Enter a contest in which the prize is a trophy, and win first place. (In this case it was a mandatory grade eight public speaking contest. We picked a topic from a list, wrote a speech, memorized it and delivered it in front of an audience consisting of peers, judges, siblings, parents, teachers, unsuspecting friends and neighbours and people who wandered in from the street by mistake.)
Bring the trophy home and pester members of your family until someone finally agrees to take a picture of you holding it, preferably on your front lawn with the engraved bit showing your name facing forward and yourself squinting into the sun.
When the film is developed, be so dismayed by how the shadows make your face look like that of an angry gorilla that you feel like crying and burning it to destroy the evidence. Wonder if you might actually look like that in real life.
Decide that although in this photo you definitely look like hell you are still proud of your achievement and are not likely to have any other pictures of it to preserve for posterity. Carefully tear the head off, although not carefully enough to save the cup and handles portion of the trophy. Rip it up anyway and throw it away.
Mount touched up photo in album and label it “Headless Public Speaking Contest Winner 1962”.
You might also want to prepare yourself for the following conversation.
“What the hell is this?”
“It’s a picture of the trophy I won for public speaking in grade eight.”
When you lose electricity in a storm, do you light the candles or turn on the flashlight? How many of each do you own?
I have no idea where all the flashlights are in this house, although I know W has lots of them. Candles are more my thing. Most of those are on the fireplace mantle along with a box of wooden matches. We have a barbecue lighter, which I hate, because it takes for flaming ever to fire unless someone besides me is using it. I also have cigarette lighters which I use for lighting incense sticks. It appears I am a fan of fire. My phone is always close by if I need to light things up in a hurry. Despite all this preparedness, the power rarely ever goes out here during a storm. I honestly can’t remember the last time it happened. However, that doesn’t stop me from sitting around with the lights out. I love candlelight.
You are given $5,000 and the chance to exchange it for one of two envelopes. One envelope contains $50,000 and one contains $500. Do you make the trade? Why or why not?
I’m no gambler. The odds are rarely in my favor. I went to the horse races once and was thrilled to break even. So no, I would not make the trade. I would grab the five grand and run.
What’s your first memory?
I don’t trust that my very early memories are really my own, rather than stories I’ve been told. I think I remember standing up in the back seat of a car behind my dad and seeing a gigantic animal wander across the road in front of us while the rest of the passengers (mom, brother, grandparents) exclaimed excitedly about it. Several miles down the road I apparently said “Oh my, that was a very big mouse.” Moose, mouse, big scary creature – it was all the same to me. My mother told me I was two years old and couldn’t possibly have a memory of that, and she’s probably right. But standing in the backseat behind my dad is something I know I did all the time. It was the best way to travel for a kid who got motion sickness if she sat down and couldn’t see out the windows. There were no seat belts or booster seats way back then. There were some really big mice wandering around on the roads though.
What do you do if you can’t sleep at night? Do you count sheep, toss and turn, or get up and try to do something?
I read. Until my eyes burn. But falling asleep is normally easy for me. If there’s too much going on in my head, I think about breathing. Not making myself take slow, deep breaths or anything, just being aware of the breaths I am taking and nothing else. Inhaling, exhaling, relaxing. It’s usually the last thing I remember.
Bonus question: What are you grateful for from last week, and what are you looking forward to in the week coming up?
I’m glad W had a good visit with his parents. And yes, I’m glad he went on his own. I’m glad I had some me time. Well, who am I kidding, it’s ALL me time. I’m grateful that I survived the trip to and from the airport in rush hour traffic yesterday. Through various stretches of construction. Going just over the speed limit and still being passed on both sides by idiots in a big hurry to die. This morning I went to see my doctor to have my prescriptions renewed and to discuss the results of my recent tests. And on the way home I stopped at Michael’s for some retail therapy.
My calendar is blank for next week, except for a notation that our middle granddaughter celebrates her tenth birthday on the 18th.
They’re growing up and we’re growing old. And I’m grateful for both of those things.
What is your most vivid memory of the kitchen in your childhood?
We had bright blue cupboards in the shape of a U, and in each angled corner cabinet on the lower half there was a three-tiered lazy susan. I was six when we moved to that house and had never heard of such things. To my young impressionable mind everything about them was brilliant, including their bright yellow paint job and how much they could hold, but especially the wonderful name they were known by. Put it on the lazy susan! Get it from the lazy susan! Don’t we have some of that on one of the lazy susans? I imagine my mother wished she’d never let on that they had a name at all, and was relieved when I got over my initial fascination. Although there was a little lip on each shelf to keep things in place, if you spun them around too fast stuff would go flying off into the back corners and then one of us kids would have to crawl inside to retrieve whatever would otherwise be lost back there forever. It was a sad day for me when the old cupboards were replaced with boring brown wooden ones with nary a lazy susan to be found. See how I still love to say lazy susan? Yeah! Okay I will stop now.
As a child, who was your favorite relative?
I had so many of them it’s impossible to say. Aunts and Uncles and cousins galore who came from all over the place to spend time at our farm. I can truly say there was something to love about every last one of them, and there still is. Mom had three siblings and Dad had nine. Grandma was always introducing us to long-lost relatives but I rarely paid attention long enough to figure out who was who. Of course now I wish I had. It’s hard to keep big families straight. Especially when they keep growing up and getting married and having children and splitting up and combining families with somebody else and all the other things families tend to do. I did like one aunt in particular who had no children of her own. It was easier to get her undivided attention. I think we found each other mutually curious and funny and interesting. Or maybe it was one sided and she had me completely fooled. I would have liked her anyway.
What did you like or not like most about the first apartment you ever rented?
This is no startling revelation, but I have never lived alone. I always had room mates when I went away to school, and room mates when I went to work away from home. Then I got married and had a permanent room-mate. We lived in a tiny three room house the size of a small garage for several months. Then we moved to a different town into a basement suite, and when W decided to go back to school we got our first real apartment in a high-rise with an elevator. Obviously I was impressed with the elevator, otherwise, why mention it? We had a bedroom, a living/dining area, a little narrow kitchen and a bathroom with two sinks. Our t.v. sat on the floor and we watched it from two basket chairs. We had a bed and a table and a couple of kitchen chairs. That’s it. The hardwood floor was bare and every sound echoed. W did most of his school work in the library. I worked at the University book store. I bought a long black cloth pea coat at a thrift store for five bucks and wore it until it fell apart. Good times.
The next year we moved closer to campus in to a married student complex, again living in a one bedroom basement apartment. There’s nothing I can think of that l loved or hated about any of these places. They were warm and dry and they were home. And if your friends had to sit on the floor when they dropped over, that was half the fun.
What kind of TV commercial would you like to make? Describe it.
I would ban commercials from every channel except one, which would be called The Annoying Commercial Channel. It would not be part of any cable package, but strictly optional. If you were in the market for, say, dish soap, you would be able to select nothing but dish soap commercials and watch them to your heart’s content. With no program interruptions. I have many more unworkable ideas for TV if any network people would like to get in touch with me.
Bonus question: What are you grateful for from last week, and what are you looking forward to in the week coming up?
I am so grateful to be spending some time with my grandchildren. Last night the three youngest ones each read to me from books of their choice. It’s part of their daily homework to read aloud to someone. I love how they tackle the big hard words with no fear and use context clues to figure them out. But mostly I love that they’re learning a love of reading. That will serve them well all their lives.
Yesterday W had an in-office procedure done on his right hand to straighten out his ring and little fingers. I am grateful that our daughter was able to drive him to and from his appointment. I am grateful that I’m not home to hear first hand how things are going and how much pain and misery he is in with the stitches and the bandages and the splint. I am eternally grateful that I never once considered it might be a good idea for me to become a nurse. I would not have been good at it. He sent me a text which said “I’ll beok”…. W. speak for I’ll be ok. That’s pretty much all any of us really needs to be. I’ll be grateful next week just to beok.
“Home wasn’t a set house, or a single town on a map. It was wherever the people who loved you were, whenever you were together. Not a place, but a moment, and then another, building on each other like bricks to create a solid shelter that you take with you for your entire life, wherever you may go.” Sarah Dessen, What Happened to Goodbye
This is such a simple picture, and yet it brings back a flood of memories for me, even though it was taken on a day when I’m sure I wasn’t even there. My dad was the only one in his family who made his living by farming. His siblings were teachers and nurses and professionals, and ended up living in towns and cities. And all of them – every one – came to visit him and mom here with their families. If they hadn’t, we would never have known all our aunts and uncles and cousins so well, because running a farm means almost never getting away for trips much longer than a day. But if the relatives wanted to come and stay? They were welcomed with open arms. We had lots of room and the doors were always open. No offer of help was every refused. You might end up peeling the potatoes or shelling the peas for your dinner, but you never went away hungry.
The garage is on the far left, then dad, mom, the window to the den, Aunt Lorna, the main door, Aunt Marie, the edge of the big kitchen window, extra lawn chairs, a strange looking wooden whirly decoration that twisted in the breeze, flower beds gone wild. That little thing hanging on the bricks that resembles a bird house is a box that held a pencil and some notepaper. On it was written “If at home you do not find us, leave a note that will remind us.” I once pointed out to my mother that it didn’t make any sense. If you were away from home, surely you knew that already and didn’t need a reminder of it. I was just being a mouthy teenager. But I still think the message is stupid. And I don’t know why I’ve never forgotten it.
The view to the west was of maple trees bordering the laneway, the bank down to the pond, and fences and fields as far as you could see. Those numerous round white dots that look like holes are actually real holes in the photograph. It’s been pinned up to a cork board and shuffled around a lot, stuffed in a box, lost for awhile. And then it made its way to me. In this shot it looks like the veranda floor has had some repairs and a new coat of paint. I remember it being a steely blue grey with loose boards you could lift up and hide things under. I don’t remember dad ever saying he was tired of nailing them back down.
It’s a summer afternoon, dinner is over, the dishes have been washed and put away, and it’s just too nice to sit inside. If there are kids around, they’re off climbing trees or throwing sticks for the dog, or gathering firewood for the bonfire in the backyard after the sun goes down. I can almost hear dads voice, saying something profound in a lazy off-hand manner. Mom saying “Oh, Hank”, and laughing, Aunt Lorna’s droll observations (we never knew if she meant to be funny or not) and Aunt Marie’s infectious giggles.
The farm was sold years ago. We drove by it last October and saw the changes. The front veranda has been closed in, the barn is being torn down, the gigantic garden has gone to grass. The house is so old I’m surprised it’s still standing. It’s just another old building to me now. It hasn’t been ”home” for a very long time.
And yet in my heart it will always be home whenever I remember all the people who were part of it, and who made it come so alive with laughter and fun. I’ve had a lot of homes in my life and I carry parts of every one of them with me. The pictures in my head are as vivid as the real ones. I can visit them anytime I choose, simply by remembering the people I loved who lived there with me, and loved me back.
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