Monday, August 31, 2009

Twilight Insight

I remember my father. Freshly retired and clutching a retirement present of a round trip ticket to Canada, looking slightly bemused in a snapshot in a local paper. Travel! Now! What a cliché.

I would ask him about the work he left behind. The work that housed, fed and educated his six children for nearly fifty years. Work that kept him sequestered from any unwarranted intrusion into his day, away from the lot of us apart from a ‘dire emergency’. I always understood that to be one of us dead or at the very least hospitalized. My mother never telephoned him for he was a Very Busy Man with Very Important Work.

None of us were privy to his daily doings. It involved The Government for he was a civil servant in the County Council. Something about land expropriation for road expansions and delinquent rent collection and it was Top Secret. And that was, and is, all I ever knew. Occasionally he would be involved in political elections, overseeing the vote counts and getting his face on television to announce the winning candidate. Heady days and the peak of his bureaucratic career.

But when it was over, it was really over. All those hours, days, weeks, years were rarely alluded to. He was like a man released from prison. His days became filled with other activities. He kept up a vast correspondence with far-flung relatives, including myself. The letters were full of news of deaths, births, marriages, graduations and always included a question at the bottom - to insure he got replies, he told me once. He went to town every day on the ‘Pensioner Special’ at ten in the morning and met others like himself for ‘the best lunch in town’ and then walked around the city he loved.

He told me that a stranger stopped him once on a weekday afternoon right in the middle of Patrick Street and said to him he had the happiest face he ever saw on a man.

He travelled to Dublin, London, England, to Africa, to Wales and Scotland. And of course to Canada and around the U.S. He once spent two weeks wandering around Oxford just talking to the men who worked on maintaining all the old walls and buildings.

I would think to myself. All those years. All. Those. Years. Close to fifty of them. And he never talks about them.

And I finally understand.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Gros Morne

It has to be one of the most spectacular places in the world. Gros Morne National Park. A World Heritage Site. Fjords, mountains, lakes, beaches, fishing villages. And the most phenomenal trails and hikes.

And we finally made it there. The grandgirl and I. We've been trying to get there for 6 years now. But keep getting distracted by the sidetrips we sidle into on our way there. That's the way we travel. It would drive most people mad, I suspect. But we often say to each other: it's not about finding places, it's about places finding us. And this year we kind of meandered there. Newfoundland is quite staggeringly enormous. It's only one of ten provinces of Canada (there are also three territories) but having seen most of them, I have to say it is the most beautiful. In every way. Its vistas, its people, its sense of community, its music, its proud history. So after driving about 700 kilometres from where we live, we reached Gros Morne. The jewel in the crown of Newfoundland and Labrador.

We stayed in a lovely cabin at Cosy Corner Cottages and used this as our base of operations. The hikes we took were spectacular, encompassing many different types of terrain, wetlands, woods, marshes and cliffs.

We spent a whole day on Shallow Beach, which curved into a gentle 4 kilometre silken strand with terrific swimming.

All in all, another awesome annual vacation for the two of us.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Forty Years On

A part of me so deep and lost still loves you, he said.

And sometimes the door cracks open and I throw my head to the sky and howl

In pain, in fear, in loss, in memory, in longing.

Do you understand?

Do you understand this at all?

That this part of me exists only for you?

It died on the day we did. But it was never buried.

It lies there without a marker, without a headstone.

And now I can see all that we missed.

Because we couldn’t look into each other’s eyes

And bare each other’s souls, the we, the us, by us, for us, that us, that we

That flared so magnificently then. Like fireworks knocking out the stars.

I’ve never loved like that love with the fingers of me on the fingers of you

So tight, I could have snapped them off, one by one, do you remember?

But instead I licked and kissed them one by one, all ten, over and over.

And moved to your toes, one by one, over and over.

And told you stories of me meeting you and you meeting me.

Do you remember, you must remember.

You wanted my voice in your head all night long.

To lay your devils down and stop the sound they made

Keening words that told you not to tell me your secrets

To never trust me, to betray me,

And to get up and leave me.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The African Violet

Blogging will be sporadic over the next few weeks owing to both daughter and granddaughter being here for a month.

And boy, are we enjoying the weather, it has been a glorious summer in Newfoundland!

In the ginormous cornucopia of dastardly political deeds and universal idiocies to blog about, it is virtually impossible to choose one or two. So I won’t. My head begs for relief, as I'm sure yours does too!

Instead I bring you:

I wrote the following when my father died back in 1996, and I think it deserves a fresh airing:

The African Violet
Now, what can I get the Da, the shirts and ties pile up and if he lives to be ninety he has enough cigars,
God, it’s always so hard to think of something he doesn’t throw in a drawer or on a shelf and cluck to himself
At the foolishness of wasting their money on stuff for him that he doesn’t care about or want or need.
Sure God doesn’t he have everything, a lovely pension, a great car, a house, all the travel he could manage.
Now what were we talking about last night at Scrabble, Myra and I had a passion for African Violets,
Couldn’t I get him an African Violet in a nice pot, I’m sure he’s never been given a flower in his life,
He’ll probably think it some new foolishness, and purse his lips and think, do I need the additional responsibility now
Of watering this, and at this stage of my life too, I have better things to do than take care of things in pots.
And four years later I’m there and I see on the sideboard the grey china pot and the green African Violet.
Ah Da, I say, it is looking lovely, aure you took great care of it!
Ah now, why wouldn’t I, he says, taking a great puff off his cigar.
And three months after that, I’m in the house for the last time and there it is, on the kitchen table, in full bloom.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

The Black in Blackwater

Why is it when it comes to the rape, abuse, exploitation and degradation of innocent children that avowed Christians of all stripes are nearly always involved?

The saga of Blackwater continues. The mega profit outsourced corporate arm extraordinaire of the U.S. military presence in Iraq. Between murdering for entertainment and evidence suppression, wife swapping, money laundering, tax evasion and redeploying the certified mentally ill back to Iraq, an ex-employee has now given sworn testimony that Erik Prince, CEO of Blackwater and avowed clean living Christian, turned a blind eye to the sexual abuse, rape and exploitation of young Iraqi children that took place in the Blackwater compounds in Baghdad.

I’m not surprised. I’ve maintained for years that only the tip of the iceberg about Iraq’s illegal invasion has been exposed. There is more to come.

And the real perpetrators are still running free. Prosecution is still off the table. Indeed. More protection for child molesters. Was it ever thus.

I may not be surprised about this. But I still have the capacity to feel sickened.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Fog People

There’s some that calls it fog, let them, I say.

There’s some that calls it rolling devils, they’re close.

There’s some, like me, who sit by the shore

Late in the evening, with the sun but a memory

And watch the shadow selves of centuries past,

Slither down from the graveyard on the hill behind us.

And get busy at the work of hauling out the catch

From the dancing grey boats on the slippery water

And spread it row on row on the flakes to dry.

We watch them swirl and spin and shift,

The dog and me, and growl if they get too close.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

What am I offered for a slightly used Senate?

Does anyone else get the feeling that governments everywhere are waiting for Tinkerbell to appear and make everything all better? I keep reading/hearing/seeing that we have ‘turned the corner’ on the economy, markets are on the ‘upswing’ and peak oil, no, no, no such thing.

Forget about Bush and his Keystone Cabal hiding all the evidence of climate change during his sad and sorry terms of office and Halliburton/Blackwater playing a brand new version of Murder Inc., over there – look here comes Tinkerbell!

Well not in Arizona, no sirree Bob, seems like in Arizona, Dems Wot Rules are planning on selling the State Capital Building. And the Senate Building. Seriously.

Pull up yer chair and read all about it.

Could this be a prelude to the White House and its contents in a yard sale next Saturday?

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Stories of Friendship and Betrayal: Part 3

Installment 1 of this story is here

It’s a prickly place to be in, that narrow spot between a rock and a hard place. I couldn’t tell the bride what had happened, and ruin her wedding day. And what was the point of telling Ted about his friend and rugby mate? Would he exact revenge? Would she turn her back on me as a liar? I decided to forget about it after telling Billy he was never to touch me again and he was off my hug list for life.

Billy never pulled it together employment wise. He had been studying engineering in the hope of securing a great job like his older engineer brother but stories rippled forth about incompetent professors and inadequate instructions. Billy sat the same exams so many times that his co-students were eventually over ten years younger than him. Then he ‘didn’t fit in’. Ilona was full of sympathy for him, listening attentively and nodding as he filed his complaints to all who would listen. She never saw a flaw in him and kept financing his failed educational endeavours by turning her back on the finer side of her artistic talent and acquiring full time employment designing branch offices of banks.

I was very fond of her, for a variety of reasons. She was loyal, she was an energy force to be reckoned with and apart from the fatal flaw of her odd marriage, was a very interesting person. We all tolerated Billy because of Ilona.

She had the remarkable gift of making her friends’ lives appear fascinating to her other friends. She would extol one’s gifts and virtues (“Oh, you should read some of Terry’s work, she’s such a writer and a singer too - and her photographs, my dear, her talent is awesome, and Ted, he’s her husband - brilliant athlete, so tall and good looking and their daughters, she makes all their clothes you know and dresses them in black and white sometimes to show off their blondness, you just have to meet them all…..”). We all felt several inches taller and more exciting in our humdrum lives having heard Ilona’s press releases on us all.

Ilona had two children by Billy and not without some effort on her part as he was disinterested in the procreative end of things according to Ilona. He was a distant father and she was, to put it succinctly, an indifferent mother. Ted and I babysat the children from time to time and were shocked at their neediness and one time there was one of the worst cases of nappy rash on one of them that I’ve ever seen. I managed to heal it with a cure-all ointment from Ireland and doses of sunshine on the naked little bottom. I was frankly too scared to take the child to the doctor as I thought he might have turned Billy and Ilona in for child neglect. Really, really poor judgement on my part and I see that now. Ted and I were godparents to both children which hindered a balanced appraisal of the situation.

All was right in the world Ilona had created for herself. Until she phoned me late one night about twelve years into her marriage to say she had no money and Billy had maxed out all her credit cards in the past few months. Thousands and thousands of dollars in unexpected debt in restaurants, pubs, flowers, jewellers, none of which she had benefited from.

She had finally confronted Billy and he had admitted to an affair with the daughter of a prominent politician in Toronto and bingo, she was pregnant by him. Ilona was devastated. Billy had left an hour before she called me. By that time, Ted and I were separated and I was struggling financially myself. However, my policy in these matters, rather than giving money, is to ask what is needed. Food, she answered, in tears, and clothes for the children. Billy had provided little to no financial support over the years. And would not provide any now. That was a given.

So I did what I could for her, whilst dealing with my own demons of the time. We would get together as often as we could and I would take her children for a week in the summer.

Out of the blue about three years into her separation, I had a long message from her on my answering machine. In this she said that she had carefully thought out what she was going to say and here it was, she had always been interested in my husband (now ex) Ted and as he and I had been separated for a while now, she had bought theatre tickets and was going to invite him to the theatre in the hopes of beginning a relationship with him and she hoped I didn’t mind.

What made this message extraordinarily hurtful was that several years before, a bunch of us women had sat down and agreed that the worst damage one of us could inflict on another was to date/have an affair with/pursue each other’s partners, ex or otherwise. It was a pact.

Her wedding day came to mind as I played the message over and over. The secret I had never shared. And I so wanted to inflict this on her now. A “Guess what happened on your wedding day?” revenge phone call.

But I didn’t. Something about the high road, something about revenge being a dish best eaten cold. What I did was gather all her paintings and artwork off my walls. There were a lot - gifts given over the years. I placed them prominently around the garden at a huge garage sale I had when I was downsizing from the family home. I priced them all at one dollar each. They sold right away. The inner mean little me hoped that at one time she would spot one in a house and be told its sale price.

She and Ted lasted just over six weeks. She and I haven’t spoken to this day. Billy went on to have four children in four years with his wealthy partner who then dumped him. He went back to live at his elderly mother’s. Ilona moved to the country and was involved in a fraud scheme at a local art gallery and was held criminally responsible. Subsequently, her son was jailed for drug dealing. These two items I gleaned from the newspapers.

One couldn’t make this stuff up.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Stories of Friendship and Betrayal: Part 2

Ilona was a big young raw-boned Scottish woman. Her face had a strange unfinished look. As if by playing with her face a little more you would have a stunning beauty on your hands – perhaps by squeezing her nose just a little to make it smaller and her chin to give it a little point, and push those farmhouse cheekbones a little higher to give them more prominence.

Her hair was red, that golden red, and hung to her waist and it made you forget all about her raw-boned face for it was that magnificent. She was an artist and a visionary. One of her heroes was the Scottish architect Mackintosh, one of her many artistic pursuits was unusual needlework along with textile art. Her looks were at odds with these finer interests, her hands were enormous and to watch her expertly wield delicate handmade lace and fine embroidery into breathtaking pictures was a shock to the senses.

Newly emigrated to Canada, she was staying in this Scottish boarding house on the Beaches in Toronto and was dating the owners’ eldest son who shared her birthday. They were both twenty-five. I met her about six months after her Toronto arrival, through my husband, Ted, and her boyfriend Ian who played on the same rugby team. All names are changed to protect both the innocent and the guilty.

Funny that, when one is an emigrant to a new and more vast country than one’s native land, the new friendships that are formed are quick, intense and all encompassing in a very brief period of time. It was that way for me and Ilona.

A few months after I met her the healthy outdoor glow had faded from her face. Ian had met someone else. Someone so at odds in appearance with Ilona as to be almost comical. A young woman just turned twenty with a boy’s name, Robbie, who was so utterly tiny, delicate and fragile against Ilona’s heartiness as to make his jilting of her only more painful. Robbie was, and still is, the love of his life. Being in the small circle that we were in, Ilona still came to the rugby games and hung around, wearing, it seemed an extra coat of dignity and pride around the tiny little Robbie and her stalwart Ian. Only venting to a trusted few such as myself.

I was startled to see her take up with Ian’s younger brother, Billy, who was a bit of a waster in more ways than one. He could never stick to anything. His mother bemoaned his dependency. Bumming from her and her pensioner husband as they tried to make ends meet with boarders and the additional burden of supporting their teenage daughter and a grand-daughter, the product of their older daughter’s brief liaison with a long evaporated and ever nameless ‘foreigner’.

It’s funny that, how we can sit outside others’ life situations and decisions and take a psychological profile of it all and a lot of good it does any of us. They’re going to proceed on their life path anyway. The race was on, in any case, as to who would get to the altar first, Ian and Robbie or Ilona and Billy. Ilona waited. I think she wanted to make sure Ian was serious about Robbie. He was. A month after Ian and Robbie’s wedding, Ted and I were witnesses to the betrothal of Billy and Ilona.

The wedding was held in a tiny house in the Beaches, recently rented by Ilona. Billy’s suit of burgundy velvet with a lavish lace-enshrouded shirt pushed the bride’s creamy silk simple dress into backdrop. Cascades of lace protruded from both his cuffs and poured down the front of the burgundy jacket. His thinning black hair was tied in a matching velvet bow at the back of his head. He swooped around, posing fetchingly now and again against the fireplace, in the garden, in a wing chair while we took pictures.

However, the biggest shock of the day was waiting for me. About midway through the festivities as I was exiting the bathroom which was down a tiny hall off the kitchen, I was literally pounced upon by Billy who had obviously been lying in wait. He shoved me back into the bathroom, closing the door behind us and began kissing me. I was so shocked it took me a few minutes to catch my breath.

“This is your f***ing wedding day you bastard and Ilona is a friend of mine!” I finally exploded, “Get your f***ing hands off me!”

Except I used stronger language.

In response, he laughed. He laughed and laughed.

“Haven’t you heard of open marriage?” he finally sneered, “I’m in an open marriage!”

“Starting on your wedding day?” I said, “Does Ilona agree with your behaviour?”

“Frankly,” he said, “I really don’t care. Now are you going to play or not?”

Continued here.