOT doing it! I won’t!” Sigh. She was stubborn nut to crack. I had to think quick on my feet. “How about if I get mine done and to show you that it’s not so bad?” Her face softened, she nodded. I lifted her down from the chair and sat in. The Very Nice Lady, grateful for my interception, showed me all the pretty gold studs. I picked out my birthstone, turquoise for December. She loaded her gun and took aim at my ear. First Niece stood close holding my hand. I jumped a tiny bit in the chair when The Very Nice Lady pulled the trigger. First Niece squeezed my hand in terror. It hurt like a mother but instead of reacting I smiled down to her, “One ear down, one more to go! And when you get your other ear done, we’ll match!” I saw her eye twinkle through her tears. She nodded. The Very Nice Lady shot me on the other side, and I was done. I didn’t bat an eye even though I wanted to curse a blue streak. It was enough for First Niece to get back up in the chair to brave the other ear, “Hold my hand!” I held her hand until both of her ears were successfully pieced. At that exact moment, a much calmer First Sister ‘n’ Law re-entered the salon. First Niece ran over to her and proudly displayed both ears. It was jubilant news to her ears. First Sister ‘n’ Law was taken to the cash to pay but didn’t have enough money with her to pay for mine. I ran out to the car, sidled up to my Mother in the passenger seat, exposed my ears, “I got my ears pierced!” Consider for a moment that she had just spent all that time trying to calm First Sister ‘n’ Law down, who was in bat shit hysterics, only to have me waltz up, hand out, looking for money she didn’t have to pay for my ingenuity, “Jeeeeeesus Christ, child! I don’t have money for this today! Suffering Moses!” She rifled through her purse and came up with the amount after scrounging for the change. I didn’t want my ears pierced, there was no plan or desire, but my word, someone had to take control of the situation.

First Niece and I had another similar experience when we were a little older. There was a meningitis outbreak. There was a mandatory vaccination taking place at my high school. First Sister ‘n’ Law, aka Lead Foot, sped us there for our needles. I am not a fan of needles. I wasn’t then, I’m not now. While lined up in the gymnasium, First Niece knotted her arms up like that same kind of pretzel lamenting she didn’t think she could go through with it. First Sister ‘n’ Law told her not to be so foolish and that a needle prick was worth not getting sick and dying. On cue, I volunteered to go first to show her it was no big thing. She entered the triage tent area with me. I sat dutifully on a metal stool, rolled up my sleeve, and smiled at her. She half smiled back even though she was quaking in her converse. The nurse manning our station had stepped out before I sat down so when she bound in, a large German woman in white, I was a little taken aback. She was stern and silent when I sheepishly mentioned I was little afraid of needles. She ignored my comment, snapped on rubber gloves, loaded up the vaccine and aimed toward my bicep. I took a deep breath and flashed a fake brave smile at First Niece who was ashen watching me. Nazi Nurse, instead of moderately injecting me like a sane health professional, jabbed me instead like a serial kille. Blood spurted everywhere from my arm, a violent spray that soiled her uniform and sullied the floor. First Niece shrieked. The sound that came out of her flashed me right back to the salon.

Jeeeeeesus Christ.

***

I’ve been thinking of these little memories for some time, so I thought it was time to write it down. A nice addition to the creative non-fiction project.

In propinquity,
Nic

Friday, June 21, 2019

Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon (A Mere Song)



Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon (A Mere Song)

Women with small children know full well that no business done in a bathroom is private when there are small children nipping at their heels. This was true for my Mother and sisters with the littlest version of me running around, mirroring everything they did, monkey see-monkey do. At a tender age, four years old to be exact, I knew where things were in the bathroom cupboards and drawers – shaving creams, razors, soaps, toothpaste, band-aids, towels, face cloths, feminine products. I’m sure you see where this is going.

Keep in mind, I liked to be a naked kid. At four, I liked to run around in my underwear and who didn’t at that age!? My parents, who were still together at this time, had company. Usual suspects, likely my uncles and aunts, close family friends, it was a fondue party. A typical scene of jollity in those days, folks eating, drinking, smoking, laughing, and jabbering at an earsplitting decibel (at least for a four-year-old!). In other words, a good rock’ time. In all the fun of cooking bits of meat and vegetables in hot oil on sharp skewers, no one paid much mind to me weaving through a sea of adult knees. And then someone alerted my Mother, pointing in my downward direction, “Houston, we may have a problem.” There I was, amid all the grown-ups, sporting an ungodly waddle. I am sure at first, my Mother, my poor Mother, thought I’d shit my pants in the middle of their festivity. On closer inspection, and much to her dismay, she realized I had a thick wad of maxi-pad in my drawers which caused my awkward toddle. My Mother’s face went red as a beet, “What in God’s name, child!?” Legend has it I looked up and regarded her with pride, “Just like you guys!” My poor Mother.

Way Cooler Sister was there for me when I was a mere tween when I was curious about the birds and the bees. Of course, this was after the unfortunate talking vagina incident via Brother ‘n’ Law’s filthy DVD player. My Mother, who had not known how to broach the subject of womanhood with me, provided a book from which Way Cooler Big Sister could enlighten adequately. She gathered me one afternoon after a few spirited games of tetherball and cracked the cover. She started with the parts, mine and that of the boys. Together, we read through the ins and outs of intercourse, conception, pregnancy, birth, and even sexually transmitted diseases. Eventually, they taught us a bunch of the same stuff in Health class, but it was nowhere near as edifying or as considerate as when Way Cooler Big Sister bestowed the material. I admit, I winced and squirmed from looking at all the diagrams, “Those penis things look kinda weird, don’t they? Like a hot dog with a hood.” Taking the task very seriously, she ignored all my stupid commentary. Even when I almost cried when she showed me a picture of a baby’s head crowning at birth. She maintained that it was all natural and normal. Even dicks. Her word, not mine. I said she was considerate, not subtle. To add to that, she also said there was nothing she showed me I’d ever need to be ashamed of, especially my period.

I was prepared for it. I didn’t expect to get it as early on as I did. But I was prepared. Equipped. As you already know, I knew exactly where the ‘things’ were. In the bathroom cupboard on the middle shelf in the yellow box. She told me, “Whenever the time comes, just take one from the box, stick it on your panties and the pad will catch the blood.” I asked her if it would hurt on account of knowing blood was going to come out of me from down there. She said no. I a million questions. She answered each one with a maternal calm. And because she did, I was ready to meet Aunt Flo. Sort of. 

It turns out getting your period cramps your style. Literally. I was in fifth grade. Our Most Beautiful Teacher handed out a Language Arts test I was certain to ace. It was my strongest subject, obviously. I was sat at my desk, wearing my favorite outfit of the moment, pink almost jeans (almost with a ton of stretch) with my black and white rock ‘n’ roll t-shirt. It was one of those standard tees with rockers such as the Sex Pistols and Ramones depicted in black blobs on white cotton. Probably the coolest piece of clothing I ever owned then and now. A gift from none other than Rock Star Brother. I picked up my pen to begin my test. Yes, you heard correctly, a pen. In fifth grade. My penmanship, along with few select others, was so impeccable, she permitted us to do our work in ink. It was quite an honour. Anyhow, I grabbed my pen and feasted my eyes on the quiz. I wrote my name in curly cute loops up at the top and tucked in. Mid way through the first question the words started to get a little fuzzy and that made me dizzy. I broke out into a cold sweat. My stomach started to swell in a pain that wasn’t familiar. Cramps. Bad ones. But not in my gut. In my groin. I did the best I could to complete all the questions and quickly excused myself to the washroom thinking maybe if I pooped my tummy or whatever was happening to me might stop hurting. And, then I saw it. The inaugural pink hue in my undies. In that panicked moment, I forgot every word Way Cooler Big Sister told me. I forgot about the book and the conversation entirely. As if it never happened. I couldn’t understand why I was bleeding from my bird. I stuffed a giant wad of toilet paper in there and sped to the office to call home. If I was going to die, I wasn’t going to croak at school. No one answered. I called Father Mine at work. He was unavailable. In a meeting. I was a sweaty heap of worry for the rest of the day, bitter I couldn’t get in touch with anyone to come pick me up and take me home to my death bed. I half cried at my desk until the end of day bell rang.

It was the longest bus ride home to Cow Bay. I needed my Mother. I needed a doctor, stat. And then, as the bus cornered its way around the dyke it all came flooding back. All the things Way Cooler Big Sister said. I wasn’t in fact dying, I had gotten my period. Aunt Flo came to town much earlier than I had anticipated. Even though I knew all about her, I still thought I had time. As my Mother says, guess what thought did

The bus finally arrived at my stop, the last on the route. I hobbled off and home. At that point, in addition to cramps, I also had hunger pangs. The queasiness all day prevented me from eating my lunch. On the walk home I somehow got a small burst of energy and I just started running. I ran into the driveway, up the side stairs, busted through the door, locked myself in the bathroom and disrobed. In a clean pile of folded laundry, I found my pajamas and a clean pair of undergarments and braved the yellow box in the cupboard. I fiddle faddled forever. I knew where they were, but I didn’t know exactly how to use them. I was intimidated. And then, I solved the puzzle. Proudly poured myself out of the bathroom. I found my Mother and Way Cooler Big Sister in the kitchen making supper. Pots were hot, the delicious aroma of roast wafted in the air. And, as if I hadn’t almost had a meltdown in my desk earlier and I wasn’t mad at the universe and everyone in it because no one would answer the phone or come get me, I announced with the utmost confidence, “I started my period!

I ruined my pink almost jeans. My Mother tried to get the stains out, but it was a lost cause. I also failed my test which should have been a breeze. Most Beautiful Teacher called home to see if everything was okay as it was unlike me to flunk at the arts of language. I am certain my Mother gave her the low down. The kicker of the whole thing though was a few weeks later when Rock Star Brother visited for Sunday dinner (oh, how I miss Sunday dinners!). He and Most Beautiful Girlfriend, who often teased me for articulating big words, arrived with hugs and smiles. And then he said the most horrendous thing to me, “I heard that you’re woooman now.”

I thought I’d die.  

***

It’s difficult for me to write these pieces and not talk about this subject. It’s a rite of passage for every girl. I remember my Kelly relaying all the details of that book like it was yesterday. I remember the way it felt sitting in my classroom feeling like I might fall out of my chair from the pain. My first made me incredibly sick. For years, I’d often miss a day of school if the that time of the month fell on a weekday. I had a terrible time with it. A lot of pain and headaches and exhaustion. Fortunately, I grew out of them and with the aid of the modern miracle that his birth control. It seems strange to be recounting this when I am at an age where my body is facing the opposite end of that spectrum. I’d be a lot more comfortable talking to my big brother about menopause than I was having him congratulate me on becoming a woman. Lord Jesus. I remember that like it was yesterday too. And, I know he didn’t say it outwardly embarrass me but since I looked up to him so much and I knew he knew, I assumed he knew all the gory details.

It’s hard being a kid. A girl.

In propinquity,
Nic

PS – I didn’t have access to my grade 5 school photo at the time of posting so the accompanying one relates more to the first half of the piece than the last.





Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Christmas, Nineteen Eighty Something (A Short)

Christmas, Nineteen Eighty Something (A Short)

 It was Christmas, nineteen eighty something. I was red as a beet sitting in front of the heavily tinseled tree opening my stocking. I opened a thick long package with the word ‘pads’ emblazoned on the front. May as well have been flashing neon. Rock Star brother was watching with glee, and I thought I might die. I could not believe that they’d put maxi pads in my Christmas stocking for me to open in front of him! I sort of pitched a fit, hiding the forbidden item behind the fat of my back. Way Cooler Big Sister starting roaring laughing, “You ass, they aren’t pads for your bird, they are to clean your face!” Everyone erupted in a fit of laughter then. Didn’t help. At all. It turns out my Mother did love me; she came to my rescue by diverting their attention from my imminent and dramatic self-inflicted death to a gift she had unwrapped from Biggest Little Sister. New slippers! Fuzzy warm ones.

That same Christmas Santa (aka Way Cooler Big Sister) gave me a hot pink tourmaline hair crimper. Hello, it was the eighties. Big mops were all the rage. It gave me an opportunity to catch up with all those hair band posters. After gifts and breakfast, we all dispersed from the living room for a spell and reconvened in the kitchen for turkey dinner. It was me, my Mother, Way Cooler Big Sister, Rock Star Brother, and a few others who for the life of me I cannot remember. That Christmas puts me at the height of my teenage acne epidemic as well as the brutal beginnings of my lifelong battle with the bulge. My hair was long and thick still. At least I had that.

I got The Game of Life that year. While our bellies settled from all the Yuletide fixings and before we broke the game open, Way Cooler Big Sister crimped my hair. By the time I got to the table to play with my new pleated locks, Rock Star brother and whoever else was there had imbibed, perhaps just a little. Just a wee bit. Spirits were high. My Mother was busy cleaning up after our feast while we horsed around playing the board game. Rock Star brother popped a bottle of Peach Schnapps open to mix with orange juice and lots of ice. He and Way Cooler Big Sister clanked glasses and then snuck one in front of me. Score! Certainly, it was more juice than hooch, my Mother was standing by! I was the banker in the game since I was the sanest at the table. Plus, it was my game. I was doling out everyone’s money when Rock Star Brother, out of nowhere, exploded in fit of uncontrollable laughter. His mirth was so mighty the whole of his body was shaking but not a peep was coming out of his mouth. Tears streamed down his cheeks. He fist-bumped the kitchen table to find relief. In his Schnapps haze, he looked up, took one look at my hair, which was higher than the Empire State Building, and he lost it. It is a rare occasion to see Rock Star Brother laugh in this manner. Once I got over the insecurity of his laughing directly at me, I started laughing with him. Way Cooler Big Sister had already started wheezing. And, so did my Mother. From the other side of the kitchen no less! Just from hearing him bust a gut. Shortly after his hilarious outburst, he spilled an entire glass of Schnapps and OJ all over the game. More hilarity ensued. The Game of Life as it stood was no longer feasible to play. It was sticky and bubbled. Oh, but the merriment was more than worth it.

I can tell you this much, it was a much more enjoyable holiday even with the near maxi pad scare and the ruination of my brand-new game. Years before, when I was still wide-eyed and full of childish wonder, I asked Santa Claus for a writing desk. I dreamed of something crisp white and magnificent, with deep drawers and fancy handles. I got up in the middle of the night to pee. I was sharing a room with Way Cooler Big Sister at the time. She followed me down the hall in the dark. I was supposed to make a sharp turn into the bathroom, but I could see the daylight straining from the living room. It was almost morning and I could hardly contain my excitement to see if the jolly guy made good on his promise to deliver a desk. I started rounding the corner to see if I could see straight into the living room, but I slammed into something solid and sharp that wasn’t supposed to be in the middle of the hall, “Ouuuuch!” Way Cooler Big sister rolled her eyes at my dramatic reaction. I flipped on the light and there it was, just as I had dreamed, a crisp white magnificent desk, with deep drawers, fancy gold handles on the deep drawers. I squealed in delight, looked to Way Cooler Big Sister and said, “Santa brought me my desk! Look! I wonder why he left it in the hallway.” She, surly and uninterested scoffed quite matter of factly, “Mom and Dad put it there.” Totally innocent and confused I asked her, “Why would they do that?” She rolled her eyes and emitted a deep slow sigh, “Because they are Santa Claus.” I was taken aback, “HUH!?” Stunned and even more confused, I looked at the most beautiful desk in the whole wide world and then up at her, “Santa isn’t real?” Way Cooler Big Sister pursed her lips and shrugged, “Nope. You’re getting too old to believe in him anyway. About time someone told you the truth.” I didn’t believe a word that came out of her stupid mouth. But later, after the fake surprise reaction to my desk (re)discovery, I sidled up to Father Mine and asked him if what Way Cooler Big Sister said was true. Turned out it was.

I didn’t care what any of them said, I still believed. I still might.

***

A small snapshot of a Christmas past. I have always loved moments when raucous laughter takes over. Especially with family. I been witness to my brother laughing that hard only a handful of times, and he’s a funny guy. But, when it hits that hard, it’s worth being present for. I can see us, plain as the nose on my face, at the dining room table, turning ourselves inside out laughing. Admittedly, I was intensely insecure because these were people I idolized. I wanted to look cool in front of them, not foolish. As a grown up now, I have no problem, but at that time, it was hard to swallow, primarily because I was so uncomfortable in my own skin, and so eager to be near them. But the laughter, oh. Made everything good. Doesn’t it always?

As for my Way Cooler Big Sister, it took awhile before I forgave the Santa fiasco. It goes without saying, we laughed about it often as adults.

In propinquity,
Nic

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

A-Tisket, A-Tasket (A Snip-It)



A-Tisket, A-Tasket (A Snip-It)

To my Mother’s absolute dismay, I rather enjoyed being a naked kid. Not butt naked, I did have a little bit of humility. I just liked to run topless when out in the wild. And, by out in the wild I mean running around our massive yard with my flat-as-pancakes boobies on display for all the squirrels and blue jays to see. She’d shake her kerchiefed head whenever I’d zoom past her out the side door. I saw my brothers do it and my next-door boy best friend baring their chests so why couldn’t I? I refused to listen to the simple reason that I shouldn’t, therefore I did. I think she gave up arguing with me and let me go since there was no one to really bother us that far into the sticks in those days. There are countless snapshots of me in the family albums bare-breasted. Having said that, it’s important to note this little quirk pre-dates my raging body image problems that I carried with me into adulthood. I’m talking the age five and under. I was free as a bird. It came to bite my Mother in the arse.

The day we got our enormous driveway paved was just as exciting as the day we got cable. I envisioned myself then with a brand-new bicycle to drive, with a fancy banana seat, handlebar tassels, and a jingly bell (all before discovering the sleek reality of a BMX courtesy of my next-door boy best friend). That day though, I was still running around on a tricycle that I was fast growing out of. I sat in the living room bay window on the lookout of the workers. Around nine in the morning, I watched a decrepit truck, full of gear, with an able crew of dark-skinned men, some much older than the others, pull into our driveway and announced happily, “The pavers are here! The pavers are here!” I ran to the side door and hung out while my Mother greeted the hard-working company trying to shove me inside and out of the way. They spoke for a few minutes. My Mother told them if they needed anything to let her now and they got down to business, the business of paving our gargantuan driveway where my future bicycle would glide. My Mother looked at me and said, “You stay in the house and leave those men alone. You can watch them out the front window but stay inside and out of their way, do you hear me?” I nodded dutifully. I watched them for the longest time from the kitchen window until my Mother booted me off the cupboard so she could get some housework done. I moved onto the front step where nearly no one ever went but it obstructed my view of their diligent albeit stinky work. The smell of the asphalt made me a little queasy, but I wanted nothing more than to be right out there in the thick of things. Pretty soon my Mother found things for me to do and I almost forgot about our friends turning our gravel driveway into a smooth mall parking lot. Almost. They went quiet. And, at the same time, my Mother was AWOL. And by AWOL, I mean she probably went for a pee or was quickly unfurling her curlers on instinct that I might get up to no good. If that were the case, her gut didn’t lie.

I escaped Alcatraz out the side door and went to make friends. My Mother offered them something cold to drink earlier. They politely declined but she left it in the fridge incase they changed their minds.  Artfully, while not under the watchful eye of the Warden, I lugged the hefty pitcher of juice (probably Tang that belonged to Brother ‘n’ Law – he was addicted to the stuff) filled to the brim with ice-cubes to be hospitable. It was the well-mannered thing to do after all. And, if my parents taught me anything at that point, it was that manners mattered.

My Mother came looking for me shortly thereafter. She found me sitting on the hill in the front yard under the willowy arms of our shady front yard tree with my new pals, scarfing down Kentucky Fried Chicken. When I went out to see if they were thirsty, they accepted. In exchange, they offered to share their lunch with me. There I was, my two long dirt brown pigtails and red shorts, sitting with Ernie and Earl, gnawing on a drumstick like it was no big thing. I told them the very same hill we were sitting on was the one my Rock Star brother used to teach me how to ride a two-wheeler. He didn’t so much teach me as gave me a swift shove and hoped for the best. His intentions were good I suppose. It was also the hill that not long ago bore a giant hole. Something to do with our well. My cousin and I were outside playing while our parents visited. Her older brother was in toe too. He was being a bit of a jerk. My cousin, his sister, same age as me, hauled off and shoved him down in the hole. It was the only time I ever saw him cry. We rolled around in the grass laughing.

My Mother came around and saw me, I beamed up at her, raised the greasy chicken bones in my slick hand, “We’re having lunch! And I brought them juice!” My new friends didn’t know what to do or think. My Mother told me it was time to come in thanked Ernie and Earl for sharing with me. It should be noted that both Ernie and Earl gave my Mother a knowing nod. They were simply minding their own business, taking a break from the grueling heat and work to nourish and cool themselves not expecting to be confronted with a shirtless five-year-old eager to ask them a million and one questions about how exactly pavement was made. I can’t recall what they said but they did a heck of a lot of awkward chuckling. Their regret was implied. I feel bad about it now since I’m sure it wasn’t exactly comfortable for a few grown men to have taken a long overdue break from paving to enjoy a bucket of chicken only to have a five-year-old shirtless kid, a stranger kid, crash their party.

My Mother gave me a bit of a what for, a gentle talking to so as not to alarm me but on the inside she was fainthearted.  She reminded me that it would be better if when we had people by to work on the house or yard, strangers, it would be preferable to wear a shirt. I’m sure in that moment she wanted to send me outside to play in a one-piece snowsuit.

And, thank the ever-loving Jesus Nan wasn’t visiting us on that day.

Father Mine would have had a stroke.

In the end, we were left with a spectacular paved driveway and a funny story to tell all these years later.

***

I was pooped last night when I went to bed. I haven’t been feeling well the last few days. A summer cold grabbed me late Saturday night and put me out of commission all day Sunday. I missed the bulk of Father’s Day aside from my annual post to Dad in Heaven and the other awesome Dads I know. I was out of order. Kaput. Yesterday, my ears were still drumming, head still pounding, throat still burning. There were a few moments I thought I might fall over in my chair but I made it through and am feeling better today aside from tiredness from being kept awake by a wash of memories flooding over me.

This piece is only small, but the day is vivid in my mind. Those wonderful guys came from Preston with their tools and equipment and turned our drab driveway into a dream come true. I tried everything I could to dodge my Mother so I could go outside and watch them work. Or, better yet, converse. Ever the observer, I needed to know about every paving detail. That and my stellar manners are what landed me on that hill with those two poor fellows who were probably crawling out of their skin, sitting with a very pale shirtless five-year-old girl. Nevertheless, they felt to me, as if I’d know them forever, trading crispy KFC for ice cold Tang. I understand the optics. From all sides. But this image of me, inserting myself like I did, leaves levity in my heart. I was fond of Ernie and Earl. I was interested in what they were doing. The same would be true today.

In propinquity,
Nic




Initiation Tool - Valuing Our Experience. ‘The Right to Write’



Initiation Tool - Valuing Our Experience. ‘The Right to Write’

I’ve been working steadily on creative non-fiction pieces about my childhood and my family. The pages are piling up! I thought it might be good, despite my current burst of inspiration, to still carry on with some of the exercises from Julia Cameron’s beloved book, ‘The Right to Write – An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life’. I’m still jotting tons of notes down and writing but that doesn’t mean a wee exercise can’t help while inspired, correct?

I finished reading the chapter ‘Valuing Our Experience’ and was taken by the challenge of the proposed tool. It is one that brings to light your personal value system. It requires you to set aside an hour. Take yourself out of the house/office to a pleasant writing environment – a cafĂ© for example. Number a blank page from one to fifty. List fifty things you are proud of – could be anything, big or small.

This is my list. I encourage you to also give it a try. You don’t have to be working on something creative to take an inventory of all the things you’re proud of doing in your life. It’s good for you to look inward and acknowledge your personal successes and your best. I dare you!

1.      Seeing ‘Sillyheart’ through. A page a day for a whole year produced my first book.
2.      Utilizing my sense of humour for good (although most would prefer I never pun again!).
3.      Eulogizing my Father at his Celebration of Life. I think I would have done him proud.
4.      My commitment to my glass always being half full instead of half empty. Optimism!
5.      Forging strong friendships with those I greatly admire. I love my small but mighty tribe.
6.      I don’t mind saying I make a mean chicken curry. I’ve got supporters to back that up!
7.      This will sound ass backwards; I am proud of my messy self. Messy desk, spotless mind.
8.      Managing my grief after losing Dad and Kelly. All things considered; I’m doing just fine.
9.      My relationship with my family. We may not always agree, but I love them exponentially.
10.  Being able to write about my memories with aplomb and love and a heap of good humour.
11.  My even temper. I admit, I’m a little crustier in my old age, but I seldom rage from ire.
12.  I know my limits. I think this is an important thing to know of yourself. And be proud of.
13.  Card tag with Ru. It is a long-standing tradition that garners so much joy. A favorite thing.
14.  Stepping up to care for my aging parent. It is a challenge I accept and execute with love.
15.  I’m a keep of secrets. My lips are sealed. Confidences are not mine to share with others.
16.  I am mindful of time as well as another person’s time. I do not like to be tardy to the party.
17.  Teaching all the Littles how to ‘cheers’ and to ‘fist bump’ – aka aces Auntie skills!
18.  I don’t make promises I can’t keep. Anymore. I’m learning the power of ‘no thank you’.
19.  If someone allows me to borrow something, I take extremely good care of it.
20.  Training my cat to enjoy being groomed. It took ages to get her used to being brushed.
21.  Sounds silly but I currently own three plants, all of which are still alive and thriving!
22.  I try, most times, to approach all things in life joyfully. Because it feels good to do so.
23.  I pride myself on being friendly and approachable. I enjoy meeting and talking to people.
24.  When I tackle something new, I’ve taught myself to do it with confidence not hesitancy.
25.   I take responsibility for my actions, behavior, mistakes and learn from them. Immediately.
26.  I’m slowly learning to have the courage to take more risks outside of my comfort zone.
27.  I can totally ask for help if I need it. I am not stubborn enough (yet) to ask for a hand.
28.  Overcoming stage fright! Huuuge hurtle for me. All thanks to a merry band of poets.
29.  I don’t hold grudges. Times most certainly can be tough, but forgiveness is a superpower.
30.  I’m no slave to trends. I like what I like, and I make no apologies for what brings me joy.
31.  I am perfectly comfortable with my own company. I enjoy my own company. I like me.
32.  I am proud of my roots. Where I came from. Our traditions and values which I uphold.
33.  Where needed, I will raise my voice against injustices and protest wrongs in our society.
34.  I’ve been blessed with the art of active listening. I can listen and not say a word if needed.
35.  My work ethic is strong. It is vital to me to do my best no matter the task at hand.
36.  I wrote and submitted a creative non-fiction piece to CBC about my Dad after he passed away. It was a difficult mission, but it sated my heart and awarded my strength at the time.
37.  I believe in and dispense random acts of kindness as often as I can. Paying it forward, whatever it is, is a common practice for me. It’s good to give back.
38.  I am good at going with my gut instincts. It rarely steers me wrong.
39.  I’ve been tempted to give up on writing so many times, but I have the first two dollars I ever made from writing framed on my desk. It is a symbol of perseverance that I follow. It is in my constant eyesight as a reminder, if you build it, they will come.
40.  I make a point of supporting local businesses, artists, musicians etc. There may come a time when I need their support too!
41.  I am a rigid recycler. And I always do my best to be mindful of the environment. Alas, I am still unsure how to not use hairspray.
42.  It’s a long time coming, as I enjoy spending money, but I’ve gotten super good at saving.
43.  Overcame my fear of heights by participating in the annual bridge walk. Scary but I did it! I walked in the middle of the bridge on the way over and came back on the walkway. Woo! I also got on a smaller scale Ferris wheel.
44.  I can now drink tea without sugar! Now, I work on the coffee. Always room for improvement!
45.  My creative gifts. I wouldn’t be doing this exercise without the desire to live a creative life. And, the gifts I receive in return from creative pursuits are second to none.
46.  Knowing that no matter what, there is always room to grow even after a significant advancement.
47.  I’m a Sag, but I’m like a Gemini in that I know a little bit about a good many things. Knowledge is power.
48.  I pride myself on my keen attention to detail but can openly admit I am not an editor.
49.  I am thoroughly enjoying the journey in learning how to honour my own needs.
50.  Proud of myself or finding fifty things to be proud of myself for! And valuing my experiences!

Phew! Now that was a challenge! I can also tell you that it took longer than an hour. What with the welcome distractions like the sunshine, day-dreaming, and the interesting task of looking inward, and then reaching around to pat your own back.

If you should look at this exercise and think it is too narcissistic, fear not. Julia Cameron, right in the book, that it isn’t any kind of self-involvement but rather the act of paying active witness to ourselves and the world around us. And, an act of dignity.

There’s a quote at the end of this chapter, just before the instructions of the Initiation Tool are laid out. It is as follows: “As we attune ourselves more and more closely to the value of passing moments, we learn that we are something of moment ourselves.”

This Initiation Tool amazed me. I admit, with all the things I listed about myself that I’m proud of, things and traits and moments, I wasn’t sure I’d hit fifty. But, to my surprise …

Now, back to the real work! Writing!

In propinquity,
Nic



Monday, June 17, 2019

Bookends



Bookends

My eldest brother, who I affectionately refer to as my bookend, for as long as I could remember, had long hippy dark hair and a thick bushy beard to match. The smiley squint of his warm eyes and the redness of his round nose figured prominently among the mop. Our noses could have been twins except mine has a pronounced upward turn at the tip which gives me a cartoonish side profile. My Mother, as well as the Sisters who taught me at Pre-K those two years were always after me to stop swiping my nose upwards whenever I’d get the sniffles or had a cold. Sister Sophie would scold me, “If you continue to swipe your nose like that, you’re going to drown in a rainstorm, child!” I haven’t drowned yet, but I do hate my nose. I should have listened.

Bookend Brother had a lovely girl to compliment his husky face. A sinewy figure with straight as a board brown hair, chocolaty eyes, and a brazen laugh. When they wed, I was their flower girl. The family photos are a hoot. I stuck out like a sore thumb in front with the rest of my family towering over me in my furry snow-white headband and a too-long dress. Together, they were responsible for my becoming an aunt at the tender age of eight. First Niece was a beautiful bouncing baby girl, and bald as a q-ball. She was a welcome delight. And better yet, I was no longer the youngest so yay me! Her favorite past time as a wee one was to be puttered around the house in a laundry basket while holding on to the sides, white-knuckled. Heaven forbid you stop. She’d wail for more.

Rockstar Brother had the band wagon, Brother Bear had the shaggin’ wagon, Brother ‘n’ Law had the Mini Minor, and Bookend Brother had a souped up jeep. Many a time I drove around in it with him, top down, hair blowing wildly in the wind, and rock ‘n’ roll noise pollution emanating. I at that point I thought I was lucky when the one of the neighboring boys would throw me on the back of his dirt bike and whiz along the dirt road of Jimmy’s Lane. But, when Bookend Brother came riding up with his jeep, the world became a much cooler place. I can’t even begin to describe the feeling of freedom that soared through me when we’d speed up and down the Hills in Cow Bay, strapped in tight as can be, hair lifting me up and trying to pull me out as we wound and tipped the whole way.

I fell in love with music videos in the early eighties. Bookend Brother, First Sister ‘n’ Law, my Mother, and Way Cooler Big Sister, used to convene in the living room with snacks us young punks and libations for the elders and hunker down for Fright Night Videos. I would thrown myself on the carpet with the family dog, only blinking, only breathing during commercials. I knew every single frame of my favorites, Blue Peter’s ‘Don’t Walk on Past’, UB40’s ‘Red Red Wine’, Bonnie Tyler’s ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’, and cringe through the insect infested Yes video ‘Owner of a Lonely Heart’. Bookend Brother would heckle and hoot, getting a kick out of the sheer disgust of me, my Mother, and First Sister ‘n’ Law. It was like four-minute horror flick! Band members manically turning into birds, snakes, lizards, with scenes of scorpions and centipedes. I always tried to pay more attention to my snack than the television whenever it came on, but I was thwarted to look, it was impossible not to even though I one hundred percent did not want to. We’d all be cringing, squirming, full on grossing out and Bookend Brother would just cackle. Sister ‘n’ Law, with her intense fear of snakes, would usually leave them room. I lived for those Friday nights. They were the best.

Bookend Brother, at some point after the birth of First Niece was born, shaved his face. It was a shock. He basically went from resembling one of the members of any 70s rock outfit to one of the baby Beatles. It’s like the world fell on its like the world fell on its arse. I mean, it was him, but it wasn’t. It took a lot of getting used to. Now though, when I think back, I find it hard to picture him with a face full of fur.

I spent a lot of time in the house Bookend Brother built on Caldwell Road. Since I was eight years older than First Niece, I was tagged for babysitting. I didn’t mind because I loved their house full of the coolest things, including but not limited to the giant nature-themed mural in the living room a basement full of records, tapes and a full-size bar. Sister ‘n’ Law would pick me up at the crack of dawn. First Niece was never an early riser so when they both left for work, I’d drift into their waterbed and wade back to sleep. It was there in that wavy bed I saw my first glimpse of … ahem … porn. Bookend Brother had mounting collection of girlie magazines on the bed’s shelf. It didn’t occur to me to look at them. And then First Niece, the nosey parker she was, climbed into the ark and ripped one open. I confess, I was a little taken aback. I snapped it from her little hands instinctively, like I knew it was something we weren’t supposed be looking at considering I saw bare boobs. It reminded me of a time when Way Cooler Big Sister showed me something, I KNOW I wasn’t supposed to look at. In fact, I may still suffer a bit of PSTD from it to this day. Excuse the side bar but if I don’t tell this story now, it’ll leave my head – I almost wish it would. If you want to skip over it, I won’t be the least bit offended. In fact, I encourage you to.  Way Cooler Big Sister and I were at Biggest Little Sister and Brother ‘n’ Law’s trailer babysitting. First Nephew was tucked in good and tight. We settled in to watch a movie on Brother ‘n’ Law’s fancy new VCR with the multi-colored buttons on its front, a top loader. Way Cooler Big Sister, knowing full well what our dirty-minded Brother ‘n’ Law had been watching before we got there, it the play button instead of putting out very family friendly movie on. The screen zapped on and all I saw was a … this would be the time to skip the rest … a talking vagina.  It sounded like Linda Blair’s voice in ‘The Exorcist’ but it was fake flapping, spewing a bunch of gibberish about the Devil! I was traumatized. Way Cooler Big Sister laughed so hard she couldn’t breathe. Crying, I tried to wrestle the remote from her to turn it off. Needles to say when I discovered a stack of seventies/eighties porn movie boxes behind Bookend Brother’s bar, I wasn’t as queasy. I’d take a Burt Reynolds bush over a talking one any day.

The first rule of Babysitter’s Club at Bookend Brother’s house was do not, under any circumstances, let First Niece touch his records. And, I didn’t. I touched them for her. When she wasn’t running around outside with her friends, we’d listen to the ‘Grease’ soundtrack and throw darts. That was another rule. Do not, under any circumstances, let First Niece throw darts. Ah well, what they didn’t know then wouldn’t hurt them. First Niece almost took out a light above the board once. It was a close call. But it didn’t break. They were none the wiser. The rest of the time, I’d laze on their sectional, listen to countless records he had recently transferred over to cassette tapes and daydreamed. It was an easy gig. One I enjoyed. It was a privilege to be trusted to defend their castle and protect their young even though he would sometimes, when he’d had a little too much to drink take to mooning me and whomever else might be present. It’s like the beard was back! One trait this end of the book did not inherit.

***

My loveliest Bookend Brother, one of my dearest friends. Now that we are all grown up, there is nothing I enjoy more than I glass of red and a long conversation with him.

I think a bit more, in time, will be added here as well.

Love you all the way to the other end!

In propinquity,
Nic

Friday, June 14, 2019

High School Confidential



High School Confidential

I absolutely hated high school. Loathed every torturous second. It isn’t because I went through primary to ninth grade with the same crew, or that we’d be going to school outside of our community, or because the year before we were slated to go there was a race riot, or that on my first day of tenth grade while opening my assigned locker a pimp dropped his digits on a piece of scrap paper on my book bag and spent the first few weeks sitting dangerously close to me in Biology class – it just sucked the life out of me. Sure, the friends I’d come up with scattered like flies once we were bused out of Eastern Passage to Cole Harbour High. Most of them went on to do wonderful things and forged new friendships that have lasted them a lifetime. I decidedly did not. I was a library rat. I hung out in the hallways at lunch and talked to nerdy kids about music which I quite liked. I faked sick a lot so I could stay home. I had teachers I didn’t enjoy. I wasn’t engaged and I most certainly did not apply myself. I was one of the loners. It didn’t help that in my first Honors English class, sitting with all the popular Colby kids my teacher passed judgement on me quickly based on my appearance. He singled me out and quipped, “Where are you from? Let me guess, Eastern Passage.” I nodded, annoyed at his tone. “I thought so, you’re wearing black.” Big whoop. I had a black sweatshirt on with my jeans, the gal beside me was wearing a black sweater too. Brand name but still black. What kind of teacher says that to a new student? Any student? What kind of educator passes judgement based solely on appearance and geography? For good reason, I disliked him immediately. He did the same to fellow EPer a few rows over. He was wearing a leather jacket with an Iron Maiden patch on the back. A smart kid, with a well work copy of ‘Cather In the Rye’ in his back pocket. Our lovely teacher teased about his ‘hockey hair’ which was hilarious to me considering the meat head sitting in the desk in front of me an actual hockey player and dumb as a stump. But I digress. I was happy still have a few of my good friends from ninth grade in my corner. One of which was my wing woman the day I got in the biggest trouble of my teen years.

Music saved me during those years. Listening to it, feeling it, digesting it, dissecting it, absorbing it, wearing it, speaking it, wolfing down articles and liner notes, wallpapering my room with rock posters, and waxing poetic with anyone who would engage in lyrical discourse across all genres but in high school, I developed an affection on hair metal. It started at TC’s house watching endless hours of ‘Pepsi Power Hour’ on Much Music. She was obsessed with Faster Pussycat. And, it goes without saying that the harder and faster the music, the higher the hair got. BR was a massive Def Leppard fan who I was already familiar with because of Rock Star Brother. We all overdosed on and rocked out to a shoe-box of well-worn cassettes, GnR’s ‘Appetite For Destruction’, Crue’s ‘Shout at the Devil’, Poison’s ‘Look What the Car Dragged In’, Warrant’s ‘Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinkin Rich’, Whitesnake’s ‘Slip of the Tongue’, and of course TC’s beloved Faster Pussycat’s ‘Wake Me When it’s Over’ – the box was full of the hair metal standards. It was the one side of myself I could share with my friends, the side of them I could enjoy. I also had, at the very same time, a deep love for my new romantics and 80s pop. It was like having a split personality. I’ve always been one of those people, I like what I like, and I don’t care what anyone else thinks about it. Especially when it comes to music.

I was particularly smitten at the time with metal sty-lings of Slaughter. I ordered ‘Stick It to Ya’ from Columbia House and practically chained myself to the mailbox waiting for it. I mean I had to have it to learn every single lyric to every single song since Way Cooler Big Sister scored us tickets to see them (and Winger) open for KISS (sans make-up) in Halifax. I was impatiently counting down the days until the show, crossing them off on the calendar in my student handbook. And then our plans went down the shitter. Paul Stanley ran into a guardrail on stage in Johnstown Pennsylvania and cracked his ribs. His injury resulted in KISS’s Atlantic Canadian dates in Moncton, Halifax, and Sydney to be canceled. I’m pretty sure our hearts were more injured than his ribs. We. Were. Devastated. And then, the silver lining.

BR and I got wind that even though KISS had canceled the show, the boys from Slaughter and Winger were making a pit stop in Halifax for an in-store record sesh. It was a workday for Way Cooler Big Sister, so she couldn’t go. My Mother told me, even though it’s a school day, if Father Mine says it’s okay, I could go. Sigh. I dialed his work number with Devil horns crossed, praying to the Metal Gods he’d be agreeable. He was not, “There is NO way in HELL you’re skipping SCHOOL to go traipsing around with a bunch of god damn rock stars. You’re well too. No. You’re going to school.” I committed a sheer act of rebellion. I lied to my Mother and told her he said yes. There was no way I was missing the chance to go hang in a record store with Slaughter. I was a good egg, I never disobeyed direct orders. Odd if you think about it since I grew up with adults my whole life, you’d think I’d want to let my freak flag fly. But I respected my elders, for lack of a better word, and minded my manners. I knew early on that doing the right thing got you so much further in life than bucking the system. And really, it just wasn’t in my nature. I was a square peg tightly squeezed into a round hole.

It was a perfect day. I woke up to the sun shining. And, by some stroke of pure luck, as I was walking down my driveway to leave, Way Cooler Big Sister was walking up, hands full of mail. Guess what had arrived? At that exact moment? You guessed it, my cassette! I thought I’d have to buy a second copy for them to sign but Canada Post came to the rescue. I met BR and we bused across the bridge to Barrington Street. In those days, A&A Records and Sam the Record Man were across the street from one another. I confess, I spent far more time at Sam’s but on this day, A&A is where I needed to be. It’s where Slaughter would be, signing stuff. I wasn’t as big a fan of Winger, but they’d be at Sam’s, so we’d kill two birds with one stone. Us two teen queens parked our Jack Daniels sweatshirts in line. And waited. And waited. Like forever. Until there they were, behind a long table ready, willing, and armed with Sharpies. The first member of the band we met was the sweetest. He signed our stuff and smiled appreciatively. It went that way until we were standing before the owner of the dynamic voice who sang our favorite song at the time, ‘Fly to The Angels’. To our I guess visible dismay, he was less than gracious. He wouldn’t look up at us or reply to our kind words and request for a photo with him. Complete ignorance. Their drummer, who was sitting next to him, waiting patiently for us to come his way caught the whole disappointment and invited us around to take snap a picture. He made the day and I couldn’t wait to have it developed! We left A&A a little less impressed. Who am I kidding!? A lot less impressed. It stuck with me because when MySpace became a thing, I took advantage of the platform to tell that singer, just what I thought of him while minding my manners at the same time. BR and I popped over to Sam’s to see if we’d have better luck with that crew. The band were all there. Kip Winger, from the whispers I heard, was AWOL. We didn’t really know what to do so we fake-browsed through the records and tried to further eavesdrop on all the nervous chatter coming from the band. Kip eventually emerged. To me, he looked a creepy ass decrepit vampire in desperate need of a serious blood bath. His seedy eyes were heavily lined, his sneer insincere. Who were we kidding, he was whacked right out of his heavy metal gourd. I took note of the long fingernail on his right hand presumably used to play his bass but more likely doubled as a coke spoon. It was ghastly filthy. I didn’t approach him because he wigged me out too much, but we did enjoy the banter with his band. Super nice fellows. Much like those who frequented our basement with Rock Star Brother throughout the years.

When I got home, I excitedly imparted every detail in warp speed to Way Cooler Sister. And, then the phone rang. Father Mine found out (someone totes ratted me out) I blew off school to go to Halifax with my bud. He was livid. Never had I ever heard those kinds of words come out of his mouth. Ever! I am sure the other five did at some point, likely more than once, holy snappin’ assholes he was wild. He called me a few choice names and did the whole ‘if you EVER do that again’ speech but his voice trailed off.

It was like the opening montage of a Twisted Sister video. Imagine, the one and only time I got into riotous trouble was because of rock ‘n’ roll. I’d sold my soul, what can I say.

***

I saw something on the social media that reminded me of this day and the enclosed photo. I had to add it as a creative non-fiction piece for my project. Of course, years later, we laughed about it, Dad and me. Doesn’t mean he still didn’t shake his head and tell me he thought I had more sense. I joked with him and said, “At least I didn’t run away and go on tour with them!” Back then, I just might have. Who knows …?

In propinquity,
Nic