Posts Tagged With: nostalgia

Sifting and Sorting: The Emotional Attic

Any traveller will nod in agreement with this statement: when you are away from home for more than three weeks, you can quickly define what’s essential in your life (lip balm and Q-tips, really). When you have a house for more than three weeks, you can easily be persuaded into different thinking because the space is there and it’s not being hauled around on your back. Having a home base facilitates collecting, gathering, storing/hoarding. However you like to classify it, it’s easy to cloud your streamline stance on “essential” when there is enough square footage to allow for all whims and wants.

Not that Kim and I have become collective since we moved in. On the contrary (we’ve been hawking excess wares on Kijiji)—in fact, the only hoarder on our property is the black squirrel who has turned our backyard Bunkie into a black walnut cache. For any other squirrel who happens upon that shed, they will definitely think they’ve gone to The Other Side with the heavenly hoard inside.017

With serious thoughts of moving from the home they’ve been in for 13 years, my parents have a serious winnowing process underway. We’ve passed our house-hunting/moving baton on. Name an obscure place anywhere in Ontario, and my mother has found a house listing there. They have been renting cars for recent house pilgrimages because the mileage they’ve covered already would have taken them to Anchorage, Alaska had they been driving in a straight line.

My parents moving translates into the great-unearthing-of-nostalgia, buried for a solid decade in their attic space. At first the queries came in a phone call format. “We’ve got your old trophies. You still want them don’t you?” Even though I have more square footage than I’ve had in a long while, I still don’t have space (or desire) for trophies. My dad seemed disappointed when my response was so immediate. “Oh god, no! For what?”

And, so, despite my firm “no,” my dad thought I still might like the engraved plaques from each of the trophies, illuminating my soccer, badminton and running career. Surely I’d want the mini-plaques. They wouldn’t take up much space at all.

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Next came the call about the papier-mâché collection. I didn’t even realize my parents still had them holed away. And, by papier-mâché, I don’t mean a misshapen grade 3 heart-shaped ashtray and miniature swan. We’re talking larger-than-life size creations: an orange octopus, a hamburger (as big as a coffee table with foam dill pickles to boot), a panda bear and a mosquito with a lethal chicken wire proboscis. “You want them, don’t you?” (Insert melancholy here: part of me will always be disturbed by the anthropomorphism of the Toy Story toys. But, at least the papier-mâché family travelled together to the local dump after one last photo.)

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When I calculated the age of the papier-mâché collection, I pegged some of them to be vintage 1987. The hamburger and mosquito were high school art camp creations carted back on a bus from Camp Walden in northern Ontario. Too bad there wasn’t a Mâché Hall of Fame to donate them to.

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Then came the cardboard boxes of Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume paperbacks, my dog-eared Golden readers and Beatrix Potter hardbacks. I picked out my all-time faves (Runaway Ralph and Ralph S. Mouse, Pepper, Flicka) and displayed the Golden Guides that were my flora and fauna bibles as a kid. But, to keep all of them? My mom insisted I return the ones I didn’t want. Which still makes me feel like guilty for adding to their nostalgia cargo.
I struggled more with the grainy old pictures of school chums and road trips to the Grand Canyon. I’ve carted around my own stacks of pictures for years—the stories diminishing and the faces losing familiarity. I had to do a Facebook poll. The verdict? If you can’t name anyone in the photo, it’s safe to turf the pic.

But the newspaper clippings–those were an easy keep. My parents had saved the complete history of my early writing and sporting career as documented in The Brantford Expositor—skipping fundraisers, soccer goals, badminton tournaments, cross country runs. I tell you, I was at my peak at age 11. Hell, I even won a city-wide April Fools joke contest and $25 bucks which must have seemed like a bazillion dollars then. Apparently, I was also the national grand prize winner in Cappy Dick’s cut-apart puzzle contest (no cash– I won a Marvin watch and an Owl Pen according to the article). The Nobel Prize for puzzles I’m guessing.

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For several years I was a member of the very prestigious (cough-cough) Expositor Jr. Reporter Club and all my amateur drawings, poetry (oh, ugh) and pre-teen stories of wisdom were highlighted here. I’ve kept these gems for comic relief—and when I eventually get around to writing a memoir, I’ve got proper sources to cite!

Through this whole process of my parents’ attic being brought to life, I’ve realized that living is all about continually sifting and sorting. Emotions, stuff, homes, jobs, friends, lovers. Always refining, reconsidering, choosing the very best of all categories to move forward with.

I’m glad my parents have kept all the treasures they have. (But where is my Owl Pen? I have zero recollection of this one.) Our childhood is well-chronicled, and I am grateful to have the opportunity to graze through my past with so many tangibles.

What have you kept? What do you wish you still had? How big is your emotional attic?

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Categories: Home Sweet Home, Polyblogs in a Jar | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Tin Box Stories

Last Monday my parents came to Toronto to celebrate their birthdays. This means they take Dax and I out to the posh place of our choice AND pick up the tab. Of course, the visit also brings with it homemade cookies, some archives (“do you want these things?” We found them in the attic.”) and newspaper clippings.

My mother has clipped articles and ripped features out of magazines for me for years. I have come to expect it and am disappointed if I don’t get an envelope full. She is my multi-media connection to my hometown, and abroad. Kiley  gets clippings too (and sometimes our clippings are misdirected—“Didn’t you go to high school with so-and-so? They just had a ________________ (baby, engagement or wedding).”

My clipping envelope has now evolved into a tin box to house a decade of clippings. And postcards. And ticket stubs.  What started off so innocently (a scrapbooker’s  dream of Brantford Expositor news and quirky Toronto Star features) has transformed into my hard drive. Some of the gems date back to 2000, which for me, is an era now deemed as a “historical event.”

This visit, my dad carted in two mandarin orange crates full of cassette tapes. “I don’t know if you’ll listen to these or not, but we found them in the attic.” (Hours later my father realized I probably didn’t have a tape deck anymore—but he was pretty sure there was still one in the basement that he could clean up). Sorting through the tapes was a nostalgic throw-back to a time when I couldn’t get enough of Janis Joplin with Big Brother and The Holding Company. I smiled to see the soundtrack to Northern Exposure, Sinead O’Connor, Bjork, Kiley’s drama exam ?(Kiley—do you want this?), Simon & Garfunkel, Neil Young, Catie Curtis, Tori Amos, Indigo Girls and The Cranberries. Vintage finds were the Jann Arden Time For Mercy, an autographed Radiate (Carole Pope), a mixed tape from my friend Toni and Jane Siberry.

Naturally, my minimalist self didn’t want a bunch of crappy cassette tapes. But, I couldn’t part with the Carole autograph and Jann’s cassette. So, I slipped the J-cards out of the plastic cases and put them in the tin box. And then, at 3:43 am I decided it would be a perfect time to start looking through the contents of my tin box.

This was the first (ripped out of the Star or the Globe & Mail at some point) thing I read: “ British art director Storm Thorgerson observed recently: People like objects. Objects tend to fashion their lives and serve as memory. People take their favourite objects whenever they move, and those objects often define who they are.”

This tin box is like peering into my innards for the last decade. There are love letters, running bibs, folded and worn horoscopes for Virgo, postcards, San Francisco trolley tickets, Coco Chanel quotes (“I only drink Champagne on two occasions: when I am in love and when I am not.”), a pic of my dream scooter (a 49 c.c. Honda Ruckus, suggested retail $2,849) and a zen-inducing photo of The Four Seasons Golden Triangle in Thailand (“Arrive by riverboat through bamboo forests, live and slumber in a 581-square-foot tent with private deck…refresh yourself (and your partner) in an open-air shower, or luxuriate together  in a handmade copper tub…take bareback elephant excursions through the forest…arrive at your couple’s spa treatment by way of an Indiana Jones-style suspension bridge…or just sip sundowner cocktails at the Burma Bar and listen to the melodious sounds of another world.” )Starting at $1,200 a night.

I laugh to find a poem scrawled on a Player’s Light cigarette pack from a woman named Linda. Kelly and I met her at a bar on Church street. Linda was quite enamoured with both of us, and was certain her husband would be as well. As she hugged and squeezed us (within an inch of our life) goodbye, she slipped me the cigarette pack poem:

Roses are Red

Violets grow in pools

Too bad for me

I wish I knew you’s from school.

Call me! Both of you! Linda (followed by her phone number)

Postcards from the edge

The tin box also contains a heap of postcards—a Torti family travelogue if you will. I re-read the exploits of my parents in Scotland, Ireland, Sleepy Hollow (NY), Colorado, Myrtle Beach, Sleeping Bear Dunes (Lake Michigan), Quebec, Rhode Island and Holland. Eight out of ten are from my dad’s perspective, which usually involves commentary on his lack of beach time due to my mom’s tight cemetery tour itinerary, golf courses that he wasn’t allowed to play at (due to time constraints—see above), vivid descriptions of the rental car and a hilarious outtake of when my dad collapsed a Pepsi shelf display at a grocery store in Quebec when my mother startled him (I never did get my mom’s version on that one).

The Kiley Torti GPS was haywire this past decade. Postcards came in from these outposts:  Tierra Del Fuego (Argentina), Maui, The Great Barrier Reef, Alaska, a Churchill polar bear expedition and San Francisco. Kiley’s postcards are printed in a 7 point font, describing every breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack in between.  There’s a lot of summit talk, given her love of mountains and conquering them (Mt. Haleakala summit: 10,032 ft).

My favourite postcard from Dax? It came from Holland: “I’ve been to tons of museums and had a lot to drink. Today we’ll be having a drink at the first spot where they made gin. Oh, and the Bols factory makes some damn good drinks. Gay pride starts tonight so I’m sure we’ll all be a mess. Tah tah, Dax.”

Dax from London: “I totally have pulled a mom, travelling everywhere east, west, north and south, even if it killed me. We had an attic room complete with a rooftop deck and Kohler tub. Today I finished at Kew Gardens—I’ve never seen such huge greenhouses and plantings!”

Of course the tin box also contains its share of melancholy.  On September 6th, 2005, Dr. Jacqueline Perry, age 30, was mauled by a black bear in Missinaibi Provincial Park near Chapleau, Ontario. Her husband, Mark Jordan desperately tried to fend off the bear with a Swiss Army knife, which he slashed five times. Mark carried Jacqueline to their kayak and began to paddle to a nearby campsite. A father and son from Pennsylvania who were camping nearby heard his calls of distress and came to their rescue in a pontoon boat. They flagged down another boat that carried a doctor from North Carolina and an off-duty police officer. The doctor treated Jacqueline as the boat continued to the park office, about 10 km away. She died of her sustained injuries.

Jacqueline was a star student, so exceptionally bright I was known to cheat off her math tests (shhh). I sat behind her in a few classes and hounded her for several things over the years—pens, erasers, a sheet of paper. She was always gracious, even when I did this on a daily basis. I can see her smiling in the hallowed halls of Brantford Collegiate Institute (BCI), clutching text books to her chest–because that’s what she always did. She smiled and laughed in an unleashed way that was beautiful.

These clippings still disturb me. “Woman Remains in Hospital After Crash.” “Woman Still in Hospital Following Accident.” “City Woman Dies in Hospital From Injuries.” On November 26th, 2006, my dear friend Emily’s mother died. Susan Malcolm taught my sister and brother grade nine English. She was well-loved by all faculty and students who fell under her spell. Especially me. She was the most stunning woman I had ever met. She would always wink at me as I sped by to my next class, and had a smile that brought immediate calm. Even her eyes smiled.

On November 16th she was in a two-vehicle collision on Highway 99. She died 10 days later, finally succumbing to her severe injuries.  A 42-year-old man was charged with careless driving. Careless driving? That’s it? He took an angel from this earth.

I unfold a page carefully ripped from Maclean’s magazine. On May 9th, 2007, a beloved visual arts and drama teacher from BCI was killed in Malawi, Africa. She was travelling with a group of friends to the Home of Hope orphanage to deliver art supplies to the children. As they neared the orphanage a tire exploded on their van and Sandy Wilson was thrown from the vehicle and died within the hour at an area hospital. A dynamic painter and sculptor, it was her dream to travel to Africa and share her artistic passion with the children. Her suitcases were bulging with pigment, a paper-making machine, brushes and kites made by local kindergarten students.

Sandy, an ovarian cancer survivor, left behind her life partner, Valerie Leanage.  “I see her as a victory figure,” said Leanage who admitted she was coping by believing Sandy is still on a big trip in a far-off land (As told to reporter Susan Gamble at the Brantford Expositor).

Sandy let me squeeze my way onto the school trip to Albuquerque, New Mexico and the Grand Canyon with the BCI Native Club. She laughed with me when I was upset that no one would buy my home made dream catchers that we sold as a fundraiser (due to my non-native-ness). She picked me up on more than one occasion when I was walking home in dismal weather—and stopped even when the weather wasn’t dismal to see if I was okay. She was generous with her time and gifts and an absolute treasure to the high school art department.

The tin box grew heavier on each of those days.

I sort the obituaries from engagement notices and find a Globe obit for Joan Fox, a radical film reviewer. She loved the work of Claude Jutra and kept company with Doris Anderson, long-time editor of Chatelaine. She was pals with women’s rights activist Dorothy Cameron, an art dealer made famous “when the Toronto Police’s morality squad removed seven works from her Eros ’65 show for their alleged obscenity.” Fox was active with anti-censorship and adored Elvis Presley films. At her funeral, an Elvis impersonator (hired by her son), rose from a pew and sang “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” Joan Fox was working on her memoirs. “The tales of a girl who came to Toronto to watch the movies.” The tales filled several boxes in her home.

I suppose everyone has their Tin Box, of varying dimensions. I have Amsterdam street maps, Charlottetown, PEI horse betting stubs ($2 WIN!), half-marathon course maps from BC, drawings on airplane serviettes by ex-girlfriends and circled book reviews (Sailing Away From Winter—A Cruise From Nova Scotia to Florida and Beyond by Silver Donald Cameron: a recount of a 236-day trip he, his wife and their whippet took on a 33-foot ketch named Magnus).

There’s a heap of absurd stories about The Burning Man Festival and Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch (or the Church of St. Mary in the Hollow of White Hazel Trees near the Rapid Whirlpool by St. Tysilio’s of the Red Cave in Wales). It’s the longest place name in the world—the triple-long train tickets became collector’s items. In other news I have clips of Petra the swan who fell in love with a swan-shaped paddleboat in Muenster, Germany (she refused to leave the boat’s side, but reportedly found a new mate, a white swan, and was last seen building a nest with the non-boat swan).

“Masked robbers bag birds’ nests”—nests of the swiftlet birds, prized for their medicinal value were stolen from Ming Heng Ginseng Dry Foods at the Richmond Mall in BC. The nests are used to make bird’s nest soup which reportedly sharpens the appetite of the elderly and those recovering from surgery. (The nests retail at $200 for 37 grams = 2 to 3 bowls of soup).

There’s more—articles on the new Beer 101 course at a university in Halifax, an interview with a fortune cookie writer (on rejected fortunes),  a feature on Nova Scotian folk artist Maud Lewis (who lived in a cottage 3.5 metres wide by 3.5 metres long—every inch of it painted) and a review of the Ithaa Undersea Restaurant  in the Maldives.

God, there’s even a menu for Evelyn’s Coffee Bar in Banff (best lemon yogurt and ginger crinkle cookies), 56 birthday cards and a getaway guide to Portland, Oregon (Cacao—150 pure artisanal chocolate bars from around the world, decadent drinking chocolate infused with chilli; Teardrop—locally made Aviation gin with notes of cardamom, lavender, sarsaparilla and dried orange peel; Powell’s City of Books—world’s largest independent bookstore at 68,000 square feet). I also uncover a rejection letter from Arsenal Pulp Press for my manuscript “Accidental Love and Death,” and the nicest letter from my boss Farrah when I quit my job at the Wild Orange Spa because I thought there were greener pastures elsewhere. She hired me back months later when I realized the grass wasn’t so fertilized elsewhere.

There’s a post-it note from Dax listing my birthday package contents from age 31 (?): Homemade Oreo Biscotti, Galaxy chocolate bar (London), Sparklers. Who Hoo! and a returned letter from April 18th, 2003 that I sent my sister when she worked on Disney Cruise Lines out of Cape Canaveral, Florida (which I am going to forward!).

Whew. It’s been a trip. I feel well-loved and well-lived. I hope everyone has a Tin Box of stories and cigarette poems. I can’t part with a single item because they all resonate with me in some vibrating way and remind me that we do carry our favourite objects with us. And my favourite objects are my family and friends and all the postcards and letters sent in between our absences.

So tell me, what’s in your Tin Box?

Categories: Polyblogs in a Jar | Tags: , , , , | 9 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.

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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

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