The following pieces are stories I wrote for a local magazine called Bread 'n Molasses.
Fragmented Memories of My Gramma's Garden
This was the first article I ever had published. The first stone in the path of my writing career.
My Gramma's garden was a place of beauty and oddities.
A place of nourishment and eccentricities.
A place of wonder and silence
A place of memory and warm aromas.
My Grandparent's home sat in the middle of her paradise.
As you approached the driveway you drove past the "spooky forest" which was fronted by rock gardens filled with many types of creepers and heather.
A large hedge bordered the right side of the their driveway; a hedge that was once home to many animals, including raccoons that more then once climbed through my Gramma's window and slept at the end of her bed.
At the end of hedge was a gate and beyond the gate was a large compost. Scraps from the potent "pig bucket" that she kept under the sink in the kitchen were carted out daily to this pile. Once nature had taken its course, the compost matter was used to fertilize her beautiful gardens.
My Gramma grew vegetables of all kinds and loved to steam them lightly and eat them right out the pot, dripping with butter, while watching a beloved nature show on PBS in her utility room.
She had a greenhouse that always smelled of musty earth and housed her many varieties of tomato plants. I always feared to go in there and especially into the little potting shed that was at the back of the greenhouse. It was too warm, the air too close and a cozy home for spiders.
She grew squash and beans, sweet peas and raspberries, broad beans and lettuce. On a summer day when she wasn't fishing we would often find her lounging on a lawn bed, shelling peas while watching "One Life to Live" or "General Hospital" on her 13" black and white TV. She had a great long cord for it that extended the length of her garden so that she could gasp in horror at all the loud kissing while she relaxed and worked near a patch of sunny flowers.
Her little house was surrounded by her flower gardens.
Flowers in window boxes.
Flowers in gardens below her dining room window, below the living room window, below the bedroom windows.
Flowers in hanging baskets from every corner of her house or hanging from the low branches of her apple tree.
Flowers in pots on her brick paths, in her driveway or under trees. Often they were not in pots at all, but in large barnacles she had collected while beach combing.
My Gramma being a person of the sea as well as of the earth made her fishing experiences part of her garden. Behind a fence covered with honey sweet nasturtiums, she had a table she and my Grandfather used for gutting fish. Often I would trek slowly along the garden stones to the table, not wanting to step in the mud and poke fish eyes or marvel at the fish eggs of a salmon.
She had a smoke house in the garden and used it often. The smell of smoking salmon and nasturtiums, fresh turned earth and fish heads is not one that is easily forgotten.
Near the end of my Gramma's life her garden took on an even more eccentric quality. When she hadn't the strength to plant all the types of beautiful and vibrant flowers that she loved, she decorated the ones she had. She would spray paint the teazle blue, yellow, orange or red and sprinkle them with sparkles, often while they were still in the garden. Her sunflowers which had deep red orange leaves and bright yellow centres wore happy smiles which she'd drawn on with a permanent marker.
A real treasure of her garden was Randolf. About 10 years before my Gramma passed away, she found a piece of driftwood while out fishing that bore a resemblance to the neck and head of a reindeer. For 11 months of the year Randolph stood watch in the garden. He would become part of it sometimes becoming wrapped in vines, or showered with petals, soaked with rain for days on end and on rare occasion, be covered with snow. But in December Randolf was brought into the living room and lovingly decorated as "The Christmas Tree". My Gramma would find twisted branches of evergreens and display them behind is head like antlers. These would be covered in many lights. And as he was a reindeer named Randolf, he had on light, a red one, on his nose. The best part of Randolf was that weathering of the marvelous piece of driftwood caused a split at in the "facial area" that looked like a smile. My Gramma would stare at him with great pride and grin and ask me "Doesn't he look happy?"
When kneeling in the garden became too difficult for her, my father made my Gramma sturdy raised garden beds so that she could continue to grow the veggies she so loved. He made them out of thick beams which he bound together with railway spikes. I remember thinking that the only way these beautiful garden beds would ever come apart were if they were bulldozed down...which is what ended up happening in the end.
When my Gramma passed away 8 years ago, a year after my Grandfather had died, my mother and her siblings sold the house and the land. The house, which was 70 years old at least, and in need of rewiring and re-piping was torn down. The "spooky forest" where my brother and I had played and scared ourselves was pulled down. And all of my Gramma's beautiful, wondrous, eccentric and beloved gardens were dug up and replaced by 2 houses.
There are more memories for me of this special place then I can ever write down. I feel great sorrow for what was lost, and even more sadness for the families who now live with the ghost of the beauty created by a woman who not only loved to garden, but needed to. But I mostly feel happiness and great fortune that I was once witness to a most beautiful place.
Seagulls in Blue
This is a story about not being able to live a silly mistake down. This is a story about the mysteries of the universe. This is a story about blueberry muffins, seagulls and my Gramma.
When I was in grade 8, I took a home economics course and one Friday afternoon we learned how to make blueberry muffins. I remember carefully writing out the recipe on a bright yellow, green lined paper with my baking partner Tracey. I remember that we carefully measured, stirred and baked our way to perfect blueberry muffins. When I got home from school, I felt the need to repeat this feat of genius for my parents and again, I met with success.
The next day we went to my Grandparent's place for a visit and being that I was quite proud of my new muffin making abilities, I asked if I could make some blueberry muffins for them. Yes, I had left the recipe at home, but having successfully made them twice the day before, I fancied myself an expert and decided that proceeding by memory would serve just fine.
All seemed well until I noticed that my muffins, in their pretty coloured muffin cups, were refusing to rise. Sigh...my memory, as it turned out, had served me badly; I'd completely forgotten a very vital ingredient for successful muffin baking: baking powder. When the timer went off, signaling the completion of my glutinous, sticky mounds of blue, I took them out of the oven and plated them anyway. I gave one to my Grandpa who kindly choked it down with a smile and a bold faced "hmmm...good" lie. I attempted to eat one but it immediately sat heavy in tummy, along with my pride, and I gave up after a few bites. My Gramma out and out refused to eat one and with a laugh said that she would feed them to her seagulls.
My Gramma's seagulls were not her seagulls per say, but they were seagulls that knew her. A quick drive from her home brought her to a beach frequented by seagulls looking for food scraps. She went there so often, most days of the week, that at the sound of her car pulling up to the side of the road, the gulls would gather and hover in a great ball of frenzy overhead waiting for the treats she would toss onto the sand for them from her bucket: fish heads and other bits of sea life that she didn't eat, table scraps and other non-compostable food times. Some of the seagulls were around for years, she would recognize them by their wing patterns, and her favourite one was a one legged sea gull. He was there every time she drove up and although he would sometimes stand back away from the crowd, my Gramma always made sure he got his share.
About a week after my baking humiliation, we went back to my Grandparent's place for Sunday dinner. As we sat in their living room eating take out Chinese food, I asked my Gramma if the seagulls had enjoyed my blueberry muffins. Immediately, her head went back in a fit of silent laughter. Once she caught her breath she told me that they had indeed enjoyed my muffins. She said one had tried to fly away with a muffin in his beak, but couldn't because it was too heavy and after her one legged friend ate some he fell over because the weight of the muffin in his stomach was too much for his one leg. "And then" She continued, since she was on a roll, "when he went back into the water, he almost drowned because muffin in his tummy was so heavy it caused him to tip face first into the ocean!" Everyone found this to be hilarious, even if it wasn't true (I think it wasn't true...), except me, and it quickly became a story that was repeated often and always at my expense.
I can't remember how old I was when my Gramma stopped seeing the one legged seagull down at the beach, but when he stopped coming, she was very sad and missed him terribly. She loved all seagulls, loved how they were part of the ocean; she loved their grace and endurance in the turbulent environment they called their home. But she always had an extra soft spot for the one that was able to live at ease with the hardships of life on the sea with one leg. She told me that when she died, she hoped she would come back as a one legged seagull. Partially so that she could do her business on neighbours that she felt had wronged her, but mostly because that seagull, her one legged friend, had such heart and spirit that to be like him, would be a joy.
As I write this story, it is the 10th anniversary of the passing of my Gramma. It was a difficult time when she died and with every year that passes, I miss her more, not less. The world though, is full of mysteries, of things unexplained and I think she may have gotten her wish.
A few days after she passed, my Dad went down to the Oak Bay Marina where she used to dock her boat. He walked up and down the wooden boards, breathing in the scent of salty sea air and boat fuel, letting the memories of my Gramma's fishing years fill is his mind. When he reluctantly returned to his truck, someone was waiting for him; sitting on his the hood of his vehicle, staring at him and not flying away, was a one legged seagull. Needless to say, my Dad was quite taken aback. He too knew of my Gramma's hope to return after death not just as a seagull, but specifically as the kind that was sitting on his truck. My Dad stood still and stared at it for a while the gull continued to look at him. Eventually he said "Well Mum, if that's you, I hope you're happy." And with that, the one legged seagull took to the air and flew away.
It's comforting to think that such a thing could be possible and who's to say that that seagull wasn't my Gramma. Well, a lot of people I suppose would say that it wasn't, but I would like to believe that it was her. I would like to believe that the one legged seagull I saw hopping along on a beach in Parksville, BC four years later was her too. And I would like to believe that she is still one today; flying above the ocean, graceful, hearty, and full of joy while diligently avoiding any consumption of badly baked blueberry muffins.
Oh Can-it-fit Day
I had a dream recently in which I told someone in the dream that for my Bread ‘N Molasses article I was
going to write about soccer. When I woke up I realized, no matter how certain I was in the dream, there was no way I could do this. The World Cup News has obviously slipped into my subconscious enough for me to dream about it, but all I really know about soccer is that it seems necessary for a player to rip his shirt off when they score a goal.
I also thought about writing an article detailing my recent trip with my daughter Sorcha, to the West Coast. I thought about describing all that had changed in the 4 years since we’d moved away, but I wasn’t sure where to begin. It’s not that I’m against change, not at all. It’s just that so much changed so quickly. The community I grew up in no longer looked like my old stomping grounds. I was a stranger to the new box stores and large ever expanding suburban areas. I was but a ghost of what once was a quieter town.
However, while we were away, we made sure to honour a tradition held in our family every year on Canada Day for the last 8 years; the wearing of the Canada Day dress. This seemed like as good a topic as any.
In 2003, when Sorcha was 20 months old, we went to Ottawa for my sister-in-law’s wedding. A friend of my mother-in-law generously volunteered to make Sorcha a dress for the wedding. While on the hunt for material for this dress, she found a material covered in Canadian Flags and insisted on making Sorcha 2 dresses. Both dresses were beautiful. Sorcha looked adorable in her wee white dress covered in little blue flowers, but unfortunately the only time she wore this dress was at her Aunt’s wedding. However, the Canadian Flag dress got a lot more use and became much more to us then just a dress.
On Canada Day of that year, we attended a party at a friend’s place. While Sorcha tromped around the yard in her second new dress of the season, Canadian Flags waving from shoulders to knees, our friend Erin took her picture and sent me a copy not long after we’d returned home. It was adorable. She’d caught Sorcha in mid strut. She looked sure footed and proud. I love this picture and hung it immediately on the fridge.
The following Canada Day, the dress being a tent style dress, was a bit shorter, but still fit very well. I’m not sure what made me think to do so, but while Sorcha stood in the kitchen waiting for her close up, I grabbed her yard stomping photo off the fridge and asked her to hold it front of her while I took a picture of her in Canada Day Dress. And the rest is history. Since then, every Canada Day Sorcha puts on the dress and we take a picture of her wearing it while holding the picture of herself wearing the dress from the Canada Day the year before and in the picture of the picture she’s holding a picture of herself wearing the dress from the year before…you get the idea. Every year the roots to this tradition get longer, the history gets deeper, the little girl in the picture gets bigger, and the dress she’s wearing gets smaller. In 2006 it had become a very short dress. So short that shorts were now required under the dress. By Canada Day 2009 it was a full on shirt, but it still fit her.
As Canada Day 2010 neared, some of our friends anxiously asked if we were going to bring the dress with us on our trip out west to continue to the tradition, but more importantly, did I think the dress would still fit? Honestly, I really didn’t think it would. I had considered over the year making it bigger by adding a new panel of material to the dress, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that it would be like cheating. If the dress in its original state didn’t fit, then it didn’t fit. We would figure out how to show this new development when the time came. However, on July 1st 2010, with a bit of struggling and mild squawks of protest from Sorcha that she couldn’t get one of her arms in one of the arm holes, we got the dress on. It still fit…sort of. It wasn’t much shorter then it had been the previous year as most of her growth had been in her legs, but it was tighter across the shoulders. The button at the top of the dress refused to close and it cut, rather painfully apparently, under her arms. Sorcha suffered wearing it long enough to for the taking of the tradition photo and then politely asked to have it taken off.
This day has become very special to us because it’s not just about tradition, it’s about change. The size of the dress represents the physical changes in Sorcha and the backdrop of the photograph represents all of the changes our family has been through since we started this yearly snapshot. We’ve moved a lot. Between her birth and turning 5, we moved with Sorcha 5 times. All of those moves are captured in the Canada Day photo because the first 5 photos are taken in different apartments. The 6th photo was taken in the same on as the 5th; a big deal to be sure for us. When I clicked the button on the camera, capturing Sorcha in her dress in front of the same door as the year before, it was a very happy moment. The same place 2 years showed continuity in our lives. Something we had sorely lacked for years. Last year, the 2009 photo was taken in a different location then the previous 2, in front of a different door, but it wasn’t a rented door it was our door. This was the first Canada Day photo taken in a house we’d bought. The photo now had new layer; home. This change in the photograph was an extremely welcome one and one we were never sure would exist.
Now of course, this year the photo was taken no where near that door, because of being, as I mentioned, on the west coast, but next Canada Day, or as we now call it,
“Oh Can-It-Fit Day, we’ll pull out the dress and the camera and Sorcha will stand in front of our door. The wearing of the dress is a fun tradition, but the Canada Day picture to me represents the journey our family has taken to find a place we could call home. That journey is finally over. We finally have a home Sorcha can grow up in and grow of the Canada Day Dress in. The picture of Sorcha in or at least holding the dress will now simply show the passage of time. As I said, I don’t mind change because clearly it’s inevitable, but our home, our door is one thing I truly hope stays the same.
The Tradition of Change
A couple years ago I wrote an article for Bread 'N Molasses about a tradition in our family. Some of you may recall the story of my daughter, her Canada Day dress and a picture. For those of you who are not familiar with the tale, Sorcha was given a dress decked out with Canadian flags when she was 20 months old. The dress is a sort of tent style cut which means that as long as we can get it over her head, it will fit her.
Every year on Canada Day Sorcha wears her dress and while she holds a picture of herself from the year before wearing the dress, we snap another picture. The dress became less of a dress and more of a shirt by the 4th picture and by the 6th, a bit too snug under the arms to have on comfortably for very long. And even when the dress started to become difficult to put on, the picture was still taken because that's our tradition.
Last year, we didn't think the dress would fit, but with a bit of struggling we managed fandangle Sorcha into the garment. As she smiled dutifully for her picture we assumed that the photo taken on Canada Day 2012 would be quite different. We assumed that more than likely she would be not only holding the 2011 picture but the dress as well.
But we were wrong. The dress still fits.
This year, instead of Sorcha posing with last year's photo in front of door in our house, the dress was taken south to Florida and my parents happily carried out our traditional picture taking on Canada Day in Disney World. For the 10th Canada Day in a row, Sorcha donned the beautiful little dress and with her favourite Disney character Goofy, the Canada Day photo was snapped.
She looks happy, she looks older... she looks uncomfortable. It is quite obvious that this year's picture will definitely be the last one taken in this manner. We're not quite sure what we'll do next year as I in no way wish to alter the dress to fit Sorcha. Like many things in life, change is common and even traditions have to change from time to time if you want to keep them going. Sorcha outgrowing the dress was an inevitable happening and as she changes and grows so will our tradition.
Unfortunately, some changes are ones you don't expect.
The first picture taken of Sorcha in her Canada Day dress, the one taken in 2003 that started it all, was taken at a Canada Day party in the back yard of the parents of a friend of ours. Our friend's parents have held this annual party at their place for many years and every year, as the people attending get older, the yard becomes filled with more children and grandchildren, new spouses and new friends.
This year however, the party was not only filled with laughter, children, games, old friends and new, but also with sadness. The host of the party, Pat, had passed away in April. Donna, his wife, wanted to keep up the tradition as it was an event that Pat loved and it was one of the only times of the year that this group of people all got together. Unfortunately, we were not there for it, but we were told that at one point Pat's son Sean gave a touching toast to his father and everyone at the party had moment of silence for Pat.
In the article I wrote 2 years ago, I talked about how the picture was not just a tradition, but a reflection of how our lives had changed over the years. It showed the passage of time, the changes in Sorcha and presented to the world our history as a family. Now, the Canada Day pictures that we have taken of our daughter every year for the past 9 years have gained a deeper meaning. To me these precious photos now say that while things will change around you and events good and bad will occur that you did or didn't expect, life is still beautiful and certain traditions, even if they change from year to year, should be and need to be continued.
Pat, this one's for you.