Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: The Sixteen Jacket.

the 16 jacket

Author Boo King on the right wearing her Sixteen Jacket.

This is a story I wrote when I was thirty and living in Toronto about a jacket I bought when I was sixteen and living in Northwestern Ontario.

Tuesday and Thursdays were ballet night. Twice a-week, fifty-two weeks, one hundred and four classes, three hundred and and twelve hours, times two years, I endured the art of becoming physically fit. This was my commitment to “ParticipACTION.” I chose ballet because I thought it was a graceful form of exercise and also because as a child I had taken ballet lessons every Saturday morning for six years. I thought it was like riding a bike in that you never forgot how to do it, and that I could resume where I left off at age twelve. I was wrong.

My mind remembered so many fanciful things about those ballet lessons: the plies, the pirouette, the arabesque and the five basic positions of the feet. Unfortunately my body, which was stubborn and lazy at best, didn’t remember anything about those six years. I mean nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Zero. A complete blank. My body was suffering from a bad case of childhood amnesia. There wasn’t a single solitary drop of aching residue in the memory bank.

Had there been some hint, some vague omen or sign of the pain and agony my aging body was facing, I would have chosen something less physical like badminton or lawn bowling. But there was no forewarning, no psychic twinge. So I heedlessly signed up for “introductory ballet” at a school within walking distance of our home.

Every Tuesday and Thursday night I was out there pliéing and pirouetting my popsicle-stick legs off. (I had terribly thin legs, which should have been another clue that perhaps ballet dancing wasn’t a good fit.)

After two years my body didn’t hurt quite so much. I could just about touch my toes without bending my knees and manage a demi-plié with semi-perfection on a good night. And I no longer hyperventilated in the middle of thirty soubresauts. My legs, however, still looked like two popsicle-sticks. And I had also faced the icy truth that I would never be able to do a pirouette nor an arabesque. My body was no longer equipped to do those things and probably never was.

Despite my skinny legs, I still entertained a few fantasies. I saw myself leaping and flying across the stage like Karen Kain or at the very least, Mary Poppins. I daydreamed about being Prima Ballerina for the National Ballet and touring the world, dancing the classics with the most renowned dancers. I mused that audiences would weep at my stunning performances and throw roses. Hundreds of them. White.

I went to Malabars and bought my black leotard and pink tights with matching pink leather slippers. I thought I looked pretty terrific, especially if you squinted with one eye and closed the other and only looked at my derriere. I was all set. I was a ballerina. I was more than ready for my first night of class after thirty years of very little exercise, one husband, two kids, two cats and an unhealthy addiction to Hawkins Cheezies.

I clung irrationally to the fantasy of becoming a dancer because it made me happy and also because it made it easier to drag my sorry ass home at the end of class. The fantasy got me through immeasurable humiliations. Like the sweat-drenched leotard and the run up the side of my pink tights, which lead to a golf-ball-sized hole at the top of my thigh. I didn’t get the hole from doing one too many jetés either, which is probably how Karen got hers, but from the clothesline. The plastic coating had worn off in one spot and I had the misfortune of hanging my tights right on top of the bare wire. The tights clung to the line like a blood-sucking leach and the only way I could pry them free was to cut them. It had been my intention to repair the hole except it was one of those things I never quite got around to. Instead I learned to live with the hole and began saving for an automatic dryer.

The Prima Ballerina fantasy also helped me forget that I didn’t have flat abdominals, my shoulders slouched, my hair was turning grey and the cute laugh lines were actually crow’s feet. It also helped me forget that I was the oldest student in the class and that the others didn’t have runs in their tights, a potbelly from two kids and too much tea, droopy boobs and legs that looked like Good Humor Bar sticks. They all had long muscular – but not too muscular – dancer’s legs with flat tummies and firm perky breasts and bums. It just didn’t seem fair somehow. Everyone was also so much taller. I’ve never felt so short in my life as I did in that class. Gravity seemed to be tugging me closer to the ground with every passing year. I figured by the time I was fifty I’d be three feet tall like the Munchkins in the Wizard of Oz.

I dressed for warmth on the nights that I went to class, especially when it was really cold. I didn’t dress for fashion. I gave up being fashionable when my daughter was six months old, teething and also had the flu, only I didn’t know it until she threw up all over a new sweater I had just bought. It was the last fashionable thing I had purchased for years. I typically wore a scratchy wool sweater over my leotard and jogging pants over my tights. Just to make things extra cozy and extra awful all at the same time, I piled on wooly socks, wooly mitts, wooly hat, wooly scarf, wooly jacket and hideous but practical boots. I was only walking three blocks but I realized since I turned thirty that I hate winter and can’t stand the cold. Every winter I made a promise to myself that when I became a rich and famous ballerina I was going to spend the winters in Tahiti or anywhere below the forty-ninth parallel. I wanted out of Canada in the winter. Possibly permanently.

I bought the jogging pants because three New Years Eves earlier I resolved to start running to ward off the excess baggage I was carrying around after my second kid. They were grey sweat-shirty material with a drawstring waist that I thought would get drawn tighter and tighter with every mile I ran and every inch I lost. As it turned out, I never exactly ran a mile nor did I lose an inch. I gained one or two because the pants were so comfy and roomy that I never wanted to take them off. They gave me so much room to grow. They became my happy pants.

I tried to run. I really did. But it just didn’t work for me. I guess my body wasn’t equipped to run either. My first run was so full of promise. There I was in my new grey sweatpants and black sneakers, the epitome of running prowess all raring to go. Two blocks later and I swear I could not breathe. I had absolutely no air in my lungs. None.

I started to gasp and wheeze and I had absolutely no feeling in my body from the waist down. My legs were numb. I could see them wobbling like Jell-O beneath the grey jogging pants and I just couldn’t get them to move another inch. My body was treasonous. What could I do but surrender and give up running.

I limped home, collapsed through the door and begged my husband to pull the sneakers from my lifeless feet. I folded up the sweatpants and stuffed them in the back of our linen closet behind the sheets and pillowcases.

I pulled them out one time after that. It was about five months later when I figured I would give running one more try. I put on the pants and a coordinating red t-shirt and immediately broke into a cold sweat. My breathing grew labored and my ankles felt weak. I recognized the symptoms. I had jogger-phobia, aka runners-terror. I was deathly allergic to running and anything associated with it.

The first time I decided to wear the sweatpants to dance class I was so worried that I would be overcome with jogger-phobia that I actually had to psyche myself up for the task. I was determined to overcome all negative associations with the pants. They were just pants after all. Victory would be mine. They were in perfect condition and I hadn’t worn anything in perfect condition since the birth of my second kid. I also thought they were the perfect thing to wear after a sweaty workout. Why else would they be called sweatpants? Besides that, everyone seemed to be wearing them. A fashionable opportunity had presented itself and I could not turn it away. For once in a really long time I would be on-trend.

I survived that first night and the subsequent two years of classes. The grey sweatpants became part of the uniform that I wore to class every week, along with the “sixteen jacket.”

I started wearing the sixteen jacket about nine months after my first class. It was nine months – one winter, one spring and one summer of pliéing my legs off and wearing the grey sweatpants afterwards. It was late September and the summer sun was long gone in the sky. The evenings were growing cool, the leaves were beginning to drop and the first snowflakes were threatening the sky. The time was drawing near when I would have to pull out the old black duffle coat that I had worn for so many years I was seriously considering having my floors carpeted in duffle because it never seemed to wear out. It was like some weird alloy of steel and sheep.

The weather had taken a turn for the worst the day before class that September. I could smell winter coming even though Fall had just begun. It was a strange year. The trees were shedding profusely and my knees were beginning to ache. It was time to pull out the old duffle to wear to class the next night. The morning of the class I foraged through the storage closet in the basement in search of the duffle coat and my black wool hat. That’s when I discovered the sixteen jacket – sandwiched between my husband’s winter parka and my son’s skidoo suit. I called it the sixteen jacket because I bought it the summer I turned sixteen.

There’s something magical about turning sixteen, especially in the summer. Summer has always been a magical time for me anyway so turning sixteen during my favorite season only made it that much better.

I had lots of hopes and dreams for that summer. I hoped I would get a job, which I did. I hoped I would have enough money at the end of the summer to buy the chocolate brown suede jacket I saw in the Fall Sears catalog, which I did. I hoped I would meet a boy and fall in love, which I did. I hoped I would find out what it was like to kiss a boy, which I did. I also hoped my face would clear up, my hair would grow instantly from my shoulders to my waist and that my boobs would grow at least six sizes. None of those things happened. But I wasn’t disillusioned because I was too happy about all the other things that did happen. It was a fabulous summer and I was convinced it was all because I had turned sixteen.

Actually the job I got wasn’t exactly what I had hoped for. My girlfriend Suzy got a job helping her mother in the cafeteria of the newspaper. And my other girlfriend Terry got a job working as a checkout girl at Safeway and I got Terry’s old babysitting job. It wasn’t such a great job but I was grateful to get anything because I really wanted that jacket. I worked for this family with three kids – two boys, one of which was handicapped, and a girl. They were nice kids. I was an awful babysitter. I sat from eight until noon, Monday to Friday and made twenty-five dollars a week.

I never really liked babysitting. It’s not that I didn’t like the kids because I did; it’s just that it was so tiring. I guess my body was pretty lazy even back then. I was usually more tired in the morning. It was a bad time to be sitting. Sitting is literally all I did. I sat in this La-Z-Boy recliner that they had in their living room and watched the kids. They were studious kids. Brains. The oldest one wasn’t much younger than me and I often wondered why I was even there. They used to like to play games. I hated games. Still do. I would play with them once and a while on one of my better mornings but mostly I just sat there and watched until their mother came home and said I could leave. Then I’d be back the next morning at ten to eight and resume my place in the old recliner. I was a really awful babysitter. And I would have felt guilty about taking the twenty-five dollars every week if I hadn’t been sixteen and wanted that jacket so badly.

I guess falling in love was the most important thing that happened to me that summer. He was my first boyfriend. I hadn’t been too big on boys up until that summer but sometime between March and June I got a bad case of the boy crazies. Suddenly boys were no longer jerks. They were cool and neat and I wanted one. Actually I think I really just wanted to wear one of their rings on my middle finger with gobs of white tape to hold it on more than I really wanted a boyfriend. I also really wanted to kiss one. At least once.

I met mine on a humid July Saturday night walking home from a movie with Suzy and Terry. He was with two of his friends in an old blue Ford with a noisy engine and a jacked-up rear end. I thought it was the grooviest thing I had ever seen. I also thought he was too. His name was John and I fell madly in love at first sight.

It was about a mile walk home from the movie theatre. We were laughing and discussing the merits of the movie when John and his friends pulled up beside us. At first we pretended we didn’t see them because they seemed like a bunch of jerks. But when they kept driving that old Ford along the road beside us, whistling and making catcalls we couldn’t ignore them any longer. Or at least Suzy decided she couldn’t. She was the most daring of the three of us, plus she had a very bad case of the boy crazies, even worse than me. Suzy had caught sight of the driver and was definitely interested in meeting him. When they asked if we wanted a ride Suzy said yes without hesitation and was in the back seat before Terry and I had a chance to refuse. I remember sitting in the back seat thinking this wasn’t a very good idea and that I shouldn’t be there. My mother had warned me at least two thousand times that I shouldn’t get into cars with strange boys. But then they were so darned cute. Especially John.

Nothing happened anyway. At least nothing bad happened. We drove around town, cruised the strip and went to A & W (A ‘n Dub) for teen burgers and root beers. John asked me for my number. I gave it to him and prayed he’d phone. I also prayed I wouldn’t break out into a terminal case of acne from the root beer.

John and I dated that entire summer. He gave me his ring, which I wrapped with white adhesive tape and wore on the middle finger of my left hand. We went to the drive-in where we swore to love each other forever and a day. We shared popcorn, hot dogs, French fries and Cokes. I thought love was sublime except that it was a little hard on the face. I felt very beautiful and grown-up.

By mid-September John was confessing his undying love to someone else. I suspected but didn’t actually know for sure until the other girl came to me and said John wanted me to give her his ring. So I did. White tape and all. I cried one whole night and the next morning at school, which I felt was an appropriate amount of time for a first love.

I bought the sixteen jacket the first week of September. It was the first really major thing I had ever bought with my own money. I ordered it through the Sears catalog. I came home every day from school that week and asked my mother if Sears had phoned yet to say the jacket was in. Sixteen year-olds are very impatient as well as having absolutely no concept of time. Finally after what seemed like months, it came. My mother had Sears deliver it right to our door. It came on a Friday, which was perfect because I would be able to wear it out to the movies with John that night. I was anxious to show it to him. My mother left the unopened Sears package sitting on the kitchen table for me. I spotted it as soon as I walked in and couldn’t wait to open it. I ripped off the scotch tape and tore at the brown wrapping paper. I pulled it out and immediately ran my fingers through the lush suede. I moved the nap of the soft buttery hide in every direction to see all the different shades of brown within the leather. I held it up to my nose and smelled its newness. It had an indescribable sweet smell. It reminded me of a great big velvety Hershey’s bar.

I tried it on and strutted around the kitchen like Twiggy and struck all her famous poses from Vogue magazine. My mother raved on at how beautiful it was and how it was “definitely you.” If ever there was a jacket that was tailor-made for me, it was. I kept it on until John came to pick me up for the movies. He said it was a “nice” jacket but he wasn’t quite as enthusiastic as I had hoped he would be. I figured it was because he was just in a bad mood or something. But it wasn’t that. By then he was already telling the other girl how much he loved her and he didn’t have the guts to tell me that the summer was over. And so was his love for me.

We went to the movies that night and then for Cokes at the local teen hangout afterwards. We sat at the counter because we couldn’t get a booth. Maybe if we had, he would have told me about the other girl and I wouldn’t have had to find out from her instead. But we didn’t get a booth and it was crowded and he was moody and I was giddy about my new jacket. I thought I was so cool.

We ordered Cokes. He sat slumped over his and I sat sipping mine, all the while watching him, hoping and praying he’d say something utterly fantastic. After a few minutes I got bored and pulled the straw from my glass and started playing with it. I pushed my Coke off to the side of the counter to give me more room to twist and contort my straw into goofy shapes, and to keep a close watch on John, who by this time had his nose in his glass. He looked ridiculous. It was then that the guy beside me reached over for the ketchup bottle and spilled my Coke down the front of my brand new suede jacket. I jumped up like a bat out of Hell, screamed and then began mopping up the Coke like mad with piles of serviettes.

It was then that I discovered the resiliency of suede. The Coke seemed to slide right off. We all agreed it looked like it wouldn’t leave a stain. The Coke spilling guy felt awful about the accident and kept apologizing. I felt bad for the dumb jerk and told him I was sure my brand new suede jacket would be just fine once the Coke dried.

John and I left immediately and went straight to my house. I cried all the way home. John kissed me goodnight, which turned out to be our last kiss. I went to bed that night wearing my chocolate brown suede sixteen jacket and nothing else. It was all I needed.

When I found the sixteen jacket that morning tucked away with all the other things I never wear but can’t seem to throw out, I could smell the Hershey’s sweetness of the leather, John’s last kiss and the Coke down the front, the exhaust fumes from the borrowed Ford John drove that night, the tears and the joy. I could smell it all. I don’t remember anything ever in my whole life smelling so good.

I held it up to my nose the same way I did that Friday and I was sixteen all over again. I could feel the magic of that summer. I felt young and happy and it didn’t matter that I had a potbelly or crows feet. It didn’t matter that I would never be a Prima Ballerina. Because every Tuesday and Thursday when I put on the sixteen jacket and made my way to and from that dance class, I had a pocketful of dreams.

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The original manuscript typed in red ink on a Collegian Typewriter.

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Two Ballerinas.

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Ballerina Boo.

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Author Boo King on the left wearing the grey sweatpants.

 

 

 

 

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Dress the Part.

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Girl Warrior. Dress the part. Every Girl Warrior should have a costume. Something that is uniquely her. At first blush, it might look just like someone else’s. Don’t be fooled. No two Girl Warriors wear their costumes in the same way. This is your personal power suit. Put it on.

Strut your stuff. Don’t apologize for the cut, color or condition. Walk. Run. Skip to my Lou. Black leather jacket. Frilly blouse. Skinny jeans. Mini skirt. Floor length gown. A sundress blooming with flowers. Floppy hat. Or fascinator. A pinstriped suit. Kick-ass boots. Red stiletto shoes.

It’s not about fashion. It’s about expression. Wearing the inside out. It’s about attitude. Character. Originality. You are a rare bird Girl Warrior. Know this.

So put on your cape. And fly.

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Warrior Boo - Feature

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: The Search for Meaning.

E on his throne enjoying the Christmas festivities.

E on his throne enjoying the Christmas festivities.

I’m a seeker.  Especially at Christmas time.  I search for perfect gifts for everyone on my list. Ones filled with wow and wonder.  I comb second hand stores for delicate vintage glass ornaments like the ones we hung on our tree at 204.  I inherited all of Ma’s and have been growing her precious collection every year for the past decade.  It’s my magnificent holiday decorating obsession.

I scour cookbooks, online cooking blogs and recipe websites looking for something new and delicious to bake or cook over the holidays.  In the end, nothing compares with the treasure trove found in Ma’s sacred and magical Gurney Recipe Box.

I flip through fashion magazines for inspiration on what to wear for all those festive occasions.  This is a silly pastime because E and I don’t attend those kinds of affairs.  Yet I do it anyway.  It pleases me.

I’m also bedazzled by sparkly festive shop windows.  I hunt for the perfect holiday outfit.  I daydream about a beautiful more glamorous version of myself that will somehow magically appear like Cinderella at the ball. I wonder what it would be like to knock ‘em dead at our office party.  I fantasize about a transformation from drab nondescript woman in the corner cube to glamor girl in the shimmery dress with legs that never quit.  That never happens.  Even the younger me couldn’t have pulled that look off.  Truth is, that’s not me. Never was. Never will be.  But it is fun to play that movie in my head once a year.

Pursuit of the perfect gift, recipe, or dress aside, what I really seek at Christmas time is meaning. What’s it all about?  This search trumps everything.

With E’s cancer diagnosis hanging over our heads like the Sword of Damocles, the desire to find something deeper, more profound, more significant was intensified.  It served to remind us of the fragile nature of this life we live.  Teach us to grab onto every precious moment like it was your last.  Embrace the ones we love.

We were given a reprieve from the fear and anxiety that brought us to our knees the week E was in the hospital.  The Friday that he was released from the RJH was glorious.  A heaven-sent day.

The first thing E did when we got home was take the dogs for a walk in the crisp clean December air.  It was as though he was breathing for the first time.  He could walk unencumbered by the inescapable steel dance partner he had been hooked up to all week.  Free from all the medical machinery that monitored his every heartbeat and breath.  Free from the antiseptic smell that clung to every cell and fibre of his being.  Free to walk upright. Stride. Strut. Swagger. Flounce his new found freedom up the rocky hills that surround our home.

Simply be alive.

For as long as I have known E, he’s been a real crank about Christmas.   He would happily take a page from Rip Van Winkle’s book and sleep right through the entire month of December.  It was the same old thing every year.  Come the day before Christmas, the spirit would finally move him and off he’d go in search of my Christmas present.  Some years this was found at the local Shoppers Drug Mart down the road.  When M got old enough he solicited her help. This put a stop to the drugstore gifts.

“I’ll make sure he gets you something really good Ma,” she’d say.

And she does.

Of course, it’s not about the quality of the gift.  Or even that there are gifts at all. But in our family, we do enjoy this tradition. We like to acknowledge each other in this manner.  It’s sounds cliche but it isn’t so much the gift as the giving.  As a family we like this and we’re good at.  One look at our living room Christmas morning says it all.

This year, the curmudgeon grouchy bah humbug E left the building.  Like Elvis on August 16, 1977.  Replaced by the new and improved version.  Enthusiastic and joyful.  Happy to celebrate. Cheerful and charitable. Without complaint nor criticism. No protests. Gripes or grumbling.  Beefs or bellyaching.  And above all else, the new E, that emerged from the chrysalis on Friday, December 14, was grateful.

Deeply.  Profoundly.  Beyond words.

Recently, I read a quote by Cicero that really resonated with my spirit.  It expressed so beautifully the meaning I sought and found over the Christmas season.

“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.”

E and I are consumed with gratitude these days.  There is so much to cherish and give thanks for.  Starting with our love for each other.  For our family, our beautiful children, our granddaughter, our extended family and friends, our good neighbors, our understanding colleagues, the compassionate caregivers and spiritual teachers. Everyone who has touched our tender hearts so sweetly.

Kindness and compassion.  Generosity and magnanimity.  Big-heartedness and goodness.  It’s everywhere.  Dressed in the same attire.  Cloaked in the fabric of love.

Jesus and John Lennon were right. Love is all you need.

I’m grateful for that.

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: How to Throw a Party.

Beautiful birthday cards saved through the decades.

I just celebrated a birthday.  Truth is, I didn’t actually celebrate.  More like ignored. I’ve been doing my best to ignore birthdays for years.  Decades even.  It all started with a Eureka moment. The proverbial light went on so I could clearly see this one pivotal fact.  The road ahead wasn’t as long as it once was.  This was both a frightening and motivating experience.

Either way it changed my perspective on birthdays. I determined that these annual milestones needn’t be marked with illuminated melting candles that no longer fit on a nine-inch round layer cake.  No matter how delicious and tempting the icing may be.  Furthermore, my ability to blow out that many candles in one go has long expired.  It’s mortifying.  I’ve lost all my candle-blowing gusto. I am no longer full of wind.  I suppose that could be viewed as a good thing.  Even Martha Stewart would agree.

Parties are out of the question. Especially ones involving a surprise. The risk of heart failure from shocks of this nature has increased exponentially with each passing year.  Who needs that?  Shindigs of any sort are frowned upon. And make for an upside down happy face.  So does any other kind of hoopla or fandango.  A simple card or birthday greeting from my family and loved ones is all that I will ever need.  Just another day thank you very much.  I’m grateful for them all.

It wasn’t always this way of course.

My first birthday cake. Big sister G shares the moment.

Little back story.  A long long time ago and far far away in another galaxy I looked forward to this annual celebration. Waited with bated breath.  And bubbly anticipation.  I counted the days with irrepressible eagerness and unbridled enthusiasm.  This other galaxy existed in a small Northwestern Ontario town on a street lined with wartime houses and Manitoba Maple trees.  In one of these little wooden dwellings, number 204, Ma made party plans.

Birthday parties were simple affairs back then. At least compared to the extravaganzas of today.  There were no bouncy castles.  No rented movie theaters, ice rinks nor gyms with walls to climb. Nothing laser — tag, bowling or otherwise.  No party rooms at MacDonald’s or Wendy’s.  No zip-line adventures.  Nor any combination of these things.

The birthday parties of my wonder years were held in the home.  Or in the yard, if you were a summer birthday child like I was.  I’m not sure if this is true or not, but I don’t recall it ever raining on my birthday.  Even now I am hard-pressed to come up with a birthday that wasn’t warm and sunny.  I either have selective weather memory or the sun has always shone for me on this day. I am indeed blessed this way.

Invitations were either purchased at Kresge’s five and dime or made by hand.  Before I learned to read and write Ma filled out the invitations for me.  After grade two I painstakingly did this on my own.   It was a labor of love.  Every kid on the block got one hand delivered at least two weeks before the big occasion.  No one was left out.  Not even those I didn’t care for much.  Usually this was a boy.  My parties were all-inclusive until I was around 8 years old.  From age 8 to 12 there was a no-boys allowed policy in effect. During this brief window of time I believed boys weren’t necessary to have a good time.  Before and after that single-gender period boys were a big part of the social scene.  And have remained so ever since.

Posing in my party dress for my 3rd birthday.

My upcoming birthday party was the talk of the neighborhood for those two weeks.  Chatter abound.  I was one of the lucky ones in that no one else had a birthday around mine.  There was no one else to steal my thunder.  Rob my moment of glory.  My day in the sunshine.   For this one day each year I was the girl of the hour.  Or two.  Which was precisely how long these birthday celebrations lasted.

On the day before my birthday Ma baked my favorite cake.  Confetti Angel Food.  Smothered and swirled in pale pink butter icing.  Licking the spoon and scraping the bowl clean of every morsel of sweet goodness was almost as wonderful as the cake itself.  These special once-a-year cakes were colorfully happy.  Festive.  And most importantly yummy.  Nummy.  Lip-smacking scrumptilicious.  Mmmmm.  Goodness aside, the other phenomenal thing about these cakes was the hidden treasures baked within.  Little silver trinkets and copper pennies carefully wrapped in waxed paper and strategically placed throughout the cake so that every guest received one.  No one walked away without a prize.  We all felt like a million bucks discovering one of these.  Oh the fun we had opening our baked gems.  Winners all.  Hip hip hurray!  Enough to make pirates green with envy over our bountiful haul.

On the morning of my birthday, Ma got everything ready.  She baked a batch of my favorite cookies.  Shortbread.  In the centre of each she carefully placed a red Maraschino cherry.  Baking these traditional Christmas cookies off-season was just another way Ma expressed how dear I was to her.  Imagine the depth and breadth of her love.  One that knew no limits.  So great that she was willing to violate custom, even go behind Santa’s back to bake these precious buttery rich jewels.  I was thrilled.  While the cookies were baking, Ma boiled up a pot of eggs for sandwiches.  And not just any old egg sandwiches.  These were fancy.  The Old Man would bring home special loaves of bread that were cut lengthwise instead of in slices.  Ma would then spread her delectable egg filling across the lengths, place a convoy of dill pickles at one end and then roll them up into perfect cylinders.  She would place these eggy tubes in the fridge to chill and set until the party began.  Then she’d pull them out, slice them into perfect circular wheels, and arrange them beautifully on one of her best china platters.  They were exquisite.  Divine. Out of this world.

Best friends posing with our favorite dollies.

Everyone dressed up for birthday parties.  Only our best dresses and hair ribbons would do.  New shoes and fresh white ankle socks.  The boys in the crowd looked quite snazzy too.  About an hour before my guests were scheduled to arrive Ma helped me get ready.  Scrubbed from head toe.  Hair curled and brushed to one side.  Pretty party dress.  Twirl and spin the crinoline.

Group shot. My friend Poo attends with a broken leg.

At the precise hour indicated on the invitations my guests arrived, each carrying a beautifully wrapped gift with a card taped to the top.  Ma greeted everyone amiably, collected their gifts, and set them aside on the coffee table for later.  Once everyone was gathered, the games began.  Drop the clothes peg in the milk bottle.  Pin the tale on the donkey. Musical chairs.  Simon says. Bingo!  Such fun!  We giggled and cheered.  We clapped and chuckled.  Then it was time to open the presents.  One by one.  Oohs and ahhs.  Always a thank you after each one.  Ma saved all their precious birthday cards.  I still have the first decade’s worth taped inside the pages of the old Scrapbook Ma made for me. Tattered and torn.  Kittens and yarn.

Parties were now in full color during the no boys period.

Then the piece de resistance.  The moment we were all waiting for.  The cake!  Candles lit.  Chorus of the Birthday song sung. Top of the lungs loud.  Out of tune and off-key.  Terrible and terrific.  Candles were blown out in one single breath bringing a year of good luck to the birthday girl.  Ma cut the cake perfectly, ensuring that each guest received the same amount along with their baked surprise.

Two hours passed and it was time for Ma and I to say goodbye to our guests.  But not before photos were taken.  Out to the front lawn we marched.  There we posed before Ma’s Kodak Brownie.  Group shots.  Singles.  Pairs of friends.  Squinting into the sunshine.  Shy smiles.  And big grins.

It was the perfect day.  Ma really knew how to throw a great party.  Everyone agreed.

Thank you Ma for a lifetime of birthday cakes.  I miss them dearly.

The Scrapbook Ma made for me. Kittens and yarn.

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Everything I Know About Fashion I Learned from my Father.

Looking handsome in his army uniform.

I like fashion.  Part of me blushes with embarrassment at confessing such a thing. For three reasons.  One. It seems superficial and frivolous, especially when there are so many serious and tragic things going on in the world.  Two. I thought that by now I’d be past caring about what I wore, much less if my butt looked good in skinny jeans.  Three.  I’ve never been much of a girly girl so having a passion for fashion and being a tracker of tony trends, that includes knowing the hottest color of lipstick, seems out of character.  This is one of those loves I’ve kept in the closet.  Under wraps.  Shawls.  Sweaters and other lovely things. Until now.

All dressed up to pull a sleigh through the neighborhood.

Here’s the paradox. In actuality, I don’t like shopping. I just like clothes and shoes and accessories and make-up.  If I was rich I’d have them brought to me.  Like the Queen.  Although I must admit I’ve been known to engage in a little retail therapy with my youngest daughter, from time to time.  Truth is, it feels wonderful, especially doing it with her.  She is my fashion consultant and barometer.  She has a keen eye for all things fashionably hip yet balanced by age appropriateness.  It’s absolutely fabulous Darling.  I highly recommend it.  In small doses of course.

Every now and then, I wonder if this trivial pursuit is really necessary.  The Old Man would say an emphatic YES.  So it is he who sowed the sartorial seed, and in this case, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

Summer time and the living is easy. So are the fashions.

Ma was a natural Italian beauty.  She always looked lovely when she went out, even if it was just to the grocery store.  A splash of lipstick was all she needed and she was good to go.  Her personal style was a combination of things that were fittingly fashionably for the time and casually comfortable.  She preferred slacks and long-sleeved bright colored tops that coordinated. Her fav top was a hot pink check.  When it came to shoes, hers were always made for walking.  Grace and natural beauty aside, Ma would never have made it to the cover of any of the ladies’ magazines she so enjoyed reading.

His flair for fashion started young.

The Old Man on the other hand was the sharp dresser.   This was something I stumbled upon while curating hundreds of family photos.  It was in the faded pages of old family albums and in the musty cardboard boxes stuffed with cracked and gnarled black and white images that I discovered this other side to my father.  He was a Beau Brummell.  A Dapper Dan.  Snazzy and spiffy.  A downright trendy dude.  Where Ma’s fashion sense leaned towards the conservative and a touch predictable, The Old Man was stylish and clearly hip to current trends.  His polish and flair could be seen across the decades.  It was there in every precious detail.  Topdown.  Hats to shoes.  Everything in between.  This was all the more extraordinary given the geographic distance between our unsophisticated northwestern town and the fashion meccas. When I was young there weren’t many places to shop for clothes.  Nor did we have the financial resources to do so. We were a family of modest means.  Yet like Ma, he made much from little.  Where he got this flair for fashion I’ll never know.

The kilt-wearing band of brothers.

A large part of The Old Man’s adult life was spent in a uniform.    First there was the kaki colored army uniform that he wore in the early forties.  He is dashing in his official portrait.  His side cap tilted towards his right ear with brass buttons front and centre.  Black tie smartly snapped to attention.  Regulation trousers.  Two of the ancient photographs reveal an homage to the Canadian Scottish Regiment that he was part of.  The tartan kilt.  This provocative and valiant man-skirt showcased his strong legs adorned with traditional woolen knee-high hose.  Head gear was a Scottish beret with a fetching pompom on top.  A leather sporran hung on a strap around his waist.  And sturdy leather brogues were issued with marching orders.

The working man’s uniform.

He wore a uniform to work every day.  Blue twill pants and matching jacket complete with embroidered company name badge.  Shaw’s Holusm.  A basic ballpoint pen clipped into the single-button pocket always in the ready.  His name Bill embroidered in simple readable script across the lapel of the other pocket. He dressed this up with a crisply ironed shirt in pale blue or white and minimalist dark tie in navy or black.  Comfortable solid leather walking shoes were a must-have.  Easy smile and eager-to-please attitude complemented this working man’s ensemble.

Mr Cool with his family.

His summer attire was casual, designed for comfort and easy living.  Basic cotton or polyester trousers in neutral colors.  Beige, gray, navy or white.  With or without cuffs, side pockets and always belted.  Golf shirts were an essential.  Stripes, both horizontal and vertical, abstract patterns or plain versions in fashionable colors that coordinated with his pants.  This particular proclivity had nothing to do with the sport because he never golfed.  It was all about fashion. Pure and simple.  In the spring, or for breezy summer evenings, he layered this look with beautifully lined windbreakers that zippered to a close.  My personal favorite was from the early sixties. This little number was a cream colored short jacket cut from a toothy fabric with a wide ribbed elastic waistband that hugged the top of his hips.  The easy-going turned down color revealed a bolo tie anchored to a pale colored buttoned up shirt.  A study in contrasts.  Aviator sunglasses and ever-present cigarette were the definition of Rat Pack cool.

Mad for plaid and his new baby girl.

On cold wintery days in the fifties and sixties, he sported a knee-length dark wool overcoat with matching fedora.  No matter where he went. Even if it was a mere stroll through the neighborhood pulling me on a sleigh. He also owned a smashing mid-thigh single-breasted charcoal gray car coat with big roomy pockets.  And parkas with zip-out linings that extended their wear.  Sometimes function did take precedence over form.  He was also mad for plaid in winter.  Especially when it came to soft flannel shirts.  Either tucked tidily into his trousers or worn over like a jacket.  Still always buttoned to the top.  He wore this lumberjack garb on the weekends or in the evenings.  To hockey games with one of his brothers or while making a backyard rink for me.  If there is such a thing as primal memory than somewhere deep inside my soul is the comforting feeling of the flannel shirt he wore in our very first photograph together.  The one he carried in his wallet from my infancy to his death.  I can’t think of a better fashion statement than that.

He loved suits and music.

He loved suits.  And dressing up from head to toe.  He had many over the years.  Always stylish.  Not Brooks Brothers nor European hand-stitched expensive jobs.  Yet always the perfect cut and fit.  Sometimes he donned a natty vest that came with the suit.  Other times it was a v-necked knitted vest or sweater.  He went to church every Sunday dressed to the nines.  Shirt crisp and snappy.  Cuff links in place.  Tie full Windsor knot.  Shoes polished to a spit-shine.  Sunday mornings aside, The Old Man welcomed opportunities to put on a suit and tie.  Weddings.  Funerals.  Graduations.  Union conferences.  Any function with even a dash of formality would do.

Cool and casual.

He also had a collection of sport coats for more casual outings.  He relaxed his attire when wearing one of these.  Loosened his shirt at the neck leaving one button undone and the collar on the outside of the jacket.  No tie.  While I loved his rogue edition from the sixties my absolute favorite was classic eighties.  Deep burgundy velvet.  He wore it proudly to an Awards Ceremony in 1984.  It went beautifully with the striped Community Service medal draped around his neck that evening.  I also loved his navy blazer with the gold buttons and the extra wide white tie he wore with it.  A classic.

To say The Old Man loved shoes would be an understatement.  He called them “kicks” and there was always a reason to buy a new pair. The name was apt since he got such a big kick out of them.  His collection covered the cobbler’s gamut.  Pristine white sneakers.  Heavy black brogues.  Brown penny loafers.  White patten leather loafers.  Simple unembellished slip-ons.  Leather dress boots with zippers or laces.  Rubber galoshes.  And rubber slip-ons that covered the soles of his dress shoes to protect them from the harsh northern winters.  He loved them all.  He loved shopping for them.  Caring for them.  And most importantly, wearing them.

He also loved hats.  In his later years, he had a collection of baseball caps with various logos.  Teams.  Companies.  Places.  It didn’t matter.  He always wore them peak forward to shield his face.  They were often embellished with a quirky lapel pin or two from his collection of hundreds.  These caps were his standard summer headgear and he rarely went outdoors without one.  In winter practicality reined, especially as he aged.  The fedoras were put aside for more sensible woolen toques pulled snuggly over his ears.  Aside from the fedoras, which were so irresistibly dashing, I loved him best hatless. Until the day he died he had a magnificent head of hair.  He was an original Mop Top.

On the steps at 204 with his youngest grand daughter and Big Bird.

The Old Man cared about the way he looked even when he was elderly and walking was a struggle.  One of my favorite pictures of him was taken on the front steps at 204.  He’s sitting with my youngest daughter and her Big Bird knapsack.  A faint shadow of Ma can be seen standing behind the screen door bearing witness to the scene.  I was behind the camera.  It’s summer and true to form he’s dressed in his summer casuals.  Short-sleeved button-down plaid shirt, soft grey trousers, grey and black tweed socks, polished white leather sneakers and a red and black Reno baseball cap, peak forward.  He and Ma would be gone a few short years after that picture was taken.  Our time together had slipped away in a heartbeat.  In a fashionable New York minute.

My father taught me many things over the years.  Everything from riding a bike to driving a car.  Yet it wasn’t until this past year that I realized he also taught me everything I know about fashion.  Imagine that.

I love you Dad.  Happy Father’s Day.