Saturday morning Ceri and I walk up in the pouring rain to collect our rental car for what is has become the annual long weekend road trip to Amherstburg to see friends at the Shores of Erie Wine Festival. After collecting Carly and Kelsey at their respective homes we get on the highway and point south-west. There is a dodgy hour or so, trying to get coffee and sandwiches behind a busload of seniors at the first available highway stop. Eventually though, the rain clears, and the sky puts on a show and suddenly we're almost there.
The Burlington Skyway is part of the Queen Elizabeth Way (QEW) highway linking Hamilton (west) and Toronto (east) with the Niagara Peninsula. A good portion of my family lives on the Niagara Peninsula and thus, I'm quite familiar with that bridge.
Well, not so much anymore. Some years ago when I lived in Windsor, I visited my brother Jeff and sister in law Carol for the weekend, and on my return home, suffered a panic attack at the top of that bridge. It was a nasty experience; it was all I could do to get me and my car to the other side, where I could pull over and stop and get out of the car drag some oxygen into my lungs. And plan my way up the side of Hamilton Mountain – the only way that would point me to Windsor (home).
Now, those of you that live near real mountains would laugh at the thought of this being called a "mountain." "Hamilton Mountain" is really part of the Niagara Escarpment (one of the world's Natural Biosphere Reserves), where the earth juts up in a line leading from the Manitoulin Island and the Bruce Peninsula down through to that watery wonder, Niagara Falls and into western New York.
But my point is not to discuss what people call a mountain in southern Ontario. My point is, that having come across that bridge once in a sweating, hyperventilating, shaking mess, the idea of then having to drive up the side of that "mountain" with the view of the city of Hamilton at the bottom of a breathtaking earth-slide below me, was terrifying. It took about an hour's convincing, and eventually I did it, making my way home to Windsor, stopping along the way about six times (over what is usually a three and a half hour trip) to collect myself after some minor highway overpass or other.
I'm pleased to tell you that, adjacent to the Burlington Skyway, (the thought of which still causes my palms to sweat), lies the older Burlington Lift Bridge. The Lift Bridge might only take an extra two or three minutes (getting off and back on the highway) to get onto the Peninsuala, but one does risk reaching it when a ship is coming through between Lake Ontario and Hamilton Harbour, and waiting out the "lift" of the bridge while a ship passes through.
People travelling with me might find this an inconvenient hold-up. Me – never wanting to ever experience any sort of panic attack ever again – doesn't mind waiting at all. Turning off the car and watching a ship pass through the narrow canal is Zen-like. Even on those days when my family is waiting for me on the other end. After all, we all know I'm eventually going to get there.
the year drags me
kicking and screaming
never ready to stand on cold feet
slush sprayed over me by lurching taxi cabs
I still haven’t found my red gloves
and I don’t want to wear that
serviceable warm coat
I’d rather wear the one with the flattering cut
and the not serviceable boots
the kind that men turn to look at
and well I never much liked being cold and
I’ve slipped on sidewalks
more times than I'd like to remember
winter steals my dignity
though when I was a kid I didn't care about dignity
or the cold
in the fervour of intense play
outside so long
your legs would sting like a thousand pins were pricking them when you came in
but mom would have hot chocolate in the cupboard
the kind made with milk in a pan on the stove
in the stove light and
you got new flannel pyjamas
with that sweet smell that went away after the first wash
but they got softer
and Mr. P. on the corner would put up Christmas lights all over his yard
I never went for such an ostentatious show
when I grew up
but man could my old house get pretty
smelling like pine
all that oak trim aglow
against the frost laced windows and indigo tinted atmosphere in the street
the furnace would kick in
like a benevolent grandpa
when you came in the front door
after chatting with the neighbours
while we shovelled the sidewalks
and the walks of the old people
a job I loved
it made me feel strong and capable – that most satisfying exercise
and full of that proverbial good cheer
I think it's the pink cheeks
under the descending flakes
under the incandescent street lights
later I’d sit by the pretty old windows
admiring the street and generous porches and warm lights coming from the windows behind them
recalling life in the country
when the snowstorms that bound everyone in for a few days
were the best ones
I am always kicking and screaming
going toward winter
I fancy it when I get there
Tonight I stumble across “Standing in the Shadows of Motown” on TCM and what do I find but a gorgeous doc about the not-famous session musicians that played behind all those famous people that came out of that time/label. These are the people who played some of the most memorable riffs and melodies in rock music history, and 99.9% of us couldn’t tell you one of their names.
I’m enamoured, mostly because the movie is a treasure chest of stories. But also because it captures the essence of Detroit, one of my favourite cities in the world. Watching it caused a little ache in my heart.
There are some impassioned performances by The Funk Brothers with musicians like Joan Osborne, Chaka Khan, Ben Harper, Bootsy Collins, Meshell and others. I might complain about the series of re-enactments threaded throughout the movie, which I’ve never approved of in documentaries, but here they're used to enhance more than to convince, so I’ll let it go.
It’s the storytellers that get me – and they’ll get you. And there is a great moment when some of the fellas go into what was once their studio workplace, and what is now the Motown Museum. (Detroit area and Windsor people – if you’ve not gone – GO for pete's sake! It’s important music history – all these artefacts and memorabilia, startlingly unassuming, and really fun and at your back door.)
My musicologist cousin-friend Mike will say, “how come you didn’t know about this movie Jen?” Sometimes stuff gets by me Mike. Don’t let it get by you. It’s powerful, moving and beautiful thing number twenty-eight.
I can't embed the videos (fair enough), so click here to watch on youtube:
James Jamerson Jr. talking about his dad:
The Funk Brothers with Ben Harper singing "Ain't to Proud to Beg":