Each morning, my uncle heads downstairs to make coffee for him and my auntie. Then he goes back upstairs while the coffee’s brewing and when the coffee’s ready he brings it back upstairs. My auntie and uncle enjoy their coffee in bed. This Tuesday morning, the routine was the same.
Except when he returned to fill the two coffee mugs, there was a live duck in the kitchen sink.
My uncle and aunt are both in their 80s. They live on a very well-tended acreage that has a large barn and a couple of gardens. They still live in the two-storey farmhouse that they restored more than forty years ago. They are kind and generous, and their place is peaceful.
My aunt always claimed (mostly jokingly) that there is a ghost in the house because sometimes a pot or a cookie sheet or a piece of cutlery will be out of its cupboard or drawer and placed on the table or counter in the kitchen when no one’s been home. This has happened a few times and it always makes for a fun story.
But a duck in the sink beats a pan on the table.
“I went back upstairs and we heard this sound downstairs, this rustling,” my uncle described it to me. “But I’d just been downstairs making coffee. I asked Jeannette, ‘Is Tim here already?’”
My uncle called to see if I could solve the mystery. Yeah, right. I can’t remember what I’m looking for in the fridge lots of times. How would I know how a large duck ended up in their kitchen sink at 7:30 on a Tuesday morning?
Anyway, it’s kind of fascinating and so I wanted to share the mystery with you, dear reader. Got a theory about how the duck got into the house and then into the kitchen sink? I love to hear it.
Yesterday we sat outside the restaurant eating our hamburgers in the car. Through the windows I could see the tables and chairs stacked up, wide yellow tape surrounding them as if it were a crime scene. Some nights I dream of eating inside the A&W, and then I wake up and remember that things have changed.
As we ate we watched the large, white gulls hop around the parking lot. Two were fat and healthy. They squawked as they searched for French fries on the asphalt and occasionally sipped from the puddles there. One gull was different from the other two. She stood mostly still on one leg and when she walked, it was gingerly. Clearly, she had an injured foot. At one point she was perched on a curb, balancing on one leg and a strong gust of wind blew her right over. She rearranged her feathers and sat back down on the curb.
Listen to me read this post:
I felt profoundly sad and helpless watching the injured gull. Then I realized that for days now I’ve felt profoundly sad and helpless. The gull simply made me feel the emotional combo more deeply. Darn sad bird.
It’s been really hard to blog lately because everything I write about feels small in comparison with what’s going on in the world. I can’t write about my garden when people are dying from and frightened of COVID-19. I can’t tell about my mild discomforts when folks are out risking injury as they protest civil rights abuses and bravely demonstrate for much-needed change. I’m too safe and too comfortable to comment on either situation. I likely will never get sick from the coronavirus, not where I live, and I don’t think I have the courage to go stand up for civil rights only to be deterred by “less lethal means.” Yikes.
So I’m stuck in sadness and helplessness, unable to write and unable to say something useful. I’m mired in sadness because marginalized people feel threatened, are imprisoned, and die at a significantly greater rate than folks like me. I feel really sad when I see corporations take financial advantage of a bad situation to build their wealth while the food bank lines lengthen.
My heart aches when I hear people I care about focus on riots and looting. These happen, I know, and I don’t condone vandalism, theft, or violence. But I don’t let looting distract me from the issues of poverty and racism that run deep, so deep and for so long, through the world. And I don’t confuse riots with peaceful protest. The differences are pretty easy to spot if it suits you to see them.
For someone stuck for something to say, I guess I’ve found something to say after all. It’s just not the time to talk about my flowers or my travels or my beautiful life. No one needs to hear it so I’ll rearrange my feathers and sit here on the curb, waiting out the hard times and hoping for peace and for justice.
Thanks for reading and listening. I appreciate you. Take care. ~ Lori
Here’s a post I wrote a few years ago, the spring after I quit my teaching job. What a beautiful spring it was! My whole world opened up. Gone was the insomnia and the heart palpitations. Here was opportunity and freedom! This feeling and the life surrounding me made me remember the first time I fell in love.
I hope you’re all doing well. Take care and enjoy what’s left of this beautiful month of May! ~ Lori
No wonder I first fell in love in May!
Walking down a village sidewalk yesterday, I breathed in deeply the sweet air and remembered falling in love that first time. The sky was a cloudless blue above me and against this background huge purple lilac flowers bloomed, apple trees blossomed, and so did mountain ash trees. The perfumed air was full of birdsong and frog calls. Warmly and lightly, the breeze touched my face and the earth felt solid under each step I took. If you’re going to fall in love, May is a good month to do it.
Hear me read this post:
The scented air and the soft breeze, the sounds of the birds and the bees, all reminded me of a day long ago and of a boy wearing a plaid shirt and riding a red horse. He had freckles across his nose, dark hair, and bright blue eyes. I’d seen him around, but not like this. Suddenly, I really saw him.
The Church Picnic
It was easy to fall in love at that church picnic because of everything around me and in me coming to life that Sunday in May. It was the easiest, most natural thing in the world.
At this time of year, everything is calling out to each other. “Hey, I’m alive! Are you alive? Let’s make more life!”
Flowers and trees bloom to attract the attention of the butterflies and the bees. Robins and sparrows and mourning doves all sing their seduction songs. Frogs croak and insects hum and all for the same reason. “Time is short and May is wonderful! Let’s make more life!”
Young people are all dressed up and dancing and drinking intoxicating nectar. They might think they’re doing something completely different than the birds and the bees and the frogs and the trees. They aren’t. Those young bodies are propelled by exactly the same seductive forces. “Life is short and we are young!” And so they draw one another closer and continue life’s dance.
Savouring the Season
When I was differently employed than I am now, I missed much of May. Like the students who sat in their unyielding desks and wondered about the world outside the classroom windows, I wondered too. A bird’s shadow would flit past the windows or poplar fuzz would drift lazily by and we’d all turn to see what was happening out there where life was.
How we kept May at bay, I don’t know. She pressed at the windows and knocked on our classroom door. “Let me in! I’m alive! Are you?” We are, but we’re trying to keep a lid on it…
May is the time in this corner of the world when everything has finally thawed out and every living creature is seeking a mate with whom to continue and affirm life. I couldn’t help but fall in love. I was far too young to find a mate, but May was the perfect time to dip my toe in the inviting waters of love.
Cheering for Life
We’re all cheering for life. That’s why we love babies and sunshine and kittens and puppies. It’s why we enjoy springtime and why we enjoy love, and it’s why we love May. Of all the twelve months, May is the one cheering loudest for life and of all the months, it’s the perfect time to fall in love.
Remember Me As You Pass By: Stories from PrairieGraveyards
Written by Nancy Millar
Remembering that we all die has the power to put our small discomforts and minor disputes automatically into perspective. The fact of death is the truest thing I know. And nothing drives the truth of mortality home like a stroll through a peaceful cemetery on a sunny summer day. Each of the folks represented by those bronze plates, concrete markers, and granite headstones experienced their own small discomforts and minor disputes. This was called “life.”
One day a couple years back, I noticed through the large glass window in our front door that something was hanging from the exterior door handle. There was a note with the book, Remember Me As You Pass By: Stories from Prairie Graveyards. It read: “I was doing some house cleaning, found this and thought of you.”
I was very touched by the gift but apparently not touched enough to read it until recently when provided the quiet by the coronavirus pandemic. I’m so glad I took the time to open up this paper copy and to savour its contents. This is an extraordinarily well-written and well-researched book. Besides knowing how to write and how to unearth some great stories, Nancy Millar is also pretty funny!
She writes about the “real” Sam McGee, a customer at the Canadian Bank of Commerce in Whitehorse, Yukon, where the fledgling poet, Robert Service, worked as a teller, and how Sam brought a bag of his own ashes home during a return trip to the North.
“When he visited Whitehorse at the end of the prospecting trip, he discovered that his old cabin there had been spruced-up as a tourist attraction and one of the items being offered for sale in the gift shop was “Genuine Sam McGee ashes.” Not only had he died, according to the tourist bureau of Whitehorse, but he had been such a massive man that his ashes would apparently supply tourist demand for some time.”
I also enjoyed how Nancy Millar describes Canmore, Alberta:
“Canmore is a pleasant mountain town on the edge of Banff National Park. Part of it wants to be big and rich like Switzerland; part of it wants to be small and modest like Canmore.”
There are a few really good chuckles in this read and they are placed alongside heartbreaking tales of tragedy that brought tears to my eyes for people long dead who I never knew. In the introduction, the author tells of a young couple who homesteaded in the early 1920s in the Innisfail, Alberta area. To earn money to help get them established, the husband went to work in Innisfail for a few months, leaving his newly-pregnant bride at home. He never did return. When his work at the brick plant in town was done, he started out on the twenty-mile journey on foot. He was robbed and killed along the way, his body left in a ditch.
“When the police found him in the spring, after the snow had melted and revealed his body, they rode out to tell his wife. But she had died too, in childbirth. Her twin babies were dead beside her.”
This book isn’t only about death and cemeteries. Instead, the graveyards and grave markers serve as jumping off places for Nancy Millar’s explorations of Canadian prairie history. It’s also a book that makes me want to explore prairie cemeteries even more than I have prior to reading Remember Me as You Pass By. At the end of the book, Nancy Millar includes a practical section called “How to Explore a Graveyard.” Handy! She reminds us to visit respectfully and to close gates. Then she goes into more detail for those readers interested in doing further exploration and maybe conducting some research.
If you love Canadian prairie history, old places, and colourful stories, then you will thoroughly enjoy this 1994 publication.
Here’s an article I wrote last summer. Since then my husband and I have each lost a dear auntie and uncle. The auntie in the story below has turned 90, though, and is still chugging along! Time passes quickly. It’s hard to imagine that there might not be another tomorrow to spend with the people we love, but that might be the case. Spend your time now.
Take care, dear readers, and have a good, healthy week ahead. ~ Lori
My message here today is simple: visit your old folks while you still can. Time is tricky and days all run together so closely resembling one another and moving us ever forward. Before we know it, time has passed and so have the people we love.
Why would I use a dating service? I’m 89!
Last Monday, we had the best visit with my husband’s auntie. She told us that a credit card company contacted her because some suspicious purchases had been made on her credit account.
“What kind of suspicious purchases?” she asked the company representative.
“Well, there are several charges for a dating service.”
My husband’s auntie shook her head and told us, “That was the best laugh I’d had in a long time! A dating service. I’m 89 years old. What do I want with a dating service?”
Her outrage at the idea of her needing a dating service was so fun! Auntie has been a widow now for decades and enjoys independence in her own home that she shares with a huge, orange cat. The credit card company refunded all her money, had her cut up her old card, and sent her a new one. All’s well that ends well.
She knew we were coming to visit so she’d made ginger snap cookies, cheese biscuits, and fresh coffee for us. There were also fresh pickles from cucumbers right out of her garden to sample. They were crunchy and made my lips pucker. We brought a jar of them home. When we were done eating, we toured her garden and she talked about the strength she’d built up in her arms this seasoning by watering her garden pots using buckets of rain water.
She told us, “I use my mother’s wagon to haul those water buckets. She watered her garden the same way when she got old.” My husband’s auntie’s eyes filled with tears. It just goes to show that no matter how old we get, we all miss our mothers when they’re gone.
I have a passion for recording stories.
It’s one of my favourite things, visiting with the older people in my life. I’m a lover of stories and old folks often have great stories to tell. I do know some older folk who don’t care to talk about the past. They live in the now and prefer not to reminisce. That’s just fine, too, but I really like the old stories. That’s why I’m passionate about helping people to get those colourful memories recorded before the colourful storytellers are gone.
Time is a sort of river of passing events, and strong is its current; no sooner is a thing brought to right than it is swept by and another takes its place, and this too will be swept away.
~ Marcus Aurelius
If you’d like to record your family history in its entirety or to simply write down some of those good old stories, please get in touch. I can help with everything from writing to editing to publishing. It would be my pleasure.
One of my favourite spring sounds is a chorus of frogs greeting one another and encouraging the production and fertilization of frog eggs. These guys were singing up a storm in the little slough just north of town last evening. (It breaks my heart when brush and wetlands are plowed over and drained to create more farmland. I’ve got to toughen up if I’m going to live around here. Heck, I’ve got to toughen up if I’m going to live anywhere.)
This morning I had my first really good visit with George, my neighbour’s cat who disappeared last year and then unexpectedly returned months later, starving and full of buckshot. I’m so glad he’s back! We missed each other. Having him around saves me from needing to get a cat of my own!
See how charming he is?
It’s such a beautiful sunny and still day here! I had a quick editing assignment to do, and now I should go sweep out the dusty garage. Before I do, though, here are some more photos. A neighbour lady here in town paints these rocks and leaves them along the road north of town for walkers, runners, and bikers to find as they trek along. I took these the other evening, the same time as I captured the frogs’ song.
I hope you’re having a very pleasant day wherever you are and whatever you’re doing. Take care of yourself and of each other during these very strange days. ~ Lori (and George)
Well I’ve been out walking I don’t do that much talking these days
Amid all this time and space the COVID-19 pandemic has given me, I decided that I want more mental and physical room in which to move around. I want to clean out some of the old stuff and clear a space where creativity can flourish and where a new version of my future can begin to form.
I can’t move forward as I’d like, dragging my heavy, dusty past behind me. It’s time to let it go.
At mid-life, if we’re fortunate enough to live that long, we come upon a fork in the road. It’s there we pause and choose to hold on to our past tightly or choose to release it. I’ve seen folks choose one or the other to varying degrees. From what I’ve seen, the people who are able to let go are happier and freer. To me, happiness and freedom are appealing. I understand this is not the case for everyone.
The trouble with living into our fifties and beyond is that we’ve accumulated a lot of shit along the way. What untidy and disheveled mental attics and crawl spaces we own! We’ve even stored up the physical junk, those bags and boxes, jars and totes, jammed with tokens of our past lives, lives that are gone. There’s nothing much there that anyone will want after we die and yet we hold on.
We can choose to keep all of it, caressing each carton, each memory as we revisit our journey thus far. For some, the journey may have been pleasant. Perhaps you recall a grassy roadway and gentle sunshine on your shoulders. My looking-back path is not smooth. It’s covered with roots of regret that trip me up and sharp stones of memories that cut, reopening the wounds of the past.
I guess you can call it a choice, my decision to let go of the past that follows me, slowing my steps and weighing on my heart. But it’s not really a choice anymore; it’s a necessary surgery, this removal of those malignant cells. I have to shed them or they’ll keep growing until they kill me. I’m sure of this because I’ve seen it happen. Some holder-on-ers haven’t physically died yet, but big chunks of them are poisoned and they are determined to share that poison.
I’ve met some folks who, when presented with the option of happiness and freedom, say, “I have the right to remember. I have the right to be angry.” They’re correct, of course. Everybody has the right to feel pain, to self-inflict it over and over again. You have the right to sit outside at a future barbecue, and in a shady corner of the yard, stab yourself repeatedly in the thigh with a large meat fork.
Someone might pull their lawn chair into the shade alongside yours and suggest, “You know, you don’t have to keep torturing yourself. Put that fork down. Come play Frisbee with us, if you can still walk, that is.”
You don’t stab her with your precious meat fork. That’s a special pain reserved for you. But you knew this do-gooder would try to convince you to have a pleasant time and you’re ready for her. You’ve been sharpening your words for weeks before this get together in anticipation of this moment. You verbally jab at the one inviting you to join in the fun. You’ve perfected a particularly humiliating memory to prick her with. And you’ll remind her and everyone else at the party about her shame, about her pain. Why should you suffer alone when there’s so much sorrow and anger to go around?
In the end, we can’t make the decision to release the past for anyone but ourselves. It’s true that you really can’t help anyone but yourself. Part of self-care is learning to avoid those who want to inflict their pain on you, to fill your head with their baggage. You might have to let them go, as well.
In this time of physical distancing and an uncertain future (isn’t the future always uncertain, though?), I’ve had more space in which to work on letting go of both my mental and material clutter. It is hard work and I know I won’t do it perfectly. But I am grateful for the opportunity. I’ve got the time to tackle this job.
I’ll try to focus more on what’s happening in the present moment and review the past less. It’s over. It’s gone. It’s dead. But I’m still alive and able to breathe the sweet fresh air of this new day. I can’t take away anyone else’s pain, but I can release my own and who knows what kind of a difference that might make to me and to the world. Let’s see.
Take care and thanks for reading. Be well and be safe. ~ Lori
Here’s a re-post of a family history story I wrote a few Easters back now. A lot has changed since then but a lot has stayed the same, too. Take care and thanks for reading. – Lori
My grandma didn’t like living on the farm. Well, not most of the time. I don’t know exactly why this was. It might have had to do with her glamourous sisters and one sister in particular.
My great aunt Esther trained to be a nurse in Edmonton and then moved to California. Once there, and being a beauty, she landed a couple minor roles in the movies. Meanwhile, my grandma described to me working as a janitor in the local one-room schoolhouse and later in life, milking cows on the farm as the animals swished their “poopy” tails in her face.
Hear me read this post:
I can imagine how she sometimes felt about her life comparing it to the excitement of Hollywood. But everything that glitters isn’t gold. Grandma would have reminded me that cow poop doesn’t glitter. I would’ve liked to tell her that her life lived simply was equally as valuable as a Hollywood life, just different.
Grandma loved cut flowers in crystal vases, paved sidewalks, pressed linen tablecloths, and elegant clothing.
My grandma did not like gross things. That’s why I was really surprised when she shared the following story with me.
It would have been about this time of year, late March or maybe a bit on into April. Grandpa’s Hereford cows were calving, and this kept my grandparents busy day and night. One morning, Grandma headed out to the barnyard to find Grandpa. On her way across the yard to the barn, she saw the body of a newborn calf stretched out in the weak early-morning light.
As Grandpa emerged from the barn, he nodded at the lifeless calf and said, “Born last night. Didn’t make it.”
She wasn’t particularly an animal lover, my grandma. They never had pet cats or dogs. Grandpa loved horses, but they were his interest, not hers. I don’t know what compelled her to do what she did – and to spend so much precious time doing it.
For some reason, my grandma wasn’t convinced that the calf was beyond hope. She fetched a tattered woolen blanket, laid it over the red and white form of the calf, and slowly, methodically, she began massaging its limbs and its body.
My grandpa had work to do. “Leave it alone, Emma. It’s dead,” he told her impatiently and headed off to do his next task. But she didn’t leave it alone, that goo-encrusted calf.
“I dragged it right into the sunshine where it was warmer, and I kept rubbing and rubbing that calf with that old blanket.” I remember her chuckling here and shaking her head in disbelief. “And you know, after a couple hours, that calf kicked and snorted and stood up. Clifford couldn’t believe it!”
My favourite stories are the ones that show a totally different aspect to the people I’ve loved and thought I knew. Even if the stories aren’t sweet, I like to delve into the complexity of people. I like to move beyond the pretty and into the messy. That’s where it gets interesting.
I wonder to this day why on earth my grandma, who didn’t like getting dirty or bloody or sweaty, would’ve rubbed that calf for two hours on her knees out in the chilly barnyard. All she told me about it was, “I thought if I didn’t give up and just kept on rubbing, that calf would come to life.”
I was just thinking about how it doesn’t feel much like Easter. When I woke up this morning, some dry snowflakes were drifting down from the lead-grey sky, and that felt about right.
It’s been a mixed time in my life. I myself, this being, am just fine. I’m healthy, occupied enough, and enjoying my at-home activities. In my larger life, though, folks have been ill and dying around me. Not because of the COVID-19 pandemic, mind you. Their illnesses and passing merely coincide with the world’s other difficulties. And so I’m a bit heavyhearted right now. But, on the other hand, I’m so grateful to be well and to be able to give my love and support to those whose suffering is much more close-up than mine.
As always and as with most humans, I’m learning that I can feel a whole bunch of emotions at once and that these feelings can range from glowingly positive to downright negative. And I can experience them nearly simultaneously. Still, I don’t mind experiencing how I feel. I just wish sometimes the emotions would settle down a bit, be a little steadier. But wouldn’t we all?
My Twitter friend Donna shared these images the other day and I’ve been wildly re-sharing because nothing puts a global pandemic in perspective better than humour does!
Well, folks, that’s about all I’ve got to say about that. Please take care, and if you’re celebrating within your religious tradition these weekend, enjoy. It will be different, I know, with physical distancing in place, but this obstacle can perhaps make your joy and connectedness feel more special because, this year, it’s hard won.