Wild Women

all the women I know and don’t know that I think deserve champagne & fireworks

Rotten Older Sister Confessions: A Tribute To Kiley For Her Birthday

As my sister’s birthday approached, I knew I had to write a blog tribute. I’ve exposed the rest of my family on their birthdays with tributes that (as my mother will attest), leave them holding their breath until the end. What long buried family secret will I reveal? Oh god, please don’t let it be that one…

And when I began making a list of nostalgic flashbacks, what I jotted down became more of a confession. The theme being: What a Rotten Older Sister I Was To Kiley. Luckily, once I hit 20 or so, I redeemed myself. However, up until that point, we fought, UFC-style. My dad gave up on replacing the hinges on my bedroom door. Kiley and I had pulled the hinge out of the frame so many times that eventually, I had to lift and carry my door to the frame as it was only attached at the bottom. I’m sure when they sold the house that this was repaired, but until then, with our weekly push-pull-crash-flying-punches and kickboxing method of conversing, it wasn’t a consideration.

We loved to battle over clothes. I would sell my prized jean jacket, or Chip & Pepper overalls to Kiley for reasonable amounts. She worked part time at an ice cream parlour, Tim Horton’s and Sportchek. I chose to volunteer at a nature centre doing birdwatching hikes instead of having a real, paying job, so, found a lucrative market in selling clothes to Kiley. Except, I would surreptitiously ‘borrow’ them back, and wear them as frequently as I did before. But now I was making money doing it. Until I was caught. Which, once Kiley started grade 9 at the same high school I went to, the gig was up.

We yelled at each other like drunk truckers in the hallowed hallways of BCI, pushed each other into lockers like complete bullies. If we weren’t related, we would have been expelled, I’m sure. The earlier years were probably filled with the greatest tortures though. Namely, Emmanuel Lewis. Kiley had a Cabbage Patch Kid that doubled as a full assault weapon. Those dolls have plastic heads and boots filled with cement. I swear I saw stars with every attack. The Emmanuel Lewis Pummel was the worst, and to keep Kiley and her aggression under control, Dax and I routinely locked her in her bedroom. Why she had a lock outside her door, we still question. My parents said it was because she was prone to sleepwalking, and actually walked right out of the house one night. But, returned, still sleepwalking, ringing the door bell politely for a 4 a.m. entry. We loved the lock.

Kiley’s door was often closed as she was as private as royalty. In her pink cocoon with the Princess canopy bed, she wrote feverishly in her diary. About us. Or so we thought. When she wasn’t working on epic diary entries, she was on the phone to her best-friends-forever, Hilleree and Yo-Yo. And she would talk forever, until Dax and I discovered that pulling the jack out of the wall would quickly end her conversations. And, if she was locked in her room, we could safely laugh like hyenas at her, with our backs up against her door.

(*Notice how I’m involving Dax in each of these tall tales too? As a big sister I like to share…blame).

Probably the most evil move was when I was 11 or so, which meant Kiley was 9 or so, and Dax 7 or so. We had been at the Glenhyrst Art Gallery with my grandmother and Aunt Buffer and had all piled into my Aunt’s Chevy. I locked the back door before Kiley could get in. She pouted and hammered on the window. My Aunt was busy gabbing, and Dax and I didn’t really think she would pull away without Kiley in the car. We watched Kiley’s eyes grow wider as the car turned to the right and we started heading towards Brant avenue. About a mile away from the gallery, Buffer asked Kiley a question. Dax and I panicked, mildly. Kiley didn’t answer because she wasn’t in the car. My Aunt turned around and asked her the question again. My grandmother turned. She feigned a heart attack and started praying. Where was Kiley? Our oh-so-funny-let’s-lock-Kiley-out-of-the-car-joke ended with all of us crying, Buffer doing a U-turn on two wheels and roaring at top speeds back to the gallery. Here, we found Kiley, red-faced and wailing. Yeah, we were in shit. Or, I was, because it was my idea. As per usual.

It was also my idea to call Kiley when she was 16 and offer her a job at the Parks & Recreation department in Brantford. This was a highly coveted job, as it involved spending the summer outside, largely tanning, but doing landscape work for the city in between. She was desperate to work for them. So, I called, pretending to be someone important, with an accent of some sort that came and went, and asked if she would like to join the Parks & Rec team. She was so happy. I was so mean. I started laughing and blew my cover, but did have huge remorse at being such a jerk.

But, in time I forgave myself and continued to fulfill my role as the rotten older sister. When Kiley would come home later than curfew, Dax and I would do one of two things. If we were quick enough we would run to the garage door and hold the doorknob while Kiley put her key in the lock. When she tried to turn the knob to get in, it was immoveable. So, she would have to knock. And, of course Dax and I wouldn’t answer, so she would have to knock louder—so loud that my dad would hear, and he would stomp from the master bedroom to let her in. Past her curfew. Busted. Other times, when we were feeling particularly rotten, we would lie on our bellies on the kitchen floor and wait for Kiley to actually enter the house. She would tiptoe through the kitchen, quiet as a church mouse, until we grabbed her ankles in the dark and made her scream like a horror movie starlet. We got her every time. Which also woke my dad up, and revealed her broken curfew.

And I could go on, but I might get de-friended for this unknown mean streak that I apparently harbour. Like the time we abandoned Kiley in my great-grandmother’s garden when she was 7. Her boots sucked into the wet mud and she was completely immobile. We were told to never run through the garden, but, we did. And poor Kiley got stuck–and Dax and I responded by saving ourselves. We heard the screen door slam and saw my great grandmother’s flock of white hair and heard her rolling cough. The steps were quick and mad as she marched towards Kiley, her cane swinging. “You little ‘rangutan. I’m gonna skin you alive!”

Dax and I hid in the ditch by the tracks and watched Kiley be pulled out of the quagmire by one arm. We raced home and told my mother that Kiley was going to be skinned. Alive. She was narrowly saved.

And now? We laugh over all the times Dax stole the cord to her mauve ghetto blaster because he was sick of Mr. Jones every morning at 8:15 a.m. Or, how Dax would retaliate by putting fish food flakes between her bed sheets. Kiley still brings up the time I put anchovy paste on the underside of most of the Hostess potato chips she was eating. Not my best work, but, it ranks with the day I blew a spoonful of pepper in her eye while she tried to see out of the crack of the door when we had locked her in her room(which my mother insisted I would go to juvenile detention centre for because I could have blinded my own sister).

Ah, good times. I love you Kiley. Sorry for all that. And I’m so glad nobody else in the family writes a blog or I’d be in really big trouble.

Happy birthday–we miss you here in Ontario, but know that your place and happiness is in the mountains. These stories and our two hour hot ear conversations will always erase the provinces between us.

Xo Jules

Categories: Wild Women | 3 Comments

Hey Buffer, It’s Your Birthday!

When I looked in my aunt’s closet and realized she didn’t have any scratchy crinoline dresses, I decided that I shouldn’t have to own any either.  She had short hair, and it seemed only fair that I should too. After all, she was the coolest person I knew.

“I want to cut my hair like Buffer’s.”

And so it came to be.

Buffer is better known as Cathy to the rest of the world outside the Torti family tree. The story goes that I couldn’t pronounce Cathy, it came out Buffer (they almost rhyme), and Buffer stuck like Hubba Bubba  to my sister’s hair.

Early on, I became very possessive of Buffer. I technically discovered her first, so, when Kiley tried to edge in, I had to stake my territory. I can still hear the awful “thwonk” of Kiley’s four-year-old skull as I pulled out the pillow supporting her head on the couch with the wooden arms.  “That’s Buffer’s pillow.”

Kiley wailed for hours and was nursed back to a smile with my grandmother’s kisses and cherry Kool-aid. Eventually we all found common ground watching Benny Hill, eating Nilla cookies with Betty Crocker vanilla frosting. This was Buffer’s specialty.  In addition, Buffer bought the good chips that my mother would never buy—ketchup and dill pickle. The pantry was full of fantastic snacks—but chocolate gave Buffer a headache. This is why Kiley was exceptionally excited to find a chocolate bar in the pantry on one occasion. In her excited state, she surreptitiously ate the entire bar. When she was on the toilet within three minutes, and for the next three hours, the tell-tale Ex-Lax packaging was discovered in the garbage can.

Aunt Buffer lived with my Nan. We cherished our sleepovers there mostly because we had no bedtime, there were good potato chips to lick the fronts and backs of—and, Buffer and Nan liked to watch the soaps, Geraldo, Jerry Springer, The Jeffersons, The Golden Girls and Arsenio Hall.

When we weren’t sucked into the marvel of cable television (keep in mind our country existence and three snowy TV channels), we were listening to Buffer’s vinyl in the Front Room. The Front Room was the Front Room because it was at the front of the house, and it was adjoined to the Centre Bedroom which was beside Nan and Buffer’s Bedroom.

Buffer had an enviable record collection. We’d plug in the retro headphones and blow our young eardrums out to KISS, Bay City Rollers and Electric Light Orchestra. Then Nan would join us, the volume would be turned to BLARING and Nan would bop around until she held her chest and had to sit down because of her high blood pressure. My first concert was with Buffer—we went to see Mister Mister. She took Nan to her first concert too—Wham! and the Pointer Sisters.

In the Front Room we learned how to dance with a broom, swear and spy. Nan taught us f*ck, mostly by accident. Buffer taught us other urban things—and soon, with Nan on her lawn chair and binoculars in hand, we were doing drug busts. Buffer knew stuff was going down on Erie avenue, and we learned to train our binoculars on the second floor window and document the seedy behaviour. She knew drug deals were going on right down the street, and we were integral members of her surveillance team.  We were to never tell our parents. (Which, I never did, until now I think!)

We felt so Miami Vice with Buffer, doing the drug busts. When we tired of the surveillance work we would pile into her Tempo and cruise the streets. Buffer knew every model of car on the streets, the engine power of each one and exactly which one she could smoke at the stoplights. Oh yeah, we were drag racers. We would squeal with delight, Nan would egg her on as we lurched forward and leave the Mustang convertible in our Tempo dust.

Buffer rented cars every weekend, mostly for our entertainment I think. We would chase ambulances, road trip to Port Dover for sloppy footlongs and laugh hysterically over Nan’s attempts at taking the wheel on quiet country roads. Nan would either laugh until she wet her pants, cry her eyes out with terror, or end her driving lesson by punching Buffer and cursing. We loved this the best.

With Buffer, we were storm chasers. She knew every cloud species in the sky and could detect a drop in the barometer with her nose. We were in awe. Our biggest fear was Buffer-induced. When she spoke of F5 tornados and other funnel clouds, we’d be wide-eyed and covered in goose pimples.

If we were good, Buffer would take us over to Bell Lane in Strawberry Hill, the hilliest stretch in Brantford. “Don’t tell your father!” would be the disclaimer. And, of course we didn’t—(until I opened my big blog-mouth here). Buffer would gun it much to our thrill, and we would be a baby blue Tempo blur as we sped down Bell Lane. She could totally recreate the stomach lurch of a roller coaster. Nan would hold the dash with white knuckles as Buffer launched us into the air, total Dukes of Hazzard-style. Kiley and Nan screamed at matching decibels, Dax and I laughed until we couldn’t breathe.

“Wanna do it again?” Nan would express concern over her blood pressure, but we’d gun it one more time.

After our Bell Lane joyrides we would go to “Fat Eddies.” It was really Fast Eddies, but Nan called it Fat Eddies, and it seemed more appropriate. We could get burgers for 39 cents and fries for 29 cents. Naturally, we ordered double of everything and the five of us ate until we were sick for under five bucks.

Buffer spoiled us rotten (who knew it was okay to eat cookies smeared with icing for breakfast?). She was like our delinquent older sister who would be right behind us on the tobogganing hill or roller rink. Buffer was the one dragging us to line-up for the Scrambler and Himalaya at the carnival. The only ride I ever barfed on was the Octopus, with Buffer of course.

We swam at Earl Haig pool everyday of the summer until our hair turned green. Nan patiently fanned herself and our egg salad sandwiches in the shade. Our summers revolved around that pool, Gigi’s take-out pizza, homemade Slip n’ Slides and the drive-in. Buffer even found us sheets of plastic so we could create our own slip and slide. We often ended up with severe grass burn as the sheets were never long enough. She’d hose it down (another urban pleasure as we had a country well and zero water pressure) and spray us as we charged across the yard and belly flopped onto the plastic-covered cement-hard ground. The neighbourhood kids became our fast friends when they realized the fun we had capitalized on.

The trips to the Starlight drive-in were most fun when Buffer dated a blind guy named Rob. We’d sit on the roof of her car and stretch out our legs on the cool windshield in front of Rob. He was cool with it, seeing how he was blind and all. We loved him for this.

Even more so, we loved Buffer for her fierce protection of us. When an elderly man accidentally sneezed on my hand in front of Woolco, Buffer gave him a blast, and she could be a verbal pit bull. When I was playing street soccer and slammed into a guy on his ten-speed bike and knocked him clean off of it (I was clearly to blame), Buffer made sure he never showed his face or bike in Eagle Place again. When the scrawny kid up the street said he could out run me, Buffer put her money on me. I took a colossal flip on an uneven part of the sidewalk and removed all of the skin on my left knee cap. Buffer was such a cheerleader that I had no choice but to suck it up and continue on. I ran to the end of the block, easily beating the kid who was five years older than me, with blood trickling down to my ankle.

This is when I earned the nickname “Horse,” and I’m not divulging this because I long to be called Horse nowadays. However, I was always proud to be Buffer’s Horse.

Thank you for enriching so many of our childhood days, Buffer. I’d love some cookies with frosting for breakfast, a drag race with a Mustang, a roar down Bell Lane and a 39 cent Fat Eddie burger for old time’s sake. And a good rock-out to Def Leppard with Nan in the Front Room. Those are cherished, golden days.

Happy Birthday, to my coolest aunt!

Love Jules

And these songs go out to Buffer– 

Kyrie by Mr. Mister  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XNKbHJ3PTu4

Broken Wings by Mr. Mister  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GFKv0rqLow0

Xanadu with Olivia Newton John and ELO—http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7m1UWSD-FaA&feature=related

(we named our dog Xanadu…)

Pour Some Sugar On Me by Def Leppard  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6652YIBzByk

And, because she belongs to these memories, my tribute to Nan: http://julestorti.wordpress.com/2009/12/10/a-tribute-to-nan-2/

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A Tribute to Nan

I posted this tribute in November of last year, when my grandmother died. Her birthday was December 9th, and it seemed only fitting that I run this post again to honour her great, glowing spirit. She loved Christmas, and this season and golden memories of her will never be separate in my mind. Thanks Nan for illuminating our lives year round, you are terribly missed.

‘’I don’t know anyone whose grandparents are divorced, that’s just weird.’’
‘’What about yours?’’ Kelly asked, always one bright step ahead of me.
Funny, I never thought of my grandmother of ever being married, let alone being divorced. When my dad was two, she divorced Angelo and cut the Torti family tree in half, letting all those limbs crash to the ground to rot. She was just Nan to me, and besides, she had Buffer, my dad’s sister. Apparently we couldn’t pronounce Cathy as kids, it came out Buffer (maybe we had mouthfuls of marshmallows when we tried to say her name? I dunno). Anyway, Buffer and Nan were a package deal, an odd Thelma and Louise if you will. They lived together in a tiny wartime house in sleepy Eagle Place, Brantford, Ontario. We were spoiled to have a Great grandmother who lived right beside us, and my mom’s mom lived just a few farmhouses further up the road. But, our urban Nan had cable, was walking distance to Mac’s Milk convenience store AND Earl Haig Swimming Pool.

My mother always thought public pools were cesspools, and she’s right, this one had its share of floating band-aids, and the odd dark turd would bob around until an alert lifeguard evacuated everyone. Buffer swam with us like the biggest kid, terrorizing us by yelling ‘’shark’’ and pinching us underwater. Kiley always ended up in tears from shark attacks, but I think at that age if she wasn’t screaming, she was crying. Such a sensitive child. What scared me more was Buffer’s big toe which had no nail on it from some mysterious infection. She would wrap it up tightly in two plastic bags secured with elastics and wade into the pool without concern. All the other swimmers would stop mid-stroke to assess what the plastic bag could mean, and whether swallowing pool water and spitting it in someone else’s face was still okay.

We swam with Buffer and Nan everyday of the summer I think. My dad would drop us off on his way to work, bleary-eyed, and we’d park ourselves sleepily on the couch and watch cable cartoons. We loved Chili the penguin and the one with the Anteater. Nan would have chocolate milk in a carton and offer us cowboy or sailboat sandwiches. Cowboy style came open face, sailboats in fours, standing erect, exactly like peanut butter sailboats would look. By the time we walked to Earl Haig we were ravenous again, and Nan always had devilled eggs and pickled beets for us. Buffer would pack a tin of Betty Crocker vanilla frosting and we’d smother dollar store Nilla wafers with an inch of the stuff. We never waited half an hour before swimming…

Our favourite days were when a storm would be brewing, foreboding clouds smudging the sky and the deadly humidity heavy in our lungs. We’d rush home, thunder at our heels, with Buffer telling us what was happening meteorologically. She should have been a storm chaser because she knows more about F5 twisters and funnel clouds than normal. Buffer often had us taking shelter in the basement because she knew when a tornado was approaching, she could smell it. But first we’d stop at the fish n’chip shop on Erie avenue and place a family size order. The fish always came wrapped in newsprint which nearly gave way with all the grease by the time we reached Nan’s and took cover.

Nan would finally put her feet up, turn on the fan to a level equivalent to that of a jet taking off. She couldn’t stand the humidity. She rarely wore shorts, and only inside. When she did my sister would ask her if she was from outer space, because of all the green bumpy varicose veins on her legs. When Nan left the room finally, we’d take turns putting on her thick glasses, because it was like being underwater with your eyes wide open. We were always caught, and she threatened us that we’d go blind if we kept doing it.
The other big Nan threat was that the house would blow if we ran around the kitchen. She made us equally paranoid of the pilot light on the gas stove. Not a day passed where Nan would suddenly flare her nostrils and say, “do you smell gas? Buffer, go check the pilot light. This house will blow if that light’s out.’’

When my dad was in a hockey tournament, we’d go to Nan and Buffer’s for the night. They let us stay up as long as we wanted, hell, why not? They were staying up too. We’d watch Hee Haw, Benny Hill and Johnny Carson eating our way through bags of Hickory Sticks and bbq peanuts.

In the morning, Nan would convince one of us to help shove her diamond or sapphire earrings into her lobes. Kiley was the most helpful, I still get queasy at the thought. Nan would do our eyebrows so we didn’t look like Brooke Shields and ask us if we wanted our hair permed like Buffer. My mother had already vocalized her opinion: no perms, especially Toni home perms. Kiley was always keen, but, I never thought tight poodley curls would be flattering on me.

We sometimes played with the city kids, but they were a different breed. A bit snotty we thought. Instead, we made homemade wet bananas in the backyard because Nan also had water pressure, something we never had living on a well in the country. We hosed down large sheets of plastic and sprinted, bellyflopped and slid across the plastic until we came to a dead-stop on the sharp grass. When we tired of that (because our ribs hurt from slamming the ground so much) we’d make some game with horse chestnuts on a string where you had to whack your opponent’s nut off. Too often it usually ended up being Dax’s real nuts… and the game would end. We’d walk up to the store, which we were allowed to do only if we held hands crossing the street (which we never did). Nan would slip us a few bucks so we could each get some candy. Mac’s had these fantastic tiny ice cream cones filled with a maple syrupy kind of fudge that we all splurged on. Kiley would get a fudgesicle or sour cream and onion chips, ju jubes or Fun Dips for Dax, and I’d be stuck somewhere between Kraft caramels, Swedish fish or hockey stickers for my scrapbook. We all had scrapbooks that we were working on: Star Wars, NHL, E.T. –the stickers came with that god awful gum covered in so much powder. One day we went all out, because Nan gave us a little more, but said she wanted change. How much change we weren’t sure about—so we went a bit hoggy. We bought Gobstoppers, Hubba Bubba grape, red lips, green thumbs, those invisible books with the magic pens and some Bottlecaps. We hopscotched home, thrilled with our purchases, until I gave Nan the change and she started to cry. We had spent all her pension money. Surely she was getting more than $5 for her pension? We felt sick about it, candy never tasted so rotten, but she refused to let us take our stuff back. I think that was the moment I learned how to budget and Kiley learned how to spend!

Sometimes we took the city bus to the mall, which was always a roar for us. We thought city kids were so cool, being able to take a bus around town. We couldn’t even get pizza delivered! The worst bus day was when we had done a marathon shop at No Frills, and when we climbed on the full bus, one of our plastic bags broke and all the canned goods rolled to the back of the bus. Cans raced and rattled back and forth as we took sharp turns and went through the streets of Strawberry Hill. Nan found a seat and I found the cans. My face was red hot as I reached behind legs and begged my pardon.

Nan never did travel beyond Buffalo. Never really wanted to either. When Buffer got her license she started renting cars, usually Ford Tempos because she had read that they were good vehicles. We’d pack the Tempo up with a cooler and head for the border to Walden Galleria mall to go cross-border shopping. Funny, we never minded wearing two or three lace teddies back under our clothes. Not even Dax, but, then again—look how he turned out. I don’t know who wore the teddies that we smuggled back, both my Nan and Buffer I think. Most of them were purple, which was both their favourite colour, so it’s hard to know. Buffer told us to keep mum in the back when we crossed the border, and we were never caught.

Every summer we’d take a road trip to Komoka to visit Nan’s “fucking sister Ruth.” Ruth had always wronged her in some way, but we loved her. She made the best chocolate milkshakes in her Hamilton Beach mixer. Ruth lived alone on a dill farm, her husband Jack had died when we were young. There were always little kittens, a few German Shepards and a giant barn that we played in until we were beside ourselves with rashes and itches from the hay. We swung from the rafters, found old chewing tobacco tins, bullet casings, and carved our initials in secret places. Ruth and my grandmother fought the whole time, and both of them would be crying at some point. We didn’t care. However, this is where we learned how to swear. Not so much from Ruth, but from Nan. Oh, she could get on a tangent calling Violet a hussy, and so-and-so a whore.

Yeah, Nan spoke all sugary to my dad, but we saw another side. The exposure became evident when Kiley walked up our driveway at home after one such Komoka road trip clippity-clopping in her new much-longed for Dr.Scholl’s wooden sandals. She was maybe seven. “These fucking shoes hurt my feet.” Dad was in earshot. Nan was in trouble. Kiley was always after Nan, for her language, the ‘bad things’ she was doing. And, my nan was secretly afraid of Kiley and her tell-all ways. Once, in the backyard when Nan sat on the wooden lounger and it collapsed to the ground in pieces Nan told Kiley, “don’t you tell your mother.” But, Kiley had already threatened, “I’m telling my muddah on you!’’ And, she always did.

So, Nan wasn’t exactly a traditional grandmother (most of them don’t say fuck). She liked Def Leppard, Poison, Wham, Boy George, rollerskating at the roller rink (so long as we didn’t tell my father ) and frying hot dogs and hot dog buns, all in butter. One winter, Nan, probably in her 70s by then, decided she wanted to have a go at the hill, and ride down on one of our red plastic flying saucers. She urged us to give her a push and ohmygod, there went Nan, spinning in fast, tight circles, until she was going completely backwards and then, just somersaulted right over. Of course, we were no help, all of us pissing our snowsuits at her crooked glasses and cries for help. She was only mad that she had lost her diamond earring. I don’t think she went tobogganing again, but she was always game for trying something new. Like having Buffer to teach her how to drive, even though she didn’t have her glasses with her. Of course she nearly ditched the rental Tempo at the first sight of headlights coming from the other direction.

Nan was eccentric in every possible way. She loved her patent leather heels as high as Tina Turner’s, crushed velvet stirrup pants, leopard print sweaters and Christmas pins that preferably lit up and sang. She loved her gold chains, Christmas, and crossing her eyes at us. We always seemed to be laughing in her company. Our nicknames stuck for years—Chucky, Wheatman (Dax??) and Kiley was Nimmers. I was Horse, because I could run fast, but it never seemed very flattering to me.

I think of Nan’s house, and how it remained virtually the same, years after our childhood time had paled. There was still the ketchup bottle explosion on the kitchen ceiling, and the piece of pink foil behind her livingroom door that I gave her when I was two. At Christmas all the treasures would come out again, and the house would become congested with crumbling gingerbread houses that should have been demolished years ago, popcorn trees with mere kernels left on the construction paper, broken clay gifts, yellowed cards—she had kept everything we had ever made for her.

Nan loved Christmas the most. All she ever wanted was a homemade card from me, to add to her collection. I probably should have written this sooner so she could have added it to her collection too, but, I think we were collecting the same things—shiny memories of a life lived well. She spent all her pension dollars on us, and we ate like kings. Those jell-o cubes at Woolworth’s with the dab of whipped cream seemed like the finest dessert going. And we always seemed to be eating buckets of KFC in a leafy park. Nan was so adaptable that when she was told to watch her cholesterol she ordered macaroni salad to have instead…and when the cashier forgot to pack her a fork, she resorted to eating her macaroni salad with a hair pick.

Nan died two weeks ago. Before I left BC in September she sent me a Christmas card with my Christmas money so she could be sure that I received it. She told me not to go in any boats, and not to swim in any lakes and for god sakes, don’t get eaten by a lion in Africa. ‘’If God spares me I’ll see you when you come home and visit your parents.’’ She had talked about God sparing her for as long as I remembered.
The world is a different place without Nan in it. It’s a little quieter, that’s for sure. But the memories of her are just at the surface, in the smell of a pan of melting butter, in twinkling Christmas lights, pool chlorine on my skin, hair picks, fast toboggan rides and vanilla icing. She is never that far away, even when I’m in Africa.

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“So, how do y’all know each other?”

It didn’t occur to me that our story was perhaps a strange and startling one. Did we really all meet online? And after only a few short months of knowing each other, we thought we should travel to Nashville for the weekend? Together?  We immediately sounded like a reality TV show full of guaranteed fireworks, bitching and someone crying into their margarita by night’s end.

Last summer I remember reading Rona Maynard’s article “Online Bonding” (Best Health, Summer 2008) in the fluorescent lighting of the Shoppers Drug Mart in Abbotsford, in one swallow. I identified so closely with her concept of the “virtual community” and its merits that I bought the magazine. Finally, I had found someone who understood the comfort, intrigue and network that can be discovered through social media forums like Facebook and Twitter.

I emailed Rona immediately and said I wanted to be part of her virtual neighbourhood. She wrote back and we got on like a house on fire.  Her words were amplified when I spent four months in Africa, and longed for the connection of friends so many oceans away. Although the internet connection was as reliable as public transit, I was able to send daily ‘postcards,’ if you will, to all my friends flung worldwide. And because I was falling asleep in Uganda just as Canada was waking up, I had constant companions into the wee hours to chat with.

As a kid, I had over 40 pen pals at one point. I went to several summer camps and picked the very best of the lot to keep me from being not so “campsick” (my version of homesick) over the too-long winters. There was a girl in Korea who sent me traditional dresses, Marco from Quebec who I met in the Bahamas, Dan from Boise, Idaho and a few others that I still keep curious tabs on.

The pen pal process has definitely been updated and refined, and the likelihood of meeting  Facebook and Twitter ‘pen pals’ is tangible, doable and the obvious next step in online friendships.

I haven’t actively searched out strangers online, more often they are friend suggestions from someone near and dear to me who says, “Hey, this person is really cool. You should add her, you’ll love her humour.” And with a virtual introduction and handshake, the friendship is kick-started.

It’s almost like online dating, but for friends. And why not pull out the weeds before deciding which flowers to keep as perennials? The most remarkable people have shown up in my inbox–like when Jules Tortolani wrote me a random note to say, “Hey, we share a lot of letters in our name in common. We should probably be friends.” I initially had my Nut Bar Radar on high alert, but I couldn’t pick a more perfect soulmate than Jules.

I only have seven other ‘never-mets’ on my Facebook list, but I know these face-to-face encounters will happen because I have to meet Rob Peace. One night he was creeping through my old Toronto brownstone neighbour Ryan’s Facebook friend list and found me. He recognized my name and made a miraculous connection to a wall mural I had painted in Dunnville, Ontario a decade ago at a pizza joint called Godfathers. Rob had stopped for greasy pizza after a wedding and sent me a photo taken that night—of him and his then-girlfriend at Godfathers, with my mural and name in the background.

And this is why I love Facebook and its zero degrees of separation.

Which brings me to Nashville and the firepit where Andrea asked, “So, how do y’all know each other.”

Well, Heidi and I had been emailing back and forth like a tennis ball in a Serena and Venus finals game since March. A mutual friend had virtually introduced us and I was told that Heidi had been to Africa, and anyone that’s been to Africa is good in my books.

And Pam, another online friend said, “Leslie, she’s the real deal. Add her. Funny as hell and not a wacko.” So,  Leslie and I started our bantering late August and met weeks later at a concert at Hugh’s Room in Toronto. Her potential probationary Nut Bar status was removed just as quickly as Jules Tortolani. I sat at Leslie’s  table with a cardboard cut-out of Heidi’s head (semi-long and separate story), because Leslie and Heidi were also linked together online, about a year before. And then Leslie introduced me to Kelly at the concert, who played Proline football with Heidi in Nashville, and the Twittering began.

As someone who loves to write (anything really—from grocery lists to erotica to emails longer than a Charles Dickens novel), Leslie and I outdid each other with our essay-length get-to-know-you question and answer sessions. Mid-September she asked me what my biggest regret in life was, as one of her daily five questions (we liked to keep things light and fluffy). This was after Leslie told me that she and Kelly had decided to visit Heidi in Nashville in November.

Leslie, me, Kel

“My biggest regret is not going to Nashville with you two,” I responded, half- joking while sipping merlot on my brother’s floor, and sorting out where to work and live as I had just landed back in Toronto. When I woke up in the morning, there were almost a dozen emails from Kelly and Leslie insisting that I come to Tennessee with them, to meet Heidi and see a football game of all things, and in less than an hour I had a flight booked on expedia.ca

Naturally, one would think such a random get together would be a train wreck in slow motion. What we didn’t realize was how perfect we all were for each other. I’ve gone camping with friends who I’ve wanted to leave out for the bears to eat on the first night.

I uesd to know a woman who would end all her relationships (not intentionally) when she planned an overnight camping trip with them. She convinced me that maybe this was the best way to filter out the gal and friends that are going to work. If you can set up a tent together, eat sloppy S’mores, sleep in soggy sleeping bags, piss in a beer can in the tent because it’s raining, wake up smelling like bacon bits and still respect each other in the morning, the partnership/friendship would definitely work.

And maybe this was what Nashville was for us. It was our camping trip to ensure that we had the vital elements for continuing the friendship that had started online.

Chloe

But I knew. I knew Kelly would be like a golden retriever—happy to follow any of us wherever we wanted to go. She used to do stand-up comedy, so she was a logical choice to spend life on a desert island or a weekend in Nashville with.  I was also confident that Leslie was solid, despite her warning that she sometimes turned into a Greek man when drinking.

 

The bigger question was whether Heidi could handle Team Canada on her Nashville doorstep.

 

Emails full of anticipation were sent back and forth, fast and furious. We nearly laughed ourselves hoarse the first night in Detroit (and Leslie returned with no voice to speak of at all!). And when we finally met our Nashville ambassador, Heidi, we laughed even more. The ‘reunion’ was without awkwardness or oh-my-god-she-didn’t-tell-me-about-that-annoying-quirk revelations. It was like a mutual sigh and sense of relief–“Finally, we get to be together!”

 

The November Nashville sun was like a summer’s day. We had lunch on Ted’s sun-kissed BBQ patio, feeling the southern hospitality instantly–bison meatloaf sandwiches, Flying Dog Pale Ale, sliders, Auntie Faye’s squash casserole and the company of ‘strangers.’

We had so much to talk about and I left Nashville after four days thinking, there just wasn’t enough time for all the conversations, pancakes and pork rinds that needed to be ha

I had no idea that Nashville was going to be such an epicurean pleaser either! I have a list of things I still need to eat there—like the four pound burger that’s free if you can eat it in an hour, deep-fried pickles, fried catfish sandwiches, grits and Jack’s BBQ! But, when you travel, you always need to leave a reason to return.

The highlight was unanimously Arrington Vineyards, founded by country artist Kix Brooks (of Brooks & Dunn fame). What a magical place of storybook quality. Heidi insisted that we arrive just before the sun set to fully experience the charm of Arrington. At Arrington you can buy a bottle (Viognier, Reisling, Muscat, Syrah, Cabernet) and find a place to picnic on the property. And the picnicking is serious—linens, candles, charcuterie, cheese wedges worth more than the bottles of wine and artisan crackers. We’re not talking about cold KFC and a bag of stale Doritos. Arrington wine sippers know how to picnic.

There are dozens of picnic tables, huge swings in the handsome trees, a wrap-around deck and a welcoming hillside for casual wine drinking while reclined in the grass. The vines were scarlet red in the fields, and so striking against the horizon. When the sun dropped in the sky that night—it was like God was showing off his best brushstrokes.

Heidi introduced us to her favourite, the Syrah—black tea, exotic spice, pepper, blackberry jam and mocha flavours. It was a gentle collision of sensuality and silkiness. We talked into the darkness, sharing the intimate conversations that the night pulls out of you before you even realize it. A bonfire was lit at the top of the hill and was licking the belly of the stars when we left.

We continued the wine-tasting theme at The Wine Loft, a swishy tapas-style resto with thimble-sized stools and small, cozy tables that add to the contagious vibe. I was still full from the stack of Cracker Barrel blueberry pancakes 10 hours previous, but managed to eat almost an entire wheel of vanilla-infused baked brie with crostini. The tapas were almost too pretty to eat as the Loft takes pride in constructing appetizers suitable for hanging on gallery walls.

On Sunday, after crappy football nachos with congealed cheese at the Titans vs. Bills game (16 rows up from the field!), Heidi made sure that we had the finest tortilla chips and love potion margaritas in town at Cantina Laredo. Let me tell you, even the forks are bigger in America, and for good reason.

My vision of Nashville was largely of 10 gallon hats, spurs and a lot of Marlboro men leaned up against pick-up trucks, but I was pleasantly surprised. The Cumberland River splits the city in a reflective divide, and minutes from downtown, the manicured properties and drool-worthy plantation homes elicit constant oooohs and ahhhhhs.

The grounds of the Steeplechase and the local parks with spun-gold maple leaves brighter than the sun, where we took Heidi’s retrievers for a swim, were the best bits of America. And with the Southern drawl, everyone we talked to had us at “hello.” Really, I can’t remember visiting a friendlier state. Even the homeless are hospitable and willing to sing a hurtin’ country song for spare change. Kelly and I decided we could easily live there. She would require season’s tickets for the Titans, and I would simply need to add more mileage to my morning runs to keep pace with the butter intake.

There was a palpable sadness in leaving Nashville and saying goodbye to Heidi (who definitely passed the weekend camping test). I am so grateful for the virtual introductions (thanks J.) and for the beautiful connections that have been made in a world that really is not so big after all.

God bless America, Facebook and Rona, for reminding us that it’s not about where you find your friends, it’s where you keep them. And I’m keeping these women closer to my heart after this weekend.

Heidi, Kelly and Les

 

Arrington Vineyards–http://www.arringtonvineyards.com/

“Welcome to my online community.  Instead of wine or coffee, I’m serving stories—the kind women tell among friends.”  Visit Rona’s brilliant blog— http://ronamaynard.com/

All things Nashville–

http://www.tripadvisor.com/Attractions-g55229-Activities-Nashville_Tennessee.html

Categories: Polyblogs in a Jar, Wild Women | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Jann Arden Attacks the Architecture of the Human Heart

I like things that are reliable, like the threadbare comfort of my Sevens jeans, Starbucks skim lattes and a dog’s love. Meryl Streep movies come with an unspoken guarantee too—it’s gonna be gripping and as raw as ceviche.

And when Jann Arden releases a new CD, I expect it’s going to be high-wattage. The lyrics are going to have an injection of unbearable sadness and resonate in my waking hours and sleep. I know that I will fall under the spell that is her voice because her haunting words are a demolition team that attack the fragile architecture of the human heart.

We know her talent is ethereal and that her vocal cords mimic yoga positions. But her true gift is the ability to write songs that everyone can identify with and sob over. Genderless, ageless, timeless—her songs become national anthems for break-ups and the soundtracks for our memories.

Jann’s new CD, Free, captures the sense of wonder that unexpectedly smacks us when we see doves take to the sky, when shooting stars spike through the dark of night and when freefall divers split gravity in two. Free. The freedom is palpable and instantly captured in the imagery of having “one last hurrah on the old tire swing,” in “Daughter Down.”

Jann Arden bleeds beauty. “All The Days” is the track that hits me like baseball bat in the ribs every time. “And all the days will wrap around our fingers /They’ll hang around our hearts like bits of stars/ And all the tears we counted all the memories that we thought would linger disappear/ oh, they disappear.” I’ve decided, at the end of my days, I want “All The Days.” (And no silly flowers, just generous donations to my chimps and all the cats and dogs waiting for their forever homes).

“All The Days” instantly hit number one on my “Crying Tears Down My Neck” list. “Wind Beneath My Wings” was kicked to the curb with “When You Say Nothing At All” (Allison Krauss) and the Indigo Girls “I Don’t Want to Talk About It.” See ya later “Your Song,” that one can’t even make me sniffle anymore.

It will come as no surprise that I love well-crafted stories and song lyrics that are as layered as Jennifer Aniston’s hair. I read the liner notes of Free before I even listened to the CD.  I loved “Everybody’s Broken” before I heard it because of Clara-Marie. “Eighty-five years she’s been living right here when they took her from her home/To her little white room with a cup and a spoon and the dress that she had on/Nobody came they’ve forgotten her name it’s like she disappeared.”

Those words don’t even need to be sung. There is no need for violas, guitars, bonjirs or mandolas. They are powerful in tandem with Jann’s  voice, but I am already moved by the fragility of Billy Wolfe and Clara-Marie, and her mother making pink lemonade.

The tracks “You Are Everything,” “Away” and “Yeah You” are the love letters that we all hope to receive. Letters that would be re-read until memorized and re-folded until the ink blurred and the paper deteriorated. Letters that are hidden in secret places to be rediscovered later as the treasures that they are.

You’re the galaxy/A better part of me/And there is nothing that is bigger than the two of us.” Who doesn’t want to hear that? No thanks to the pretty blue Tiffany box, no to the Godiva chocolate and any other foolish romantic notions—but words like that? You’re the galaxy? And to think Renee Zwelleger had Tom Cruise at “hello” in Jerry Maguire. I have higher expectations than “hello.” I want “you are everything that’s good about the universe.” Or better yet—“you are everything you dream of when you’re nine years old.”

Wow. Why buy Hallmark cards anymore? Just send a few lines from “You Are Everything,” and the wooing will be done and the wedding dress bought online in the same night.

Free is versatile–suitable for a big breakdown cry when your eyes are as pink as cotton candy and you’re so dehydrated you can’t even make tears anymore. Free illustrates what love should be –flying kites and shooting stars. It demonstrates the invincible bulletproof quality of true love that conquers geography, worry, naysayers and the world. Free reminds us of those we may have forgotten in our own selfish pursuits—like Clara-Marie and Billy Wolfe. We all know them.

Today Free played a part of our daily lives: intimate moments, lonely hours, crossed arms, shared glasses of wine, comfortable silences, foot massages, first kisses, cold pizza, camembert tarte tatin, braised short ribs with porcini mushroom stew, corn chips, gridlock on the 401, a slow dance in front of the fire, proposals, sweaty work-outs, yelling neighbours, purring cats, barking dogs, daydreaming, uncertainty, tears. Already the songs on Free have infiltrated our lives and will continue to weave their way into many faces, loves, celebrations and devastations over the years, just as Jann’s other songs reliably have.

I’ve run with Jann everywhere. Sloppy trails in BC and Banff, in half-marathons with cramping quads, behind runners supporting Terry Fox and those who survived cancer, along the dusty roads of Uganda, Panama, Costa Rica, the Galapagos, Amsterdam…she’s followed  me all over the world.

Like the wind and the sun, we have Jann Arden’s music at our backs as well. Her songs are the best told stories, with words that stabilize our memories like quick-set cement.

Thank you, Jann, for the grace and essence that is you. And for sharing that Titanic talent with us.

Categories: Flicks and Muzak, Wild Women | Tags: , | 5 Comments

Driving Miss Daisy

The rain was falling so hard from the miserable sky that it jumped an inch backwards off every surface. I had just dropped the dogs off at their daycare and turned on to Marshall to head to the spa where I work. The rain pelted the soft top of my Sidekick at such a volume that I could no longer hear James Blunt. And then I saw her.

I drove 50 feet further, wipers sliding frantically back and forth across my windshield, and turned into a circular drive. She walked with her head down, her hand shielding her glasses. Her knitted tam sagged to one side, saturated. She clutched a white plastic bag to her chest and carefully stepped along the sidewalk, negotiating the dips of the uneven pavement. I rolled down my window and asked, “do you want a ride?”

“But, you don’t know where I’m going.”
“I’ll go wherever you need to go.”

She opened the passenger door and climbed in, her tiny body shivering. The heat I had blasting from the vents on the front dash made her glasses fog instantly. They were the kind of glasses that make your eyes look three times bigger than they really are. Her curls hung limply under her tam. She spoke to me through her fogged glasses, telling me she lived up past the college, was I really going that way?

I looked at her white shoes, the kind that are marketed to seniors for walking. She smoothed out her black slacks and apologized for getting my car wet. Instead of putting on her seatbelt she turned in her seat so that she was directly facing me, like we were at a table.

“I’m all alone now. My husband passed on, I like to walk, you know. It keeps me busy, gives me something to do.” She took off her glasses and folded them in her hands. “I walked down to the MCC, you know that little thrift shop downtown?” I did. “The girl there called me to say that she had a big box of glass bottles, someone dropped them off overnight. I collect them, and she knew I’d be interested, so I thought I’d walk down there today. Never expected this rain!”

She asked where I lived, where I worked. When I said the Wild Orange Spa, her eyebrows arched. “Oh, that’s that fancy place. Well, maybe with the rain you won’t be too busy today—people won’t want to go out in the rain to get fancy things done.” My passenger had to be in her late 70s, early 80s maybe. I wanted to take her to the spa and book her for a full day of fancy things.

“Do you have children?” I asked with hesitation. She had four, two girls up north, a son in Surrey and one son, “I have no idea where he is. No idea.”

“Did you see any of them for Mother’s Day?”

“Nope. They’re all quite busy with their lives. That’s why I walk, I have to take care of myself, and just worry about what I can do to make myself happy.”

At the stoplight I turned to look at her and saw all of my grandmothers in her wrinkled face. The skin on the back of her hands was as thin as tissue paper. Water dripped from her hair and slid down her cheeks like tears. Why didn’t she have one of those plastic rain bonnets that every old lady has? Those kind that fold up into a square smaller than a deck of cards?

“So, no, I didn’t see any of them for Mother’s Day.” My heart ached in my chest for her.

“Buggers,” I said.

“That’s right. Buggers,” she laughed.

She pointed out the church on the corner and told me to turn left. My god, she had already walked at least five kilometers to get downtown to the thrift shop. I was amazed, she seemed so frail.

“You think living beside a church all these years would have made me a better person,” she said, “but I’m only human.” And this is when she imparted a few philosophies on me, as though she could read all the questioning cartoon bubbles above my head.

“You gotta laugh. All the time. If you don’t have humour about things, you’ll never get through the down days.”

I asked for her name.

“Eileen Kelly. I know, it’s a lot of e’s and l’s, isn’t it?” She asked mine, and when I said Jules she repeated ‘Joyce’ which was fine. I get that all the time

“Joyce, if you want to come over for tea or lunch one day, I’d like that. I’m usually here. I have a big property (and she did, at least half an acre), and my cat, well, she doesn’t help much with the housework. She just creates it!”

I asked to see the treasures she had bought at the thrift store and told her of my mother and grandmother, how they spend every Saturday morning creeping around garage sales. And the few times that they have held garage sales of their own, how they end up buying each other’s knick knacks.

Eileen unwrapped her purchases like they were baby birds. “I don’t know why I collect anything, seems silly, doesn’t it? Like, what’s an old lady like me bothering with a collection for.” She told me it gives her purpose though, and besides glass bottles, she collects ceramic things with little roses on them. “See.” She held up a porcelain swan with a tiny pink rose on its back. “I bought this one too, it’s a little different. This one has gold on the beak. And they were only 50 cents, which is a great deal.”

I found myself making a mental note to remember the tiny pink rose, in case I found another piece that she could add to her collection. The glass bottles that she originally went to look at “were junk” so she was thrilled to find the swans with those roses.

Eileen opened the car door and said, “thank you for making sure I got home safely.” She apologized again for getting my seat wet, and waved. I watched her climb the steps to the front door of her two-storey house. She waved again, her full arm sweeping the air as I pulled out of the driveway. Resisting the urge to not go to work and run up Eileen’s stairs to tell her I would stay for tea was difficult.

As I turned on to McCallum I passed another old lady waiting at the bus stop, shifting her weight back and forth to keep warm. I wanted to give her a ride too but I had to be at work in less than five minutes. She had a rain bonnet on, at least.

I wasn’t consciously thinking of good deeds or upping my karma or Pay it Forward. Picking up Eileen was a reflex. I was only thinking of my mother and my grandmother, caught in a downpour far from home, hoping that someone would have the same reaction I did.

rainbow

Categories: Wild Women | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Mom’s The Word

mom 4My mother had only one expectation of us: that we make ourselves interesting. “Only boring people get bored,” was her motto that stuck to me like a hotel shower curtain.

Of course, there were other words of sage advice, but the stand-out messages were:

“How would you like it if a big giant did that to you?” This was used in situations where we were poking eyeballs out of dead, bloated fish with sticks, or collapsing ant hills with even smaller sticks.

“You’ll go to juvenile detention centre for that!” This threat was often issued for a myriad of activities, like being on the roof of our house, reading my sister’s diary, honking the car horn in the parking lot, etc. There was no connective tissue between the “crimes” but we lived in fear the detention centre even though the mythical wherabouts were largely unknown.

“Don’t touch that, somebody could have pissed on it.” In my mother’s eye, people are pissing everywhere! It was difficult to earn a small income as a child collecting beer bottles chucked in the ditches of our country road because all the bottles had been pissed on. In my adult life, I have begun to question the merit of her warning. I have yet to intentionally urinate on a beer bottle, but maybe she has and is speaking from experience.

 mom 3

We were lucky. Tremendously lucky. The only wish my mother ever said no to was the Wet Banana. Oh, how we pined for that long strip of yellow plastic that we could slide our bikini-clad bodies across. Like a Slip n’ Slide, the Wet Banana was connected to a hose, and provided a horizontal water slide-like experience. But, we had a country well and zero water pressure and the Wet Banana was creatively replaced with a skateboard, a unicycle and a pogo stick. All of which proved to be extremely challenging to use as we lived on a gravel road with a gravel driveway.

We weren’t subjected to church or piano lessons (and for this we were/are forever grateful), or vitamins. Well, there was an attempt to ply us with cute Flinstone multi-vitamins for a short period, but we fed them all to our dog, Xanadu, and his fur and teeth fell out shortly after that. Clearly, the vitamins were full of poison.

mom 2Every Saturday (in my memory at least) we made our pilgrimage to the local library where we checked out stacks of books heavier than our body weight. Mom made certain that we were readers, because readers were never boring. We watched a necessary amount of television (Little House on the Prairie, The Jetsons, The Littlest Hobo), but when our TV intake began to climb, the television was relocated to the basement. The dreaded basement where mass murderers, boogeymen, ghosts and pits of snakes existed. This kept us from any TV-watching addictions and childhood weight gain.

As for weight gain, with my mother’s generous use of butter and sugar we should have been of pint-sized Sumo wrestler proportions. Our teeth would hum from her chocolate macaroons, marble brownies and Nanaimo bars. But there were rules. We could only have pop on Friday nights with take-out pizza.

When we discovered the fun that burping could provide (on those Friday pop nights), our behaviour was quickly curtailed when my mother implemented the Burp Tax. Each burp cost 25 cents (if she heard it). If the burp was disgusting, too long, intentional or at an inappropriate time, the fine climbed to a steep dollar. If they were funny burps, sometimes we could get her to laugh and not fine us.

My mother has always been adventurous in the kitchen, clipping recipes that sometimes requires my dad to make a substitute buttered toast dinner. The first time she made tofu for us she told us it was frog legs, which oddly, made it more appealing.

My sister, brother and I all played soccer. Sometimes all on the same night. My mother would avoid the sideline chatter and gossip of soccer moms and sit in the comfort of her car, surreptitiously reading and quickly beeping her horn if there was a sudden burst of cheering. My dad was the more pro-active cheerleader but my mother ensured we had our exposure to athletic activities too. However, at any given opportunity, she would remind us that it was okay if we wanted to quit. I remember a badminton match when I was 10 or so, and my doubles partner, Kyle, whacked me in the face with his racquet on a backhand. I left the court crying my racqueted eyes out. My mother followed me into the bathroom where I hid in the stall, my face with a heartbeat all of its own. “You can quit you know, I don’t care.” I can’t remember if I went back to the game or not, but I liked that I had a mother who supported me in quitting. Any perfectionist overtones that I have are all self-inflicted.

I can’t say that my parents were thrilled when I quit highschool to go work at an art camp up in northern Ontario, but my mother understood, eventually. In the fall, when I wanted to move to Vancouver to work as a freelance writer for Cockroach magazine (earning a whopping $400 a month) at 18, she understood that too. “I know you have your own personal geography to explore.” When I called home a week later saying I was going to protest the clear-cutting at Clayoquot Sound her only request was that I didn’t get myself arrested.

I didn’t find myself in handcuffs, but I became the Sir Francis Drake of my own personal geography. With her mild consent I signed up to volunteer in the jungles of Costa Rica for three months. My first choice of exploration was tree-planting in California but she thought the organization “Peace Trees” had cult written all over it and pushed me towards the jungle instead. I’m surprised she has any hair left on her head at all from my bold travels. Her emails when I’m abroad generally come CAPITALIZED and with several exclamation marks. ARE YOU OKAY? HAVEN’T HEARD FROM YOU IN 12 HOURS!!!!

I paved the way well for my younger siblings. Pierced nose, tattoos, a girlfriend with a motorcycle– there was no possible way they could surprise my mother. Even when I announced I was going to Africa for four months, her initial fear-based response turned quickly to a supportive role. How could she protest? She instilled my love of exploring, travel, birds and anything new.

mom 1My mother was our family trip organizer, she wanted us to see the world and as we grew older (and less likely to beat the crap out of each other in the backseat of the car), we drove further along the eastern seaboard of the states. We made our way through all the states clean down to Florida. The itinerary was strict, with army boot camp wake-up calls at 7 am and marathon driving expeditions between museums, cemetaries and wildlife sanctuaries. She could push aside hunger just to fit in one more must-see. My dad would be forced into the back of the van and Mom would tell my brother to turn up the heat to keep him quiet. “It’ll put your father to sleep.” My dad would resort to eating packets of hotel peanut butter before drifting off as my mother navigated and drove.

She has continued to support all my hair-brained adventures and schemes. There was no pressure to be a lawyer or doctor, she has only insisted that we are happy because life is too damn short. As for my writing, “just don’t write anything rotten about me.”

As if. I wouldn’t be able to think of a single rotten thing. Well, except for that time in grade nine when she confiscated the jeans I had carefully ripped a hundred holes into and carefully distressed with a razor and artistically bleached. Now, that was rotten.

My mother, me and my grandmother

My mother, me and my grandmother

Love you Mom. Happy Mother’s Day.

Categories: Wild Women | Tags: , , , , | 16 Comments

A Tribute to Nan

November 19, 2008

‘’I don’t know anyone whose grandparents are divorced, that’s just weird.’’
‘’What about yours?’’ Kelly asked, always one bright step ahead of me.
Funny, I never thought of my grandmother of ever being married, let alone being divorced. When my dad was two, she divorced Angelo and cut the Torti family tree in half, letting all those limbs crash to the ground to rot. She was just Nan to me, and besides, she had Buffer, my dad’s sister. Apparently we couldn’t pronounce Cathy as kids, it came out Buffer (maybe we had mouthfuls of marshmallows when we tried to say her name? I dunno). Anyway, Buffer and Nan were a package deal, an odd Thelma and Louise if you will. They lived together in a tiny wartime house in sleepy Eagle Place, Brantford, Ontario. We were spoiled to have a Great grandmother who lived right beside us, and my mom’s mom lived just a few farmhouses further up the road. But, our urban Nan had cable, was walking distance to Mac’s Milk convenience store AND Earl Haig Swimming Pool. My mother always thought public pools were cesspools, and she’s right, this one had its share of floating band-aids, and the odd dark turd would bob around until an alert lifeguard evacuated everyone. Buffer swam with us like the biggest kid, terrorizing us by yelling ‘’shark’’ and pinching us underwater. Kiley always ended up in tears from shark attacks, but I think at that age if she wasn’t screaming, she was crying. Such a sensitive child. What scared me more was Buffer’s big toe which had no nail on it from some mysterious infection. She would wrap it up tightly in two plastic bags with elastics and wade into the pool without concern. All the other swimmers would stop mid-stroke to assess what the plastic bag could mean, and whether swallowing pool water and spitting it in someone else’s face was still okay.
We swam with Buffer and Nan everyday of the summer I think. My dad would drop us off on his way to work, bleary-eyed, and we’d park ourselves sleepily on the couch and watch cable cartoons. We loved Chili the penguin and the one with the Anteater. Nan would have chocolate milk in a carton and offer us cowboy or sailboat sandwiches. Cowboy came open face, sailboats in fours, standing erect, exactly like peanut butter sailboats would look. By the time we walked to Earl Haig we were ravenous again, and Nan always had devilled eggs and pickled beets for us. Buffer would pack a tin of Betty Crocker vanilla frosting and we’d smother dollar store Nilla wafers with an inch of the stuff. We never waited half an hour before swimming…
Our favourite days were when a storm would be brewing, foreboding clouds smudging the sky and the deadly humidity heavy in our lungs. We’d rush home, thunder at our heels, with Buffer telling us what was happening meteorologically. She should have been a storm chaser because she knows more about F5 twisters and funnel clouds than normal. Buffer often had us taking shelter in the basement because she knew when a tornado was approaching, she could smell it. But first we’d stop at the fish n’chip shop on Erie avenue and place a family size order. The fish always came wrapped in newsprint which nearly gave way with all the grease by the time we reached Nan’s and took cover.
Nan would finally put her feet up, turn on the fan to a level equivalent to that of a jet taking off. She couldn’t stand the humidity. She rarely wore shorts, and only inside. When she did my sister would ask her if she was from outer space, because of all the green bumpy varicose veins on her legs. When Nan left the room finally, we’d take turns putting on her thick glasses, because it was like being underwater with your eyes wide open. We were always caught, and she threatened us that we’d go blind if we kept doing it.
The other big Nan threat was that the house would blow if we ran around the kitchen. She made us equally paranoid of the pilot light on the gas stove. Not a day passed where Nan would suddenly flare her nostrils and say, “do you smell gas? Buffer, go check the pilot light. This house will blow if that light’s out.’’
When my dad was in a hockey tournament, we’d go to Nan and Buffer’s for the night. They let us stay up as long as we wanted, hell, why not? They were staying up too. We’d watch Hee Haw, Benny Hill and Johnny Carson eating our way through bags of Hickory Sticks and bbq peanuts.
In the morning, Nan would convince one of us to help shove her diamond or sapphire earrings in her lobes. Kiley was the most helpful, I still get queasy at the thought. Nan would do our eyebrows so we didn’t look like Brooke Shields and ask us if we wanted our hair permed like Buffer. My mother had already vocalized her opinion: no perms, especially Toni home perms. Kiley was always keen, but, I never thought tight poodley curls would be flattering on me.
We sometimes played with the city kids, but they were a different breed. A bit snotty we thought. Instead, we made homemade wet bananas in the backyard because Nan also had water pressure, something we never had living on a well in the country. We hosed down large sheets of plastic and sprinted, bellyflopped and slid across the plastic until we came to a dead-stop on the sharp grass. When we tired of that (because our ribs hurt from slamming the ground so much) we’d make some game with horse chestnuts on a string where you had to whack your opponent’s nut off. Too often it usually ended up being Dax’s real nuts… and the game would end. We’d walk up to the store, which we were allowed to do only if we held hands crossing the street (which we never did). Nan would slip us a few bucks so we could each get some candy. Mac’s had these fantastic tiny ice cream cones filled with a maple syrup kind of fudge that we all splurged on. Kiley would get a fudgesicle or sour cream and onion chips, ju jubes or Fun Dips for Dax, and I’d be stuck somewhere between Kraft caramels, Swedish fish or hockey stickers for my scrapbook. We all had scrapbooks that we were working on: Star Wars, NHL, E.T. –the stickers came with that god awful gum covered in so much powder. One day we went all out, because Nan gave us a little more, but said she wanted change. How much change we weren’t sure about—so we went a bit hoggy. We bought gobstoppers, Hubba Bubba grape, red lips, green thumbs, those invisible books with the magic pens and some Bottlecaps. We hopscotched home, thrilled with our purchases, until I gave Nan the change and she started to cry. We had spent all her pension money. Surely she was getting more than $5 for her pension? We felt sick about it, candy never tasted so rotten, but she refused to let us take our stuff back. I think that was the moment I learned how to budget and Kiley learned how to spend!
Sometimes we took the city bus to the mall, which was always a roar for us. We thought city kids were so cool, being able to take a bus around town. We couldn’t even get pizza delivered! The worst bus day was when we had done a marathon shop at No Frills, and when we climbed on the full bus, one of our plastic bags broke and all the canned goods rolled to the back of the bus. Cans raced and rattled back and forth as we took sharp turns and went through the streets of Strawberry Hill. Nan found a seat and I found the cans. My face was red hot as I reached behind legs and begged my pardon.
Nan never did travel beyond Buffalo. Never really wanted to either. When Buffer got her license she started renting cars, usually Ford Tempos because she had read that they were good vehicles. We’d pack the Tempo up with a cooler and head for the border to Walden Galleria mall to go cross-border shopping. Funny, we never minded wearing two or three lace teddies back under our clothes. Not even Dax, but, then again—look how he turned out. I don’t know who wore the teddies that we smuggled back, both my Nan and Buffer I think. Most of them were purple, which was both their favourite colour, so it’s hard to know. Buffer told us to keep mum in the back when we crossed the border, and we were never caught.
Every summer we’d take a road trip to Komoka to visit Nan’s “fucking sister Ruth.” Ruth had always wronged her in some way, but we loved her. She made the best chocolate milkshakes in her Hamilton Beach mixer. Ruth lived alone on a dill farm, her husband Jack had died when we were young. There were always little kittens, a few German Shepards and a giant barn that we played in until we were beside ourselves with rashes and itches from the hay. We swung from the rafters, found old chewing tobacco tins, bullet casings, and carved our initials in secret places. Ruth and my grandmother fought the whole time, and both of them would be crying at some point. We didn’t care. However, this is where we learned how to swear. Not so much from Ruth, but from Nan. Oh, she could get on a tangent calling Violet a hussy, and so-and-so a whore. Yeah, Nan spoke all sugary to my dad, but we saw another side. The exposure became evident when Kiley walked up our driveway at home after one such Komoka road trip clippity-clopping in her new much-longed for Dr.Scholl’s wooden sandals. She was maybe seven. “These fucking shoes hurt my feet.” Dad was in earshot. Nan was in trouble.
Kiley was always after Nan, for her language, the ‘bad things’ she was doing. And, my nan was secretly afraid of Kiley and her tell-all ways. Once, in the backyard when Nan sat on the wooden lounger and it collapsed to the ground in pieces Nan told Kiley, “don’t you tell your mother.” But, Kiley had already said her piece, “I’m telling my muddah on you!’’ And, she always did.
So, Nan wasn’t exactly a traditional grandmother (most of them don’t say fuck). She liked Def Leppard, Poison, Wham, Boy George, rollerskating at the roller rink (so long as we didn’t tell my father ) and frying hot dogs and hot dog buns, all in butter. One winter, Nan, probably in her 70s by then, decided she wanted to have a go at the hill, and ride down on one of our red plastic flying saucers. She urged us to give her a push and ohmygod, there went Nan, spinning in fast, tight circles, until she was going completely backwards and then, just somersaulted right over. Of course, we were no help, all of us pissing our snowsuits at her crooked glasses and cries for help. She was only mad that she had lost her diamond earring. I don’t think she went tobogganing again, but she was always game for trying something new. Like having Buffer to teach her how to drive, even though she didn’t have her glasses with her. Of course she nearly ditched the rental Tempo at the first sight of headlights coming from the other direction.
Nan was eccentric in every possible way. She loved her patent leather heels as high as Tina Turner’s, crushed velvet stirrup pants, leopard print sweaters and Christmas pins that preferably lit up and sang. She loved her gold chains, Christmas, and crossing her eyes at us. We always seemed to be laughing in her company. Our nicknames stuck for years—Chucky, Wheatman (Dax??) and Kiley was Nimmers. I was Horse, because I could run fast, but it never seemed very flattering to me.
I think of Nan’s house, and how it remained virtually the same, years after our childhood time had paled. There was still the ketchup bottle explosion on the kitchen ceiling, and the piece of pink foil behind her livingroom door that I gave her when I was two. At Christmas all the treasures would come out again, and the house would become congested with crumbling gingerbread houses that should have been demolished years ago, popcorn trees with mere kernels left on the construction paper, broken clay gifts, yellowed cards—she had kept everything we had ever made for her.
Nan loved Christmas the most. All she ever wanted was a homemade card from me, to add to her collection. I probably should have written this sooner so she could have added it to her collection too, but, I think we were collecting the same things—shiny memories of a life lived well. She spent all her pension dollars on us, and we ate like kings. Those jell-o cubes at Woolworth’s with the dab of whipped cream seemed like the finest dessert going. And we always seemed to be eating buckets of KFC in a leafy park. Nan was so adaptable that when she was told to watch her cholesterol she ordered macaroni salad to have instead…and when the cashier forgot to pack her a fork, she resorted to eating her macaroni salad with a hair pick.
Nan died two weeks ago. Before I left BC in September she sent me a Christmas card with my Christmas money so she could be sure that I received it. She told me not to go in any boats, and not to swim in any lakes and for god sakes, don’t get eaten by a lion in Africa. ‘’If God spares me I’ll see you when you come home and visit your parents.’’ She had talked about God sparing her for as long as I remembered.
The world is a different place without Nan in it. It’s a little quieter, that’s for sure. But the memories of her are just at the surface, in the smell of a pan of melting butter, in twinkling Christmas lights, pool chlorine on my skin, hair picks, fast toboggan rides and vanilla icing. She is never that far away, even when I’m in Africa.

Categories: Wild Women | Tags: | Leave a comment

Crazy for SHeDAISY

sheep2

Once upon a time, I thought country music was what they played to lab mice to see if they would eat each other due to the anxiety and aggression the music caused. Close friends often tried to put me in a country music coma with the likes of Terri Clark, Vince Gill and other cowboy-hatted folk. I slightly warmed to the Dixie Chicks after much resistance, appreciating the honky more than the tonk in honky tonk.

Then along came SHeDAISY, three intimidatingly beautiful sisters who know how to purr. If you were impressed by Shaye (Damhnait Doyle, Kim Stockwood, Tara MacLean), SHeDAISY kicks it up a few belt notches with beauty, verve and vocals that drip like sap from the maple trees in March.

In the last week, SHeDAISY posted tracks from A Story To Tell, the brand new album they are preparing to slam the world with, on MySpace. The samples have since been pulled, but the Nancy Drew sleuth in me says they might be offering more sneak peaks in the weeks to come. An amuse-bouche if you will– to lure you into to buying that story that they have to tell. It’s their first album of original tunes in four years, so it promises a fiery vitality.

Sharing the limelight is Jann Arden who finds time to be SHeDAISY’s producer and co-writer while riding the wave that is about to crest when her own new album is released this fall. Like the rare ambidextrous who are equally adept using their right or left appendages, Arden’s explosive talent allows her to slide from artistry in the form of painted works to shaping lyrics, to writing songs and books.

Both albums are going to be knock-out powerhouses. SHeDAISY is the perfect fuel for a roadtrip, with a sassy Thelma & Louise assertiveness behind their work and contagious lyrics. Arden’s album will reliably leave us ready to overdose and weep in public with her trademark haunting lyrics, but there is equilibrium in there. Buy both and visit all the chicks on Facebook, MySpace, and by god, they even twitter when bored!

twitter.com/jannarden

twitter.com/shedaisy

http://www.facebook.com/pages/SHeDAISY/15049808882

http://www.facebook.com/people/Jann-Arden/642481139

http://www.myspace.com/shedaisy

http://www.myspace.com/jannarden

Categories: Flicks and Muzak, Wild Women | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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