The Crying Chair

This is the crying chair. It sits in my entrance way on a tiled floor. Good rocking there and tissues at the ready.

I saw it first at Christmas 1960 when I dragged my extremely pregnant body upstairs to my mother-in-law’s attic. She was storing it for a friend, but I could have it to rock the baby, temporary loan.

It was cream colored then. At some point, my husband painted it antique green. (When was the era of antiquing?) During a desperate teachers’ strike, our house became the place for coffee break. Deep winter. Constant arguing. Months of poverty. My two children unschooled as well, of course. To avoid insanity, I carried it down to the basement and stripped the paint off and oiled it. I loved the chair. It saved me.

I rocked my large self in it through most of a dark January 1961. When she arrived, my daughter, like her mother before her, cried. If she had cried for Canada, she would have won the gold. My father slept with his foot out of bed rocking my cradle. I rocked her in the big, comfortable chair.

Her brother arrived a year later. By then his sister was noshing on pureed food, so her colic had cleared up. Anyway her real live doll-brother made her so happy, she didn’t need to cry. He, in turn, was fascinated by her -his own non-stop performance artist/teacher, and calm by nature. Still I rocked them both before bed and at teething time, one on each knee, singing every song I knew including ‘House of the Rising Sun”

Some nights, however, I cried as I sang. Their father taught day school, night school, took night courses and tutored on Sunday. We had dinner together. That was it. A quiet, tasteful time, full of conversation. No. Two babies who needed to be fed while Daddy tried to sort out the evening lesson plan.

I had studied English & Philosophy and Drama. I was the only female survival in the Logic class by third year. I had two years of teaching English under my belt as well as teacher training. I had subdued 50 hormone-ridden grade 10s in a classroom with 48 seats. Now I was washing six dozen cloth diapers twice a week.

I started reciting Shakespeare as I bathed the kids together in the big tub.

Eventually, my husband intervened. “What would you do right now, if you could do anything?” he asked. “Put on my navy suit,” I said. “Where would you go?” he asked. “Cedarbrae Collegiate,” I replied. “You want to go back to teaching,” he said.

How could I? It was 1963. My job was to nurture these priceless babies. It just wasn’t done. But before we got up from the grey card table that functioned as our dining surface, we had the plans underway. We would hire a nanna, carefully vetted. I would get a job easily. Populations were booming and my clever husband could stop working all the time. My terror and relief could be soothed only by more rocking those bigger and bigger babies.

The rocking chair went with us to a new house. We were now making almost $12,000 together. It was an ideal place for growing children, a hill, with a flagpole and a martin house, wilderness, gardens, fences and eventually a pool. There were parks galore and a very high cliff above Lake Ontario for risking young lives. Not that we worried. They had bicycles. They had each other.

The rocking chair sat in the corner of the rec room beside the sliding door and in front of the fireplace, which any of the four of us could choose to light. Nanna kept it swept free of ashes.

Then the crying chair came back into its own. I was the one in it. It was 2 a.m., where was my husband?

The chair and I set out on our travels. Sans the others. We moved to Heyworth Ave., to Main St., to Fishleigh Dr., to the town of Zephyr, to Mississauga, to Evans Ave., to Stephen Dr. and back to Mississauga. I can picture where my chair sat in each of these places. All except 3 had my name on the deed. One had my sister’s and two I signed leases for. A good deal of rocking and crying went on in those 40 years.

Meanwhile my ex-husband had lost his much younger wife to cancer. He had been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer the same year, 2010. We welcomed him back into the family at Easter 2012. (“Should of stuck with the old girls,” my sister greeted him cheerily.

He and I had lunch last week. A two hour lunch tires out this 82-yr-old retired teacher, but he seemed to want to come to my 14th floor suburban apartment. We did have to talk over a few details concerning his estate. There have been no bad tests recently but…

I pointed out the crying chair. This sent him into a reflective mood. He always cried easily-just maybe not over me. Intimations of mortality can bring that on. He regretted our son had not continued his painting and sculpting. I thought that a youthful art career is like a teen-aged rock band. Most people grow out of it.

Hubby, for example had chosen math and physics, over art. Even got to work with a nuclear reactor. (Is that significant?)

Anyway, grief is always the same, not so much about loss as the f-ups that we regret.

So the chair waits invitingly, inevitably.

Feel free to drop by and cry until you’re done.

 

 

 

Advertisements

Labour Day Weekend: reflections

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERA(And yes, I can spell. It’s just that I follow a different tradition. Stubbornly, it seems.)

The dreaded weekend has come. The end of summer. A cacophony (strictly speaking a ‘murder’) of crows announced it this morning.

Oh, sure, we can assure ourselves that September can be the best of summer still, but that’s bravado, positive thinking gone rogue. Realistically, we know the light is failing. Vegetable gardens started telling us that weeks ago. Here at least, at 43.7° N. where the squash and cucumber vines have died back and the tomatoes are refusing to ripen. I can no longer count on light at 6 a.m. and the evening moves faster into night.

There were more swallows than ever sweeping across the sky two evenings ago, as they fatten up to cross the big lake and leave these shores. This evening, they may be gone. And it doesn’t help that I know they will come back to Capistrano on March 19th next year. It’s at 33° N and the swallows take another 40 days to get here.

Autumnal, that’s the word. ‘An early autumn walks the land/ And chills the breeze/And touches with her hand/The summer trees….’ etc. ( Courtesy Johnny Mercer) I would say it is all the more affecting because I am in the autumn of my life, but that would be false. The autumn of my life, I glimpse only in the rear view mirror. While I sometimes question how many more springs there are left, I never ask how many falls.

This weekend, the skies above are rent by low flying fighter jets, as the annual air show gets underway. While there are those who love the thrill of a group of jets roaring just above rooftop, I am not one of them, although I admit there is no need for coffee and the pumping adrenaline more than offsets the weary wintery-ness of age.

In the spirit of the occasion, let us consider Labour Day weekends past. Here in at 43.7° N., school begins on the Tuesday after Labour Day now as it did over 70 years ago when I started. My mother and I had planned that I would wear my sailor dress, light blue with a navy blue sailor’s collar and a narrow red stripe, and she would walk with me, holding my hand and teach me how to cross the street in our little town. The best laid plans and all that. Turned out my mother was far away in a maternity ward of the hospital that morning when I woke up. I was outraged. How could she? I was fed breakfast by my cousin next door and towed unwillingly to school by the grade 3-er across the street. Very early indeed, in case her friends saw her with my lowly grade 1-self, sailor dress or not.

The upside of this was that every Labour Day thereafter I got to celebrate my sister’s birthday. In addition, my mother’s betrayal led me to bond with Miss Graham, my teacher, to such an extent that I continued returning to school for the next 50 years, as student and teacher.

The year that I gave that up going back to school the day after Labour Day was so traumatic that I could deal with it only by setting out to drive across the continent to Los Angeles. Crossing the border in my heavy laden Tercel I was knocked sideways by the American border guard. (Metaphorically that is.) He was worried about whether I had green apples and where my ex-husband was at the moment. No and don’t know. He successfully banished all first-day-of-school nostalgia quite out of my head.

Driving across the continent by yourself takes a while, the sun streaming in through the driver’s side window, day after day. Mind boggled by the wide rivers and the deep canyons and the endless oppressive desert. Terrified of falling asleep at the wheel, of taking a wrong turn on a freeway. My expensive car phone without service most of the time. Then just so tired, I had to hole up and sleep in a well air-conditioned ‘better’ motel where the furniture wasn’t bolted to the floor. When I finally emerged and drove down off the Santa Monica Freeway to glimpse the Pacific, I had left my school self behind. But what did I discover in my daughter’s house? No not green apples! My ex-husband!  Just what the border guard feared. A reconstitution  of a family separated for 15 years for the purpose of defrauding the U.S. government. Somehow.

This year, I have other plans. My sister and I are going to return to the mountains of Quebec’s Eastern Townships where we were born. Her birthday treat. Not that there is family there any more. Well, maybe one. Eighty eight he’d be, if still extant. And the old house we loved isn’t tidy and white any more. The barn is just a heap, a mound of earth where the ramp to the haymow was. My grandfather’s fields, cleared with such killing effort, have been put back to trees. Unbelievably, actually planted with trees! You can barely see our slope-shouldered mountain for the woods. Nevertheless, we will drive the gravel roads and breathe the spruce air and feel our native earth beneath our feet.

And these two one-upon-a-time teachers will take solace in an excellent hotel on Lake Massawippi where the furniture is definitely not bolted to the floor.

Early October: reflections from Journal 119

The first weekend in October has always been an important one for me. As a high school English teacher, I found that by that date I had finally forged a relationship with my classes. I knew their names and I was interested in them as individuals and they had, usually, stopped testing me, having presumably given me a passing grade. So by then the hard slog of the new school year was over.

And there was another reward – it was a long weekend, the first Monday in October being Thanksgiving Day here, where harvest time comes earlier than it does south of the border.

Some teachers in the States have a long weekend as well in honour of Columbus Day. Not all, as I found it one year when I took my 7 year-old grandson for a hike in Topanga Canyon that day. I discovered to my mortification (I was a teacher after all) that his school, a private school in Los Angeles, didn’t have that holiday. It was the sort of school that let its students plan the lessons, so, in fact, our day trip was not much out of line.

This year, that child is in his first year residency at a New England hospital. Just saying.

On Saturday I drove to Stratford to see a production of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, a trip of about an hour and a half with a bonus that hadn’t occurred to me. The trees were aflame with colour. In the middle distance woodlots glowed with orange and red and golden phosphorescence. (We are lucky here to have so many hard maples that produce such bright colours. The photographer who originally posted “A Tribute to Autumn”, which I reblogged lives farther north and west, I think, because the trees there produce mostly yellows.) The corn nearer the highway still stood dusky gold, but as we drove farther northwest, the fields became brown and beige stubble.

Surprising how cold it was when we got out of the car to find lunch. I had worn a sheepskin-lined rain coat and a wool tam, scarf and gloves, but the cold wind went right through me as if I were wearing diaphanous cotton. No doubt about it, summer was long gone.

I note by the way that, although it is only 70 degrees F. in Los Angeles today, it will be back up to 92 next week.

The Festival Theatre in Stratford Ontario has a thrust stage, rather than a proscenium arch. I first saw it when I was a teenager in the second year of its operation, although at the time, it was housed in a huge circular tent. The permanent structure was designed to mimic the tent. By the time, we had hiked through the park from our car, we were chilled to the bone and it seemed as if a glass of pinot noir was in order to get the blood moving again.

Once seated, I realized that my friend who had made the reservation online had upgraded us, not to the very best seats, but almost, thinking I wouldn’t notice her largess. It is hard in such a theatre to get a bad seat, but the sections at the sides of the horseshoe-shaped auditorium are more challenging. And the row in front of us was entirely empty, sold no doubt to some sponsoring company but not distributed so no heads obscured our view. The set had a staircase that swept up around a palm tree!!!! This production had been relocated to Brazil in the early 1900s.

I had looked up a summary of the plot of Much Ado About Nothing, just to sort it out from Shakespeare’s other comedies, but I was not prepared for how familiar I found it. I knew the next line before the actor spoke it. It was unsettling! Apparently, in my 35 year career, I had taught it many times and forgotten I had done so. Considering that most years I taught 5 plays by Shakespeare, I had much opportunity.

Basically, the play is about the duelling couple who apparently scorn each other and are always putting each other down, but eventually ….. Shakespeare used the same sort of plot device in Taming of the Shrew. He liked to set a headstrong, witty woman, in this case Beatrice, against the equally willful, caustic man, Benedict. There’s plenty of scope for pratfalls as they eavesdrop on their friends who are setting them up to fall in love.

After the show, we stopped at Balzacs for coffee and sugar enough to get us home through a dark and rainy drive.

Monday, turkey day, was a roast beef day in my house, roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, which I came to love when I was married to a Yorkshire lad. Fortune had carried him back to my table after many years’ absence and he assured me that I had channelled his mother’s pudding. (See recipe below.) My mother-in-law used beef fat but beef doesn’t have much fat these days so I opt for butter. And it turned out well even though we never succeeded in raising large bubbles. Like my mother-in-law, I chose a loaf tin rather than the 9 by 6.You start the oven at 400 and turn it down to 350 after 20 minutes. If you are like me, you forget when you turned it down and have to wing it after that. Maybe that’s when I got help from beyond. Proof I had channelled her: it came out of the oven puffed high and lightly browned. You have to serve it asap, so the mashed root veg (See recipe below.) had to be ready, the beef sliced and the gravy made. (Why is there never enough gravy?) The roasted beet and argula salad had to wait its turn. The meal was so delicious that we four fell to expressions ofthankfulness spontaneously. And of course there was pumpkin pie.

There were absent friends, some more permanently absent than others. We were a family reconstituted with good fellowship and food.

Early October has a way of reconciling me to the inevitable, which comes earlier here than it does down there in my second home.

 Yorkshire Pudding according to The Joy of Cooking 75th anniversary ed.

Have all ingredients at room temperature, about 70 degrees F. Preheat oven to 400 F. Sift into a bowl:

3/4 cup all-purpose flour minus 2 tablespoons
1/2 tsp of salt
Make a well in the centre and pour in
1/2 cup milk
Stir in the milk. Beat in:
2 large eggs well beaten
Add:
1/2 cup water
Beat the batter until large bubbles rise to the surface. …Pour 1/4 in. beef drippings or melted butter into a 9 by 6 baking dish or 6 regular muffin cups. Heat pan or dish until hot. POur in batter and bake 20 min. Reduce heat to 350 and bake 10-15 min. longer until puffed and golden brown.

Mashed Root Vegetables a la Desmond, my hairdresser

Peel or scrub equal amounts of carrots, parsnips and turnip, dice, add water to cover, salt, bring to boil and reduce heat. Cook until fork tender, but not soft. Drain and mash. Add butter and pepper.
Desmond says, “Don’t even think of adding sugar. These vegetables are sweet enough.”

Lucid Dreaming – sort of

Carlos Castaneda introduced the idea of lucid dreaming to me in one of his Don Juan books many years ago, but I confess I never quite got the knack.

Once or twice, in the middle of a truly scary dream, I have said, “This is just a stupid dream” and woken up, thereby saving myself from certain dream death. As a result, I have never tested that theory that if you die in a dream, you really do die.

As far as I understand it, lucid dreamers can change the course of a dream according to their will. Apparently it is a skill you can teach yourself. As I recall, I actually tried it, using techniques I have long forgotten but must be written down somewhere, for I certainly did not learn them from a guru. I gave it up I because it was just too much effort.

From time to time, I wake up with the feeling that I cannot stand one more completely banal dream, so, perhaps, there is an argument to be made for lucid dreaming after all.

Early this morning I had a sort of lucid dream.This was a morning when I did not have to get up at 6:30 a.m. and it was just after that that I had the dream.

Generically, it was a sub-class of what I call school anxiety dreams. In these dreams, I suddenly realize that I am late for school. Usually, I know exactly what time it is, 8:30 a.m. for example, but I am miles from the school where I teach and have no car. The school anxiety dream takes off from there. Sometimes, I actually manage to get to school, but I don’t have my time table, don’t know where I’m teaching, what class, what subject and if I can guess where, the stairs turn into ramps or they don’t lead to the floor where my room is. Or I realize that I haven’t checked my mail box since school began weeks ago and that my time table, placed there in August, is still there unread. Sometimes, I realize I have to teach something I know nothing about, some book I have never read. This isn’t such a stretch. I am actually qualified, for example, to teach economics, having “successfully taught” it at some time, but never having studied it and certainly, having little understanding of it.

I know other ex-teachers who have this same dream.

This morning’s dream was different in that I had to be at a polling booth since it was election day and I had snagged some sort of paid employment, which I badly needed. It was just after 6:30 dream time and I began looking for a green file folder that had the details of where to go and when. I searched and searched to no avail. I seemed to be a young woman, still living at home. My mother was around somewhere and my room, it must be said, was a mess. Eventually, my sister who also had a job at the same place, produced her paperwork. We were to report to a hotel called Dakota at 7:59.9 a.m. I looked at the clock, it was 7:07. The hotel was in a suburb, many freeway miles away. It was rush hour. Traffic would hold us back. What to do?

I decided I needed to make a phone call. I’m not sure to whom. Probably, I intended to plead for leniency because I really needed the $200 I would earn and so did Sis. I picked up the phone. I studied it carefully.

Now it is a peculiar thing. In my dreams, phones are tricky things. The numbers turn into letters or half of them are missing or my fingers are too big for the little keys. I can remember receiving phone calls in dreams. Once shortly after he died, my father called me in a dream, but all he had to say was that he was fine. But I have never succeeded in making a call. This ran through my mind as I looked down at the dream phone and I said, “I can never use a phone in a dream.”

Then I woke up. Of course I did, that was the whole purpose of this irritating dream and probably always is.