I came across this picture a couple of weeks ago. Ever since then I keep picking it up and looking at it. Of course any mother gets wistful on looking at pictures of those who were once her babies, but this one has grabbed me in a way that’s not just nostalgic.
Yeah the picture is really sweet. Carly sharing her favourite blanket (an old, worn crib sheet) with her brand new baby sister. She is just awake from a nap, still sucking her thumb, sleepy and content. Kelsey’s tiny, brand new head, still pink, is tucked near. Her eyes squeeze closed, still clutching to sleep and that warm place, unaware, uncaring of any world beyond that cocoon.
I see both my grown up women-daughters in those faces. And it moves me because what I also see in their faces are sisters already acquainted in comfort and rightness. One welcoming and one entering. I see brand new sisters already glad to know one another, already together.
Today they’re twenty-nine and twenty-seven, and all these years (decades) later I wish I could protect them from harm; wanting so much to shield them from those things that will hurt them. Still aching to know I can’t do that.
You bring a child onto the planet knowing she will have to navigate the waves of of the world; she will have to know hurt and pain, and ultimately these are among the things that grow a life. Every harm that comes to her strips a little off you, and yet every year she is more beautiful for having sailed those seas.
I can’t protect them like I could when I wrapped them up together on the sofa – but there was something I was able to do – give them a sister. I was able to give them a place to go where they’ll get all the love and support and comfort they need.
Lately I've been really grateful for that.
Having a sister – beautiful thing number 86.
A friend texted me today and said "Happy Day of Giving Birth."
I liked that. I remember that day – this perfect looking little thing coming out of there, all pretty and pink. She was everything I'd hoped for. And each year she adds more than I'd ever dreamed.
Happy birthday Carly
I wrote this post a year ago. So many of us have stories – of sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, uncles, grandfathers – and first cousins once removed… Find the stories – tell the stories. We mustn't ever stop telling the stories. If we stop telling the stories, these events will never stop.
When my sisters and I came into this world, my mother had no parents, one sister and one first cousin. Her cousin Allan Park was a half generation older than her. Like most of our family, he was known to us more in story than life. That scar on his head was legendary. It was from a war.
World War II was mythology to us kids born in the sixties. I have fuzzy recollections of my dad watching the news on tv and seeing footage from Viet Nam but that wasn’t real, it was on tv.
Allan’s war, to us, was a story wrapped up in that scarred head we saw a few times over our lifetimes. All we knew was that we were lucky he was with us, that his injury very nearly killed him and if it had everything would be different.
In 1979, the story of that scar revealed itself via the words of national favourite storyteller, Farley Mowat, in his novel And No Birds Sang. It was a different story than the one any of us had known.
The blanket that screened the shattered cellar door was thrust aside and a party of stretcher bearers pushed in amongst us. Al Park lay on one of the stretchers. He was alive, though barely so… unconscious, with a bullet in his head.
As I looked down at his faded, empty face under its crimson bandages, I began to weep.
I wonder now… were my tears for Alex and Al and all the others who had gone and who were yet to go?
Or was I weeping for myself… and those who would remain?
- Excerpt: And No Birds Sang, Farley Mowat
You want to talk about how a story can bring new light to a family?
To a nation on Remembrance Day?
I have a “blended family.” I think it’s the first time I ever said that. I heard someone use that term to describe us this past weekend and even though it’s a well-known term, it sounded so clinical. Especially when you consider that my family’s “blended” period is much greater than the “pre-blend” period. But the length of time we’ve been together doesn’t matter. What’s important is, at one point in time, after we’d all grown up, we made the decision to be a family and the word “step” stopped preceding brother and sister in conversations. This is who we are; this is who we’ve got. It’s a family in the truest sense of the word, and it pretty much doesn’t get better than it is when we’re together.
So, last weekend’s road trip to Pittsburgh to welcome a new sister-in-law into our world was much anticipated. My girls and I love road trips, and we love visiting new places and we’d heard great things about Pittsburgh and we couldn’t wait to get there. Imagine our annoyance when we find that half the population of Ontario had also decided to cross the border into the US on that same holiday Thursday, Canada Day, and the waiting-for-the-extended-family-party is eventually drawn out to more than double the expected time.
As we inch our way around the Golden Horseshoe toward Niagara Falls/Buffalo, we hear the line-ups at all three bridges are three hours plus. “Scott is dead” I text message to Cathy and Jeff, who, with their families, are somewhere ahead of us in the turtle race. It’s only natural we would blame the groom while we thought longingly of other Canada Days loafing about on the sunny deck at the cottage having happy hour with drinks and smoked fish and deciding what to barbeque for dinner. “It better be THE. BEST. WEDDING. EVER.” is my sister’s text response. Who else would you blame? I mean you can't blame the bride. That would be just wrong. Naturally, it fell on the groom.
When we actually set foot on US soil in Buffalo, it is the time we anticipated we’d almost be in Pittsburgh. And when we finally arrive there five hours after that and begin to follow directions to the hotel – carefully – as we’d heard the layout of the city can be “confusing.” As someone who could get lost driving to work in the morning, I had mapped the directions step by step.
At first it goes really well – and man are we thirsty for that six-hours-overdue cold beer and I say I am going to taunt my sister who’d texted ahead that they got lost finding their hotel. More than an hour later we drag ourselves into the lobby – exhausted and cranky. “Confusing?” That city is a giant jigsaw puzzle with some of the pieces missing.
Next morning Cathy phones to discuss our previously made shopping plans. She tells me the place we want to go is on the outskirts of the city, and I essentially refuse to drive. So we all squeeze into Carol’s van and navigate, with the help of her GPS system (“Rhoda”) and numerous opinions and eagle eyes, make it out to the intended destination only making a few wrong turns. (It’s okay Rhoda – you did good.) During the course of the day any frustration and crankiness evaporates and we have a good time shopping, having lunch and hanging out together, sisters and kids.
Back to the hotel we descend on Cathy and Stan’s room for a drink, and thus begins the two-day party. Down in the lounge en route to dinner we bump into aunts and uncles and parents and have a bit of a reunion over more beer. Those attending the rehearsal take off and the rest of us walk over to Joe's Crab Shack where we take over a long collection of tables and enjoy crab and more beer and lots of laughs. After dinner we move the party back to Cathy’s room with the pretty view of the Pittsburgh’s riverfront.
Next day, we awake feeling a little “toasty” but we walk downtown anyway for a bit more shopping and we get a little lost but we make it, stopping for a classic Pittsburgh sandwich consisting of thick slabs of white bread around a huge hunk of meat, cheese, a huger hunk of french fries (yes french fries) (yes, ON the sandwich) and coleslaw. We didn't care that we had to slide ourselves into pretty dresses later; it was delicious. And just the cure for a night of too much fun.
Later, we don’t get lost going to the church and we stand around in the vestibule admiring how darned good we all look. A short while later we sit in pews and brothers Scott and Jeff and the other groomsmen emerge and then, finally, down the aisle comes the most beautifully poised bride Jennifer – shining in her joy.
We heard it a lot over the weekend: “I love our family.” Gratifyingly – most often from the youngest generation. Indeed I got enough niece and nephew hugs to last me through July. We’re not perfect, but not everyone gets a family who so roundly LIKES one another. And I’m sure every one of us would say that this party, just like the one we had last year at this time, ranks with the “best ever.”
Jeff summarizes the moment in the first toast before dinner: “Here’s to being together,” and during the extended clinking (because everyone has to make sure to clink everyone else), I feel blessed.
Once, another beautiful bride in the family said that finding love wasn’t a happy accident. It was a choice. She chose her husband, and in doing so she chose love. Just like my family did a long time ago.
Happy marriage Scott and Jennifer. We’re so glad you chose each other and brought us all together to celebrate it.
And there were a couple who were missed!
Recently my friends Jamie and Frank moved to a new house, and with it got themselves a substantial, well-established garden. Jamie, who has never been, well, “outdoorsy,” has taken on her new project with a little trepidation and lots of gusto. Lately, as the garden begins its springtimey flourishing, she’s been posting pictures of the various plants on Facebook with the request that her friends near and wide identify them so she can learn what to expect and how to care for them. It’s been a fun little exchange, with people from all over the world arguing whether a thing is a hydrangea, some kind of ivy or a forget-me-not. (And I since this is my blog, I’ll just say that I have NEVER seen a forget-me-not as big as a PERIWINKLE.)
Anyway, it’s been really wonderful connecting with Jamie again on that funny old forum called Facebook six years after I left her back in Windsor, and it’s been great seeing her embrace this garden life. Last night the posts got me feeling lonesome for my wonderful pal Debbie, who still lives in the country near where I embraced gardening for the first time, back when my ex-husband and I started out on our own.
We first lived in a charming white farmhouse with red wooden outbuildings, lots of old fashioned shrubs and an apple orchard. I didn’t know much what I was doing, but I tried. And it’s no doubt where I got my love for un-manicured country and cottage yards, with bits of flora growing up willy-nilly in every corner.
Later when we built our own house nearby, I constructed a rock garden down the length of the driveway. It was hard work, slugging and lugging those rocks, but exceedingly satisfying. And by the following summer that garden was bursting with growth, with help from my Aunt Martha and my Grandma who shared plants from their own gardens. Aunt Martha even shared with me a fragrant violet which had originated in the garden of my other Grandmother who had died long before I was born.
Debbie lived directly behind me on the other end of the country block a mile away. Those were really happy years; our families were together all the time, raising our small kids, going for walks, feasting on seasonal produce and barbeque, chatting around kitchen tables – and gardening.
Every spring we would take an excursion out into other parts of the county to buy our bedding plants for the year. Debbie and I have always shared a sense of the aesthetic, and there is no one I’d rather wander through gardens and greenhouses with, lingering over some odd leaf formation or stunning hue of orange. Or just wander in particular – Debbie is undoubtedly the easiest friend I ever had – we never had time for anything but enjoying each other’s company.
Those summers we walked our country road daily. We’d fill bowls with wild mulberries and admire little pink roses growing wild in the ditch. The last summer we lived out there was the time Mount Pinatubo erupted in the Philippines. While the volcano wrought terrible destruction to people there, it, ironically, gave us on the other side of the world a summer of spectacular sunset skies. (It was something about those nasty little particles, like those that grounded Europe a few weeks back, reflecting light.) Every evening we walked and marvelled at the colours we saw beyond us. And just at dusk millions of fireflies would come out and join us along the overgrown abandoned railroad adjacent to the road.
My marriage was coming undone that summer and we were getting ready to move to Windsor. But I’ve never forgotten the magic of that time. Because I’m certain that without Debbie to appreciate it along with me, the magic would have been greatly diminished. In fact, thinking about the consequences of having lived that particular time – and this life – without those shared experiences with her is devastating – I would look back on a life with much less colour and substantially less appreciation for beauty.